Evidence about this is available to us both through Roman literature and what we know about how Roman villas were constructed. Although some of this evidence might be questionable, it can still give us important clues into how Roman villa-owners spent their leisure time, which can in turn show us the different ideas about the value and purpose of leisure in ancient Rome and how they continued to affect society long into modern times.
Two philosophers who had important ideas about what leisure meant, how to use it, and who should have it were Aristotle and Epicurus. Aristotle was probably Plato’s most famous student of philosophy, who went on to become a philosopher in his own right. Two of Aristotle’s works which deal with questions of leisure are “the Politics and the Nichomachean Ethics” (Price 2008, p11). In these two works, Aristotle tries to answer questions about leisure that ultimately lead him to ask “a rather different question: what is it to be an excellent human being?” (Price 2008, p13). The reason Aristotle was interested in this question is because he had somewhat unusual views about leisure. He believed that “leisure and well-being are intimately connected: living well involves having plenty of leisure, and using it in the best possible way” (Price 2008, p12).
Today, most people would probably say that leisure was just what you do after you’re finished working, but Aristotle did not agree with that either. When he talked about leisure, he did not mean just lying around and relaxing, doing nothing. Instead, he used it to mean “the pursuit of activities that we value for their own sake” (Price 2008, p12). More importantly, Aristotle did not just mean any activity at all. Instead, he wanted the activities to be those which made excellent human beings. So for Aristotle, leisure was pursuing excellence for its own sake, instead of for some other purpose. Of course, being a privileged philosopher, he ...
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