So, Why “Sybarite”?

Your humble host is occasionally asked why Aphrodisia is located in the “sybarite’s garden.” Why such an obscure word, and why not something more people have some meaning attached to already?

Well, let’s consider the essential idea here: This little corner of the Web is dedicated to pleasant discussion regarding all of the essential pleasures, and their overlap. Aphrodisiacs themselves are the overlap of food and love, for example. We want, then, a word that encompasses that sort of thing, in a general way. Note that the word “aphrodisiac” and its permutations have been fairly thoroughly used as domain names. Also, it’d be nice to indicate a broader interest. The trouble is that most of the other words are either not right or carry baggage:

epicure: a person who takes particular pleasure in fine food and drink. This is a good one, if also rather overused, even if it specifically refers to edibilities these days. Less recently, it meant, “one devoted to sensual pleasure” – which is about perfect! I decided against this, though, not only because of its overuse in domain names but also because, as mentioned elsewhere, the actual food and drink in Epicurus’ famous garden was rather bland. He was, frankly, very badly used by posterity, and misrepresented by his enemies. I am a great fan of Epicurus, but the two very different versions of his legacy, enjoyable as each are, make his name too hard to use without confusion.

voluptuary: a person devoted to luxury and sensual pleasure. This is absolutely perfect, at least in definition. However – and this is my fault alone – I’ve never really liked the sound of the word. It carries connotations I can’t quite put my finger on but don’t much like. I considered “sensate,” being a word that simply means a thing has physical sensations, since it can also be used (obscurely) as a synonym for voluptuary. But no, it’s not really a good usage.

sensualist: a person given to the indulgence of the senses or appetites. This is a very good word, a synonym of most of those listed here, at least in that definition. However, sensualism is also a philosophical concept that declares the senses to be the most important form of cognition. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I got into the weeds so quickly, trying to figure out if it was applicable, that I decided it would be confusing.

hedonist: a person who believes that the pursuit of pleasure is the most important thing in life. Obviously, this definition is fairly appropriate for our Garden’s topic list. However, like so many of the other entries, it has very strong connotations of mindless pleasure-seeking, of foolish, animalistic debauchery, and I’d prefer to dodge that if I can. “Libertine” is out of the question for similar reasons.

sybarite: a person who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury. Sybarites (native of Sybaris, an ancient Greek city in southern Italy) were stereotyped as seekers of pleasure and luxury, and the word has continued as an adjective for, essentially, hedonism, to this day. At this point in my searches I was becoming annoyed that all the best words either were thoroughly taken or carried strong negative (or at least wrong) connotations. Relatively few people have even heard the word “sybarite,” though, and so neither problem was had to the level of the other options. The answer to the original question, then, is that I chose it because it is an obscure word and therefore has no extra attachments to the reader.

Yes, I am more accurately described as an epicurean, which is why the image at the top carries the quote from Epicurus’ garden gate. I could also be described as a sensate, in the very obscure meaning of one who essentially collects sensations. My interest in obtaining pleasure is exceeded by my interest in spreading it, and I’m not sure there is a word for that. And outside of Epicurus, I am unaware of a named philosophy that comes very close to my own.

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Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.