Epictetus concerned himself with finding the satisfying life - not the happiest or richest, but the life filled with treasures that can never be taken away. His disciple, Arrian, collected his wisdom, and distilled it down into this booklet of aphorisms.
The essence is simple: "No man is free who is not master of himself." In part, that is because the self is all anyone can truly own. Everything else is under the control of others, of the state, or finally of the gods. Happiness based on what can be taken away is a flimsy sort of thing, and fighting the will of the gods is futile.
Still, this isn't about ascetic self-denial. There are pleasures to be had in the world. If there is wine, enjoy it, remembering that excess is hardly enjoyable. Enjoy the loves in your life, without becoming slave to them. He also recommends reticence in most matters, since so few are under one's control, and since foolishness is easier to speak than wisdom. These thoughts are as effective in today's life as they were two thousand years ago.
It is amazing how much more one gets from the Enchiridion when it is reread in later life. In youth, it is too easy to rush through without digesting the deeper meaning (and thereby escaping much pain and wasted effort.) Here, in this slim volume is the core of Epictetus' immortal teachings, his Discourses may expand upon them, but all the essentials are outlined here.
Some people dismiss these teachings as pessimistic. After all, the central message here is to learn to differentiate between what you can change and what you cannot. Most modernists will instead tell you to dream big and never say die. Then again, such critics existed in Epictetus' own day, for we are told that you can either be a philosopher or a procurator, but you cannot truly be both.
Personally, I see nothing defeatist in the philosophy expressed here. At its deepest level we are being told that the ultimate goal is to make our will and God's will as one. You see, in spite of the admonition in the publisher's note that the God of the Philosopher's and the God of Judeo-Christian theology are two unrelated things, the truth is that they both touch upon the pre-existing ultimate realty of the Divine One in their own ways. The Stoic desire to conform to Nature is the perennial spiritual ideal to unite with the One and the Good. Far from being a defeat, this is the highest possible victory in life for Christian and/or Philosopher.
This excellent, unabridged little Dover volume is probably the one that Epictetus would recommend. In fact, you might also want to purchase the Dover edition of MEDITATIONS by Marcus Aurelius for they are in the same spirit and make a natural set. There could be no more thoughtful a gift to send to an introspective friend.
on March 2, 2014
My whole life before finding out about this book I was always inadvertently adhering to the guidelines of a stoic philosopher, but couldn't properly articulate my thoughts and organize them as well as I would have. Epictetus puts all of my thoughts in deep and timeless prose, conveniently split up into perfect, bite-sized chunks with memorable lines and quotes.
Probably what I like most about Epictetus' teachings is that he has not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. His background only supports his stoic teachings experiences even further by showing that even a near-disabled slave forced to work for most of his early life, with no safety net to fall back on, can be free and happy. I can't think of a stronger test of a way of life than that one.
The basic stoic philosophy is that our fate is already decided for us and we are powerless to control it, and though we apply both negative and positive connotations towards events that occur within our fate, ultimately fate (or as he refers to it as "the gods' will") is beyond our understanding and is neutral, so we are the only ones left that are punishing ourselves in times of seeming crisis. The true secret to happiness is learning to accept that we can't control outside forces, but we have total control and power over our own opinions and actions. Through this method of thought, the stoic philosopher can endure the harshest, most crippling events, and come out unscathed or possibly even stronger, knowing that any negativity coming from any events is his own product of his ego lashing out to protect itself.
With the lessons of Epictetus, you can learn to not run or hide from entropy and by doing so live your life in fear and senseless anger, but rather embrace it. And in your embracing of chaos you begin to realize that the universe is not in fact the recklessness you imagined, but ironically an almost entirely organized system of random acts. If you or someone you know are going through a hard time in life, there is almost no better reading than this book.
on November 1, 2008
This edition costs only two dollars but contains wisdon that is priceless. If you are at all interested in the Stoics or in gaining insights into how to deal with adversity this is a great book to start with.
I do not read Greek so I can not comment upon the translation. It reads well and does not seem cluttered by an attempt to update book into some type of twelve step program.
I would not have gotten this book without a suggestion from Amazon when I was looking for another book. Thank you Amazon.
on March 6, 2012
I grew up reading lots of Paul in the new testament, he always talked about having joy and acceptance in any circumstance due to a faith in Jesus. The stoics seem to have a similar philosophy (or more correctly Paul's was like theirs), a life view where you accept whatever happens and not let it affect you. This handbook of Epicteus is a short collection of some of his saying collected after his death. This edition appears to be collected from a public domain translation and it suffers a little from the sentence structure. I'd recommend the Hackett edition (under the title of Handbook of Epictetus), but this cheap edition does have the benefit of 150ish additional fragments, so perhaps both editions should be purchased.
Long translation of #8 (Dover edition):
"Seek not that the things which happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life."
compared with the White translation Hackett edition):
"Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well"
on October 8, 2013
The book is small- yet packs a punch in its power. Definitely buy the book if you are interested, you won't regret it. Some lessons I learned from Epictetus from the Enchiridion:
On the costliness of fortune: poisonous nature of fortune:
XX: "As when you see a viper or an asp or a scorpion in an ivory or golden box, you do not on account of the costliness of the material love it or think it happy, but because the nature of it is pernicious, you turn away from it and loath it; so when you shall see vice dwelling in wealth and in the swollen fullness of fortune, be not struck by the splendor of the material, but despise the false character of the morals."
CLXXII: Epictetus being asked, What man is rich, answered, He who is content (who has enough)
CXXXVII: Contentment, as it is a short road and pleasant, has great delight and little trouble.
CXXIX: He is a wise man who does not grove for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.
XXIV: As it is better to lie compressed in a narrow bed and be healthy than to be tossed with disease on a broad couch, so also it is better to contract yourself within a small competence and to be happy than to have a great fortune and to be wretched.
On expecting the worst:
CLVIII: If you wish to live a life free from sorrow, think of what is going to happen as if it had already happened.
On hearing more than speaking:
CXLII: Nature has given to men one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.
CXVII: Let your talk of God be renewed every day, rather than your food
CXIX: Think of God more frequently than you breathe.
CXX: If you always remember that whatever you are doing in the soul or in the body, God stands by as an inspector, you will never err (do wrong) in all your prayers and in all your acts, but you will have God dwelling with you.
On (avoiding) pleasure:
CX: A man should choose (pursue) not every pleasure, but the pleasure which leads to goodness
On decision making:
CI: Deliberate much before saying or doing anything, for you will not have the power of recalling what has been said or done."
LXXXVIII: As the sun does not wait for prayers and incantations to be induced to rise, but immediately shines and is saluted by all: so do you also not wait for clippings of hands, and shouts and praise to be induced to do good, but be a doer of good voluntarily, and you will be beloved as much as the sun.
LXXVIII: As the fire-lights in harbors by a few pieces of dry wood raises a great flame and give sufficient help to ships which are wandering on the sea; so also an illustrious man in a state which is tempest-tossed, while he is himself satisfied with a few things does great services to his citizens.
XVII: Remember that thou art an actor in a play of such a kind as the teacher (author) may choose; if short, of a short one; if long, of a long one: if he wishes you to act the part of a poor man, see that you act the part naturally; if the part of a lame man, of a magistrate, of a private person (do the same). For this is your duty, to act well the part that is given to you; but to select the part, belongs to another.
LXXXIX: Neither should a ship rely on one small anchor, nor should life rest on a single hope.
On ignoring haters:
LXXXV:As a goose is not frightened by cackling nor a sheep by bleating, so let not the clamor of a senseless multitude alarm you.
On governing a state:
LXXXII: Do not decorate the walls of your house with the valuable stones from Euboea and Sparta; but adorn the minds (breasts) of the citizens and of those who administer the state with the instruction which comes from Hellas (Greece). For states are well governed by the wisdom (judgement) of men, not by stone and wood.
LXXXI: You will do the greatest services to the state, if you shall raise not the roofs of the houses, but the souls of the citizens: for it is better that great souls should dwell in small houses than for mean slaves to lurk in great houses.
LXXVII: Attempt on every occasion to provide for nothing so much as that which is safe: for silence is safer than speaking. And omit speaking whatever is without sense and reason.
LXXV: Lampis the shipowner being asked how he acquired his wealth, answered, With no difficulty, my great wealth; but my small wealth (my first gains), with much labor.
XLVII: Instead of a herd of oxen [wealth], endeavor to assemble herds of friends in your house.
XLI: It is better to live with one free man and to be without fear and free, than to be a slave with many.
On the soul:
XXXI: In banquets remember that you entertain two guests, body and soul: and whatever you shall have given to the body you soon eject: but what you shall have given to the soul, you keep always.
XIII: No man who loves money, and loves pleasure, and loves fame, also loves mankind, but only he who loves virtue.
XIV: As you would not choose to sail in a large and decorated and gold-laden ship (or ship ornamented with gold), and to be drowned; so do not choose to dwell in a large and costly home and to be disturbed (by cares).
XXI: Let death and exile and every other thing which appears dreadful be daily before your eyes; but most of al death: and you will never think of anything mean nor will you desire anything extravagantly.
VIII: Seek not the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.
on October 11, 2005
"Although he was born into slavery and endured a permanent physical disability, Epictetus (c. 50-c. 130 A.D.) maintained that all people are free to control their lives and to live in harmony with nature. We will always be happy, he argued, if we learn to desire that things should be exactly as they are. After attaining his freedom, Epictetus spent his entire career teaching philosophy and advising a daily regimen of self-examination. His pupil Arrianus later collected and published the master's lecture notes; the Enchiridion, or Manual, is a distillation of Epictetus' teachings and an instructional manual for a tranquil life. Full of practical advice, this work offers guidelines for those seeking contentment as well as for those who have already made some progress in that direction. Translated by George Long."
on June 18, 2016
I liked this book. People who are interested in historical authors should be interested in reading this book... One of the things that was especially interesting is the author's writing style and ability to get his message across. Overall, this book was very well written and I highly recommend to those who have not read. To those who have read it - read it again!
on August 25, 2013
On the 9th of September in 1965, a philosopher-warrior named James Stockdale ejected from a Navy A-4 Skyhawk after a direct hit by a 57 millimeter shell south of Hanoi. Within hours, bones broken and face beaten, he was locked in a North Vietnamese prison, away from any civilization he'd ever known. He would be there for seven years - four of them in solitary confinement, almost all of them under torture. In 1978 he wrote with breathtaking moral clarity in Atlantic Monthly about how a skinny book by a 2000-year-old Roman slave kept him, his men and his integrity alive in the face of that radical exile, physical agony, and relentless mental torment.
The Enchiridion by Epectitus has much to say to about how to keep your ethical spine straight if you are ever dumped outside the walls of civilization. (See the rest of this review at [...]
on September 10, 2014
One of my favorite reads since I discovered it in Phil 101 nearly forty years ago. The Stoics captured my heart and mind from the start. Good advice that hook us up over time and applies to a variety of situations. It fits well so Ugo in other belief systems. Flexible and powerful.