Sunday, October 18, 2015

Are you Epicurean?

What do you think of when you hear the word epicure? Food, right?

But you'd be wrong. Yes that's the modern use of the word, but long before epicurean meant food, or a website you use to research your favorite recipe (, Epicureanism was a school of Greek philosophy - and one that is pretty attractive!

The philosopher Epicurus founded his school in his garden in Athens in the 4th century BC. His philosophy was based on the belief that our purpose is to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by peace, freedom from fear, the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. His students were called the Garden People (that sounds good right there) and the focus was on pleasure (but not too much because too much leads to pain) and on friendship.

Sounds to good to be true, perhaps? Of course. The school of thought was soon opposed by men to whom happiness was not the end in mind. Justice, religion, politics and power are stronger forces than happiness. Epicurus' teachings were opposed by Cicero, and the Roman Senate, and eventually by the Christians, and so the word Epicurean was abused as the more Stoic values became fashionable.

To be epicurean began to mean to be indulgent, to be devoted to sensual pleasure, good food and comfort, with the negative connotation of self indulgence which was not part of the original philosophy of the simple life.

But to me it is marvelous that a word that originally was about living a happy life based on friendship and freedom from fear is now associated with food. It's the logical derivative. After all, where is the center of happiness typically in a home? It's the kitchen table. It's the community formed around the preparation of food, the sharing of food, the discussion of food. Food plays the glue in many family and friend relationships. There is so much more joy and pleasure in the sharing of the food than in the food itself. So food... happiness... friendship are all intermingled.

As I finish a delicious salad, sitting on a lawn chair by the beach on the big island of Hawaii, I think about how luxurious and sensuous the experience is. Taste on the lip, sun and wind on the skin, a stimulating history book in my hand, the absence of fear. My friends waiting for me back at the house. I am convinced. Yes, I am an Epicurean.

Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times

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