The Tetrapharmakos (τετραφάρμακος), or, "The four-part cure," is the Greek philosopher Epicurus' (341 BC, Samos – 270 BC, Athens) recipe for leading the happiest possible life. The "tetrapharmakos" was originally a compound of four drugs (wax, tallow, pitch and resin); the word has been used metaphorically by Epicurus and his disciples to refer to the four remedies for healing the soul.
The four-part cure
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In the original Greek:
The following is a description of each line as the Epicureans understood it.
Don’t fear god
As a prelude to "Don't worry about death," the concept of "god" in Epicurus' time was incompatible to Epicurus' beliefs. The worrying about whether or not the gods are concerned about the actions of human beings, and the amount of observance and worship ascribed to them, was the general relationship of man's belief to the gods' purpose and temperament. But Epicurus and many other Greeks at the time conceived the gods to be a hypothetical state of bliss rather than higher bodies of judgment; they are indestructible entities that are completely invulnerable, enviable to mortals, and, most importantly, unconcerned about anything beyond the bliss and happiness they represent. They are mere role models for human beings "who emulate the happiness of the gods, within the limits imposed by human nature."
Don’t worry about death
As D. S. Hutchinson wrote concerning this line, "While you are alive, you don't have to deal with being dead, but when you are dead you don't have to deal with it either, because you aren't there to deal with it." In Epicurus' own words, "Death means nothing to us...when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist," for there is no afterlife. Death, says Epicurus, is the greatest anxiety of all, in length and intensity. This anxiety about death impedes the quality and happiness of one's life by the theory of afterlife: the worrying about whether or not one's deeds and actions in life will translate well into the region of the gods, the wondering whether one will be assigned to an eternity of pain or to an eternity of pleasure.
What is good is easy to get
Sustenance and shelter, these things can be acquired by anyone—by both animal and human—with minimal effort, regardless of wealth. But if one wants more than one needs (over indulgency, gluttony, etc.), one is limiting the chances of satisfaction and happiness, and therefore creating a “needless anxiety” in one’s life. "What is good is easy to get" implies that the minimum amount of necessity it takes to satisfy an urge is the maximum amount of interest a person should have in satisfying that urge.
What is terrible is easy to endure
The Epicureans understood that, in nature, illness and pain is not suffered for very long, for pain and suffering is either "brief or chronic...either mild or intense, but discomfort that is both chronic and intense is very unusual; so there is no need to be concerned about the prospect of suffering." Like "What is good is easy to get," recognizing one's physical and mental limit and one's threshold of pain—understanding how much pain the body or mind can endure—and maintaining confidence that pleasure only follows pain (and the avoidance of anxiety about the length of pain), is the remedy against prolonged suffering.
References and notes
- See Liddel - Scott, Greek - English Lexicon, New Edition revised and Augmented by Stuart Jones, Oxford, Clarendon Press.
- Hutchinson, D. S. (Introduction) (1994). The Epicurus Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia. Cambridge: Hackett. p. vi.
- Ibid., p. vii.
- Ibid., p. ix-x.
- Letter to Menoeceus, 125
- Hutchinson, op. cit., p. viii-ix.
- Ibid., p. vii-viii.
- Ibid., p. viii.