The Useful Sayings of Epictetus

The Stoic philosophers are an interesting bunch. While I don’t accept their fatalistic approach to the events of life or their obsession with duty, I see value in what they have to say about dealing with challenges with grace and even gratitude.

They’ve become increasingly popular in recent years (as far as popular attention to philosophical schools goes) and for good reason – most of their writing is devoted to strictly practical wisdom. To borrow a phrase from Objectivist thinker Ayn Rand, theirs is a “philosophy for living on earth.”

It’s for this reason that I’m breaking one of my own (informal) rules. Though I wouldn’t normally place any stock in collections of “wise sayings” from “wise teachers,” I have to admit that the “Golden Sayings” of the Roman Stoic Epictetus contain many truths I can find valuable.

I’m certainly a skeptic of the more spiritual or morally deontological passages here and in other philosophers, but taking the good, leaving the bad, and appreciating the value of truthful metaphor is a tried policy for dealing with the world. It’s no exception with philosophy and no exception with literature.

In fact, some of these sayings may find their way into my list of favorite quotations with time, but I wanted to share them here. As my own challenges evolve, I hope that I can keep some of this wisdom in remaining mindful and willful.

“Thou didst not come to choose out what places are most pleasant; but rather to return to that wherein thou wast born and where wert appointed to be a citizen.”

“But a man who meets a man is one who learns the other’s mind and lets him see his in turn.”

“If what philosophers say of the kinship of God and Man be true, what remains for man to do but as Socrates did: not, when asked one’s country, to answer ‘I am an Athenian or a Corinthian,’ but ‘I am a citizen of the world.'”

“If you choose, you are free; if you choose, you need blame no man – accuse no man.”

“The beginning of philosophy is to know the conditions of one’s mind.”

“It is a kingly thing, O Cyrus, to do well and to be evil spoken of.”

“Here are thieves and robbers and tribunals and they that are called tyrants, who deem that they have after a fashion power over us because of the miserable body and what appertains to it. Let us show them that they have power over none.”

“You must also show the unlearned man the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as you do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel your own incapacity.”

“Not death or pain is to be feared, but the fear of death or pain.”

“Above all, remember that the door stands open. Be not more fearful than children, but as they, when they weary of the game, cry ‘I will play no more,’ even so, when thou art in the like case, cry, ‘I will play no more’ and depart. But if thou stayest, make no lamentation.”



James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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