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3 - Epicureanism in the Roman Empire

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2009

James Warren
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

Descriptions of Epicureanism in Rome often end with Lucretius in the first century BC. No innovations are expected of Epicureanism under the Principate and, in fact, anyone expecting to widen our knowledge of Epicureanism through the study of Imperial sources will often be disappointed, since Epicureans in this period mostly pronounce the familiar doctrines, while anti-Epicurean polemics, from pagan and Christian camps, are content to draw on the arsenal of well-rehearsed arguments, almost always aimed at Epicurus' materialism, his rejection of providence, his denial of the immortality of the soul and his hedonism. Certainly, Epicurus' teachings were not particularly favoured under the Principate. Throughout the first two centuries down to the time of Marcus Aurelius, Hellenistic philosophy, by comparison with resurgent Platonism and Christianity, was indeed favourably viewed; but even then Epicurus' teachings stayed in the background in comparison with Stoicism. His philosophy was eventually to lose all significant influence when, in Late Antiquity, Platonism and Christianity became dominant. One reason for the growing neglect might have been the alleged atheism of Epicurean doctrines.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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