Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Fragments


Introductory Note

The genuine fragments of Epictetus are not very numerous, and since several of them are of unusual interest, it has seemed best to add them at this point. One fragment, No. 28 b, I have added to those listed by Schenkl, since its discovery was subsequent to his latest edition.

Earlier editions have included a large number of aphorisms gathered from Stobaeus, and from a gnomology purporting to contain excerpts from Democritus, Isocrates, and Epictetus. The researches of a group of scholars, principally H. Schenkl,[1] R. Asmus,[2] and A. Elter,[3] have thrown such doubt upon the authenticity of these aphorisms that it would scarcely serve any useful purpose to reproduce them in the present work.



From Arrian the pupil of Epictetus. To the man who was bothering himself about the problem of being

What do I care, says Epictetus, whether all existing things are composed of atoms, or of indivisibles, or of fire and earth? Is it not enough to learn the true nature of the good and the evil, and the limits of the desires and aversions, and also of the choices and refusals, and, by employing these as rules, to order the affairs of our life, and dismiss the things that are beyond us? It may very well be that these latter are not to be comprehended by the human mind, and even if one assume that they are perfectly comprehensible, well, what profit comes from comprehending them? And ought we not to say that those men trouble themselves in vain who assign all this as necessary to the philosopher's system of thought? Is, therefore, also the precept at Delphi superfluous, "Know thyself"?—That, indeed, no, the man answers.—What, then, does it mean? If one bade a singer in a chorus to "know himself," would he not heed the order by paying attention both to his fellows in the chorus and to singing in harmony with them?—Yes.—And so in the case of a sailor? or a soldier? Does it seem to you, then, that man has been made a creature to live all alone by himself, or for society?—For society.—By whom?—By Nature.—What Nature is, and how she administers the universe, and whether she really exists or not, these are questions about which there is no need to go on to bother ourselves.


From Arrian the pupil of Epictetus

He who is dissatisfied with what he has and what has been given him by fortune is a layman in the art of living, but the man who bears all this in a noble spirit and makes a reasonable use of all that comes from it deserves to be considered a good man.


From the same

All things obey and serve the Cosmos,[4] both earth, and sea, and sun, and the other stars, and the plants and animals of earth; obedient to it also is our body, both in sickness and in health, when the Cosmos wishes, both in youth and in old age, and when passing through all the other changes. Therefore it is reasonable also that the one thing which is under our control, that is, the decision of our will, should not be the only thing to stand out against it. For the Cosmos is mighty and superior to us, and has taken better counsel for us than we can, by uniting us together with the universe under its governance. Besides, to act against it is to side with unreason, and while accomplishing nothing but a vain struggle, it involves us in pains and sorrows.


Rufus. From the remarks of Epictetus on friendship[5]

Of things that are, God has put some under our control, and others not under our control. Under our control He put the finest and most important matter, that, indeed, by virtue of which He Himself is happy, the power to make use of external impressions. For when this power has its perfect work, it is freedom, serenity, cheerfulness, steadfastness; it is also justice, and law, and self-control, and the sum and substance of virtue. But all other things He has not put under our control. Therefore we also ought to become of one mind with God, and, dividing matters in this way, lay hold in every way we can upon the things that are under our control, but what is not under our control we ought to leave to the Cosmos, and gladly resign to it whatever it needs, be that our children, our country, our body, or anything whatsoever.


Rufus. From Epictetus on friendship

What man among us does not admire the saying of Lycurgus the Lacedaemonian? For when he had been blinded in one eye by one of his fellow-citizens, and the people had turned over the young man to him, to take whatever vengeance upon the culprit he might desire, this he refrained from doing, but brought him up and made a good man of him, and presented him in the theatre. And when the Lacedaemonians expressed their surprise, he said, "This man when I received him at your hands was insolent and violent; I am returning him to you a reasonable and public-spirited person."


Rufus. From Epictetus on friendship

But above all else this is the function of nature, to bind together and to harmonize our choice with the conception of what is fitting and helpful.


The same

To fancy that we shall be contemptible in the sight of other men, if we do not employ every means to hurt the first enemies we meet, is characteristic of extremely ignoble and thoughtless men. For it is a common saying among us that the contemptible man is recognized among other things by his incapacity to do harm; but he is much better recognized by his incapacity to extend help.


Rufus. From the remarks of Epictetus on friendship

Such was, and is, and will be, the nature of the universe, and it is not possible for the things that come into being to come into being otherwise than they now do. And not only has mankind participated in this process of change and transformation, and all the other living beings upon earth, but also those which are divine, and, by Zeus, even the four elements, which are changed and transformed upwards and downwards,[6] as earth becomes water, and water air, and air again is transformed into ether; and there is the same kind of transformation also downwards. If a man endeavours to incline his mind to these things, and to persuade himself to accept of his own accord what needs must befall him, he will have a very reasonable and harmonious life.


A philosopher who is well known in the Stoic school . . . brought out of his handbag the fifth book of the Discourses of the philosopher Epictetus, which had been arranged by Arrian, and agree, no doubt, with the writings of Zeno and Chrysippus. In that book, written of course in Greek, we find, a passage to this purport: Things seen by the mind (which the philosophers call φαντασίας),[7] whereby the intellect of man is struck at the very first sight of anything which penetrates to the mind, are not subject to his will, nor to his control, but by virtue of a certain force of their own thrust themselves upon the attention of men; but the assents (which they call συγκαταθέσεις), whereby these same things seen by the mind are recognized, are subject to man's will, and fall under his control. Therefore, when some terrifying sound comes from the sky, or from the collapse of a building, or sudden word comes of some peril or other, or something else of the same sort happens, the mind of even the wise man cannot help but be disturbed, and shrink, and grow pale for a moment, not from any anticipation of some evil, but because of certain swift and unconsidered motions which forestall the action of the intellect and the reason. Soon, however, our wise man does not give his assent (this is, οὑ συγκατατίθεται οὐδὲ προσεπιδοξάζει)[8] to τὰς τοιαύτας φαντασίας[9] (that is, these terrifying things seen by his mind), but rejects and repudiates them, and sees in them nothing to cause him fear. And this, they say, is the difference between the mind of the fool and the mind of the wise man, that the fool thinks the cruel and harsh things seen by his mind, when it is first struck by them, actually to be what they appear, and likewise afterwards, just as though they really were formidable, he confirms them by his own approval also, καὶ προσεπιδοξάζει[10] (the word the Stoics use when they discuss this matter);[11] whereas the wise man, when his colour and expression have changed for a brief instant, οὑ συγκατατίθεται,[12] but keeps the even tenor and strength of the opinion which he has always had about mental impressions of this kind, as things that do not deserve to be feared at all, but terrify only with a false face and a vain fear.

This is the sentiment and expression of the philosopher Epictetus, derived from the doctrines of the Stoics, that we have read in the book of which I spoke above.


I have heard Favorinus say that he had heard the philosopher Epictetus say, that most of those who gave the appearance of philosophizing were philosophers of this kind: ἄνευ τοῦ πράττειν, μέχρι τοῦ λέγειν[13] (this means, "apart from deeds, as far as words"). There is a still more vigorous expression which he was accustomed to use, that Arrian has recorded in the books which he wrote about his discourses. For Arrian says that when Epictetus had noticed a man lost to shame, of misdirected energy, and evil habits, bold, impudent in speech, and concerned with everything else but his soul, when he saw a man of that kind, continues Arrian, handling also the studies and pursuits of philosophy, and taking up physics, and studying dialectics, and taking up and investigating many a theoretical principle of this sort, he would call upon gods and men, and frequently, in the midst of that appeal, he would denounce the man in these words: Ἄνθρωπε, ποῦ βάλλεις; σκέψαι εἰ κεκάθαρται τὸ ἀγγεῖον. ἂν γὰρ εἰς τὴν οἴησιν βάλλῃς, ἀπώλετο. ἢν σαπῇ, ἢ οὖρον ἢ ὂξος γένοιτ᾽ ἂν, ἢ τι τούτων χεῖρον.[14] Surely there is nothing weightier, nothing truer than these words, in which the greatest of philosophers declared that the writings and teachings of philosophy, when poured into a false and low-lived person, as though into a dirty and defiled vessel, turn, change, are spoiled, and (as he himself says κυνικώτερον)[15] become urine, or something, it may be, dirtier than urine.

The same Epictetus, moreover, as we have heard from Favorinus, was in the habit of saying that there were two vices which are far more severe and atrocious than all others, want of endurance and want of self-control, when we do not endure or bear the wrongs which we have to bear, or do not abstain from, or forbear, those matters and pleasures which we ought to forbear. "And so," he says, "if a man should take to heart these two words and observe them in controlling and keeping watch over himself, he will, for the most part, be free from wrongdoing, and will live a highly peaceful life." These two words, he used to say, were Ἀνέχου and Ἀπέχου.[16]

10a (181)

When the salvation of our souls and regard for our true selves are at stake, something has to be done, even without stopping to think about it, a saying of Epictetus which Arrian quotes with approval.


From the homilies of Arrian, exhorting to virtue

Now when Archelaus[17] sent for Socrates with the intention of making him rich, the latter bade the messenger take back the following answer: "At Athens four quarts of barley-meal can be bought for an obol,[18] and there are running springs of water." For, look you, if what I have is not sufficient for me, still, I am sufficient for it, and so it too is sufficient for me. Or do you not see that Polus[19] was not accustomed to act Oedipus the King with any finer voice or more pleasure to his audience than Oedipus at Colonus, the outcast and beggar? And then shall the man of noble nature make a poorer showing than Polus, and not play well any role to which the Deity assigns him? And will he not follow the example of Odysseus, who was no less pre-eminent in his rags than in his rich and purple cloak?


From Arrian

There are certain persons who exhibit their high spirit rather gently,[20] and in a sort of passionless manner do everything that even those who are swept away by their anger do. We must be on our guard, therefore, against the error of these persons, as something much worse than violent anger. For those who give way to violent anger are soon sated with their revenge, but the others prolong it like men who have a light fever.


From the Memorabilia of Epictetus

But, says someone I see the good and excellent perishing from hunger and cold.—And do you not see those who are not good and excellent perishing from luxury, and bombast, and vulgarity?—Yes, but it is disgraceful to be supported by another.—And who, O miserable fellow, is supported by himself alone, except the Cosmos? Whoever accuses Providence, therefore, because the wicked are not punished, and because they are strong and rich, is acting just as though, when the wicked had lost their eyes, he said they were not being punished because their finger-nails were in good condition. Now, as for me, I assert that there is much more difference between virtue and property than there is between eyes and finger-nails.


From the Memorabilia of Epictetus

. . . bring forward the ill-natured[21] philosophers, who think that pleasure is not something natural, but a sequel of things that are natural, as justice, self-control, and freedom. Why indeed, then, does the soul take delight in the lesser goods of the body, and enjoy calm therein, as Epicurus says,[22] and yet not find pleasure in its own goods, which are very great? Verily nature has also given me a sense of shame, and frequently I blush, when I feel that I am saying something disgraceful. It is this emotion which does not allow me to lay down pleasure as the good and end of life.


From the Memorabilia of Epictetus

At Rome the women have in their hands Plato's Republic, because he insists on community of women. For they pay attention only to the words, and not to the meaning of the man; the fact is, he does not bid people marry and live together, one man with one woman, and then go on to advocate the community of women, but he first abolishes that kind of marriage altogether, and introduces another kind in its place.[23] And in general people delight in finding excuses for their own faults; for, indeed, philosophy says we ought not to stretch out even our finger at random![24]


From the Memorabilia of Epictetus

One ought to know that it is not easy for a man to acquire a fixed judgement, unless he should day by day state and hear the same principles, and at the same time apply them to his life.


From Epictetus

Now when we have been invited to a banquet, we take what is set before us; and if a person should bid his host to set before him fish or cakes, he would be regarded as eccentric. Yet in the world at large we ask the gods for things which they do not give us, and that too when there are many things which they actually have given us.


From the same

Those are amusing persons, he said, who take great pride in the things which are not under our control. A man says, "I am better than you; for I have many estates, and you are half-dead with hunger."[25] Another says, "I am a consular." Another, "I am a procurator." Another, "I have thick curly hair." But one horse does not say to another horse, "I am better than you, for I have quantities of fodder, and a great deal of barley, and my bridles are of gold, and my saddle-cloths are embroidered," but "I can run faster than you can." And every creature is better or worse because of its own particular virtue or vice. Can it be, then, that man is the only creature without a special virtue, but he must have recourse to his hair, and his clothes, and his grandsires?


The same

When men are sick and their physician gives them no advice, they are annoyed, and think that he has given them up. And why should not a man feel that way toward the philosopher, and so conclude that he has given up hope of one's ever coming to a sound state of mind, if he no longer tells one anything that is of any use?


The same

Those whose bodies are in good condition can endure heat and cold; so also those whose souls are in an excellent condition can endure anger, and grief, and great joy, and every other emotion.


From Epictetus

For this reason it is right to praise Agrippinus,[26] because, although he was a man of the very highest worth, he never praised himself, but used to blush even if someone else praised him. His character was such, said Epictetus, that when any hardship befell him he would compose a eulogy upon it; on fever, if he had a fever; on disrepute, if he suffered from disrepute; on exile, if he went into exile. And once, he said, when Agrippinus was preparing to take lunch, a man brought him word that Nero ordered him into exile; "Very well," said he, "we shall take our lunch in Aricia."[27]


From Agrippinus[28]

When Agrippinus was governor,[29] he used to try to persuade the persons whom he sentenced that it was proper for them to be sentenced. "For," he would say, "it is not as an enemy or as a brigand that I record my vote against them, but as a curator and guardian; just as also the physician encourages the man upon whom he is operating, and persuades him to submit to the operation."


From Epictetus

Nature is wonderful, and, as Xenophon[30] says, "fond of her creatures." At all events we love and tend our body, the most unpleasant and dirtiest thing that there is; why, if we had had to tend our neighbour's body for no more than five days, we could not have endured it. Just consider what a nuisance it is to get up in the morning and brush some other person's teeth, and then after attending to a call of nature to wash those parts. Truly it is wonderful to love a thing for which we perform so many services every day. I stuff this bag here;[31] and then I empty it; what is more tiresome? But I must serve God. For that reason I remain, and endure to wash this miserable paltry body, and to feed and shelter it; and when I was younger, there was still another behest which it laid upon me, yet nevertheless I endured it. Why, then, when Nature, which gave us our body, takes it away, do you not bear it?—I love it, says somebody.—Well, but as I was just now saying, is it not Nature that has given you this very affection? But the same Nature also says, "Let it go now, and have no more trouble with it."


The same

If a man dies young, he blames the gods <because he is carried off before his time. But if a man fails to die when he is old, he too blames the gods>, because, when it was long since time for him to rest, he has trouble; yet none the less, when death draws nigh, he wishes to live, and sends for the doctor, and implores him to spare no zeal and pains. People are very strange, he used to say, wishing neither to live nor to die.


From Epictetus

When you attack someone with vehemence and threatening, remember to tell yourself beforehand that you are a tame animal;[32] and then you will never do anything fierce, and so will come to the end of your life without having to repent, or to be called to account.


You are a little soul, carrying around a corpse, as Epictetus used to say.


We must discover, said he, an art that deals with assent, and in the sphere of the choices we must be careful to maintain close attention, that they be made with due reservations, that they be social, and that they be according to merit; and from desire we must refrain altogether, and must exercise aversion towards none of the things that are not under our control.


It is no ordinary matter that is at stake, said he, but it is a question of either madness or sanity.


Socrates used to say, "What do you want? To have souls of rational or irrational animals?" "Of rational animals." "Of what kind of rational animals? Sound or vicious?" "Sound." "Why, then, do you not try to get them?" "Because we have them." "Why, then, do you strive and quarrel?"


"Me miserable, that this has befallen me!" Say not so, but rather, "Fortunate that I am, because, although this has befallen me, I continue to live untroubled, being neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future." For something of this kind might have befallen anyone; but not everyone would have continued to live untroubled by it. Why, then, count the former aspect of the matter a misfortune, rather than this latter good fortune? And in general do you call a man's misfortune that which is not an aberration from man's nature? And does that seem to you to be an aberration from the nature of man which does not contravene the will of his nature? What then? This will of man's nature you have already learned; this, then, which has befallen you does not prevent you, does it, from being just, high-minded, self-controlled, self-possessed, deliberate, free from deceit, self-respecting, free, and everything else, the possession of which enables the nature of man to come into its own?

Remember for the future, whenever anything begins to trouble you, to make use of the following judgement: This thing is not a misfortune, but to bear it in a noble spirit is good fortune.



From the Encheiridion of Epictetus

Under all circumstances take thought of nothing so much as safety; for it is safer to keep silence than to speak; and refrain from saying what will be devoid of sense and full of censure.


From Epictetus

We ought neither to fasten our ship to one small anchor nor our life to a single hope.


From the same

We ought to measure both the length of our stride, and the extent of our hope, by what is possible.


From Epictetus

It is much more necessary to cure the soul than the body; for death is better than a bad life.


From the same

Those of our pleasures which come most rarely give the greatest delight.


From the same

If a man should overpass the mean, the most delightful things would become least delightful.


No man is free who is not master of himself.


The truth is something immortal and eternal, and does not present us with a beauty that withers from the passage of time, nor a freedom of speech which can be taken away by justice, but it presents us with what is just and lawful, distinguishing the unlawful therefrom, and refuting it.

Footnotes edit

  1. Die epiktetischen Fragmente, Sitzungsberichte der philos. hist. Classe der K. Akad. der Wiss., Wien, 115 (1888), 443-546. Also ed. maior 1916, Chapter III, pp xlviii-lii.
  2. Quaestiones Epicteteae, Freiburg i. B., 1888.
  3. Epicteti et Moschionis Sententiae, Bonn, 1892.
  4. A pantheistic form of expression for God, common enough in Stoicism in general, but rare in Epictetus. Cf. also frag. 4, where, however, the expression may really belong to Rufus.
  5. The natural way to take this and the next few titles is to assume that Epictetus had quoted with approval a fairly long passage from his revered teacher Musonius Rufus.
  6. That is, from the heavier to the lighter, and again from the lighter to the heavier.
  7. External impressions.
  8. Does not assent or confirm by approval.
  9. Such external impressions.
  10. Also confirms by his approval.
  11. The word seems to occur only here, and may be peculiar to Epictetus.
  12. Does not give his consent.
  13. Without doing, as far as speaking.
  14. Man, where are you stowing all this? Look and see if the vessel has been cleansed. For if you stow it in the vessel of opinion, it is ruined; if it spoils, it turns into urine, or vinegar, or, it may be, something worse.
  15. Somewhat after the fashion of the Cynics.
  16. Bear and forbear.
  17. The king of Macedon.
  18. A penny and a half, or three cents; in other terms, the sixth part of the day's wage of an ordinary labourer.
  19. A famous actor of the fourth century. See J. B. O'Connor, Chapters in the History of Actors and Acting (1908), 128-30.
  20. Capps suggests that ἡσυχῇ is used here as it is in Menander, Hero, 20.
  21. Or "morose," that is, from the point of view of the Epicureans. The reference is to the Stoics, who rejected the "pleasure" of Epicurus, and accepted only that which followed on virtuous conduct.
  22. Frag. 425 (Usener).
  23. The commununity of women which Plato proposed was, first of all, restricted to a small, highly-trained, and devoted band of warrior-saints; and, second, such that no man and woman should pair off for more than a very temporary "marriage," all such matings being carefully supervised by the highest authorities. Instead of being more licentious than ordinary monogamous marriage (which frequently deserves Bernard Shaw's jibe, that it is popular largely because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity), Plato's proposal was relatively a denial of the flesh, and a marked move towards asceticism.
  24. See II. 11, 17. The remark in this connection is no doubt ironical, mockingly justifying the process of "rationalization" just described.
  25. The phrase is from Plato, Symposium, 207 B.
  26. A distinguished Roman Stoic of the middle of the first century after Christ. See I. 1, 28-30; I. 2, 12-13; frag. 22.
  27. The first stop outside Rome for persons travelling south and east, the common direction, as in the well known egressum magna me excepit Aricia Roma (Horace, Sat. I. 5, 1). Compare the version of the same incident in I. 1, 30.
  28. Ascribed to Epictetus by Gaisford and Asmus, but there is some doubt about the ascription, for the resemblance with I. 18 is not conclusive.
  29. He was proconsul of Crete and Cyrenaica under Claudius. For all that is known about him see Prosopographia Imperii Romani, III. p. 4, No. 16.
  30. Memorabilia, I. 4, 7, where, however, the expression is used of a "wise Creator.'
  31. Pointing to his belly.
  32. See IV. 5, 10.
  33. This whole passage is taken to be a direct quotation from Epictetus, with the exception of the first two lines in the second paragraph, where Marcus Aurelius applies the doctrine to himself, and the last two lines, in which he characteristically condenses and summarizes it.