Happy Twentieth to Epicureans everywhere. Aeon published an essay on Epistemic well-being which resonates strongly with Epicurean concepts about the utility of knowledge, and at SoFE we published The Four Foods Epicurus Enjoyed and we published a video on frank criticism and another one on Eikas – The Epicurean Feast of the Twentieth, which places before our eyes what it would have been like to attend a feast of reason and pleasure.
The book The Friends of Epicurus Epitome: Epicurean Writings and Study Guide is now available only as an ebook.
For many years, we have had difficulty establishing with certainty the date of the birth of Epicurus. This is because the Attic calendar–whose months were mentioned in Epicurus’ Last Will and Testament–was not widely used. It was very much a local calendar, and was lunisolar, which adds great confusion for us who are used to our (solar) Gregorian calendar. The Birth of the Hegemon should naturally be our biggest holiday, our equivalent of Christmas, Mawlid, or Buddha Purnima, so at the SoFE we decided it was time to fix the date and to start developing traditions around the holiday of the Birth of the Hegemon.
The Lunisolar Calendar Discussion
We looked into various possible solutions. I considered adapting the Attic calendar into a simplified lunisolar calendar, abandoning the traditional and difficult-to-pronounce Greek month names and replacing them with the generic “First Moon”, “Second Moon”, etc. as names for our months. Some years would have twelve moons, and others would have thirteen. According to Wikipedia:
The year was meant to begin with the first sighting of the new moon after the summer solstice.
This would have been easy enough, as there are plenty of lunar calendars online we can consult. In his final will, Epicurus describes “the customary celebration of my birthday on the tenth day of Gamelion in each year“. Gamelion was the seventh month, which typically falls in January-February. But in 2020-2021, the summer solstice coincided with the new moon, and therefore the lunisolar months came very early. According to space.com, there was a new moon on June 21st of 2020, which is right at the solstice, so the solstice coincided with the New (Lunisolar) Year.
If we count seven new moons from there, we will see that space.com sets the seventh new moon of year 2,361 of the Age of Epicurus as December the 14th.
Therefore, the tenth day of the seventh moon in this simplified lunisolar calendar, counting from December 14th, would have been the 23rd day of December of 2020–which would have been the Birth of the Hegemon in our simplified lunisolar calendar. However, in the ancient Attic calendar, each month began with the “first sighting of the new moon”, which in this case was probably one or two nights after the New Moon of the 14th of December of 2020. We are beginning to see how difficult it is to plan ahead for this, which creates many disadvantages.
When we say that we are in the Year of Epicurus 2,361, we calculate that from 2020 (current year in the Gregorian calendar, which begins the lunisolar cycle of 2020-2021), plus 341 (Before Common Era, the year of his birth).
When I consulted with the other members of the SoFE concerning the problem of the date of this holiday, we considered the possibility of adopting a private lunisolar calendar merely with the intention of clearly calculating the Birth of the Hegemon every year, and we had to carry out hedonic calculus between this option and sticking to our familiar Gregorian calendar for the sake of simplicity, ease, and custom. The idea of fixing the Birth of the Hegemon to the Gregorian calendar prevailed. While I am not averse to the idea of a lunisolar calendar, the utility of this is limited, since the only major lunisolar holiday we celebrate is the Birth of the Hegemon.
Also, we customarily have zoom gatherings on the Twentieth of every month (or sometimes on the most convenient date close to the Twentieth), which makes it advantageous to merge the Birth of the Hegemon and the Twentieth on its given month, and also helps us to respect and to make the best use of each other’s time.
Therefore, the Society of Friends of Epicurus has officially set the holiday of the Birth of the Hegemon to be henceforward celebrated on the 20th of February every year.
Meaning of Hegemon
preponderant influence or authority over others. – Webster Dictionary
Other translations of the word are political, and do not apply to the ancient usage. This does not mean that he is infallible, or a prophet. He’s the founder of our School, our moral example due to his empirical thinking, clear and frank speech and clear thought, freedom from superstition and harmful beliefs, his pleasant disposition, his autarchy, his friendliness, and his kindness. He was the first Epicurean, the one whose name (and a portion of his identity) we make our own when we call ourselves Epicureans. The name Epicurus means “Friend” or “Ally”, and we know that friendship was holy to the first Epicureans, so in our Koinonia we strive to be true Friends and allies to each other.
We recognize only Epicurus of Samos as our Hegemon. His successors (diadochi) of direct lineage in the Garden of Athens were known as Scholarchs (Hermarchus, Polystratus, Zeno of Sidon, etc.) The Age of the Scholarchs lasted over five centuries. No one today can claim direct lineage, and so there are no Scholarchs today.
Under the Scholarchs, were the kath-hegetes (Guides)–people like Philodemus of Gadara, Philonides of Laodicea, Diogenes of Oenoanda, etc. In our SoFE lineage, this is the only office that we recognize as still existing today.
How to Celebrate the Birth of the Hegemon
We will allow the Birth of the Hegemon to organically evolve as a holiday, but initially our tradition will consist of remembering some of the key events in the biography and some of the key features of the character of Epicurus of Samos through poetry, declamation, and other art forms. We encourage all followers of Epicurus to write their own poems and statements in memory of the Hegemon for this day and to publish them on social media.
Today, we Hail the Hegemon and we invite all followers of Epicurean philosophy to learn about, toast, celebrate, and remember Epicurus in your own way. We wish you a pleasant Hegemon Day. Peace and Safety!
In response to your request to write something for the Birth of the Hegemon, I have adapted the Prayer of St. Francis to Epicureanism:
“Master, let me freely choose to be an instrument of divine pleasure:
where there is fear, let me have courage;
where there is discomfort, let me take comfort;
where there is injury, let me remain just;
where there is confusion, let me be clear:
where there is darkness, let me show the light of your true philosophy.
O Wise Master, you have taught me that I may not so much seek
to be remembered as to remember,
to be praised as to praise,
to be thanked as to be thankful.
to be learned as to learn,
to be honored as to honor,
to be desirous of what I do not have as to remember what I already have.
For it is in expressing gratitude to you that we are blessed,
it is in graciousness that we are graced,
it is in eliminating pain that we find true pleasure,
it is in seeking friendship that we find immortal goodness,
And it is in dying that we disperse back to Nature.
Eireni kai asphalia/pax et securitas/peace and safety”
Marcus shared this short poem by the poet Athenaeus (quoted by Diogenes Laertius):
“You toil, men, at worthless tasks,
and in your greed
For gain you start quarrels and wars:
But nature’s wealth has its limits,
Though empty judgment treads a limitless path.
So heard the wise son of Neocles,
either from the Muses,
Or from the holy tripod of Pytho”
This is by Matt:
Hear these words O children of Nature’s swerve.
Let us rejoice in the freedom we desperately deserve.
Of prudent wisdom long obscured by shame.
Professed by Epicurus of noble fame.
Lucretius penned in days of old.
Across the gap of time, a truth so bold.
Arise the days of hedonic measure.
Restoring the truth of humankind’s pleasure.
Dispel the fears of death’s illusion.
Release humankind from all confusion.
Again I say, O children of Nature’s swerve.
Be frank in speech and keep your nerve.
Be ready now to strike your blow.
For Epicurus, his Garden and all who know.
The days shall come when the world will extol.
That pleasurable living was indeed the goal.