Cyrenaic Reasonings III: Theodorus the Godless

This is the third in a blog series on Cyrenaic Philosophy. Please also read the first and second parts.

Atheism, as understood today–particularly in its militant strands–is a fairly modern phenomenon but it’s not by any means new. Many centuries before the Common Era, there was a philosopher militant and outspoken enough to bear the epithet “the Godless”, and he left a lasting legacy: the biographer Diogenes Laertius claims that Epicurus took most of what he said about the gods from Theodorus the Godless, who apparently wrote a scroll (lost to us) titled On the Gods. His later followers, the Theodorans, were known for their polemics and attacks on other philosophers.

Theodorus’ virtues were prudence and justice, and he set joy (and distress) as the ends in his doctrine, presumably the former to be sought and the latter to be avoided. He repudiated friendship and politics. He was magnanimous, proud, and continued teaching Hegesias’ virtues of indifference and autarchy.

In defending the virtues as means to pleasure, he used the example of letter order within words and sentences. The letters by themselves are useless and do not bring any advantage, but when organized meaningfully they convey sense: similarly with utilitarian virtue. The usefulness of virtues in the pursuit of pleasure is self-evident.

Only sages are true kings. – Theodorus the Godless

Theodorus, like his predecessor Hegesias, saw a clear distinction between sages and fools. He said that laws, rules, and penalties exist only for sake of fools, and that sages did not need them because they were naturally good. He therefore rejected the laws of the polis, and sought what is natural and lawful for the self. He was committed to his own “nature”.

We find a paraphrase of one of his sayings in the first and second verses of the Buddhist scripture known as Dhammapada, sometimes known as the Gospel of Sidhartha Buddha. Theodorus’ saying is

Foolishness generates distress and joy follows prudence.

… whereas verses 1-2 of the first Dhamapada chapter read:

Mind precedes all knowables,
mind’s their chief, mind-made are they.
If with a corrupted mind
one should either speak or act
dukkha (suffering) follows caused by that,
as does the wheel the ox’s hoof.

Mind precedes all knowables,
mind’s their chief, mind-made are they.
If with a clear, and confident mind
one should speak and act
happiness follows caused by that,
as one’s shadow ne’er departing.

The influence of Theodorus can even be seen as late as in Philodemus of Gadara, who taught philosophy to wealthy Romans in the first century. Theodorus’ teaching that “it makes no difference whether you rot underground or above it, or at sea”, by which he meant that death is nothing because no one actually experiences it, was later paraphrased by Philodemus in his scroll On Death.

Further Reading:

The Birth of Hedonism: The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life

Cyrenaic Reasonings

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014), 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and Epicurus of Samos – His Philosophy and Life: All the principal Classical texts Compiled and Introduced by Hiram Crespo (Ukemi Audiobooks, 2020). He's the founder of, and has written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
This entry was posted in Atheism, Naturalism, Philosophy, secular and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Cyrenaic Reasonings III: Theodorus the Godless

  1. Pingback: Cyrenaic Reasonings – Epicurean Database

  2. Pingback: Nietzsche on Pleasure as Subservient to Power | The Autarkist

  3. Pingback: The Theodorians | Society of Friends of Epicurus

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s