Greek Stoic philosopher (c. 50–c. 138)

Epictetus (c. 55 – c. 135 AD), born a slave, was a Greek Stoic philosopher. His words were recorded by his student Arrian in the Discourses and Enchiridion written in the early 2nd-century.

For what is it that everyone is seeking? To live securely, to be happy, to do everything as they wish to do, not to be hindered, not to be subject to compulsion.

Quotes edit

Discourses edit

It is difficulties that show what men are.
First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
Although life is a matter of indifference, the use which you make of it is not a matter of indifference.

Book I edit

  • To the rational being only the irrational is unendurable, but the rational is endurable.
    • Variant translation: To a reasonable creature, that alone is insupportable which is unreasonable; but everything reasonable may be supported.
    • Book I, ch. 2, § 1.
  • "But to be hanged—is that not unendurable?" Even so, when a man feels that it is reasonable, he goes off and hangs himself.
    • Book I, ch. 2, § 3.
  • Yet God hath not only granted these faculties, by which we may bear every event without being depressed or broken by it, but like a good prince and a true father, hath placed their exercise above restraint, compulsion, or hindrance, and wholly within our own control.
    • Book I, ch. 6, § 40.
  • In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action, but our inward opinions and principles.
    • Book I, ch. 11, § 33.
  • Reason is not measured by size or height, but by principle.
    • Book I, ch. 12, § 26.
  • O slavish man! will you not bear with your own brother, who has God for his Father, as being a son from the same stock, and of the same high descent? But if you chance to be placed in some superior station, will you presently set yourself up for a tyrant?
    • Book I, ch. 13, § 3–4.
  • When you close your doors, and make darkness within, remember never to say that you are alone, for you are not alone; nay, God is within, and your genius is within. And what need have they of light to see what you are doing?
    • Book I, ch. 14, § 13–14.
  • No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.
    • Book I, ch. 15, § 7.
  • Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a Providence to an humble and grateful mind.
    • Book I, ch. 16, § 7.
  • Were I a nightingale, I would act the part of a nightingale; were I a swan, the part of a swan.
    • Book I, ch. 16, § 20.
  • Since it is Reason which shapes and regulates all other things, it ought not itself to be left in disorder.
    • Book I, ch. 17, § 1.
  • If what the philosophers say be true,—that all men's actions proceed from one source; that as they assent from a persuasion that a thing is so, and dissent from a persuasion that it is not, and suspend their judgment from a persuasion that it is uncertain,—so likewise they seek a thing from a persuasion that it is for their advantage.
    • Book I, ch. 18, § 1.
  • Practice yourself, for heaven's sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater.
    • Book I, ch. 18, § 18.
  • It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
    • Book I, ch. 20, § 17.
  • Who are those people by whom you wish to be admired? Are they not these about whom you are in the habit of saying that they are mad? What then? Do you wish to be admired by the mad?
    • Book I, ch. 21, § 4.
  • If it is my interest to have a farm, it is my interest to take it away from my neighbour; if it is my interest to have a cloak, it is my interest also to steal it from a bath. This is the source of wars, seditions, tyrannies, plots.
    • Book I, ch. 22, § 14.
  • It is difficulties that show what men are.
    • Book I, ch. 24, § 1.
  • If we are not stupid or insincere when we say that the good or ill of man lies within his own will, and that all beside is nothing to us, why are we still troubled?
    • Book I, ch. 25, § 1.
  • "If the room is smoky, if only moderately, I will stay; if there is too much smoke I will go. Remember this, keep a firm hold on it, the door is always open."
    • Book I, ch. 25, § 18.
  • In theory there is nothing to hinder our following what we are taught; but in life there are many things to draw us aside.
    • Book I, ch. 26, § 3.
  • Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man's task.
    • Book I, ch. 27, § 1.
  • For human beings, the measure of every action is the impression of the senses.
    • Book I, ch. 28, § 10
  • The essence of the good is a certain kind of moral purpose, and that of the evil is a certain kind of moral purpose.
    • Book I, ch. 29, § 1
  • For what is lacking now is not quibbles; nay, the books of the Stoics are full of quibbles
    • Book I, ch. 29, § 56

Book II edit

It is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows
  • For it is not death or pain that is to be feared, but the fear of pain or death.
    • Variant: For death or pain is not formidable, but the fear of pain or death. (Book II, ch. 1)
    • Book II, ch. 1, § 13.
  • For what is a child? Ignorance. What is a child? Want of instruction. For where a child has knowledge, he is no worse than we are.
    • Book II, ch. 1, § 16
  • For on these matters we should not trust the multitude who say that none ought to be educated but the free, but rather to philosophers, who say that the educated alone are free.
    • Variant: ...Only the educated are free.
    • Book II, ch. 1, § 22.
  • Show that you know this only—how you may never either fail to get what you desire or fall into what you avoid.
    • Book II, ch. 1, § 37
  • Materials are indifferent, but the use which we make of them is not a matter of indifference.
    • Book II, ch. 5, § 1
  • Although life is a matter of indifference, the use which you make of it is not a matter of indifference.
    • Book II, ch. 6, § 1.
  • Shall I show you the sinews of a philosopher? "What sinews are those?" — A will undisappointed; evils avoided; powers daily exercised, careful resolutions; unerring decisions.
    • Book II, ch. 8, § 29.
  • Look now, this is the starting point of philosophy: the recognition that different people have conflicting opinions, the rejection of mere opinion so that it comes to be viewed with mistrust, an investigation of opinion to determine whether it is rightly held, and the discovery of a standard of judgement, comparable to the balance that we have devised for the determining of weights, or the carpenter's rule for determining whether things are straight or crooked.
    • Book II, ch. 11, § 13.
  • When I see someone in anxiety, I say to myself, What can it be that this fellow wants? For if he did not want something that was outside of his control, how could he still remain in anxiety?
    • Book II, ch. 13, § 1.
  • Why, then, do we wonder any longer that, although in material things we are thoroughly experienced, nevertheless in our actions we are dejected, unseemly, worthless, cowardly, unwilling to stand the strain, utter failures one and all?
    • Book II, ch. 16, § 18.
  • Be bold to look towards God and say, "Use me henceforward for whatever you want; I am of one mind with you; I am yours; I refuse nothing that seems good to you; lead me where you will; wrap me in what clothes you will."
    • Book II, ch. 16, § 42
  • What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.
    • Book II, ch. 17, § 1.
  • Every habit and faculty is confirmed and strengthened by the corresponding actions, that of walking by walking, that of running by running.
    • Book II, ch. 18, § 1
  • If you would be a good reader, read; if a writer, write.
    • Book II, ch. 18, § 1.
  • Whatever you would make habitual, practice it; and if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practice it, but accustom yourself to something else.
    • Book II, ch. 18, § 4.
  • Be not swept off your feet by the vividness of the impression, but say, "Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are and what you represent. Let me try you."
    • Book II, ch. 18, § 24, Reported in Bartlett's Quotations (1919) as "Be not hurried away by excitement, but say, "Semblance, wait for me a little".
  • Show me someone who is ill and yet happy, in danger and yet happy, dying and yet happy, exiled and yet happy. Show me such a person; by the gods, how greatly I long to see a Stoic!
    • Book II, ch. 19, § 24.
  • The propositions which are true and evident must of necessity be employed even by those who contradict them
    • Book II, ch. 20, § 1
  • Some of their faults people readily admit, but others not so readily.
    • Book II, ch. 21, § 1
  • Who is not tempted by attractive and wide-awake children to join their sports, and crawl on all fours with them, and talk baby talk with them?
    • Book II, ch. 24, § 18

Book III edit

For freedom is not acquired by satisfying yourself with what you desire, but by destroying your desire.
  • Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.
    • Book III, ch. 1, § 25.
  • Why, what is weeping and sighing? A judgement. What is misfortune? A judgement. What are strife, disagreement, fault-finding, accusing, impiety, foolishness? They are all judgements.
    • Book III, ch. 3, § 18–19.
  • What should a philosopher say, then, in the face of each of the hardships of life? "It was for this that I've been training myself, it was for this that I was practising."
    • Book III, ch. 10, § 7.
  • Two principles we should always have ready — that there is nothing good or evil save in the will; and that we are not to lead events, but to follow them.
    • Book III, ch. 10, § 18.
  • In each separate thing that you do consider the matters which come first, and those which follow after, and only then approach the thing itself.
    • Book III, ch. 15, § 1 (= Enchiridion 29 § 1).
  • Do you suppose that you can do the things you do now, and yet be a philosopher? Do you suppose that you can eat in the same fashion, drink in the same fashion, give way to anger and to irritation, just as you do now?
    • Book III, ch. 15, § 10 (= Enchiridion 29 § 10).
  • For he who is unmusical is a child in music; he who is without letters is a child in learning; he who is untaught, is a child in life.
    • Book III, ch. 19, § 6.
  • Τίς εἶναι θέλεις, σαυτῷ πρῶτον εἰπέ: εἶθ' οὕτως ποίει ἃ ποιεῖς.
    • First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
    • Book III, ch. 23, § 1.
  • Don't you know that a good and excellent person does nothing for the sake of appearances, but only for the sake of having acted right?
    • Book III, ch. 24, § 50.
  • For this too is a very pleasant strand woven into the Cynic's pattern of life; he must needs be flogged like an ass, and while he is being flogged he must love the men who flog him, as though he were the father or brother of them all.
    • Book III, ch. 22, § 54
  • Let not that which in the case of another is contrary to nature become an evil for you; for you are born not to be humiliated along with others, nor to share in their misfortunes, but to share in their good fortune. If, however, someone is unfortunate, remember that his misfortune concerns himself. For God made all mankind to be happy, to be serene.
    • Book III, ch. 24, §. 1

Book IV edit

  • But tell me this: did you never love any person... were you never commanded by the person beloved to do something which you did not wish to do? Have you never flattered your little slave? Have you never kissed her feet? And yet if any man compelled you to kiss Caesar's feet, you would think it an insult and excessive tyranny. What else then is slavery?
  • For what is it that everyone is seeking? To live securely, to be happy, to do everything as they wish to do, not to be hindered, not to be subject to compulsion.
    • Book IV, ch. 1, § 46.
  • For freedom is not acquired by satisfying yourself with what you desire, but by destroying your desire.
    • Book IV, ch. 1, § 175.
  • Little is needed to ruin and upset everything, only a slight aberration from reason.
    • Book IV, ch. 3, § 4.

The Enchiridion edit

It isn't the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgements that they form about them.—Enchiridion 5
as translated by Elizabeth Carter
  • Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. (1).
  • Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. (5). (Enchiridion 5)
  • It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself. (5) [tr. George Long (1888)].
  • Ἐφ' ἑκάστου τῶν προσπιπτόντων μέμνησο ἐπιστρέφων ἐπὶ σεαυτὸν ζητεῖν, τίνα δύναμιν ἔχεις πρὸς τὴν χρῆσιν αὐτοῦ. ἐὰν καλὸν ἴδῃς ἢ καλήν, εὑρήσεις δύναμιν πρὸς ταῦτα ἐγκράτειαν· ἐὰν πόνος προσφέρηται, εὑρήσεις καρτερίαν· ἂν λοιδορία, εὑρήσεις ἀνεξικακίαν. καὶ οὕτως ἐθιζόμενόν σε οὐ συναρπάσουσιν αἱ φαντασίαι.
    • With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them. (10).
  • Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth. (15).
  • Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. (20).
  • If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you? (28) [tr. Elizabeth Carter]
Alternative translation: If someone turned your body over to just any person who happened to meet you, you would be angry. But are you not ashamed that you turn over your own faculty of judgment to whoever happens along, so that if he abuses you it is upset and confused? (28) [tr. Nicholas P. White]
  • If a man has reported to you, that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make any defense (answer) to what has been told you: but reply, The man did not know the rest of my faults, for he would not have mentioned these only. (33) [tr. George Long (1888)].
  • When you do anything from a clear judgment that it ought to be done, never shun the being seen to do it, even though the world should make a wrong supposition about it; for, if you don't act right, shun the action itself; but, if you do, why are you afraid of those who censure you wrongly? (35).
  • Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don't lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried; but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried. (43).
  • These reasonings are unconnected: "I am richer than you, therefore I am better"; "I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better." The connection is rather this: "I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours." But you, after all, are neither property nor style. (44).
  • Does anyone bathe in a mighty little time? Don't say that he does it ill, but in a mighty little time. Does anyone drink a great quantity of wine? Don't say that he does ill, but that he drinks a great quantity. For, unless you perfectly understand the principle from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill? Thus you will not run the hazard of assenting to any appearances but such as you fully comprehend. (45).
  • Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them. Thus, at an entertainment, don't talk how persons ought to eat, but eat as you ought. For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked. So that if ever any talk should happen among the unlearned concerning philosophic theorems, be you, for the most part, silent. For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don't throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested. (46).
  • Whatever moral rules you have deliberately proposed to yourself abide by them as they were laws, and as if you would be guilty of impiety by violating any of them. Don't regard what anyone says of you, for this, after all, is no concern of yours. How long, then, will you put off thinking yourself worthy of the highest improvements and follow the distinctions of reason? You have received the philosophical theorems, with which you ought to be familiar, and you have been familiar with them. What other master, then, do you wait for, to throw upon that the delay of reforming yourself?... Let whatever appears to be the best be to you an inviolable law.(50).
  • The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is that of the use of moral theorems, such as, "We ought not to lie;" the second is that of demonstrations, such as, "What is the origin of our obligation not to lie;" the third gives strength and articulation to the other two, such as, "What is the origin of this is a demonstration." For what is demonstration? What is consequence? What contradiction? What truth? What falsehood? The third topic, then, is necessary on the account of the second, and the second on the account of the first. But the most necessary, and that whereon we ought to rest, is the first. But we act just on the contrary. For we spend all our time on the third topic, and employ all our diligence about that, and entirely neglect the first. (51).
  • Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:
Conduct me, Jove, and you, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my station.
~ Cleanthes.
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still
Whoever yields properly to Fate, is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of heaven.
~ Euripides, Frag. 965.
And this third: O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be.
Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot.
~ Socrates in Plato's Crito and Apology. (52).

Fragments edit

Other Roman writings contain quotes and passages purporting to come from Epictetus. Among the Fragments, twenty-nine are considered genuine and another eight are considered doubtful. (There are also some Roman anthologies of quotes dating from around the 6th-century which list over one-hundred Epictetus 'quotations'. These later fragments appear in 18th and 19th century translations of Epictetus, but are now rejected by modern scholarship.)

Genuine fragments edit

  • You are a little soul carrying a corpse around, as Epictetus used to say.

Doubtful fragments edit

Misattributed quotes edit

  • Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.
  • You become what you give your attention to.
    • This quote has been attributed to Epictetus since around 2016. (e.g. in this thephilosophyofeverything blog.) Sometimes appears in an extended form, e.g. by The Daily Stoic: "You become what you give your attention to. If you yourself don't choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will." These quotations originate from the 1995 book: The Art of Living: the classic manual on virtue, happiness, and effectiveness, pages 52–53, by Sharon Lebell.
  • Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes. Therefore, give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to construct your character through excellent actions, and determine to pay the price for a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths. Remain steadfast... and one day you will build something that endures, something worthy of your potential.
    • Has been ascribed to Epictetus since the late 1990s, (e.g. The Nassau Herald (1999), page 220). The first sentence ("Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes") appears in the 1995 book: The Art of Living: the classic manual on virtue, happiness, and effectiveness, page 39, by Sharon Lebell.
  • Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it.
    • Has been ascribed to Epictetus since around 2016, (e.g. on this Daily Stoic web page). It may be an attempt to summarise the start of Enchiridion 46: "On no occasion call yourself a philosopher, and do not, for the most part, talk among laymen about your philosophic principles, but do what follows from your principles."

Quotes about Epictetus edit

  • The manner in which Epictetus, Montaigne, and Salomon de Tultie wrote, is the most usual, the most suggestive, the most remembered, and the oftener quoted; because it is entirely composed of thoughts born from the common talk of life.
    • Note: Salomon de Tultie was a pseudonym adopted by Pascal as the author of the Provincial Letters.
    • Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 18 (1669).
  • The phenomenon of the will [in Epictetus ] [...] a different mental ability whose chief characteristic is that it speaks an imperative even when it commands nothing but our ability to think. The goal is to annihilate reality insofar it concerns me.
  • Epictetus is a thinker we cannot forget, once we have encountered him, because he gets under our skin. He provokes and he irritates, but he deals so trenchantly with life’s everyday challenges that no one who knows his work can simply dismiss it as theoretically invalid or practically useless. In times of stress, as modern Epictetans have attested, his recommendations make their presence felt.
    • A. A. Long, Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, page 1. Oxford University Press

External links edit

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