Epictetus’ Handbook

Epictetus-5I finally finished my project of re-reading all of Epictetus: the Discourses, the Fragments, and now the Enchiridion, or Handbook.

The latter, of course, is a famous collection of what Epictetus allegedly said (according to his student, Arrian), meant for a more general audience, i.e., people who are just beginning to approach Stoicism. As such, it is indeed a pretty good, breezy overview of Stoic ethical principles (as is well known, Epictetus wasn’t really interested in Stoicism’s other two pillars, Physics and Logic).

So here are some of my favorite extracts from the Enchiridion. You can find my updated collection of selected Stoic sayings for meditation (which now also includes Marcus’ Meditations, Book I) here.

“We are responsible for some things, while there are others for which we cannot be held responsible.” (1,1)

“If you have the right idea about what really belongs to you and what does not, you will never be subject to force or hindrance, you will never blame or criticize anyone, and everything you do will be done willingly.” (1.3)

“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.” (5)

“Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.” (8)

“Under no circumstances ever say ‘I have lost something,’ only ‘I returned it.’” (11)

“You have to realize, it isn’t easy to keep your will in agreement with nature, as well as externals. Caring about the one inevitably means you are going to shortchange the other.” (13)

“If you commit to philosophy, be prepared at once to be laughed at and made the butt of many snide remarks.” (22)

“When somebody’s wife or child dies, to a man we all routinely say, ‘Well, that’s part of life.’ But if one of our own family is involved, then right away it’s ‘Poor, poor me!’ We would do better to remember how we react when a similar loss afflicts others.” (26)

“Settle on the type of person you want to be and stick to it, whether alone or in company.” (33,1)

“If you learn that someone is speaking ill of you, don’t try to defend yourself against the rumours; respond instead with, ‘Yes, and he doesn’t know the half of it, because he could have said more.’” (33,9)

“Say to yourself each time, ‘He did what he believed was right.’” (42)

“The following are non-sequiturs: ‘I am richer, therefore superior to you’; or ‘I am a better speaker, therefore a better person, than you.’” (44)

“If I admire the interpretation [of a philosophical treatise], I have turned into a literary critic instead of a philosopher, the only difference being that, instead of Homer, I’m interpreting Chrysippus.” (49)

“How long will you wait before you demand the best of yourself, and trust reason to determine what is best?” (51,1)

1 thought on “Epictetus’ Handbook

  1. Gabriel Nelson

    I find Chapter 51 of the Enchiridion very motivational. It’s a pity that it’s the third from last chapter instead of the last, because it makes me want to put the book down and go… practice stoicism. This line in particular:
    “When faced with anything painful or pleasurable, anything bringing glory or disrepute, realize that the crisis is now, that the Olympics have started, and waiting is no longer an option; that the chance for progress, to keep or lose, turns on the events of a single day.” (51,2)

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