Happy Twentieth! On the Occasion of the Birth of the Hegemon

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

Epicurus was known as the Hegemon by his disciples. We pronounce this word according to the US conventional pronunciation found here. This word is related to “hegemony”, which translates as:

 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!

Alan’s Contribution:

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.

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Happy 20th! The Parables of the Hunter and the Isle of the Blessed

Happy Twentieth to Epicureans everywhere! Some literary updates:

A new, English-language Friends of Epicurus Epitome is finally available (only on Kindle for now). Students of Epicurean philosophy in antiquity were known to carry epitomes to help them in their studies. Initially, they read the Little Epitome (Epicurus’ Epistle to Herodotus), and they later moved on to more advanced literature compiled into the Big Epitome. This modern Epitome by the Society of Friends of Epicurus (a non-academic fraternity of philosopher friends) contains Epicurus’ main epistles, Principal Doctrines, and Vatican Sayings with a thematic index and study guide.

We have a new video titled The Epicurean Tradition of Frank Criticism.

Catherine Wilson wrote an essay titled Why Epicureanism, not Stoicism, is the philosophy we need now.

SoFE also published the “Isle of the Blessed” portion of Lucian’s True Story, which is available in its entirety at Gutenberg.org. True Story has continued relevance to our generation because it is a parody and commentary on “fake news”, on popular resistance against empirical thinking, and on people’s frequent inability to discern truth from falsehood.

Continuing our study of the PD’s, our Friend Harmonious wrote the Parable of the Hunter, which eloquently illustrates the pragmatic repercussions of Principal Doctrine 5, and the essay On the utility of the Epicurean Gods gives a pragmatic encounter with PD 1.

Both the Isle of the Blessed and the Parable of the Hunter raise interesting questions for us. The founders of Epicureanism were adamant that disciples must employ clear speech in all communication. For instance, when discussing rhetoric, Epicurus made clarity the only requirement. This was meant to avoid the empty words, confusion and word-play of many other philosophers.

Colotes (a first generation disciple) argued thatit is unworthy of the truthfulness of a philosopher to use fables in his teaching“, but Lucretius–who wrote De Rerum Natura a couple of centuries later–would disagree. And so would many modern Epicureans: for instance, the Punctured Jar parable is one of the best allegories for understanding the salvific power of the words of true philosophy, as it was understood by Lucretius in the First Century.

Also, parables are a way to practice “placing before the eyes”, which is a visualization exercise used in Epicureanism in order to help us clearly understand the teachings. For this reason, I believe the Parable of the Hunter is extremely useful and powerful, and also that Principal Doctrine 5 requires “placing before the eyes” in order to be properly understood. This is because the Epicurean conception of justice is based on agreements, and the parable helps us to see a concrete example of justice in terms of agreements. It is easy to fall into the temptation to reduce justice to arbitrary notions like equality/civil rights or guilt/obedience, depending on whether we are influenced by modern social and constitutional conventions or sin-based/authoritarian religions. But even in a very simple society there can be justice based on mutual benefit and on agreements, as our Principal Doctrines teach, and it can manifest in something as simple as an agreement to hunt down prey for a tribe.

In Lucian’s Isle of the Blessed, on the other hand, we find a treasure trove of beautiful Epicurean imagery and allegory. Without losing sight of the original comedic intention of the author, and while still laughing and enjoying the work in its original context, we can still exploit and take pleasure in the myth-making powers of our mind for didactic and ethical purposes using the colorful and potent ideas that Lucian deposited in this passage of True Story.

If I, as an Epicurean Guide, was to make the Isle of the Blessed even more advantageous for the happiness of a student, I would point out that the Well of Pleasure represents our hedonic regimen, our easy sources of pleasure that we can draw water from time and again; that the Well of Laughter represents all the memories and experiences in our own mind that we can rely on to easily make us laugh and lighten up our day, so that it becomes a reminder to carry out the practice of laughter yoga; that the Seven Gates to the Golden City represent different ways in which we can “enter”, interpret or gain clear cognitive assimilation of the Golden Words (the Lucretian Aurea Dicta, which is to say, the Doctrines of True Philosophy).

I would go as far as to compare Lucian’s Isle of the Blessed with the Lotus Sutra in Mahayana Buddhism, in terms of the potential usefulness of its allegories. But there’s a difference. Buddhist upayas (“efficient means” used by the enlightened beings in order to save suffering sentient beings) are often excuses for the white lies of conventional religion, and a major theme in the Lotus Sutra. On the other hand, in Epicureanism our advantageous and efficient means to happiness may include parables, but these parables and their imagery awaken the seeds of pleasure in our minds without obscuring the clear, simple truths we gain from the study of nature.

Here’s another parable or metaphor to illustrate my point: Lucretius says that Epicurus, with his Doctrines, has conquered and tamed religion, and left it trampled at our feet. This is powerful imagery. We may read it in passing in De Rerum Natura without thinking much of it, but it amounts to a Promethean epiphany. It goes to the heart of Epicurean spirituality. The Hegemon has stolen the fire of religion and given us a tamed version of religiosity in the service of pleasure ethics, teaching us that religiosity must serve mortals, and never the other way around. Imagine what world we could create, if even 10% or 20% percent of mortals–rather than give up religion altogether and passively accept the nihilism of our age–woke up to the truths of this parable, and found religion trampled at their feet?! They would stop mindlessly projecting their power and creativity–and displaying (sometimes vulgarly) the unexamined content of their character in their projections–and they would maturely start taking full ownership of the content of their character, of their religiosity, of their speech, and of their spiritual practice. They would elevate religion to a form of art, following Epicurus’ and Lucretius’ example.

I said this in Tending the Epicurean Garden, and I’ll say it again: we should attribute to philosophy the same dignity that philosophy confers upon us. In order to clearly understand how philosophy dignifies us, parables like these ones are advantageous.

If you’d like to study EP with us, please join us at the Garden of Epicurus FaceBook group. You may also support us by subscribing to me on Patreon, or by buying our merch on our new SoFE shop.

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Three Kings Day: a Case Study in Filial Piety

The last time I spoke to my parents, my mother mentioned that “God willing”, next year for “Three Kings Day” we should be together if this pandemic has ended. She says she wants to hug everyone. In 2020, I lost three of my uncles and my dad’s best friend. Coronavirus took three of those souls, and my mom’s second-youngest brother died just after Christmas after spending a month of agony on a ventilator and without being able to say goodbye.

My very Catholic grandfather had made a “promise” to the Three Kings to celebrate their feast on the 6th of January every year with music, food, and recitation of the rosary. The Feast of the Three Kings is a jíbaro (mountain peasant) folk tradition. On the night of the 5th of January, children were told to place “pasto” (grass) for the camels under the bed, or somewhere else in the house. The Kings would take the food and leave a gift. There was no Santa Claus before the Americans arrived in Puerto Rico. Santa Claus was seen as a type of fat American God of consumerism (even if he was jolly and endearing), and represented different values to us than the Three Kings.

After the Americans invaded Puerto Rico, the tradition of the Three Kings Day came to represent the “old” Puerto Rico with its Catholic piety and its rural cultural expressions, and for many decades Santa Claus was seen as a foreign threat to those old traditions. But it was futile to fight Santa Claus, and (although he came from the North Pole, was VERY over-dressed for Caribbean weather, and looked initially very foreign) we eventually ended up accepting and cherishing both traditions. So one of the utilities of the “Fiesta de Reyes” is cultural resistance, and the preservation of the culture that existed before the Americans arrived in Puerto Rico. A pig was sacrificed to make lechón (roasted pig). All the traditional holiday foods were prepared, and people hired folk musicians who knew how to play the cuatro (the local evolution of the Spanish guitar) and sing aguinaldos–Christmas songs which are nothing like the sober carols of the North, but are more festive, and celebrate rural values.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” – Matthew 2:1-2

The feast is only superficially rooted in the Bible. The sacrificial pig is forbidden and non-kosher in Biblical Judaism. The Magi were not “Kings”, they were Persian astrologers who would have been seeking the Saoshyant (Zoroastrian Savior), not the Jewish Messiah. The names of the Magi are never mentioned in scripture: they were added later by tradition and their number limited to three in order to accommodate the three gifts of myrrh, incense, and gold, and yet later in imagery they were made to fit the Puerto Rican narrative of the three ancestral ethnicities. Even then, two of their names render homage to Pagan Gods: Gaspar, Melchor (in honor of Melqart, the Phoenician Baal of Carthage) and Baal-thazar. The fact that the feast nearly coincides with the New Year tempts us to reimagine the divine child imagery as a metaphor for the promising year that has just begun. Not that it matters for practical purposes, but the entire tradition was slowly made up over many generations to fit various interests.

When my grandfather died, my mother decided to take up the “promesa de Reyes”. She acquired the icon of the Three Kings that my grandfather used to honor–a beautiful carved wooden altar piece. Since preparations for the Fiesta de Reyes required so much work, she made sure it was a potluck, with many family members participating and bringing different dishes. Later, when my mom could no longer do it, her brother–my uncle, who was the one who traditionally slaughtered, prepared, and roasted the pig–stepped in and started celebrating the Fiesta de Reyes in memory of my grandfather in the neighborhood where he lived (and where most of that side my family lives). That uncle now lives in New York, and I don’t think the Fiesta de Reyes is celebrated anymore by anyone in the family. The tradition has been lost, and the new generations have very different values and priorities.

The oath to celebrate Three Kings (la “promesa de Reyes”) did many things for my family. It made the Three Kings an ancestral totem, giving my mother’s side of the family a central symbol around which we gathered for the holidays every year. It served as an outlet for Catholic piety. It helped us to preserve our songs, our family holiday recipes, serving as a means to preserve cultural heritage. It brought our family together and gave us a sense that we had our own traditions. So the Fiesta de Reyes is an interesting case study in the practice of filial piety, showing how family traditions can be preserved at least for a couple of additional generations, for as long as someone diligent in the family makes a promise to keep these traditions. Typically, when one person has this initiative, the rest of the family and close community jumps in and helps with the celebrations. When that person dies, out of love and reverence, his descendants frequently feel a strong desire to honor their memory as they would have wanted, which helps acquaint the following generations with the family traditions. Even I, as anti-Catholic as I am, still associate the Three Kings with my reverence and love for my grandfather, and my mother spent this year’s Three Kings Day wishing to be able to hug her family members next year on this same date once the pandemic is over.

The “Fiesta de Reyes”, because it is a vow or an oath that was made by my ancestors, is an interesting feature of my family’s history, and an interesting case study in filial piety for me–which reminds me of the celebration of the Twentieth in the Epicurean Gardens. Why? Because Epicurus (as attested in his Final Will and Testament)–although he did not believe in the afterlife–saw great utility in family traditions and in honoring the memory of the dead, and established the Twentieth and many other festivities in honor of his ancestors and the deceased of his family. Filial piety was one of the motivating factors in the traditions of the Garden, and a cardinal virtue among the first Epicureans. The Twentieth is a memorial service for Metrodorus and Epicurus, our philosophical ancestors. Filial piety is an expression of the apolitical spirit of the Garden because it focuses on the narratives of our small communities and tribes, dignifying and strengthening them, and happily ignores the “official” and political narratives and interests of the more impersonal polis or state.

At the closing of the Isle of the Blessed passage in True Story, King Radhamanthus randomly and spontaneously pulls a tuber from under the ground and tells Lucian to pray to this root if he’s ever in danger. It was Lucian’s final joke at the expense of the King before he left the isle … but, in a way (and I’m being VERY liberal in my interpretation), it IS healthy and natural to look to our ROOTS when we feel unsafe. Our roots feel familiar, our roots are comforting. Most of us generally feel loved, safe and happy when we are surrounded by family. Filial piety is one of the most universal human values. It is observed in every culture. Traditions of filial piety help to pass down knowledge of recipes, of songs, of playing certain musical instruments and other family traditions and ancestral knowledge. I’m hoping that next year, I will be able to spend Three Kings Day with my parents and surrounded by the loud noises and the banquet that inhabit my memory of our Feast of the Three Kings.

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Happy Twentieth of December! – On Sentience

Happy Twentieth to all students of Epicurus everywhere! After a many-year-long wait, philosopher Greg Sadler finally published his Honest Review of Hiram Crespo, Tending The Epicurean Garden. It was mostly a very positive review, which I appreciated. The YouTube channel Vox Stoica also published a nearly 30-minute long video titled What is Epicureanism and is it compatible with Stoicism? Again, in spite of the source being from another School, they were mostly accurate in their depiction of the Epicurean school.

Philosophy Now has an essay on hedonism in ancient India and Greece.

After attempting to unpack the scarce quotes that Philodemus included in his scroll “On Piety” from Epicurus’ work titled On Holiness, I revisited the subject in On Natural Holiness. One of the members of the SoFE, Alan, recorded an Epicurean devotional song titled Lumen Inlustrans.

SoFE’s latest video is titled The Epicureans on the nature of the soul, and explains all the nuances and general features of our doctrine of the physical, mortal soul (psyche), which is embedded into the body and dies with it. The rectification of the meaning of the word soul according to nature is an important contributions that modern Epicurean philosophy can potentially make to our culture, where so many souls are still mystified by supernatural conceptions of the soul which keep them trapped in superstitious and fear-based creeds. These false views are based on the Platonic split between body and soul, which Epicurus was reacting against when he articulated these ideas.

This paper on Epicurus’ On Nature: Book 28 discusses the evolution of the Epicurean canon, which was ongoing even ten years after the foundation of the Garden. It may supplement the essay titled New Evidence for the Epicurean Theory of the Origin of Language: Philodemus, On Poems V, by Jacob Mackey, which evaluates the Epicurean theory of language.

I’ve published my exegetical discussion of Principal Doctrines 10-14, which focus on the pleasures of safety and privacy, and on the utility of science. I did not recently publish exegetical content concerning PD 15 because I had published, back in March, an epitome of the Epicurean Doctrines concerning wealth which is, basically, a detailed elaboration of the repercussions of PD 15 (and then some), so please refer to that essay in your efforts to deepen your study of PD 15, the “Doctrine of the natural measure of wealth”.

Our journey through the Principal Doctrines continues with PD 16, which contains taboos against the worship of Fate or of Fortune and warns us to apply reason. The main other instance where Epicurus accentuates the importance of applying reason is when we think of time (PD 19). This is because we do not directly experience past and future, except through remembrance and anticipation in the here and now. So this Doctrine is tied to an accurate understanding of the ontology of Time as an emerging feature of nature. We can not travel back and forth in time. Any enjoyment we get from the past and the future, happens now. And so, Epicurus says that a true sage that sees nature clearly, is self-sufficient in his happiness and does not postpone his pleasures.

On Sentience

sentient adjective

Definition of sentient
1: responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
sentient beings
2: AWARE
3: finely sensitive in perception or feeling

– Webster’s Dictionary’s definition of sentient

Sentience is one of the most central ideas in Epicurean philosophy the name for which is not explicitly mentioned in the surviving sources. Sentience is taken for granted, for instance, in our prolepsis of guilt, merit, and causal responsibility, all of which require agency, which requires sentience.

Sentience is also what justifies the canon, which is our methodology for knowing about nature. Compare the word anaisthetei (“lacks awareness“) in PD 2, On Death, and the word aisthesesin (“if you fight against all your perceptions…”) in PD 23, one of the Doctrines on canonics. There is nothing supernatural about awareness or sentience. All knowledge is physical: rooted in the relevant perceptive or neural tissue of a sentient being, evolved by nature by natural selection, as sentience and perception provide advantage to sentient beings to help them live and escape being hunted. This does not mean that nature meant or willed natural selection, but that the path of least resistance led to the development of sentience and perception.

The second Principal Doctrine, in positing that “death is nothing to us” because there is no sentience in death, also reveals that life is experienced by us, and defined, as sentience.

And our Doctrines on justice allow for the recognition of what some scientists are calling “non-human persons”. For instance, scientists who study dolphins and whales made an official declaration some years back, saying that these animals should be considered “non-human persons” due to their high levels of intelligence. They made mention of the complexity of dolphin language, and how each dolphin responds to their own name. Some countries recognize the “non-human person” status of chimpanzees and other great apes.

According to our Doctrines on justice, if an animal is capable of making agreements with us–that is to say, if a creature becomes domesticated enough to interact with us according to certain agreements (the pet’s “house rules”), or if we are able to decipher, for instance, dolphin communication to the point where we can enter into a contract of not harming each other (and perhaps even helping each other) with a certain community of dolphins, then those animals are not only sentient, but also intelligent enough to partake in justice. They may be able to, in theory, have certain rights recognized under our laws.

And so here is one of the highest peaks of sentience: the ability to communicate clearly enough with another creature, that a consensus or agreement can be reached. Concrete instances of Justice emerge out of those interactions between the higher sentient beings, similar to how complexities and systems emerge as a result of the relational properties of some bodies (plants that are medicinal or poisonous to some creatures; allergens; a magnet’s attraction to certain rocks, etc.)

Principal Doctrine 32 is worded in a manner that is not anthropocentric, but accepts animals of all types–perhaps also in recognition of the innumerable sentient beings, including higher sentient beings, that Epicurean cosmology posits as existing in the innumerable worlds.

Which raises the question: did the ancient Epicureans ever try to imagine what it would be like to have justice between members of different planets? Lucian’s (very enjoyable) Second-Century fable titled “True History” shows that, although he was a comedian, he had an interest in extraterrestrial themes. The adventure starts with a war between the peoples of two planets. In De Rerum Natura, after describing (in a passage on the origins of warfare) an elaborate battle that included humans using animals for warfare, which drove many of the animals mad with rage, Lucretius goes on to say (in the First Century BCE):

This
We, then, may hold as true in the great All,
In divers worlds on divers plan create,
Somewhere afar more likely than upon
One certain Earth.

Lucretius, Book 5 of De Rerum Natura

So that, at the end of the scene he has just painted, the poet reveals to us that we are witnessing the birth of ancient “science fiction” in a way, that the events he has just described happened most likely not on Earth, but on another of the innumerable worlds.

The Epicureans have always reasoned that the same laws of nature apply everywhere and at all times, so that we can safely infer that in other worlds we should expect things to function and behave like they do in our proximity, so long as the same variables are present. This is why the Doctrine of innumerable worlds is articulated as there existing beings “both similar to and different from” the ones on Earth in the innumerable worlds. And so if sentience evolved here, then we should expect to see it elsewhere.

Philosophical language used for sentience is also of great utility for an Epicurean who seeks to practice the Doctrines. For instance, the term qualia refers to individual instances of subjective conscious experience. When Epicurus advises us to remember past pleasure as part of our hedonic regimen, he is basically saying that we should attempt to revisit the particular qualia that were most pleasant to us in the past, so that we have a treasury of “memory-gems” in our psyche–instances of pleasure the memory of which is crystallized enough in our minds, that they can be easily recalled or remembered, and enjoyed. While other philosophers speculate endlessly about the nature of consciousness, we Epicureans may instead capitalize on the healthiest, most pleasant qualia in our practice.

Finally, many of the other philosophers have labeled humans as “rational animals”, but much of human behavior is not rational. To speak of sentient beings really is an accurate way to describe the kinds of animals that humans are, to a true and natural identity: we are sentient beings: self-sustaining bodies with the faculties needed for perceiving or feeling things.

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My Favorite Epicurean Songs (mostly in English)

Here is my latest compilation of songs (half in English, others in other languages, or instrumental) that I consider Epicurean, as they are related to holy friendship, happiness, or pleasure. We must start, of course, with That’s what friends are for, by Dionne Warwick and friends, which is a celebration of holy friendship.

Zuco 103 sang a song many years ago (in English and Portuguese) that, for me, never gets tired. It’s called Treasure, and its lyrics translate as: “I just want to tell you that no one suffers alone. There will always be someone guarding you in your path“. It’s a song to cheer up a friend, and reminds me of another song in Spanish titled simply Amigo, which is a song of gratitude and an homage to a friend. Its lyrics mentions all the ways in which the person to whom the song is dedicated is a best friend, then says: “I’m not even trying to say all the things I’m saying, but it’s just good to feel that I have such a great friend“.

I can’t fail to include this one: one of the members of SoFE, Alan, recorded an Epicurean devotional chant in Latin known as Lumen Inlustrans.

For the Joy of it All, by Karunesh, which is a song I discovered while listening to my favorite Pandora Channel. This channel is called “Shamanic Way Channel”, and includes Indian melodies, Native American drumming, and other relaxing songs, most of which are instrumental. Although this song is instrumental, its title and its haunting beauty have always captured my heart.

Another instrumental song that should be included here is Eroica, by Marios Strofalis. It is the background song for the Declaration of Pallini website, which is an effort of the Epicurean Gardens from modern Greece to have the “right to happiness” enshrined and recognized for all European citizens in the European Constitution.

Another one of my favorite Epicurean songs is Happy by Pharrell Williams (in fact this is the first song in the SoFE YouTube channel’s Epicurean Music Playlist), and True Colors is a classic–a song about friendship and about loving someone for who they are.

But my absolute favorite is These are days to remember, by 10,000 Maniacs. It’s a celebration of spring and youth. It reminds us to enjoy the non-renewable time we have. It’s my favorite Epicurean song of all time.

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Happy Twentieth! On Methods of Exegesis

Happy Twentieth of November to all Epicureans! It’s been a month of upheaval and crisis.

“There is in this radical Islamism, a methodical organization to contravene the laws of the Republic and create a parallel order, to erect other values” – French President Macron, on the aftermath of the beheading of a teacher for showing a cartoon of the false prophet Muhammad … while the US swears in another Christian theocrat into the Supreme Court

The events of the last few weeks, including the beheading of a teacher for giving a class on free speech in France, and the “anger” that Muslims say that they feel at “Islamophobia” and criticism of their beliefs, rather than at the barbaric, unnecessary, totalitarian and cruel practice of beheading people who disagree with them–compounded by the fact that police in France are having to intervene with Muslim apologist children who are openly defending the practice of beheading infidels–, gives us a stronger resolve to defend the First Amendment and other guarantees and freedoms that we have come to take for granted in the West, as well as the Epicurean practice of parrhesia.

These events remind me, once again, of Lucian’s satire Alexander the Oracle Monger, where (at the end of the work) Lucian of Samosata relates that the false Pagan prophet attempted to have him killed for mocking him. When he brought the case before the Roman senators, they discouraged him from prosecuting the false prophet out of fear of the mobs of his followers. In the short novel, Lucian from time to time has words of praise for Epicurus, and for his Principal Doctrines (a copy of which was burnt by Alexander in one scene). He said:

Scoundrels don’t know what blessings this book creates for its readers and what peace, tranquillity, and freedom it engenders in them, liberating them as it does from terrors and apparitions and portents, from vain hopes and extravagant cravings, developing in them intelligence and truth, and truly purifying their understanding, not with torches and squills and that sort of foolery, but with straight thinking, truthfulness and frankness.

It also happens that the most recent content at SoFE focuses on the Principal Doctrines:

Meléta: Epicurus’ Instructions for Students
PD 6: On Methods of Exegesis
PDs 32, 37 and 38 and the Moral Problem of Slavery
PD 5: The Three Sisters and the Checks and Balances of Epicurean Ethics
PD 8: The Doctrine of Deferred Gratification

The events in the world remind us frequently of the importance of the Principal Doctrines and the moral guidance they have to offer, even 2,300 years after they were written. For instance, in the middle of the current hostility towards science by the US government and many religious groups, we hold PD 24, the doctrine of empirical thinking, in our minds. In the process of studying the PD’s in depth, I’ve found four distinct methods of interpretation, or ways of thinking about, the Doctrines:

  1. The contextual method – this is the most common-sense method, where we try to discern what conversations among the founders led to establishing each PD as an authoritative conclusion
  2. The literal method – which calls for the literal interpretation of the text only; we try to discern the original anticipation of each word; requires some knowledge of ancient Greek
  3. The pragmatic or consequential method – an attempt to connect theory with practice; asks how one may put into practice that doctrine, with the possibility that new insights about the doctrine will emerge when we put before our eyes the consequences of each doctrine. This is based on Epicurus’ assertion in his sermon Against empty words that we think empirically concerning actions based on the results observed from any course of action
  4. The therapeutic method: where we consider what disease of the soul the PD is attempting to heal, and what is the medicine that the PD carries (since “the words of philosophy” are healing). This applies to many, but perhaps not all, PDs

These methods open up various ways to think about what conversations led to the establishment of these doctrines. For instance, traditionally people think of the first four doctrines as therapeutic because they were paraphrased into the Four Cures (Tetrapharmakon) by Philodemus of Gadara, but a deeper study reveals that many of the other PDs also contain what Philodemus called “the healing words of philosophy”. PD 28 contains medicine for lack of self-confidence. There are many more than four cures in the PDs.

When I discussed PD6, I demonstrated the frequent necessity of the literal method. The PDs on justice may be put into practice by drafting contracts based on mutual benefit, or may be better understood by using case-studies (leases, marriage or job contracts, etc.)

Our latest video is on pleasure and gratitude (Third Cure) and on coping with suffering as an Epicurean (Fourth Cure).

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France Vs Islamic Totalitarianism

This week, a couple of new terrorist attacks happened in France where knife-wielding Muslim “men of God” killed three Catholic church-goers, following up on last week’s beheading of a teacher for giving a class on free expression. The terrorist who beheaded the Paris teacher for attempting to educate his students about the Muhammad cartoons had been born in Russia (specifically in the Islamic region of Chechenia), and was in France as a refugee.

Now, many Muslim countries are attempting to make Muslims look like victims. While places like Pakistan and Turkey have not uttered a word of solidarity with free expression or with the victims of Islamist violence, in unison they are arrogantly expressing their “anger” at “Islamophobia”. Like the far right in many parts of the West, Islamists frequently try to claim that they are being persecuted, as a way to justify their vitriol against secular and Western values. They also thrive in false equivalents, like the idea that drawing a cartoon is comparable to or more vulgar than beheading a teacher for teaching free expression. One editorial by a UK Humanist group called for an end to victim-blaming, but there’s no reason to expect reasonable and rational discourse from fanatics.

Personally, I have very little to no sympathy for anyone who takes for granted the huge step forward that the First Amendment of our Constitution is, and similar guarantees in other Western societies. The values of the French Republic, and in particular its doctrine of laicité (secularism, which requires the state to remain neutral with regards to all religious matters), took generations of struggle to enshrine into law, including many religious wars.

In solidarity with France, and with the victims of Islamic totalitarianism and religious tyranny everywhere, here is an image of Muhammad with one of his wives, Aisha, who was 9 years old when she married him, and he was 60 years old.

I’ve always argued that, if Islam and Christianity did not exist, there would most likely be some other (Pagan) religion just as arrogantly claiming the type of cultural and moral superiority that we see in the imperialist Abrahamic religions. In the Second Century of CE, Lucian of Samosata wrote about a Pagan false prophet who (in an event that would’ve been reminiscent of the Charlie Hebdo massacre) attempted to have Lucian killed for mocking him. These events are narrated towards the end of the short satirical novel Alexander the Oracle Monger.

In Epicureanism, we consider parrhesia (the practice of offering frank criticism, which is one of the therapeutic utilities of free speech), to be one of the key expressions of our philosophy. Freedom of speech is deeply embedded into our worldview, it’s non-negotiable, and among our deeply held beliefs. In actuality, one can’t truly say one is free if one can’t express oneself. Free speech offers evidence that we are free.

Further Reading:

Contradictions and Errors in the Qur’an
Deeds Versus Belief
Violence and Killing in the Quran
Muhammad and the Problem of Proof
Inequality, Women, Rape and Slavery in the Qur’an
Some Examples of Hate Speech in the Quran

Revolt of the Angels Book Review (set in France)

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Please Avoid Godaddy

Society of Epicurus has successfully transferred hosting of our webpage to Bluehost after a long, dysfunctional relationship with Godaddy. I’m writing this blog to warn any future content creators not to do business with Godaddy.

My experience with Godaddy has been absolutely negative. They do not listen to clients when we call their customer service number. They pay no attention to our grievances. Their call center representatives are shady, pushy, and aggresively sales-y. They seem to be encouraged to give people updates they don’t need, usually against their will or without clearly informing clients of what they’re getting themselves into, in exchange for commissions.

I called to get an SSL certificate on my site, was told I needed an “updated plan” for that which I was promptly sold, and charged for. Two days later, another contributor to the Society of Epicurus page complains that they’re still getting the non-secure-connection error message, and I have to call them fearing that (once again) they sold me an “update” and didn’t address my initial customer service question. This is the third time this happens. Indeed, that was the case. The new customer service guy confirms that I was “misinformed” last time I called and mischarged, and offers to “fix” my plan if I paid another $500 … I had JUST paid $600 in February for five years of hosting. That was no more than eight months ago.

So I requested the money I paid two days ago to be refunded and I informed the rep that I did not want to have anything more to do with Godaddy and informed him of the reasons why they just lost my business. I asked whether I would be able to also get at least a partial refund for the pre-paid hosting services from February, since this is supposed to cover hosting for the next more than four years. I was told that there’s a 30-day money-back policy.

So basically the bottom line is I lost hundreds of dollars for doing business with Godaddy and allowing them to bully me into services I didn’t need, while ignoring the needs I did verbalize. I wish to alert all content creators to avoid doing business with Godaddy from the beginning. It’s an inconvenience to have to migrate my site. It’s frustrating to have to call Godaddy, only to have unscrupulous and lying salespersons who are apparently trained to only care about their commissions exploit the opportunity and the lack of knowledge of the clients in order to extract more money from the clients without even listening to what they actually need.

So please, do yourself a favor, and NEVER DO BUSINESS WITH GODADDY! If you ever find yourself needing to create a website, and would also like to show support for my work, here’s an affiliate link for Bluehost.

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Happy Twentieth! Cosmos 3:3

Happy Twentieth to all students of Epicurean philosophy! Some literary updates:

My essay on Principal Doctrines 24 and 28 titled “On the utility of dogmatism” was followed up by another essay on Principal Doctrine 5, which discusses the checks and balances in Epicurean ethics. They kick-start a series of explorations of the PD’s. If the links are down (as a result of website migration) you may find them here and here.

The latest essays published at SoFE include a description of what life was like in the first Epicurean Guardens by Marcus Cramer, a translation of the Letter to Herodotus for the benefit of students, and a critical essay by Harmonius (Alan) on Thomas Jefferson and how his practice of slavery seems to have been inconsistent with his Epicureanism, since our doctrines on justice (per Principal Doctrines 30-38) require a covenant of mutual benefit, and Epicurean friendship must also start with mutual benefit. You may also search for these in the Epicurean database if our page is still down.

The book Philodemus, On Anger has recently been published. In the past few months, a book review of Ethics of Philodemus was published also, and in the past I had written a commentary on the scroll On Anger.

The Modern Epicurean published Towards an Epicurean Neopaganism, where he explores the second interpretation of the Epicurean gods.

The American Philosophical Association has published an essay titled The untold history of India’s vital atheist philosophy, which includes frequent references to the Lokayata School–a sister school to Epicureanism.

Luke DeHart has published an essay on Improving public health from an Epicurean perspective for the Journal of Public Health. 

An essay by financial times Why loneliness fuels populism. The essay cites Hannah Arendt:

Arendt writes that for those characterised by “isolation and lack of normal social relationships . . . it is through surrendering their individual selves to ideology that [they] rediscover their purpose and self-respect”. Loneliness, or “the experience of not belonging to the world at all”, is, Arendt writes, “the essence of totalitarian government . . . the preparation of its executioners and victims”.

This, of course, reminds us of Epicurean warnings against politics and in favor of natural community. People who lack real, face-to-face community and rootedness, are more likely to fall for Platonic, imagined communities, and for “isms” and impersonal or abstract things that tend to replace real community.

Cosmos

I once again have been enjoying the Cosmos series, which is hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and continues the tradition of Lucretius of blending poetry, art, science, and cosmology. I really enjoyed episode 3 of season 3, which included “the closest thing to a scientific creation myth that we have”, and where the host frequently said “Life: the escape artist“. He was referring to the origin of life theory according to which the geographic process of serpentinization helped to produce life: as the rocks in the Earth’s crust constantly interacted under pressure with the hot lava below it (from which it drew energy), producing special kinds of rocks and minerals, as well as bubbles inside which–the theory holds–these minerals interacted and had enough thermal energy to form the earliest lifeforms.

Life, according to this theory, originated in the rocks … and another thing I learned in this episode is that rocks evolve. The laws by which they evolve are the same laws that govern the interaction between different elements under different temperatures and pressures, etc. The bubbles inside those ancient rocks eventually escaped into the ocean, so that life began as animated minerals.

I can’t recommend the series Cosmos enough. It really is the modern continuation of Lucretius’ journey through the nature of things, giving us awe-inspiring insight into HOW matter makes all things.

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In Celebration of Teachers’ Day

Today is Teachers’ Day. In addition to the teachers of the Epicurean tradition (Epicurus, Metrodorus, Philodemus, Hermarchus) who have left a legacy in my life that can not be measured, I’m remembering some of the teachers who shaped me into the person that I am, or who taught me life lessons beyond the classroom.

Some of my teachers in grammar school were also neighbors. The librarian lived a block away. My third-grade English teacher was Mrs. Ponce, who was a little bit strange and very much into African religions and aesthetics (she was an initiate of Santeria and probably also of Palo Monte, and she sometimes held loud séances in her home). It was all very “Adams family”. Mrs. Ponce–who lived across the street from me–was white as snow, and her husband was the blackest man I had ever seen. She was an affectionate and caring person.  As one of the (two) neighborhood witches, she was one of the first people who taught me to respect the dignity of people who were different, and to challenge conventional religious stereotypes.

Mrs. Fernandez lived three doors down. She was my math teacher in fourth grade, but she was also a sort of aunt figure, and I used to ride my bike and play with her two sons who were about my age. When I was of age to get a driver’s license, my father was too busy to teach me or lend me his car, since he was a business owner who worked over ten hours every day. She drove me around and helped me to get my driver’s license. One of her sons died a couple of years ago, and I reconnected with her via a long phone conversation. We spoke for almost an hour. I’ve always enjoyed her loud, thunderous, contagious laughter. These days, her hair is one big ball of white cotton, but she is still the same sweet person that she always was.

Professor Sara Santos was my Spanish teacher in 10th grade. I grew up in Puerto Rico in the 1980’s-90’s, where the colonial status of the island was a pervasive part of our reality. Colonialism is a political problem, but there are huge psychological effects to colonialism, which are difficult to explain, but the crux of it is that there is an official narrative and identity (American citizenship, American politics and currency, the English language) and a non-official narrative (Puerto Rican culture, Spanish language), and a clear and obvious imbalance of power in favor of the American ideal. Different Puerto Ricans deal with that differently: some assume assimilationist attitudes, others defiant ones.

Mrs. Sara Santos was a Black Puerto Rican and she spoke the most proper and dignified Spanish I’d ever heard. She also taught her daughters to speak the same way. This “dignified Spanish speaker” aura is something that I also observed in many of my other Spanish teachers throughout the years. There IS something dignified and noble about doing concrete work to help preserve the Spanish language on the island after more than 100 years of US colonialism.

I wonder to what extent her Blackness informed how she carried herself. Her proper speech meant that she was treated like a proper Spanish lady, and not like any other person (Black or otherwise). Her upholding certain standards of proper Spanish speech may have been a means to escape being a target of racism, in addition to a means to fight assimilationist efforts and colonialism. Her defiance of colonialism was a fortress made up of refined words, rather than a political or polemical rhetoric. It was not angry or even indignant, but dignified and clear-spoken.

She loved teaching us new words, and she was a word-smith who loved poetry and the literary arts. The strangest word she taught me, which I’ve never forgotten, was a derogatory and informal term for which there were many other words in Spanish, but she loved to use this word: tiquismiquis. The word “officially” exists in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (not that it matters to most Puerto Ricans, who frequently adopt English loan-words into Spanish grammar and conventions). It means:

fusspot.
synonyms: fussy person · worrier · perfectionist · stickler · grumbler · nitpicker · old woman · fussbudget

Mrs. Santos’ Spanish was very proper and it stood out, but it didn’t sound contrived or fake. She carried herself in a manner that was formal because she really did enjoy a level of education and sophistication far beyond most people, and I loved her and respected her for that–not out of disdain for the uneducated, but perhaps because in the depths of me, I also aspired to one day be a learned and sophisticated soul. That, and she gave me a sermon once against unwholesome association because I had gotten into the habit of hanging out with a false friend and cutting classes. I decided to listen to her advice, change friends, and return to classes. I don’t know where she is and I probably will never have the chance to thank her, but the words of her sermon still “walk with me” to this day.

Professor Hilda Vera was my Social Sciences professor during my first year in college. She was a feminist and very pro-LGBT. This was a time of great vulnerability for me. I began coming out to others as gay that year, and she was an important mentor during that time because of her outspokenness, confidence, and eloquence. She also helped to shape my leftist politics (which I have outgrown to a great extent).

One thing that stands out about these teachers is how a large part of what they had to do was just to be themselves. In a world full of artifice, authenticity stands out, and by simply being who they are and embodying their values fully, mentors (or friends) can (sometimes unknowingly) have a huge impact in the lives of others.

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