Hegesias of Cyrene was an ancient greek philosopher, whose set of ideas was very close to pessimism and antinatalism. People regard him as a Cyrenaic philosopher, most of the time, and the Cyrenaics were, in turn, a school of thought founded by Aristippus, carrying thus the name from the city in which its founder was born. It can also be identified, philosophically, that they drank from the same river as other Socratic schools.
Though the Cyrenaics presented, in general, an hedonistic point of view, the later thoughts and concepts presented by some of their proponents were deviant from the original idea, so much in fact that almost none of the strands of hedonism gets to be recognized, which is the case of Hegesias.
Hegesias pointed out that the least irrational way to deal with what we antinatalists in general call the stupidity of life, is the way presented by the cyrenaics, that is, hedonism. But he carried it a bit further. Their philosophy developed in many directions, but the main thing that I´ll be exploring in this particular post here is the connection between pessimism and the philosophy of Hegesias.
Right from the start, from the Wikipedia entry about him, we have:
He argued that happiness is impossible to achieve, and that the goal of life was the avoidance of pain and sorrow. Conventional values such as wealth, poverty, freedom, and slavery are all indifferent and produce no more pleasure than pain. Cicero claims that Hegesias wrote a book called Death by Starvation, which persuaded so many people that death is more desirable than life, that Hegesias was banned from teaching in Alexandria. It has been thought by some that Hegesias was influenced by Buddhist teachings.
We can see, since the start, that is not of the liking of the overlords to have people killing each other back and front, without their consent; and hence, history goes, he was forbidden of teaching in Alexandria. Other than that, he was as pessimist as Schopenhauer - he pointed out the absurd of life, and said that things are not worth it in the end - 'things' here, granted, that come from this ever changing, ephemeral and transient world in which we live in, right now.
Complete happiness cannot possibly exist; for that the body is full of many sensations, and that the mind sympathizes with the body, and is troubled when that is troubled, and also that fortune prevents many things which we cherished in anticipation; so that for all these reasons, perfect happiness eludes our grasp. Moreover, that both life and death are desirable. They also say that there is nothing naturally pleasant or unpleasant, but that owing to want, or rarity, or satiety, some people are pleased and some vexed; and that wealth and poverty have no influence at all on pleasure, for that rich people are not affected by pleasure in a different manner from poor people. In the same way they say that slavery and freedom are things indifferent, if measured by the standard of pleasure, and nobility and baseness of birth, and glory and infamy. They add that, for the foolish person it is expedient to live, but to the wise person it is a matter of indifference; and that the wise person will do everything for his own sake; for that he will not consider any one else of equal importance with himself; and he will see that if he were to obtain ever such great advantages from any one else, they would not be equal to what he could himself bestow.
So yeah, if the thought came to mind that pessimism was not well presented in the Ancient world, there´s more than proof that it was, at least by the hand of Hegesias.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that he was an extremely pessimist philosopher:
Hegesias is an extremely pessimistic philosopher. He maintains that happiness is impossible to achieve, because the body and mind are subject to a great deal of suffering, and what happens to us is a result of fortune and not under our control. Pleasure is good, and pain evil, but life as such is neither good nor evil. It is reported (maybe spuriously) that Hegesias was known as the ‘death-persuader,’ and that he was forbidden to lecture because so many members of his audience would kill themselves after listening to him.
Hegesias stresses that every action is done for entirely self-interested motives, and because of this, he denies that friendship exists. This assumes, of course, that one cannot truly be a friend if one enters into the friendship for entirely self-interested reasons.
For the record, I have a middle way of dealing with friendship. In general, people are not actually your friends, but I´d put my life on the line for good natured AN (at least from the ones I´ve already got in touch with). But this is a subject for another post (speaking of which you can already see what I think of my antinatalistic inclined friends in this video).
Many cheers and hopefully I introduced or at least helped you to know a bit better about another philosopher of dukkha, this time right from the ancient world.