Epicurus › Epidaurus › The Didache » Origins and History

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  • Epicurus › Who Was
  • Epidaurus › Ancient History
  • The Didache: A Moral and Liturgical Document of Instruction › Antique Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

Epicurus › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 07 September 2016
Epicurus ()
Epicurus (341 BCE – 270 BCE) was an ancient Greek philosopher, the founder of the Epicurean school in Athens, who taught that "Pleasure is the principle and end to a happy life." He was a prolific writer, amassing 37 volumes, but unfortunately, only fragments and four letters remain. His teachings would influence many who followed such as Lucretius of Rome and his On the Nature of Things, and the Utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and JS Mill.


Most of what historians know of Epicurus has been gathered from the writings of others. In 341 BCE Epicurus was born, according to most sources, on the small island of Samos located off the coast of Asia Minor in the Aegean Sea. His father Neocles was a schoolteacher. Neocles and his wife Chaerestrate were members of the Athenian poor – the Klirouchi – who emigrated to Samos from Athens after they had been offered land there. Initially, Epicurus was taught at home by his father but later was schooled by Amphilus (also known as Pamphilus), a Platonist, and Nausephanes, a follower of Democritus, the Atomist. While Epicurus was serving his mandatory two years in the Athenian army, his family was relocated by force to the small Ionian city of Colophon when Perdiccas the old Macedonian commander under Alexander had ordered the removal of all Athenians from Samos.
It was then that Epicurus began to develop his own, unique philosophy. According to sources, at the tender age of 14, he had become disillusioned with his teachers. Like Aristotle, he was an empiricist and believed that all knowledge comes from one's senses. His new philosophy centered primarily on the idea of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Although his name and philosophy have been misconstrued and linked to hedonism, his initial teachings were anything but. Obviously, because of his early education, Epicurus's thinking was heavily influenced by the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and most of all Democritus. Slowly, his teachings drew a number of dedicated followers, even appealing to both women and slaves. The fact that his schools welcomed everyone brought considerable opposition from others in and around Athens. At the age of 32, he moved to the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, and later, not by choice, he relocated to Lampsacus on the eastern side of the Hellespont, establishing schools at both locations.



In 307/306 CE he bought a home in Athens and founded a new school, calling it 'The Garden,' where he remained for the rest of his life. On the gate of his school was the inscription: "Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest goal is pleasure." Unfortunately, his concept of pleasure has been horribly misinterpreted; to him, pleasure meant one must lead a life of restful contemplation, eating and drinking moderately. One must live without anxiety, forgoing the wants and worries of life and enjoying the "bliss of the gods." He would later write, "Do not spoil what you have desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for." Happiness could be realized through attaining ataraxia, freedom from fear, and aponia, the absence of pain. "Live unknown" was a personal adage of the Epicureans, a belief that rivaled the old Greek idea of seeking fame, glory, and honor.
The Epicureans believed that all desires were derived from three main sources: those natural desires that are essential for life such as food and shelter; those natural desires that one can live without, primarily ones that cause jealousy and boredom; and lastly, narcissistic desires such as wealth and fame. He wrote, "He who is not satisfied with a little is satisfied with nothing."However, one of the most important things to Epicurus was friendship; although he never married, he actually believed in marriage and the family. Friends provide both an important defense against insecurity as well as a source of strength.Personally, Epicurus was considered by many to be humble, quiet and retiring. Some critics were not so kind, for instance, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus called him a "preacher of effeminacy."


Aside from his acceptance of women and slaves into his schools, many attacked his stance on religion and death. One of Epicurus' most important aims was to liberate people from fearing the eventual end of one's life thereby enabling them to seek both happiness and fulfillment in their personal lives. To Epicurus, one ceases to exist when one chooses to fear death. The Epicureans believed in the maxim "Death is nothing to us." There were four fundamental truths in Epicureanism:
  1. There are no divine beings that can threaten us.
  2. There is no afterlife.
  3. What we actually need is easy to obtain.
  4. What makes us suffer is easy to endure.


Unlike other religions that spoke of an afterlife, this meant that the eventuality of death should not be feared. To Epicurus, there was nothing to hope for and nothing to fear from the gods. While he rejected Plato's divine creation of the world, believing that the cosmos was the result of an accident, he tried to avoid saying that the gods did not exist, for it would have been dangerous to deny their existence; he did not consider himself to be an atheist. It was good for people to pay respect to the gods but one shouldn't expect anything from them. The gods existed, they were both happy and immortal, but were far away and took no interest in people's lives. Later, this denial of immortality and the existence of a benevolent god would bring the Epicureans into direct conflict with the rise of Christianity. Epicurus and his followers lived peacefully in their small communities and did not get involved in the politics of an ever-changing Athens, avoiding all social activism. And, concerning the Athenian emphasis on the importance of virtue, Epicurus held that those who were wise would avoid injustice. He once wrote, "To practice living well and to practice dying well are one and the same.” He died in 270 BCE in pain from kidney stones. His schools and philosophy would survive long after his death.

Epidaurus › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 18 June 2012
Theatre of Epidaurus (PanosKarapanagiotis)
Located on the fertile Argolid plain of the east Peloponnese in Greece and blessed with a mild climate and natural springs, the sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus was an important sacred centre in both ancient Greek and Roman times.
Epidaurus was named after the hero Epidauros, son of Apollo. Inhabited since Neolithic times, the first significant settlement was in the Mycenaean period. Fortifications, a theatre and tholos tombs have been excavated dating as early as the 15th century BCE, although it was in the 12th century BCE that Epidaurus Limera, with its harbour linking it to the Aegean trade network, particularly flourished.


Stadium of Epidaurus

Stadium of Epidaurus

At the height of the site's importance in the 4th century BCE (370-250 BCE), major buildings included two monumental entrances ( Propylaia ); a large temple (380-375 BCE) with the typical 6x11 column Doric layout, containing a larger than life-size Chryselephantine statue of a seated Asclepius (by Thrasymedes) and with pediments displaying in statuary the Amazonomachy and the Siege of Troy ; temples dedicated to Aphrodite (320 BCE), Artemis and Themis; a sacred fountain;the Thymele (360-330 BCE) - a round marble building originally with 26 outer Doric columns, a 14 Corinthian columned cella and a mysterious underground labyrinth, perhaps containing snakes which were associated with Asclepius; the columned Abato (or Enkoimeterion) in which patients waited overnight for divine intervention and remedy; other temples, hot and cold bath houses, stoas, stadium, palaistra and large gymnasia ; and a 6000 seat theatre (340-330 BCE). These latter sporting and artistic buildings were used in the Asklepieia festival, founded in the 5th century BCE and held every four years to celebrate theatre, sport and music. The theatre, with 2nd century CE additions resulting in 55 tiers of seats and a capacity of perhaps 12,300 spectators, would become one of, if not the, largest theatres in antiquity. Other Roman additions to the site in the 2nd century CE under the auspices of the Roman senator Antonius, included a temple of Hygieia, a large bath building and a small odeum.
The site was destroyed in 395 CE by the Goths and the Emperor Theodosius II definitively closed the site along with all other pagan sanctuaries in 426 CE. The site was definitively abandoned following earthquakes in 522 and 551 CE. Excavations at the ancient site were first begun in 1881 CE under the auspices of the Greek Archaeological Society and continue to the present day. Today, the magnificent theatre, renowned for its acoustics, is still in active use for performances in an annual traditional theatre festival.

The Didache: A Moral and Liturgical Document of Instruction › Antique Origins

Ancient Civilizations

by John S. Knox
published on 25 May 2016
During the early years of Christianity, many of the church leaders or "Fathers" wrote down admonishments and instruction on what it meant to be a follower of Jesus as well as what liturgical ceremonies should be followed as a believer in these early Christian communities. One of these apostolic fathers, whose identity is unknown, wrote such a document entitled, The Teaching of the (Twelve) Apostles, or as it is commonly referred to today— The Didache.


This document, composed sometime between 70 and 150 CE in Syria or Egypt, presents to its readers a message of instruction regarding liturgy, personal behavior, and eschatological application and belief. The liturgical or common ceremonial practices of the church are thoroughly detailed in this document as are the admonishments towards individual holiness in specific and common circumstances. In the end, The Didache eventually synthesizes these two factors (public manner versus personal integrity) and shows their connection and grand purposes.


The influence and importance of this document to its original readers and even to modern-day Christian believers is impressive. The Didache presents a clear and concise advice on dealing with the pragmatic constructs of the Christian church.However, it still cleverly and successfully melds the functionality of Christianity with its spiritual side. Johannes Quasten, in his Patrology series states, "Scholars, constantly drawn to its precious contents, have gained repeated inspiration and enlightenment from this little book" (30). Kurt Niederwimmer, in The Didache: A Commentary on the Didache writes, "The whole composition is unpretentious as literature, nourished by praxis and intended for immediate application" (3).Furthermore, in The Apostolic Fathers, it proclaims that the Didache is "one of the most fascinating yet perplexing documents to emerge from the early church" (Lightfoot and Harmer, 145).
Thus, the importance of The Didache should not be dismissed merely because of its size or exclusion from the Scriptures. Like many other theological works written at the time, its usage was at times questioned, and a general opinion of it emerged as it being non–canonical. Theologian and monk Tyrannius Rufinus (340–410 CE) specifically makes reference to The Didache and said that it would have been "read in the Churches, but not appealed to for the confirmation of doctrine" (Schaff, 558).Athanasius of Alexandria (296–373 CE) states that this document was "appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness" (Schaff, 552). Eusebius Pamphilus, in his Ecclesiastical History, also speaks of The Didache as not being in the Canon of scripture. As such, it provides to the modern-day reader an understanding of the influence this work had on the early church despite its lack of canonical authority. It also shows that Christianity, like the Jewish faith, had its own unique ceremonies of religious value.


The Didache provides direction on the public worship in the church and furnishes to its reader clear examples of how certain ceremonial activities are to be handled. For instance, its 4th chapter refers to daily prayer and states, "In church you shall confess your transgressions, and you shall not approach your prayer with an evil conscience" (Lightfoot and Harmer, 152).This gives to the reader a pragmatic but still personal call to prayer. Communication with God is important, but a pure heart is quintessential. Later on in its 8th chapter, the reader is urged to pray three times a day as Jesus did in Matthew 6:9-13. Again, this prayer should come from a clean heart free from hypocrisy.
Chapter 9 of The Didache offers three different prayers to be used specifically during the Eucharist (or Holy Communion as it is referred to today). One prayer is for celebrating the cup of wine which is Christ's blood, one is for celebrating the bread, which is Christ's body, and the last is a prayer of thankfulness for knowledge of Christ and for the future kingdom of God the Almighty soon to be issued into the world.
Besides specific instructions on what prayers are to be said during Communion, the reader of The Didache is also commanded, "Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord" ( Lightfoot and Harmer, 154). Unlike some "relaxed" communion services held today in various religious communities, The Didache directs this ceremony with exact purposes, provisions, and prohibitions.


Even more specific than the Eucharist, The Didache presents special rules on baptism. Certain ingredients must be present for this act to be legitimate to the Christian church: water of specific type and condition, personal preparation in the form of fasting and instruction, and correct theological phrasing on the state of the baptized. This creates a baptismal formula that is even used in modern times but has its origins in the Jewish faith. However, as Niederwimmer suggests, "The Didache is not, of course concerned with Jewish rites of lustration but with the sacrament of baptism.... The Jewish tradition is still influential, but in principle it has already been ruptured" (153-154). The Didache sets up the distinctness of Christian baptism compared to Jewish practices and emphasizes the spirituality behind the act.
Whether speaking on the Eucharist, baptism, fasting or prayer, The Didache shows itself as a useful "manual of church order and practice" (Lightfoot and Harmer 145). It offers a specific agenda or course of action to take as a church member in the body of Christ.


The Didache also focuses on the aspects of Christian morality and personal integrity and provides teaching on the two waysthat a church member can take - one leading to life; the other, to death. Basically, in the era of Pax Romana, it shows the true pathways and roadblocks of Christian ethics.
Borrowing much from scripture, this document points to Jesus and his teachings as to what constitutes a holy life. In its first chapter, The Didache promotes love for God and neighbor as a primary rule of living. The church members are called to deny themselves for God and humanity and to be sacrificially altruistic. Furthermore, church members are to live according to a number of moral rules - some right out of the Ten Commandments, but others (and this perhaps shows the Romanizing influence of the times) deal with sexual promiscuity of classical Greek or Roman culture. It is stated, "You shall not corrupt boys" (Lightfoot and Harmer, 150). As such, the Didache's commandments appear to be a more specific breakdown of the two Great Commandments.
The Last Supper

The Last Supper

It is crucial to understand the mindset of the early Christian Church. There was an "eschatological sense of imminence" (Werner, 22) that Jesus would return to establish his kingdom. Therefore, it was quintessential that the early Christians maintain a holy life until the end lest they lose the gift of eternal life given to them by God through Jesus Christ. The writer of The Didache makes several eschatological references in the prayers offered earlier in chapters 8-10 such as "Your kingdom come" (Lightfoot and Harmer, 153) and "so may your church be gathered together" (154).
These statements are a congealing factor bringing The Didache’s prolific instructions on church practices and personal morality together. The eschatological hope was that Christ's return was going to occur very quickly, so church leaders had to maintain a level of holiness in order to be found blameless. Although this hope had its origins in the New Testament, the Fathers like Rufinus still considered The Didache " not 'canonical' but 'ecclesiastical'" (Schaff, 558). Its usefulness as a church manual on practices and the catechumenate was important but, for theological purposes, its evaluations lacked the substantiation and spiritual depth of other books in the New Testament.


The Didache provided the early church with an instruction manual on how to deal with very complex issues, both in the personal and public arena. Its brevity should by no means lessen its importance for many other works written later on by other minor apostolic fathers seem to have been modeled after it (the Syriac Didascalia, the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome, and the Constitutions of the Apostles).
What can be surmised (and with a fair amount of confidence) is that The Didache aided a great number of people in the early church (and perhaps even today) to focus, through liturgy and moral practice, on what it means to be a Christian. Faith was not just a feeling of spirituality; it required a great deal of effort and respect in its expression within the church and in the world.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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