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For centuries, Stoicism was virtually the unofficial religion of the Roman world

The stress on endurance, self-restraint, and power of the will to withstand calamity can often seem coldhearted. It is Epictetus, a lame former slave exiled by Emperor Domitian, who offers by far the most precise and humane version of Stoic ideals. The Discourses, assembled by his pupil Arrian, catch him in action, publicly setting out his views on ethical dilemmas.

Committed to communicating with the broadest possible audience, Epictetus uses humor, imagery conversations and homely comparisons to put his message across. The results are perfect universal justice and calm indifference in the face of pain.

The most comprehensive edition available with an introduction, notes, selected criticism, glossary, and chronology of Epictetus' life and times.

384 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 108

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333 books1,655 followers
Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was probably born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey), and lived in Rome until his exile to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece, where he lived most of his life and died. His teachings were noted down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses. Philosophy, he taught, is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As part of the universal city that is the universe, human beings have a duty of care to all fellow humans. The person who followed these precepts would achieve happiness.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 184 reviews
Profile Image for Mike W.
59 reviews34 followers
December 16, 2012
Stoicism offers a guide to happiness and serenity in life, and Epictetus was, perhaps, the greatest Stoic philosopher. First and foremost, Epictetus was a deeply religious man. He was convinced that God created the world according to Reason, and that human beings, in so far as we have the gift of rational thought, can attain happiness by living according to our own nature--which meant for Epictetus according to reason.

But what does it mean to live "according to nature" or reason? For Epictetus, as for other Stoics, one central part of that is recognizing how insignificant material things are. This recognition is liberating, he tells us: "What tyrant, what robber, what tribunals have any terrors for those who thus esteem the body and all that belong to it as of no account." Most people live in pursuit of pleasure and material wealth, he thinks, and so are slaves of their appetites and their greed. They think these things will make them happy, and when they are disappointed, rather than change course, they just keep going on the same road.

Epictetus also anticipated some insights from modern psychology. 'Live in the moment and appreciate what you have now', he urges, us, free from anxieties and regrets: "There you sit, trembling for fear certain things should come to pass, and moaning and groaning and lamenting over what does come to pass. And then you upbraid the gods. Such meanness of spirit can have but one result--impiety."

He also advised that we distinguish between the things that we can control and the things that we cannot. And he pointed out the futility of worrying about things that are out of our control. If we take his advice and stop worrying about things we can't control, we will save ourselves a lot of needless anxiety. Again, anticipating modern psychology (in cognitive behavioral therapy), he argues that it is not outside events that make us miserable, but our reactions to those events. We often can't control external circumstances, but we can control our internal attitudes toward those circumstances. And this is his fundamental psychological insight.

Like Jesus and Buddha, Epictetus also teaches that we should be kind, generous and forgiving with others. I can't say I always live up to this, or to Epictetus' other teachings, but I've only started trying recently. And to the extent that I have become more Stoical, my life has been enriched by it.

The Stoics are not widely read or discussed now. And that's a shame. They have a lot to teach us about us about what constitutes a good life, if only we will pay attention. It's true that much of what Epictetus says echoes what Socrates and Plato taught, but we know what Socrates said chiefly through Plato, and Plato was often coy. He wrote dialogues and not discourses, and so his meaning is often not clear.

For his clarity and his wisdom, Epictetus is well worth reading. For a reader looking for happiness, it would be hard to find a better guide than this book.
Profile Image for Otto Lehto.
434 reviews155 followers
January 14, 2018
Engaging, inspiring, earthly, funny... Epictetus can give you great insights, skills and determination to change your life for the better, even if you don't agree with everything he says.

The text might be old, but our life problems are pretty much the same, so the lessons feel as contemporary and relevant as ever.

We can't avoid pain and hardships. Even though the topics are sombre, there is entertainment value to be had from gallows humour: I was laughing out loud half of the time, and the other half snickering quietly.
Profile Image for Feliks.
496 reviews
September 27, 2022
One of the most satisfying and rewarding works of philosophy you will ever encounter. I can't speak to all the issues revolving around editions/translations (just rely on a Penguin version for expedience and convenience).

In any case, just locate this content and absorb it. Epictetus is one of the rarest-mentioned philosophers but after reading this wonderful tract on self-control, you will likely agree with me that he should be discussed the most. He has a great deal to say which should resound in modern ears.

His immensely straightforward and direct advice--this is is what I went searching for in Aristotle and did not find (in his 'Ethics') --although, (I agree) that Aristotle was the true pioneer and Epictetus merely a piker who came along centuries later.

Yet Epictetus is the more chummy, personable, homespun advisor; the true master of the subject of ' how to behave as a social being'. 'How to face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' and make it through this vale of tears with your sanity intact. He's just brimming over with good, matter-of-fact, pragmatic, common sense, sense which persists down through the ages.

Yep. The 'E-man' is every inch of his reputation --salty, incisive, deft with logic and rhetoric. Truly refreshing. (By the way, don't confuse him with Empedocles, as many often do!)

This indeed may be the philosophy book you have been seeking all your life, one you will turn to again and again. You can pick it up at any chapter and read wherever the page opens --it is one of those 'fun' type of highly browse-able formats.

Admittedly, the text is not without flaw: it is garrulous and it is repetitive, with much wasted verbiage. Often, some of this great author's remonstrances rest purely on the issues of his own day (although they are still edifying and amusing, the distance between our two timeperiods is indeed vast).

For example, there are chapters on how to identify if you are attending philosophy school solely in order to show off in the marketplace; (for shame!). You are also advised how to deal with the crafty followers of Chryssipus. Meanwhile, the irresponsible followers of Epicurus --well, Epictetus spends quite a few pages demolishing these irrational hobbledehoys.

Other chapters advise you on "your personal relationship with Zeus" (and the rest of the Greek pantheon); how to stand fast against bad omens and sophists; and how to respond (as master of your household) when your 'slaves get too uppity'.

But I only cite these to illustrate the amusing "romp through Greek life" this little book contains. To close this review, I would re-emphasize --with the strongest possible earnestness--that this is surely one of those great and lasting works which everyone should know about.

I myself intend to keep it permanently on my shelf. 'Nuf said!
17 reviews4 followers
July 14, 2017
"It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."

"First say to yourself what you would be;
And then do what you have to do."

"People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them."
Profile Image for Noah.
157 reviews34 followers
November 3, 2014
Comparing ancient and modern philosophy is always an interesting thing to do. Ancient philosophy seems to have been much more practical and applied; something that everyone could take part in, instead of being relegated to experts in the field. It was not there to argue about everything in existence (well, except for the Skeptics) but was instead meant to teach you how to live your life to the fullest. In ancient philosophy, a lot was taken for granted that would never be done so today; such as morality. It was not called into question, not investigated, but it was assumed that everyone would agree that “good” was good and “evil” was evil. Unlike modern philosophy, which all too often goes off into incomprehensible, overly complicated, and useless areas of discussion, ancient philosophy was more like a handbook of proper living.

To get the book itself, it was pretty good overall. I did not enjoy it as much as Marcus Aurelius' or Seneca's works, but it still had its good parts. It is split into three parts: the Discourses, the Handbook, and the Fragments. The vast majority of the book is composed of the Discourses; a very small portion of the book contains the other two sections. In the Discourses, Epictetus discusses and argues about and for his flavor of Stoicism. The Handbook is just what it sounds like- a handbook of Stoic philosophy, containing a summary and guide of many of the Stoic teachings for living life. The Fragments are some collected teachings from and about Epictetus that don't belong to either of the previous two.

I am a big fan of many aspects of the Stoic philosophy. Its emphasis on virtue, self control, and only worrying about what you have control over really resonates with me. I do not remember who exactly said this, but this paraphrase summarizes so much of Stoic philosophy: there are two types of things that people complain about; things that they have control over, and things they do not. If it is the first, fix it- there is no reason to complain. If it is the second, it is out of your hands and you should just get used to it- there is also no reason to complain. Certainly, it is probably too black and white of a worldview to be practical for most people; but with a little adaption, much of the Stoic lifestyle and outlook can be applied to modern life quite well.

Two of the most major problems I have with ancient Stoicism are their ignorance of psychological disorders and their views on women. The first is not unexpected, and I don't really hold it against them. To think philosophers two thousand years ago should think of either depression or anxiety as a clinical disease much like physical ailments is naïve at best. We can easily enough forgive this and adapt Stoicism using insights; in fact, modified versions of it may still be helpful in certain cases of mental illness. But a more inexcusable flaw is the majority of Stoic's views about women. Many of them seem to think that women should be valued as nothing more than as objects to men, and certainly not being considered worthy enough of being philosophers themselves. Besides this, anything considered “feminine” is automatically equated with being improper for the aspiring Stoic philosopher. There are exceptions to this of course, but Stoics were certainly not egalitarian when it came to women. On a final note, a problem I have with Epictetus' personal philosophy (I say personal because I haven't read it in other Stoic's writings) is his opinion on humanity's position in the world. Unsurprisingly, he seems to hold that we are the most important living beings on Earth. Considering that it is ancient philosophy, that's not what bothers me. What does bother me is that he thinks everything else in existence was created to serve mankind somehow; for example, the donkey was created specifically for humans to carry things on (Ray Comfort's banana, anyone?). A remarkably pompous and arrogant viewpoint to hold. Even so, it may not be as bad as it first seems, as long as it is held along with the Stoic morals of modesty and respect for life. But still, an entirely indefensible idea to hold, particularly today.

Even with all these flaws- and there are more still, just much less bothersome to me- it was still a good book to read. It gives you insight into the world of Ancient Rome, and shows how many Romans viewed themselves and the world around them. And on top of that, it has a lot that can be taken away and applied to modern life as well. So in conclusion, I would recommend this book to people with an interest in philosophy or history, although it definitely is not my favorite Stoic work. Although a lot of the book is good, and a few areas really shine above the rest, the flaws prevent me from giving it a higher rating.
Profile Image for Jacob.
12 reviews4 followers
March 14, 2008
This was the last book I read before going to Basic last year, and I really think it contributed a lot to how much I learned about myself during my training stint.

Also, [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_St... Admiral James Stockdale[/url] credited this work with helping him through seven and a half years of torture by the Viet Cong. I think that alone says more than I would be able to.

I guess Epictetus' main thesis is simply this (and the course of the book is spent fleshing this out): that there are things within our control ("up to us") and things outside of our control ("not up to us")—and that true strength lies in discerning between the two and spending ourselves in Stoic fidelity to our "true selves," the rational, self-propelling core which is, at all times (during, and especially in times of extreme travail, physical/emotional/spiritual pain, etc.) completely "up to us."*

*Was that seriously one sentence?
Profile Image for Ian Mathers.
452 reviews11 followers
July 18, 2008
Rating is for the edition of the book rather than for Epictetus, really... with all this really old, public domain stuff you gotta be careful. This is pretty good, especially if you want one, relatively inexpensive volume. Not as feel good as Aurelius, but much much funnier.
Profile Image for Graychin.
737 reviews1,795 followers
May 22, 2017
I made my way slowly through the Discourses over the past six months or so. It's Roman-era self-help literature of the best sort – but that’s what philosophy was to the ancients: a guide for living, not an exercise in logic or intellectual abstraction. Our own age (an era in which victimhood is virtue and affluence is happiness) could do with a bit of the old Stoicism. It’s summarized more succinctly in Epictetus’s brief Enchiridion than in the Discourses or by the more sophisticated Marcus Aurelius: Accept those things that do not properly belong to you (events that occur beyond yourself, your circumstances, your reputation, even your health), since they are not in your power to control; concern yourself only with the one or two things that do belong to you – your reasoning faculty and the way you choose to react to events.
Profile Image for Federico Trejos.
43 reviews15 followers
July 3, 2013
Epictetus is a genius of the ancients, a man whose moral and ethical thought and pathos have the golden mean in mind. The whole idea and notion of balance, ressponsability, dutifulness, and a sense of following, liberally determined, the values one believes at any cost. The stoics were definitely the first existentialists, along with the Bible (for me a great existentialist text) with some elements of severity, extreme measures, principle, radicalism of the cynics, without the irreverence, more civil and balanced, definitely true sages. Epictetus teaches through a holistic philosophy, the Practical way of dealing with real life issues, with wit and wisdom. Very fresh and as vital as they once were.
Profile Image for Kieran Jones.
15 reviews3 followers
April 8, 2016
Love me some good ol' stoic philosophy. I read this as a result of reading Good to Great, of business canon. I loved it and do see the applicability. It's a good reminder that you need to read outside of your sphere to gain depth and perspective on your subject.
Profile Image for Toma.
71 reviews11 followers
February 10, 2018
It is a good book, at least for me it was not as good as Seneca's Letters to Lucillus or Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, but worth reading for anyone interested in stoicism.
Profile Image for Ryan.
184 reviews23 followers
August 31, 2020
As much as I tried, I simply found myself unable to get into it. I enjoyed what I read, yes, but decided ultimately it wasn't the right time to read it completely. I'll return to this another day.
Profile Image for Mohamed Hasn.
59 reviews5 followers
February 12, 2022
Although Epictetus was born nearly 2,000 years ago, his writings feel so unbelievably modern!
He was a Greek Stoic and a freed slave whose writings revolve around harmony with nature and realizing what is, or isn't, in our control. You can find solace for the mind in many lines of his discourses. Those are some of my favourites:
" I must die. But must I die bawling? I must be put in chains -but moaning and groaning too? I must be exiled; but is there anything to keep me from going with a smile, calm and self-composed?"
"Epictetus will never be better than Socrates. But if I am no worse, I am satisfied."
"Don't put your purpose in one place and expect to see progress made somewhere else."
"Freedom is not attained by satisfying desire, but by eliminating it."

Profile Image for Casper Veen.
Author 1 book22 followers
July 7, 2021
Inspirerend stoïsch meesterwerk. Veel herhaling vanwege de vorm van verzamelde colleges, maar daar kan de beste Epictetus ook niets aan doen. Uitgebreider, diverser, rijker en uitgewerkter dan het Handboekje en daarom een goede aanvulling daarop.
Profile Image for Bach Tran Quang.
196 reviews322 followers
October 2, 2022
Chỉ để note một vài dòng thế này: Khắc Kỷ nghe chừng thì đơn giản lắm, trực diện lắm nhưng như một tác giả đã từng nói: Thật ra chúng ta phần lớn đều theo chủ nghĩa khoái lạc thôi, chứ Khắc Kỷ thì còn lâu.

He he, nó có thể là một cái mốt, một cái tân thời giữa lúc thế gian đang loạn lạc vì đủ thứ phân tâm. Nhưng để thực hành nó, thật sự hiểu nó, thật sự học tập và ứng dụng nó cho bản thân mình thì cực cưc kỳ khó. Điều này đã rất nhiều lần Epictetus đã đập vào mặt người "nghe" trong cuốn sách này rồi.

Nhưng dù sao, mình cũng vượt qua được quá nhiều điều trong cuộc sống nhờ phần nào đã thực hành theo khắc kỷ - mà bản thân còn chẳng biết nó trường phái gì. Chỉ là cách suy nghĩ thôi.

nên đọc không? chắc chắn rồi bạn tôi!
23 reviews1 follower
December 7, 2010
Repetitive, often ranting, written (spoken, actually--written down by a disciple) with certainty, Epictetus's works can be summed up by a sentence or two: "Some things are up to us and others are not. Up to us are opinion, impulse, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is our own action. Not up to us are body, property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not our own action."

So don't worry about the "externals" that are out of your control, what most people spend so much energy worrying about! As somebody who has the predisposition to worry, but also to be introspective, I found Epictetus's account of Stoic philosophy attractive. Ultimately the philosophy can't work outside of a stable moral framework that can guide one's every actions (e.g. ancient Greece)--if you are not concerned with what happens to you, I would argue that you could easily fall into an unhealthy state without a social order to prevent you from doing so--but I personally found a large capacity in myself to be more Stoic without being unhealthily so.

Epictetus is solely concerned with the practical effects of philosophical thinking and rails against philosophers who discuss all day and fail to embody their spoken precepts. This makes his writing refreshingly relevant to life (though it may have ironically contributed to the decline of Stoicism as a philosophical school), and some that I would recommend for reflective purposes, though the whole of them are probably not necessary.
Profile Image for Richard Meadows.
Author 1 book131 followers
June 28, 2016
Epictetus wasn’t an easy read for me. If I was new to the Stoics, I probably would have abandoned his Discourses immediately, which would have been a crying shame.

One of the obstacles is that this isn’t a book in the conventional sense. It’s made up of notes scribbled down by a student, which means it is unstructured, fragmented, and at times repetitive. It’s almost essential to have some background knowledge of what is being discussed, so I’d recommend reading Marcus Aurelius and/or Seneca first.

While challenging at times, I got a huge amount out of The Discourses. The values, advice and life strategies within, as recorded two thousand years ago, appear far superior to the default ‘enlightened hedonism’ model that most people subscribe to today. There are a few anachronisms, as you would expect, but the thinking is surprisingly scientific. References to deities throughout are essentially just placeholders; the real worship is of rationality, reason and logic.

One bonus factor that helps liven up the text is that Epictetus appears to have been quite the character. His personality shines throughout as intimidatingly intelligent and caustic. At times he’s almost laugh-out-loud funny, castigating various wretches (slave!) and using juicy turns of phrase to drive home his points again and again.

I can’t fathom how Stoicism has faded into obscurity. Do your homework and give this book a chance, and it will undoubtedly change your life.
Profile Image for JP.
1,134 reviews37 followers
May 18, 2013
Written during the first century A.D., Arrianus wrote the words of Epictetus in the style in which they were delivered in speech. To provide a synoposis of the explanation given in this book (from the Modern Library), Stoicism was founded by Zeno in taking from Plato the value of self-sufficiency. If the universe is self-sufficient, dualism would not be possible and so monism must be. And that implies that everything is good and natural. Ironically, the efficient workings of the self-sufficient machine of the universe inspired belief in "god" (fate, whatever). The general belief that everyone should do what they are meant to do resulted in the Stoics being heard in public life. While the Epicureans sought to withdraw, the Stoic philosophy became an underlying part of later political and social philosophy. The writing itself struck me as similar in places to the timeless motivational messages of personal will. There were also strong corollaries to the Bible, particularly the phrase, "Seek, and you shall find" and parables of seeds and the vine.
Profile Image for Raul Mazilu.
53 reviews6 followers
February 22, 2015
Perhaps more actual than ever, Epictetus' speech decries the attachment to material goods. Instead, Epictetus proposes a life of freedom and independence.

Were it a self-help book, it would probably bear the title "How to eliminate the pressure you willingly impose on yourself when you attach undue value to that which, in reality, is dependent on external factors".

The short sketches, set against a background of everyday Greek life, offer practical advice. In a manner similar to Viktor Frankl and in a more general sense, to Buddhism, they drum home, every couple pages, one particular message: the only factors you have control over are your own attitudes and conduct. It is therefore pointless, claims Epictetus, to worry about matters such as reputation, gains or losses, for they exceed one's control.
3 reviews
September 18, 2012
Read: Discourses I 29; II 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 16, 18, 22, 26; III 5, 12, 13, 15, 18; IV 2, and Handbook 1-27.

Edition has introduction to the histo-political world of Epictetus, a biography, and a rough overview of Hellenistic philosophy (read: Epicureanism/Stoicism etc.). Additionally, some Stoic vocabulary at the end along with some modern interpretations/criticism of his work - focused mostly on his Discourses.

The Discourses can be tedious and repetitive at times to read given the discourse or "sermonistic" format. The Handbook flows better.

Both are must reads, solely for the historical context if not much, much more.
Profile Image for Kevin Bunick.
97 reviews
January 4, 2018
If you suffer from anxiety, especially over everyday occurrences or seemingly trivial matters (like me), you should find this book extremely helpful. I did not expect it to be a 2,000 year old self-help book when I choose it, but voila! It focuses on explaining how to release things out of your control, albeit in a logical format. It's like an ancient "Don't sweat the small stuff" presented in philosophical arguments. Don't be scared off because you think it might be a difficult read because it's super approachable, although dry. Oh, and I learned about Stoicism as well, which is why I selected it in the first place.
Profile Image for Bruno Arine.
111 reviews14 followers
July 23, 2018
The first time I tried to read Epictetus' Discourses, I couldn't finish it. Do you know why? Because by chapter 29 out of 90 I had heard, for the third or forth time, how Epictetus would reply if one commanded him to shave himself. His musings on stoicism are thoroughly profound, I admit, but I couldn't put up with a philosopher droning on about the same thing ad nauseam. The book seemed boring and repetitive, and I eventually found myself taking shorter and shorter routes to work so that I could end my daily stoicism earlier.

A second read made me swallow my previous words.
Profile Image for Xavier.
108 reviews13 followers
November 6, 2014
"Come, then, Epictetus, shave yourself." "If I am a philosopher," I answer, "I will not shave myself." "But I will take off your head?" If that will do you any good, take it off.

This is just a sample of the kind of thing you'll find within an hour of reading this book.

It's a bit less accessible than the Enchiridion. Which does make it slightly more fun to reread.
It is part of the Stoic tradition that lasted a thousand years. Put simply, a must read.
Profile Image for Yognik1789.
48 reviews29 followers
March 20, 2015
I am fond of certain stoic principles which Epictetus mentions in Enchiridion - regarding self-mastery, controlling desires (not branding them evil as say Gandhi would do), being unemotional and controlling oneself from getting perturbed by external sources which lie outside one's control. However most other tenants, I dislike as I sense an element of fatalism and passiveness in them. But still a quick and pithy read, I'd say... Do check out this master work of one of the most famous stoics...
Profile Image for Patrick\.
554 reviews13 followers
April 21, 2008
His discourse on the use of the forms of right reasoning is a survey with concluding opinon. We haven't gone far from his understanding of the fundamental ground of reasoning. Worth a read, but probably not the complete works in a number of volumes unless you are a philosopher or a glutten for philosophical minutiae. I am neither. I think it an important work in my own grounding.
51 reviews3 followers
January 6, 2015
Maybe not as good as Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, but still a very good Stoic book and with a lot to say about how to contact our lives.
I said that Meditations was better because the paragraphs are shorter and easier to read, but I would still recommend The Discourses as much as I would recommend Meditations
112 reviews46 followers
December 1, 2019
True ancient wisdom passed down through the ages. While Marcus comes across as a gentle and scholarly grandfather Epictetus likes to provoke. Even when I disagree with him he gets the cogs turning and something illuminating always comes from it. This is the kind of book you savour and return to again and again. Read alongside Meditations for comparison purposes.
Profile Image for Kyle.
324 reviews
September 19, 2016
An interesting read. There's a lot to think about. I found a lot of wisdom and common sense. If you find Stoic tranquility to be something worthy pursuing, definitely a good book to read. It has some datedness to some material, though.
Profile Image for David.
160 reviews21 followers
August 11, 2018
I enjoyed Enchiridion more than this, mostly due to this one having certain passages being very difficult to relate to (historical figures were anecdotally referred to and it was tough to find the context), but this was still an excellent read for anyone interested in philosophy.
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