August 7, 2013

Case File #013.08.07: EPICURE

The English word epicure comes from Epicurus, the Latinized name of a Greek philosopher (the Greek form was Epikouros) who lived from the mid-fourth century BCE to the early third century BCE. Epicurus believed that pleasure is life's highest measure of goodness, but he defined pleasure as the absence of pain and the cultivation of virtue, and he therefore taught his students that the only way to achieve true pleasure was to lead an essentially ascetic life—the pursuit and accumulation of material goods and the concomitant fear of failure and loss, he believed, would only lead to mental and physical pain—dedicated to improving one's own ethical judgment and moral behavior. However, successive generations of his followers twisted his ideas into a credo that extolled selfish indulgence of the senses, and during the first century or two following his death, his name ironically became associated with sensuality and hedonism. Thus, when epicure became part of the English vocabulary around the end of the fourteenth century, it originally meant “hedonist or glutton.” This pejorative sense softened over time, though, and by the end of the sixteenth century, the word had acquired its current meaning of “a person with refined and discriminating taste, especially in food and drink.”

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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