Discourses, Books 3-4. The Encheiridion (Loeb Classical Library #218) - Epictetus, W.A. Oldfather Epictetus was willing to endure all circumstances that fell upon him because of his core belief that the world existed for a religious purpose. Whatever was to come was meant to come. Despite my inability to relate to his fundamental motivation for stoicism, his virtue still seeps through the text and it is hard not to admire the man. Today, our discussions on virtue seem to drift to one extreme or the other. Either tolerance for all things that do not cause harm to others or righteous living as defined by some religious doctrine through prescribed acts. Regardless, Epictetus focus is on something that few discuss.

Virtuous thinking.

Not simply doing good acts and treating others with respect. The real purpose for Epictetus is to cultivate one’s own moral purpose. Just as the carpenter works to perfect carpentry, a philosopher must work to tune the mind to virtuous thinking. Rightly so, any discussion about training how to think immediately sends up red flags about brainwashing and close-mindedness but, in the end, isn’t it naïve to think that a good person (regardless of one’s moral base) can really be a good person when harboring thoughts contrary to one’s beliefs? That is unless tolerance is the only goal. In that case, everything goes.

Epictetus claims ownership of only one thing: his judgments. No man, no Caesar, no circumstance can take that from him. All else are gifts from Zeus. Be prepared to lose what you have because they were never yours to begin with.
Furthermore, at the very moment when you are taking delight in something, call to mind the opposite impressions. What harm is there if you whisper to yourself, at the very moment you are kissing your child, and say, “To-morrow you will die”? So likewise to your friend, “To-morrow you will go abroad, or I shall, and we shall never see each other again”?- Nay, but these are words of bad omen.{…} Do you tell me that any word is ill-omened which signifies the process of nature? Say that also the harvesting of ears of grain is ill-omened, for it signifies the destruction of the ears; but not of the universe. Say that also for leaves to fall is ill-omened, and for the fresh fig to turn into a dried fig, and a cluster of grapes to turn into raisins. For all these things are changes of a preliminary state into something else; it is not a case of destruction, but a certain ordered dispensation and management. {…} And this is but unreasonable, for you came into being, not when you wanted, but when the universe had need for you. Book III, pgs. 213-215.
This humility manifests in his willingness to surrender all things and make nothing dear to himself other than his desire to fulfill whatever appointed role Zeus has assigned him. Such a lifestyle of obeisance ironically leads to unparalleled independence. Nothing that can be taken away by man or circumstance can break him.

The Encheiridion [The Manual] is also included in this edition. It’s a short summary prepared by Arrian that compresses Epictetus’ core concepts. It gets the points across, but lacks the flavor of the discourses. It ends with a Socratic quote from the Apology in which Socrates talks about his death sentence. It succinctly encapsulates Epictetus own stoicism:
Anytus and Meletus can kill me, but they cannot hurt me. Encheridion, pg. 537



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Excessively long block quotes, but the following are random excerpts I wanted to remember.

In his chastisement of Epicurean ideals (though completely lacking in any moral argument):
Take me a young man; bring him up according to your doctrines. Your doctrines are bad, subversive to the State, destructive to the family, not even fit for women. Drop these doctrines, man. You live in an imperial State; it is your duty to hold office, to judge uprightly, to keep your hands off the property of other people; no woman but your wife ought to look handsome to you, no boy handsome, no silver plate handsome, no gold plate. Look for doctrines consistent with these principles of conduct, doctrines which will enable you to refrain gladly from matters so persuasive to attract and overpower a man. Book III, pg. 55.
On social interaction:
The man who consorts frequently with one person or another either for conversation , or for banquets or for social purpose in general, is compelled either to become like them himself, or else to bring them over to his own style of living; for if you put by the side of a live coal one that has gone out, either the dead coal will put the live one out, or the latter will rekindle the former. Since the risk, then is so great, we ought to enter cautiously into such social intercourse with the laymen, remembering that it is impossible for the man who brushes up against the person who is covered with soot to keep from getting some soot on himself. For what are you going to do if he talks about gladiators, or horses, or athletes, or worse still, about people: “So-and so is bad, So-and-so is good; this was well done, this ill”; or again, if he scoffs, or jeers, or shows an ugly disposition. Book III, Chapter XVI, pgs. 105-107.
On the superficial study of philosophy and the search for the idea of everlasting (with interesting implications for the idea of an everlasting soul):
But you have never desired stability, serenity, peace of mind; you never cultivated anybody’s acquaintance for that purpose, but many person’s acquaintance for the sake of syllogisms; you never thoroughly tested for yourself any one of these external impressions, asking the questions: “Am I able to bear it, or am I not? What may I expect next?” but just as though everything about you were in an excellent and safe condition, you have been devoting your attention to the last of all topics, that which deals with immutability, in order that you may have immutable- what? your cowardice, your ignoble character, your admiration of the rich, your ineffectual desire, your aversion that fails of its mark! These are the things about whose security you have been anxious! Book III, Ch. XXVI, pg. 231
On reading:
Or for what purpose do you wish to read? Tell me. If you turn to reading merely for entertainment, or in order to learn something, you are futile and lazy. But if you refer reading to the proper standard, what else is this but a life of serenity? However, if reading does not secure for you a life of serenity, of what good is it? Book IV, Ch. IV, pg. 315
On judgment:
It is not the things themselves that disturb men, but their judgments about these things. For example, death is nothing dreadful, or else Socrates too would have thought so, but the judgment that death is dreadful, this is the dreadful thing. The Encheiridion, #5, pg. 487;489.