The Hedoniconby N. H. Bartman
In recent weeks, our friend Nate published The Hedonicon: The Holy Book of Epicurus as an e-book and in paperback edition. Nate is an artist/musician who wrote the Dude’s Letter to Menoeceus, and he has also written for the Society of Epicurus and has contributed to our ongoing compilations and study guide for Kyriai Doxai.
Nate intends the holy book to be a modern English language Epicurean Vulgate—a term which refers to the edition of the Bible that was published for the masses in Latin during the late Roman Empire. I suppose this is what Lucretius intended to do with De rerum natura, but here Nate is only a compiler and editor.
The Hedonicon could be roughly equated with a modern version of the Pragmateia—the writings of the founders which had been compiled into a type of Bible in the days of the Kathegemon / Epicurean Guide Philodemus of Gadara. It includes the writings of Epicurus, De rerum natura, the Epigrams of Philodemus, and Laertius’ biography of Epicurus and his companions (Book Ten of Lives of Eminent Philosophers). It also has illustrations, a map, and a calendar addendum that I will address below.
Concerning the Epigrams, this was one of my most pleasant surprises because I was unacquainted with them, except for Epigram 27 where he is inviting his friend to the Twentieth feast. Epigram 18 seems to be in memory of a Gallus, a eunuch priest or initiate in the rites of Cybele and Attis. This cult incorporated transgender people and arrived in Rome via the Greeks.
Another benefit for students is the inclusion of headings for each portion of the Hegemon’s epistles, De rerum natura, and other writings according to subject, like we see in many modern Christian Bibles. This type of division system helps students to get organized and to study these texts alongside counter-references they may find useful (like our study guides for Principal Doctrines and DRN).
Thanks to this feature, the Hedonicon can easily and conveniently be used as source material for study groups and for Twentieth feasts, since it makes it easy for students to get organized according to the subject of study.
While the book can be enjoyed by everyone, I believe there are three kinds of people who will derive the most benefit from the Hedonicon:
- the new student: anyone looking for a compilation of the foundational texts of Epicurean philosophy, all in one tome, now has the Hedonicon as a study resource.
- the religiously Epicurean: the book does look and feel like a Bible in terms of format, so it might help to fill the gap of religion in the lives of individuals who were formerly Christian. It even has a “verses for when you are (angry, sad, etc.)” section, maps of the relevant locations in Epicurean history, and images of the founders as imagined by modern people.
- the humanist chaplain: for the same reasons as above, I see great value in this “holy book of Epicurus” for humanist or Unitarian chaplains who are looking for Epicurean and Lucretian source material for their liturgy. I can see parts of Liber Qvintvs being used in rites of passage, or in a type of sacrament of gifts-exchange between friends. I can see parts of Liber Tertivs being used for funerals, etc.
As myrrh cannot be readily stripped of scent without destruction of its substance, too, so mind and soul cannot be readily drawn out of the body but that all three must die. – Lucretius, De rervm natvra, Liber Tertivs, 327-330
On the Name Hedonicon
hedon – eikon
pleasure – image
my initial thought was that it stood for “the image of pleasure”, or “the form of pleasure”, but when I asked Nathan about how he came up with the name, he said:
The earliest Christian New Testament was devised by Marcion. He compiled the Epistles into one section (which he called the Apostolicon) and a second section with the Gospels (called the Evangelicon), so I repurposed that naming schema, by using the Greek word for pleasure.
The Waning Moon Tide
Imagery of what appears to be the waning moon on the cover caught my attention. This is because, many moons ago, we deliberated on the issue of the Day of the Hegemon (the birthday of Epicurus), and we at the Society of Epicurus decided to stick to the Gregorian calendar for reasons of practicality (while other Epicureans might still be looking for ways to divine the Day of the Hegemon in the Gregorian calendar). The result of our deliberations was an essay which I published titled On the Occasion of the Birth of the Hegemon, where I delve a bit into the complexities of the lunisolar calendar which was native to the first Epicureans, and to which Epicurus refers in his Final Will.
The Hedonicon features a section titled “the 20th of Gamelion”, which refers to the final will and testament, where Epicurus mentions that his birthday is celebrated on that date. The main controversy for modern Epicureans in celebrating the Day of the Hegemon has to do with the difficulty finding this date in the Gregorian calendar. For the benefit of other Epicureans who do not stick to the Gregorian calendar as we do in SoFE, Nate compiled the Gregorian correspondence dates for all the “Hegemon Days” until the year 2100 of Common Era. Due to the lunisolar cycles, outside of SoFE this date is a floating holiday like Easter in Christianity.
Perhaps it was this exercise of putting together the lunisolar convergences between the ancient feasts and our modern Gregorian calendar that helped Nate to see the significance of the Twentieth as a waning moon feast, since the Hegemon’s calendar was bound to the cycles of the moon. Hence the lunar symbol and the dark color of the cover, which reminds us of the night.
In a lunisolar calendar, months are moons. The waxing moon is around the 7th, the full moon is around the 14th (lasting about 2-3 nights), and the waning moon falls around the evening of the 20th-21st day. Perhaps Epicurus counted on Eikas being a stable tradition by tying them to these rhythms, since the phases of the moon never fail to continue.
Nietzsche said that Truth is a woman. In the Gnostic and Biblical tradition, Wisdom / Sophia is also feminine, and in Greek religion the Goddess of philosophy was Athena. The lunar cycles have always been tied to the rhythms of women’s bodies, so the choice of a monthly feast in some way recognizes that philosophy / wisdom follows these same rhythms.
The waning moon is also (in the maiden-mother-crone scheme) tied to wisdom and to what Lucretius called the “sweet stability” of old age. To us, it’s a memorial service in honor of our elders, our sages. In terms of the rhythms of the moon and its connection with waters, the waning moon is tied to the neaptides, which are weak, steady, and unagitated tides, and again remind us of stability. The new and full moons, on the other hand, are the most agitated. Therefore, Eikas is a time that celebrates the stability and steadiness that we often associate with old age.
For some time, I’ve been saying that the Epicurean communities need something like a Bible, and Nate mentioned to me that I did influence him in this project, so I must have mentioned it to him. Years ago, I had the idea that Epicurean writings should be compiled into a searchable online resource similar to biblegateway.com, which allows one to search for words or passages in many translations and versions, in many languages, has cross-references, and is a great resource for Bible students and scholars. I wanted De rerum natura, and the writings of the founders, to be included, with as many commentaries and study guides as we can include.
But creating this type of website requires lots of time, and a level of expertise that no one in our circle has. It’s much more practical and realistic (although it’s clear that it took Nate many hours of dedicated work) to publish a book like Hedonicon instead. I’m happy that he did. The Hedonicon is a scripture whose time has come.