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


Slave, poor as Irus, halting as I trod,
I, Epictetus, was the friend of God.[1]

Epictetus was a slave woman's son, and for many years a slave himself.[2] The tone and temper of his whole life were determined thereby. An all-engulfing passion for independence and freedom so preoccupied him in his youth, that throughout his life he was obsessed with the fear of restraint, and tended to regard mere liberty, even in its negative aspect alone, as almost the highest conceivable good. It is perhaps no less noteworthy that he came from Hierapolis in Phrygia. From of old the Phrygians had conceived of their deities with a singular intensity and entered into their worship with a passion that was often fanaticism, and sometimes downright frenzy. It is, therefore, not unnatural that the one Greek philosopher who, despite the monistic and necessitarian postulates of his philosophy, conceived of his God in as vivid a fashion as the writers of the New Testament, and almost as intimately as the founder of Christianity himself, should have inherited the passion for a personal god from the folk and land of his nativity.[3]

Beside these two illuminating facts, the other details of his life history are of relatively little importance. He was owned for a time by Epaphroditus, the freedman and administrative secretary of Nero, and it was while yet in his service that he began to take lessons from Musonius Rufus, the greatest Stoic teacher of the age, whose influence was the dominant one in his career.[4] He was of feeble health, and lame, the latter probably because of the brutality of a master in his early years;[5] long unmarried, until in his old age he took a wife to help him bring up a little child whose parents, friends of his, were about to expose it;[6] so simple in his style of living, that in Rome he never locked the doors of a habitation, whose only furniture was said to be a pallet and a rush mat, and in Nicopolis (in Epirus, opposite Actium) contented himself with an earthenware lamp after the theft of his iron one.

Of the external aspects of his career it should be noted that he had a recognized position as a philosopher when Domitian banished all such persons from Rome (presumably in A.D. 89 or 92); that he settled in Nicopolis, where he conducted what seems to have been a fairly large and well-regarded school; that he travelled a little, probably to Olympia, and certainly once to Athens.[7] In this connection it should also be observed that his general literary education was not extensive—Homer, of course, a little Plato and Xenophon, principally for their testimony about Socrates, a few stock references to tragedy, and the professional's acquaintance with the philosophy of the later schools, and this is practically all. It can scarcely be doubted, as Schenkl observes (p. xci), that this literary apparatus comes almost entirely from the extensive collections of Chrysippus. And the same may be said of his aesthetic culture. He seems to have seen and been impressed by the gold-and ivory statues of Zeus and Athena, at Olympia and Athens respectively, but he set no very high value upon the work of artists, for he allowed himself once the almost blasphemous characterization of the Acropolis and its incomparable marbles as "pretty bits of stone and a pretty rock." Epictetus was merely moralist and teacher, but yet of such transcendent attainments as such that it seems almost impertinent to expect anything more of him.

The dates of his birth and of his death cannot be determined with any accuracy. The burning of the Capitol in A.D. 69 was yet a vivid memory while he was still a pupil of Musonius;[8] he enjoyed the personal acquaintance of Hadrian, but not of Marcus Aurelius, for all the latter's admiration of him; and he speaks freely of himself as an old man, and is characterized as such by Lucian (Adv. Indoctum, 13); accordingly his life must have covered roughly the period ca. A.D. 50-120, with which limits the rare and rather vague references to contemporary events agree. He was, accordingly, an almost exact contemporary of Plutarch and Tacitus.

Like Socrates and others whom he admired, he wrote nothing for publication,[9] and but little memory would have survived of him had not a faithful pupil, successful as historian and administrator, Flavius Arrian, recorded many a discourse and informal conversation. These are saved to us in four books of Διατριβαί, or Discourses,[10] out of the original eight, and in a very brief compendium, the Ἐγχειρίδιον,[11] a Manual or Handbook, in which, for the sake of a general public which could not take time to read the larger ones, the elements of his doctrine were somewhat mechanically put together out of verbatim, or practically verbatim, extracts from the Discourses. That Arrian's report is a stenographic[12] record of the ipsissima verba of the master there can be no doubt. His own compositions are in Attic, while these works are in the Koine, and there are such marked differences in style, especially in the use of several of the prepositions, as Mücke has pointed out, that one is clearly dealing with another personality. Add to that the utter difference in spirit and tempo, and Arrian's inability when writing propria persona to characterize sharply a personality, while the conversations of Epictetus are nothing if not vivid.

We have, accordingly, in Arrian's Discourses a work which, if my knowledge does not fail me, is really unique in literature, the actual words of an extraordinarily gifted teacher upon scores, not to say hundreds, of occasions in his own class-room, conversing with visitors, reproving, exhorting, encouraging his pupils, enlivening the dullness of the formal instruction, and, in his own parable, shooting it through with the red stripe of a conscious moral purpose in preparation for the problem of right living.[13] The regular class exercises were clearly reading and interpretation of characteristic portions of Stoic philosophical works, somewhat as in an oral examination; problems in formal logic, these apparently conducted by assistants, or advanced pupils; and the preparation of themes or essays on a large scale which required much writing and allowed an ambitious pupil to imitate the style of celebrated authors. The Master supervised the formal instruction in logic, even though it might be conducted by others, but there is no indication that he delivered systematic lectures, although he clearly made special preparation to criticize the interpretations of his pupils (I. 10, 8). From the nature of the comments, which presuppose a fair elementary training in literature, we can feel sure that only young men and not boys were admitted to the school, and there are some remarks which sound very much like introductions to the general subject of study, while others are pretty clearly addressed to those who were about to leave—constituting, in fact, an early and somewhat rudimentary variety of Commencement Address.[14] Some of the pupils were preparing to teach, but the majority, no doubt, like Arrian, were of high social position and contemplated entering the public service.

For a proper understanding of the Discourses it is important to bear in mind their true character, which Halbauer in a valuable study has most clearly stated thus (p. 56): "The Diatribae are not the curriculum proper, nor even a part of that curriculum. On the contrary, this consisted of readings from the Stoic writings, while the Diatribae accompany the formal instruction, dwell on this point or on that, which Epictetus regarded as of special importance, above all give him an opportunity for familiar discourse with his pupils, and for discussing with them in a friendly spirit their personal affairs." They are not, therefore, a formal presentation of Stoic philosophy, so that it is unfair to criticize their lack of system and their relative neglect of logic and physics, upon which the other Stoics laid such stress, for they were not designed as formal lectures, and the class exercises had dwelt satis superque, as Epictetus must have felt, upon the physics and logic, which were after all only the foundation of conduct, the subject in which he was primarily interested. They are class-room comment, in the frank and open spirit which was characteristic of the man, containing not a little of what we should now be inclined to restrict to a private conference, often closely connected, no doubt, with the readings and themes, but quite as often, apparently, little more than obiter dicta.[15] They constitute a remarkable self-revelation of a character of extraordinary strength, elevation, and sweetness, and despite their frequent repetitions and occasional obscurity must ever rank high in the literature of personal portrayal, even were one inclined to disregard their moral elevation. For Epictetus was without doubt, as the great wit and cynic Lucian calls him, "a marvellous old man."

It may not be amiss to dwell a few moments upon the outstanding features of his personality, before saying a few words upon his doctrines, for his doctrines, or at all events the varying emphasis laid on his doctrines, were to a marked degree influenced by the kind of man that he was.

And first of all I should observe that he had the point of view of a man who had suffered from slavery and abhorred it, but had not been altogether able to escape its influence. He was predisposed to suffer, to renounce, to yield, and to accept whatever burden might be laid upon him.[16] He was not a revolutionist, or a cultured gentleman, or a statesman, as were other Stoics before and after. Many of the good things of life which others enjoyed as a matter of course he had grown accustomed never to demand for himself; and the social obligations for the maintenance and advancement of order and civilization, towards which men of higher station were sensitive, clearly did not weigh heavily upon his conscience. His whole teaching was to make men free and happy by a severe restriction of effort to the realm of the moral nature.[17] The celebrated life-formula, ἀνέχου και ἀπέχου, which one feels inclined to retranslate as "Endure and Renounce," in order to give it once more the definite meaning of which the cliché, "Bear and Forbear," has almost robbed it, is, to speak frankly, with all its wisdom, and humility, and purificatory power, not a sufficient programme for a highly organized society making towards an envisaged goal of general improvement.

And again, in youth he must have been almost consumed by a passion for freedom. I know no man upon whose lips the idea more frequently occurs. The words "free" (adjective and verb) and "freedom" appear some 130 times in Epictetus, that is, with a relative frequency about six times that of their occurrence in the New Testament and twice that of their occurrence in Marcus Aurelius, to take contemporary works of somewhat the same general content. And with the attainment of his personal freedom there must have come such an upwelling of gratitude to God as that which finds expression in the beautiful hymn of praise concluding the sixteenth chapter of the first book, so that, while most Stoics assumed or at least recognized the possibility of a kind of immortality, he could wholly dispense with that desire for the survival of personality after death which even Marcus Aurelius felt to be almost necessary for his own austere ideal of happiness.[18]

Almost as characteristic was his intensity. He speaks much of tranquillity, as might be expected of a Stoic, but he was not one of those for whom that virtue is to be achieved only by Henry James's formula of successive accumulations of "endless" amounts of history, and tradition, and taste. His was a tranquillity, if there really be such a thing, of moral fervour, and of religious devotion. His vehemence gave him an extraordinarily firm and clean-cut character, and made him a singularly impressive teacher, as Arrian in the introductory epistle attests. For he was enormously interested in his teaching, knowing well that in this gift lay his single talent; made great efforts to present his material in the simplest terms and in well-arranged sequence; and sharply reproved those who blamed the stupidity of their pupils for what was due to their own incompetence in instruction. It also gave a notable vigour to his vocabulary and utterance, his παρρησία, or freedom of speech, suo quamque rem nomine appellare, as Cicero (Ad. Fam. IX. 22, 1) characterizes that Stoic virtue, which few exemplified more effectively than Epictetus; but it also, it must be confessed, made him somewhat intolerant of the opinions of others, were they philosophic or religious, in a fashion which for better or for worse was rapidly gaining ground in his day.[19]

But he was at the same time extremely modest. He never calls himself a "philosopher," he speaks frankly of his own failings, blames himself quite as much as his pupils for the failure of his instruction ofttimes to produce its perfect work, and quotes freely the disrespectful remarks of others about him. He is severe in the condemnation of the unrepentant sinner, but charitable towards the naïve wrongdoer, going so far, in fact, in this direction as to advocate principles which would lead to the abolition of all capital punishment.[20] He is much more an angel of mercy than a messenger of vengeance.[21] And this aspect of his character comes out most clearly perhaps in his attitude towards children, for with them a man can be more nearly himself than with his sophisticated associates. No ancient author speaks as frequently of them, or as sympathetically. They are one of his favourite parables,[22] and though he is well aware that a child is only an incomplete man, he likes their straightforwardness in play, he claps his hands to them and returns their "Merry Saturnalia!" greeting, yearns to get down on hands and knees and talk baby talk with them. There is, of course, a sense in which Pascal's stricture of Stoic pride applies to Epictetus, for the Stoic virtues were somewhat self-consciously erected upon the basis of self-respect and self-reliance; but a more humble and charitable Stoic it would have been impossible to find, and what pride there is belongs to the system and not to the man.[23] Towards God he is always devout, grateful, humble, and there is a little trace in him of that exaltation of self which in some of the Stoics tended to accord to the ideal man a moral elevation that made him sometimes the equal if not in certain aspects almost the superior of God.[24]

His doctrines were the conventional ones of Stoicism, representing rather the teaching of the early Stoics than that of the middle and later schools, as Bonhöffer has elaborately proven. There is, accordingly, no occasion to dwell at length upon them, but for the sake of those who may wish to fit a particular teaching into his general scheme, a very brief outline may here be attempted.[25]

Every man bears the exclusive responsibility himself for his own good or evil, since it is impossible to imagine a moral order in which one person does the wrong and another, the innocent, suffers. Therefore, good and evil can be only those things which depend entirely upon our moral purpose, what we generally call, but from the Stoic's point of view a little inaccurately, our free will; they cannot consist in any of those things which others can do either to us or for us. Man's highest good lies in the reason, which distinguishes him from other animals. This reason shows itself in assent or dissent, in desire or aversion, and in choice or refusal,[26] which in turn are based upon an external impression, φαντασία, that is, a prime datum, a "constant," beyond our power to alter. But we remain free in regard to our attitude towards them. The use which we make of the external impressions is our one chief concern, and upon the right kind of use depends exclusively our happiness. In the realm of judgement the truth or falsity of the external impression is to be decided. Here our concern is to assent to the true impression, reject the false, and suspend judgement regarding the uncertain. This is an act of the moral purpose, or free will. We should never forget this responsibility, and never assent to an external impression without this preliminary testing. In order to escape from being misled by fallacious reasoning in the formation of these judgements we need instruction in logic, although Epictetus warns against undue devotion to the subtleties of the subject.

Corresponding to assent or dissent in the realm of the intellectual are desire or aversion in the realm of good and evil, which is the most important thing for man, since from failing to attain one's desire, and from encountering what one would avoid, come all the passions and sorrows of mankind. In every desire or aversion there is implicit a value-judgement concerning the good or evil of the particular thing involved, and these in turn rest upon general judgements (δόγματα) regarding things of value. If we are to make the proper use of our freedom in the field of desire or aversion we must have the correct judgements concerning good and evil. Now the correct judgement is, that nothing outside the realm of our moral purpose is either good or evil. Nothing, therefore, of that kind can rightly be the object of desire or aversion, hence we should restrict the will to the field in which alone it is free, and cannot, therefore, come to grief. But herein we need not merely the correct theoretical conviction, but also continual practice in application (ἄσκησις), and it is this which Epictetus attempts to impart to his pupils, for it is the foundation of his whole system of education.

Finally, in the field of choice or refusal belongs the duty[27] (τὸ καθῆκον) of man, his intelligent action in human and social relations. Externals, which are neither good nor evil, and so indifferent (ἀδιάφορα), because not subject to our control, play a certain role, none the less, as matters with which we have to deal, indeed, but should regard no more seriously than players treat the actual ball with which they play, in comparison with the game itself. It is characteristic of Epictetus that, although he recognizes this part of Stoic doctrine in which the theoretical indifference of externals is in practice largely abandoned, he manifests but slight interest in it.

Among duties he is concerned principally with those of a social character. Nature places us in certain relations to other persons, and these determine our obligations to parents, brothers, children, kinsmen, friends, fellow-citizens, and mankind in general. We ought to have the sense of fellowship and partnership (κοινωνικοί), that is, in thought and in action we ought to remember the social organization in which we have been placed by the divine order. The shortcomings of our fellow-men are to be met with patience and charity, and we should not allow ourselves to grow indignant over them, for they too are a necessary element in the universal plan.

The religious possibilities of Stoicism are developed further by Epictetus than by any other representative of the school. The conviction that the universe is wholly governed by an all-wise, divine Providence is for him one of the principal supports of the doctrine of values. All things, even apparent evils, are the will of God, comprehended in his universal plan, and therefore good from the point of view of the whole. It is our moral duty to elevate ourselves to this conception, to see things as God sees them. The man who reconciles his will to the will of God, and so recognizes that every event is necessary and reasonable for the best interest of the whole, feels no discontent with anything outside the control of his free will. His happiness he finds in filling the role which God has assigned him, becoming thereby a voluntary co-worker with God, and in filling this role no man can hinder him.

Religion as reconciliation to the inevitable—ἑκόντα δέχεσθαι τὰ ἀναγκαῖα (frg. 8), in gratiam cum fato revertere[28]—is almost perfectly exemplified in Epictetus, for with him philosophy has definitely turned religion, and his instruction has become less secular than clerical.[29] But it is astonishing to what heights of sincere devotion, of intimate communion, he attained, though starting with the monistic preconceptions of his school, for the very God who took, as he felt, such personal interest in him, was after all but "a subtle form of matter pervading the grosser physical elements . . . this Providence only another name for a mechanical law of expansion and contraction, absolutely predetermined in its everlasting recurrences."[30] Of his theology one can scarcely speak. His personal needs and his acquiescence with tradition led him to make of his God more than the materials of his philosophical tenets could allow. The result is for our modern thinking an almost incredible mixture of Theism, Pantheism, and Polytheism, and it is impossible, out of detached expressions, to construct a consistent system. As a matter of fact, with a naïve faith in God as a kind of personification of the soul's desire, he seems to have cherished simultaneously all of these mutually exclusive views of his nature. His moral end was eudaemonism, to which, in a singularly frank expression (I. 4, 27), he was ready to sacrifice even truth itself. No wonder, then, he cared little for logic as such and not at all for science.[31] "The moralist assumes that what lies upon his heart as an essential need, must also be the essence and heart of reality. . . . In looking at everything from the point of view of happiness men bound the arteries of scientific research." Though spoken of the Socratic schools in general, this word of Nietzsche's[32] seems especially apt of Epictetus. He was of an age when the search for happiness by the process of consulting merely the instincts of the heart was leading rapidly to an alienation from scientific truth and a prodigious decline in richness of cultural experience.

Yet even in his happiness, which we cannot dismiss as a mere pose, there was something wanting. The existence of evil was in one breath denied, and in another presumed by the elaborate preparations that one must make to withstand it. "And having done all, to stand?" No, even after having done all, "the house might get too full of smoke," the hardships of life too great any longer to endure; the ominous phrase, "the door is open," or its equivalent, the final recourse of suicide, recurs at intervals through his pages like a tolling bell. And beyond? Nothing. Nothing to fear indeed; "the dewdrop sinks into the shining sea." "When He provides the necessities no longer. He sounds the recall; He opens the door and says, 'Go.' Where? To nothing you need fear, but back to that from which you came, to what is friendly and akin to you, to the physical elements" (III. 13, 14). But at the same time there is nothing to hope for.[33]

That Epictetus was influenced by the writings of the New Testament has often been suggested. There were those in late antiquity who asserted it,[34] and it was natural enough in an age when Tertullian and Jerome believed that Seneca had conversed with Paul, and in Musonius Rufus, the teacher of Epictetus, Justin (II. 8) recognizes a kindred spirit. But despite the recrudescence of the idea from time to time, and the existence of a few scholars in our own generation who seem yet to believe it, this question can be regarded as definitely settled by the elaborate researches of Bonhöffer (1911). Of course Epictetus knew about the existence of Christians, to whom he twice refers, calling them once Jews (II. 9, 19 ff.), and a second time Galilaeans (IV. 7, 6), for there was an early community at Nicopolis (Paul's Epistle to Titus, iii. 12), but he shared clearly in the vulgar prejudices against them, and his general intolerance of variant opinion, even when for conscience' sake, makes it certain that he would never have bothered to read their literature. The linguistic resemblances, which are occasionally striking, like "Lord, have mercy!" κύριε, ἐλέησον, are only accidental, because Epictetus was speaking the common language of ethical exhortation in which the evangelists and apostles wrote; while the few specious similarities are counterbalanced by as many striking differences. In the field of doctrine, the one notable point of disregard for the things of this world[35] is offset by so many fundamental differences in presupposition, if not in common ethical practice, that any kind of a sympathetic understanding of the new religion on the part of Epictetus is inconceivable. A certain ground-tone of religious capability, a fading of interest in the conventional fields of human achievement, a personal kindliness and "harmlessness" of character, a truly pathetic longing as of tired men for a passive kind of happiness, an ill-defined yearning to be "saved" by some spectacular and divine intervention, these things are all to be found in the Discourses, yet they are not there as an effect of Christian teaching, but as a true reflection of the tone and temper of those social circles to which the Gospel made its powerful appeal.[36]

His influence has been extensive and has not yet waned. Hadrian was his friend, and, in the next generation, Marcus Aurelius was his ardent disciple. Celsus, Gellius, and Lucian lauded him, and Galen wrote a special treatise in his defence. His merits were recognized by Christians like Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Augustine, while Origen rated him in some respects even above Plato. His Manual, with a few simple changes, principally in the proper names, was adapted by two different Christian ascetics as a rule and guide of monastic life.[37]

In modern times his vogue started rather slowly with translations by Perotti and Politian, but vernacular versions began to appear in the sixteenth century, and at the end of that century and the first part of the subsequent one, Epictetus was one of the most powerful forces in the movement of Neo-Stoicism, especially under the protagonists Justus Lipsius and Bishop Guillaume Du Vair.[38] His work and the essays of Montaigne were the principal secular readings of Pascal, and it was with Epictetus and his disciple Marcus Aurelius that the Earl of Shaftesbury "was most thoroughly conversant."[39] Men as different as Touissant L'Ouverture and Landor, Frederick the Great and Leopardi, have been among his admirers. The number of editions and new printings of his works, or of portions or translations of the same, averages considerably more than one for each year since the invention of printing. In the twentieth century, through the inclusion of Crossley's Golden Sayings of Epictetus in Charles William Eliot's Harvard Series of Classics, and of the Manual in Carl Hilty's Glück, of which two works upwards of three hundred and fifty thousand copies had, at a recent date, been sold, it may safely be asserted that more copies of portions of his work have been printed in the last two decades than ever existed all told from his own day down to that time.

In concluding one can hardly refrain from translating a portion of the sincere and stirring passage in which Justus Lipsius, a great man and a distinguished scholar, paid Epictetus the tribute of his homage:

"So much for Seneca; another brilliant star arises, Epictetus, his second in time, but not in merit; comparable with him in the weight, if not in the bulk, of his writings; superior in his life. He was a man who relied wholly upon himself and God, but not on Fortune. In origin low and servile, in body lame and feeble, in mind most exalted, and brilliant among the lights of every age. . . .

"But few of his works remain: the Encheiridion, assuredly a noble piece, and as it were the soul of Stoic moral philosophy; besides that, the Discourses, which he delivered on the streets, in his house, and in the school, collected and arranged by Arrian. Nor are these all extant. . . . But, so help me God, what a keen and lofty spirit in them! a soul aflame, and burning with love of the honourable! There is nothing in Greek their like, unless I am mistaken; I mean with such notable vigour and fire. A novice or one unacquainted with true philosophy he will hardly stir or affect, but when a man has made some progress or is already far advanced, it is amazing how Epictetus stirs him up, and though he is always touching some tender spot, yet he gives delight also. . . . There is no one who better influences and shapes a good mind. I never read that old man without a stirring of my soul within me, and, as with Homer, I think the more of him each time I re-read him, for he seems always new; and even after I have returned to him I feel that I ought to return to him yet once more."


The editio princeps of Epictetus was prepared by Victor Trincavelli at Venice, in 1535, from a singularly faulty MS., so that it is valueless for the purposes of textual criticism. The first substantial work of a critical character was done by Jacob Schegk, a distinguished professor of medicine at Tübingen, in the edition of Basel, 1554. Although few changes were made in the Greek text, Schegk employed his admirable Latin version as a medium for the correction of hundreds of passages. Even greater were the services of Hieronymus Wolf, whose edition, with translation and commentary, Basel, 1560, is perhaps the most important landmark in Epictetean studies, but for some reason failed to influence markedly the common tradition, which long thereafter continued to reproduce the inferior Greek text of Schegk (Trincavelli).

The next advance is connected with the name of John Upton, whose work appeared in parts, London, 1739-41. Upton had some knowledge of a number of MSS., and in particular a "codex," which was a copy of the Trincavelli edition that contained in the margins numerous readings of a MS. now in Mutina, and possibly other MSS., together with notes and emendations from Wolf, Salmasius, and others, so that one cannot be certain always just what "authority" is behind any particular reading whose source is otherwise not accounted for. He had, moreover, the annotations of Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury, and the assistance of the learned James Harris, and his contributions to the interpretation of Epictetus in the elaborate commentary are numerous. Richard Bentley's sagacious and often brilliant emendations entered in the margins of his copy of the Trincavelli edition remained unfortunately unknown until quite recently, as also the ingenious and stimulating, but on the whole less carefully considered, annotations of J. J. Reiske (in H. Schenkl's edition).

Appropriately designated Monumenta (Epicteteae Philosophiae Monumenta) is the great work in five large volumes by Johannes Schweighäuser, Leipzig, 1799-1800, immediately following a notable edition, in fact the only really critical edition, of the Encheiridion (1798), which, despite its imperfections, subsequent editors have been content merely to reprint. Schweighäuser's work is characterized by acumen, industry, and lucidity, and it will be long before it is entirely superseded. The edition by A. Koraes, Paris, 1826, although its author was a learned and ingenious scholar, is marred by a number of unnecessary rewritings.

A substantial critical edition we owe to the painstaking labours of Heinrich Schenkl (Leipzig, 1894; editio minor, 1898; second edition, 1916). This is based upon the Bodleian MS. Misc. Graec. 251, s. xi/xii, which Schenkl and, it would appear, J. L. G. Mowat before him (Journ. of. Philol. 1877, 60 ff.; cf. J. B. Mayor, Cl. Rev. 1895, 31 f., and Schenkl, ed. minor, 1898, p. iv; ed. 1916, p. iv) have shown to be the archetype of all the numerous existing MSS. of the Discourses.[41] For the editio minor (1898) a new collation was prepared by the skilled hand of W. M. Lindsay, and for the second edition (1916) Schenkl himself had photographs of the complete MS. to work with, while T. W. Allen furnished an expert's transcription of the Scholia, with the result that, although the first edition by Schenkl left something to be desired in the accuracy and fullness of its MS. readings, one can approach the apparatus criticus of the second edition with all reasonable confidence. Schenkl's own contributions to the constitution of the text by way of emendation are considerable, the number of emendations, however, wisely somewhat reduced in the latest printing. A very full index verborum greatly facilitates studies of all kinds.

Of the Encheiridion scores of editions have appeared, but hardly any that deserve mention either for critical or exegetical value, except those that form parts of the above-mentioned editions by Wolf, Upton, and Schweighäuser (a better text in his separate edition of the Encheiridion, Leipzig, 1798). But a few necessary remarks about that work and the Fragments will be given in the introduction to the second volume of the present work.

A brief list of some of the most important titles bearing upon the criticism of Epictetus:—

H. von Arnim, article "Epiktetos," in Pauly's Realencyclopädie, etc., Zweite Bearbeitung, VI. 126-31. Contains an excellent summary of his teaching.

E. V. Arnold, Roman Stoicism. Cambridge, 1911. Article "Epictetus," in Hastings, Enc. of Rel. VI, 323 f.

R. Asmus, Quaestiones Epicteteae. Freiburg i. B. 1888.

R. Bentley's critical notes on Arrian's "Discourses of Epictetus"; Trans. Amer. Philol. Assoc. 1921, 53, 40-52 (by W. A. Oldfather).

A. Bonhöffer, Epiktet und die Stoa. Stuttgart, 1890. Die Ethik des Stoikers Epiktet. Stuttgart, 1894. Epiktet und das Neue Testament. Giessen, 1911. "Epiktet und das Neue Testament," Zeitschr. für die neutest. Wiss. 1912, 13, 281-92. These are incomparably the most important critical works on the subjects which they cover, and on many points have reached definitive conclusions.

R. Bultmann, Der Stil der paulinischen Predlgt und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe. Marburg, 1910. "Das religiose Moment in der ethischen Unterweisung des Epiktets und das Neue Testament," Zeitschr. für die neatest. Wiss. 1912, 13, 97 ff., 177 ff.

Th. Colardeau, Étude sur Épictète. Paris, 1903.

F. W. Farrar, Seekers after God. London, 1863, and often reprinted.

H. Gomperz, Die Lehensauffassung der griechischen Philosophen und das Ideal der inneren Freiheit. Jena, 1904. P. 186, and especially 195 ff. 2nd ed. 1915.

O. Halbauer, De diatribis Epicteti. Leipzig, 1911.

K. Hartmann, "Arrian und Epiktet," Neue Jahrb. 1905, 15, 248-75.

E. Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church. Sixth ed., London, 1897.

Fr. M. J. Lagrange, "La philosophie religieuse d'Épictète, etc." Revue Biblique, 1912, 91 ff.; 192 ff.

W. S. Landor, Imaginary Conversations of Greeks and Romans. London, 1853, and often reprinted. "Epictetus and Seneca."

J. Lipsius, Manuductio ad Stoicam philosophiam. I. xix, pp. 62-64. ed. Antwerp, 1604. Vol. IV, p. 681 f., ed. Wesel, 1625.

C. Martha, Les moralistes sous l'empire romain, philosophes et poètes. Paris, 1865, and often reprinted.

J. B. Mayor, Rev. of H. Schenkl's "Epictetus," Class. Rev., 1895, 9, 31-7.

P. E. H. Melcher, "De sermone Epicteteo quibus rebus ab Attica regula discedat," Diss, philol. Hallenses, 17, 1905.

G. Misch, Geschichte der Autobiographie. Leipzig and Berlin, 1907. Pp. 257-65.

P. E. More, Hellenistic Philosophies. Princeton, 1923. Epictetus, pp. 94-171.

R. Mücke, Zu Arrians und Epiktels Sprachgebrauch. Nordhausen, 1887.

B. Pascal, Entretien avec de Saci sur Épictète et Montaigne. First published in authentic form in M. Havet: Pensées de Pascal, Paris, 1852, and frequently since that time. For discussions of Pascal's very interesting views see especially M. J. Guyau: Pascal, etc., Paris, 1875 C. A. Saint-Beuve: Port Royal, fifth edition. Paris, 1888 ff., Vol. II. pp. 381 ff. F. Strowski: Histoire du sentiment religieux en France du xviii siècle, fourth edition. Paris, 1909.

R. Renner. Zu Epiktets Diatriben. Amberg, 1904. Das Kind. Ein Gleichnismittel aes Epiktets München, 1905.

D. S. Sharp, Epictetus and the New Testament. London, 1914.

Rt. Rev. J. L. Spalding, Glimpses of Truth, with essays on Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Chicago, 1903. Third edition, 1913.

L. Stein, Die Psychologie der Stoa. Berlin, 1886, 1888.

J. Stuhrmann, De vocabulis notionum philosophicarum in Epicteti libris. Neustadt, 1885.

K. Vorlander, "Christliche Gedanken eines heidnischen Philosophen," Preuss. Jahrb., 1897, pp. 89, 193-222.

Louis Weber, "La morale d'Épictète et les besoins présents de l'enseignement moral," Rev. de Metaph. et de Moral, six articles, 1905-1909.

U. von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, "Die griechische Literatur des Altertums," in Kultur der Gegenwart³, I. 8 (Leipzig and Berlin, 1912), 244. Compare also the admirable statement in his Griechisches Lesebuch, I. (Berlin, 1902), pp. 230-1.

Th. Zahn, Der Stoiker Epiktet und sein Verhältnis zum Christentum. Erlangen, 1894. Second edition, Leipzig, 1895. The thesis, that Epictetus was acquainted with the New Testament, has been very generally rejected, but the address has value apart from that contention.

L. Zanta, La renaissance du stoicisme au xvie siecle. Paris, 1914. La traduction française du Manuel d'Épictète d'André de Rivaudeau, etc. Paris, 1914.

E. Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen⁴, III. 1 (Leipzig, 1909), 765-81; III. 2 (1902), 910-14.

There have been three notable translations into English of Epictetus; a vigorous and idiomatic reproduction by Elizabeth Carter (1758, and often thereafter), a learned and exact rendition by George Long (1877, and frequently reproduced), and a most fluent and graceful version by P. E. Matheson (1916). To all of these, but especially to the last mentioned, I have been indebted upon occasion.


S = Cod. Bodleianus Misc. Graec. 251, s. xi/xii.
Sa, Sb, Sc, Sd = corrections of different periods, as discriminated by Schenkl.
s = one or more copies of S.

In general only the important deviations from S have been recorded in the apparatus criticus. All substantial emendations, when made by modern scholars, are recorded, but the obvious corrections made by Greek scholars themselves, either on S itself or in its numerous copies, have generally been passed over in silence, since the number of these is so large (for S is full of errors of all kinds) that they would seriously clutter up the page without adding anything important to our knowledge. For details of the MS. tradition the reader is referred to the elaborate apparatus in Schenkl's second ed. (Leipzig, 1916), upon which the present text is dependent, although I have not hesitated to depart from his reading or his punctuation in a number of passages.


Urbana, Illinois.

March 6, 1925.

Footnotes edit

  1. Δοῦλος Ἐπίκτητος γενόμην καὶ σῶμ᾿ ἀνάπηρος καὶ πενίην Ἶρος καὶ φίλος ἀθανάτοις. An anonymous epigram (John Chrys., Patrol. Gr. LX. 111; Macrob. Sat. I. 11, 45; Anth. Pal. VII. 676), as translated by H. Macnaghten. The ascription to Leonidas is merely a palaeographical blunder in part of the MS. tradition, that to Epictetus himself (by Macrobius) a patent absurdity.
  2. This is the explicit testimony of an undated but fairly early inscription from Pisidia (J. R. S. Sterrett: Papers of the Amer. School of Class. Stud. at Athens, 1884-5, 3, 315f.; G. Kaibel: Hermes, 1888, 23, 542ff.), and of Palladius (Ps.-Callisthenes, III, 10, ed. C. Müller), and is distinctly implied by a phrase in a letter professedly addressed to him by one of the Philostrati (Ep. 69: ἐκλανθάνεσθαι τίς εἶ καì τίνων γέγονας). I see, therefore, no reason to doubt the statement, as does Schenkl (2nd ed., p. xvi). The phrase δοῦλος . . . γενόμην in the epigram cited above cannot be used as certain evidence, because γίγνεσθαι, as Schenkl observes, too frequently equals εἶναι in the poets, but, in view of the other testimony, it in probable that servile origin was what the author of it had in mind. There in little reason to think, with Martha (Les Moralistes, etc., 159), that Epictetus was not his real name, and that the employment of it is indicative of a modesty so real that it sought even a kind of anonymity, since the designation is by no means restricted to slaves, while his modesty, because coupled with Stoic straightforwardness, is far removed from the shrinking humility that seeks self effacement.
  3. It is noteworthy, as Lagrange, p. 201, observes, that Montanus, who soon after the time of Epictetus "threatened Christianity with the invasion of undisciplined spiritual graces," was also a Phrygian.
  4. So many passages in Epictetus can be paralleled closely from the remaining fragments of Rufus (as Epictetus always calls him) that there can be no doubt but the system of thought in the pupil is little more than an echo, with changes of emphasis due to the personal equation, of that of the master.
  5. This is generally doubted nowadays, especially since Bentley's emphatic pronouncement (cf. Trans. Am. Philol. Assoc., 1921, 53, 42) in favour of the account in Suidas, to the effect that his lameness was the result of rheumatism. Ceteris paribus one would, of course, accept as probable the less sensational story. But it requires unusual powers of credulity to believe Suidas against any authority whomsoever, and in this case the other authorities are several, early, and excellent. In the first place Celsus (in Origen, contra Celsum, VII, 53), who was probably a younger contemporary of Epictetus and had every occasion to be well informed; further, Origen (l.c.), who clearly accepted and believed the story, since his very answer to the argument admits the authenticity of the account, while the easiest or most convincing retort would have been to deny it; then Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Caesarius (in a number of places, see the testimonia in Schenkl², pp viii–ix; of course the absurdities in Pseudo-Nonnus, Cosmas of Jerusalem, Elias of Crete, et id genus omne, have no bearing either way). Now the fact that such men as Origen and Gregory accepted and propagated the account (even though Epictetus, and in this particular instance especially, had been exploited as a pagan saint, the equal or the superior of even Jesus himself) is sufficient to show that the best informed Christians of the third and fourth centuries knew of no other record. To my feeling it is distinctly probable that the denial of the incident may have emanated from some over-zealous Christian, in a period of less scrupulous apologetics, who thought to take down the Pagans a notch or two. The very brief statement in Simplicius, "that he was lame from an early period of his life" (Comm. on the Encheiridion, 102b Heins.), establishes nothing and would agree perfectly with either story. The connection in which the words occur would make any explanatory digression unnatural, and, whereas similar conciseness in Plutarch might perhaps argue ignorance of further details, such an inference would be false for Simplicius, the dullness of whose commentary is so portentous that it cannot be explained as merely the unavoidable concomitant of vast scholarship and erudition, but must have required a deliberate effort directed to the suppression of the elements of human interest. Epictetus' own allusions to his lameness are non-committal, but of course he would have been the last person to boast about such things. And yet, even then, the references to the power of one's master, or tyrant, to do injury by means of chains, sword, rack, scourging, prison, exile, crucifixion, and the like (although the general theme is a kind of Stoic commonplace), are so very numerous as compared with the physical afflictions which come in the course of nature, that it is altogether reasonable to think of his imagination having been profoundly affected during his impressionable years by a personal experience of this very sort.
  6. He had been stung, no doubt, by the bitter and in his case unfair gibe of Demonax, who, on hearing Epictetus' exhortation to marry, had sarcastically asked the hand of one of his daughters (Lucian, Demon. 55).
  7. Philostratus, Epist. 69; Lucian, Demon. 55 would not be inconsistent with the idea of such a visit, but does not necessarily presuppose it.
  8. The Capitol was burned in 69 and again in A.D. 80, but the reference to the event (I. 7, 32) as a crime suggests that the earlier date should be understood, since the burning then was due to revolution, while that in A.D. 80 was accidental.
  9. Although he must have written much for his own purposes in elaborating his argumentation by dialectic, since he lauds Socrates for such a practice and speaks of it as usual for a "philosopher." Besides, in his own discourses he is always looking for an interlocutor, whom he often finds in the person of pupil or visitor, but, failing these, he carries on both sides of the debate himself. Cf. Colardeau, p. 294 f.
  10. Some, especially Schenkl, have believed in the existence of other collections, and it was long thought that Arrian had composed a special biography. But the evidence for the other works seems to be based entirely upon those variations in title and form of reference which ancient methods of citation freely allowed, and it is improbable that there ever existed any but the works just mentioned. See the special study by R. Asmus, whose conclusions have been accepted by Zeller, 767, n., and many others.
  11. This has occasionally been translated by Pugio, or Dagger, in early modern editions, possibly with a half-conscious memory of Hebrews iv. 12: For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. But despite the not inappropriate character of such a designation, and the fact that Simplicius himself (preface to his commentary) misunderstood the application, there can be no doubt but the word βιβλίον is to be supplied and that the correct meaning is Handbook or Compendium; cf. Colardeau's discussion, p. 25.
  12. Hartmann, p. 252 ff., has settled this point.
  13. Colardeau, pp. 71-113, has an admirable discussion of the method and technique of instruction employed. In view of the singularly valuable nature of the material it seems strange that more attention has not been paid to Epictetus in the history of ancient education.
  14. See Halbauer, p. 45 ff., for a good discussion of these points and a critique of the views of Bruns, Colardeau, and Hartmann.
  15. Cf. Bonhöffer, 1890, 22. The arrangement of topics by Arrian is a point which seems not to have been discussed as fully as it deserves. Hartmann's view, that the order is that of exact chronological sequence, seems to be an exaggeration of what may be in the main correct, but I think I can trace evidences of a somewhat formal nature in some of the groupings, and it seems not unlikely that a few of the chapters contain remarks delivered on several occasions. However, this is a point which requires an elaborate investigation and cannot be discussed here.
  16. Compare the excellent remarks of E. V. Arnold upon this point, Encyclop., etc., 324.
  17. See Zeller's admirable discussion of this topic, p. 776.
  18. "Sich aber als Menschheit (und nicht nur als Individuum) ebenso vergeudet zu fühlen, wie wir die einzelne Blüthe von der Natur vergeudet sehen, ist ein Gefühl über alle Gefühle.—Wer ist aber desselben fähig?" F. Nietzsche: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, I. 51.
  19. See Bonhöffer's remarks upon this point (1911, 346).
  20. I, 18, especially sections 5 ff.
  21. See Colardeau, p. 209 ff., and Zeller, p. 780 f.
  22. Cf. Renner's interesting study.
  23. Pascal's judgment (to say nothing of the grotesque misconceptions of J. B. Rousseau) was undoubtedly influenced by his preoccupation with the Encheiridion, which, as necessarily in such a compendium of doctrine, is more Stoic than Epictetean, and suppresses many of the more amiable traits of personality. The actual man of the Discourses is a very much more attractive figure than the imaginary reconstruction of the man from the abstracted principles of the Manual; there he is a man, here a statue (Martha, 162 f.). It would go hard with many to have their personal traits deduced from the evidence supplied by the grammars, indices, or even confessions of faith that they have written; especially hard if the compendium were drawn up somewhat mechanically by another's hand.
  24. As expressed, e.g., in Seneca, De Prov. VI. 6: Hoc est quo deum antecedatis: ille extra patientiam malorum est, vos supra patientiam. Cf. also Zeller, 257.
  25. I am following here in the main, but not uniformly, Von Arnim's admirable snmmary.
  26. This triple division of philosophy, with especial but not exclusive application to ethics, is the only notably original element which the minute studies of many investigators have found in Epictetus, and it is rather a pedagogical device for lucid presentation than an innovation in thought. See Bonhöffer, 1890, 22 ff.; Zeller, p. 769; especially More, p. 107 f.
  27. On the use of this term, cf. More, p. 116, 12.
  28. Seneca, Ep. 91, 15. "Dass der Mensch ins Unvermeidliche sich füge, darauf dringen alle Religionen; jede sucht auf ihre Weise mit dieser Aufgabe fertig zu werden."—Goethe.
  29. Cf. Lagrange, p. 211.—"The school of the philosophers is a hospital" (cf. Epict. III. 23, 30).
  30. More, p. 167, and cf. the whole brilliant passage, p. 162 ff.
  31. Cf. Zeller. p. 770.
  32. Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, I. 21; 23.
  33. See More, p. 168 ff.
  34. A Byzantine scholiast in Schenkl² xv.
  35. "I find in Epictetus," says Pascal, "an incomparable art to disturb the repose of those who seek it in things external, and to force them to recognize that it is impossible for them to find anything but the error and the suffering which they are seeking to escape, if they do not give themselves without reserve to God alone."
  36. "For it is doubtful if there was ever a Christian of the early Church," remarks von Wilamowitz (Kultur der Gegenwart³, I. 8, 244), "who came as close to the real teaching of Jesus as it stands in the synoptic gospels as did this Phrygian."
  37. The same was done again in the seventeenth century for the Carthusians by Matthias Mittner (1632), who took the first 35 of his 50 precepts Ad conservandam animi pacem from the Encheiridion. See Acta Erudit. 1726, 264.
  38. See Zanta's elaborate work upon the share taken by these men in the movement.
  39. B. Rand: The Life, etc., of Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury (author of the Characteristics), (1900), p. xi.
  40. For details see my forthcoming Contributions toward a Bibliography of Epictetus.
  41. For some account of a large number of these, see Schenkl², LV—LVIII. Their value is very slight indeed, and only for purposes of emendation, since as yet there seem to exist no authentic traces of the existence of a second early MS. of Epictetus, so that the Discourses must have survived the Middle Ages in only a single exemplar.