eat, drink, and be merry
“Eat, drink and be merry (for tomorrow we may die)” is a proverb that promotes enjoying life in the moment because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring and maybe there won’t be a tomorrow. The proverb came from the Bible. Ecclesiastes 8:15: “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry.” Corinthians 15:32: “let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.”
Today, the phrase is often assumed to be the basis of Epicurean philosophy. An epicure is considered to be interested in sensual pleasures, especially of good food and drink.
But, in fact, Epicureanism, a Greek philosophy founded in the 4th century BCE, is far more like Buddhism. “No pleasure is a bad thing in itself, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail disturbances many times greater than the pleasures themselves.” You know, like hangovers, obesity, indigestion, and unwanted babies.
For Epicureans, all human action is motivated by pleasure and pain. Pleasure is what comes from achieving our desires, or achieving the lack of desire, resulting in a state of tranquility, the highest pleasure of all. Of course, the necessary desires for water, food, and sleep continue but can usually be fulfilled fairly easily.
According to Epicureanism, if we come to constantly need the best of everything, there is a much greater chance that we can’t get those things. In that case we are left with unfulfilled desires, which cause us pain. The same applies to fame, power, and money, since one can always be more powerful, richer, and more famous.
Epicurus believed there was no ethereal, non-physical substance that could make up a soul or disembodied mind. The human mind, rather, resides in the chest and is made up of atoms, and when we die, those atoms break apart and our mind ceases to exist. Although Epicurus stated that there were gods (possibly to avoid getting in big trouble for being an atheist), he claimed that as non-physical beings, they had no impact on our lives and didn’t care about humans. This also means that Man bears the responsibility for what he does in the world, or in other words, what people are is a consequence of the choices they make.
Epicurus regarded the fear of death as the primary cause of anxiety among human beings, and anxiety, in turn, as the source of extreme and irrational desires. The elimination of fears and corresponding desires would leave people free to pursue knowledge, friendship and live a virtuous and temperate life. Epicurus advised people to avoid the gods, and politics where possible.
One of the strengths of Epicureanism was its sense of community. The fellowship of the Garden, as it was known, included women and slaves in an endearing example of philosophic camaraderie and personal caring. Friendship was the core of the garden community. Its members accepted the fact that they lived in an unpredictable existence with no resources but themselves. The Epicureans created for themselves a means of achieving peace of mind which was under their control.
The simplicity of Epicurean life: food from the garden, bread, water, a pot of cheese, a little wine, has something of a legendary character. It’s doubtful that the inevitability of death affected this. Death was the natural limit to life and, once that fact was recognized, life could be valued more for its own sake and used more wisely.
Like your Mom might say, “Eat, drink and be merry, but in moderation!”