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"Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected here, The Discourses argue that happines "Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected here, The Discourses argue that happiness lies in learning to perceive exactly what is in our power to change and what is not, and in embracing our fate to live in harmony with god and nature. In this personal, practical guide to the ethics of Stoicism and moral self-improvement, Epictetus tackles questions of freedom and imprisonment, illness and fear, family, friendship and love, and leaves an intriguing document of daily life in the classical world." In the introduction that accompanies his lively new translation, Robert Dobbin discusses Epictetus' life, his place in the Stoic tradition, his influence on world philosophies and his relevance in the modern day. This edition also includes a bibliography, notes and a glossary of names.


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"Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected here, The Discourses argue that happines "Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected here, The Discourses argue that happiness lies in learning to perceive exactly what is in our power to change and what is not, and in embracing our fate to live in harmony with god and nature. In this personal, practical guide to the ethics of Stoicism and moral self-improvement, Epictetus tackles questions of freedom and imprisonment, illness and fear, family, friendship and love, and leaves an intriguing document of daily life in the classical world." In the introduction that accompanies his lively new translation, Robert Dobbin discusses Epictetus' life, his place in the Stoic tradition, his influence on world philosophies and his relevance in the modern day. This edition also includes a bibliography, notes and a glossary of names.

30 review for Discourses and Selected Writings (Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    But to begin with, keep well away of what is stronger than you. If a pretty girl is set against a young man who is just making a start on philosophy, that is no fair contest. Epictetus forms one part of the triad of classic stoic authors, along with Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. Born a slave, sent into exile, never rich nor powerful, he certainly had more need of the stoic philosophy than Aurelius, an emperor, or Seneca, a senator. His course of life was closer to that of Socrates. Like Plato’s But to begin with, keep well away of what is stronger than you. If a pretty girl is set against a young man who is just making a start on philosophy, that is no fair contest. Epictetus forms one part of the triad of classic stoic authors, along with Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. Born a slave, sent into exile, never rich nor powerful, he certainly had more need of the stoic philosophy than Aurelius, an emperor, or Seneca, a senator. His course of life was closer to that of Socrates. Like Plato’s hero (and unlike Plato himself), Epictetus did not trouble himself with questions of logic, epistemology, or metaphysics. His concern was ethics; his aim was to learn how to live the best possible life. Also like Socrates, he did not write anything down himself. All of “his” works were set to paper by his pupil, Arrian. In character, too, he is far removed from either Aurelius or Seneca. Aurelius’s voice is intimate and frank; he speaks as a friend. Seneca is sophisticated, suave, and cosmopolitan; he is easy to imagine as a witty dinner guest. Epictetus is like a sassy staff-sergeant. His mode is vituperation; he is a teacher who will mock and chide you into shape. The basic idea of his philosophy could hardly be simpler. His goal is only to instill this idea into your mind so deeply that it reforms your whole character. What is his philosophy? The basic message is this. The external world is ultimately outside of our control. We cannot determine whether we will be rich or poor, whether our loved ones will die, whether we will be banished, imprisoned, or executed, whether we will be favored or persecuted by the emperor, whether we will get sick, whether other people will like us, or a thousand other things. The outside world—the world outside our minds—will always be able to overpower us, outmaneuver us, and surprise us. Only the internal world is within our control. This is what Epictetus calls the “realm of choice.” We cannot choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we react to those circumstances. We cannot, for example, prevent ourselves from being robbed; but we can choose not to place value in our jewelry, and so maintain peace of mind in the event of a robbery. Everything, even our lives and our loved ones, only has value because we give it value with our minds. You can laugh at your own executioner if you don’t regard execution as an evil. This power—the power to change our attitude towards the external world—Epictetus regards as the ultimate and quintessential human faculty. This is the power of choice, and constitutes human freedom. ‘He has been taken off to prison.’—What has happened? He has been taken off to prison. But the observation ‘Things have gone badly for him’ is something that each person adds for himself. He is unwaveringly concerned with the practical rather than the theoretical. This book is full of castigation for philosophy students who consider themselves successful when they can satisfactorily summarize and refute a logical argument. Logic is just a plaything, Epictetus says, and all this argument is entirely besides the point. How will you react when you’re in a ship that’s being tossed about in a storm? How will you react if you’re banished or if your loved one dies? How will you face death? Remember, he says, that books are ultimately just another external good, like money or power, and by prizing them, like any external good, we simply make ourselves victims of circumstances. Epictetus’s stoicism is more explicitly deistic than Seneca’s or Aurelius’s. He regards all humans as children of God (Zeus), whom he pictures as running every detail of the universe. Thus a large part of his philosophy consists of acting in accordance with God. If you want to live in Rome, but circumstances prevent it, don’t whine and moan, but accept that God has other plans for you. If you go bankrupt and end up a beggar, accept this new role and play your part in the grand design. To reject God’s plan is foolish impiety. It is to overlook all of the blessing bestowed on you—not least life itself—and focus on one small part of the universe that you find unpleasant: “So because of one miserable leg, slave, you’re going to cast reproaches against the universe?” (Epictetus was lame in one leg.) Although sometimes Epictetus pictures Zeus as a personal god, for the most part it is easy to see his Zeus as merely a personalization of the universe. In any case, Epictetus’s conception of death is entirely materialistic. There is no afterlife; death is the end of existence. But it is only an end from your point of view. The materials of your body will be released and used for other things. Indeed, says Epictetus, we really do not possess anything. Everything—our house, our family, our body itself—is just on a loan from the universe. If Zeus asks for it back, we would be rude to refuse. Books like these can easily become moralizing and unpleasant; but this one is saved by Epictetus's rollicking humor and puckish wit. Epictetus is often shown discoursing with a pupil, upbraiding, reprimanding, scolding, chiding, and finally encouraging. His style is distinguished by its relentless use of rhetorical questions. For a philosopher, he can be rather cheeky: I must die; so must I die groaning too? I must be imprisoned; so must I grieve at that too? I must depart into exile; so can anyone prevent me from setting off with a smile, cheerfully and serenely? The only thing that makes this book occasionally unpleasant to read is its repetitiveness. The same ideas are put forward in a hundred different ways; the same theme is returned to again and again. There is little plan or order to the sections. There is no grand unifying scheme, merely a succession of chapters haphazardly arranged. I should admit, however, that this repetition can be partly excused by the need of a moralist to firmly instill his principles: “One should know that it isn’t easy for a person to arrive at a firm judgment unless, day after day, he states and hears the same principles, and at the same time applies them to his life.” There are theoretical troubles, too. I could not entirely agree with his division of the universe into things falling within or without the sphere of choice. Surely it is more accurate to think of a scale, or a gradation, of things more or less within our power. We can minutely influence an election, we can somewhat influence our friends, we can usually control our bodies, and we can almost always control our attitude. Thus, instead of saying “Only worry about things within the sphere of choice,” it would be more accurate to say “Only worry about things insofar as your choices can affect them.” And then, even so, in practice it is so often difficult to tell whether we are fulfilling our duties to the best of our abilities. This is related to another theoretical weakness. The stoics make much ado about living in harmony with nature (or Zeus). And yet, how can anyone act otherwise? If we are a part of nature, and bound by her laws, how can any of our actions be out of sync with nature? Let’s say, for example, that you get banished from Rome. Epictetus advises you to accept your fate as God’s will and make a new life. To protest your fate would be to act against nature. But what if it’s Zeus’s (or whoever’s) will that you protest? And how can Epictetus know that, by protesting, you won’t be readmitted to the capital? Maybe your protest will be an event in the history of Rome and change the practice of banishment forever? By this I am led to another potential shortcoming in Epictetus’s system: fatalism. If everyone is entirely responsible for their own peace of mind, and if circumstances play no role in human happiness, then there is no reason to help anybody or to try to improve the world: “If anyone suffers misfortune, remember that he suffers it through his own fault, since God created all human beings to enjoy happiness, to enjoy peace of mind.” Again, in this situation I think Epictetus’s hard division between things outside or within our control blinds him to the dialogue between attitude and circumstances that comprise human life and happiness. The modern use of the word “stoic”—someone imperturbable, unemotional, unfeeling—is not entirely accurate as regards the original stoics. Seneca was witty, cosmopolitan, and certainly not unfeeling. Yet in Epictetus we see this stereotype borne out more accurately. The majority of these dialogues is concerned with avoiding disturbance and maintaining peace of mind. Epictetus is constantly warning his pupils what not to do, what actions, people, and things to avoid in order to be properly philosophical. Very little is said about the joys of life. Indeed, unlike Seneca, who was a fan of Epicurus, Epictetus repeatedly denounces Epicureans without seeming to understand their doctrine. These criticisms are minor when I consider that this book is easily one of the greatest books on the art of living that I have yet read. So often Epictetus seems to be speaking directly to me, with frightening relevance. He is not interested in any of my excuses, but shames me into virtue with his sharp-tongued and good-natured scolding. And it is, perhaps, unfair to criticize the theory of a philosophy whose end is practice. For my part, Epictetus is easily the most powerful of the three classic stoic authors, one who I will be sure to return to when life tosses me about.

  2. 5 out of 5

    William2

    Read The Enchiridion. Breezy Stoic tonics for daily living. Surprisingly Buddhistic. Star rating refers to that section only.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Arastoo

    I gave Marcus Aurelius' Mediations a five star rating only because the writing was more clear. However Aurelius was inspired by Epictetus and that is why I chose to read this book. I really enjoyed the read. It had a very powerful effect on the way I viewed life. If you are seeking to change your perspective or you're looking to grow,, this is a good starting book for you. I most enjoyed discussions on family, friendship, and integrity. I also enjoyed the enchiridion at the very end. I gave Marcus Aurelius' Mediations a five star rating only because the writing was more clear. However Aurelius was inspired by Epictetus and that is why I chose to read this book. I really enjoyed the read. It had a very powerful effect on the way I viewed life. If you are seeking to change your perspective or you're looking to grow,, this is a good starting book for you. I most enjoyed discussions on family, friendship, and integrity. I also enjoyed the enchiridion at the very end.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    These times in which we now live demand normal daily functioning, combined with active resistance to viciously regressive political forces, in a chaotic atmosphere of propaganda and violence. For some this state of being is nothing new, but for white left-wingers in the UK and US, I suspect it’s largely novel and shocking. Personally, I find the current state of things (which I dread to think of as a new normal) horrifying and depressing, as I discussed in this review. Amongst other coping mecha These times in which we now live demand normal daily functioning, combined with active resistance to viciously regressive political forces, in a chaotic atmosphere of propaganda and violence. For some this state of being is nothing new, but for white left-wingers in the UK and US, I suspect it’s largely novel and shocking. Personally, I find the current state of things (which I dread to think of as a new normal) horrifying and depressing, as I discussed in this review. Amongst other coping mechanisms, I’m finding thoughtful non-fiction helpful. Stoic philosophy seemed appropriate in part because it is one of the roots of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This ancestry was often evident while I read; Epictetus demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of psychology many centuries before such a discipline existed. It was interesting to read Epictetus as an atheist. Central to his Stoic teaching is the need to resign yourself, ideally in a joyful spirit, to all that outside your control. Epictetus assigns this realm to God/the gods/Zeus, effectively interchangeable terms. When applying this to myself, I experimented with reading God as fate, destiny, chaos, and simply the universe. Since I don’t specifically believe in a preordained fate or destiny, I was most comfortable interpreting what’s outside my control broadly as ‘shit that happens’. I don’t think that anyone or anything is in control, but things happen nonetheless. If anything, I think this atheist reading strengthens Epictetus’ arguments. If there is no God deciding your way in life, all the more reason to carefully contemplate your impressions and actions. Railing against the chaos of the universe is no more helpful than condemning the capriciousness of God or gods. I went through Epictetus at approximately half my usual reading speed, as I am unaccustomed to philosophy and wanted to understand it as best I could. The experience was rewarding. Epictetus has much to say about freedom and a good life that resonates today. It’s tempting to see Stoicism as passive and fatalistic, but I came to consider that a function of modern individualism and impatience. Epictetus makes it clear that Stoic philosophy is not something you read in a book, or a fashion choice (he specifically complains about hipsters dressing ‘philosophically’!), but an integral part of daily life. To simplify, he seems to say that you should live a good life insofar as you can: consider all your behaviour carefully, be content with what you have, accept that all things are fleeting, and quietly set a good example rather than evangelising. This, it seems, will bring you true freedom and happiness. The term Stoic has become synonymous with uncomplaining suffering, which isn’t really what Epictetus advocates. He suggests that you aim not to suffer at all, to accept what is outside your control and be happy about the little that is within it. He does accept this is very difficult, perhaps impossible for many, and he struggles himself. Which doesn’t mean, he argues, that everyone shouldn’t aspire to it: ”And you, are you free?” the man asks. By the gods, I want to be and pray to be, but I’m not yet able to look my masters in the face, I still attach value to my poor body, and take care to keep it whole and sound, despite the fact that it isn’t so. But I can show you a free man, to save from having to search any longer for an example. Diogenes was free. Diogenes the Cynic and Socrates are the two most often cited by Epictetus as good examples to follow, both men he describes as humble, ascetic, and unafraid to speak unwanted truths to power. I found this comment arresting: Only, consider at what price you’re willing to sell your power of choice. If nothing else, make sure, man, that you don’t sell it cheap. But what is great and exceptional is perhaps the province of others, of Socrates and people of that kind. In addition to personal ethical endeavour, Epictetus talks of humans (just men, inevitably) as citizens, going to so far as to lecture on how antisocial it is not to keep yourself clean. I liked this part: ...If you consider yourself as a human being and as a part of some whole, it may be in the interest of the whole that you should now fall ill, now embark on a voyage and be exposed to danger, now suffer poverty, and perhaps even die before your time. Why do you resent this, then? Don’t you know that in isolation a foot is no longer a foot, and that you likewise will no longer be a human being? What, then, is a human being? A part of a city, first of all that which is made up of gods and human beings, then that which is closest to us and which we call a city, which is a microcosm of the universal city. Stoicism thus refutes passivity, as it makes clear that the good citizen should be prepared to stand up for what is good and right, if necessary dying for it. Discourse 2.10 asks you to ‘consider who you are’ and then lists the three most important answers: a human being, a citizen of the world, a son, and a brother. Each of these roles requires certain standards of behaviour; Epictetus is arguing for civic virtue as well as personal disregard of material possessions and other worldly benefits. The elements of CBT can be found most specifically in two dialogues: 3.8 on training yourself to deal with impressions (the cognitive) and 2.18 on the cultivation of habits (the behavioural). Both of these approaches are very helpful in dealing with distress: the first involves stepping back from your feelings to analyse and try to alter them, the second cultivating behaviours that calm your mind. Epictetus is aspiring beyond the alleviation of distress, of course, towards true freedom and happiness. He describes the former vividly: So accordingly, that person who doesn’t allow himself to be overpowered by pleasure, or by suffering, or by glory, or by wealth, and who is capable, whenever he thinks fit, of spitting his entire miserable body into some tyrant’s face and taking his leave - to what can such a man still be a slave, to whom can he still be subject? That certainly seems like something worth aspiring to. Perhaps more immediately applicable was the commentary on reading in discourse 4.4, in which Epictetus points out that reading should be for a purpose: to help you live better. Thus time spent outside books is an opportunity to put into practise all that you’ve read. I think he has a good point there, although I greatly enjoy a bit of escapist reading. I also sympathise with his dislike of having a body, which is after all a real drag: At any rate, we love our body and take care of it, the most unpleasant and foulest of all things. [...] In truth, it is amazing that we should love something for which we have to perform so many services day after day. I stuff this sack here, and then I empty it; what could be more tedious? But I have to serve God; and for that reason, I stay here and put up with having to wash this poor wretched body of mine, and feed it, and shelter it. Interjections like this prevent the reader becoming tired of Epictetus’ lecturing style, which often sounds a lot like browbeating to the unaccustomed ear. I found the whole book both thought-provoking and accessible, undoubtedly aided by the relative informality of the translation style. (The notes at the end were terribly stolid, however.) There is definitely something to be said for Stoicism, for focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t, for cultivating a healthy mind (and leaving the body to itself), for disregarding material things and accepting that nothing lasts. I was reminded of the recently-read novel Stoner, which concerns a man with definite Stoic tendencies but much more concern for his family roles than any wider civic responsibility. I will end this rambling review with my two favourite quotes from the book, the first found in the Handbook: Never say about anything, ‘I’ve lost it,’ but rather, ‘I’ve given it back’. Your child has died? It has been given back. Your wife has died? She has been given back. ‘My farm has been taken from me’. Well, that too has been given back. ‘Yes, but the man who took it is a rogue’. What does it matter to you through what person the one who gave it to you demanded it back? So long as he entrusts it to you, take care of it as something that isn’t your own, as travellers treat an inn. The second, a delightfully gothic epigram, I found amongst the Fragments: You’re a little soul carrying a corpse around. Am I alone in finding that curiously comforting? I recommend Epictetus as a boost to mental fortitude when the daily news seems determined crush your peace of mind.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    If I had to recommend one of the classic Stoic authors to someone new to the subject, it would be Epictetus. Many contemporary works on Stoicism are largely restatements of what Epictetus said with greater force and clarity thousands of years ago. Marcus Aurelius himself was greatly influenced by Epictetus, as confirmed in the Meditations. This edition includes the Discourses (the four books that survived of the original eight), some fragments, and the Handbook. These were all written by Epictet If I had to recommend one of the classic Stoic authors to someone new to the subject, it would be Epictetus. Many contemporary works on Stoicism are largely restatements of what Epictetus said with greater force and clarity thousands of years ago. Marcus Aurelius himself was greatly influenced by Epictetus, as confirmed in the Meditations. This edition includes the Discourses (the four books that survived of the original eight), some fragments, and the Handbook. These were all written by Epictetus’s student Arrian, as Epictetus never wrote anything down himself. The Discourses are purported to be the literal transcription of Epictetus’s lectures while the Handbook is a summary of the ethical precepts found within the Discourses. The Handbook is the quickest route to practicing Stoicism right away, and should probably be read first before diving into the Discourses. The underlying theme of the Handbook is progressive ethical self-improvement through daily practice. Through the concept of dichotomy of control, the Stoic learns to use reason to manage desire, handle adversity, and build character. While Stoicism cannot be “mastered,” with continual practice and reflection the Stoic can achieve tranquility and intellectual freedom while coming to see that virtue is the only true good within our complete control. If I was setting about to learn Stoicism over again, I would read Epictetus first before moving on to Marcus Aurelius and Seneca and then to the more modern works. And this particular edition is probably the best modern translation available.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ektoras (Ross)

    Me: Epictetus, why is life so difficult? Why can’t I get what I want? Why are people so immature? Why can I never seem to be satisfied? Epictetus: Because you are a damned fool! *smacks you over the head with his cane.* Seek virtue within not in external things! There will you find peace!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Xander

    After finishing Aristotle, I decided to delve into Hellenistic philosophy. During the second and first centuries B.C. Greek philosophy was divided into three main currents: (1) the Sceptics (Plato's Academy turned doubtful about the possibility of any knowledge); (2) Epicureanism (who preached atharaxia - the quieting of the mind through cultivating (in a reasonable fashion) indulging in bodily pleasures); and (3) the Stoics (who preached apathia - the quieting of the mind through become indiffe After finishing Aristotle, I decided to delve into Hellenistic philosophy. During the second and first centuries B.C. Greek philosophy was divided into three main currents: (1) the Sceptics (Plato's Academy turned doubtful about the possibility of any knowledge); (2) Epicureanism (who preached atharaxia - the quieting of the mind through cultivating (in a reasonable fashion) indulging in bodily pleasures); and (3) the Stoics (who preached apathia - the quieting of the mind through become indifferent to the outside world and solely focusing on our internal world, the soul). The Stoic school, while developed in the third century B.C. (through Zeno, Cleanthes, etc.), is mostly known through former slave Epictetus and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius - sort of illustrating the broad scope its doctrines and its attractiveness to all sorts of people. Then, there's Seneca - intellectual precursor to both Epictetus and Aurelius. Although each philosopher in the long Stoic tradition undoubtedly has his own peculiar insights to offer and his own unique perspective on the common doctrines, I hereby decide to quit my quest into it. I just now put down Epictetus' Discourses, and earlier glanced through Seneca's Letters, and I have to admit - I don't have the patience for this. All these works are collections of short sayings of miniature essays, and while each fragment is interesting, they have so much overlap that after reading ten of them, the repitition begins to bother me. The key ideas of Stoicism are very easy to summarize and don't require a detailed reading of all these works - especially so since Stoicism preaches a practical wisdom - as opposed to all the theoretical discussing in ethics (like, e.g. Aristotle and his Peripatetic school). This means that these works are full of dull everyday situations, which at times convey interesting details about the Greco-Roman world during the first two centuries A.D., but more often end up in mundane, almost superficial 'wisdoms'. I'd go as far as to claim the whole of Stoicism is kind of supperficial - it's common sense writ large. In short: the whole of Nature is equivalent to God, which is Reason personified. All ordering in Nature is hence lawful, i.e. God's laws, and any resistance against Nature and her ways is futile. This means that human beings have to accept Nature's indifference towards them, and accept their fate. But if one thinks this is determinism in a fancy jacket, one's wrong - Stoicism recognizes individual freedom for human beings, as opposed to plants and animals. Why? Because we are particles of God, and thus are equiped with reason as well, albeit not as perfect as His Reason. Reason is the key to freedom: our inner world is the only world that should concern us, while the outer world, the world of the senses is nothing but temptation and potential pain. To live the good life, one starts with learning logic. This then serves as an instrument with which to distinguish good from bad, and true opinion from false opinion. How? It forms certain and distinct preconceptions, which then can serve as measuring rod to evaluate all our sense impressions - this way we can learn to recognize truth and to see that good consists in a quiet mind (apathia). And as opposed to many of the then current ethics (like Aristotelean, Skeptic and Epicurean ethics), and in line with Socratic conceptions of virtue as knowledge, the Stoic ethics consists in practice, not theory. Only through acting like a Stoic is one a philosopher; all contemplation and theorizing about ethics is futile, since as soon as the class closes, one has to practice what he's learned. And thus we end up with a sort of self-help book avant la lettre. As a matter of fact, in the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Epictetus' Discourses, Robbert Dobbin writes that Stoicism (and Epictetus especially) inspired many a twentieth century psychologist in developing some version of rational cognitive theory. And it is fairly easy too see how this connection can be made: Epictetus teaches that all our concern should be focused on our own soul, and that all involvement with the outer world is not only futile, but negatively interfering with leading a good life. When we care about what possession we have, what others think of us, what desires we want to pursue, we set ourselves on a course to unhappiness, since all these things, in ultimo, have no impact whatsoever on how we feel. We think they do, but this is a mistake, which can only be detected through the use of a well-trained reasonable mind. Through applying reason we learn to realize that what others do and feel is their problem, what we do and feel ours. And that only that which is in my power concerns me. Epictetus has many examples of everyday life in his speeches, as well as many myths and metaphors. For example, when we have a bad father, we should not complain about this. We have a father and this social role, like all the social roles we perform, comes with a particular sets of duties - we should listen to him, honour him and not badmouth him to others. That he's bad should not bother us, it should bother him, since it is he who degenerates himself. Again, Epictetus mentions his oil lamp being stolen, and pitying the thief who did this, since now he has forfeited his honesty as a person. No revenge or even bad feelings - he just plans to buy a cheaper, less attractive lamp (for thieves, that is). And finally, he mentions the prescribed behaviour for someone boarding a ship. Seek out a decent ship, hire a decent captain and a decent crew, board the ship and simply wait. If a storm kicks in and the ship drowns, be indifferent - you have done all that was in your power, now you will die but that's beyond your concern. He evens illustrates your final moments: you're drwoning in the ocean, but as soon as you start fearing swallowing up the whole ocean and panicking, you realize there's only three good swallows of water and you're dead - what a relief! I find this way of thinking interesting yet also otherworldly - it smacks too much of asceticism and christian slave morality. Adopting a Stoic ethics means turning the other cheek to every indignity and offense you suffer from others. Instead of learning from it and preventing a similar thing from happening again (through strengthening yourself, punishing the offender, or whatever), you pity the man who did it since he degenerates himself by his acts. He is simply mistaken, ignorant - if only he knew... Also, you perform your social roles like a robot, not considering the emotional attachments of you to others. Both points make Stoic ethics hard to implement - it's simply inhuman (humans are not simply reasonable minds, they are social animals first and foremost) and it's immensely vulnerable to cheaters and immoralists. Somewhere in book 2, Epictetus criticizes the Academics and Epicureans of contradictions and, ultimately, self-refutation. Skeptics claim nothing can be known, but yet this proposition if proclaimed to be a general truth - how do they know? Epicureanism claim only individual pleasures should be sought, yet Epicurus himself busied himself with teaching and writing many books to inform others - why bother? As a matter of fact, Epictetus brilliantly remarks, a true Epicurean should teach his students Stoicism, since then he can, being a closet-Epicurean, have all the fun for himself. The teaching Epicurean is a contradiction in terms - he creates other Epicureans who then compete with him for pleasures.... But if everyone in his environment close themselves off from the world, he can then do what he wants. But isn't Stoicism open to a similar rejection? If you retreat from the world into your own soul, and don't care what others do with your body because you know they can't reach you - the real you (your will) anyway - you are in effect rolling out the red carpet for immoral people to abduct, abuse and ultimately kill others, including yourself. What is the good of an ethics of self-annihilation? Can an ethical system even be said to be coherent and consistent if it leads inevitably to self-annihilation? I guess only on the condition that you believe in the existence of an immortal soul - cut this metaphysical notion from the system and becomes self-contradictory. And as far as I can tell almost all ancient Stoics rejected the notion of an afterlife. It is easy to see how Stoicism could inspire Christian monks, though, since they could simply become ascetics in the believe that in suffering and even dying on purpose they approached Jesus Christ in his sufferings (the 'Imitatio Christi') - but this option is not open to the ethics of Seneca, Epictetus and Aurelius, making their ethics kind of unreasonable... Anyway, those are just the musings of a questioning mind while reading fragment after fragment of a seemingly absurd practical philosophy. The important part (for me) is: Stoicism first and foremost is a code of ethics, but one shouldn't overlook the Stoic conception of Nature (as God); the fundamental importance of Logos and its corollary Natural Laws (a well-ordered, law-given Nature - macrocosmos and microcosmos); as well as the huge importance of logic as an instrument to distinguish both true from false and right from wrong. I think those few key concepts and doctrines can be grasped just fine by having some background knowledge and reading some 150 pages or so of Stoic texts (mostly fragments). I feel there's simply not much for me to gain here anymore, and I was kind of disappointed in the dull and repetitious style of Epictetus' Discourses - perhaps Marcus Aurelius' Meditations or Seneca's Letters are a better read. (I'm not picking them up anytime soon, though).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    Epictetus's stoicism in a nutshell-list: 1) You are in control of/responsible for your judgement, impulse, desire, aversion and mental faculties. The virtuous person knows they have power over these things and can practice discernment in how they perceive and take on the world through their own filtered mind. 2) You are not in control of your body, material possessions, your reputation, status, death—all of which he calls "externals". When you try to control the incontrollable, you will only face Epictetus's stoicism in a nutshell-list: 1) You are in control of/responsible for your judgement, impulse, desire, aversion and mental faculties. The virtuous person knows they have power over these things and can practice discernment in how they perceive and take on the world through their own filtered mind. 2) You are not in control of your body, material possessions, your reputation, status, death—all of which he calls "externals". When you try to control the incontrollable, you will only face disappointment, anger, sadness, anxiety, fear and suffering. It is ultimately like Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych wailing in pain in his deathbed, as if such tantruming could fend off death's arrival. ("I must die, but must I die bawling?") 3) Impressions and judgements rule our minds. Our thoughts run rampant in our minds and are the causes of all our discontent and suffering. Contrary to common belief, if a thief steals your wallet and you feel bad, it is not the thief that is the cause of that feeling of badness, it is your judgement that is. "Oh, how unfair this is!" you say. Yet, as Epictetus would say, that wallet never truly belonged to you. Nothing belongs to you. Things are simply returned to the void in which they first arrived. The buddhist perspective on non-attachement is felt strongly in Epictetus's words. ("It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgement concerning them.") 4) When faced with an obstacle in life, ask yourself: 'Is this something that is in my control? Or it is something external to myself?' If the former, you can choose how it affects you. If the latter, it is none of your concern. Needless suffering plagues people who think those externals are their responsibility. By clinging too much to all outside of one's self, the loss of such externals only causes unnecessary pain to the individual. 5) The virtuous philosopher that is led by their principles knows that nothing or no one external to themselves can truly harm them; no one has that power. The only one who can truly harm you is, of course, yourself. ("Another person will not hurt you without your co-operation; you are hurt the moment you believe yourself to be.") 6) Acceptance of our lot in this existence is the key to learning inner peace and freedom. We ultimately fear our eventual death. Yet all our fears are nothing but 'hobgoblins', masks we wear that enslave us, with our own selves acting as slavemaster. If we take off these masks of fear and pain and suffering, what we can find is our own emancipation. ("Choose to be either free or a slave, enlightened or a fool, a thoroughbred or a nag. Either resign yourself to a life of abuse till you die, or escape it immediately.") Personally, I got a lot out of this collection, but mainly from the 30-page final section 'The Enchiridion', which is a miniature bible of staggeringly clear and concise gems of Stoic thoughts; I found that I could extract its wisdom easily and apply it to my own life philosophy effortlessly. And one would think that, in our age of anxiety and mental health crises, Stoicism is more relevant than ever. It certainly has provided me with the mental fortitude necessary to take on (or not take on) all that life throws at you without additional suffering.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    for years i've searched for ways to trick myself into cleaning my house. reading the great stoic philosophers is the only thing i've found that works for years i've searched for ways to trick myself into cleaning my house. reading the great stoic philosophers is the only thing i've found that works

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    A difficult but powerful perspective to be found here; what this book seems to promise is the secret to invincibility. But it's not what most people at first thought would expect or even for that matter want. Out the window go the traditional definitions of evil. Suffering is thought very little of here; it's not even given a consolation in any sort of afterlife. There is an overwhelming faith here in the abilities of the mind not to eliminate but to stand above and resist to the waves of misery A difficult but powerful perspective to be found here; what this book seems to promise is the secret to invincibility. But it's not what most people at first thought would expect or even for that matter want. Out the window go the traditional definitions of evil. Suffering is thought very little of here; it's not even given a consolation in any sort of afterlife. There is an overwhelming faith here in the abilities of the mind not to eliminate but to stand above and resist to the waves of misery inevitably found in human life. Key to success is limiting our concerns to what we're in control over and often it's not a lot. Sometimes all we're left with is our response and attitude to the circumstances. It's easy to strawman stoicism as advocating a petrified lifestyle in which one simply sits down and let's the world pass them by but I didn't find that here. Epictetus advocates using reason to discover one's calling, and one's limits, which don't have to be removed from the world, but the foundation must remain reason, and it's power over the senses. Attacked is the hedonism of the Epicureans and the nihilism of the Skeptics. Epictetus believes in reason as that which mortals share with God.  There is a lot of passionate prose here about fortitude, determination, heroism in the face of adversity, about the value of a person not coming from their possessions, or natural born abilities, but rather from their character in the face of suffering, and the payoff of patiently facing it all and, bringing good out of the bad.  Fittingly enough I failed a job interview in the middle of reading this and while the book's ideals were very clearly floating around my mind, they did not seem to offer a solution to the disappointment, despair and envy I went through in subsequent weeks. Nonetheless I kept reading this and contemplating it  and perhaps my recovery was hastened.   I still agree with a lot of what Epictetus says, but my ironic lapse helped me see that it's not enough to read him, but rather to put these methods into practice and preparation, even when, our lives seem at peace. He advocates testing one's endurance, and strengthening oneself against the impressions that can bother us so much. It's a harsh effort, and as a crippled slave in ancient Rome, Epictetus most likely knew more about suffering than moderns. It will be a lifelong challenge with many falls along the way, but the payoff is appealing. Back to my petty concerns, I would consider that during the next interview it would be best to remember beforehand very sincerely that there's nothing I can do to guarantee acceptance, and that all I can do is give it my all and fail gracefully, because it seems that jobs, possessions, relationships, and health are not enough by themselves to bring us peace of mind, and that accepting loss may be one of the most important abilities that any human being can learn.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    I just read Epictetus with a small group and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. In my totally dilettantish opinion, after only 1 reading – I found the Discourses rambling and repetitive, and Epictetus too much of a scold – but with interruptions of actual genius. On the other hand, the short Enchiridion (or "handbook") at the end is a gem of bitter wisdom. Epictetus's stoicism is a philosophy for the desperate moments of life, but in such moments it holds up pretty well. (Cf. "Courage Under Fi I just read Epictetus with a small group and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. In my totally dilettantish opinion, after only 1 reading – I found the Discourses rambling and repetitive, and Epictetus too much of a scold – but with interruptions of actual genius. On the other hand, the short Enchiridion (or "handbook") at the end is a gem of bitter wisdom. Epictetus's stoicism is a philosophy for the desperate moments of life, but in such moments it holds up pretty well. (Cf. "Courage Under Fire" or "The World of Epictetus" by James Bond Stockdale, easily available on the internet - each of which is an excellent introduction to and recommendation for Epictetus. Who knew?)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Castles

    Humbly, I can’t review a 2,000-year-old book of the great philosophers as if it’s just an ordinary read. I’ve learned a lot and Remembered how good it feels to read simple yet complicated truths again. Along with Marcus Aurelius, this book is another step in my journey through the wonderful world of the stoic philosophy. the book is translated superbly and way more accessible than I’d ever imagined.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    A classic of Stoic philosophy. A self-help book before there were self-help books. Some great stuff, although it's a bit repetitive, which will be largely due to its origins in lecture notes by a devoted pupil. A classic of Stoic philosophy. A self-help book before there were self-help books. Some great stuff, although it's a bit repetitive, which will be largely due to its origins in lecture notes by a devoted pupil.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Micyukcha

    As mentioned in other reviews, Epicetus completes the Stoic troika with Seneca and Marcus Aurelious. If he is the third of the three you read, as is the case for me, the message is not new but just presented in a different style / presentation. As with most Stoic literature I've read, it's approachable, somewhat practical, and heavily emphasizes on freedom. I don't know if this is related to slavery existing (in Epictetus' case, he was a freed slave), the rise of Society, increasing bureaucracy, As mentioned in other reviews, Epicetus completes the Stoic troika with Seneca and Marcus Aurelious. If he is the third of the three you read, as is the case for me, the message is not new but just presented in a different style / presentation. As with most Stoic literature I've read, it's approachable, somewhat practical, and heavily emphasizes on freedom. I don't know if this is related to slavery existing (in Epictetus' case, he was a freed slave), the rise of Society, increasing bureaucracy, the pursuit of fame and fortune juxtaposed against clerical or nominal work, or what, but it's not too hard to draw a line from the desire to define and map a path to freedom to some of the dialogue that exists in the US today (what does it mean to be free). There are some lucid lessons - that frankly remind me of Buddhist teachings - namely, that suffering is in the mind, but so is freedom. Our attachments (desires we want, aversions we fear) drive our mental states and thus ultimately through our reactions, our character. Through the mind and logical reasoning, as developed earlier by Socrates, thinking humans, aka rational animal, can pierce through what is real (again, heavy emphasis on truth-seeking) and thus develop our character to discern what is true. As with Buddhism, the act of Stoicism in its purest form would involve rejecting family, children, 'work', so you have to pick and choose what to apply today. In some way, this dilutes the lesson (the application is more important of philosophy but now is also the subjective/selective part). Buddhism at least permits the difference between the monk and the family person. Epicetus gives stern warnings and puts firm conditions and terms of service for becoming a 'real' philosopher but doesn't really leave as much for a middle ground in my estimation. Despite the chasm, Epicetus does provide tips to developing your 'independence', eg, starting with the small stuff (being equanimous with ah, the vase has broke, will help you move onto being equanimous with ah, I've lost my child to premature death, yes, he puts it like that!). So apply appropriately. There is extra emphasis on removing attachments to/from the body (mostly bodily pains, and that looming and definite expiration date). The body attachment issue is not surprising given the concept of identifying with the physical. Still, this struck me as interesting. People back then were really afraid to die but actually wrote about dealing with it. The fear is still real today but How to Approach Dying is rarely a trending topic today... because perhaps this is not a profitable book/movie to write or to talk about? Back to the separating from the body thing, on one hand, Epictetus advises one to let that body go, eg, what has been given will be taken. On the other hand (and he does dances around this side), do as much as you can while you have it, but then let it go with grace and ease when the time has come. A sort of maximalist in the moment sort of framing. Overall, this seems a valid but narrow interpretation of freedom and attachment. So again, take what you will. It's always grounding to see how similar the fundamental questions of character are across a couple of millenia, or perhaps how pervasive the questions being asked are.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Farhan Khalid

    One of the three pillars of stoic writing Epictetus was a freed slave 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 Arrian recorded and published Epictetus’ informal lectures and conversations on ethics, in eight books, of which four books and some fragments survive. These are the Discourses; Arrian also wrote a summary of main themes, the Manual When we are frustrated, angry or unhappy, never hold an One of the three pillars of stoic writing Epictetus was a freed slave 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 Arrian recorded and published Epictetus’ informal lectures and conversations on ethics, in eight books, of which four books and some fragments survive. These are the Discourses; Arrian also wrote a summary of main themes, the Manual When we are frustrated, angry or unhappy, never hold anyone except ourselves – that is, our judgments – accountable Being attached to many things, we are weighed down and dragged along with them Make the best use of what is in our power, and treat the rest in accordance with its nature You’re an actor in a play, which will be as the author chooses, act even that part with all your skill In each action that you undertake, consider what comes before and what follows after Man, the rational animal, can put up with anything except what seems to him irrational; whatever is rational is tolerable Goal of education is to bring our preconception of what is reasonable and unreasonable in alignment with nature What good is your education if you are not to put it in practice? 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 You can’t hope to make progress in areas where you have made no application Because you think of yourself as no more than a single thread in the robe, whose duty it is to conform to the mass of people – just as a single white thread seemingly has no wish to clash with the remainder of the garment. But I aspire to be the purple stripe, that is, the garment’s brilliant hem. However small a part it may be, it can still manage to make the garment as a whole attractive When someone caught in an argument hardens to stone, there is just no more reasoning with them Bring on whatever difficulties you like, Zeus; I have resources and a constitution that you gave me by means of which I can do myself credit whatever happens Be confident in everything outside the will, and cautious in everything under the will’s control Whenever externals are more important to you than your own integrity, then be prepared to serve them the remainder of your life So in life our first job is to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, and the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices. Don’t ever speak of good or bad, advantage or harm, and so on, of anything that is not your responsibility. Socialize with men of good character, in order to model your life on theirs, whether you choose someone living or someone from the past Surrounded as we are by such people – so confused, so ignorant of what they’re saying and of whatever faults they may or may not have, where those faults came from and how to get rid of them – I think we too should make a habit of asking ourselves: Could it be that I’m one of them too? What illusion about myself do I entertain? How do I regard myself – as another wise man, as someone with perfect self-control? Do I, too, ever make that boast about being prepared for whatever may happen? If I don’t know something, am I properly aware that I don’t know it? A person is not going to undertake to learn anything that they think they already know If you consort with someone covered in dirt you can hardly avoid getting a little grimy yourself Freedom is not achieved by satisfying desire, but by eliminating it Work day and night to attain a liberated frame of mind So choose: either regain the love of your old friends by reverting to your former self or remain better than you once were and forfeit their affection It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them Take a moment before reacting, and you will find it is easier to maintain control Keep the prospect of death, exile and all such apparent tragedies before you every day – especially death – and you will never have an abject thought, or desire anything to excess Because we’re the only animals who not only die but are conscious of it even while it happens, we are beset by anxiety If you’re wrong to do it, then you should shrink from doing it altogether; but if you’re right, then why worry how people will judge you? When someone is properly grounded in life, they shouldn’t have to look outside themselves for approval Never identify yourself as a philosopher or speak much to non-philosophers about your principles; act in line with those principles. At a dinner party, for instance, don’t tell people the right way to eat, just eat the right way Remain silent for the most part, or say only what is essential, and in few words Exclude everything that is for show or luxury That’s how Socrates got to be the person he was, by depending on reason to meet his every challenge 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? The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a warrior 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 We should discipline ourselves in small things, and from there progress to things of greater value 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

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tg

    I am going to mix in some other anecdotes as I write this review...Epictetus was a slave who gained his freedom in Rome after Nero was assassinated , he opened a School of Philosophy in Nicopolos Greece. His Discourses are long winded, repetitious, but full of practical metaphors. He was serious minded but gregarious and funny His Teaching is pithy and Practical---"Now a Carpenter does not come to you and say, I have come to philosophize on carpentry, he hands you a contract and builds a House-so d I am going to mix in some other anecdotes as I write this review...Epictetus was a slave who gained his freedom in Rome after Nero was assassinated , he opened a School of Philosophy in Nicopolos Greece. His Discourses are long winded, repetitious, but full of practical metaphors. He was serious minded but gregarious and funny His Teaching is pithy and Practical---"Now a Carpenter does not come to you and say, I have come to philosophize on carpentry, he hands you a contract and builds a House-so do you likewise in life , eat like a man, sleep like a man, endure insults, rear children, and love your Wife...." On those desiring to become Teachers: "Such and such gives lectures, I wish to give lectures and have admiration too--Wretch you cannot give lectures in off-hand and random fashion, proper living must be adopted, adversities overcome, sacrifices to the gods, proper ablutions made, the discouri must be consulted....." and finally a parallel form Dr. Milton Erickson on enduring externals: " My dad died at 97 1/2 planting fruit trees, he was looking forward to the future" "Live life and live it to the fullest, and put as much humor into it as possible" Dr. Erickson and finally from Seneca: "Everyday acquire something that will fortify you against old-age, death, loss, and other ills as well; My dear Lucillius Make this your business in life: Learn to share the Joy of a Soul Happy and Confident, lifted above every circumstance " Seneca Epistles "All is well with the Commander "........ Farewell

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael Broch

    “For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it… faced by pain, you will discover the power of endurance. If you are insulted, you will discover patience. In time, you will grow to be confident that there is not a single impression that you will not have the moral means to tolerate.” “Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.”

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Being fairly new to greek philosophy, stoicism in particular, I do believe that my ability to judge this based on its implications has to be kept in mind. However, I am certain to have understood the underlying axioms by which the stoics function and that is due to the well preserved translation. This edition features so called 'fragments' of Epictetus' teachings as well as the Enchiridion, which is, quite literally, the manual of stoicism. Those added parts allow for a continuation of the teachi Being fairly new to greek philosophy, stoicism in particular, I do believe that my ability to judge this based on its implications has to be kept in mind. However, I am certain to have understood the underlying axioms by which the stoics function and that is due to the well preserved translation. This edition features so called 'fragments' of Epictetus' teachings as well as the Enchiridion, which is, quite literally, the manual of stoicism. Those added parts allow for a continuation of the teachings discovered throughout Book 1-4 of the Discourses. There are questions that I have not yet been able to answer for myself, but I am certain that a second read as well as a deeper dive into stoicism will clear things up. This is an excellent start into stoicism or greek philosophy in general. Highly recommend.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    The main point of the Discourses can be summed up in a couple sentences: If it is under your control, change it. If it's not under your control, don't worry about it. There's more--a lot more--of course, but nearly everything comes back to that. Epictetus keeps referring to the Reason, which is the essential central aspect of humanity, the one thing that makes you you. Therefore, that is what is under an individual's control and what they should work on, and everything else should be endured. De The main point of the Discourses can be summed up in a couple sentences: If it is under your control, change it. If it's not under your control, don't worry about it. There's more--a lot more--of course, but nearly everything comes back to that. Epictetus keeps referring to the Reason, which is the essential central aspect of humanity, the one thing that makes you you. Therefore, that is what is under an individual's control and what they should work on, and everything else should be endured. Death comes at the will of the gods, so fearing death is pointless. A tyrant can destroy a man's body, but so can a fever, and they should both be given the same regard. Desiring and detesting anything is problematic because it means that anyone who possesses those things gains power over you, so don't do it. Do not hope or fear the future except insofar as you are able to change it. It actually reminded me a lot of Buddhism in its insistence on avoiding attachment to the world. He draws a distinction between Externals, those things that are beyond one's controls, and Internals, which are primarily one's thoughts and opinions. Even the body isn't included in Internals, because there are a lot of example conversations about why you shouldn't fear death or pain, because an accident could happen or a tyrant could arrest you and you have no control over those. The Will, or Reason (capitals in original), are the main aspect of a man that is under his control, and Reason is held up as pretty much the defining force of humanity and the highest good. He even uses that as a way of proving that the gods are benevolent--reason is good, and the essence of the gods is reason, therefore the gods are good. Except, well, Epictetus is completely wrong. Reason is not inviolate, and as anyone who's read Thinking, Fast and Slow knows, humans are only "rational" in comparison to the other animals around us. I wonder how Epictetus would have reacted to research showing that emotions are absolutely necessary to being able to make decisions at all considering his view of Reason as the essential self, separated from the body and from all of the good and bad that the world buffets us with? A lot of his philosophy is also based on an understanding of theism that falls pretty flat nowadays. For example, his proof that the gods exist is that the seasons change and flowers bloom and so on, except that we obviously have other explanations for all of those. That's a problem for the Discourses, because the moral basis for enduring the difficulties of life is that life is how the gods want it to be, and the gods are good, therefore control what you can and endure all else and bow to the will of the gods. Despite these problems, there's so much good advice in here that I think it's definitely worth four stars. There's an argument about convictions and how important it is to maintain one's convictions in the face of adversity, but also an acknowledgement that convictions are only worth maintaining if they are moral and correct and dogged persistence in being wrong is not virtue but vice. I feel like that's something modern America needs to learn, considering how willing we are to dig into people's pasts and hold up comments written decades ago as proof of someone's moral turpitude. Either they still believe it, in which case they're terrible, or they no longer believe it, in which case they're an untrustworthy flip-flopper. The only way to win is to have never been wrong about anything, which is ludicrous. That also brings me to another part of Epictetus' philosophy that I love--that we should treat moral deficiency and ignorance the way we treat physical disability. Abusing a blind person just because they're blind is obviously terrible, and so is abusing an ignorant person because they're ignorant, or an immoral person because they're immoral. Act well and provide an example, help them overcome their disability if they're open to it, and otherwise don't worry about it because, well, see above about Internals vs. Externals. The whole book resonated with me even knowing what I do about human reason (or lack thereof). It's true that consciousness may be an illusion and we may be meat puppets jerked around by unconscious forces beyond our control...but you know, even if that's true, it's better to act like it's not true, in much the same way that the best outcomes come from assuming one's own life is totally under control but other people's lives are buffeted by the whims of chance, thus producing both compassion and personal dynamism. The kind of personal detachment Epictetus advocates is really attractive to me, and the majority of his advice is great even if some of the premises are dodgy or flat-out wrong. Modern life would be a lot better if more Stoicism made its way into the mainstream.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Shyam

    This is my work, and I accomplish it, and I will never abandon my post for as long as it is granted to me to remain in it; and I invite all of you to join me . . . (1.16.21) And then people say, ‘Nobody’s any the better for attending a philosopher’s school.’ Well, who goes to the school, I ask you, with the intention of attaining a cure? Who goes there to submit his judgements to purification; who goes there to become fully aware of what he stands in need of? Why are you surprised, then, if yo This is my work, and I accomplish it, and I will never abandon my post for as long as it is granted to me to remain in it; and I invite all of you to join me . . . (1.16.21) And then people say, ‘Nobody’s any the better for attending a philosopher’s school.’ Well, who goes to the school, I ask you, with the intention of attaining a cure? Who goes there to submit his judgements to purification; who goes there to become fully aware of what he stands in need of? Why are you surprised, then, if you go away again with the very same thoughts that you brought when you arrived here? The fact is that you didn’t come here to lay them aside, or correct them, or exchange them for others. Oh no, far from it. (2.21.15-16) . . . Beyond that, I’m not sure what else I can say to you; for if I say what I think, I’ll offend you . . . (3.1.10) As for you, you may possess goldware, but your reason, your judgements, your assents, your motives, your desires, are earthenware one and all. (3.9.18) May I be thinking such thoughts, writing such thoughts, reading such thoughts, when death overtakes me. (3.5.11) Most of us fear the deadening of the body and would resort to every means to avoid falling into such a state, but when it comes to the deadening of the soul, we’re not in the least concerned. (1.5.4) __________ If you didn’t learn these things so as to be able to put them into practice, why did you learn them in the first place? (1.29.35) But we devote no effort to any of this, we pay no attention to it. (2.16.15) There are three things that make up human beings: mind, body, and external things. So all that remains for you to do is to answer the question, which is the best? (3.7.2) Aren’t you willing to put aside these things that don’t concern you? (3.2.16) I don’t give way to anger, distress, or envy; I’m free from hindrance and constraint. What is left for me to do? I have leisure, I have peace of mind. (3.2.16) ‘I’m superior to you because my father is of consular rank.’ Another says, ‘I’ve been a tribune and you haven’t’. If we were horses, would you say, ‘I have lots of barley and fodder’, or, ‘I have lovely trappings’? (3.14.11) It is to confront this that you must train yourself, and it is towards that end that all your reasonings, all your studies, and all your readings should be directed, and then you’ll recognise that is is in this way alone that human beings can attain freedom. (3.26.38-39) When we’re invited to a banquet, we take whatever is served, and if anyone should ask his host to serve him with fish or cakes, he would be thought eccentric; and yet in the wider world, we ask the gods for things that they don’t give us, irrespective of the many things that they have actually given us. (Fr. 17) Someone who associates regularly with certain people, for conversation, or for parties, or simply for the sake of sociability, is bound either to come to resemble them or else to convert them to his own way of life. For if you place a dead coal beside a live coal, either the former will extinguish the latter, or the latter will set the former alight. (3.16.1-2) What is your own, then? The proper use of impressions. He showed me that I possess that power free from all hindrance and constraint; no one can obstruct me; no one can force me to deal with impressions other than I wish. (3.24.69) If this is what you want, you’ll have it everywhere, and you’ll live with full confidence. Confidence in what? In the only thing in which one can properly have confidence, in that which is reliable, that which is immune to hindrance, that which can never be taken away, that is to say, your own moral choice. (3.26.24) Remember this, that if you attach value to anything at all that lies outside the sphere of choice, you’ve destroyed your choice. (4.4.23) __________ If you keep these thoughts constantly at hand, and reflect on them constantly within your own mind to make them ready for use, you’ll never have need of anyone else to encourage you or strengthen your resolve . . . Only, don’t make a parade of it, don’t boast about it, but demonstrate it through your actions; and even if no one notices, be content that you yourself are of sound mind and are living a happy life. (3.24.115,118) Keeping these principles in mind, rejoice in what you have and be content with that the moment brings. (4.4.45) If you’re nourished by thoughts such as these, what need do you have to enquire any longer as to where you are to find happiness? (4.4.48) When someone has come to understand these things, what is to prevent him from living with a light heart and easy mind, calmly awaiting whatever may happen, and putting up with what has already happened. (4.7.12) What is to prevent you from turning your attention to [these matters], and busying yourself with them? Who is better provided the you with books, and leisure, and people to help you? Only turn your mind at last to these matters, and devote just a little time to your ruling centre. Consider what this is that you possess, and where it has come from, this faculty that makes use of everything else, and tests it out, and selects and rejects. But as long as you devote your concern to external things, you’ll own more of those than anyone else, but you’ll have the ruling part of you just as you want it, filthy and neglected. (4.7.39-41) Let’s just make a start, and believe me, you’ll see. (2.19.34) Have a try at least; there is no shame in trying. (4.1.177) __________ What are we to do, then? To make the best of what lies within our power, and deal with everything else as it comes. (1.1.17) ‘Yes, but that would be beneath me.’ It is for you to take that further point into consideration, not me, since you’re the one who knows yourself, and knows what value you set on yourself, and at what price you’ll sell yourself; for different people sell themselves at different pries. (1.2.11) Only, consider what what price you’re willing to sell your power of choice. If nothing else, make sure, man, that you don’t sell it cheap. (1.2.33) ‘For what am I? A poor wretched man,’ they say, or ‘This miserable flesh of mine’. Miserable, to be sure, but you also have something better in you than that poor flesh why do you neglect that, then, and attach yourself to what is mortal? (1.3.5-6) For it is indeed pointless and foolish to seek to get from another what one can get from oneself. (1.9.31) . . . declared from now on, he would concern himself with nothing other than living the rest of his life in peace and calm. (1.10.2) —That’s how all fathers feel, or at least most do. —I don’t dispute that, said Epictetus, but the point at issue between us is whether it’s right to feel like that. For in that case, one would have to say that tumours develop for the good of the body just because they do in fact develop, and, in a word, that to fall into error is natural just because almost all of us, or at least most of us, do fall into error. (1.11.6-7) Can anyone prevent you from assenting to the truth? No one at all. Can anyone constrain you to accept what is false? No one at all. do you see that, in this area, you have a power of choice that is immune from hindrance, constraint, and obstruction? Well then, are things any different in the sphere of desire and motivation? What can overpower a motive except another motive, and that alone? And what can overpower a desire or aversion except another desire or aversion? —But what if someone threatens me with death, someone says, for he is constraining me then. No, it isn’t what you’re threatened with that compels you, but your own judgement that it is better to do this or that than to die. So once again, it is your judgement that has constrained you, or in other words, your choice has constrained itself. (1.17.22-26) If you wish it, you are free. (1.17.28) This man who has fallen into error and is mistaken about the most important matters, and thus has gone blind, not with regard to the eyesight that distinguishes white from black, but with regard to the judgement that distinguishes good from bad—should someone like this be put to death?’ If you put the question in that way, you’ll recognise the inhumanity of the thought that you’re expressing, and see the is is equivalent to saying, ‘Should this blind man, then, or that deaf one, be put to death?’ For if the greatest harm that a person can suffer is the loss of the most valuable goods, and the most valuable thing that anyone can possess is correct choice, then if someone is deprived of that, what reason is left for you to be angry with him? (1.18.6-8) I’m not saying that you shouldn’t groan at such things, but that you shouldn’t groan in your inmost self. (1.18.19) Anyone who has any sense won’t engage in public affairs, because he knows what a man in public life has to do. (1.23.6) Impressions come to us in four ways. Either things are, and appear so to be or else they are not, and do not appear to be; or else they are, and do not appear to be; or else they are not, and yet appear to be. It is thus the task of an educated person to hit the mark in each case. (1.27.1-2) A judgement can only overpower itself, and cannot be overpowered by another person. And nothing can overpower our choice, apart from choice itself. (1.29.12) —Ten men are stronger than one, someone says —In what respect? In throwing people into chains, taking their life, dragging them off wherever they want, stripping them of their property. Yes, ten men can assuredly prevail over on sin that in which they are stronger! —In what, then, are they weaker? —If the one person has correct judgements, and the other’s don’t. (1.29.14-15) But with regard to what is not [your] own, never apply the words good or bad, and benefit or harm, and any other word of that kind. (2.5.5) How can one say, then, that some externals are in accordance with nature, and others contrary to it? It is as if we are asking the question in isolation. Thus, I will say that it is natural for the foot to be clean, taken in isolation, but if you consider it as a foot and not in isolation, it will be appropriate for it also to step into mud, and trample on thorns, and sometimes even to be cut off for the sake of the body as a whole; for otherwise, it will no longer be a foot. We should think in some such way about ourselves also. What are you? A human being. Now, if you consider yourself in isolation, it is natural for you to live to an advanced age, to be rich, and to enjoy good health; but if you consider yourself as a human being and as part of some whole, it may be in the interest of the whole that you should now fall ill, now embark on a voyage and be exposed to danger, now suffer poverty, and perhaps even die before your time. Why do you resent this, then? (2.5.24-26) If you were to lose your knowledge of grammar and music, you’d regard that loss as being damaging; and yet if you lose your sense of shame, and dignity, and kindliness, you count that as being of no importance? (2.10.15) Why should you be surprised, then, that you excel in the areas in which you have practiced, while you remain exactly the same in those in which you haven’t? (2.16.4) We too experience something of this kind. What do we admire? Externals. What do we make the prime object of our concern? Externals. And then we’re unable to grasp how it is that we fall prey to fear, or fall prey to anxiety. (2.16.11) You’ll always be seeking your happiness in things outside yourself, without ever being able to find it; for you’re looking for happiness where it is not to be found, and are failing to search for it where it actually lies. (2.16.47) In general, then, if you want to do something, make a habit of doing it; and if you don’t want to do something, don’t do it, but get into the habit of doing something else instead. The same also applies to states of mind. (2.18.4) If you’re defeated on one occasion and say that you’ll win at some future time, and then allow yourself to be defeated again, you can be sure that you’ll finally find yourself in such a wretched and feeble state that, in due course, you won’t even be aware that you’re acting wrongly, but will begin to put forward arguments to justify your behaviour; at which point, you’ll be confirming the truth of Hesiod’s saying that ‘One who delays his work is always wrestling with ruin.’ (Works and Days, 413) (2.18.31) And being of bad character, you’ll do everything else badly. (3.5.3) —What do I have need of, then? —What you don’t have at present, stability, a mind in accord with nature, and freedom from agitation. (3.9.17) Let not sleep descend on your weary eyes Before having reviewed every action of the day. Where did I go wrong? What did I do? What duty leave undone? Starting here, review your actions, and afterwards, Blame yourself for what is badly done, and rejoice in the good. We should keep these verses at hand and put them to practical use, and not merely use them by way of exclamation. (3.10.2-4) They’re unable to conceive how a person can live on his own, starting our as they do from this fact of nature, that human beings are naturally sociable, and have natural affection, and take you in associating with one another. But we ought to prepare ourselves nonetheless to be able to be self-sufficient, and to be able to live with ourselves, and even as Zeus lives with himself, is at peace with himself, and reflects on the nature of his own rule, and occupies himself with thoughts that are worthy of him, so we too should be able to converse with ourselves, and know how to do without others, and not be at a loss about how to occupy ourselves. (3.13.5-7) There are some actions that are performed for their inherent value; others that are occasioned by circumstances; others that are performed for purposes of practical management, or to accommodate others, or in pursuit of our own plans. (3.14.7) In each action that you undertake, consider what comes before and what follows after, and only then proceed to the action itself. Otherwise you’ll set about it with enthusiasm because you’ve never given any thought to the consequences that will follow, and then you’ll give up in an ignominious fashion when one or another of them makes its appearance. (3.15.1) So even when we’re grown up, we have the appearance of being children. For it is a child’s part to be uncultivated in matters of culture, to be unlettered in matters of literature, and to be uneducated in life. (3.19.6) Don’t you know that over a long stretch of time, many things of every kind are bound to occur? (3.24.28)

  21. 5 out of 5

    G.R

    Almost 2,000 years on and Epictetus could still teach modern man a thing or two about the art of living.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Asaad Mahmood

    Definitely a good read. Further helping me understand the Stoic stance a bit more. One thing that I fail to come to terms with is the concept of gratefulness (that we normally advocate), with Stoic philosophy. The book for those unfamiliar advocates a distance from external things. External things are neither to be seen as good or bad and one should be indifferent to them. Principles of good and bad should only be applied to things you can control - that being your will or your mind. Thus, if one Definitely a good read. Further helping me understand the Stoic stance a bit more. One thing that I fail to come to terms with is the concept of gratefulness (that we normally advocate), with Stoic philosophy. The book for those unfamiliar advocates a distance from external things. External things are neither to be seen as good or bad and one should be indifferent to them. Principles of good and bad should only be applied to things you can control - that being your will or your mind. Thus, if one was to practice gratitude for the gifts he has received, whether of wealth, health, companion, off=spring, or anything external, one is then bound to fret, or be affected when he incurs a loss in those things. One cannot appreciate external things and then at the same time be impervious to them when they are taken away. Which is why I fail to understand how gratitude can be expressed if one has a Stoic stance, as gratitude itself can be seen as a precursor to agony and grief from Stoic perspective. Nonetheless, Stoicism is one of my favourite school of thought in Philosophy. The gist is that we should welcome adversities as it by facing adversities themselves, that we get to practice Philosophy, and become better. We should treat adversities as a boxer would treat his sparring partner. Hercules would not be a legend if he lived a life full of luxury, pleasure, and of numerous fortunes at his behest.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Connor Whittle

    This being the first time I've read an entire book dedicated to the teachings of a single philosopher makes me unqualified, and therefore incapable of assessing and coming to a fair conjecture of the teachings. That's why my review will focus on the writing and more importantly, my ease of understanding. Looking at it, and considering that's it's an ancient brand of an already dense subject (Philosophy) I think people would probably be put off by it's apparent complexity--but to be honest, as a This being the first time I've read an entire book dedicated to the teachings of a single philosopher makes me unqualified, and therefore incapable of assessing and coming to a fair conjecture of the teachings. That's why my review will focus on the writing and more importantly, my ease of understanding. Looking at it, and considering that's it's an ancient brand of an already dense subject (Philosophy) I think people would probably be put off by it's apparent complexity--but to be honest, as a starting point it really worked for me. I found myself taking it in well-enough, the notes were detailed and regular, so you don't need an in depth knowledge of Greek Mythology, Philosophers or politics to derive understanding from Epictetus' teachings. The writing, (Which is written-speech), is fluid and unpretentious, whilst simultaneously it manages to be artistic, lively and clever. Basically, it's an easy book to consume, and (For me, but obviously there are people more knowledgeable than I) it seems to work as an interesting start-point for Greek Philosophy, and probably Philosophy as a whole.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    I loved this book. My long term, low level fear of death has considerably abated. Epictetus was a slave who, when freed, started his own Stoic philosophy school in second century Nicopolis (ancient Greece I think). This book, his sayings and lectures recorded by one of his students Arrian is a magnificent testament to the wisdom of the Ancients. Sometimes in the middle ages, repurposed for bracing tutelage of Christian monks - all they did was revise this pagan philosophers language - 'Zeus' or I loved this book. My long term, low level fear of death has considerably abated. Epictetus was a slave who, when freed, started his own Stoic philosophy school in second century Nicopolis (ancient Greece I think). This book, his sayings and lectures recorded by one of his students Arrian is a magnificent testament to the wisdom of the Ancients. Sometimes in the middle ages, repurposed for bracing tutelage of Christian monks - all they did was revise this pagan philosophers language - 'Zeus' or 'the gods' became 'God', and hey presto! an inspirational christian text. The language attributed to Epictetus is direct and clear - free of confounding complications. Epictetus central thesis seems to be to concern yourself only with what is within your power to influence. All of the rest are 'indifferents'. Live with what you can live with, and when you can no longer, die without regret. I look forward to the day i re-read this book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I think the "Handbook" section should have been presented first and before the Discourses and Fragments. In this edition, "Handbook" is presented last. "Handbook" introduces Epictetus' idea of "sphere of choice" and what is inside and outside of our "sphere of choice." The idea that we should only focus our efforts on what is inside our sphere of choice and that we ought to train ourselves to be indifferent to what is outside our sphere of choice is repeated throughout the Discourses and Fragmen I think the "Handbook" section should have been presented first and before the Discourses and Fragments. In this edition, "Handbook" is presented last. "Handbook" introduces Epictetus' idea of "sphere of choice" and what is inside and outside of our "sphere of choice." The idea that we should only focus our efforts on what is inside our sphere of choice and that we ought to train ourselves to be indifferent to what is outside our sphere of choice is repeated throughout the Discourses and Fragments, so it would have been nice to have some sort of an introduction to this concept beforehand. The Handbook has a brief description of what Epictetus means by sphere of choice, so I just think, to make this work more accessible to readers, that "Handbook" ought to have been placed first. But just my opinion.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Neeraj Shukla

    Thoughts on life and philosophy behind things. A good read. Might take a long time to digest the wisdom contained in this book. In fact the prime teaching of the book is that, it is not good to be knowledgeable about things in life, but to develop a consistent ability to practice whatever you believe is to be right. The book dwells on developing character and virtues. Persist and resist- Persist on the path that you decide is the right one for you and resist any temptations that you may encounter i Thoughts on life and philosophy behind things. A good read. Might take a long time to digest the wisdom contained in this book. In fact the prime teaching of the book is that, it is not good to be knowledgeable about things in life, but to develop a consistent ability to practice whatever you believe is to be right. The book dwells on developing character and virtues. Persist and resist- Persist on the path that you decide is the right one for you and resist any temptations that you may encounter in the journey of your life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Fatima

    A prominent figure among the Stoic school of thought, Epictetus deals with several subjects such as the correct use of impressions, desire and aversion, the importance of logic in governing one's own life, and many others. The most important one among all is making "the best use of what's in our power" , while remaining completely indifferent to things beyond our control. A very enlightening read. Recommended to everyone. A prominent figure among the Stoic school of thought, Epictetus deals with several subjects such as the correct use of impressions, desire and aversion, the importance of logic in governing one's own life, and many others. The most important one among all is making "the best use of what's in our power" , while remaining completely indifferent to things beyond our control. A very enlightening read. Recommended to everyone.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christian Solorzano

    Discourses and Selected Writings is a wonderful manual on how to live a life of virtue and stoicism. Considering that Epictetus lived almost two thousand years ago—much of what he says still stands true. It's truly a blessing to be able to read his work. I recommend this book to anybody that is interested in living a good life that is in alignment with nature. Discourses and Selected Writings is a wonderful manual on how to live a life of virtue and stoicism. Considering that Epictetus lived almost two thousand years ago—much of what he says still stands true. It's truly a blessing to be able to read his work. I recommend this book to anybody that is interested in living a good life that is in alignment with nature.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Henry Manampiring

    Without a doubt, 5 stars. The more complete treatise on Stoicism, this record of Epictetus writings is absolute joy and inspiration. Once you read it, you wouldn't believe it was written 2000 years ago, because it is still so relevant with today's situation. Most recommended for anyone interested in Stoicism. Without a doubt, 5 stars. The more complete treatise on Stoicism, this record of Epictetus writings is absolute joy and inspiration. Once you read it, you wouldn't believe it was written 2000 years ago, because it is still so relevant with today's situation. Most recommended for anyone interested in Stoicism.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Rudolph

    “I must die. But must I die bawling? I must be put in chains – but moaning and groaning too? ... I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived – and dying I will tend to later.”

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