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  Epicureanism is named after Epicurus (341 - 270 BCE), a Greek aristocrat who founded what was essentially a philosophical mystery-cult, which was practised initially by a group of people who lived in his high-walled garden in Athens. (Epicureanism is the modern name; in ancient times the cult, and the philosophy, were called ‘The Garden’.) The Epicureans\' goal was to achieve ataraxia, ‘freedom from disturbance’—a quality they defined as ‘happiness of soul’, and which they sought through seclusion from everyday bustle, contemplation, the avoidance of emotional commitment and the quiet enjoyment of life\'s pleasures.

Epicureanism had enormous appeal for the less assertive aristocrats of ancient Greece and Rome, setting themselves apart from the political turmoil of the times. But because of its secretive nature, and because there were no prescribed canons of belief or practice—Epicureanism was in no sense a religious cult—its adherents came to be accused of every kind of hedonistic and orgiastic excess. The early Christians, in particular, vilified Epicureans for saying that the world was (a) transient and (b) all that we had, and for (as Christians thought) equating ‘the good life’ with pleasure and not with ethical, moral and theological ambition or excellence. To modern eyes, there are palpable similarities between Epicurean ideas and those of Far Eastern philosophies and religions; that these were never explored in ancient times, not so much because there was no contact between East and West as because the Epicureans avoided ‘becoming involved’ with anyone else at all, is a matter of historical fascination if not regret. The Roman Empire, for one thing, and the subsequent history of western Europe, might have been entirely different if its rulers had followed the enlightened paganism of men such as the poet Horace (perhaps the best-known today of all Epicureans) or the Emperors Hadrian and Julian, rather than the Stoic severities of Augustus Caesar (in secular affairs) or St Paul (in spiritual matters). KMcL



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