EPICURUS (Lat., from Gk. Epikouros) (c.342-270 B.C.). An illustrious Greek philosopher. He was born probably in the island of Samos, in December, 342, or January, 341, B.C., six or seven years after the death of Plato. His father, Neocles, is said to have been a schoolmaster, and his mother, Chærestrate, to have practiced arts of magic. In his boyhood he heard Pamphilus and Nausiphanes lecture on philosophy, but did not claim to be a pupil of either. At the age of 16 Epicurus repaired to Athens to present himself before the members of his demos and to be duly confirmed as an Athenian citizen. His stay at Athens on this occasion was not long; when he rejoined his father's family, however, it was not at Samos, but at Colophon, whither Neocles had repaired upon being dispossessed of his home at Samos. In his thirtieth year Epicurus was settled at Mitylene, and there be first won recognition as a philosopher; at Lampsacus two or three years later he became the head of a school. But Athens was the place where philosophers could expect to get their best hearing, and thither Epicurus returned about 306 B.C. Here he bought a garden which he used as the seat of his school. From this circumstance his followers were called the "philosophers of the garden." Although women as well as men frequented the garden, and although among these women were many of the hetæræ (q.v.), the life of the brotherhood was not marked by sexual excesses, popular scandal to the contrary notwithstanding. The calumnies which the Stoics circulated concerning the school are undeserving of notice. The success of Epicurus as a teacher was signal; great numbers flocked to his school from all parts of Greece and from Asia Minor, most of whom became warmly attached to their master as well as to his doctrines, for Epicurus seems to have been characterized not less by amiability and benevolence than by force of intellect. He died 270 B.C., in the seventy-second year of his age.
Epicurus was a most voluminous writer. According to Diogenes Laërtius he left 300 volumes. Among others he had written 37 books on natural philosophy, a treatise on atoms and the void, one on love, one on choices and avoidances, another on the chief good, four essays on lives, one on sight, one on touch, another on images, another on justice and the other virtues, etc. From all these works there have come down to us three letters and a number of detached sentences or savings, preserved by Diogenes Laërtius in his life of the philosopher.
Outside of these the principal sources of our knowledge of the doctrines of Epicurus are Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, and, above all, Lucretius, whose great poem, De Rerum Natura, contains substantially the Epicurean philosophy. To these must be added a large number of papyri found at Herculaneum about the middle of. the eighteenth century. These contain fragments from Epicurus and many writings of Epicureans, especially of Philodemus. But unfortunately the manuscripts are in a deplorable condition
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. VII (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 20-21.