Saturday, March 16, 2013


The Epicurean Tetrapharmakos

These are some notes, for my own use, on the summary of Epicurean doctrine known as τετραφάρμακος (tetrapharmakos) = four-fold remedy or cure. I don't have access to an academic library, so I rely on bits and pieces gathered mostly from Google Books.

The tetrapharmakos is preserved in a work by Philodemus. The title of Philodemus' work is uncertain, as only the first two words of the title survive: Πρὸς τοὺς. The preposition Πρὸς could mean either against (Latin adversus) or to (Latin ad). Suggestions for completing the title are Σοφιστάς (against the Sophists), Στωικούς (against the Stoics), and ἑταίρους or συνήθεις (to the companions or associates, sc. of Epicurus' school). See Elizabeth Asmis, "Philodemus' Epicureanism," Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II.36.4 (1990) 2369-2406 (at 2378-2380, esp. 2379). This work of Philodemus has been edited twice, by Francesco Sbordone as Philodemi Adversus [Sophistas] e Papyro Herculanensi 1005 (Naples: L. Loffredo, 1947), and by Anna Angeli as Filodemo, Agli Amici di Scuola (PHerc. 1005) (Naples: Bibliopolis, 1988).

Philodemus' work survives in Papyrus Herculanensis (PHerc) 1005. The tetrapharmakos is on column IV, lines 10-14, of the papyrus (p. 87 of Sbordone's edition). Here is an image of a copy of column IV of the papyrus, drawn by Gennaro Casanova (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Gr. class. c. 2, fol. 454; click to enlarge):

Here is the Greek text of the tetrapharmakos, with each of the four parts on a separate line:
ἄφοβον ὁ θεός,
ἀνύποπτον ὁ θάνατος,
καὶ τἀγαθὸν μὲν εὔκτητον,
τὸ δὲ δεινὸν εὐεκκαρτέρητον.
In Sbordone's Latin translation:
deus metum non incutit
neque mors perturbationem,
ac bonum quidem facile parabile,
malum vero facile perferri potest.
Here is my translation of the Greek:
Not to be feared—god,
not to be viewed with apprehension—death;
and on the one hand, the good—easily acquired,
on the other hand, the terrible—easily endured.
The adjectives ἄφοβον (aphobon) and ἀνύποπτον (anupopton) both start with alpha privative: ἄφοβον is related to the noun φόβος (phobos) = fear, ἀνύποπτον to the verb ὑποπτεύω (hypopteuō) = suspect, hold in suspicion; look with suspicion or apprehension on. The adjectives εὔκτητον (euktēton) and εὐεκκαρτέρητον (euekkarterēton) both start with the prefix εὐ- (eu-), which in compounds can denote ease, as here. A thing that is εὔκτητον is easy to acquire, related to the verb κτάομαι (ktaomai) = procure, get, acquire. A thing that is εὐεκκαρτέρητον is easy to endure fully, related to the verb καρτερέω (kartereō) = be steadfast, patient; bear patiently, endure.

I haven't seen Francesco Sbordone, "Il quadrifarmaco epicureo," Cronache Ercolanesi 13 (1983) 117–119, or Anna Angeli, "Compendi, eklogai e tetrapharmakos: due capitoli di dissenso nell' Epicureismo," Cronache Ercolanesi 16 (1986) 53-66.

Thanks to Mart van der Hiele for corrections.

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