Ondertexts
Epictetus
Search

Epictetus

Epictetus Epictetus[1†]

Epictetus (c. 50 – c. 135 AD), a Greek Stoic philosopher, born into slavery in Hierapolis, Phrygia (now Pamukkale, Turkey). Lived in Rome until banishment to Nicopolis, Greece. His teachings, recorded by pupil Arrian in Discourses and Enchiridion, emphasized philosophy as a practical way of life. Epictetus believed in acceptance of external events and self-discipline in personal actions[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Epictetus was born around 50 AD, presumably at Hierapolis, Phrygia[2†][1†]. The name his parents gave him is unknown. The word epíktētos (ἐπίκτητος) in Greek simply means “gained” or "acquired"[2†][1†]. He spent his youth in Rome as a slave to Epaphroditus, a wealthy freedman and secretary to Nero[2†][1†]. His social position was thus complicated, combining the low status of a slave with the high status of one with a personal connection to Imperial power[2†][1†].

Early in life, Epictetus acquired a passion for philosophy and, with the permission of his wealthy master, he studied Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus[2†][1†]. Becoming more educated in this way raised his social status[2†][1†]. At some point, he became disabled[2†][1†]. Celsus, quoted by Origen, wrote that this was because his leg had been deliberately broken by his master[2†][1†]. Simplicius, in contrast, wrote that Epictetus had been disabled from childhood[2†][1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Epictetus obtained his freedom sometime after the death of Nero in AD 68[1†]. He began to teach philosophy in Rome[1†]. Around AD 93, when the Roman emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from the city, Epictetus moved to Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece, where he founded a school of philosophy[1†]. His most famous pupil, Arrian, studied under him as a young man (around AD 108) and claimed to have written his famous Discourses based on the notes he took on Epictetus’s lectures[1†]. Arrian argued that his Discourses should be considered comparable to the Socratic literature[1†].

Epictetus’s teachings were transmitted by Arrian, his pupil, in two works: Discourses, of which four books are extant; and the Encheiridion, or Manual, a condensed aphoristic version of the main doctrines[1†][2†]. In his teachings, Epictetus followed the early rather than the late Stoics, reverting to Socrates and to Diogenes, the philosopher of Cynicism, as historical models of the sage[1†][2†]. Primarily interested in ethics, Epictetus described philosophy as learning “how it is possible to employ desire and aversion without hindrance”[1†][2†]. True education, he believed, consists in recognizing that there is only one thing that belongs to an individual fully—his will, or purpose[1†][2†]. God, acting as a good king and father, has given each being a will that cannot be compelled or thwarted by anything external[1†][2†]. Men are not responsible for the ideas that present themselves to their consciousness, though they are wholly responsible for the way in which they use them[1†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Epictetus’s teachings were transcribed and compiled by his pupil Arrian[1†][2†][3†]. The main work is The Discourses, four books of which have been preserved (out of the original eight)[1†][3†]. Here are some details about his main works:

These works have had a significant impact on Stoic philosophy and continue to be studied and revered today[1†][2†][3†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Epictetus’s philosophy is a blend of rationality, empiricism, and eudaimonism[5†]. He refutes skepticism by arguing that this stance involves self-refutation[5†]. He requires his students to recognize that Stoicism requires complete commitment to the wish to live free from error[5†].

Epictetus was a Stoic and he held that only through self-mastery could we live in accordance with nature[5†][6†]. Self-mastery consists of the use of reason and living virtuously[5†][6†]. Above all else, the philosophy of Epictetus was a practical one that sought to help people live a good and meaningful life[5†][6†].

Epictetus followed the early rather than the late Stoics, reverting to Socrates and to Diogenes, the philosopher of Cynicism, as historical models of the sage[5†][7†][2†]. Primarily interested in ethics, Epictetus described philosophy as learning “how it is possible to employ desire and aversion without hindrance”[5†][2†]. True education, he believed, consists in recognizing that there is only one thing that belongs to an individual fully—his will, or purpose[5†][2†].

Epictetus said, “Two maxims, we must ever bear in mind—that apart from the will there is nothing good or bad, and that we must not try to anticipate or to direct events, but merely to accept them with intelligence”[5†][2†]. Man must, that is, believe there is a God whose thought directs the universe[5†][2†].

As a political theorist, Epictetus saw man as a member of a great system that comprehends both God and men[5†][2†]. Each human being is primarily a citizen of his own commonwealth, but he is also a member of the great city of gods and men, of which the political city is only a poor copy[5†][2†].

Personal Life

Epictetus led a simple life. He was born into slavery and later became a freedman[1†][2†]. Despite his early hardships, he managed to attend lectures by the Stoic Musonius Rufus[1†][2†]. He lived his life with a physical disability, though the exact cause of this disability is unclear[1†]. Some sources suggest that his leg had been deliberately broken by his master[1†], while others propose that Epictetus had been disabled from childhood[1†].

In terms of his personal relationships, Epictetus is known to have adopted a child from friends who were going to dispose of the child due to poverty[1†][9†]. He hired a woman to nurse the child, though it is unclear whether they married[1†][9†]. Despite leading a mostly solitary life, Epictetus was not against marriage. He often advised his students to marry and have children, as he believed it was the duty of each philosopher to leave behind someone to carry forward their work[1†][10†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Epictetus, from the shackles of slavery to the realms of philosophical enlightenment, embodies the transformative essence of Stoicism[11†]. His life and teachings are a beacon of light for those exploring the paths of virtue, wisdom, and inner freedom[11†].

Epictetus is remembered for the religious tone of his teachings, which commended him to numerous early Christian thinkers[11†][2†]. His philosophy has been enormously influential. Many believe that he formulated the most coherent and rational version of stoicism, one that offers real practical advice on the ethical life[11†][6†]. He decisively influenced the great Philosopher-Emperor Marcus Aurelius[11†][6†].

Epictetus’ influence extends beyond classical antiquity and early Christianity up to the present. His teachings have resonated with various authors and thinkers, including Simplicius, Justus Lipsius, Pascal, Descartes, Joseph Butler, and The Earl of Shaftesbury[11†][12†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Epictetus [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Epictetus: Greek philosopher [website] - link
  3. Google Books - The Complete Works of Epictetus - Elizabeth Carter, Epictetus [website] - link
  4. MIT - The Internet Classics Archive - Works by Epictetus [website] - link
  5. Oxford Academic - [website] - link
  6. Classical Wisdom Weekly - Epictetus: Philosophy as a Guide to Life [website] - link
  7. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and its Authors - Epictetus [website] - link
  8. Oxford Academic - [website] - link
  9. Medium by Roy Cadiel - Epictetus: A Brief Biography of the Slave, Stoic Philosopher [website] - link
  10. The Famous People - Epictetus Biography [website] - link
  11. stoic. - Who is Epictetus? From Slave to Stoic Philosopher [website] - link
  12. Oxford Academic - SHUTDOWN is in progress. [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.