Epictetus’ Wisdom

Today I would like to share with you some of Epictetus wisdom, by sharing with you a few of his quotes. Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher, born a slave at Hierapolis and lived in Rome until his banishment. Epictetus was banished from Rome along with other Stoic philosophers by the emperor Domitian, who was irritated by the favorable reception given by Stoics to opponents of his tyranny.

He ended up a slave to Epaphroditus, who was an abusive master and whom served emperor Nero as an administrative secretary, imperial secretary and a freedman. As life would have it, Epaphroditus was executed after he helped Nero commit suicide. As a slave to cruel Epaphroditus, Epictetus had the opportunity to learn about Stoic philosophy by listening to the lessons of Musonius Rufus, a Roman Senator and Stoic philosopher. More importantly Epictetus got a chance to learn about Seneca and his philosophy, as Seneca was a tutor and advisor to emperor Nero. Despite Nero’s volatile nature, Seneca remained true to his beliefs and would persistently advocate for the practice of clemency and balance.

Having experienced both sides of life, Epictetus developed a well rounded perception; although he had been a slave and abused by his brutal master, he sought balance within life. His teachings would become of great value to many other philosophers yet to come, and were used by Emperor Marcus Aurelius as the corner stone for his own way of living. As such through his actions and philosophy, Epictetus invites us to discover the power of choice; although he experienced brutality, he did not become a monster (although he would have had just cause for it) nor did he seek to ran away from his experiences by embracing denial and a false sense of “peace”.

As a Stoic teacher, he encouraged his students to live the philosophic life, whose end was eudaimonia (to flourish), to live life applying reason and introspection without being servants of the mind – for to Stoics to live virtuously means to live ‘according to nature’. To attain this ideal consists of ataraxia (imperturbability), apatheia (freedom from superficial passion), eupatheiai (good feelings develop based on facing self) and an awareness of, and capacity to attain, what counts as living as a rational being should.

The key to transforming oneself into the Stoic sophos (wise person) is to learn what is ‘in one’s power’, how to exercise one’s free will within the all by examining our perceptions and the perceptions of others through the use of phantasiai–which involves not fleetingly judging things as good or bad; for the only our own reaction and the motivation intended can help define something as good or bad.

To the Stoic the only thing that is good is the use of reason and free will to seek the best possible outcome before any situation. Similarly, to a Stoic the only things that is bad is the motivation behind the action; hypocrisy, acting viciously or with the desire to purposely hurt others.

Someone who seeks to make progress as a Stoic sage (a prokoptôn) understands that the power of rationality is a fragment of God whose material body – a sort of rarefied fiery air – blends with the whole of creation, intelligently forming and directing undifferentiated matter to make the world as we experience it. The task of the prokoptôn, is to ‘live according to nature’ (balance– but recognizing that some things will be of black or white nature and those require action not false diplomacy). It also means, to pursue a course through life intelligently responding to one’s own needs and duties as a sociable human being, but also accepting one’s fate and the fate of the world as coming directly from the divine intelligence–fate unites with destiny. There is free will but there are also set primordial rules which cannot be changed but should rather be understood and integrated, so as to use them for our own benefit instead of blindly following a force which does not recognize good or bad, only intention.

Epictetus’ teachings, were recorded by Lucius Flavius Arrianus. Arrian compiled his teacher’s lectures in the eight books titled Discourses. Here are some of Epictetus quotes which reflect only a fragment of his wisdom….

1) “From this instant on, vow to stop disappointing yourself. Separate yourself from the mob. Decide to be extraordinary and do what you do need to do now”

2) “What ought one to say then as each hardship comes? I was practicing for this. I was training for this”–resilience; a quality we build by using introspection in order to learn from the past and assess proper action for the future, and by continuously working on our self development.

3) “Fortify yourself with moderation; for this is an impenetrable fortress”–balance.

4) “If you want to improve, be content to be thought of as foolish or stupid”–In other words, recognize that the more you learn, the more there is to learn. None of us have all the answers, nor will we “arrive” within one lifetime.

5) “No great thing is created suddenly. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then rippen”–wisdom comes from time and experience not from theory and desire alone.

6) “First said to yourself what you would be and then do what you have to do”–Choice; every day you can choose how you build your life. I think is good to build your life not based on what others are doing but on what contributes to your true expansion and genius (no dogma, no false limitations nor superficial attitudes).

7) “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”

8) “The world turns aside to let any man pass who knows where he is going”

9) “You may fetter my leg, but Zeus himself cannot get the better of my free will–the power of choice.

10) “On the occasion of every accident that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use”–You are the warrior not the victim.

11) “Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions”–Stop procrastinating, live.

12) “If you want to be a writer, Write”

13) “The key is to keep company with people whose presence calls for you best”–Expansion…staying true to your essence not what others determine is right or wrong; that is the only way to expand.

14) “It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows”

15) “Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source”

16) “No man is free who is not a master of himself”

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By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!


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