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Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness Paperback – June 26, 2007
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“The message of Epictetus is as vital today as it ever was.” (Jacob Needleman, author of The Heart of Philosophy)
“Epictetus sounds like the Buddha, and Sharon Lebell’s voice makes him sound like the delightful man next door.” (Sylvia Boorstein, author of It's Easier Than You Think)
About the Author
Epictetus (circa 55-135 ce) taught in Rome until the year 94 ce, when Emperor Domitian banished philosophers from the city. In exile, he established a school of philosophy where his distinguished students included Marcus Aurelius, author of Meditations. Some 1,863 years after Epictetus's death, Tom Wolfe revived his philosophy in the bestselling novel A Man in Full.
Sharon Lebell is a philosophical writer and musician who lives in Northern California. She also produced Epictetus's A Manual for Living.
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Epictetus was born in A.D. 55 in the eastern outreaches of the Roman Empire. The book has been called the Western equivalent to the Dhamapada or the Tao Te Ching.
It is a book of philosophical teachings in the stoic tradition. This interpretation is very easy to read because it has been written in modern language. You can read the original interpretations of Epictetus in his Enchiridion or Discourses, but those are not easy to read in comparison.
This is also easy to read because it is broken in to 93 lessons or instructions (some are only a paragraph long, others a page to page and half at most), making this an easy book to pick up and read in parts during little moments of spare time.
What I like most is that it's based on personal development of character, virtue and behavior. It instructs you on how to think clearly and how to work on yourself daily to become a better person. It's about action and application not just theorizing.
The philosophy also recognizes that everyday life is fraught with difficulty, losses, disappointments and griefs and teaches you how to think right about these events and how to rise to meet challenges.
I have this in my kindle, but I also picked up the original hard cover edition years ago and still have it. Even though I've read it numerous times, this one always stays on my shelf within arm's reach, to pull down and review, or where the mere sight of it will be a cue to remember the messages inside.
This time around I wanted a hardcover to keep permanently for my library.
You can read the one page paragraph and be deep in thought for hours if not days. It is no wonder to me that a ceasar of Rome studied under this slave. Epictetus still has wisdom for our modern day. I hope you make the decision to buy this. It truly is a gift from the past.
For centuries people asked how can I live a happy, fulfilling life? How can I be a good person? The usual reply was often: Read Epictetus’s Manual. And the response to that was Epic who?!
Yes, Epictetus, although a great philosopher, was not well known. He was born into slavery around two thousand years ago in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. At an early age he exhibited superior intelligence and was liberated and sent to Rome to study under Gaius Rufus, the stoic philosopher . He soon became a famous teacher with a large following whose teachings focused on dignity, integrity and tranquility. The biggest feather in his cap was his student Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who later became the ruler of the great Roman Empire. Born in AD 55 Epictetus died around AD 135 in Nicopolis, Greece, leaving behind a great philosophical legacy which endured for more than 2000 years.
Sharon Lebell, the author of this book, entitled the Art of Living, was intrigued by the old philosopher and his age-old teachings . She researched and edited his old philosophical writings ( which were collected by one of his students and called the Manual) and presented it all in a modern readable form.
Across centuries and cultures world leaders, generals and even ordinary people have relied on the Epictetus's Manual for guidance in their struggle for personal serenity and moral direction. It is impractical to list here all the Manual’s 93 directives, but few samples will give the reader an idea of the Manual’s style and content.
- As you think, so you become.
- Events in themselves do not hurt us but our attitudes and reactions give us trouble.
- The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.
- The surest sign of the higher life is serenity.
- Refrain from trying to win other people’s approval and admiration.
- Show kindness to people who are hurt or depressed but don’t allow them to pull you down.
As we can see from the Manual, the emphasis used to be on personal and social behavior leading to tranquility and happiness. How have our lives changed in the past 2000 years, and can we say that we are a happier genre of people? The fact is it would be futile to try to make a comparison. We now live in a different world altogether - a world engulfed by technology and science and promoted and supported by materialism. Even our spiritual life has taken new trends and complex forms. We have long passed and left behind the social structure and mores of the Epictetus period. In fact we can safely claim that social serenity and tranquility are almost a thing of the past.
Fuad R Qubein
It's important to note that both of these books are interpretations by the editor/author, and not simply translations.
These interpretations are just that - the author's interpretations of Epictetus' writings, and come off as watered-down surface-level versions of the important lessons.
Instead of having a deep passage to ponder over, the lessons are boiled down and removed from their context. While being more accessible, they lose their previous gravity and impact which defeats the purpose.
Stick with the Enchiridion and his Discourses.
Top international reviews
There is a prologue and an introductory chapter entitled The Spirit of Epictetus followed by the Manual for Living itself, Epictetus' Essential Teachings on Virtue, Happines and Tranquility (which has the excellent opening passages entitled "Why Be Good?") and the book finishes with a "Plus" section similar to the PS sections in some other publications like The Art of Loving (P.S.). The additional sections are Epi-Who? How a 2,000-Year-Old Dead White Male Changed My Life by Sharon Lebell and Why Would Anyone Want to be a Stoic? by Sharon Lebell. While these are interesting and add a little to the book they pale in comparison with the content of the Manual and Essential Teachings themselves.
One of my favourite sections actually relates to books and is titled "The Right Use of Books" - "Don't just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistaketo suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalised their contents". It also has meaning for this book itself in that what Epictetus has created is immanently practical and can be of use to anyone considering how can experience the best things in life. Much better than a lot of present day or more recent self-help and pop psychology books.
Recommended to all and deserving of the widest possible readership.