In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Epicureanism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Overviews of Epicurean Philosophy
  • Bibliographies
  • Lexicographic Tools
  • Critical Editions of Epicurus
  • Translations and Commentaries
  • Collections of Essays and Other Studies in Epicureanism
  • Epicurus’s Style of Writing
  • Epicurus’s Canonic
  • Epicurus’s Science of Nature
  • Epicurus’s Ethics
  • Reception of Epicureanism: From Late Antiquity and Christianity to the Contemporary Age

Classics Epicureanism
Francesco Verde
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0202


The term “Epicureanism” means the philosophy of Epicurus (b. Samos c. 342–341 BCE, d. Athens c. 271–270 BCE) and the school founded by him. Epicurus was one of the most famous Greek philosophers of the Hellenistic period (which traditionally dates from the death of Alexander the Great [323 BCE] to the Battle of Actium [31 BCE]) and its influence on the history of Western philosophy is certainly decisive. Epicurus’s philosophy is organized into a coherent system, with parts that follow an unchangeable order oriented toward ethics; i.e., the end and the culmination to which philosophy aims: (1) canonic (i.e., the epistemological part of the system, which contains the criteria of truth based on the veracity of sensations); (2) physiology (i.e., the science of nature, which explains everything on the ground of atoms and void); (3) ethics (which promises the attainment of happiness through pleasure, which is the complete absence of pain). Although most of Epicurus’s works have been lost, a crucial source to rebuild his philosophy is Diogenes Laertius’s Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Book 10, that preserved the “Testament” (§§ 16–21); the three doctrinal letters addressed to Herodotus (§§ 35–83, about the science of nature), to Pythocles (§§ 84–116, about celestial and meteorological phenomena), and to Menoeceus (§§ 121–135, about ethics); and forty “Principal Doctrines” (§§ 139–154, essentially about morals). A Vatican Library manuscript (Vat gr. 1950) also preserved eighty-one maxims (some are identical to Principal Doctrines; others are attributable to the Epicurean Metrodorus of Lampsacus): it is the so-called Gnomologium Vaticanum Epicureum (Vatican Sayings). The masterpiece of Epicurus devoted to the science of nature is Peri physeos (On Nature) in thirty-seven books, only a few fragmentary papyri of these have been found in the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum (Italy). Beyond the works by several Epicureans (such as Philodemus of Gadara) found in Herculaneum, Lucretius’s De rerum natura (Of the Nature of Things) and the monumental inscription on stone by Diogenes of Oinoanda (in Lycia) dated around 120 CE are very significant Epicurean sources. After establishing some “philosophical circles” in Mytilene and Lampsacus, Epicurus founded his main philosophical school, the “Garden” (Kepos), in Athens (307–304 BCE). Many scholarchs succeeded Epicurus at the helm of the Garden, from Hermarchus of Mytilene (scholarch after Epicurus until about 250 BCE) to Patron (before 50 BCE); however, no clear information is available after that on the succession of Kepos leaders. Epicureanism was one of the most enduring philosophical schools of the ancient world. Up to the Imperial Age, it is possible to ascertain that Epicureanism was still active; it is well known, indeed, that one of the Imperial chairs created by Marcus Aurelius (176 CE) was of Epicurean philosophy.

General Overviews

Many presentations are available of Epicurus, his life, his work, and his doctrine, but not many of Epicureanism. The most exhaustive presentations of Epicurus’s philosophy are Rist 1972, Erler 1994, Gigandet and Morel 2007, Morel 2009, Warren 2009, and Verde 2013 (the last chapter includes a short section devoted to the history of Epicurean school from Hermarchus of Mytilene to the Imperial Age). The presentations in Hossenfelder 2006, Giovacchini 2008, O’Keefe 2010, and Mas Torres 2018 are detailed, valuable and of particular interest.

  • Algra, K., J. Barnes, J. Mansfeld, and M. Schofield, eds. 1999. The Cambridge history of Hellenistic philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521250283

    The sections of this important handbook on Hellenistic philosophy devoted to Epicureanism are very important (i.e., E. Asmis on epistemology, D. N. Sedley on physics, D. J. Furley on cosmology, S. Everson on psychology, and M. Erler and M. Schofield on ethics).

  • DeWitt, N. D. 1954. Epicurus and his philosophy. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    This is a classic and detailed introduction to Epicurus’s philosophy. Great attention is paid to the biography of the philosopher, the historical context, and the innovations of his philosophy.

  • Erler, M. 1994. Epikur; Die Schule Epikurs; Lukrez. In Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, Die Philosophie der Antike, Band 4: Die hellenistische Philosophie. Edited by H. Flashar, 29–490. Basel, Switzerland: Schwabe.

    Following the model of the other volumes of the series, this section devoted to Hellenistic philosophy can be considered a true summa on Epicurus and Epicureanism, with a wide and detailed bibliography.

  • Erler, M., and R. Bees, eds. 2000. Epikureismus in der späten Republik und der Kaiserzeit: Akten der 2, Tagung der Karl-und-Gertud-Abel-Stiftung vom 30. September–3. Oktober 1998 in Würzburg. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag.

    This volume contains the proceedings of a conference devoted to the Late Roman Republic and Imperial Age Epicureanism held in Würzburg (Germany) in 1998. Includes many interesting papers on Epicurean topics, especially those related to Philodemus, Seneca, Cleomedes, Philo of Alexandria, Lactantius, Origen, Simplicius, and Augustinus.

  • Fish, J., and K. R. Sanders, eds. 2011. Epicurus and the Epicurean tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511921704

    This book includes significant and stimulating papers on Epicureanism. The main topics of the volume are the debate on Epicurus’s (presumed) theological innatism, the notion of politics and friendship, Cicero, Philodemus on anger and death, and Plutarch.

  • Gigandet, A., and P.-M. Morel, eds. 2007. Lire Épicure et les épicuriens. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

    This volume collects some recent papers written by specialists in the field of Epicureanism on several topics of Epicurean philosophy (Epicurus’s works, the philosophical community, epistemology, physics, psychology, ethics, and theology).

  • Giovacchini, J. 2008. Épicure. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

    DOI: 10.14375/NP.9782251760629

    This is a considerable introduction to Epicurus’s philosophy and is divided into five main sections: Epicurus’s philosophical school in the Hellenistic age, ethics, physics, epistemology, and theology, education/paideia, and dialectic.

  • Hossenfelder, M. 2006. Epikur. Munich: Beck.

    This is an updated version of the first edition published in 1991. It is a valuable introduction to Epicurus’s thought, especially to ethics and Epicurean hedonism (the notions of friendship and politics are included).

  • Mas Torres, S. 2018. Epicuro, epicúreos y el epicureísmo en Roma. Madrid: Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia.

    This is one of the most complete, exhaustive, and updated general introductions to the philosophy of Epicurus and the Epicureans. This book should be noted for its clarity and for the rich final bibliography, which is undoubtedly a very helpful point of reference for both scholars and those who begin the study of Epicurean philosophy.

  • Morel, P.-M. 2009. Épicure: La nature et la raison. Paris: Vrin.

    This is a rich, detailed, and philosophically original introduction to Epicurus’s thought. Divided into four parts: physical principles, theology and psychology, epistemology, and ethics.

  • O’Keefe, T. 2010. Epicureanism. Durham, UK: Acumen.

    This introduction provides a useful exposition of the central theoretical tenets of Epicurus’s philosophy. Part 1 of the book examines the fundamentals of Epicurus’s thought (atoms, cosmology, mechanistic biology, the nature and functioning of the mind, and death). Part 2 explores epistemology. Part 3 deals with ethics by exploring Epicurus’s arguments for hedonism.

  • Rist, J. M. 1972. Epicurus: An introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This short book is an original introduction to Epicurus’s philosophy and covers the Epicurean thought in its wholeness. It includes a separate chapter on friendship. The volume ends with five brief appendixes on “innate” ideas, the weight of Democritus’s atom, Epicurean cosmology, pleasure, and theology.

  • Schmid, W. 1961. Epikur. Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 5:681–819.

    An important encyclopedic article particularly devoted to the history of Epicureanism from the Hellenistic Garden to its reception in early Christian thought. Great importance is paid to the papyrological sources, especially in the “pagan” section.

  • Steckel, H. 1968. Epikuros. Pauly-Wissowa Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft Suppl. Bd 11:579–652.

    Although dated, this is still a really valuable and significant encyclopedic article, which spans the school’s history and the main philosophical topics through a deep and detailed examination of Epicurus’s life and works.

  • Verde, F. 2013. Epicuro. Rome: Carocci.

    This book follows the Epicurean division of philosophy. After a section devoted to Epicurus’s biography and works, there are three parts, dealing with epistemology, physics, and ethics. The last short chapter is dedicated to the history of ancient Epicureanism (from Hermarchus of Mytilene to the Imperial Age).

  • Warren, J., ed. 2009. The Cambridge companion to Epicureanism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521873475

    This volume gathers fifteen articles by leading scholars in Epicureanism. It is not only an introduction to the history of Epicureanism (from the Early Hellenistic Garden to the Roman Empire and its later reception in the Early Modern period), but also a critical account of its major areas of philosophical interest.

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