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From The Teaching of Epictetus: Being the ‘Encheiridion of Epictetus,’ with Selections from the ‘Dissertations’ and ‘Fragments,’ translated from the Greek, with Introduction and Notes, by T. W. Rolleston; Chicago; Donohue, Henneberry & Co; undated; pp. 1 to 34.


The Teaching of Epictetus : Being the ‘Encheiridion of Epictetus,’ with Selections from the ‘Dissertations’ and ‘Fragments.’


T. W. Rolleston.






But for the zeal and ability of one disciple we should not now possess any trustworthy account of the teaching of Epitectus. For, like not a few other sages, he wrote nothing — his teaching was purely oral, delivered, in the form of lectures or discourses, to the students who came to him to receive their education in philosophy. One of these students was Flavius Arrianus, afterwards Senator and Consul of Rome, named by Lucian, “one among the first of Roman men,” and known to us chiefly as author of the best history of Alexander the Great which was produced in antiquity. That history is still extant, but posterity owes Arrian still more abundant thanks for the copious notes of the teaching of Epitectus which he took down from his master’s lips in Nicopolis. This record he afterwards published in eight books (whereof only four now remain), entitled the Dissertations of Epitectus; and out of these he drew the Encheiridion, or Manual, of Epitectus, by which this philosopher has hitherto been most generally known.1


It is clear that the Dissertations were not regarded by Arrian as a satisfactory representation of the teaching of his master; that he published them, indeed, with much reluctance, and only when it appeared that unless he did so, certain imperfect versions of his records would be established as the sole sources of authoritative information about Epitectus. These circumstances are explained in a dedicatory letter to his friend Lucius Gellius, prefixed to the edition of the Dissertations which Arrian finally resolved to issue. I here translate this document in full :—

“Arrian to Lucius Gellius, hail.

“I did not write [in literary form and composition, συγγράφειν] the words of Epitectus in the manner in which a man might write such things. Neither have I put them forth among men, since, as I say, I did not even write them. But whatever I heard him speak, those things I endeavored to set down in his very words, so to preserve to myself for future times a memorial of his thought and unstudied speech. Naturally, therefore, they are such things as one man might say to another on the occasion of the moment, not such as he would put together with the idea of finding readers long afterwards. Such they are, and I know not how without my will or knowledge they fell among men. But to me it is no great 7 matter if I shall appear unequal to composing such a work, and to Epitectus none at all if any one shall despise his discourse; for when he spoke it, it was evident that he had but one aim — to stir the minds of his hearers towards the best of things. And if, indeed, the words here written should do the same, then they will do, I think, that which the words of sages ought to do. But if not, yet let those who read them know this, that when he himself spoke them, it was impossible for the hearer to avoid feeling whatever Epitectus desired he should feel. But if his words, when they are merely words, have not this effect, perhaps it is that I am in fault, perhaps it could not have been otherwise. Farewell!”

The style of the Dissertations, as they have reached us, answers very well to the above account of their origin and purpose. They contain much that the world should be as little willing to neglect as anything that Greek philosophy has left us; but they contain also many repetitions, redundancies, incoherencies; and are absolutely devoid of any sort of order or system in their arrangement. Each chapter has generally something of a central theme, but beyond this all is chaos. The same theme will be dwelt on again and again in almost the same phrases; utterances of majestic wisdom are imbedded in pages of tedious argument, 8 and any grouping of the chapters according to a progressive sequence of ideas will be looked for in vain.

Under these conditions it was evident that the teaching of Epitectus could never win half the influence which its essential qualities fitted it to exercise. And accordingly, as another and better vehicle for this influence, Arrian compiled and condensed from the Dissertations the small handbook of the Stoic philosophy known as the Encheiridion of Epitectus. This little work has made Epitectus known to very many whom the Dissertations would never have reached. It had the distinction — unparalleled in the case of any other Pagan writing, if we except the doubtful Sententiæ of Xystus — of being adopted as a religious work in the early Christian Church. Two paraphrases of it — still extant — one of which was specially designed for the use of monastic bodies, were produced about the sixth century A. D., in which very few changes were made in the text, beyond the alteration of Pagan names and allusions to Scriptural ones.

About the same time it was made the subject of an elaborate and lengthy commentary by a Pagan writer, Simplicius, wherein chapter after chapter is dissected, discussed, and explained. It was elegantly rendered into Latin by the well-known scholar of the Renaissance, Angelo Politian, who dedicated his translation to Lorenzo de’ Medici. Down 9 to the present day, as numerous translations testify, it has remained the most usual means of access to the thought of Epitectus.

But inestimable as the Encheiridion is, he who knows it alone has gained nothing like all that Epitectus has to give. It is a compendium; and although much more stirring and forcible than is usual with such works, it cannot give us the wealth of interesting allusion, reflection, humor, the bursts of eloquence, the abrupt and biting style, the vivid revelations of personal feeling, which marked the teaching of Epitectus in the form in which he delivered it. It seems, therefore, that to make him as accessible as he can be to those for whom such things have any value or interest, it were necessary to produce from the Encheiridion and the Dissertations a third work, which should have the advantages of each. This is what I have endeavored to do in the present work. In it the whole of the Encheiridion is given, and the divisions of subject-matter into which the Encheiridion falls have been observed by the division of my translation into five Books, corresponding with the natural divisions of the Encheiridion — Book I., treating of the first principles of the Stoic philosophy; Book II., dealing with the general application of these principles to life; Book III., with man’s relations to his fellow-man; Book IV., with his relations to God; Book V., containing, besides a couple of concluding 10 chapters, chiefly practical counsels of behavior on various particular occasions, and obiter dicta on the use of the faculties. Such is the scheme of arrangement suggested by the Encheiridion; and I have filled it in by setting among the chapters of the Encheiridion chapters or passages from the Dissertations, selected for their relevancy to the matter in hand. In fact, I have reversed the process by which the Encheiridion came into being. It was condensed out of the Dissertations: I have expanded it again by drawing into it a large quantity of material from the original work, and subjecting the new matter thus gained to the system and order of sequence which I found to prevail in the Encheiridion. The passages or chapters taken from the Dissertations are those which seemed to me most characteristic of the philosophy or the personality of Epitectus, and I have made it my aim to omit nothing which is essential to a full and clear understanding of the message he had to deliver to his generation. Of course there is plenty of room for differences of opinion as to the manner in which this conception has been here carried out; but I hope that the present attempt may do something to win a larger audience for his teaching than former editions could, in the nature of the case, obtain. If this hope should prove to be well founded, I shall expect, some day, to give the present English version a counterpart 11 in a Greek text arranged on the same lines.

I may add here that the reader will find an Index at the end of this volume, in which every paragraph is referred to its original source in the Dissertations, Encheiridion, or Fragments — the references applying to Schweighäuser’s standard edition of Epitectus.2

As regards the style of my translation, I hope the tinge of archaism I have given it will be felt to suit the matter. I could think of no idiom so varied, so flexible even down to its use of various grammatical forms, so well suited alike to colloquy, or argument, or satire, or impassioned eloquence, as Elizabethan English.

So much to make the plan of the present work understood; and the reader may perhaps wish that I would now leave him to the study of it. But there is much in Epitectus 12 the significance of which will not appear to any one who is unacquainted with the general system of Stoic philosophy which formed the basis of Epictetus’s ethical teaching. And I hope that the reader will prefer to have such information as is necessary given him in the form of a general introduction rather than in that of a multitude of notes.

The founder of the Stoic philosophy was Zeno, a native of Cyprus, who taught in Athens, about 300 B. C. in that frescoed arcade, or Stoa, which gave its name to his school. His birthplace is worth noting, for Zeno lived at the beginning of that epoch, himself one of the first products of it, in which the influence of the East became strongly apparent in Greek thought; the period called Hellenistic in contradistinction to the purely Hellenic period which ended in the conquests of the Macedonians. In many ways the conditions of life in the Hellenistic period formed the most favorable milieu possible for the development of Greek thought upon the only lines which, after Aristotle, it could fruitfully pursue; and this not in spite of, but even because of, the great degradation of political and social life from which all Hellendom then suffered. What the democratic polities were like, on which was laid the problem of confronting Philip of Macedon, we may conjecture from the history of the best known and assuredly 13 not the worst of them, Athens. And the best type of Athenian whose rise to power was favored by the conditions of this time and place was Demosthenes: Demonsthenes, the grand historical warning to all peoples against committing their destinies to professional orators; the statesman whose doubtless real veneration for his country and her past served to make him a more mischievous counselor in her present difficulties; whose splendid power as a wielder of words was scarcely more signal than his incapacity and cowardice when he was called upon to match those words with deeds. Athens, entangling the Thebans in an alliance against Macedon, and then leaving them to face Alexander alone; deifying Demetrius the Besieger for driving out a Macedonian garrison, and allotting him the Parthenon itself to be his lodging, and the scene of his unspeakable profligacies; murdering Phocion, the one man who dared to bring sincerity and virtue to her service — Athens was a type of the Greek States of this epoch: too unprincipled for democratic government, too contentious for despotism, too vain to submit to foreign rule, too lacking in valor, purpose, union, to resist it with effect.

Whatever the causes of the change may have been, the conditions of public life in this Hellenistic period were certainly very different from those which prevailed, albeit 14 with decadence, before that vast breaking up of boundaries and destruction of political systems involved in the Macedonian conquests. The successful and inspiring conflict with Persia waged by the Hellenic States had for a time made all Greek hearts to beat with one aspiration, and had brought to the front a race of leaders who were capable of subduing the Greek democracies to their own steadfast and statesmanlike purposes. Public life was then not only a possible but even the most natural career for a man of talent and probity. The small size of the Greek States gave almost every such man an opportunity of action, and so keen and universal was the interest in politics that it threatened to lead Greek philosophy into a region in which philosophy is very apt to lose its vitalizing connection with human consciousness and experience, and to stiffen into barren speculation. In a word, man, as an individual, began to be too much lost sight of in the consideration of a man as a citizen; his uses, his duties, the whole worth and significance of his life, came to be estimated too exclusively by his relations to the visible society about him. It was when the great Stoic Chrysippus found himself obliged to stand aloof from all participation in politics — “For if I counsel honorably I shall offend the citizens, and if basely, the Gods” — that such men as he were led to ask themselves: Is there then any sphere 15 of human endeavor out of the reach of the tyranny of circumstance? If I cannot be a citizen, what am I worth then simply as a man? If I can be nothing to my fellows, what can I be to God? To a state of things, then, which, speaking broadly, made public life impossible to honest men, we owe the noblest ethical system of antiquity; to the enforced concentration of thought upon the individual we owe a certain note of universality till then absent from Hellenic thought.

Byt stoicism was not the only product of the speculation of this period. Side by side with it there started into being two other systems of philosophy, the necessity for combating which was doubtless of immense service to its development. These were Epicureanism and Pyrrhonism; and as the reader will find Epitectus much concerned with each of them, it may be desirable that I should give some brief account of their cardinal doctrines.

Epicurus was an Athenian. After some residence in Lesbos and Lampsacus, he began to teach in his native city about the year 306 B. C. His ethical views, which are all that concern us here, were of a distinctly unelevating nature. Pleasure, ἡδονή, was pronounced to be for each man the end and aim of his being, and the only rational motive of action. This, however, was not the pleasure of the voluptuary — its highest forms, according to Epicurus, were gained in ἀταραξία 16 and ἀπονία — that is, a cheerful and unanxious temperament, with leisure for contemplation, ends not attainable by the criminal who lives in constant fear of detection, or the luxurious liver in whom satiety produces disgust and weariness.

Certain bodily conditions were, however, regarded as objects in themselves, and partaking of the nature of the absolutely good; and all entanglement in human relationships was discountenanced for the disturbance and distress which such relationships were liable to cause. These doctrines were put in practice by their teacher in inuring himself to a hermit-like simplicity and abstemiousness of life; and his life was philosophically consistent with his doctrines, for it is clear that the end of Pleasure will be most surely gained by him who has fewest wants to gratify. But though the lives of Epicurus and his immediate followers were exceptionally sober and strict, the total effect of his doctrine could not but have been vile. They were purely egoistic in this tendency — they centered each man’s activity and interest upon himself alone, they bade him take no thought for any other earthly or heavenly thing, and taught him that this ideal of indifference was realized in its full perfection by the Gods, who dwelt apart in divine repose while blind necessity had its way with human destiny.

Pyrrho of Elis, a rather earlier teacher 17 than Zeno or Epicurus, who is said to have studied philosophy under Indian Gymnosophists and Chaldean Magi, was the originator in European thought of a great and permanent philosophic movement. His school was inspired by the Geist der stets verneint, and the term Skeptic was first devised to describe its attitude. Its strength is in a discovery which inevitably takes place when men begin to reflect upon their own mental operations — the discovery, namely, that, given a perceiving mind and a perceived object, it is always possible for the former, if it has the power of introspection, to doubt whether it was received a really true and faithful impression of the latter. How can we be assured that external objects are as we perceive them? How can we even be assured that there is any principle of constancy in their relations to our consciousness? The senses often delude us; we are convinced, in dreams, of the reality of appearances which, nevertheless, have no reality — why may not all perception be a delusion? Why many not even our sense of the validity of inference and of the truth of the axioms of geometry be a pure hallucination? With these searching questions the Skeptic cut at the root of all belief, and the problems which they raise have dominated philosophy down to the present day. Nor in two thousand years has any logical answer to them ever been found. Lotze, the last thinker of really 18 first-rate powers that the world has seen, practically abandons all inquiry into theories of perception, and starts with the assumption that we are living in a kosmos, not a chaos; that the order, coherence, reason in things to which consciousness testifies, are realities. In antiquity, I may add, the profound problems raised by Pyrrhonism do not seem to have been very profoundly apprehended either by the Pyrrhonists or their opponents. The latter had nothing better to appeal to than that notoriously feeble resource, the argumentum ad hominem. If the Pyrrhonist distrusted the evidence of his senses, they asked, why did he avoid walking over precipices or into the sea, or eat bread instead of earth, or in any way make choice of means for ends? The Pyrrhonist’s answer was equally superficial. It anticipated the famous formula of Bishop Butler. Probability, argued they, was the guide of life — having observed certain results to follow from certain antecedents, the prudent man will shape his course in life accordingly, although, as a matter of theory and speculation, he may refuse to believe in the constancy of nature. This answer involves a clear inconsistency. It involves even a greater assumption than that which the Pyrrhonist refused to make as to the credibility of his perceptions — the assumption of the credibility of his recollections. To the thorough-going Skeptic there is no such thing as past 19 experience — he is, as it were, new-born at each instant of his life.

Such, in outline, were the systems against which the Stoic philosophy had to make good its position in the ancient world. From the first there seems to have been no doubt of its ability to do so, although, unhappily, the records which have been preserved of the teaching of its earliest days are few and obscure. The writings of Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, and of Chrysippus, his immediate successor in the leadership of the school, have utterly perished, while of Cleanthes, the third of the early Stoic teachers, very little remains beyond the profound and majestic Hymn to Zeus, of which I have given a translation in this work. The complete loss of the hundreds of treatises produced by Chrysippus is especially to be regretted, as he appears to have takent the main part in giving shape and system to the Stoic philosophy. “Had Chrysippus not been, the Stoa had not been,” was a proverbial saying which testifies to his fame. However, from the accounts of ancient philosophers in Diogenes Läertius, from Plutarch, Seneca, Cicero, and a few other authorities, we can learn pretty clearly what the framework of the Stoic system had grown to be long before Epitectus began to study it.

In antiquity, a philosophic system was expected to have something to say for itself on three different branches of study — Logic, 20 Physics (which included cosmogony and theology), and Ethics. We think of the Stoics chiefly in connection with the last-named of these subjects, but they were no less eminent in the others, and Chrysippus, in particular, was held to have done so much for the science of logic that a saying was current — “If there were dialectic among the Gods, it must be the dialectic of Chrysippus.” Of the Stoic contributions to this science, scarcely any record remains.

Of their physical system, however, much is known, and the reader of Epitectus needs to be acquainted with its general features. These were borrowed from an earlier thinker, Heracleitus, whose central doctrine was that the universe was an eternal flux and transition; everything was in a state of becoming, ein Werdendes. At the beginning of things, so far as they can be said to have any beginning, is the Deity in his purest manifestation, which, be it observed, is a strictly material one, a sublimated and ethereal fire, αἰθερῶδες  πῦρ. In this fire dwelt the divine creative thought and impulse. The first step in that process of differentiation in which development consists is the production of vapor, which condensed into water. Two elementary forces play their part in these operations — a movement towards within, and a movement towards without, the one a densifying, the other an expanding and straining force (τόνος). 21 The former gives us solidity in matter, the other the qualities and energies of matter. Thus, by various degrees of density, we get earth, water, atmospheric air, and from air, the common element of earthly fire; and these elements in their various combinations, with their various attributes and powers, gradually produce the successive stages of organic life. Though all these proceed from the substance of the Divine Being, the Stoics recognized, in the derived substances which make up the universe as we have it now, various degrees of purity, of affinity to their original source. Man’s body, for instance, with its passions and affections, lies comparatively far from the divine; but his soul is a veritable ray of the primitive fire, Deus in corpore humano hospitans. The popular mythology of the day was entirely rejected by the Stoics, although, as Professor Mahaffy points out, they never attempted to “discredit orthodoxy,” but, on the contrary, used its myths and ceremonies with the utmost reverence as vehicles of profound religious truths. But they certainly believed in intelligences above man, yet below the one Supreme Being; thus the stars and the lightning (the reader will observe the allusions in the Hymn of Cleanthes) are in some sense divinities, by virtue of the supposed purity of their fiery essence.

Thus from the one primitive divine element the Kosmos, with all its hierarchy of 22 being, is evolved. But in the Stoic system πάντα  ῥεῖ,3 there is no continuance in any one condition. As in the normal life of all earthly creatures there comes a certain climax or turning point, after which the forces of decay gain slowly but surely on those of growth and resistance, so also runs the history of the universe which includes them all. One by one the steps by which it was formed shall be retraced, and the derived substances which compose it consumed and re-absorbed by that from which they sprang. From matter in its grossest form to its purest, from earth and stone and water to the highest intelligence in men and dæmons and Gods, nothing shall escape this doom of dissolution; everything shall yield up its separate existence, until at last the indestructible element of that primeval fire is again the sole being that remains, and Zeus is “alone in the conflagration,” self-contemplating in the solitudes of thought. But this is not the end. There is no end. The plastic impulse again resumes its sway, and soon another cycle of world-development and world-destruction begins to run its course. In the language of Seneca. “When that fatal day, that necessity of the times, shall have arrived, and it seems good to God to make an end of old things and 23 ordain the better, then shall the ancient order be revoked and every creature be generated anew, and a race ignorant of guilt be given to the earth.”

This was the general physical system on which all Stoics were agreed, although there were differences of opinion upon minor points; such as how far these successive cycles resembled each other? some asserting that they did so in the minutest detail, others only in their larger features. It was a system, for all its superstitions, not without grandeur and truth. At bottom it expressed a sense of that phenomenon of ebb and flow, systole and diastole, the action and counteraction of balanced forces, which is perhaps the profoundest law of life.

Two questions arise in connection with the Stoic cosmogony, which we must briefly discuss before proceeding father. Are we justified in terming their view of the universe a materialistic one? and what was their doctrine of the destinies of the human soul? Now it is certainly the usual practice among writers on philosophy to reckon the Stoic as materialists, and it is unquestionably true that they denied the possibility of any existence which was not corporeal. Strong as they are on the supremacy of the human soul over the human body, sharp as is the line with which they divide these elements, yet the distinction is a moral, not a metaphysical one — each is an actual material substance. 24 But we shall be seriously mistaken, nevertheless, if we place them in the same class with the scientific materialists of the present day. According to the latter, Thought is no necessary moment in the universe, but merely a product of certain accidental combinations of matter, a product which, when these are dissolved, must disappear from existence, without leaving a trace of its presence behind. Again, according to most modern opponents of the materialistic view, Thought has an independent and immortal being — it existed before matter was, and would continue to exist if all matter were annihilated. The Stoic view differed from each of these modern theories. It held Thought and Matter to be eternal, inseparable, and, indeed, strictly identical. Being in its primitive and purest form was fire, a corporeal substance, but one exhibiting consciousness, purpose, will.

As to the question of the Stoic view of the immortality of the human soul, it does not seem to me to deserve so much discussion as it has received from some commentators. It is obvious that the soul must, in the end, share the lot of all other existences, and be resolved into the Divine Being which was its source. The only question that can arise is whether this resolution takes place at the moment of death, or whether the sense of personal identity persists for a certain period beyond that event; and this question, which 25 Epitectus appears to have been wise enough to leave an open one, is philosophically of very little importance. The soul is immortal, the individual perishes; this is the conclusion of Stoicism, and if we know this, there is little else it can much concern us to know.

The reader who desires to gain a thorough knowledge of Hellenistic philosophy, and of the social and political conditions in which it throve, will find what he seeks in two works to which I have to express my large indebtedness. One is Zeller’s Philosophie der griechen (Epicureer, Stoiker u. Skeptiker),4 a monument of German research and erudition, in which vast masses of original material for the study of this most interesting, but neglected, epoch of the development of European intellect have been brought together, and interpreted with more than German lucidity and method. The other is Professor Mahaffy’s recent volume, Greek Life and Thought, a study of the Hellenistic period in various aspects, which the scholar will not read without profit, nor the lay-reader without pleasure.

We turn now to that department of the Stoic philosophy with which the reader of Epitectus is most concerned — its Ethics.

The ethical question resolves itself into 26 a search for the supreme object of human endeavor, the Summum Bonum, the absolute and essential good. This, for the Stoic, embodied itself in the formula, “to live according to Nature.” But what is Nature? The will of God, as revealed in the heart and conscience of those who seek to know it, and interpreted through the observation in a reverent and faithful spirit of the facts of life.

Going into the subject more precisely we find certain criteria of moral truth established, προλήψεις, as they were called, that is, primitive, original conceptions, or, as I have rendered them in my translation, “natural conceptions,” dogmas by which all moral questions can be tried. If we inquire into the source of these προλήψεις, we shall find ourselves mistaken in our disposition to think that the Stoics regarded them as innate ideas. Innate they are not, for the Stoics held the soul at birth to be a tabula rasa, or blank page, which only experience could fill with character and meaning. But as Seneca says in his inquiry. “Quomodo ad nos prima boni honestique notitia pervenerit,”5 although Nature alone could not teach us these things, could not equip us with the knowledge of them before we entered upon life, yet the “seeds” of this knowledge she does give us; the soul of every man has 27 implanted in it a certain aptness or, indeed, necessity to deduce certain universal truths from such observation and experience as are common to all mankind; and these truths, the προλήψεις, though not strictly innate, have thus an inevitable and dogmatic force not possessed by those which one man may reach and another miss in the exercise of the ordinary faculties, by argument, study, and so forth. By these natural conceptions the existence and character of God, and the general decrees of the moral law, are considered to be affirmed. If we inquire further how the Stoic explained the fact that some of these so-called inevitable and universal conclusions are denied in all sincerity by men like Epicurus, who were neither bad nor mad, we strike upon the difficulty which confronts all systems that aim at setting up any absolute body of truth, expressible in human language, in place of that partial, progressive, and infinitely varied revelation of God’s mind and purpose to which the uncolored facts of the world’s religious history seem to testify.

The natural conceptions, as I have said, contain the primary doctrines of ethics. One of these are more important for the Stoic than that which declares essential Good to lie in the active, not the passive side of man; in the will, not in the flesh, nor in anything else which the will is unable to control. But a certain relative and conditional 28 Goodness may lie in matters which are yet of no moment to the spiritual man, to that part of him which seeks the essential good. And we must note that when Epitectus speaks of certain things as good or bad or indifferent, he is generally speaking of them in their relation to the spiritual man, and in the most absolute and unconditional sense. No evil can happen to the essential part of man, to that side of him which is related to the eternal and divine, without his own will. Hence the death of a beloved friend, or child, or wife, is no evil; and if it be no evil, we are forbidden to grieve for it, or, in the most usual phrase with Epitectus, we are not to be troubled or confounded by it, ταράσσεσθαι. But if this utterance should shock our natural feelings, it will do something which assuredly Epitectus never meant it to do. It is the soul of man which these events cannot injure, and it is the soul which is forbidden to think itself injured by them. Such love of the individual as may be embraced in the larger love of the All, of God — such grief for bereavements and calamities as does not overwhelm the inner man (ii. 19) in a “wave of mortal tumult,” and dull his vital sense of the great moral ends which he was born to pursue, is repeatedly and explicitly admitted by Epitectus. Thus, in iii. 2, we have him arguing against Epicurus that there are certain natural sympathies between 29 man and his kind, and even convicting Epicurus himself of a secret belief in these sympathies. Epicurus had dissuaded his followers from marriage, and the bringing-up of children, on account of the grief and anxiety which such relations necessarily entail. Not so the Stoics — they pressed their disciples to enter into the ordinary earthly relationships of husband, or wife, or citizen, and this without pretending to have found any means of averting the natural consequences which Epicurus dreaded, although they did profess to have discovered something in man which made him equal to the endurance of them. Again, although the condition of ἀπάθεια, of inward peace, of freedom from passions, is again and again represented by Epictetus as the mark of the perfect sage, we are told that this ἀπάθεια is something quite different from “apathy” — a man is not to be emotionless “like a statue.” And a third passage confirming this view is to be found in Book I., ch. xi. (Schweighäuser), where the conduct of a man who was so afflicted by the illness of his little daughter that he ran away from the house, and would hear news of her only through messages, is condemned, not for the affection and anxiety it proved, but for its utter unreasonableness. “Would you,” asks Epitectus, “have her mother and her nurse and her pedagogue, who all love her too, also run away from her, and leave her 30 to die in the hands of persons who neither love nor care for her at all?” There is a grief which is really a self-indulgence, a barren, absorbing, paralyzing grief, which, to the soul possessed by it, makes every other thing in heaven and earth seem strange and cold and trivial. From such grief alone Epitectus would deliver us, and I think he would have accepted Mr. Aubrey de Vere’s noble sonnet on Sorrow as a thoroughly fit poetic statement of Stoic doctrine on this subject: — 

“Count each affliction, whether light or grave,
  God’s messenger sent own to thee; do thou
  With courtesy receive him; rise an bow;
  And, ere his shadow pass thy threshold, crave
  Permission first his heavenly feet to lave;
  Then lay before him all thou hast, allow
  No cloud of passion to usurp thy brow,
  Or mar thy hospitality; no wave
  Of mortal tumult to obliterate
  The soul’s marmoreal calmness: Grief should be
  Like joy, majestic, equable, sedate,
  Confirming, cleansing, raising, making free;
  Strong to consume small troubles; to commend
  Great thoughts, grave thoughts, thoughts lasting to
              the end.”

But the grief that shall do this is a grief that must be felt. And Epitectus assuredly never meant to offer the Stoic philosophy as a mere stupefying anodyne. Make the man a Stoic, and something yet remains to do — to make the Stoic a man. One of these purposes was not more the concern of Epitectus 31 than the other. And he pursued both of them with a strength, sincerity, and sanity of thought, with a power of nourishing the heroic fiber in humanity, which, to my mind, make him the very chief of Pagan moralists.

It is no purpose of mine to fill this preface with information which the reader can gain without doubt or difficulty from the author whom it introduces, and therefore I shall leave him to discover for himself what the positive ethical teaching of Epitectus was like. Nor is it, unhappily, possible to say much upon another subject on which Epitectus gives us little or no information — his own life and circumstances. Arrian wrote a biography of him, but it is now entirely lost, and the biographical details which have been collected from Simplicius, Suidas, Aulus Gellius, and others are very scanty. He was born at Hierapolis, in Phrygia, and became, how is unknown, a slave of Epaphroditus, a freedman and favorite of Nero, who is recorded to have treated him with great cruelty. One day, it is said, Epaphroditus began twisting his leg for amusement. Epitectus said, “If you go on you will break my leg.” Epaphroditus persisted, the leg was broken, and Epitectus, with unruffled serenity, only said, “Did I not tell you that you would break my leg?” This circumstance is adduced by Celsus in his famous controversy with Origen as an 32 instance of Pagan fortitude equal to anything which Christian martyrology had to show;6 but it is probably a mere myth which grew up to account for the fact mentioned by Simplicius and Suidas that Epitectus was feeble in body and lame from an early age.

Epaphroditus was probably a very bad master, and as a favorite and intimate of Nero’s must have been a bad man; but we have to thank him for the fact the Epitectus, while yet a slave, was sent to attend the philosophic lectures of Musonius Rufus, an eminent Stoic of Rome, whom both Epitectus and Marcus Aurelius mention with great respect. The system of philosophic training had been at this time long organized. There were masters of repute everywhere, who delivered their instruction in regular courses, received a fixed payment for the same, and under whom crowds of young men assembled from far and near to study science and ethics — to receive, in short, what corresponded to a university education in those days. The curious circumstance that a slave like Epitectus could participate in advantages of this kind is generally explained as the result of a fashionable whim which possessed Roman nobles at this time for having philosophers and men of culture among their slaves. Professor Mahaffy, in 33 his Greek Life and Thought (p. 132), commenting on the summons of the two philosophers, Anaxarchus and Callisthenes, to console Alexander after his murder of Cleitus, observes, that it was probably usual to call in philosophers to minister professionally in cases of affliction. From this, to making a philosopher a regular adjunct to a large household, even as the baron of later times kept a fool, the step is not great. But Epaphroditus, one thinks, must have frequent reason to rue the choice he made in Epitectus, if he expected his domestic philosopher to excuse his misdeeds as Anaxarchus did those of Alexander on the occasion above mentioned.

In the year 94 A. D. the emperor Domitian issued a decree expelling all philosophers from Rome — an easily explainable proceeding on his part if there were any large number of them who, in the words of Epitectus, were able “to look tyrants steadily in the face.” Epitectus must have by this time obtained his freedom and set up for himself as a professor of philosophy, for we find him, in consequence of this decree, betaking himself to Nicopolis, a city of Epirus. Here he lived and taught to a venerable age, and here he delivered the discourses which Arrian has reported for us. He lived with great simplicity, and is said to have had no servant or other inmate of his house until he hired a nurse for an infant which was about 34 to be exposed, according to the practice in those days when it was desired to check the inconvenient growth of a family, and which Epitectus rescued and brought up. The date of his death is unknown.

And now, reader, I will take my leave of you with Arrian’s farewell salutation to Lucius Gellius, which, literally translated, is Be strong. If you need it, I know no teacher better able to make or keep you so than Epitectus. At any rate, to give him a fair chance of doing what it is in him to do for English-speaking men and women is something I have regarded as a sort of duty, a discharge of obligation for his infinite service to myself; which done to the utmost of my powers, the fewest forewords are the best.

T. W. R.


1  The Encheiridion of Epitectus, translated into English by T. W. Rolleston. Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co., 1881.

2  Epicteti Dissertationum ab Arriano Digestarum Libri IV. et ex Deperditis Sermonibus Fragmenta. Post Io. Uptoni aliorumque curas, denuo ad Codicum MStorum fidem recensuit, Latina Versione, Adnotationibus, Indicibus illustravit Johannes Schweighäuser. Lipsiæ. MDCCXCIX.

Epicteti Manuale et Cebetis Tabula Græce et Latine. Schw. MDCCXCVIII.

There are two excellent English translations of the whole extant works of Epitectus — one by Mrs. Carter, published in the last century, the other by the late George Long, M. A. (Bohn Series), to both of which, but especially the latter, I desire to record my great obligations.

3  πάντα  ῥεῖ, all flows — the cardinal doctrine of the Heracleitean philosophy.

4  An English translation of this work has lately appeared.

5  Ep. 120. 4. ff.

6  Gregory Nazianzen, commenting on this narrative, remarks that it only shows how manfully unavoidable sufferings may be borne.

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