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Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness Paperback – June 26, 2007
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"Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible." The Stoic philosopher Epictetus was born on the eastern edges of the Roman Empire in A.D. 55, but The Art of Living is still perfectly suited for any contemporary self-help or recovery program. To prove the point, this modern interpretation by Sharon Lebell casts the teachings in up-to-date language, with phrases like "power broker" and "casual sex" popping up intermittently. But the core is still the same: Epictetus keeps the focus on progress over perfection, on accomplishing what can be accomplished and abandoning unproductive worry over what cannot. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A treasury of eternally good advice, wise as a grandfather, earthy as the Tao.” (Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart)
“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)
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Top Customer Reviews
The people who characterize Sharon Lebell's interpretive rendering as a "self-help" book have at least half a point; the written records of Epictetus's teachings (Epictetus didn't write them down himself) were self-help books in the first place.
And fine ones they were. Oh, there are a few points at which Epictetus counsels heights of detachment suitable only for inhuman monsters, as when he suggests that we remember our wives and children are mortal so that we won't grieve when they die. But on the whole his teachings are firmly founded on the view that absolutely everything occurs by Providence, we are all of us children of God and citizens of the world with natural fellowship with one another, and we should assume responsibility for precisely those things which we can control -- namely, ourselves.
This view, or something very close to it, has grounded religious and philosophical programs from the Torah to Alcoholics Anonymous, from Spinoza to the Musar movement, from antiquity to the very latest modernity (e.g., Mark Rosen's excellent _Thank You for Being Such a Pain_): when you face a challenge, use it to improve yourself; that's what it's for.
And Epictetus's teachings were not assembled into books in order to provide academic employment for classical scholars. They were recorded because Epictetus himself wasn't going to be around to teach forever and it was believed to be important that his influence outlive him. His philosophy, after all, was supposed to be both practical and practiced.
What Sharon Lebell has done in this excellent little volume is skim the very cream of Epictetus's philosophy and make it accessible to the modern reader. And it is worth remembering that Epictetus himself did not teach in writing but spoke directly to his listeners; his students would not have sat in the library poring over long crabbed volumes but sat in the open air listening to popularly accessible discourses.
Lebell does interpret and modify, and she doesn't always say so. For example, she has Epictetus say at one point, "Rationality isn't everything." This is by way of making the entirely unexceptionable point that there are things we're just not going to understand. But there is a good case to be made that, for Epictetus, rationality -- i.e., conformity to "nature" under the governance of reason -- was indeed "everything," not merely a means to an end, as Lebell's rendering suggests, but both means _and_ end.
But this is a piddling objection; Lebell's interpretations stay pretty close to the original, as any reader can verify by actually checking her text against a good translation of the sources. (I like the _Everyman_ edition, but I think it's out of print.)
And before dismissing Lebell's interpretation as just another self-help book, we should ask ourselves how many _other_ "self-help books" include the advice, "Let your reason be supreme" [p. 62].