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  • Nietzsche and Epicurus ed. by Vinod Acharya and Ryan J. Johnson
  • Mattia Sisti
Vinod Acharya and Ryan J. Johnson, eds., Nietzsche and Epicurus London: Bloomsbury, 2020. 264 pp. ISBN: 978-1-350-08630-2. Hardcover, $103.50.

This volume, edited by Vinod Acharya and Ryan J. Johnson, consists of fourteen chapters concerning Nietzsche’s lifelong fascination with Epicurus. Epicurus was hailed by Nietzsche as the ideal thinker in the middle period of his philosophical career and subsequently accused of being a decadent figure.

The volume is divided into four parts. Part 1 is titled “Encounters: Body, Mood, Geography and Aesthetic” and consists of five chapters: Carlotta Santini on Nietzsche’s critique of Epicurus’s writing style; Ryan Johnson on the topic of “gastrosophia,” namely the moral effects of foods according to Nietzsche [End Page 307] and Epicurus; Jill Marsden on the kinship between Nietzsche and Epicurus about philosophy and the art of living; Babette Babich on Nietzsche’s reception of Epicurus’s Garden; and Céline Leboeuf on Nietzsche’s and Epicurus’s ideas regarding suffering, health, and happiness. Part 2, “Comparative Studies,” comprises four chapters: Michael Ure and Thomas Ryan on the theory of eternal recurrence of Lucretius, Seneca, and Nietzsche; Federico Testa on the concept of pleasure in Gunyau, Nietzsche, and Epicurus; Paul Bishop on Nietzsche’s, Hobbes’s, and Epicurus’s theories of the social contract; and Matthew Dennis on the comparison between Mill’s and Nietzsche’s reception of Epicurus’s goal of life. Part 3 is titled “Appropriation and Ambivalences” and features three chapters: Vinod Acharya on Nietzsche’s appropriation of Epicurus’s critique of the morality of his time; Patrick Wotling on the distinction between the historical figure of Epicurus and Nietzsche’s own reception of Epicurus; and Peter Groff on how Nietzsche reacted to the Epicurean apolitical statement “live unnoticed” derived from the Principal Doctrines(14). Part 4, “Critical Assessment,” contains two chapters: Michael McNeal on Nietzsche’s reception of the Epicurean ideas of solitude, pity, friendship, and suffering; and Daniel Conway on Nietzsche’s remarkable change of heart toward Epicurus from a positive to a negative exemplar. I focus my analysis on chapters 5, 8, 11, and 14.

Céline Leboeuf starts her chapter, “What Reason Is There in the Body? Bodily Suffering and Happiness,” by discussing Nietzsche’s claim in EH (“Wise” 1–2) regarding the importance of suffering for the task of philosophizing. According to Nietzsche, suffering can enhance our ability to practice philosophy, provided that we stop considering sickness and health as two antithetical concepts. As Leboeuf puts it, for Nietzsche health and sickness are “not merely successive conditions of the body, but can constitute stages in the education of the self ” (75). In other words, even sickness can be turned to our advantage if we treat the phase of recovery from a disease as the chance to observe and profit from it. For instance, in GS (P 3) philosophy is defined as the “art of transfiguration” because by going through many different types of recovery from a prior sickness, a thinker can obtain numerous informative perspectives on various topics. Therefore, philosophy for Nietzsche has to take an interest in the topic of health, sickness, and suffering.

Leboeuf argues that in this respect Epicurus is a model for Nietzsche, contrary to Julian Young, who claims that Nietzsche’s reception of Epicureanism is indistinguishable from the other Hellenistic schools [End Page 308] (Julian Young, Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010], 7). Leboeuf argues that Epicurus’s goal of “tranquility” (ataraxia) is not simply identical to the Hellenistic idea of being “free from pain and anxiety” as the alpha privative suggests. Rather, it is the morally edifying invitation to choose moderate pleasures, guided by the concept of “prudence” (phronēsis) to which Epicurus appeals in his Letter to Menoeceus. Building on the latter reading of ataraxia, Nietzsche regards Epicurus’s goal not merely as the overcoming of constant suffering, but also as the enhancement and growth of happiness, as we can read in GS(45). Leboeuf concludes by noticing that Epicurus’s way of life and philosophy is attractive to Nietzsche, who sees in it...


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pp. 307-313
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