First Principle of Piety

The Seven Principles of Epicurean Piety are seven general guiding ideas that were distilled from the Reasonings on Philodemus’ scroll On Piety, which were published in Society of Epicurus. The Herculaneum scrolls are the writings that survived the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 of Common Era, or at least the ones that scholars have been able to salvage and decipher thus far.

The seven principles are merely guides to aid in memorization of key, useful points that can be gleaned from the scroll, following the Epicurean educational tradition of short, concise summaries of ideas. They are:

  • Gods can be understood from realist or idealist interpretations.
  • Humans imitate the qualities they see in divinity. Therefore, the wise have noble expectations concerning the Gods.
  • Worship is an act of self-expression and only benefits the worshiper. It does not necessarily affect the object of worship.
  • There is good, pure and wholesome religion as well as defiled and unwholesome religion.
  • Worship affects reality because it affects character.
  • Epicurean doctrines are considered the true cause of our tranquility.
  • Piety is a sort of art of divine attunement with the philosophical virtues that produces wholesome, blessed, blissful, therapeutic states of mind.

I will, in the coming days, focus on each one of the seven principles with cross-references from within and outside the scroll in order to re-ignite conversation on the Herculaneum scrolls. The first principle:

Gods can be understood from realist or idealist interpretations

“For there ARE Gods …”

Dialogues on the Epicurean Gods

On the Epicurean Gods

The Third Interpretation of the Epicurean Gods

Would a True God Bring Trouble to Jerusalem?

The Gods of the Garden, the God of the Mount and the Absolute

It would be fitting to describe all men as impious, inasmuch as no one has been prolific in finding convincing demonstrations for the existence of the gods; nevertheless all men, with the exception of some madmen, worship them, as do we. – Philodemus of Gadara

A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness. – Epicurus of Samos

Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
And fruitful lands- for all of living things
Through thee alone are evermore conceived,
Through thee are risen to visit the great sun-
Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,
Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,
For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,
For thee waters of the unvexed deep
Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky
Glow with diffused radiance for thee!

– Lucretius, in De Rerum Natura

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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