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Epictetus (l.c. 130 CE) was a Stoic philosopher best known for his works The Enchiridion (the handbook) and his Discourses, both foundational works in Stoic philosophy and both thought to have been written down from his teachings by his student Arrian. Stoicism is the belief that the individual is wholly responsible for his or her interpretations of circumstance and that all of life is natural and normal in spite of one's impressions. To the Stoics, `philosophy' was synonymous with life. One did not `dabble' in philosophy, one became fully immersed in understanding and appreciating how best to live one's life.

The foundations of Stoicism, especially its recognition of the logos, an underlying force behind all things, was first laid by the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus (c. 500 BCE). Antisthenes, a student of Socrates, then developed the philosophy c. 390 BCE and expounded upon it through his Cynic School (though, no doubt, mixed with Socratic concepts). These ideas were then further developed by the later philosopher Zeno of Citium in c. 300 BCE. The Greek Stoics (the so-called `Old Stoa') Cleanthes and Chryissippus, who followed Zeno of Citium, wrote many volumes on the Stoic way of life but, unfortunately, of the 165 works attributed to Chrysippus, we have only fragments and the same holds true for Cleanthes. Their influence must have been far-reaching, however, because Stoic principles were known and practiced as far away as Rome.

Early Life

Epictetus was born in the Phrygian city of Hierapolis in Asia Minor to a slave woman and so was, himself, a slave. He was granted his freedom sometime after the death of Emperor Nero in the year 68 CE by his master Epaphroditus who had also been a slave and was freed by Nero for revealing a coup against the Emperor. Tacitus calls Epaproditus “Nero's Freedman” and reports he was with Nero when the Emperor committed suicide, and offered to help him do so. It should not seem strange that Epaphroditus, having been a slave, should own slaves once he, himself, had been freed. According to Nardo, “Slavery was the largest and most entrenched social institution in ancient Rome (especially at its height, between 200 BCE and 200 CE) and affected every aspect of life and society”(41). Epaphroditus, as secretary to emperor Nero, would have been expected to own slaves as standard custom.

Epictetus insisted that, though life may be subject to constant change, human beings are ultimately responsible for how they interpret and respond to those changes.

Epaphroditus, recognizing his slave's intellectual abilities, recommended the young Epictetus to study with the great Stoic teacher C. Musonius Rufus and, clearly, Rufus influenced the younger man greatly as Epictetus' thought seems almost identical to some of the fragments we have of Musonius Rufus. Rufus was very impressed by Epictetus' keen mind and trained him well in the discipline of Stoic philosophy.

Once freed, Epictetus set up his own school and taught the philosophy to others until he, along with all the other philosophers in Rome, was banished by the emperor Domitian in the year 89 CE. Even so, the impact of Epictetus' thought became an integral part of Roman understanding. Scholar Forrest E. Baird writes:

Despite Emperor Domitian's condemnation, Stoicism had a special appeal to the Roman mind. The Romans were not much interested in the speculative and theoretical content of Zeno's early Stoa. Instead, in the austere moral emphasis of Epictetus, with his concomitant stress on self-control and superiority to pain, the Romans found an ideal for the wise man, whereas the Stoic description of natural law provided a basis for Roman law. One might say that the pillars of republican Rome tended to be Stoical, even if some Romans had never heard of Stoicism. (519)

Epictetus' influence was not confined to Rome, however, as his banishment led to his formation of the school which would preserve his teachings.

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Epictetus traveled to Nicopolis, Greece where he opened a Stoic school and taught philosophy through lectures, and by his own example in living, up until his death in the year 130 CE. Among his students was the young historian Flavius Arrianus (popularly known as Arrian) whose classnotes (written in Koine Greek although Epictetus taught in Attic Greek) have preserved Epictetus' thought as the philosopher himself apparently wrote nothing down.

Arrian collected and edited the lectures and discussions he attended in eight books, of which four remain extant, and distilled his master's thoughts in the Enchiridion. That philosophy was a way of living, not merely an academic discipline, is apparent throughout the Enchiridion and is expanded upon in Epictetus' other work, the Discourses, which Arrian purports to be verbatim transcripts of discussions he had and classes he and others participated in with Epictetus (though this is doubtful). Scholars are confident that the works ascribed to Epictetus are his own, not the creation of Arrian, based upon Arrian's other extant writings.


Epictetus' focus was on the responsibility of the individual to live the best life possible. He insisted that human beings do have freedom of choice in all matters even though that choice may be limited by the operation of the logos. This logos (Greek for `word' or `speech' but containing a much greater range of meaning including `to convey thought') was an eternal force which moved through all things and all people, which created and guided the operation of the universe and which had always existed. In many English translations of Epictetus' works logos is often given as God. As Hays writes:

Logos operates both in individuals and in the universe as a whole. In individuals it is the faculty of reason. On a cosmic level it is the rational principle that governs the organization of the universe. In this sense it is synonymous with 'nature', 'Providence' or 'God' (when the author of John's Gospel tells us that `the Word' – logos –was with God and is to be identified with God, he is borrowing Stoic terminology). (xix)

This use of logos as a force characterized by rationality, and perceived through reason, though it has roots in the teachings of Heraclitus, was more clearly explained by Epictetus as Heraclitus' writings were thought to be difficult to understand. According to Epictetus, the logos is the underlying form of the perceived world which sets the parameters of the human experience and maintains the order of the universe by immutable laws.

Because of the natural operation of this logos, then, the individual was limited in choice but still had the power over how to interpret external circumstance and how to respond to it. As the Enchiridion puts it, “Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things: for example, death is nothing terrible, for if it were it would have seemed so to Socrates; for the opinion about death, that it is terrible, is the terrible thing.” How one chooses to interpret external circumstances, not the circumstances themselves, leads one to enjoy a good life or suffer from a bad one. The immense power, and responsibility, of personal choice and free will was at the heart of the Stoicism of Epictetus while he simultaneously acknowledged that there was much in life which was simply beyond one's control. As Hays has it:

The Stoics [defined] free will as a voluntary accommodation to what is in any case inevitable. According to this theory, man is like a dog tied to a moving wagon. If the dog refuses to run along with the wagon he will be dragged by it, yet the choice remains his: to run or be dragged. In the same way, humans are responsible for their choices and actions, even though these have been anticipated by the logos and form part of its plan. (xix-xx)

Human choice may be bound by the laws of the logos but that does not mean people's choices are directed by any outside force. It is always one's individual choice to engage in life willingly or to be dragged through existence reluctantly.

Epictetus insisted that, though life may be subject to constant change, human beings are ultimately responsible for how they interpret and respond to those changes. By accepting responsibility for the way one views the world, and how that view affects one's behavior, one frees the self from slavery to external circumstances to become master of one's own life. It was this emphasis on the superiority of the individual over circumstance which made Stoicism so appealing to the Roman character.

Epictetus' work was so influential that it became the central doctrine of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 CE), known as `the last of the good emperors of Rome', who acknowledges Epictetus in his book, The Meditations. Aurelius was by no means the last person to draw strength and inspiration from the teachings of Epictetus as he is acknowledged by many as a formidable influence up to the present day.

Epictetus - History

Commentary: A few comments have been posted about The Enchiridion .

Translated by Elizabeth Carter

1. Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.

Aiming therefore at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself to be carried, even with a slight tendency, towards the attainment of lesser things. Instead, you must entirely quit some things and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would both have these great things, along with power and riches, then you will not gain even the latter, because you aim at the former too: but you will absolutely fail of the former, by which alone happiness and freedom are achieved.

Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, "You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be." And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

2. Remember that following desire promises the attainment of that of which you are desirous and aversion promises the avoiding that to which you are averse. However, he who fails to obtain the object of his desire is disappointed, and he who incurs the object of his aversion wretched. If, then, you confine your aversion to those objects only which are contrary to the natural use of your faculties, which you have in your own control, you will never incur anything to which you are averse. But if you are averse to sickness, or death, or poverty, you will be wretched. Remove aversion, then, from all things that are not in our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what is in our control. But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed and of those which are, and which it would be laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation.

3. With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.

4. When you are going about any action, remind yourself what nature the action is. If you are going to bathe, picture to yourself the things which usually happen in the bath: some people splash the water, some push, some use abusive language, and others steal. Thus you will more safely go about this action if you say to yourself, "I will now go bathe, and keep my own mind in a state conformable to nature." And in the same manner with regard to every other action. For thus, if any hindrance arises in bathing, you will have it ready to say, "It was not only to bathe that I desired, but to keep my mind in a state conformable to nature and I will not keep it if I am bothered at things that happen.

5. Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible. When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others. Someone just starting instruction will lay the fault on himself. Some who is perfectly instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself.

6. Don't be prideful with any excellence that is not your own. If a horse should be prideful and say, " I am handsome," it would be supportable. But when you are prideful, and say, " I have a handsome horse," know that you are proud of what is, in fact, only the good of the horse. What, then, is your own? Only your reaction to the appearances of things. Thus, when you behave conformably to nature in reaction to how things appear, you will be proud with reason for you will take pride in some good of your own.

7. Consider when, on a voyage, your ship is anchored if you go on shore to get water you may along the way amuse yourself with picking up a shellfish, or an onion. However, your thoughts and continual attention ought to be bent towards the ship, waiting for the captain to call on board you must then immediately leave all these things, otherwise you will be thrown into the ship, bound neck and feet like a sheep. So it is with life. If, instead of an onion or a shellfish, you are given a wife or child, that is fine. But if the captain calls, you must run to the ship, leaving them, and regarding none of them. But if you are old, never go far from the ship: lest, when you are called, you should be unable to come in time.

8. Don't demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

9. Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.

10. With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them.

11. Never say of anything, "I have lost it" but, "I have returned it." Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not that likewise returned? "But he who took it away is a bad man." What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it but don't view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.

12. If you want to improve, reject such reasonings as these: "If I neglect my affairs, I'll have no income if I don't correct my servant, he will be bad." For it is better to die with hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation and it is better your servant should be bad, than you unhappy.

Begin therefore from little things. Is a little oil spilt? A little wine stolen? Say to yourself, "This is the price paid for equanimity, for tranquillity, and nothing is to be had for nothing." When you call your servant, it is possible that he may not come or, if he does, he may not do what you want. But he is by no means of such importance that it should be in his power to give you any disturbance.

13. If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things. Don't wish to be thought to know anything and even if you appear to be somebody important to others, distrust yourself. For, it is difficult to both keep your faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature, and at the same time acquire external things. But while you are careful about the one, you must of necessity neglect the other.

14. If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are a fool for you wish vice not to be vice," but something else. But, if you wish to have your desires undisappointed, this is in your own control. Exercise, therefore, what is in your control. He is the master of every other person who is able to confer or remove whatever that person wishes either to have or to avoid. Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others else he must necessarily be a slave.

15. Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don't stop it. Is it not yet come? Don't stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you don't even take the things which are set before you, but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a partner at the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire. For, by doing this, Diogenes, Heraclitus and others like them, deservedly became, and were called, divine.

16. When you see anyone weeping in grief because his son has gone abroad, or is dead, or because he has suffered in his affairs, be careful that the appearance may not misdirect you. Instead, distinguish within your own mind, and be prepared to say, "It's not the accident that distresses this person., because it doesn't distress another person it is the judgment which he makes about it." As far as words go, however, don't reduce yourself to his level, and certainly do not moan with him. Do not moan inwardly either.

17. Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you to choose it is another's.

18. When a raven happens to croak unluckily, don't allow the appearance hurry you away with it, but immediately make the distinction to yourself, and say, "None of these things are foretold to me but either to my paltry body, or property, or reputation, or children, or wife. But to me all omens are lucky, if I will. For whichever of these things happens, it is in my control to derive advantage from it."

19. You may be unconquerable, if you enter into no combat in which it is not in your own control to conquer. When, therefore, you see anyone eminent in honors, or power, or in high esteem on any other account, take heed not to be hurried away with the appearance, and to pronounce him happy for, if the essence of good consists in things in our own control, there will be no room for envy or emulation. But, for your part, don't wish to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free and the only way to this is a contempt of things not in our own control.

20. Remember, that not he who gives ill language or a blow insults, but the principle which represents these things as insulting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try, therefore, in the first place, not to be hurried away with the appearance. For if you once gain time and respite, you will more easily command yourself.

21. Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible be daily before your eyes, but chiefly death, and you win never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.

22. If you have an earnest desire of attaining to philosophy, prepare yourself from the very first to be laughed at, to be sneered by the multitude, to hear them say,." He is returned to us a philosopher all at once," and " Whence this supercilious look?" Now, for your part, don't have a supercilious look indeed but keep steadily to those things which appear best to you as one appointed by God to this station. For remember that, if you adhere to the same point, those very persons who at first ridiculed will afterwards admire you. But if you are conquered by them, you will incur a double ridicule.

23. If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, so as to wish to please anyone, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Be contented, then, in everything with being a philosopher and, if you wish to be thought so likewise by anyone, appear so to yourself, and it will suffice you.

24. Don't allow such considerations as these distress you. "I will live in dishonor, and be nobody anywhere." For, if dishonor is an evil, you can no more be involved in any evil by the means of another, than be engaged in anything base. Is it any business of yours, then, to get power, or to be admitted to an entertainment? By no means. How, then, after all, is this a dishonor? And how is it true that you will be nobody anywhere, when you ought to be somebody in those things only which are in your own control, in which you may be of the greatest consequence? "But my friends will be unassisted." -- What do you mean by unassisted? They will not have money from you, nor will you make them Roman citizens. Who told you, then, that these are among the things in our own control, and not the affair of others? And who can give to another the things which he has not himself? "Well, but get them, then, that we too may have a share." If I can get them with the preservation of my own honor and fidelity and greatness of mind, show me the way and I will get them but if you require me to lose my own proper good that you may gain what is not good, consider how inequitable and foolish you are. Besides, which would you rather have, a sum of money, or a friend of fidelity and honor? Rather assist me, then, to gain this character than require me to do those things by which I may lose it. Well, but my country, say you, as far as depends on me, will be unassisted. Here again, what assistance is this you mean? "It will not have porticoes nor baths of your providing." And what signifies that? Why, neither does a smith provide it with shoes, or a shoemaker with arms. It is enough if everyone fully performs his own proper business. And were you to supply it with another citizen of honor and fidelity, would not he be of use to it? Yes. Therefore neither are you yourself useless to it. "What place, then, say you, will I hold in the state?" Whatever you can hold with the preservation of your fidelity and honor. But if, by desiring to be useful to that, you lose these, of what use can you be to your country when you are become faithless and void of shame.

25. Is anyone preferred before you at an entertainment, or in a compliment, or in being admitted to a consultation? If these things are good, you ought to be glad that he has gotten them and if they are evil, don't be grieved that you have not gotten them. And remember that you cannot, without using the same means [which others do] to acquire things not in our own control, expect to be thought worthy of an equal share of them. For how can he who does not frequent the door of any [great] man, does not attend him, does not praise him, have an equal share with him who does? You are unjust, then, and insatiable, if you are unwilling to pay the price for which these things are sold, and would have them for nothing. For how much is lettuce sold? Fifty cents, for instance. If another, then, paying fifty cents, takes the lettuce, and you, not paying it, go without them, don't imagine that he has gained any advantage over you. For as he has the lettuce, so you have the fifty cents which you did not give. So, in the present case, you have not been invited to such a person's entertainment, because you have not paid him the price for which a supper is sold. It is sold for praise it is sold for attendance. Give him then the value, if it is for your advantage. But if you would, at the same time, not pay the one and yet receive the other, you are insatiable, and a blockhead. Have you nothing, then, instead of the supper? Yes, indeed, you have: the not praising him, whom you don't like to praise the not bearing with his behavior at coming in.

26. The will of nature may be learned from those things in which we don't distinguish from each other. For example, when our neighbor's boy breaks a cup, or the like, we are presently ready to say, "These things will happen." Be assured, then, that when your own cup likewise is broken, you ought to be affected just as when another's cup was broken. Apply this in like manner to greater things. Is the child or wife of another dead? There is no one who would not say, "This is a human accident." but if anyone's own child happens to die, it is presently, "Alas I how wretched am I!" But it should be remembered how we are affected in hearing the same thing concerning others.

27. As a mark is not set up for the sake of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world.

28. If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you?

29. In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit but not having thought of the consequences, when some of them appear you will shamefully desist. "I would conquer at the Olympic games." But consider what precedes and follows, and then, if it is for your advantage, engage in the affair. You must conform to rules, submit to a diet, refrain from dainties exercise your body, whether you choose it or not, at a stated hour, in heat and cold you must drink no cold water, nor sometimes even wine. In a word, you must give yourself up to your master, as to a physician. Then, in the combat, you may be thrown into a ditch, dislocate your arm, turn your ankle, swallow dust, be whipped, and, after all, lose the victory. When you have evaluated all this, if your inclination still holds, then go to war. Otherwise, take notice, you will behave like children who sometimes play like wrestlers, sometimes gladiators, sometimes blow a trumpet, and sometimes act a tragedy when they have seen and admired these shows. Thus you too will be at one time a wrestler, at another a gladiator, now a philosopher, then an orator but with your whole soul, nothing at all. Like an ape, you mimic all you see, and one thing after another is sure to please you, but is out of favor as soon as it becomes familiar. For you have never entered upon anything considerately, nor after having viewed the whole matter on all sides, or made any scrutiny into it, but rashly, and with a cold inclination. Thus some, when they have seen a philosopher and heard a man speaking like Euphrates (though, indeed, who can speak like him?), have a mind to be philosophers too. Consider first, man, what the matter is, and what your own nature is able to bear. If you would be a wrestler, consider your shoulders, your back, your thighs for different persons are made for different things. Do you think that you can act as you do, and be a philosopher? That you can eat and drink, and be angry and discontented as you are now? You must watch, you must labor, you must get the better of certain appetites, must quit your acquaintance, be despised by your servant, be laughed at by those you meet come off worse than others in everything, in magistracies, in honors, in courts of judicature. When you have considered all these things round, approach, if you please if, by parting with them, you have a mind to purchase equanimity, freedom, and tranquillity. If not, don't come here don't, like children, be one while a philosopher, then a publican, then an orator, and then one of Caesar's officers. These things are not consistent. You must be one man, either good or bad. You must cultivate either your own ruling faculty or externals, and apply yourself either to things within or without you that is, be either a philosopher, or one of the vulgar.

30. Duties are universally measured by relations. Is anyone a father? If so, it is implied that the children should take care of him, submit to him in everything, patiently listen to his reproaches, his correction. But he is a bad father. Is you naturally entitled, then, to a good father? No, only to a father. Is a brother unjust? Well, keep your own situation towards him. Consider not what he does, but what you are to do to keep your own faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature. For another will not hurt you unless you please. You will then be hurt when you think you are hurt. In this manner, therefore, you will find, from the idea of a neighbor, a citizen, a general, the corresponding duties if you accustom yourself to contemplate the several relations.

31. Be assured that the essential property of piety towards the gods is to form right opinions concerning them, as existing "I and as governing the universe with goodness and justice. And fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them in all events, as produced by the most perfect understanding. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them as neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be effected any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things not in our own control, and placing good or evil in those only which are. For if you suppose any of the things not in our own control to be either good or evil, when you are disappointed of what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you must necessarily find fault with and blame the authors. For every animal is naturally formed to fly and abhor things that appear hurtful, and the causes of them and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial, and the causes of them. It is impractical, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should be happy about the person who, he thinks, hurts him, just as it is impossible to be happy about the hurt itself. Hence, also, a father is reviled by a son, when he does not impart to him the things which he takes to be good and the supposing empire to be a good made Polynices and Eteocles mutually enemies. On this account the husbandman, the sailor, the merchant, on this account those who lose wives and children, revile the gods. For where interest is, there too is piety placed. So that, whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought, is, by the very same means, careful of piety likewise. But it is also incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first fruits, conformably to the customs of his country, with purity, and not in a slovenly manner, nor negligently, nor sparingly, nor beyond his ability.

32. When you have recourse to divination, remember that you know not what the event will be, and you come to learn it of the diviner but of what nature it is you know before you come, at least if you are a philosopher. For if it is among the things not in our own control, it can by no means be either good or evil. Don't, therefore, bring either desire or aversion with you to the diviner (else you will approach him trembling), but first acquire a distinct knowledge that every event is indifferent and nothing to you., of whatever sort it may be, for it will be in your power to make a right use of it, and this no one can hinder then come with confidence to the gods, as your counselors, and afterwards, when any counsel is given you, remember what counselors you have assumed, and whose advice you will neglect if you disobey. Come to divination, as Socrates prescribed, in cases of which the whole consideration relates to the event, and in which no opportunities are afforded by reason, or any other art, to discover the thing proposed to be learned. When, therefore, it is our duty to share the danger of a friend or of our country, we ought not to consult the oracle whether we will share it with them or not. For, though the diviner should forewarn you that the victims are unfavorable, this means no more than that either death or mutilation or exile is portended. But we have reason within us, and it directs, even with these hazards, to the greater diviner, the Pythian god, who cast out of the temple the person who gave no assistance to his friend while another was murdering him.

33. Immediately prescribe some character and form of conduce to yourself, which you may keep both alone and in company.

Be for the most part silent, or speak merely what is necessary, and in few words. We may, however, enter, though sparingly, into discourse sometimes when occasion calls for it, but not on any of the common subjects, of gladiators, or horse races, or athletic champions, or feasts, the vulgar topics of conversation but principally not of men, so as either to blame, or praise, or make comparisons. If you are able, then, by your own conversation bring over that of your company to proper subjects but, if you happen to be taken among strangers, be silent.

Don't allow your laughter be much, nor on many occasions, nor profuse.

Avoid swearing, if possible, altogether if not, as far as you are able.

Avoid public and vulgar entertainments but, if ever an occasion calls you to them, keep your attention upon the stretch, that you may not imperceptibly slide into vulgar manners. For be assured that if a person be ever so sound himself, yet, if his companion be infected, he who converses with him will be infected likewise.

Provide things relating to the body no further than mere use as meat, drink, clothing, house, family. But strike off and reject everything relating to show and delicacy.

As far as possible, before marriage, keep yourself pure from familiarities with women, and, if you indulge them, let it be lawfully." But don't therefore be troublesome and full of reproofs to those who use these liberties, nor frequently boast that you yourself don't.

If anyone tells you that such a person speaks ill of you, don't make excuses about what is said of you, but answer: " He does not know my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only these."

It is not necessary for you to appear often at public spectacles but if ever there is a proper occasion for you to be there, don't appear more solicitous for anyone than for yourself that is, wish things to be only just as they are, and him only to conquer who is the conqueror, for thus you will meet with no hindrance. But abstain entirely from declamations and derision and violent emotions. And when you come away, don't discourse a great deal on what has passed, and what does not contribute to your own amendment. For it would appear by such discourse that you were immoderately struck with the show.

Go not [of your own accord] to the rehearsals of any
authors , nor appear [at them] readily. But, if you do appear, keepyour gravity and sedateness, and at the same time avoid being morose.

When you are going to confer with anyone, and particularly of those in a superior station, represent to yourself how Socrates or Zeno would behave in such a case, and you will not be at a loss to make a proper use of whatever may occur.

When you are going to any of the people in power, represent to yourself that you will not find him at home that you will not be admitted that the doors will not be opened to you that he will take no notice of you. If, with all this, it is your duty to go, bear what happens, and never say [to yourself], " It was not worth so much." For this is vulgar, and like a man dazed by external things.

In parties of conversation, avoid a frequent and excessive mention of your own actions and dangers. For, however agreeable it may be to yourself to mention the risks you have run, it is not equally agreeable to others to hear your adventures. Avoid, likewise, an endeavor to excite laughter. For this is a slippery point, which may throw you into vulgar manners, and, besides, may be apt to lessen you in the esteem of your acquaintance. Approaches to indecent discourse are likewise dangerous. Whenever, therefore, anything of this sort happens, if there be a proper opportunity, rebuke him who makes advances that way or, at least, by silence and blushing and a forbidding look, show yourself to be displeased by such talk.

34. If you are struck by the appearance of any promised pleasure, guard yourself against being hurried away by it but let the affair wait your leisure, and procure yourself some delay. Then bring to your mind both points of time: that in which you will enjoy the pleasure, and that in which you will repent and reproach yourself after you have enjoyed it and set before you, in opposition to these, how you will be glad and applaud yourself if you abstain. And even though it should appear to you a seasonable gratification, take heed that its enticing, and agreeable and attractive force may not subdue you but set in opposition to this how much better it is to be conscious of having gained so great a victory.

35. When you do anything from a clear judgment that it ought to be done, never shun the being seen to do it, even though the world should make a wrong supposition about it for, if you don't act right, shun the action itself but, if you do, why are you afraid of those who censure you wrongly?

36. As the proposition, "Either it is day or it is night," is extremely proper for a disjunctive argument, but quite improper in a conjunctive one, so, at a feast, to choose the largest share is very suitable to the bodily appetite, but utterly inconsistent with the social spirit of an entertainment. When you eat with another, then, remember not only the value of those things which are set before you to the body, but the value of that behavior which ought to be observed towards the person who gives the entertainment.

37. If you have assumed any character above your strength, you have both made an ill figure in that and quitted one which you might have supported.

38. When walking, you are careful not to step on a nail or turn your foot so likewise be careful not to hurt the ruling faculty of your mind. And, if we were to guard against this in every action, we should undertake the action with the greater safety.

39. The body is to everyone the measure of the possessions proper for it, just as the foot is of the shoe. If, therefore, you stop at this, you will keep the measure but if you move beyond it, you must necessarily be carried forward, as down a cliff as in the case of a shoe, if you go beyond its fitness to the foot, it comes first to be gilded, then purple, and then studded with jewels. For to that which once exceeds a due measure, there is no bound.

40. Women from fourteen years old are flattered with the title of "mistresses" by the men. Therefore, perceiving that they are regarded only as qualified to give the men pleasure, they begin to adorn themselves, and in that to place ill their hopes. We should, therefore, fix our attention on making them sensible that they are valued for the appearance of decent, modest and discreet behavior.

41. It is a mark of want of genius to spend much time in things relating to the body, as to be long in our exercises, in eating and drinking, and in the discharge of other animal functions. These should be done incidentally and slightly, and our whole attention be engaged in the care of the understanding.

42. When any person harms you, or speaks badly of you, remember that he acts or speaks from a supposition of its being his duty. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he judges from a wrong appearance, he is the person hurt, since he too is the person deceived. For if anyone should suppose a true proposition to be false, the proposition is not hurt, but he who is deceived about it. Setting out, then, from these principles, you will meekly bear a person who reviles you, for you will say upon every occasion, "It seemed so to him."

43. Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don't lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried.

44. These reasonings are unconnected: "I am richer than you, therefore I am better" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better." The connection is rather this: "I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours." But you, after all, are neither property nor style.

45. Does anyone bathe in a mighty little time? Don't say that he does it ill, but in a mighty little time. Does anyone drink a great quantity of wine? Don't say that he does ill, but that he drinks a great quantity. For, unless you perfectly understand the principle from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill? Thus you will not run the hazard of assenting to any appearances but such as you fully comprehend.

46. Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them. Thus, at an entertainment, don't talk how persons ought to eat, but eat as you ought. For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and- recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked. So that if ever any talk should happen among the unlearned concerning philosophic theorems, be you, for the most part, silent. For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don't throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested.

47. When you have brought yourself to supply the necessities of your body at a small price, don't pique yourself upon it nor, if you drink water, be saying upon every occasion, "I drink water." But first consider how much more sparing and patient of hardship the poor are than we. But if at any time you would inure yourself by exercise to labor, and bearing hard trials, do it for your own sake, and not for the world don't grasp statues, but, when you are violently thirsty, take a little cold water in your mouth, and spurt it out and tell nobody.

48. The condition and characteristic of a vulgar person, is, that he never expects either benefit or hurt from himself, but from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is, that he expects all hurt and benefit from himself. The marks of a proficient are, that he censures no one, praises no one, blames no one, accuses no one, says nothing concerning himself as being anybody, or knowing anything: when he is, in any instance, hindered or restrained, he accuses himself and, if he is praised, he secretly laughs at the person who praises him and, if he is censured, he makes no defense. But he goes about with the caution of sick or injured people, dreading to move anything that is set right, before it is perfectly fixed. He suppresses all desire in himself he transfers his aversion to those things only which thwart the proper use of our own faculty of choice the exertion of his active powers towards anything is very gentle if he appears stupid or ignorant, he does not care, and, in a word, he watches himself as an enemy, and one in ambush.

49. When anyone shows himself overly confident in ability to understand and interpret the works of Chrysippus, say to yourself, " Unless Chrysippus had written obscurely, this person would have had no subject for his vanity. But what do I desire? To understand nature and follow her. I ask, then, who interprets her, and, finding Chrysippus does, I have recourse to him. I don't understand his writings. I seek, therefore, one to interpret them." So far there is nothing to value myself upon. And when I find an interpreter, what remains is to make use of his instructions. This alone is the valuable thing. But, if I admire nothing but merely the interpretation, what do I become more than a grammarian instead of a philosopher? Except, indeed, that instead of Homer I interpret Chrysippus. When anyone, therefore, desires me to read Chrysippus to him, I rather blush when I cannot show my actions agreeable and consonant to his discourse.

50. Whatever moral rules you have deliberately proposed to yourself. abide by them as they were laws, and as if you would be guilty of impiety by violating any of them. Don't regard what anyone says of you, for this, after all, is no concern of yours. How long, then, will you put off thinking yourself worthy of the highest improvements and follow the distinctions of reason? You have received the philosophical theorems, with which you ought to be familiar, and you have been familiar with them. What other master, then, do you wait for, to throw upon that the delay of reforming yourself? You are no longer a boy, but a grown man. If, therefore, you will be negligent and slothful, and always add procrastination to procrastination, purpose to purpose, and fix day after day in which you will attend to yourself, you will insensibly continue without proficiency, and, living and dying, persevere in being one of the vulgar. This instant, then, think yourself worthy of living as a man grown up, and a proficient. Let whatever appears to be the best be to you an inviolable law. And if any instance of pain or pleasure, or glory or disgrace, is set before you, remember that now is the combat, now the Olympiad comes on, nor can it be put off. By once being defeated and giving way, proficiency is lost, or by the contrary preserved. Thus Socrates became perfect, improving himself by everything. attending to nothing but reason. And though you are not yet a Socrates, you ought, however, to live as one desirous of becoming a Socrates.

51. The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is that of the use of moral theorems, such as, "We ought not to lie" the second is that of demonstrations, such as, "What is the origin of our obligation not to lie" the third gives strength and articulation to the other two, such as, "What is the origin of this is a demonstration." For what is demonstration? What is consequence? What contradiction? What truth? What falsehood? The third topic, then, is necessary on the account of the second, and the second on the account of the first. But the most necessary, and that whereon we ought to rest, is the first. But we act just on the contrary. For we spend all our time on the third topic, and employ all our diligence about that, and entirely neglect the first. Therefore, at the same time that we lie, we are immediately prepared to show how it is demonstrated that lying is not right.

52. Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:

"Conduct me, Jove, and you, 0 Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my station."

"I follow cheerfully and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still
Whoever yields properly to Fate, is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of heaven."
Euripides, Frag. 965

"0 Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot."
Plato's Crito and Apology

Artistic impression of Epictetus, including his crutch.

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”

Zeno Of Citium 336-264. Engraved By J.W.Cook.

“You may be unconquerable, if you enter into no combat in which it is not in your own control to conquer.”

Chapter 1, page 1, of the Enchiridion of Epictetus, from the 1683 edition in Greek and Latin by Abrahamus Berkelius (Abraham van Berkel).

“But, for your part, don’t wish to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free and the only way to this is a contempt of things not in our own control.”

A brief history of stoicism

For stoics, the ultimate goal of our life is eudaimonia: a state of contentment and flourishing, which can be achieved by living in accordance with nature. Living with nature means both fulfilling your role in the cosmos (which is closely related to notions of fate and providence) and living as a human being. Because human beings differentiate themselves in their nature from other living beings by their ability to use reason, they should act according to their reason. In short, we must act rationally and not let our passions fool us (apatheia). External circumstances are neither good nor bad, so it is best that we are indifferent towards them. This goal of eudaimonia and the methods of reaching it, have been developed over thousands over years. In this post, I will provide a short overview of the golden era of stoicism: the classical period between 300 BC and 200 AD, which is usually divided in three periods: the early stoa, middle stoa and late stoa. The late stoa is best know, because the only sources still in existence are from that period.

1. Early stoa (300 – 100 BC): Zeno, Cleanthes and Chrysippus

The school of stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BC in Athens. He opposed the popular school of epicurism, founded by Epicurus, who believed in a materialistic world and an accidental nature, driven by pain and pleasure. Zeno developed his school of stoicism from (amongst others) the ideas of Cynicism, which prioritize virtue and simplicity. He started his teaching in the Stoa Poikile (the Painted Porch) in the center of Athens. This stoa was a covered colonnade, publicly accessible, and caused the name of his philosophy: stoicism. Zeno lay the foundation of stoicism and had an enormous influence in the school. He maintained a distinction of stoic philosophy in three areas: logic, physics and ethics. Today, most emphasis is on ethics, even though Zeno would argue that ethics must always be supported by physics and logic.

Zeno was succeeded by his pupil Cleanthes, who mostly followed the teachings of Zeno and added little of his own. The third leader (scholarch) of the stoic school was Chrysippus of Soli. He greatly developed the three parts of the philosophy, most notably by developing a system of propositional logic. By expanding and solidifying the foundations that Zeno lay down, Chrysippus ensured the position of stoicism as one the strongest philosophies in history. After him, the school was subsequently led by Zeno of Tarsus, Diogenes of Babylon, and Antipater of Tarsus.

2. Middle stoa (100 BC – 0): Panaetius, Posidonius, Cicero and Cato

Beginning from approximately 100 BC, the center of stoicism started to shift from Athens to Rhodos and Rome. The seventh scholarch, Panaetius, was more flexible in his beliefs than the strict Zeno. He simplified stoic ideas about physics and was less interested in logic. This moved the stoic philosophy closer to neoplatonism and made it more accessible. He also introduced stoicism to Rome. Because of the more eclectic character of the middle stoa, along with differences in opinion, Panaetius is considered to be the last scholarch. There no longer was a unified and undisputed school of stoicism, but the stoic philosophy would prove to be able to withstand the test of time.

Posidonius reinforced the ideas of Panaetius and moved even closer to Plato and Aristotle (and could even be considered to be a neoplatonist). In Rome, Cicero and Cato the Younger adopted stoicism. Especially Cato, known for his uncompromising moral integrity and his austere way of life, may be considered as a symbol of stoicism. He seems closer associated with the traditionalist teachings of Zeno and Chrysippus than with the eclectic philosophy of Panaetius and Posidonius.

3. Late stoa (0 – 200 AD): Seneca, Epictetus and Aurelius

In the Roman imperial period, the primary area of interest for stoic philosophers was ethics. Logic and physics were not studied as much anymore. The late stoa is the best known period of stoicism, since it is the only period from which full original writings have survived. One of these writings is from Seneca, who used specific day-to-day events to discuss moral issues in his Epistulae morales ad Lucilium (moral letters to Lucilius). He is widely praised for his personal style of writing and his Epistulae are still read today. Another stoic author, Epictetus, is known for his Discourses and the Enchiridion (Handbook), which were published by his pupil Arrian. If you are looking for an introduction to stoicism, Epictetus’ Handbook is a good start. This is also the reason that my first series on this blog is devoted to the Handbook (you can find it here). While Epictetus was born as a slave, perhaps the most famous stoic was the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. His most prominent work is Ta eis heauton (To himself), which he originally wrote as a personal journal during his military campaign in Germania. It is now commonly known as Meditations. Meditations is probably the most read and discussed stoic work, and still inspires people around the world today. Notions like self-discipline, reason and world citizenship are still relevant concepts in our modern world. Aurelius’ Meditations is also used as a source for personal improvement and growth and has aroused renewed interest over the last years. It is considered to be the last major work of the late stoa.

From Zeno to Marcus Aurelius, the stoic philosophy has developed itself as a way of life that has proven to be timeless and useful. It inspired slaves and emperors, businessmen and athletes. While the basic tenets of the old stoa of Zeno have remained the same, middle stoa philosophers moved it from the eccentric to the eclectic. Ultimately, late stoa writers like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius provided us with well-developed accounts on stoicism. But although we are all part of the same cosmos, every person is different and every time has its own accents and priorities. I heartily invite you to find your own way of living, by using the works of our great predecessors. We are all students of stoicism: we are together on our Stoic Journey.


Epictetus was born around AD 50, [5] [6] presumably at Hierapolis, Phrygia. [7] The name his parents gave him is unknown the word epíktētos (ἐπίκτητος) in Greek simply means "gained" or "acquired" [8] the Greek philosopher Plato, in his Laws, used the term to mean property that is "added to one's hereditary property". [9] He spent his youth as a slave in Rome to Epaphroditos, a wealthy freedman and secretary to Nero. [10]

Early in life, Epictetus acquired a passion for philosophy and, with the permission of his wealthy enslaver, he studied Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus, [11] Becoming more educated in this way raised his social status. [12] At some point, he became disabled. Origen wrote that this was because his leg had been deliberately broken by his enslaver. [13] Simplicius, in contrast, wrote that he had simply been disabled from childhood. [14]

Epictetus obtained his freedom sometime after the death of Nero in AD 68, [15] and he began to teach philosophy in Rome. Around AD 93, when Emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from the city, [16] Epictetus moved to Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece, where he founded a school of philosophy. [17]

His most famous pupil, Arrian, studied under him as a young man (around AD 108) and claimed to have written his famous Discourses based on the notes he took on Epictetus’s lectures. Arrian argued that his Discourses should be considered comparable to the Socratic literature. [18] Arrian described Epictetus as a powerful speaker who could "induce his listener to feel just what Epictetus wanted him to feel." [19] Many eminent figures sought conversations with him. [20] Emperor Hadrian was friendly with him, [21] and may have heard him speak at his school in Nicopolis. [22] [23]

He lived a life of great simplicity, with few possessions. [14] He lived alone for a long time, [24] but in his old age, he adopted a friend's child who otherwise would have been left to die and raised him with the aid of a woman. [25] It is unclear whether Epictetus and she were married. [26] He died sometime around AD 135. [27] After his death, according to Lucian, his oil lamp was purchased by an admirer for 3,000 drachmae. [28]

No writings by Epictetus are known. His discourses were transcribed and compiled by his pupil Arrian (author of the Anabasis Alexandri). [19] The main work is The Discourses, four books of which have been preserved (out of the original eight). [29] Arrian also compiled a popular digest, entitled the Enchiridion, or Handbook. In a preface to the Discourses that is addressed to Lucius Gellius, Arrian states that "whatever I heard him say I used to write down, word for word, as best I could, endeavouring to preserve it as a memorial, for my own future use, of his way of thinking and the frankness of his speech." [19]

Epictetus maintains that the foundation of all philosophy is self-knowledge that is, the conviction of our ignorance and gullibility ought to be the first subject of our study. [30] Logic provides valid reasoning and certainty in judgment, but it is subordinate to practical needs. [31] The first and most necessary part of philosophy concerns the application of doctrine, for example, that people should not lie. The second concerns reasons, e.g., why people should not lie. While the third, lastly, examines and establishes the reasons. [32] This is the logical part, which finds reasons, shows what is a reason, and that a given reason is a correct one. [32] This last part is necessary, but only on account of the second, which again is rendered necessary by the first. [33]

Both the Discourses and the Enchiridion begin by distinguishing between those things in our power (prohairetic things) and those things not in our power (aprohairetic things). [34]

That alone is in our power, which is our own work and in this class are our opinions, impulses, desires, and aversions. On the contrary, what is not in our power, are our bodies, possessions, glory, and power. Any delusion on this point leads to the greatest errors, misfortunes, and troubles, and to the slavery of the soul. [35]

We have no power over external things, and the good that ought to be the object of our earnest pursuit, is to be found only within ourselves. [36]

The determination between what is good and what is not good is made by the capacity for choice (prohairesis). [37] Prohairesis allows us to act, and gives us the kind of freedom that only rational animals have. [38] It is determined by our reason, which of all our faculties, sees and tests itself and everything else. [39] It is the correct use of the impressions (phantasia) that bombard the mind that is in our power: [40]

Practice then from the start to say to every harsh impression, "You are an impression, and not at all the thing you appear to be." Then examine it and test it by these rules you have, and firstly, and chiefly, by this: whether the impression has to do with the things that are up to us, or those that are not and if it has to do with the things that are not up to us, be ready to reply, "It is nothing to me." [41]

We will not be troubled at any loss, but will say to ourselves on such an occasion: "I have lost nothing that belongs to me it was not something of mine that was torn from me, but something that was not in my power has left me." Nothing beyond the use of our opinion is properly ours. Every possession rests on opinion. What is to cry and to weep? An opinion. What is misfortune, or a quarrel, or a complaint? All these things are opinions opinions founded on the delusion that what is not subject to our own choice can be either good or evil, which it cannot. [36] By rejecting these opinions, and seeking good and evil in the power of choice alone, we may confidently achieve peace of mind in every condition of life. [42]

Reason alone is good, the irrational is evil, and the irrational is intolerable to the rational. [43] The good person should labour chiefly on their own reason to perfect this is in our power. [44] To repel evil opinions by the good is the noble contest in which humans should engage it is not an easy task, but it promises true freedom, peace of mind (ataraxia), and a divine command over the emotions (apatheia). [45] We should especially be on our guard against the opinion of pleasure because of its apparent sweetness and charms. [46] The first object of philosophy, therefore, is to purify the mind. [47]

Epictetus teaches that the preconceptions (prolepsis) of good and evil are common to all. [48] Good alone is profitable and to be desired, and evil is hurtful and to be avoided. [49] Different opinions arise only from the application of these preconceptions to particular cases, and it is then that the darkness of ignorance, which blindly maintains the correctness of its own opinion, must be dispelled. [48] People entertain different and conflicting opinions of good, and in their judgment of a particular good, people frequently contradict themselves. [50] Philosophy should provide a standard for good and evil. [51] This process is greatly facilitated because the mind and the works of the mind are alone in our power, whereas all external things that aid life are beyond our control. [51]

The essence of divinity is goodness we have all good that could be given to us. [52] The deities too gave us the soul and reason, which is not measured by breadth or depth, but by knowledge and sentiments, and by which we attain to greatness, and may equal even with the deities. We should, therefore, cultivate the mind with special care. [53] If we wish for nothing, but what God wills, we shall be truly free, and all will come to pass with us according to our desire and we shall be as little subject to restraint as Zeus himself. [54]

Every individual is connected with the rest of the world, and the universe is fashioned for universal harmony. [53] Wise people, therefore, will pursue, not merely their own will, but also will be subject to the rightful order of the world. [55] We should conduct ourselves through life fulfilling all our duties as children, siblings, parents, and citizens. [56]

For our country or friends we ought to be ready to undergo or perform the greatest difficulties. [57] The good person, if able to foresee the future, would peacefully and contentedly help to bring about their own sickness, maiming, and even death, knowing that this is the correct order of the universe. [58] We have all a certain part to play in the world, and we have done enough when we have performed what our nature allows. [59] In the exercise of our powers, we may become aware of the destiny we are intended to fulfil. [60]

We are like travellers at an inn or guests at a stranger's table whatever is offered we take with thankfulness, and sometimes, when the turn comes, we may refuse in the former case we are a worthy guest of the deities, and in the latter we appear as a sharer in their power. [61] Anyone who finds life intolerable is free to quit it, but we should not abandon our appointed role without sufficient reason. [62] The Stoic sage will never find life intolerable and will complain of no one, neither deity nor human. [63] Those who go wrong we should pardon and treat with compassion, since it is from ignorance that they err, being as it were, blind. [64]

It is only our opinions and principles that can render us unhappy, and it is only the ignorant person who finds fault with another. [65] Every desire degrades us, and renders us slaves of what we desire. [65] We ought not to forget the transitory character of all external advantages, even in the midst of our enjoyment of them but always to bear in mind that they are not our own, and that therefore, they do not properly belong to us. Thus prepared, we shall never be carried away by opinions. [66]

The final entry of the Enchiridion, or Handbook, begins: "Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand":

Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, Destiny,
Wherever thy decree has fixed my lot.
I follow willingly and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched would I follow still.
(Diogenes Laërtius quoting Cleanthes quoted also by Seneca, Epistle 107.)"

Whoe'er yields properly to Fate is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of Heaven.
(From Euripides' Fragments, 965)

Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be.
(From Plato's Crito)

Anytus and Meletus may indeed kill me, but they cannot harm me.
(From Plato's Apology)

Epictetus - History

Discourses by Epictetus is a work that only survived thanks to a student named Arrian, who’s credited with transcribing the lessons he learned in Epictetus’ classroom at the beginning of the second century AD. Arrian wrote in a letter prior to the Discourses’ publishing, “whatever I used to hear him say I wrote down, word for word, as best I could, as a record for later use of his thought and frank expression.” A record he later used to achieve renown throughout Rome as a political advisor, military commander, and prolific author – work which includes the biography of Alexander the Great.

So who was his teacher? Considered among the big three in Stoic philosophy, along with Marcus Aurelius and Seneca , Epictetus proves the application of stoicism useful to whatever fortunes one may be born. Aurelius was one of the most powerful men of his time and Seneca was one of the wealthiest of his. Epictetus was at the other end of the spectrum.

His given name is not known. Epictētos is Greek meaning “acquired.” Epictetus was born into slavery. Epictetus’ mention of his owner, Epaphroditus, is somewhat neutral, not singing his praises nor speaking with any particular bitterness. He does make mention that Epaphroditus allowed him to attend lectures by Musonius Rufus , described by some historians as the “foremost Stoic of his day.” Epaphroditus granted Epictetus his freedom at some indeterminate date and he then devoted his life to philosophy. In AD 95, Roman Emperor, Domitian, unpleased with the reception of stoicism among his tyrannical opponents, expelled Epictetus and other philosophers from Rome. Putting one of his own foremost teachings into practice, Epictetus turned adversity into opportunity, relocating to Greece where he was happy to not have any competition to open his school of stoicism in Nicopolis.

There, his school attracted some of the most powerful and influential of the time, with his lectures even finding the lap of Marcus Aurelius . Epictetus’ influence became the central work propelling the Roman Emperor’s own stoic journey. In the first book of Meditations , titled “Debts and Lessons,” Marcus thanks one of his philosophy teachers, Rusticus, “for introducing me to Epictetus’s lectures – and loaning me his own copy.”

His impact does not stop there. Theodore Roosevelt , one of History’s most respected leaders, carried a copy of Epictetus with him along several explorations through South America including the violent “ River of Doubt ” expedition. Admiral James Stockdale attributes Epictetus as the key to his survival in captivity and wrote extensively about Epictetus’ influence, “I was a changed man and, I have to say, a better man for my introduction to philosophy and especially to Epictetus.” Michel de Montaigne, famous for popularizing the essay as a literary genre, had a quote from Epictetus inscribed in the ceiling of his home. And Albert Ellis , one of the most prominent figures in modern psychology, cites Epictetus as an essential inspiration leading to his development of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), still a preeminent approach to counselling.

Epictetus was concerned with ethics and moral authority. He emphasized practice, not theorizing. Discourses is rooted in common experience and common sense, which helps explain, though teachings from nearly two millennia ago, they continue to inform and shape the lives of present-day readers.

Epictetus spent the remainder of his life in Nicopolis. When he retired from teaching, he spent his final years settling into family life, but by that time, old age required he adopt rather than father children. Wanting a family but waiting until retired is a testament to his inherent dedication to his teaching. He had a clear regard for stoic philosophy being of utmost importance in living a meaningful and ethical life.

This is a book made up of a collection of his lectures, which is important to consider because similar to Seneca and Aurelius, Epictetus was not motivated by publishing or chest puffing. This four-book work of his teaching showcase an unceremonious enthusiasm, animated by stories and dialogue. He dedicated his life to teaching with the only aspiration being that his students apply what they learn and live better lives because of it. The same would certainly hold true for those who engage with his tutelage today.

Below are a few of the recurring themes throughout Discourses. Epictetus taught the importance of distinguishing between what we can and what we cannot control accepting nature’s course and it’s challenges living a virtuous life among other virtuous people choosing freedom by detaching from desires and being a master to yourself by being a slave only to your mind.

The Power of Judgement

Epictetus teaches us that each individual is responsible for their own good or their own evil their own fortune or their own misfortune their own happiness or their own own anguish. There is no such thing as being the ‘victim.’ Suffering is self-inflicted and can be cured through a discipling of the mind. It is not things that upset us, but our judgements about those things. “When we are frustrated, angry or unhappy,” Epictetus explains, “never hold anyone except ourselves – that is, our judgments – accountable.”

You see a tweet counter to your beliefs, you overhear a coworker crack a joke at your dispense , or Netflix freezes in the middle of the episode, and it ruins your day. But it shouldn’t. Outrage, offense, anger, or any other negative emotion do nothing but spawn unnecessary pain. They need not to. Epictetus says, “Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, you realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation .” If we just take a moment before reacting, a reframe of perception can save us from objective and inconsequential matters. By altering our attitude towards setback and shifting our mindset towards optimism or indifference, the stoic makes themself immune to frustration, anger, and unhappiness.

Viktor Frankl echoed these sentiments centuries later when he said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

With this outlook, life becomes simpler. The externally created occurrence itself is second to our internally resolved perception of it. The event is beyond our control, but our judgement of response is a decision in our power. There is no one to blame, you are not a victim, and that ‘negative’ thing is largely fabricated in our minds. Or as Epictetus puts it,

“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.”

One of the rare times Epictetus mentions his years in slavery is to address this point. He never perceived his situation to be one of enslavement. He didn’t live in misery, feel sorry for himself, or perpetuate hatred at his master. Yes, his physical body was in another’s control, but his thoughts, opinions, and attitude could not be seized.

Epictetus was not naive to insist this an ability instantly or easily obtainable. It was not sufficient for his students to sit in his class and put pen to paper. Like anything worth doing, discipling the mind takes work and requires practice. Epictetus relates learning the skill of judgement with how all great things are obtained,

“Nothing important comes into being overnight even grapes and figs need time to ripen. If you say that you want a fig now, I will tell you to be patient. First, you must allow the tree to flower, then put forth fruit then you have to wait until the fruit is ripe. So if the fruit of a fig tree is not brought to maturity instantly or in an hour, how do you expect the human mind to come to fruition, so quickly and easily?”

How much time does the olympic swimmer commit to the pool before we see them on the podium? How many hours does the author sit at the computer before we see their book on the best-seller list? Or how long must we water the plant until we can enjoy the fruit? Great outcomes demand great commitment to process. Stripping external events of power to be reclaimed by our internal minds is a fruitful outcome. To attain the ability, practice.

The Faculty of Choice

Epictetus says that our “most efficacious gift,” what distinguishes humans from other animals, the essence of human nature, is the faculty of choice – an ability to act rationally, not impulsively, after careful scrutinizing and assessment. Stoicism , most fundamentally, says that we have no control over what happens to us, we only control how we respond. Epictetus echoes that core tenet and adds that the pivotal goal of education is to distinguish between what we can control and what we cannot, then cultivating the ability to only concern ourselves with that which we can control.

He would call that which is out of our control as ‘externals’ and that which is in our control as ‘internals.’ The only thing that matters, the only thing we should concern ourselves with, are the things in our control , or the internals. He believes most problems in a human’s life stem from the inability to distinguish the two and allowing externals to take precedence. By making externals the most valuable things in our lives is to put our freedom, happiness, and tranquility at someone else’s discretion. Most circumstances in our lives – things like our genetics, where we were born, when we will die, and even our bodies – depends largely on factors beyond our control, so there is no sense mulling over those things. He compares it to the weaver, who does not make the wool, but makes the best use of the wool he is given.

So how do we do it? He often uses the word ‘impressions’ synonymous with thoughts, feelings, and preconceptions. Those impressions create good, bad, and indifference. We determine the characterization of those impressions. In practice, say your house burnt down . You can say ‘poor me’ and enter a state of grief or anger, but Epictetus would advise to not add to your troubles and instead, start rebuilding. That choice of rebuilding is responding to an apparent bad impression and turning it to indifference. We rational humans have the ability to first assess, then perceive, before choosing how to respond. Irrational beings do not have the capacity to use impressions in a reflective manner, but rational behavior is guided by the faculty of choice.

The inevitability of challenges

Now understanding the supreme power of humans, Epictetus teaches the importance of putting it to use. He often asks his students some version of, ‘What good is your education if you are not to put it in practice?’ The application of choice is practical throughout Discourses particularly regarding manners presenting difficulties. The choice is between attacking them head on or retreating in a sulk.

Epictetus says that the difficulties and misfortunes presented in or daily lives are not done to us or intended to inflict pain upon us. These troubles and challenges are presented to promote strength, to provide an opportunity to overcome, and to prove one’s greatness. In dealing with hardship, we emerge better having gone through it. Instead of sulking in matters trivial, we’re better off accepting and conquering whatever might attempt to stand in our way. Like a boxer training for a prize-fight, Epictetus wishes his students view trouble as a sparring partner, our put another way,

“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material.”

To cower or run from adversity is to rob one’s self of discovering what they are capable of. Further, to complain or back away is to say you are not capable. Epictetus teaches that we all are endowed with the tools and resources necessary, but at times, we might not realize them or worse, we choose not to put them into action. If we want to achieve greatness, we must accept that challenge is a requirement along that path. Epictetus uses the example of Hercules,

“What would have become of Hercules, do you think, if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges? Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.”

Without challenges, a comfortable life of luxury looks a lot like sleeping the day away. Every obstacle represents an opportunity.

Character and Relationships

It was important to Epictetus that his teachings not just be words on a page for his students. To live virtuously, to be indifferent to what you can’t control, to be averse of desiring material things were not just for their notes, but to be practiced in life. He warned against ‘crowds’ and ‘mobs’ who can use conviction to revert progress. An equivalent of the popular sentiment, ‘you are the average of the five people you most associate,’ can be found taught by Epictetus over two thousand years ago,

“It is inevitable if you enter into relationships with people on a regular basis that you will grow to be like them…Remember that if you consort with someone covered in dirt you can hardly avoid getting a little grimy yourself.”

Epictetus believed his school to be not so different than a hospital, where the patient leaves in better health than when they arrived. To attend his lectures meant the attendee strived to live a better life – one free of anger, dissatisfaction, anxiety, unhappiness, and so on. The process is ongoing but each day offers opportunity to inch closer. The danger, he believes, is coercion by the deafening screams of the crowds. Even old friends, those kept prior to pursuing this education, present a potential to regress advancement and return to old habits of lesser virtue. He advises discretion and a selectiveness in who you associate with, otherwise,

“Whatever you write down in class will melt away like wax in the sun.”

Stoics would all agree on the importance of character and virtue. They would also agree upon the difficulty to constantly maintain living virtuously. You can help yourself by surrounding yourself with those who share the aspiration to live a virtuous life, rather than those covered in dirt.


1) First distinguish between what you can control and what you can’t control. Second concern yourself only with what is in your control.

2) Rethink challenges as not something inflicted upon you or an unfair setback, but as an opportunity to prove your capabilities.

3) Education is useless if you do not apply it to your daily life.

4) Living a life of virtue and dignity is not an easy process so do whatever you have to protect your progress.

5) Freedom is determined by your mind, not by the body, bank account or possessions.


“I must die. But must I die bawling? I must be put in chains – but moaning and groaning too? I must be exiled but is there anything to keep me from going with a smile, calm and self-composed?”

“No bull reaches maturity in an instant, nor do men become heroes overnight.”

“But if we are endowed by nature with the potential for greatness, why do only some of us achieve it? Well, do all horses become stallions? Are all dogs greyhounds? Even if I lack the talent, I will not abandon the effort on that account.”

“We get angry because we put too high a premium on things that they can steal…As long as you honour material things, direct your anger at yourself rather than the thief or adulterer.”

“We should discipline ourselves in small things, and from there progress to things of greater value.”

“When someone is properly grounded in life, they shouldn’t have to look outside themselves for approval.”

“What does it mean to be getting an education? It means learning to apply natural preconceptions to particular cases as nature prescribes, and distinguishing what is in our power from what is not. The operations of the will are in our power.”

“The chief thing to remember is that the door is open. Don’t be a greater coward than children, who are ready to announce, ‘I won’t play any more.’ Say, ‘I won’t play any more’ when you grow weary of the game, and be done with it. But if you stay, don’t carp.”

“If you didn’t learn these things in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did you learn them for?”

“Be confident in everything outside the will, and cautious in everything under the will’s control. For if evil is a matter of the will, then caution is needed there and if everything beyond the will and not in our control is immaterial to us, then those things can be approached with confidence.”

“The masses are wrong to say that only freeborn men are entitled to an education believe the philosophers instead, who say that only educated people are entitled to be called free.”

“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control.”

“Don’t pretend you have a particular skill if you don’t yet yield to whoever has the requisite experience and for your own part take satisfaction in an awareness that your persistence is helping you become expert in the subject yourself.”

“Because we’re the only animals who not only die but are conscious of it even while it happens, we are beset by anxiety.”

“A person is not going to undertake to learn anything that they think they already know.”

“You can’t hope to make progress in areas where you have made no application.”

“Every habit and faculty is formed or strengthened by the corresponding act – walking makes you walk better, running makes you a better runner. If you want to be literate, read, if you want to be a painter, paint…So if you like doing something, do it regularly if you don’t like doing something, make a habit of doing something different.”

“Place an extinguished piece of coal next to a live one, and either it will cause the other one to die out, or the live will make the other reignite. Since a lot is at stake, you should be careful about fraternizing with non-philosophers in these contexts.”

“You need to suspend desire completely, and train aversion only on things within your power. You should dissociate yourself from everything outside yourself.”

If you’re looking to keep Epictetus’ wisdom in mind each day, check out our custom Epictetus print below. It features his timeless quote “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself.

Epictetus - History

As Stoicism has seen a cultural resurgence we wanted to compile a list of the people who have embraced or admired the philosophy and in the process explain why many of them have embraced it and found within it a tool in the pursuit of self-mastery, perseverance, and wisdom : something one uses to live a great life, rather than some esoteric field of academic inquiry. While scholars and academics often see Stoicism as an antiquated methodology of minor interest, it has been the doers of the world who found that it provides much needed strength and stamina for their challenging lives.

Today, Stoicism has found a new and diverse audience, ranging from the coaching staffs of the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks to rapper LL Cool J and broadcaster Michele Tafoya as well as many professional athletes, CEOs, hedge fund managers, artists, executives, and public men and women.

But this is not a modern phenomenon. Many of history’s great minds such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Ralph Waldo Emerson and many others read, studied, quoted, or admired the Stoics.

This is not surprising. The ancient Stoics themselves were no slouches. The names of the three best known Stoics— Marcus Aurelius , Epictetus , Seneca —belonged to, respectively, a Roman emperor, a former slave who triumphed to become an influential lecturer and friend of the emperor Hadrian, and a famous playwright and political adviser.

Below is the full list, broken down by category as well as helpful links (where possible) to help you further explore the connection.

If you feel we’ve forgotten anyone, please let us know. We’d love the community’s input. Enjoy!


Bill Clinton — The former president reads Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations every year. You can read more in this New York Times story .

Theodore Roosevelt — Theodore Roosevelt, one of history’s most resilient leaders, brought Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius on his deadly “River of Doubt” expedition.

George Washington — The first President of the United States was inspired and influenced by Stoicism and you can more in this academic paper and listen to this interview on NPR.

Thomas Jefferson — The Founding Father had Seneca on his nightstand when he died .

James Mattis — The current Secretary of Defense, carried with him Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations while on deployment.

Sam Sullivan — The former mayor of Vancouver credits Stoicism for the inspiration to get engaged in politics.

James Stockdale — Admiral Stockdale has credited Stoicism—and Epictetus in particular —for giving him the strength and resilience necessary to endure his time as a POW in Vietnam.

Cory Booker — The U.S. Senator from New Jersey is a fan of Marcus Aurelius .

Arnold Schwarzenegger — The former Mr. Olympia, Conan, Terminator, and Governor of California is a fan of the Stoic philosophy .

Toussaint Louverture — The leader of the Haitian Revolution studied Epictetus as he rose up against Napoleon’s armies.

Beatrice Webb — creator of the concept of “collective bargaining” referred to Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations as her “ manual of devotion .”

Professional Athletics

New England Patriots — Bill Belichick and New England Patriots have won five Super Bowls in the past 16 years. You can read more here about the team’s connection with Stoicism: “ The Patriots 2014 secret weapon may have been a book ”

John Schneider — The GM of the Seattle Seahawks first heard of the Stoic-inspired The Obstacle is the Way and became an instant fan while at Marcus Mariota’s pro day workout in 2015 as outlined in this ESPN article: “Author’s influence has GM John Schneider focused on obstacles, ego”

Joe Maddon — John “Joe” Maddon is the Chicago Cubs manager. Joe has been mentioned in this Sports Illustrated article , which explores the popularity of Stoicism and The Obstacle Is the Way with professional athletes.

Nick Saban — Nick Saban is the head football coach at the University of Alabama. You can watch this segment on ESPN titled “ Marcus Aurelius helps Nick Saban prep for Trojans ” as well as read this popular article from Ryan Holiday on how Stoicism can help elite athletes that is also inspired in part by Nick Saban’s coaching philosophy.

Antonio Brown — Antonio Brown, a Five Time NFL Pro Bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has tweeted about his appreciation and inspiration from Ego is the Enemy , a book inspired by Stoicism.

Ben Roethlisberger — The quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers has been mentioned in this article from ESPN , “Author’s influence has GM John Schneider focused on obstacles, ego.”

Tom Brady — The New England Patriots superstar quarterback (the one of two players to ever win five Super Bowls) has also been mentioned in the same article from ESPN .

Pete Carroll — Pete Carroll is the the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks and you can read more about him in this Entrepreneur article, “ 5 Epic Leaders Who Studied Stoicism — and Why You Should Too ”). You can also read this longer profile on Pete Carroll in Sports Illustrated .

Chandra Crawford – Chandra Crawford is an Olympic gold medal winning cross-country skier.

Michele Tafoya — Michele Tafoya is an American sportscaster, best known as the sideline reporter for NBC Sunday Night Football. You can read more in this Sports Illustrated article .

Shaka Smart – Shaka Smart is the University of Texas Basketball coach and is also featured in the Sports Illustrated article .

Michael Lombardi — Michael Lombardi is one of the most influential executives in the NFL and is also responsible for bringing Stoic philosophy to the NFL ( detailed here in this Sports Illustrated piece ), and in the process popularizing the book, The Obstacle Is The Way .


T-Pain — The 6X Platinum selling, Grammy Award winning American R&B artist has recorded the “Stoic” mixtape as well as the “Stoicville” album .

Lupe Fiasco — The Grammy Award winning rapper has mentioned Marcus Aurelius in a song: “ Emperor is his alias, but not Marcus Aurelius ”. He has also tweeted this : “If u want to speak with me Go read Marcus Aurelius Meditations So we can start on the same page until I can’t help u”

Twista — One of the fastest rappers in the world has mentioned Marcus Aurelius by name in song.

LL Cool J — The rapper, actor, author, and entrepreneur is a fan of Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle Is the Way .

Young & Sick – The Dutch musician/illustrator collaborated with Daily Stoic to create a print of Marcus Aurelius’s timeless quote “ Waste No More Time Arguing What A Good Man Should Be. Be One .”


Anna Kendrick — In an interview with the New York Times , the actress and singer ( and now a published author ) has found Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations as comforting and soothing.

Brie Larson — The actress ( who has appeared everywhere from “Community” to “21 Jump Street” ) is a fan of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations and has tweeted a paragraph from the book.

Gladiator — Most people know Marcus Aurelius from this popular film , where he is the old and wise emperor at the beginning of the film played by Richard Harris.

“Reign of Blood” on Netflix — This Netflix docuseries tells the story of Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius .


John Steinbeck — As Donald Robertson has written, John Steinbeck, the Nobel Prize winner and author of East of Eden , The Grapes of Wrath and others, mentions Meditations in East of Eden and it was also one of the two books that have been most influential to him .

Ralph Waldo Emerson — This academic paper explores all the ways in which Emerson has appropriated bits and pieces from Stoicism into his own ideas.

JK Rowling — The superstar author of Harry Potter is a fan of Marcus Aurelius .

Nassim Nicholas Taleb — The author, philosopher and former trader has expressed his respect and admiration for Stoicism—and Seneca in particular—in both The Black Swan and Antifragile .

Robert Greene — The author of 48 Laws of Power , Mastery and several other prominent bestsellers , who we interviewed for the Daly Stoic , calls Stoicism “just a beautiful philosophy.”

Ambrose Bierce — The journalist and Civil War veteran once advised a young writer that studying the Stoics would teach him “how to be a worthy guest at the table of the gods,”

Neil Strauss — The author of 7 New York Times bestsellers, including The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists lists one of his favorite books as On the Shortness of Life by Seneca .


Jonathan Newhouse — The CEO of Condé Nast always takes his favorite Stoic books with him when he travels and you can learn more from this interview with him .

Kevin Rose — The prominent entrepreneur and investor strongly recommended the Stoic-inspired book Ego is the Enemy on his monthly newsletter, The Journal .

Tim Ferriss — The author, podcast host and angel investor, has been one of the best known and strongest proponents of Stoicism . He recently published an audiobook of Seneca’s letters, The Tao of Seneca and you can listen to excerpts on his popular podcast .

Jack Dorsey — The co-founder of Twitter is mentioned among other Silicon Valley public figures who are fans of stoicism in this article on Quartz .

Blake Irving — The CEO of domain registrar GoDaddy is a fan of the stoic-inspired Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday.

Brad Feld — The renowned venture capitalist at Foundry Group is among the figures mentioned in the article “ Silicon Valley tech workers are using an ancient philosophy designed for Greek slaves as a life hack ”

David “DHH” Heinemeier Hansson — DHH is the creator of Ruby on Rails , founder and CTO at Basecamp (formerly 37signals), and the best-selling co-author of Rework and Remote: Office Not Required . As he discussed on the Tim Ferriss podcast , he also admires the Stoics.


Arrian was born in Nicomedia (present-day İzmit), the provincial capital of Bithynia. Dio called him Flavius Arrianus Nicomediansis. In respect of his birth date, sources provide similar dates for his birth within a few years prior to 90, 89, and 85–90 AD. The line of reasoning for dates belonging to 85-90 AD is from the fact of Arrian being made a consul around 130 AD, and the usual age for this, during this period, being forty-two years of age. (ref. p. 312, & SYME 1958, same page). His family was from the Greek provincial aristocracy, and his full name, L. Flavius Arrianus, indicates that he was a Roman citizen, suggesting that the citizenship went back several generations, probably to the time of the Roman conquest some 170 years before. [4] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

Sometime during the 2nd century AD (117 to 120 AD) while in Epirus, probably Nicopolis, Arrian attended lectures of Epictetus of Nicopolis, and proceeded within a time to fall into his pupillage, a fact attested to by Lucian. All that is known about the life of Epictetus is due to Arrian, in that Arrian left an Encheiridion (Handbook) of Epictetus' philosophy. After Epirus he went to Athens, and while there he became known as the young Xenophon as a consequence of the similarity of his relation to Epictetus as Xenophon had to Socrates. [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20]

For a period, some time about 126 AD, he was a friend of the emperor Hadrian, who appointed him to the Senate. He was appointed to the position consul suffectus around 130 AD, and then, in 132 AD (although Howatson shows 131), he was made prefect or legate (governor) of Cappadocia by Hadrian, a service he continued for six years. The historian Cassius Dio, states that not long after the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judea had been quelled, in 135 AD, King Pharasmanes II of Iberia caused the Alani to invade neighbouring territories, including Cappadocia where their advance was robustly halted by Arrian's legions.

A second war was begun by the Alani (they are Massagetae) at the instigation of Pharasmanes. It caused dire injury to the Albanian territory and Media, and then involved Armenia and Cappadocia after which, as the Alani were not only persuaded by gifts from Vologaesus but also stood in dread of Flavius Arrianus, the governor of Cappadocia, it came to a stop. [21]

When he retired, Arrian went to live in Athens, where he became archon sometime during 145 or 146 (EJ Chinnock shows, he retired to Nicomedia and was appointed priest to Demeter and Persephone while there). He died in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. [13] [16] [20] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26]

Arrian referred to himself as the second Xenophon, on account of his reputation and the esteem in which he was held. Lucian stated him to be: [17] [27]

a Roman of the first rank with a life-long attachment to learning

This quality is identified as paideia (παιδεία) which is the quality considered to be of one who is known as an educated and learned personage, i.e., one who is highly esteemed and important. [17] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32]

There are eight extant works (cf. Syvänne, footnote of p. 260). The Indica and the Anabasis are the only works completely intact. His entire remaining oeuvre is known as FGrH 156 to designate those collected fragments which exist. [13] [25] [33] [34]

Periplus of the Euxine Sea Edit

This work is the earliest extant work that is dated with any confidence. It is a writing addressed to the Emperor Hadrian. [35] [36] [37]

Discourses of Epictetus and Enchiridion of Epictetus Edit

Arrian was a pupil of Epictetus around 108 AD, and, according to his own account, he was moved to publish his notes of Epictetus' lectures, which are known as Discourses of Epictetus, by their unauthorized dissemination. [14] [38] According to George Long, Arrian noted from Epictetus' lectures for his private use and some time later made of these, the Discourses. Photius states that Arrian produced two books the Dissertations and the Discourses. The Discourses are also known as Diatribai and are apparently a verbatim recording of Epictetus' lectures. [22] [39] [40]

The Enchiridion is a short compendium of all Epictetus' philosophical principles. It is also known as a handbook, and A Mehl considers the Enchiridion to have been a vade mecum for Arrian. The Enchiridion is apparently a summary of the Discourses. [7] [15] [25] [41] [22]

JB Stockdale considered that Arrian wrote eight books of which four were lost by the Middle Ages and the remaining ones became the Discourses. In a comparison of the contents of the Enchiridion with the Discourses, it is apparent that the former contains material not present within the latter, suggesting an original lost source for the Enchiridion. [14] [42] [43]

Homiliai Epiktetou Edit

Friendly conversations with Epictetus (Homiliai Epiktetou) is a 12 book work mentioned by Photius in his Bibliotheca, of which only fragments remain. [16] [19]

Anabasis of Alexander Edit

The Anabasis of Alexander comprises seven books. [16] Arrian used Xenophon's account of the March of Cyrus as the basis for this work. [44]

Ta met' Alexandron Edit

History of the Diadochi or Events after Alexander is a work originally of ten books a commentary on this work was written by Photius (FW Walbank, p. 8). [25] [45] [3] [46]

Three extant fragments are the Vatican Palimpsest (of the 10th century AD), PSI 12.1284 (Oxyrhynchus), and the Gothenburg palimpsest (of the 10th century also), these possibly stemming originally from Photius. [3] [16] [47]

The writing is about the successors of Alexander the Great, circa 323 – 321 or 319.

Parthica Edit

A lost work of seventeen books, fragments of Parthica were maintained by the Suda and Stephen of Byzantium. The work survives only in adaptations made later by Photius and Syncellus. Translated, the title is History of the Parthians. Arrian's aim in the work was to set forth events of the Parthian war of Trajan. The writing mentioned that the Parthians trace their origins to Artaxerxes II. [48] [26] [49] [50] [51]

Bithyniaca Edit

A work of eight books, Bibliotheca (via Photius) states it is the fourth to have been written by Arrian. [26] [52]

Nicomediensis Scripta minora Edit

A work translated a Nicodemian script (minor). [53] [54]

Indica Edit

Indica is a work on a variety of things pertaining to India, and the voyage of Nearchus in the Persian Gulf. The first part of Indica was based largely on the work of the same name of Megasthenes, the second part based on a journal written by Nearchus. [55] [56] [57] [20]

Techne Taktike Edit

Written 136/137 AD (in the 20th year of Hadrian [35] ), Techne Taktike is a treatise on Roman cavalry and military tactics, and includes information on the nature, arms and discipline of the phalanx. The hippika gymnasia is a particular concern of Arrian in the treatise. [26] [58] [59] [60] [61] [62] [63] [64]

Another translation of the title is Ars tactica, which, in Greek, is Τέχνη τακτική. [65] [66]

This work has generally been considered in large part a panegyric to Hadrian, written for the occasion of his vicenallia, although some scholars have argued that its second half may have had practical use. [67] [68]

Kynēgetikos Edit

Cynegeticus (Κυνηγετικός), translated as the hunting man, [22] is a work about hunting dogs, canes venatici, the Celtic grey-hound. [69] [23] [70] [71] [72] [73] [74]

The work is based on an earlier exposition made by Xenophon, whom Arrian thought to be the authority on the subject of hunting. [75] [76]

Ektaxis kata Alanon Edit

Ektaxis kata Alanon (Ἔκταξις κατὰ Ἀλανῶν) is a work of a now fragmentary nature the title is translated as Deployment against the Alani or The order of battle against the Alans or referred to simply as Alanica. It is thought not have been written as a presentation of facts but for literary reasons. Pertaining to the relevant historical facts, though, while governor of Cappadocia, Arrian repelled an invasion of the Alani sometime during 135 AD, a struggle in which Arrian's two legions were victorious. [77] [78] [24] [56] [79] [80] [81] [82]

Within the work, Arrian explicitly identified the particular means of pursuing warfare as being based on Greek methods. [83] [84] [85]

Ektaxis kata Alanon is also translated as Acies contra Alanos. The work was known for a time as A History of the Alani (Alanike via Photius [56] ). A fragment describing a plan of battle against the Alani was found in Milan around the 17th century which was thought at that time to belong to the History. [86]

Biographical series Edit

There were also a number of monographs or biographies, including of Dion of Syracuse, Timoleon of Corinth, and Tilliborus, a brigand or robber of Asia minor, which are now lost. [87] [88] [89] [90] [91]

Everything known of his life derives from the 9th century writing of Photius in his Bibliotheca, and from those few references which exist within Arrian's own writings. The knowledge of his consulship, is derived at the least from literature produced by Suidas. Arnobius (c. 3rd century AD [92] ) mentions Arrian. Arrian was also known of by Aulus Gellius. Pliny the Younger addressed seven of his epistles to him. Simplicius made a copy of the Encheridion, which was transmitted under the name of the monastic father Nilus during the 5th century, and as a result found in every monastery library. [16] [93] [7] [94] [14] [95]

Nicholas Blancard made translations of Arrian in 1663 and 1668. [96]

The voyage of Nearchus and Periplus of the Erythrean Sea were translated from the Greek by the then Dean of Westminster, William Vincent, and published in 1809. Vincent published a commentary in 1797 on The voyage of Nearchus. The work was also translated into French by M. Billecocq, under the auspices of the government (cf. p. 321). [97]


The word "encheiridion" (Ancient Greek: ἐγχειρίδιον ) is an adjective meaning "in the hand" or "ready to hand". [1] The word sometimes meant a handy sword, or dagger, but coupled with the word "book" (biblion, Greek: βιβλίον ) it means a handy book or hand-book. [1] Epictetus in the Discourses often speaks of principles which his pupils should have "ready to hand" (Greek: πρόχειρα ). [1] Common English translations of the title are Manual or Handbook. [2]

The work consists of fifty-three short chapters typically consisting of a paragraph or two. It was compiled some time in the early 2nd-century. The 6th-century philosopher Simplicius, in his Commentary on the work, refers to a letter written by Arrian which prefaced the text. [3] In this letter Arrian stated that the Enchiridion was selected from the Discourses of Epictetus according to what he considered to be most useful, most necessary, and most adapted to move people's minds. [4] Around half of the material in the Enchiridion has been shown to have been derived from the surviving four books of Discourses but variously modified. [5] Other parts are presumed to be derived from the lost Discourses. [6] Some chapters appear to be reformulations of ideas which appear throughout the Discourses. [6]

There are some puzzles concerning the inclusion of two chapters. Chapter 29 is practically word for word identical with Discourse iii. 15. [7] Since it was omitted in one of the early Christian editions (Par), and not commented on by Simplicius, it may not have been in the original edition. [7] [8] Chapter 33 consists of a list of moral instructions, which are "not obviously related to Epictetus' normal Stoic framework." [6]

The current division of the work into fifty-three chapters was first adopted by Johann Schweighäuser in his 1798 edition earlier editions tended to divide the text into more chapters (especially splitting chapter 33). [9] Gerard Boter in his 1999 critical edition keeps Schweighäuser's fifty-three chapters but splits chapters 5, 14, 19, and 48 into two parts. [9]

The Enchiridion appears to be a loosely-structured selection of maxims. [10] In his 6th-century Commentary, Simplicius divided the text into four distinct sections suggesting a graded approach to philosophy: [10]

  1. Chapters 1–21. What is up to us and not, and how to deal with external things.
    1. Chs 1–2. What is up to us and not, and the consequences of choosing either.
    2. Chs 3–14. How to deal with external things (reining the reader in from them).
    3. Chs 15–21. How to use external things correctly and without disturbance.
    1. Chs 22–25. The problems faced by intermediate students.
    2. Chs 26–28. Miscellania: the common conceptions, badness, and shame.
    1. Chs 30–33. Appropriate actions towards (a) other people, (b) God, (c) divination, (d) one's own self.
    2. Chs 34–47. Miscellaneous precepts on justice (right actions).
    1. Ch 48. Final advice and his division of types of people.
    2. Chs 49–52. The practice of precepts.
    3. Ch 53. Quotations for memorisation.

    Chapter 29, which was probably absent from the text used by Simplicius, is a one-page Discourse which compares the training needed to become a Stoic with the rigorous approach needed to become an Olympic victor. [11]

    The Enchiridion begins with the statement that "Of things, some depend upon ourselves, others do not depend upon ourselves." [12] So it starts with announcing that the business and concern of the real self is with matters subject to its own control, uninfluenced by external chance or change. [13] Epictetus makes a sharp distinction between our own internal world of mental benefits and harms, and the external world beyond our control. [14] Freedom is to wish for nothing which is not up to ourselves. [15] When we are tried by misfortune we should never let our suffering overwhelm our sense of inward mastery and freedom. [13]

    A constant vigilance is required, and one should never relax attention to one's reason, for it is judgements, not things, which disturb people. [16]

    What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things. For example, "death is nothing dreadful (or else it would have appeared dreadful to Socrates) . . ."

    Reason is the decisive principle in everything. [14] Thus we must exercise our power of assent over impressions, and wish for nothing nor avoid anything that is up to other people. [18]

    To a large extent the Enchiridion suppresses many of the more amiable aspects of Epictetus which can be found in the Discourses, but this reflects the nature of the compilation. [19] Unlike the Discourses which seeks to encourage the student through argument and logic, the Enchiridion largely consists of a set of rules to follow. [20] The work is built on the conception that the wise person, by the aid of philosophy, may reap benefit from every experience in life. [21] With proper training the student can flourish in adverse situations as well as favourable ones. [22] The human spirit has capacities as yet undeveloped, but which it is for our good to develop. [23] Thus the book is a manual on how to make progress towards what is necessary and sufficient for happiness. [22] [24]

    Epictetus makes a vivid use of imagery, and analogies include life depicted as: a ship's voyage (Ch. 7), an inn (Ch. 11), a banquet (Chs. 15, 36), and acting in a play (Ch. 17, 37). [25] He takes many examples from everyday life, including: a broken jug (Ch. 3), a trip to the baths (Chs. 4, 43), his own lameness (Ch. 9), the loss of a child (Ch. 11), and the price of lettuce (Ch. 25). [25]

    For many centuries, the Enchiridion maintained its authority both with Pagans and Christians. [26] Simplicius of Cilicia wrote a commentary upon it in the 6th century, and in the Byzantine era Christian writers wrote paraphrases of it. [26] Over one hundred manuscripts of the Enchiridion survive. [a] The oldest extant manuscripts of the authentic Enchiridion date from the 14th century, but the oldest Christianised ones date from the 10th and 11th centuries, perhaps indicating the Byzantine world's preference for the Christian versions. [27] The Enchiridion was first translated into Latin by Niccolò Perotti in 1450, and then by Angelo Poliziano in 1479. [27]

    The first printed edition (editio princeps) was Poliziano's Latin translation published in 1497. [27] The original Greek was first published (somewhat abbreviated) with Simplicius's Commentary in 1528. [27] The edition published by Johann Schweighäuser in 1798 was the major edition for the next two-hundred years. [27] [28] A critical edition was produced by Gerard Boter in 1999. [29]

    The separate editions and translations of the Enchiridion are very many. [30] The Enchiridion reached its height of popularity in the period 1550–1750. [31] It was translated into most European languages, and there were multiple translations in English, French, and German. [31] The first English translation was by James Sandford in 1567 (a translation of a French version) and this was followed by a translation (from the Greek) by John Healey in 1610. [32] The Enchiridion was even partly translated into Chinese by the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. [31] The popularity of the work was assisted by the Neostoicism movement initiated by Justus Lipsius in the 16th century. [33] Another Neostoic, Guillaume du Vair, translated the book into French in 1586 and popularised it in his La Philosophie morale des Stoiques. [34]

    In the English-speaking world it was particularly well-known in the 17th-century: at that time it was the Enchiridion rather than the Discourses which was usually read. [35] It was among the books John Harvard bequeathed to the newly-founded Harvard College in 1638. [36] The work, being written in a clear distinct style, made it accessible to readers with no formal training in philosophy, and there was a wide readership among women in England. [37] The writer Mary Wortley Montagu made her own translation of the Enchiridion in 1710 at the age of twenty-one. [38] The Enchiridion was a common school text in Scotland during the Scottish Enlightenment—Adam Smith had a 1670 edition in his library, acquired as a schoolboy. [39] At the end of the 18th-century the Enchiridion is attested in the personal libraries of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. [40] [41]

    In the 19th-century, Walt Whitman discovered the Enchiridion when he was about the age of sixteen. It was a book he would repeatedly return to, and late in life he called the book "sacred, precious to me: I have had it about me so long—lived with it in terms of such familiarity." [42]

    In the 6th-century the Neoplatonist philosopher Simplicius wrote a huge commentary on the Enchiridion, which is more than ten times the bulk of the original text. [43] Chapter after chapter of the Enchiridion is dissected, discussed, and its lessons drawn out with a certain laboriousness. [44] Simplicius' commentary offers a distinctly Platonist vision of the world, [45] one which is often at odds with the Stoic content of the Enchiridion. [46] Sometimes Simplicius exceeds the scope of a commentary thus his commentary on Enchiridion 27 (Simplicius ch. 35) becomes a refutation of Manichaeism. [47]

    The Commentary enjoyed its own period of popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries. An English translation by George Stanhope in 1694 ran through four editions in the early 1700s. [37] Edward Gibbon remarked in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that Simplicius' Commentary on Epictetus "is preserved in the library of nations, as a classic book" unlike the commentaries on Aristotle "which have passed away with the fashion of the times." [45]

    The Enchiridion was adapted three different times by Greek Christian writers. The oldest manuscript, Paraphrasis Christiana (Par), dates to the 10th century. [47] Another manuscript, falsely ascribed to Nilus (Nil), dates to the 11th century. [47] A third manuscript, Vaticanus gr. 2231 (Vat), dates to the 14th century. [47] It is not known when the original versions of these manuscripts were first made. [47]

    These guides served as a rule and guide for monastic life. [48] The most obvious changes are in the use of proper names: thus the name Socrates is sometimes changed to Paul. [44] [48] All three texts follow the Enchiridion quite closely, although the Par manuscript is more heavily modified: adding or omitting words, abridging or expanding passages, and occasionally inventing new passages. [49]

    In the 17th century the German monk Matthias Mittner did something similar, compiling a guide on mental tranquillity for the Carthusian Order by taking the first thirty-five of his fifty precepts from the Enchiridion. [50]

    a. ^ Gerard Boter in his 1999 critical edition catalogues 59 extant manuscripts of the Encheiridion proper, and another 27 manuscripts of Simplicius' Commentary which contain the Encheiridion as lemmata (headings). He also lists 37 Christianised manuscripts, (24 Par, 12 Nil, 1 Vat). Cf. Boter 1999, pp. 3ff