Letters on Happiness

by Peter Saint-Andre

Letter Three: The Greatest Confidence

Previous: Letter Two: The Use of Friends

Hi Paul,

Thanks for sending those quotes. I've bookmarked that website and will check it out in detail soon. One thing I noticed right away is that these brief aphorisms are the merest scraps that remain from the longer works that Epicurus wrote. It might not be easy to reconstruct his philosophy from these scattered fragments, which is where Lucretius might help us out because as far as I can tell he was quite comprehensive in his presentation of Epicureanism. (By the way, I know you're not a huge poetry fan but if you decide to read Lucretius I cannot recommend highly enough the translation by A.E. Stallings, it is absolutely gorgeous!)

On the topic of friendship, I've noticed that in several of his aphorisms Epicurus mentions how your worries about the future can be eased by the trust you have in your friends and by the attention they give to you. Here are a few others in addition the one you quoted about the usefulness of friends:

All those who have the power to obtain the greatest confidence from their neighbors also live with each other most enjoyably in the most steadfast trust; and experiencing the strongest fellowship they do not lament as pitiful the untimely end of those who pass away. (Principal Doctrine 40)

We sympathize with our friends not through lamentation but through thoughtful attention. (Vatican Saying 66)

One consideration here seems to be his view that the worst aspects of life are few and short-lived:

The same judgment produces confidence that dreadful things are not everlasting, and that security amidst the limited number of dreadful things is most easily achieved through friendship. (Principal Doctrine 28)

In other words, he seems to think that on those rare occasions when bad things do happen, your friends can fill the gap without being overly burdened.

Does that interpretation sound right to you?


Next: Letter Four: Praise Be to Nature

Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Epicurus