Parmenides Publishing

Titles By Patricia Curd

A Life Worthy of the Gods
The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus

196 pages • 6 x 9 • Paperback

This book is also available is Italian.

Edward C. Halper
David Konstan received his B.A. in Mathematics and his Ph.D. in Classics at Columbia University. He is currently the John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition, Professor in Comparative Literature, as well as a member of the Graduate Faculty of Theatre, Speech, and Dance at Brown University. His books include: Roman Comedy (1983); Sexual Symmetry: Love in the Ancient Novel and Related Genres (1994); Greek Comedy and Ideology (1995); Friendship in the Classical World(1997); Euripides' Cyclops, introduction and notes by Konstan (2001); Pity Transformed (2001); and The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks (2006).


Epicurus, and his Roman disciple Lucretius, held that the primary cause of human unhappiness was an irrational fear of death. What is more, they believed that a clear understanding of the nature of the world would help to eliminate this fear; for if we recognize that the universe and everything in it is made up of atoms and empty space, we will see that the soul cannot possibly survive the extinction of the body—and no harm to us can occur after we die. This liberating insight is at the core of Epicurean therapy. In this book, Konstan seeks to show how such fears arose, according to the Epicureans, and why they persist even in modern societies. It offers a close examination of the basic principles of Epicurean psychology: showing how a system based on a materialistic world view could provide a coherent account of irrational anxieties and desires, and provide a therapy that would allow human beings to enjoy life to the fullest degree.

The publication of a new edition of a comparatively old work requires a high degree of science. How should one update the results of thirty-year-old research without giving the reader the impression that you backed out, or worse, by merely offering in a slightly amended form the same thoughts and arguments? It must be admitted that David Konstan, with the talent that he is known for, has achieved a significant level of perfection in this genre with the reissue of Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology (Leiden, Brill, 1973). He has succeeded in proposing something new, up-to-date and subtle with a great deal of intellectual honesty and daring.
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—Julie Giovacchini
Revue Philosophique de Louvain
Translation by John Dudley

"This is a new edition of David Konstan’s 1973 classic, Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology (Brill), with a very substantial new introduction and a revised bibliography. Although Konstan preserves the basic structure of his earlier monograph, he ambitiously enlarges the scope of the present edition by engaging with new texts and new currents of thought and by advancing a line of argument both coherent and contemporary. The result is a seminal work of scholarship, which combines the subtlest textual analysis with genuine philosophical reflection and addresses key issues in Epicureanism as well as in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of action.

The volume is beautifully produced and impeccably edited. It is published by Parmenides Publishing, a relatively new press which focuses on Ancient Greek Philosophy and prides itself, among other things, on reprinting or re-editing older books that have been landmarks in the field. David Konstan’s 1973 monograph has played precisely that role. The same will hold, doubtlessly, for this revised edition for future generations of classical scholars and students."
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"In this modestly expanded edition of his 1973 book, Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology (Brill), David Konstan attempts to flesh out the Epicurean explanation of the causes of unhappiness: “empty beliefs” (kenodoxia)—most importantly, the groundless fear of death—and the irrational desires that fuel and are fueled by them."
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—Kelly R. Arenson
University of Memphis
Journal of the History of Philosophy
Vol. 48, No. 1, Jan. 2010

"This volume is the English version of Konstan's 2007 Italian publication, Lucrezio e la psicologia epicurea, which was itself based in part upon his 1973 work, Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology. Compared with the 1973 publication, the current one manifests a number of changes, most notably the addition of a new first chapter on Epicurean "passions" and the thorough updating of scholarly references and arguments throughout. Konstan also has provided translations for the majority of Greek and Latin texts and non-English scholarship he cites.1 Despite these changes, readers of Some Aspects will find a familiar volume. The core arguments remain, if differently nuanced, largely similar. Now up-to-date, this book is still what it always has been -- a rich, original work, with a broad vision of its subject and a careful treatment of its sources."
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—Wilson H. Shearin
Stanford University
Bryn Mawr Classical Review, October 2009

"David Konstan's A Life Worthy of the Gods: The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus, digs in more specifically on the Epicurean tradition. Konstan, a classicist at Brown University, gives us close textual readings of Greek and Latin sources to offer a compelling explanation of the principal Epicurean teaching — that our "fear of death" is the greatest cause of human unhappiness.

Thankfully, Konstan interprets Epicurus without overinterpreting him. Our association of fulfilled desire with immortality, he argues, leads to panic rather than piety. We become more acquisitive, seeking more satisfactions of our desires — in the forms of wealth and power. Our moral status declines, along with our happiness. As Lily Tomlin once quipped, 'The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat.'"
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—Stephen T. Asma
The Chronicle Review

"The original book has itself been a very influential one in the modern renaissance of Epicurean studies, and deservedly so. It tackles a series of fundamental questions concerning Epicurean psychology, principally in connection with its pathology of human unhappiness. Its nearest competitor was a series of seminal but hard-to-find Italian articles by Carlo Diano, which were never translated into English, and whose influence on Anglophone scholarship was therefore often diluted through the role of intermediaries. Since 1973 four relevant things have happened: a huge amount of new work has been published on Epicurean texts, largely but not entirely focused on the Herculaneum papyri; Epicurean psychology has become a mainstream subject in the study of ancient ethics, due especially to books by such influential writers as Julia Annas and Martha Nussbaum; Konstan himself has become one of the most prominent scholars of Epicureanism; and he has, in addition, become a world-leading authority on the emotions in ancient thought.

The new version is successful in deepening (without significantly changing) Konstan's main arguments by giving due weight to these four factors, and in particular by taking full account of the more recent literature. The footnotes have grown, and many new pages of confirmatory or clarificatory argument have been added, situating the book in its current scholarly context. Moreover, a welcome effort has been made to widen access, in particular by translating all the main passages of Greek and Latin quoted. The net result of this overhaul is a text which seems to me as smooth-running and readable as the original, and fits without any sense of anachronism into the climate of contemporary scholarship."
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—David Sedley
Christ's College, Cambridge

"David Konstan’s 1973 Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology was a landmark in its times. Its arguments for pathê in Epicurus as pure pleasure and pain, its subtle psychological analysis of the Epicurean view of the pursuit of power and wealth as a subconscious manifestation of the fear of death, its contributions to Epicurean anthropology—the state of mankind before civilization and law was in some ways happier, as not yet corrupted with fear of punishment after death or limitless longing for wealth and power—and its subtle analysis of the Epicurean view of love, were all new and original contributions. This new and thoroughly revised version, with a new title, [A Life Worthy of the Gods. The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus] will be a must for students and teachers of Epicureanism. It has an important new preface, and many new arguments, and a very useful and up to date bibliography (fully reviewed in the text) that brings the reader current with the state of debate in the 2000’s. Along with important contributions to our knowledge of Lucretius’ relation to Epicurus’ original texts, it combines concision and clarity with a thorough and comprehensive overview of Epicurean theories about emotion, anthropology, legal theory and psychology—including their surprising anticipations of modern theories of “subconscious” fears and motivations."
—David Armstrong
University of Texas at Austin

"D. Konstan, a prominent figure in the world of classics, gives a revised version of his book, Some aspects of Epicurean Psychology, published by E.J. Brill in 1973, which became quickly a classic of the studies on Epicureanism. A great amount of books and articles have been written over these last decades on the Epicurean doctrine, and a lot of new texts were studied with great accuracy, especially through new editions of the Hercunaleum papyri. However, Konstan's intuitions and interpretations have remained a permanent reference for scholars since they brought a rich amount of fresh and suggestive concepts which, always backed up with thorough philological analysis, continue to open, more than thirty years after, new paths to research. A new edition of this book, with a rich introduction entirely new and an accurately revised bibliography, will be welcomed by all those who work on Hellenistic philosophy, but, at the same time, it will be read with great interest by those who try to understand the history of the main concepts of occidental psychological language. It is an evident topic that one and the same word may have very different meanings in different doctrines. Pathos was a technical word of Greek philosophy, frequently used in diverse contexts by a large number of philosophers. In his introduction, Konstan tries, with great accuracy, to establish which were the exact relations in Epicureanism between concepts such as passion, sensation, pleasure and pain. This configuration is studied in Greek of course, but also in Latin, with many interesting remarks about the nuances between the two languages. But it is also interesting to see how Konstan connects traditional problematics with such a fascinating and always actual problem as the relation between consciousness and unconciousness."
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—Carlos Lévy
Professeur à l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne

"David Konstan’s Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology, first published in 1973, quickly became a reference book for ancient Epicureanism studies. The present book is much more than a reprint. As the author advises us, the original text has been substantially revised, taking into account the numerous works which, in the last thirty years, have deeply changed our views upon its topics; so that «it preserves the original plan and idea, and yet is in many respects quite new, incorporating numerous supplementary passages and arguments that materially affect the exposition».

An original introduction deals with the nature of «passions». It is argued that Epicurus’ pathê exclusively consist in pleasure and pain, so that, like sensations (aistheseis), they reside in the non-rational part of the soul. It follows that we should consider that either joy (khara) or fear (phobos) are the proper terms standing for pleasure or pain at the level of the rational soul. DK’s exciting claim, then, is that the original theory of pathê entailing a strict distinction between rational and irrational state of mind is supposed, according to Epicurean view, to provide a solution to the ethical problem of the effectiveness of rational discourse against empty desires and irrational behaviours."
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—Alain Gigandet
Université de Paris Est (Val de Marne)

"Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Brown University, Rhode Island, David Konstan has studied Epicurean philosophy for many years. His latest book, [A Life Worthy of the Gods. The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus], originally published last year in Italian, is a completely revised and updated edition of Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology, which was issued in 1973.

It could seem strange to bring out a new edition of a book on Epicureanism after more than thirty years, because, as Konstan himself acknowledges, during this period much has been written in this field of studies, and also because the Epicurean texts preserved in the carbonized rolls from Herculaneum have become more accessible thanks to many scholars from different countries, encouraged by the late Marcello Gigante. Nevertheless, even if its fundamental argument has not changed, this book is completely new from many points of view, starting with the introduction, which is dedicated to the Epicurean pathe: Konstan argues that pathe are pleasure and pain, and that they are located in the irrational part of the soul. Konstan’s book consists of three chapters. In the first chapter (Psychology), the author shows how irrational fear becomes an irrational desire, and maintains not only that unlimited desires derive from the irrational fear of death, but also that these desires are in part responsible for man’s anxiety about death. In the second chapter (Social Theory), the subject is the Epicurean theory of language and the role of law and punishment in human society. The third chapter (Epistemology) is about the desire for immortality that Epicurean doctrine aims to remove, so that man can attain the highest good.

Konstan’s book is a careful and clearly written work, based on many ancient texts, above all Lucretius, but also Epicurus, Philodemus, and Diogenes of Oenoanda; the bibliography is wide and updated. This book is important for a better understanding of Epicurean ethics and psychology."

—Giovanni Indelli
Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II