In Travels with Epicurus, Klein uncovers the simple pleasures that are available late in life, as well as the refined pleasures that only a mature mind can fully appreciate.
On freeing ourselves from the prison of everyday affairs
In Epicurus’s view, true happiness is a bargain, like, say, boiled lentils–or a yogurt dip. In a serene old age, who really feels deprived if he can’t feast on slow-roasted pheasant or, for that matter, the poached salmon with truffles my wife and I dined on just before my departure for Greece? Go with the simple pleasures, Epicurus says. They are not only less expensive, they are less taxing on an old body.
Yet when Epicurus writes, ‘We must free ourselves from the prison of everyday affairs and politics’, he has more on his mind than just freeing ourselves from the endless acquisition of unnecessary stuff. It is the business of dedicating our lives to business that he is warning us against, starting with the obvious restraints of having a boss whot ells us what to do, how to do it, and what is wrong with the way we are currently doing it. Even if one is the boss, as many of my ‘forever young’ friends are, one’s freedom reamins constrained byt he politics of having to deal with other people; one still has to tell them what to do, to negotiate with and motivate them. One is still imprisoned. And freedom–Epicurus’s brand of radical existential freedom–is absolutely necessary for a happy life.
On the plesaures of companionship in old age
Perhaps without fully realizing it, a good portion of the pleasure Tasso finds at his table at Dimitri’s is that he is enjoying his companions without wanting anything from them. His tablemates are a retired fisherman, a retired teacher, and a retired waiter–all born and raised on the island–while Tasso is a former Athenian judge, who as a young man studied law in Thessaloníki and London. But this has little, if any, bearing on his relationshihp with his three friends.
Wanting nothing from one’s friends is fundamentally different from the orientation of a person who is still immersed in professional life and its relationships. An individual in commerce, whatever that commerce may be, is in service of a goal that has little or nothing to do with genuine friendshihp.
In Kantian ethics, we are specifically advised never to treat another human being as a means but always as an end in himself. Treating someone as an end rather than as a means turns out to be as much a treat for us as for the person to whom we are relating. Tasso does not want anything from his friend the fisherman except his company.
Companionship for Epicurus
Companionship was at the top of Epicurus’s list of life’s pleasures. He wrote, ‘Of all the things that wisdom provides to help one live one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.’
By the joy of friendship, Epicurus meant a full range of human interactions ranging from intimate and often philosophical discussions with his dearest companions–the kind he enjoyed at the long dining table in the Garden–to impromptu exchanges with people, known and unknown, in the street. The education or social status of those with whom he conversed mattered not a whit; in fact the height of true friendship was to be accepted and loved for who one was, not what station in life on had achieved. Love and being loved affirmed one’s sense of self and conquered feelings of loneliness and alienation. It kept one sane.
If this prescription for happiness sounds like the drivel of popular songs, so be it. It may still be happen to be true. The philosopher from Samos was certainly convinced it was true. And there is no doubting friendship’s unique availability in the years when politics and commerce are behind us.