previous next


*)Epi/kthtos), of Hierapolis in Phrygia, a freedman of Epaphroditus, who was himself a freedman and a servile favourite of Nero, lived and taught first at Rome, and, after the expulsion of the philosophers by Domitian, at Nicopolis, a town in Epeirus, founded by Augustus in commemoration of his victory at Actium. Although he was favoured by Hadrian (Spartian, Hadr. 16) --which gave occasion to a work which was undoubtedly written at a much later time, title Altercatio Hadriani cum Epicteto (see especially Heumann, Acta Philos. 1.734)--yet he does not appear to have returned to Rome; for the discourses which Arrian took down in writing were delivered by Epictetus when an old man at Nicopolis. (Dissert. 1.25, 19, with Schweighaüser's note.) The statement of Themistius (Orat. v. p. 63, ed. Harduin) that Epictetus was still alive in the reign of the two Antonines, which is repeated by Suidas (s. v.), seems to rest upon a confusion of names, since M. Aurelius Antoninus, who was an enthusiastic admirer of Epictetus, does not mention him, but Junius Rusticus, a disciple of Epictetus, among his teachers; in like manner, A. Gellius, who lived in the time of the Antonines, speaks of Epictetus as belonging to the period which had just passed away. (M. Antonin. 1.7, 7.29, with Gataker's note; Gellius, 7.19.) Besides what is here mentioned, only a few circumstances of the life of Epictetus are recorded, such as his lameness, which is spoken of in very different ways, his poverty, and his few wants. The detailed biography written by Arrian has not come down to us. (Simplic. Prooem. Comment. in Epictet. Enchirid. iv. p. 5, ed. Schweigh.)

It is probable that he was still a slave (Arrian, Dissert. 1.9, 29) when C. Musonius Rufus gained him for the philosophy of the Porch, of which he remained a faithful follower throughout life. In what manner he conceived and taught it, we see with satisfactory completeness from the notes which we owe to his faithful pupil, Arrian; although of Arrian's eight books of commentaries four are lost, with the exception of a few fragments.


Epictetus himself did not leave anything written behind him, and the short manual or collection of the most essential doctrines of Epictetus, was compiled from his discourses by Arrian. (Simplic. in Enchirid. Prooem.


The The manual (Enchiridion) and commentaries of Arrian, together with the explanations of Simplicius to the former, and some later paraphrases, have been edited by Schweighaüser, who has added the notes of Upton, his own, and those of some other commentators. (Epicteteae Philosophiae Monumenta, post. J. Uptoni aliorumque curas, edidit et illustravit J. Schweighaüser, Lipsiae, 1799, 1800, 6 vols. 8vo.)


We may apply to Epictetus himself what he says of his Stoic master, viz. that he spoke so impressively, and so plainly described the wickedness of the individual, that every one felt struck. as though he himself had been spoken to personally. (Dissert. 3.23, 29, comp. 100.15, 1.9.) Being deeply impressed with his vocation as a teacher, he aimed in his discourses at nothing else but winning the minds of his hearers to that which was good, and no one was able to resist the impression which they produced. (Arrian, Ep. ad L. Gell. i. p. 4.) Far from any contempt of knowledge, he knows how to value the theory of forming conclusions and the like. (Dissert. 1.7, 1, &c., comp. 1.8, 1, &c.. 1.17, 2.23, 25.) He only desired that logical exercises, the study of books and of eloquence, should not lead persons away from that of which they were merely the means, and that they should not minister to pride, haughtiness, and avarice. (1.8. 6, &c., 29. 55, 2.4. 11, 9. 17, 16. 34, 17. 34, 21. 20, 3.2. 23, 17. 28, 24. 78.) He never devotes any time to disquisitions which do not, either directly or indirectly, contribute towards awakening, animating, and purifying man's moral conduct. (1.17. 15, 29. 58, 2.19. 10; comp. 4.8. 24, 6. 24.)

The true Cynic--and he is the same as the Stoic, the philosopher,--is in the opinion of Epictetus a messenger of Zeus, sent to men to deliver them from their erroneous notions about good and evil, and about happiness and unhappiness (3.22. 23), and to lead them back into themselves. (ib. 39.) For this purpose he requires natural gracefulness and acuteness of intellect (ib. 90), for his words are to produce a lively impression.

The beginning of philosophy, according to him, is the perception of one's own weakness and of one's inability to do that which is needful. (2.11. 1; comp. 3.23. 34, 2.17. 1.) Along with this perception we become aware of the contest which is going on among men, and we grow anxious to ascertain the cause of it, and consequently to discover a standard by which we may give our decision (2.11. 13, &c.): to meditate upon this and to dwell upon it, is called philosophizing. (ib. 24; comp. 3.10. 6.) The things which are to be measured are conceptions, which form the material; the work which is to be constructed out of them, is their just and natural application, and a control over them. (3.22. 20, 23. 42.) This just choice of conceptions and our consent to or decision in their favour (πρυαίρεσις, συγκατάθεσις), constitute the nature of good. (2.1. 4, 19. 32.) Only that which is subject to our choice or decision is good or evil; all the rest is neither good nor evil; it concerns us not, it is beyond our reach (1.13. 9, 25. 1, 2.5. 4); it is something external, merely a subject for our choice (1.29. 1, 2.16. 1, 19. 32, 4.10. 26 ): in itself it is indifferent, but its application is not indifferent (2.5. 1, 6. 1), and its application is either consistent with or contrary to nature. (2.5. 24.) The choice, and consequently our opinion upon it. are in our power (1.12. 37; in our choice we are free (1.12. 9, 17. 28, 19. 9); nothing that is external of us, not even Zeus, can overcome our choice: it alone can control itself. (1.29. 12, 2.1. 22, 4.1, 2.2. 3, 3.3. 10, 1.1. 23, 4.1. 69.) Our choice, however, is determined by our reason, which of all our faculties sees and tests itself and everything else. (1.1. 4, 1.20.) Reason is our guide (τὸ ἡγημονικόν), and capable of conquering all powers which are not subject to freedom (2.1. 39; comp. 3.3); it is the governing power given to man (τὸ κυριεῖον), 1.1. 7, 17. 21); hence only that which is irrational cannot be endured by it. (1.2.) It is by his reason alone that man is distinguished from the brute (2.9. 2, 3.1. 25): he who renounces his reason and allows himself to be guided by external things, is like a man who has forgotten his own face (1.2. 14); and he who desires or repudiates that which is beyond his power, is not free. (1.4. 19.)

That which is in accordance with reason coincides with that which is in accordance with nature and pleasing to God. (1.12. 9, 26. 2, 3.20. 13, 2.10. 4, 1.12. 8.) Our resemblance to God (1.12. 27), or our relationship to the Deity (1.9. 1, 11), and the coincidence of our own will with the will of God (2.17. 22, comp. 19. 26, 3.24. 95, 4.1, 89. 103, 4. 39), consist in our acting in accordance with reason and in freedom. Through reason our souls are as closely connected and mixed up with the Deity, as though they were parts of him (1.14. 6, 2.8. 11, 13, 17. 33); for mind, knowledge, and reason, constitute the essence of God, and are identical with the essence of good. (2.8. 1, &c.) Let us therefore invoke God's assistance in our strife after the good (2.18. 29, comp. 1.6. 21), let us emulate him (2.14. 13), let us purify that which is our guide within us (3.22. 19), and let us be pure with the pure within us, and with the Deity! (2.18. 19.)

The prophet within us, who announces to us the nature of good and evil (2.7. 2), is the daemon, the divine part of every one, his never-resting and incorruptible guardian. (1.14. 12.) He manifests himself in our opinions, which have something common with one another and are agreeing with one another (1.22. 1 ); for they are the things which are self-evident, and which we feel obliged to carry into action, though we may combat them. (2.20. 1.) That which is good we must recognize as such a thing: wherever it appears, it draws us towards itself, and it is impossible to reject the conception of good. (3.3. 4, comp. 1.4. 1.) The opinions just described are the helps which nature has given to every one for discovering that which is true. (4.1.. 51.) Wherever they are not recognized, as is the case with the followers of the New Academy, our mind and modesty become petrified. (1.5. 3.) To investigate this criticism of what is in accordance with nature, and to master it in its application to individual things, is the object of all our scientific endeavors (1.11. 15), and ths mastery is obtained only by the cultivation of our mind and by education. (παιδεία; 1.2. 6, 22. 9, 2.17. 7.) The practice in theory is the easier part; the application in life is the more difficult one, and is the object of all theory. (1.26. 3, 29. 35.) We find that as far as practical application is concerned, many men are Epicureans and effeminate Peripatetics, though they profess the doctrines of the Stoics and Cynics. (2.19. 20), 12. 1, 18. 26, 3.26. 13, 4.1. 138, 4. 14. 43, 6. 15.) In order to obtain a mastery in the application of moral principles to life, a continued practice is required; but this practice is first and chiefly to be directed towards a control of our conceptions, and thereby also of our passions and desires, which are themselves only modes of conception (2.18. 1, &c., 29, 4.10. 26), and as such they press and force us; one person being more under the influence of this kind, and another more under the influence of another kind; for which reason every one, according to his personal peculiarity, must oppose to them a continued practice. (1.25. 26, 2.16. 22.) This first and most essential practice must be accompanied by a second, which is directed towards that which is appropriate (duty), and a third, the object of which is surety, truth, and certainty; but the latter must not pretend to supplant the former. (3.2. 6, 12. 12, &c.) The unerring desire after what is good, the absolute avoidance of what is bad, the desire ever directed towards the appropriate, carefully-weighed resolutions, and a full consent to them, are the nerves of the philosopher. (2.8. 29.) Through them he acquires freedom and entire independence of everything which is not subject to his choice (4.4. 39, 3.22. 13), and in confiding submission he leaves the management of it to Providence, whose universal rule cannot escape the eye of an unbiassed and grateful observer of the occurrences in the world. (1.6. 9, 4, 12, 13, 14, 16, 30, 2.14. 26, 3.17.) In this submissive confidence, and the consciousness of its necessity, in order to be able to preserve unchanged our outward peace of mind in all the occurrences of life, in sorrow and in want, we see the spirit of the modern, and we may say, ennobled Porch; the same spirit is expressed in the energy and purity of its sentiments, and in the giving up of principles whose harshness and untenableness arose from the inflexible and abstract consistency of the earlier Porch.

Epictetus is well aware, that man, as such, is a member of the great cosmic community of gods and men, and also that he is a member of the communities of state and family, and that he stands to them in the same relation as a limb to the whole organic body, and that therefore he can attain his full development only with them. (2.5. 26, 10. 3, &c., 2. 19, 13.) He recognizes the necessity of love and confidence (2.22. 4, 1), and he demands of the Cynic, that is, the true philosopher, to renounce marriage and family life, only that he may devote himself with all his powers to the service of the deity, and to the duties of an unlimited philanthropy. (3.22. 67. &c.) It is true that with Epictetus, too, the place of a political system and a considerable portion of ethics, are supplied by the ideal of a philosopher,--but how could a living consciousness of the nature of a state have been formed in his time and in his circumstances? In his endeavours to establish in himself and others a moral standard, unaffected by the corruptions of his age, he does not perceive its close and necessary connexion with the active and unchecked scientific and artistic efforts. But he acknowledges their moral importance more than his predecessors, and he is impressed with the conviction, that the individual must live for the whole, although he is not able to determine the how in a manner productive of great results. Above all things, however, he gave up the proud self-sufficieney which the Stoic philosopher was expected to shew in his relation to the vicissitudes of the world and of man. The maxim suffer and, abstain (from evil) (Fragm. 179; comp. Dissert. 4.8. 25; Gel. 17.19), which he followed throughout his life, was based with him on the firm belief in a wise and benevolent government of Providence; and in this respect he approaches the Christian doctrine more than any of the earlier Stoics, though there is not a trace in the Epictetea to shew that he was acquainted with Christianity, and still less, that he had adopted Christianity, either in part or entirely.

Further Information

Chr. Crelius, De ὑπερσόφοις ετ ἀσόφοις Epicteti Dissertat. Lipsiae, 1711-16; comp. Brucker in Temp. Helvet. 3.2. p. 260.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: