Stoic Thoughts From Philosopher Epictetus

Epictetus is probably my favorite Stoic philosopher. Born in 55AD, in what is now Turkey, Epictetus was a slave during his youth. Although a slave, he was permitted to learn philosophy from Musonius Rufus, an esteemed Stoic philosopher and author. It is believed the Epictetus’ owner was a wealthy freedman (former slave) named Epaphroditos. This master is reported to have purposely broken Epictetus’ leg, crippling him for life, and providing daily inspiration for many of his Stoic philosophies. Epaphroditos is known to have worked as a secretary to the Emperor Nero and therefore held some esteem. Upon Nero’s suicide death on June 9, 68AD, Epaphroditos was condemned for complying with Nero’s order to assist him in the suicide.  Epaphroditos was banished for many years and was later put to death for the incident. Shortly after the death of Nero in 68AD, Epictetus was freed and began to teach philosophy in Rome. Around year 93AD the teaching of philosophy in Rome was outlawed by the Emperor Domitian and Epictetus fled to Greece where he resumed his teachings and opened his own school.

These are some of my favorite Stoic philosophy thoughts provided by Epictetus:

Epictetus on yourself

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”

“Seek not the good in external things; seek it in yourselves.”

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”

“If evil be said of thee, and if it be true, correct thyself; if it be a lie, laugh at it.”

“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

“Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.”

“Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.”

“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.”

“Control thy passions lest they take vengeance on thee.”

“Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.”

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

“First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.”

“I laugh at those who think they can damage me. They do not know who I am, they do not know what I think, they cannot even touch the things which are really mine and with which I live.”

“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. ”

“I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?”

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”

“Small-minded people blame others. Average people blame themselves. The wise see all blame as foolishness”

“Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it easier to maintain control.”


Epictetus on God

“of all things, the greatest, and most important, and most all-embracing, is this society in which human beings and God are associated together. From this are derived the generative forces to which not only my father and grandfather owe their origin, but also all beings that are born and grow on the earth, and especially rational beings, since they alone are fitted by nature to enter into communion with the divine, being bound to God through reason.”

“All religions must be tolerated… for every man must get to heaven in his own way.”

“You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.”

“You may fetter my leg, but Zeus himself cannot get the better of my free will.”

“Difficulty shows what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat.”

“God has entrusted me with myself. No man is free who is not master of himself. A man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things. The world turns aside to let any man pass who knows where he is going.”

“Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you.”

“If you would cure anger, do not feed it. Say to yourself: ‘I used to be angry every day; then every other day; now only every third or fourth day.’ When you reach thirty days offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the gods.”

“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to.”


Epictetus on happiness

“People feel disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them.”

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will. ”

“It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself.”

“If any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone. For God hath made all men to enjoy felicity and constancy of good.”

“There is but one way to tranquility of mind and happiness, and that is to account no external things thine own, but to commit all to God.”

“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems”

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.”

“He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at.”

“Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.”


Epictetus on people, wealth and things

Zeno of Citium, founder of Stoic philosophy

“Finally, when he crowns it off by becoming a senator, then he becomes a slave in fine company, then he experiences the poshest and most prestigious form of enslavement.”

“Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.”

“What concerns me is not the way things are, but the way people think things are.”

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

“When a youth was giving himself airs in the Theater and saying, ‘I am wise, for I have conversed with many wise men,’ Epictetus replied, ‘I too have conversed with many rich men, yet I am not rich!’.”

“Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else.”

“Remind thyself that he whom thou lovest is mortal — that what thou lovest is not thine own; it is given thee for the present, not irrevocably nor for ever, but even as a fig or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year.”

“Whoever then would be free, let him wish for nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others; else he must necessarily be a slave.”

“Crows pick out the eyes of the dead, when the dead have no longer need of them; but flatterers mar the soul of the living, and her eyes they blind.”

“The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.”

“If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, for the pleasure of any one, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Be contented, then, in everything, with being a philosopher; and if you with to seem so likewise to any one, appear so to yourself, and it will suffice you.”

“The philosopher’s school, ye men, is a surgery: you ought not to go out of it with pleasure, but with pain. For you are not in sound health when you enter.”


Epictetus on death

Seneca the Younger, 1st century Stoic philosopher

“I must die; so must I die groaning too?”

“I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived – and dying I will tend to later.”

“Hence, everything born must likewise die so that the cycle of change in the cosmos may be accomplished and it does not grind to a halt.” – combined from multiple quotes

“So it is indifferent whether the cause of one’s death is a fever, a falling tile, a soldier’s weapon, starvation, exile, a highwayman, a tyrant, drowning, an earthquake, or even a mouse.” – combined from multiple quotes


I just love reading through the various thoughts on Epictetus as I go through his writings. His works are sheer blessings that have, by design, withstood the ravages of time so that they may serve as sparks to light the flame of philosophical inquiry and understanding within our minds. The Stoics, including Epictetus believed that the we are a part of a massive single organism that is the cosmos and that our time and place have an integral role to play in that story. Make the most of it my friends, and above all, do it with integrity.

In pursuit of apatheia.

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