An Introduction To Stoicism With The Enchiridion By Epictetus

ISBN: 0486433595

One of the main philosophers of Stoic philosophy was Epictetus, a Greek man born in Roman slavery around 55 AD. He eventually won his freedom in Rome and was able to study stoicism full time, but was banished alongside other philosophers by the emperor towards the end of his life. The Enchiridion is a summary version of a larger text by him called The Discourses.

The essence of Stoicism can be found in passage XLVIII:

1. “The condition and characteristic of [an instructed person] is this: he expects all advantage and all harm from [his mind and not from his environment].”

2. “He censures no man, he praises no man, he blames no man, he accuses no man, he says nothing about himself as if he were somebody or knew something;”

3. “…when he is impeded at all or hindered, he blames himself: if a man praises him, he ridicules the praiser to himself: if a man censures him, he makes no defense.”

4. “…he removes all desire from himself, and he transfers aversion to those things only of the things within our power which are contrary to nature.”

5. “…he employs a moderate movement toward everything.”

6. “…whether he is considered foolish or ignorant, he cares not.”

His principal teaching is that you choose how to interpret and think about events that happen to you; negative feelings are completely your choice and in the realm of pliable thought. He also teaches not to envy or be jealous of another man, since you have not paid the price that he has in the form of time, effort, work, flattery, and so on. For things that a man can achieve which you cannot, you will possess things that he does not have.

Some of his other important tenets:

You have control over your mind

Disease is an impediment to the body, but not to the will, unless the will itself chooses. Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will.

[…]

But you yourself will only wish to be a general or senator or consul, but a free man: and there is only one way to this, to despise (care not for) the things which are not in our power.

[…]

Remember that it is not he who reviles you or strikes you, who insults you, but it is your opinion about these things as being insulting. When then a man irritates you, you must know that it is your own opinion which has irritated you.

Do not be overly desirous

Remember that in life you ought to behave as at a banquet. Suppose that something is carried round and is opposite to you. Stretch out your hand and take a portion with decency. Suppose that is passes by you. Do not detain it. Suppose that it is not yet come to you. Do not send your desire forward to it, but wait till it is opposite to you. Do so with respect to children, so with respect to a wife, so with respect to magisterial offices, so with respect to wealth, and you will be some time a worthy partner of the banquets of the gods. But if you take none of the things which are set before you, and even despise them, then you will be not only a fellow-banqueter with the gods, but also a partner with them in power.

Resist lowly company

Avoid banquets which are given by strangers and by ignorant persons. But if ever there is occasion to join in them, let your attention be carefully fixed, that you slip not into the manners of the vulgar (the uninstructed). For you must know, that if your companion be impure, he also who keeps company with him must be impure, though he should happen to be pure.

If you put yourself before someone who can reject you, bear it

When you are going to any of those who are in great power, place before yourself that you will not find the man at home, that you will be excluded, that the door will not be opened to you, that the man will not care about you. And if with all this it is your duty to visit him, bear what happens, and never say to yourself that it was not worth the trouble. For this is silly, and marks the character of a man who is offended by externals.

Don’t hide things you’re embarrassed by

When you have decided that a thing ought to be done and are doing it, never avoid being seen doing it, though the many shall form an unfavorable opinion about it. For if it is not right to do it, avoid doing the thing; but if it is right, why are you afraid of those who shall find fault wrongly?

You are not the sum of positive traits

These reasonings do not cohere: I am richer than you, therefore I am better than you; I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better than you. On the contrary these rather cohere, I am richer than you, therefore my possessions are greater than yours: I am more eloquent than you, therefore my speech is superior to yours. But you are neither possession nor speech.

Moderation

Check (punish) your passions that you may not be punished by them.

Freedom can only exist in the mind

For he who is loose (free) in the body, but bound in the soul is a slave: but on the contrary he who is bound in the body, but free (unbound) in the soul, is free.

Appreciate what you have instead of asking for more

When we have been invited to a banquet, we take what is set before us: but if a guest should ask the host to set before him fish or sweet cakes, he would be considered to be an unreasonable fellow. But in the world we ask the Gods for what they do not give; and we do this through the things are many which they have given.

[…]

It is not poverty which produces sorrow, but desire; nor does wealth release from fear, but reason (the power of reasoning). If then you acquire this power of reasoning, you will neither desire wealth nor complain of poverty.

[…]

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

[…]

He who is dissatisfied with things present and what is given by fortune is an ignorant man in life: but he who bears them nobly and rationally and the things which proceed from them is worthy of being considered a good man.

[…]

We should enjoy good fortune while we have it, like the fruits of autumn.

Bodily pleasures are fleeting

In banquets remember that you entertain two guests, body and soul: and whatever you shall have given to the body you soon eject: but what you shall have given to the soul, you keep always.

Pleasures should come infrequently

Of pleasures those which occur most rarely give the greatest delight.

[…]

If a man should transgress moderation, the thing which give the greatest delight would become the things which give the least.

[…]

Is it part of a wise man to resist pleasures, but of a foolish man to be a slave to them.

[…]

Choose rather to punish your appetites than to be punished through them.

Don’t listen to the mob

As a goose is not frightened by cackling nor a sheep by bleating, so let not the clamor of a senseless multitude alarm you.

Don’t listen to flatterers

Crows devour the eyes of the dead, when the dead have no longer need of them. But flatterers destroy the souls of the living and blind their eyes.

[…]

You ought to choose both physician and friend not the most agreeable, but the most useful.

Don’t seek attention or validation

As the sun does not wait for prayers and incantations to be induced to rise, but immediately shines and is saluted by all: so do you also not wait for clapings of hands, and shouts and praise to be induced to do good, but be a doer of good voluntarily, and you will be beloved as much as the sun.

Do not be upset by life’s happenings

He is unreasonable who is grieved (troubled) at the things which happen from the necessity of nature.

Stoicism is a formula for being happy as you are, but is that not also a formula, as stated through the above quotes, for not achieving and having low ambition? I believe not: it is more for understanding that achievement in isolation can not give your mind more than what it already has, and you should do things for the reason of doing them alone, guided through the pursuit of virtue and good instead of what worldly benefits you hope to attain.

I’ve seen this in my own life where raising my monetary income and increasing bodily pleasures provides only short-term happiness as I quickly adapt to the new benefits. Therefore a program of “raising” myself up seems somewhat fruitless in the end if fleeting comforts and pleasures were my only goals. What I must instead value is the knowledge and wisdom gained from the pursuit of those pleasures, not the pleasure themselves.

I’ve studied both Buddhism and stoicism, and have wondered in the past which I should choose as a sort of manual to life, but I can now see that they can complement each other. Buddhism will teach you about meditation and releasing yourself from desire while stoicism will give you more practical tools on approaching life and dealing with its inevitable problems. A combination of these two philosophies, I believe, seems to provide the most amount of answers for helping the modern man.

The Enchiridion is written in a obtuse style that you would expect from a 2,500 year old philosophical text, but it is short with many helpful quotes. It’s well worth a read.

Read More: “Enchiridion” on Amazon

43 thoughts on “An Introduction To Stoicism With The Enchiridion By Epictetus”

  1. Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
    Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
    Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
    Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
    Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
    Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
    And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
    Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata” (1927)

  2. Epictetus was himself born a slave, and had little chance for a formal education. He also was crippled, apparently through some undisclosed abuses by a former master. Despite this harsh background, he never allowed himself to be consumed by bitterness; his master Epaphroditus allowed him to attend lectures by a philosopher named Musonius Rufus and finally freed him.
    He, along with many other philosophers, was banished from Rome during the reign of Domitian and eventually settled in Nicopolos, where he attracted many students. He won over so many people by his wit, bearing, and wisdom that eventually even the emperor Hadrian numbered among his intimates.
    He did not bother with a rigorous system of thought, wisely believing that overly-complex systems eventually become dead mechanisms.
    His maxims number among the treasures of world literature; for here is no dull exposition of principles, but a living program of life and love. Besides the necessity of righteous conduct, he exhorted his followers to go among men and spread the guidance of good and virtuous living. He sounds, at times, very much like a proto-Christian:
    “When you do not wish to suffer, do not make other suffer”; and “Use me from now, O God, as you wish; I am of one mind with you. I am yours. I ask to be exempt from nothing that seems good in your sight.”
    His is a voice that never fails to instruct and edify. One of the foundational texts of the Western canon, and required reading for every man.

    1. Quintus, I have nothing but admiration for you and your knowledge. My father, he read history all his life. He is a very old man now, but when we sit down and he talks.. there is nothing like it… hours go by.. The details, oh the details he goes into..
      I will so miss the old man when he’s gone and taken his treasure with him…

    2. I would say that any true thinker, especially Epictetus&Plato, would say that most of us are slaves and can only live our lives in slavery. I have enjoyed the potential metaphor that Epictetus’s life makes available to us: being born into survey and, then, vertically transcending it.

    3. Quintus sycophantus, slave to Rooshiusfuckaneasterncuntius……any need to go on?
      I just love the affected tone. “His is a voice that never fails to instruct and edify. One of the foundational texts of the Western canon, and required reading for every man.” Horseshit.

    4. I am from a family of archive keepers, librarians and historians. Our family has many ancient writings that are unknown and regarded as lost.. if you go back far enough we had an ancestor who was a librarian in Egypt when the great library was destroyed and he managed to escape with a fishing boat full of the most important works. These were passed down from one generation to the next. I also had an ancestor who rescued a number of works from Herculeum near Vesuvius when excavating the library of a great villa a few hundred years ago. Another ancestor rescued works from a monastery during the reign of Henry VIII when many works were destroyed. I have all of these documents and will one day write some articles on them and share them here as it will help broaden our understanding.
      In a document I have it says that Epictetus was thrown down the stairs by his master after he failed to groom the masters puppy to the standard required. He damaged his back, pelvis and upper leg.

      1. “we had an ancestor who was a librarian in Egypt when the great library
        was destroyed and he managed to escape with a fishing boat full of the
        most important works”
        Are you shitting me? If not, I have to pull and Indiana Jones and demand “It belongs in a museum!!!”

        1. We keep all the scrolls and books in the family library. One day i will release them but i have other important work to do.
          The Life Of Caligua by Caligua will be the first i will publish.

        2. What if your library burns down? They need to be documented and have the copies stored elsewhere.

        3. There are over 2,500 scrolls and books to copy. So lots of work, but don’t worry I will ensure it is done.

    5. “He did not bother with a rigorous system of thought, wisely believing that overly-complex systems eventually become dead mechanisms”
      That right there is the cure for aspergers.

    6. Thank you Roosh; one of the best articles I’ve ever read here. Thank you Q.C. for the added facts about this man. I will be reading more about him.

  3. Epictetus is vastly underrated as far as philosophers go. I got the Loeb Classical edition with books 1-4 plus Enchiridion over 10 years ago and it’s been the best set of books I ever bought. Best quote is from book III, chapter 24:
    “For happiness must already possess everything that it wants, it must resemble a replete person: he cannot feel thirst or hunger. -Still Odysseus felt a longing for his wife, and sat upon a rock and wept. -And do you take Homer and his tales as authority for everything? If Odysseus really wept, what else could he have been but miserable? But what good and excellent man is miserable? In all truth the universe is badly managed, if Zeus does not take care of His own citizens, that they be like Him, that is, happy. Nay, it is unlawful and unholy to think of such an alternative, but if Odysseus wept and wailed, he was not a good man. Why, what man could be good who does not know who he is? And who knows that, if he has forgotten that the things which come into being are corruptible, and that it is impossible for one human being always to live with another? What then? To reach for the impossible is slavish and foolish: it is acting like a stranger in the universe, one who is fighting against God with the only weapons at his command, his own judgements.”

  4. I recommend Epictetus and stoicism to people who might otherwise turn to eastern mysticism. It has certain similarities to buddhism, but is rooted in western culture.

    1. I agree. I live in Asia (Did I mention that? Maybe 50 times by now) and I’ve seen countless young Westerners take a flying run at Buddhism. I think it’s misguided, usually, and most of them hardly take it past the cool jade pendant phase anyway. Anyone is free to make a legitimate study of Buddhism and commit to it, of course. I’m not criticizing a true approach to Buddhism, but I think a lot of Westerners view Buddhism as some kind of ‘answer’ or a sort of mystical adventure mixed with stoned hikes through the misty forests seeking euphoric enlightenment and eternal, endless joy (plus those cool pendants) But, true Buddhism is the exact opposite of those things, in my understanding. It’s whole premise is meaninglessness, emptiness and living with no expectations, certainly no excess comforts or extreme emotions. I’m no expert so I’m likely off here or there but my point is that a self-absorbed Westerner seeking joy and adventure is actually the world’s VERY WORST candidate for Buddhism once the initial karate movie coolness/jade pendant/exotic tea buzz fades. Imagine some SJW idiot 22 year old having to spend a week at a temple doing humility work (scrubbing the same small stone plaza with a tiny brush for a solid week) while subsisting on rice and boiled roots or some such. No sauce, no condiments. No fun, no joy, no WEED, just a gradual move towards emptiness and elimination of typical human wants or expectations. Boring stuff really. Stoic principles would be a lot more useful to a Westerner trying to shift their brain around.

      1. Seems people shop religions like underwear or shoes. Looking for an identity to say “Imma Snoooow Flake.”
        Shouldn’t live be lived and wisely? Knowing yourself and your limitations? Riding a motorcycle, smoking weed, enjoying a nice bourbon? Bringing no harm to yourself or others?
        How do you live with complete abstinence, pity and penance for a religion that requires a myriad of rules that do nothing but support a minority of clergy? They enjoy the fruits of your labor while they do nothing but intercede in your relationship with god.
        Abrahamic religions are the religions of slaves. While I have respect for what I believe the life of Jesus was about I remind myself he wasn’t a Christian and he apparently saw Judaism for what it was or became. He didn’t give commandments, he gave advice. Take it or leave it.
        Balance and moderation is my religion. The real war is against moderation from extremists on the left and right.

  5. Epictetus also talked of reincarnation and of out-of-body travel. He was reputed to have had a mystery school teaching his direct students those techniques of proving those things to themselves.
    In my opinion his teachings go beyond mere stoicism into a specific set of teachings.

  6. It’s so awesome (and appropriate) that of the two voices we hear most clearly and loudly out of antiquity advocating Stoicism, one was a slave (Epictetus), and one was an emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

  7. Stoicism seems like the kind of thing that would be lost on 90% of the readers, authors, and commenters what frequent this site though I do very much enjoy ancient philosophy, it drives a large portion of my thinking. The vast majority’s issue is that they don’t know how to act but they make sure they doom themselves by having no interest in knowing how they should act so we have what society has been relegated to today. It is full of rampant unrestrained pleasure seeking coupled with no self control and great attention given to the vapid with no regard for anyone but “self”. There is complete moral anarchy and IF there is any belief in God at all it is often twisted into something far from what it was meant to be or demonized and ridiculed by other mere humans with no respect. I have no hope in society, granted that’s actually a good thing but I do enjoy a nod back to a time when humans were slightly less completely insane albeit no less doomed but at least deviancy was not as celebrated as it is now.

  8. What is really ironic is that I came to RoK to learn about game, which I did, but also in the process learned a lot more. I’ve learned that pulling women is really not all that important to being a man. What a revelation.

  9. “Remember that it is not he who reviles you or strikes you, who insults you, but it is your opinion about these things as being insulting. When then a man irritates you, you must know that it is your own opinion which has irritated you.”
    If every SJW in the world read this paragraph daily — internalizing it — the world would be a much better place.

  10. Great philosophy. Reminds me of a lot of Japanese people, men and women, I knew in Japan. I was happy to see it in print. Many of the principles I saw were unconscious goals I had for myself.

  11. What is cool about this site is the reference to philosophies of self-betterment. Compare that to the sites of feminists where there is not philosophy to speak of. Just pseudo scientific empirical data showing how they are discriminated against and how the wworld mustt change for their entitlement.

  12. Buddhism dwells too much on suffering, their view on life is too depressing. Taoism and stoicism have much more in common, as well as Zen to a lesser extent.

  13. It’s good to go back to the roots. This feminist and marxist world not just knows nothing about wisdom, but also they want to destroy it.

  14. the principles of stoicism – principles which enable you to manage you mind, your feelings and desires – are the first lessons every male child (and probably every female too) should learn. One fringe benefit in a world where men limit and control their appetites and desires is that the inflated value of pussy will plummet. Given that this entire civilization is organised around the manipulation of desire, and moreover the permanent creation of desires and wants stoicism offers probably the closest thing any of can ever hope to come to actual freedom

  15. This is one of the really good articles on ROK, which can make up for at least a handful of articles of a more dubious quality..

  16. There’s one other way to pass jail time other than stoicism. CIGARETTES. Also if you become a slave or prisoner, then the stoicism will have you not complaining and instead being ACCEPTING of being ASS FUCKED. For a philosopher to take a stoic manner when being sentenced by some kangaroo schlub or tyrant, he had better ramp up the stoicism to deal with the ASS STRETCHING that awaits. Then it’s too late to reflect and ponder whether you should have lost the stoicism and opened up a can of BAT SHIT CRAZY WARRIOR on the system of chickenshit inquisitors. Chickenshits in power always need tested.
    Self imposed stoicism is self imposed deconstruction of the ‘fight or flight’ part of the brain. What you’re left with then is the ‘possum’ or play dead response. True some lone survivors of aviation disasters were found wandering around like zombies but lived. The hyper excitement killed most before the plane slammed but the people who ‘shut down’ like a possum oddly survive. Same with the relaxed innebriated survivors in auto mishaps alongside the sober fatalities.
    If you’re being sent to the gallows, then what reason should you have to pay any homage or respect to the system and walk peacefully? That’s the time when you need to rip and bite at anything that moves. BE ALIVE for god’s sake and show the great world what you’re made of.

  17. “Remember that it is not he who reviles you or strikes you, who insults you, but it is your opinion about these things as being insulting. When then a man irritates you, you must know that it is your own opinion which has irritated you.”
    This right here is.
    Thoughts like this can change a man’s outlook on life for the better. Crazy thing is when it comes to women, it can make things worse.
    Their reality is not in line with THE reality of the world so this type of thinking for them can be dangerous to an extent

  18. I have had great interest in stoicism for many years now. It appears that Roosh’ lifestyle is the exact opposite (moderation, not being overly desirous, not focusing on bodily pleasures, etc). I am curious if Roosh has his own interpretation of how his life fits into Stoic philosophy.

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  20. thanks roosh. book recommendation for anyone wanting to delve into stoicism: ‘A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.’ cheers!

  21. I’ve always wondered why there is so much interest in people like Seneka or Mark Aurel, when you can just read Epiktets Golden Sayings and you have everything you could ask for.
    Favourite Quote: “Wouldst thou have men speak good of thee? speak good of them. And when thou hast learned to speak good of them, try to do good unto them, and thus thou wilt reap in return their speaking good of thee.
    I will get the Enchiridion as soon as possible.

  22. Since reading/interpreting/understanding and practicing stoicism…I’ve noticed an interesting change in those around me. Family and friends think I’ve lost my mind. Strange women are absolutely vexed by me and strange men suspect I’m capable of anything. Stoicism simply escapes the mind of those who derive their identity, their self-worth, and their reality from everyone and everything around them. In other words, roughly 90% of humanity.
    The greatest benefit of stoicism is it truly frees your mind from the chains that both yourself and popular culture have wrapped around it. When you reclaim the power you have over your own mind and refuse to let anyone hold your passions, appetites, vices or opinions as their own….you’ll be respected and hated all at the same time. Respected for your self discipline and hated for the simple fact that most people will wish they had the same reserve but are too damn scared to try. The hatred for reminding them of that fact will be evident.
    (Skip the Enchiridion.) Sit down with the Discourses, make notes and then move on to Aurelius’s Meditations.
    Great article Roosh.

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