Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 3/Chapter 8


How ought we to exercise ourselves to deal with the impressions of our senses?

As we exercise ourselves to meet the sophistical interrogations, so we ought also to exercise ourselves daily to meet the impressions of our senses, because these too put interrogations to us. So-and-so's son is dead. Answer, "That lies outside the sphere of the moral purpose, it is not an evil." His father has disinherited So-and-so; what do you think of it? "That lies outside the sphere of the moral purpose, it is not an evil." Caesar has condemned him. "That lies outside the sphere of the moral purpose, it is not an evil." He was grieved at all this. "That lies within the sphere of the moral purpose, it is an evil." He has borne up under it manfully. "That lies within the sphere of the moral purpose, it is a good." Now if we acquire this habit, we shall make progress; for we shall never give our assent to anything but that of which we get a convincing sense-impression.[1] His son is dead. What happened? 5His son is dead. Nothing else? Not a thing. His ship is lost. What happened? His ship is lost. He was carried off to prison. What happened? He was carried off to prison. But the observation: "He has fared ill," is an addition that each man makes on his own responsibility. "But," you say, "Zeus does not do right in all this." What makes you think so? Because He has made you capable of patient endurance, and high-minded, because He has taken from these things the quality of being evils, because you are permitted to suffer these things and still to be happy, because He has opened for you the door,[2] whenever they are not to your good?[3] Man, go out, and do not complain.

Hear how the Romans feel about philosophers, if you care to know. Italicus, who has a very great reputation among them as a philosopher, once, when I was present, got angry at his friends, as though he were suffering something intolerable, and said, "I cannot bear it: you are the death of me! you will make me just like him," and pointed at me![4]


  1. The φαντασία καταληπτική, a term peculiar to Stoic psychology, is "an impression so distinct and vivid and consistent and permanent as to carry its own conviction of certainty and to be its own criterion of truth" (P. E. More, Hellenistic Philosophies, 85). See Bonhöffer, Epiktet und die Stoa, 160-7, 228-32. Among recent writers E. R. Bevan, Stoics and Sceptics, 36, renders the phrase "grasping impression"; G. Murray, The Stoic Philosophy, 27 and 44, "comprehensive sense-impression." Cf. R. M. Wenley, Stoicism, 87, for the metaphor in the adjective: "Conviction of truth must . . . involve an unshakable grip upon the actual."
  2. Compare I. 9, 20; III. 13, 14. and Vol. I. p. xxv f.
  3. For the particular expression here, see II. 6, 22.
  4. The sense of this curious and apparently quite detached anecdote, which has puzzled some scholars, seems to be that the otherwise quite unknown Italicus, who was clearly not a philosopher propria persona, but merely enjoyed some local reputation among people at Rome for dabbling in philosophy, was being urged by his friends to submit to some hardship in a truly philosophic manner, and resented the implication that he actually was a philosopher like the mean and humble slave or freedman Epictetus. Roman popular feeling about philosophy is probably not greatly overdrawn in the well-known advice of Eunius (frag. sc. 376 Vahlen) to taste of philosophy, but not to gorge oneself upon it; and the jest of Plautus (Captivi, 284), apropos of a reckless romancer, that "he is not simply lying now, he is philosophizing."