English Epicures and Stoics

Ancient Legacies in Early Stuart Culture
A probing work of intellectual history


For seventeenth-century English intellectuals, the ancient Epicureans and Stoics spoke clearly and forcefully to the kinds of problems they most wanted to solve. Whether seeking to define divinity, kingship, nobility, or liberty; to determine how people should live, govern, worship, form societies, and interpret nature; or to mediate between pleasure and virtue—early Stuart writers time and again adapted and transformed the rival yet crossbred legacies of Epicureanism and Stoicism.

In this book, Reid Barbour offers the first full account of the lively but hazardous transmission of these Hellenistic philosophies over the first half-century of Stuart rule, including the cataclysmic years of civil war that forever changed the role of classical culture in English intellectual life. Ranging from science and ethics to politics and religion, he shows how in many discourses—plays and poems, biblical commentaries, political essays, scientific treatises, texts about health and the good life—the Epicureans and Stoics seemed to spring as many traps as they posed solutions. In response to these dangers, English writers from Francis Bacon and Robert Burton to John Milton and Lucy Hutchinson revised and at times resisted the very philosophies they cared most about.

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