Epicureans on Marriage as Sexual Therapy

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought
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This paper argues that although Epicureans will never marry for love, they may find it therapeutic to marry for sex: Epicureans may marry in order to limit anxiety about securing a sexual partner if they are prone to such anxiety and if they believe their prospective partner will satisfy them sexually. The paper shows that Epicureans believe that the process of obtaining sex can be a major source of anxiety, that it is acceptable for the sage to marry under certain circumstances, and that the desire for sex alone is free of the groundless assumptions that fuel love. Epicureans would therefore approve of marrying to alleviate sexual anxiety.

Epicureans on Marriage as Sexual Therapy

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought




Brennan‘Epicurus on Sex’ p. 349. Nussbaum and Chilton express a similar view. See M. Nussbaum The Therapy of Desire (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1996) p. 153n26 and Chilton ‘Did Epicurus Approve of Marriage?’ p. 72.


See Chilton‘Did Epicurus Approve of Marriage?’ p. 73; Nussbaum The Therapy of Desire 153n26.


The Greek text is from P. von der MuehllEpicuri: Epistulae Tres et Ratae Sententiae (Leipzig: Teubner1922) p. 66. For the attribution to Metrodorus see A. Vogliano ‘Frammento di un Nuovo “Gnomologium Epicureum” ’ Studi Italiano di Filologia Classica 13 (1936) pp. 267-81. Similar phrasing appears in Porphyry De Abstin. 1.52; Galen Art. Med. c. 24 t. 1 p. 371K; and Galen Hippocr. Epidem. 3 comm. 1 4 t. 17 p. 521K. For all passages see 62U.


See J. Elia‘History, etymology, and fallacy: attitudes toward male masturbation in the ancient Western world’Journal of Homosexuality14 (1987) pp. 1-19; W. Krenkel ‘Masturbation in der Antike’ Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Wilhelm-Pieck-Universität Rostock 28 (1979) pp. 159-78; and K. Wrenhaven Reconstructing the Slave: The Image of the Slave in Ancient Greece (London: Bloomsbury Press 2012) p. 74 who notes that ancient Greek dramas often associated masturbation with slaves.


See e.g. Purinton‘Epicurus on the Telos’ pp. 309-10; Brown Lucretius on Love and Sex p. 108; Nussbaum The Therapy of Desire pp. 151-2; Smith Lucretius: On the Nature of Things p. 128n70; and Rist Epicurus: An Introduction pp. 10-11.


J. AnnasThe Morality of Happiness (Oxford: Oxford University Press1993) p. 92.


AnnasThe Morality of Happiness p. 193. She goes on to say that natural and necessary desires ‘will also contrast in the right way with natural and non-necessary desires if these are taken to be specific specifications of the desire for food’ (p. 193).


Trans. R. WoolfOn Moral Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2001).


M. Evans‘Can Epicureans Be Friends?’Ancient Philosophy24 (2004) p. 419.


Evans‘Can Epicureans Be Friends?’ pp. 419-20.

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