Culture & Criticism Since 2003
Epicurus has always been one of my favorite philosophers. Back when I was 12 years old, approaching Confirmation, and struggling with the mounting absurdity of Anglican doctrine, I encountered this quote of his, from about 275 BCE: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” The questions parted the clouds of confusion.
As the years passed, I came to admire his dicta to strive for the simple life, one lived in serenity. Easier said than done, of course, and the minute you start worrying about how to go about it, you defeat your own purpose. But, by its nature, it is not a competitive goal. It is something you arrive at.
Daniel Klein’s Travels With Epicurus is a slim volume, about the size of a Reader’s Digest magazine, a mere 162 pages of simple and enjoyable writing. If one reads it like a Doberman eating bacon bits, it could probably be devoured in about an hour.
But this is not that sort of book. Instead, Klein’s personal journey is told in a more-or-less sequential manner, but that doesn’t mean that the book needs to be read sequentially.
Rather, you read it for the ideas and observations, the lessons learned from Epicurus: Take your time. Don’t study the text. Don’t concentrate. Just take dips in it, absorb it.
Klein’s journey begins when he first asks himself if, at his eighth decade, he really needs to go through the pain and trouble of dental implants when false teeth will take care of his needs. Does vanity justify the trouble? Epicurus might smile and shake his head slowly.
If, like me, you are approaching what is jokingly referred to as ‘retirement age’, then Travels with Epicurus is an extraordinarily valuable book to have at hand.
For example, in one vignette Klein encounters an old Greek basking in the evening sun and looking out over his vineyard, sipping wine. The Greek man gives Klein some wine, and Klein tells him this was extraordinary wine and that he should sell his crop, form his own company, hire people, command a premium price, and build a business empire – a process that will give him enough money and time to do what he really wants to do. To which the old Greek replies: “Then I could sit in the setting sun and look out over my vineyard!”
Epicurus advocated the good life, one of serenity and stillness. In turn, Daniel Klein shows us how to move in that direction.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.