The Greek and Roman Empires: A Study of Hedonism

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I was able to find two definitions of hedonism in the dictionary. They were as follows:

1. The doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; 2. A devotion to pleasure as a way of life.

My definition is much more simplistic than those but it may be more applicable to today’s society. I would define hedonism as the “I want what I want when I want it” syndrome. The key word is pleasure. Pleasure is an enjoyable experience that makes people feel good but not necessarily about themselves. They just feel good about the way they feel. There are many examples of how people who may be hedonistically bent tend to service their insatiable need to feel good.

Of course, the first that might come to mind is the use of drugs from marijuana on up to the more mind-bending drugs that are able to bring about a sense of euphoria bringing them to a “cloud nine” experience. Another is the need for material satisfaction that tends to prevail in many Western societies. Perhaps this is based on the old adage: “He who has the most toys, wins.” I am entertaining the image of people leaving their homes and families on “Black Friday” after Thanksgiving to go into the stores in the evening and shop until they drop the next evening when they return home. The motivation might be to purchase the newest electronic gadget that allows us to complicate our already complicated lives even more. Furthermore, there is often a running accounting of the success or failure of these attempts making headline news in the national media and local newspapers.

So, what is the basis for this sense of hedonistic thinking and activity? Well, the opposite of seeking pleasure is the need to postpone pleasure. This was one of the many statements that Sigmund Freud made. He went on to say that the postponement of pleasure enhances one’s ability to mature which essentially is the ability to deal with life situations in a rational and reasonable manner. Hedonism, therefore, is the direct opposite suggesting that it is a form of avoidance … an avoidance of reality in favor of experiencing pleasure instead. I read somewhere that you can avoid reality but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality. If that sounds like double-talk, it isn’t.

There is a price that needs to be paid for avoiding reality. First of all, the forces of reality do not change despite our avoidance although the avoidance makes it seem as if it does. That perception is merely a delusion. Secondly, as the circumstances contained in whatever reality that is being considered grow more serious, the tendency is for the situation to grow out of hand becoming unable to be reigned in at certain points. However, people live in that world on an everyday basis believing that their seeking pleasure outweighs whatever the consequences might be or become. For some it’s like a risk taken in crapshoot while for others it’s a belief that nothing bad can happen to them as a result of their life’s philosophy.

Especially in the latter part of the Roman Empire, the emperors and their underlings practiced hedonism quite consistently. They were of the belief that because they ruled the world as they knew it, they were beyond any kind of retribution by outside forces or as a result of their hedonistic practices. History clearly shows that they were wrong and it was that very sense of masked vulnerability that hedonism contains that lead to the Empire’s fall. Now the United States and several other countries seem to be following in that same path with that same belief of invulnerability. Could history be that wrong?


Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.

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