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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. 4 out of 5

    WILLIAM2

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

  2. 4 out of 5

    Navaa

    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.

  3. 4 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!

  4. 4 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).

  5. 5 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.

  6. 4 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?)

  7. 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.

  8. 5 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

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marcus Hans

    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, Epicurean 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bukk

    This tome of Epictetus’ contributions to philosophy is outstanding. All his main works are here: the four books of his Discourses; fragments from other works that seem to have been lost to time; and the Enchiridion, a short work that summarizes some of the main points of his philosophy. Once you’ve read the Discourses you won’t find any surprises in the rest, but the fragments are interesting for their historical relevance, and the Enchiridion is a nicely condensed delivery of his ideas that can This tome of Epictetus’ contributions to philosophy is outstanding. All his main works are here: the four books of his Discourses; fragments from other works that seem to have been lost to time; and the Enchiridion, a short work that summarizes some of the main points of his philosophy. Once you’ve read the Discourses you won’t find any surprises in the rest, but the fragments are interesting for their historical relevance, and the Enchiridion is a nicely condensed delivery of his ideas that can serve as a quick 30 minute review. The Discourses give one a full picture of the ideas, but the whole collection should be read for the complete treatment of Epictetus's thought. Epictetus seems to me like the bridge between Socrates and Stoicism, even though the connection may be more complicated or more direct than I realize. But from what I can tell, Epictetus embodies the best of both, and integrates Socrates’ teachings and wisdom and logical approach into the framework and ethics of Stoicism. These texts, particularly the Discourses, are exemplary of the mindful mastery of life and the self that characterizes Stoicism, but with an added depth and high-mindedness one would expect to be exhibited by not only a lecturer of it, but a practitioner of it. The book is not a layman’s guide to pop-philosophy, or a soft introduction to fun ideas, or a self-help guide, but is a series of deep examinations and lectures intended for the philosopher and serious student of philosophy looking to completely overhaul who and what they are in order to achieve the supremacy of philosophical existence. What this means is putting principles into practice, embodying the philosophy instead of merely theorizing and speculating and thinking about it. And what else is philosophy good for if not for direct application, strengthening our reasoning and ways of thinking, and giving us the tools to live a thoughtful, reflective life upon the plateau of invincibility? In that spirit, the book is a demonstration of how to think, how to act, how to live as a mindful philosopher, offering no patience for those who simply want to be called a philosopher without truly being one. Epictetus observes how useless philosophy is if we do not practice it and live it, and he shows us in detail many of the ways this should be done in the Stoic tradition. He is disparaging, and I think rightfully so, of those who only want to talk about philosophy but not apply it to their lives and actions. These people are not philosophers, in Epictetus’ eyes. This can make his philosophy, and Stoicism in general, difficult for some to stomach, because it is a philosophy that demands application, it demands an immense change in how one approaches life outwardly and inwardly, and it does not reward you for merely talking about it. In a sense, Epictetus provides a new definition of philosophy, one which might exclude a large body of the philosophy that came in the following couple thousand years, because this definition requires philosophy to be something one can (and must, if the philosophy has any merit) put into practice. The writing is almost conversational, cordial, engaging and eloquent but also careful and precise. It has the satisfying care and nuance of an academic text, but with the enjoyability of an energetic lecture. He discusses hundreds of ideas and principles that are crucial to the development of the mind, and all of them with clarity and elaboration and fleshed out thinking. When he proposes an idea, he often anticipates how it might sound to the audience and he offers a counterpoint the attentive reader would think to offer. He then offers his reply, then perhaps another hypothetical counterpoint, then another response until he reaches the core idea. Each chapter in each book discusses a certain theme, and sometimes these themes or ideas, at least those which serve as the foundations of the philosophy, are repeated later, introduced or examined in a new way, and this repetition drives them into the mind, solidifying them, making clear their value. These ideas are not discussed dogmatically but rationally, with points and counterpoints, discussions of alternate schools of thought or popular ideas, and explicit, reasoned argument as to why the ideas he teaches are superior. The standard themes of stoicism are here, but they are expounded on with attention to all their facets, and supplemented with a lot that is beyond the scope of stoicism. Epictetus covers so much it is hard to know what to touch on in a review. He reflects on human nature and the mind and the self as things that, like physical strength, need to be correctly exercised and trained in order to make progress. Progress itself he has a profound understanding of, and the need for the individual to envision what it is they want to be, and to be that and act like they are that and to think in that way and to devote themselves fully to achieving that, to give everything. He explains the importance of sacrificing the things that are unimportant, which is just about everything, in order to truly attain freedom and achieve peace, contentment, excellence, what today we might call self—actualization. He presents carefully thought-out arguments for all of his ideas, showing them to us from multiple angles and challenging preconceptions until we see their flaws. If we only zoom in on a few chapters or segments, for example, we can catch a glimpse of what is here. We see the fundamental importance of our impressions, and how almost everything we experience can be thought of as nothing more than these impressions, which only we have the power to control. Our well-being itself is a product of only internals, and we should associate no great weight to externals, or to anything outside our control. Freedom is directly related to our impressions by our enslavement to materials, desires, even our attachment to other people. We see the faculties we are provided to face existence, but that, like a muscle, are weak and undeveloped until we repeatedly and tirelessly train them and strengthen them, like fortitude or courage. We see a deep-dive on philosophy itself and how one should approach it if they are serious about it, how we should interact with ideas and opinions, and explore the source of disagreements in an objective manner. We learn of the importance of reason, rational thinking, self-discipline, mastery of the emotions, and knowledge of ourselves and our current limitations so that we might improve. These are some of the basics of stoicism and they may sound mundane by now to anyone who has casually studied the philosophy, but they are truly magnificent, and Epictetus gives them such a terrific treatment and offers such enlightening illustrations of them that they feel new, like some form of hidden esoteric knowledge. This is only scratching the surface. Epictetus goes full power into exploring our contradictions, rational thinking, our psychology, selfishness, ethics, character, self expression, the veracity of our opinions based on our aptitude, progress, competition, goals, social relations, fear and anxiety and happiness, the art of the argument, religious thought, determining what is good or bad and how we might value things or think about experiences. He leads by example, showing that, as Socrates said, an unexamined life is a wasted life. He puts into practice everything he professes, and expects anyone serious about thinking, about ideas and knowledge and mastery of the self, to do the same. This collection of his work is a prime example of the power that philosophy can give the individual, which is the power over oneself, which is probably the only power that one can hope to attain.

  13. 4 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.

  14. 5 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.

  15. 5 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 4 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.

  18. 4 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 5 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.

  21. 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.”

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Moran

    Book I-IV: 2.5/5 Fragments: 3/5 Enchiridion: 4.5/5 From a philosophical standpoint, there is plenty of nonsense contained in Books (I-IV), which can be at times boringly arrogant (might be due to the translation) and even painfully ignorant. Indeed he makes plenty of ungrounded assumptions (e.g. that which in a human being is ‘according to nature’) from which he then proceeds to argue on account of concepts and ideas that haven’t been properly justified beforehand (something a philosopher must be e Book I-IV: 2.5/5 Fragments: 3/5 Enchiridion: 4.5/5 From a philosophical standpoint, there is plenty of nonsense contained in Books (I-IV), which can be at times boringly arrogant (might be due to the translation) and even painfully ignorant. Indeed he makes plenty of ungrounded assumptions (e.g. that which in a human being is ‘according to nature’) from which he then proceeds to argue on account of concepts and ideas that haven’t been properly justified beforehand (something a philosopher must be extremely careful of particularly if they are bound to explain your whole philosophy), resulting in unfounded moral dictums that amount to no more than mere opinions. The first thing a pretender to philosophy must do is get rid of their presuppositions; a person is not going to undertake to learn anything that they think they already know [...] As I said, then, this presumption that one posses knowledge of any use has to be dropped before you approach philosophy... - [II, 17] Quite a sensible position to adopt, indeed, but on the previous book he starts by stating: If we could completely subscribe, as we should, to the view that we are all primary creatures of God, and that God is father of both gods and men... - [I, 3] Or the whole of section [I, 12 On Satisfaction], which at first seems like he would give an argument for why we should subscribe to the existence of God, for he starts discussing atheists vs theists on a basis of 5 different types of views, proceeding to state: Before doing anything else we need to examine the views separately to decide which are true and false. but then completely circumvents it, avoiding any argument in favor of his claim just to say: The intelligent person, after due consideration of the question, will decide to submit his will to the ruler of the universe, as good citizens submit to the laws of the state. What? Any philosopher worth his/her integrity would have taken the question seriously before daring to use God as a universal in his/her work without even attempting at answering it (and no wonder after millennia we have hitherto settled on precisely this subject). Regardless of what sort of God he is alluding to, he should’ve listened to himself [II, 17] and dropped the assumption on the conception of God, for he completely neglects to give an exposé as to why one should completely subscribe to it, since the existence of God and its relationship to human affairs is essential to many of his arguments. The same can be said for the word ‘nature’, in its relationship with man and existence; he completely omits to give any argument in favor of this ‘nature’ that (to him) so eternally binds man to existence and thus providing our framework for every and all moral endeavors, yet makes it a fundamental concept to justify his position. Again, he should’ve started by pointing out what nature is, and how it entails that one should live according to it. Ironically, he spouts all too much against those who don’t use ‘logic’ and the faculties of their brain, when criticizing their philosophies and way of life. His argument against Epicurus and the Academic Skeptics [II, 20] is full of fallacies and he is just strawmaning their philosophies. Moreover, he often contradicts himself regarding one’s will and desires, sometimes he seems to imply that one should act according to the will and our desires, for suppressing it would be ‘bad’, and at others he would explicitly vouch for ‘resisting’ the desires, pleasures and ‘forces’ of the will; i.e. that “we can only will what is good” but that “one should control the desires of the will”, etc., evidently leading to contradiction (Cf. [IV, 1], [Frag. 10] among other examples). Occasionally he does make good points, for instance, in expanding on Socrates’ teachings like some of his positions regarding externals and the attitude towards death. In short, it is true that Epictetus appears to be more of a Moralist than a Philosopher as someone else pointed out already. —— Nevertheless, his Enchiridion is concise and useful, if taken with a grain of salt; thought provoking, at a minimum. Making this book worth keeping. In the end, I suppose one must bear in mind the Zeitgeist during which Epictetus lived and the additional context regarding his life and upbringing, which surely contributed to why he became a ‘philosopher’: after all, he was born a slave.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    Definitely among the top 5 books I have read. Grateful for having read it. Epictetus is a fine example - that in the world of ideas, people are equal. This is actually a bit of a false conclusion to the statement. It is more accurate to say - ideas are equal, irrelevant to the fact who presents them and what their social standing is. (argumentum ad hominem) To prove the point: Epictetus was a slave. And he has this book. It has been around since 108 AD. He was a slave that was quoted by the Roman empe Definitely among the top 5 books I have read. Grateful for having read it. Epictetus is a fine example - that in the world of ideas, people are equal. This is actually a bit of a false conclusion to the statement. It is more accurate to say - ideas are equal, irrelevant to the fact who presents them and what their social standing is. (argumentum ad hominem) To prove the point: Epictetus was a slave. And he has this book. It has been around since 108 AD. He was a slave that was quoted by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in his diaries. (Proving further the point - in the world of ideas, the emperor and a slave operate as equals) ...and it is still extremely relevant. (Just replace the amount of members applauding in your audience with your social media following and you have come to one of elements that Epictetus would call an 'external' we should not place any great care of...) Slave, though never in his mentality - and eventually he was granted his rightful freedom. The text is written down by Arrian who happened to be a historian and a pupil of Epictetus. From the 8 books. 4 remain. And the 5th remains as fragments from others' notes - including some direct quotations from the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Among the Discourses there is also the Enchiridion that is the summary of the texts presented in shorter passages and maxims. (I would recommend - that you get most out of it if you read the whole book. Not just the summary. Otherwise the ideas can appear to be more diluted) Epictetus's main idea is simple - in between the stimulus and the response, we have a cap where we can choose our reaction to the situation. Stoics aren't saying you can become free from all emotion e.g. someone scares you - of course you tremble for a minute. You can choose though if you let it linger onto you for the whole day and eventually train yourself bit by bit to control your reactions to different stimulus. The main vessels of communication/the terms being used by Epictetus are: -the "impressions" - meaning out initial reaction to the situation. But the situation often times is not what it appears to be in our mind. Especially at the first sight. Epictetus distresses the importance of separating in between two things: -"externals" - things outside our control: the body, weather, material possessions, approval of others, our current social standing -"internals" - the mind, only thing you can really control With these 3 simple terms I guess you can some up most part of the book. It takes a fair amount of examples and discussion to get to these ideas - hence we have the Discourses. He concludes that a person can become free only by eliminating himself from the control of all externals. And he argues to the point - that most men are not free. Even the men who own slaves themselves can act more slavish than their servants. (IV.1) Men exchange their freedom for different currencies. And the currency does not necessarily have to be money. Some men are a slave to sex, other's to their assets - wealth, possessions or their social position in the Senate, on the applause of their audience etc. To find a man that is free is rare indeed. Epictetus comes pretty close I guess. But even he admits of having a master in the form of his poor body and he is a slave for keeping it healthy. (Still an external to a stoic) (IV.1.151) And he admits that when he'd be given a chance to withdraw from taking the hemlock shot as Socrates had to do he would even had squeezed to a mouse-hole if it had given him a chance to escape it. (IV.1.167) The men he places in the category of being completely free from all externals are: Socrates himself and Diogenes the Cynic. (Also the most cited people through out the whole book) What separates Epictetus from Seneca or Marcus Aurelius in my mind is the great amount of wit. He even goes to an extent of calling an immoral person who has committed adultery "a leaky bowl" (II.4) "Look, if you were a bowl so leaky that you were good for nothing any more, you would be tossed in the rubbish dump... What are we going to do with a human who can't fill the most basic human role?" (II.4.4) I laughed my ass of when Epictetus pointed out what tricks he would play to a sceptic philosopher if he'd be their servant in a household. Even taking a beating every day for it just for the sake of LOLs. (Sceptics don't believe in relying on our senses in making conclusions) "If he said, 'Put some oil in the bath, boy,' I'd go grab the fish sauce and pour it over his head. 'What the...?' 'Pardon me, I received an impression - identical, indistinguishable, I swear to you - of olive oil'" (II.20.29) On these points - I disagree on comments that Epictetus is 'the most preachy and least fun to read among the stoics'. Though I agree on the point I would start with Marcus and proceed to Seneca to get the most compact and easy to grasp understanding of the general ideas that overlap through out the authors. If you manage to go through the notes and actually get to the core this book is worth every minute of research purely for the enjoyment and for gained understanding that you are now responsible to live out that is the most difficult part in being a philosopher. The layers of the book go even deeper. But I think it is a sufficient point to come to and end with this lengthy review. Zeus bless Epictetus for his ideas. Bless Arrian for writing it all down hence giving it a chance to preserve in time. Bless Johannes Stobaeus and Marcus Aurelius for their notes that we were able to make from it the 5th book - the Fragments. Your ideas still hold a great value for today. Until it all fades into dust with us. 30-04-2020

  24. 5 out of 5

    Goce

    Did not particularly find meaning in the Discourses themselves, as they seemed too broad and sometimes really centered around society and the people as they were in the time of writing. The Enchiridion was on point though.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Birau Catalin

    Awesome. Clear ideas and sound logic. Almost as pleasurable to read as his student, Marcus Aurelius

  26. 4 out of 5

    Yassar

    This book contains a solid and systemic framework for ideal human behaviour. Highly methodical in its approach encompassing a supreme moral compass for common mortals.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lucas Jarche

    Where Marcus Aurelius was the practical Stoic and Seneca was the grumpy old man Stoic, Epictetus seems to me like the sassy Stoic, ready to put you in your place and occasionally exaggerate for illustrative purposes. I also found Discourses much harder to get through than Meditations and Letters. The biggest thing I noticed was that the tone seemed ... meaner? He seemed to criticize in one breath and then go on to say how we shouldn't criticize in the next. Maybe this was just a function of thes Where Marcus Aurelius was the practical Stoic and Seneca was the grumpy old man Stoic, Epictetus seems to me like the sassy Stoic, ready to put you in your place and occasionally exaggerate for illustrative purposes. I also found Discourses much harder to get through than Meditations and Letters. The biggest thing I noticed was that the tone seemed ... meaner? He seemed to criticize in one breath and then go on to say how we shouldn't criticize in the next. Maybe this was just a function of these being lectures for the masses, rather than personal reflection or letters to a friend. There's a lot of calling people idiots or fools, and even if he's just referring to a hypothetical situation, I can't help feeling that this is a little bit at odds with the call for temperance and understanding and withholding judgment that he and other stoics (especially Aurelius) go on to advocate for. Still, that sort of dismissal and sassiness has its place. I love how we reacts to the Skeptics in I-5, where he doesn't even try debating if we have the ability to know if we're dreaming or if we're in the matrix right now, he just says they're stupid and bugger off please. I love how he tells people off for visiting Olympia and then having all these petty tourist complaints like it being too hot or too crowded. I love him telling people off for using jargon to sound smart. I love how much he seems to hate people who love syllogisms as the perfect embodiment of being book smart but not applying that knowledge to real life. But there's a certain hypocrisy to it in my eyes, where a few books later he says we shouldn't gossip about people and shouldn't criticize without knowing the whole story, and he here is criticizing - for a good cause. I think the part that shocked me the most was the chapter (II-4) on adultery or a nervous musician, and how we should treat the adulterer like a pariah, and how the musician shouldn't be nervous if they know what's right. Or when he mentions being friends with people who don't treat externals in the proper way, where he goes so far as to say they're not even human beings if they do that. I recognize this is all exaggeration to a certain degree to illustrate his ideas, but it rings so false to Aurelius' whole 'we will meet thankless, terrible people, but we will forgive them anyway.' I can forgive most of that though, because his sassiness gives rise to great quotes like this one: "Pester him further, and he is liable to punch you in the nose. I myself was once keen for this sort of discourse, until I met with just such a reception" Once again I'm struck by how timeless the whole thing is, how when he's talking about tourists complaining at Mount Olympia, that passage could have been written in the last 10 years. And yet, occasionally I'll get this glance at this pre-science/enlightenment thinking, like when he talks about how it doesn't matter if you know what makes up matter and how that knowledge won't do anything to help the world. It seems so at odds with our rational science-based world of today. I think Epictetus is also the biggest proponent of negative visualization and deprivation of life's pleasures within the big three stoics. I still can't get behind that. Chapter 33 in the Enchiridion is basically him telling us all the fun things we shouldn't be doing, like how we shouldn't laugh, and how we shouldn't try to be funny, or use curse words (and here is he being hilarious and calling people stupid). And earlier he talks about how we shouldn't be excited to arrive in Athens if we're travelling there, because next time we might not arrive and we wouldn't be excited, and that to be happy about that is us being "foolishly pleased with [ourself]." Well Mister Epictetus, I really like being foolishly pleased with myself! I'm all about tricking myself into being disproportionately happy about little things. I'll order something online because I like the anticipation of waiting for it to come, because I like finding it, like a surprise, in my mailbox, because I like opening it, because I like the thing itself. And yet, I think I can hold that opinion and also be ok with losing that thing, they don't seem to me to be mutually exclusive. I don't need to caution myself against losing something until I've lost it, then I can realize it was an external and my happiness doesn't depend on it being there. But if I can wring positive feelings out of externals, I'm all about that. I understand that that can lead to a life of excess and vice and being jerked around by your wants and desires, but I think like everything in life, it's all about balance. But what do I know? I'm just a dude with little philosophical knowledge trying to make sense of the world. Anyway, here's a collection of quotes I liked: ‘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. Epictetus will not be better than Socrates. But if I am no worse, I am satisfied. I mean, I will never be Milo either; nevertheless, I don’t neglect my body. Nor will I be another Croesus – and still, I don’t neglect my property. In short, we do not abandon any discipline for despair of ever being the best in it. ‘But my nose is running!’ What do you have hands for, idiot, if not to wipe it? ‘But how is it right that there be running noses in the first place?’ Instead of thinking up protests, wouldn’t it be easier just to wipe your nose? 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. And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir him into action? When trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom god, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. ... no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition. Death and pain are not frightening, it’s the fear of pain and death we need to fear. Which is why we praise the poet who wrote, ‘Death is not fearful, but dying like a coward is.’ So be confident about death, and caution yourself against the fear of it – just the opposite, in other words, of what we are doing now. Now we shrink from death, whereas our views about death hardly concern us, we hardly give them a thought, and are completely apathetic. Socrates used to call such fears ‘hobgoblins’, and rightly so; just as masks scare and frighten children since they haven’t seen them before, we react to events in much the same way and for much the same reason. Material things per se are indifferent, but the use we make of them is not indifferent. The question, then, is how to strike a balance between a calm and composed attitude on the one hand, and a conscientious outlook that is neither slack nor careless on the other. Model yourself on card players. The chips don’t matter, and the cards don’t matter; how can I know what the deal will be? But making careful and skillful use of the deal – that’s where my responsibility begins. So 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. 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. Court and prison are two places, one high, the other low. Your character, however, can be kept the same in either place – if you decide it should. We will rival Socrates when we can spend our time in prison composing hymns. bring the will in line with events, so that nothing happens contrary to our wishes and, conversely, nothing fails to happen that we want to happen ‘Please, God,’ we say, ‘relieve me of my anxiety.’ Listen, stupid, you have hands, God gave them to you himself. You might as well get on your knees and pray that your nose won’t run. A better idea would be to wipe your nose and forgo the prayer. If the plan works, of course, a person is overjoyed and says, ‘How well we planned it! Didn’t I tell you, with brains like ours it couldn’t possibly fail?’ But a different result leaves the person devastated, incapable of even finding words to explain what happened. 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. Go a month without reading, occupied with something else, and you’ll see what the result is. And if you’re laid up a mere ten days, when you get up and try to walk any distance you’ll find your legs barely able to support you. So if you like doing something, do it regularly; if you don’t like doing something, make a habit of doing something different. the things that men admire and work so hard to get prove useless to them once they’re theirs. Meanwhile people to whom such things are still denied come to imagine that everything good will be theirs if only they could acquire them. Then they get them: and their longing is unchanged, their anxiety is unchanged, their disgust is no less, and they still long for whatever is lacking. Freedom is not achieved by satisfying desire, but by eliminating it. Don’t give in to second thoughts, because no one who wavers will make progress. And if you are committed to making progress and ready to devote yourself to the effort, then give up everything else. Otherwise your ambivalence will only ensure that you don’t make progress, and you won’t even get to revisit the pleasures of the past. Whoever chafes at the conditions dealt by fate is unskilled in the art of life; whoever bears with them nobly and makes wise use of the results is a man who deserves to be considered good. And this, they say, is how the mind of the wise man differs from the fool’s: the latter believes that impressions apparently portending pain and hardship when they strike his mind really are as they seem, so he approves (the word the Stoics use when discussing this matter) them and accepts that he should fear them as if this were self-evident. But the wise man, soon regaining his colour and composure, (does not assent), reaffirms his support of the view he’s always had about such impressions – that they are not in the least to be feared, but are only superficially and speciously frightening. Epictetus would also say that there were two vices much blacker and more serious than the rest: lack of persistence and lack of self-control. The former means we cannot bear or endure hardships that we have to endure, the latter means that we cannot resist pleasures or other things we ought to resist. ‘Two words,’ he says, ‘should be committed to memory and obeyed by alternately exhorting and restraining ourselves, words that will ensure we lead a mainly blameless and untroubled life.’ These two words, he used to say, were ‘persist and resist’. When we are guests at a dinner party, we content ourselves with the food on offer; if anyone were to tell the host to put out fish or cake, he would seem rude. In real life, however, we ask the gods for what they do not give, and this though they have provided us with plenty. 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. Sickness is a problem for the body, not the mind – unless the mind decides that it is a problem. If you learn that someone is speaking ill of you, don’t try to defend yourself against the rumours; respond instead with, ‘Yes, and he doesn’t know the half of it, because he could have said more.’ Every circumstance comes with two handles, with one of which you can hold it, while with the other conditions are insupportable. If your brother mistreats you, don’t try to come to grips with it by dwelling on the wrong he’s done (because that approach makes it unbearable); remind yourself that he’s your brother, that you two grew up together; then you’ll find that you can bear it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cem

    Epictetus' Discourses is a textbook on how to live life. Some sections are more difficult than others. Beware, there is no asterisk to indicate difficulty. I restarted Discourses numerous times before finally finishing it. The goal of Discourses is not to explain Stoicism. Its goal is to teach a method on how to be happy. To understand the method described, I took notes and read most sections again and again. Notes provided at the end of the book are very valuable. Thank you Robert Dubbin for pr Epictetus' Discourses is a textbook on how to live life. Some sections are more difficult than others. Beware, there is no asterisk to indicate difficulty. I restarted Discourses numerous times before finally finishing it. The goal of Discourses is not to explain Stoicism. Its goal is to teach a method on how to be happy. To understand the method described, I took notes and read most sections again and again. Notes provided at the end of the book are very valuable. Thank you Robert Dubbin for providing a useful "further reading" section. The biggest problem with Discourses is that there are no end-of-chapter exercises. If anyone knows a version with end-of-chapter exercises (with solutions on the back), please let me know. Finally, reading Discourses I was compelled to ask two questions to Epictetus himself because he did not provide clear answers. First, how should we decide when we are forced to make decisions that affect others? An easy example would be the trolley problem, how should a Stoic answer the trolley problem? If we are to be indifferent about what to do, should we then not do anything? If indeed we should act, which action is more justified? If both are equally justified and we are to decide based on a coin toss, why did we choose to act in the first place? Second, how much should we explore? If our purpose is to be able to "persist and resist" and if we are to learn how to do these things, for how long should we learn and for how long should we use our learnings. If we learn more, we may be better able to "persist and resist". However, the more time we spend learning the less time we have for actually applying what we learned. How do we find the balance?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maciej Sitko

    "Lead me, Zeus, and you too, Destiny, To wherever your decrees have assigned me. I follow readily, but if I choose not, Wretched though I am, I must follow still. Fate guides the willing, but drags the unwilling." Epictetus is one of the great three along with Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. It is an absolute must-read for anyone remotely interesting in Stoicism and what truly is happiness. Penguin edition is split int three parts thematically: Discourses, Fragments and Enchiridion.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Brady

    The Discourses (and fragments) is in one of the three must-reads on Stoicism, along with Seneca's Letters from a Stoic and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I'm not a huge fan of the the Enchiridion, however. The Enchiridion has a lot about what a Stoic should act like, but nothing on how or why one should act and think the way it describes and thus should not be read first by anyone interesting in Stoicism.

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