The Epicurean Garden Academy: the fifth of five, very short, morning reflections on the philosophy of Epicurus for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

Talk 5—The Epicurean Garden Academy

(Hear the talk for a limited period of time at this link. The piece starts 22 minutes 35 seconds into the programme and finishes three minutes later.)

In the 3rd century BCE, the Greek philosopher Epicurus developed a philosophy, the ultimate goal of which was a kind of peace of mind or tranquility that he called “ataraxia”. To achieve this at least three common fears needed to be addressed and removed: fear of the gods, fear of an afterlife, and fear of death and, as we explored last week, key to achieving this kind of life was friendship.

Clearly this can mean single friendships but Epicurus saw the need and value of larger communities too and he provided this in his own garden academy in Athens. Written above its entrance were these inviting words:

“Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure. The caretaker of [this] abode, a kindly host, will be ready for you; he will welcome you with bread, and serve you water in abundance, with these words: ‘Have you not been well entertained? This garden does not whet your appetite, but quenches it’” (Seneca, “Epistulae morales ad Lucilium”, Epistle XXI).

Both Epicurus’ philosophy and his garden academy provided a hospitable gate through which all people, rich and poor, men and women, slave and free, were allowed freely to come and go where, through a process of mutually supportive philosophical self-cultivation, they were helped to fashion a form of life that, being free from the fear of the gods, an afterlife, and death was, indeed, tranquil and pleasurable and a style of living that others could also behold with pleasure.

In this kind of philosophical garden community it was — and still is — possible to nurture all kinds of virtues that, to this day, continue to offer us what we can call “the salt of existence”, namely: love, affection, tenderness, sweetness, thoughtfulness, delicateness, forbearance, magnanimity, politeness, amenity, kindness, civility, attentiveness, attention, courtesy, clemency, devotedness, and all the words carrying a connotation of goodness (this list is gratefully taken from Michel Onfray’s “A Hedonist Manifesto: The Power to Exist”, Columbia University Press, 2015, p. 49).

The first talk can be found at this link

The second talk can be found at this link 

The third talk can be found at this link

The fourth talk can be found at this link