Discourses and Selected Writings

Epictetus

💡
Philosophy
🗿
Stoicism

Date

Sept 16, 2021

Read time

45 minutes

Rating

Despite being born into slavery, Greco-Roman philosopher Epictetus became one of the most influential thinkers of his time. Discourses and Selected Writings is a transcribed collection of informal lectures given by the philosopher around AD 108. A gateway into the life and mind of a great intellectual.

Discourses and Selected Writings by Epictetus

The Discourses are a series of 5 books of which only 4 exists today. A student of Epictetus has written down the teachings and philosophy of Epictetus, who is one of the most prominent philosophers of stoicism and was born a slave. While being a slave he was permitted to attend lectures which led him to become a stoic. When he was freed he went to Greece and opened a philosophy school.

Philosophers who are most commonly featured in this book:

  • Epictetus: Writer of this book and believes that philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline.
  • Diogenes: Founder of Cynic philosophy and is used as an example of a cynic person.
  • Epicurus: Founder of Epicureanism (An 'opponent' of Stoicism and/or Platonism.
  • Diodorus: Writer of the universal history 'Bibliotheca historia', these are 40 books about the history and about culture from all over the world.

Favorite chapters

My personal favorite chapters are marked with an asterisk (*) in the title. If you only want to read these you can use your browsers 'Find in page'-functionality to cycle through them.


The Discourses - Book I

Concerning what is in our power and what is not

There’s only one faculty able to contemplate itself & either approve or disapprove.”

Grammar tells you what words to use but it doesn’t tell you whether you should write or not.

The rational faculty is the one that contemplates itself & all other things. It examines itself, what it is, what power it has & other faculties. It’s also capable of judging appearances.

To make us free, the gods gave us a portion of them – the faculty of desire, aversion & using the appearance of things. If we take care of the faculty, we’ll never be hindered by impediments, never lament, blame or flatter anyone.

When it’s in our power to look after a thing but we attach it to ourselves, we prefer to look after many things & be bound by them, the body, property, brother, friend, etc. Being bound to many things, we’re depressed by them & dragged down. For this, we torment ourselves.

We have to make the most of things in our power & use the rest according to their nature.

What should a person have in readiness? Know what’s yours & what isn’t yours. Know that you’ll die but why die lamenting?

A man ought to make desire & aversion free from hindrance.

Say, if I must die now, I’m ready. If I am to die shortly, I’ll eat now because it’s dinnertime.

How a person can maintain his proper character

To a rational animal, the irrational is intolerable but the rational is tolerable.

We need the discipline to learn how to adapt the preconception of the rational & irrational to nature. To determine those, we use the estimates of external things & what’s appropriate to each personal.

You must introduce the consideration into the inquiry of what is worthy of you & what isn’t. You alone know how much you’re worth to yourself & at what price you will sell yourself. If you have things you must do, know the consequences of them & then decide on that basis. Others may bow to pressure. Both could be right but that depends on the person’s situation. Consider at what price you sell your own will, if only to make sure it’s not a small sum.

Remember: just because you’re not as wise as Socrates doesn’t mean it’s fine to be stupid. Just because you’re not as strong as Milo of Croton, doesn’t mean you ought to neglect your body. Don’t neglect anything of yours just because it’s not the best in the world.

Draw the correct consequences from that God is the father of mankind

If you accept this idea that we’re all sprung from God who’s father of men & god. If Caesar adopts you, people won’t like your arrogance. If you’re the son of Zeus, wouldn’t you be elated? But we don’t do this.”

We have 2 things mingled: body in common with animals, & reason & intelligence in common with the gods. Many see this as miserable & mortal. Only a few see it as divine & happy. Even so, every man uses everything according to the opinion he has about it & those who think they’re made for fidelity & modesty, & have no mean or dishonorable thoughts. But with many, it’s the opposites. While you may be wretched, you have more than just flesh. Why neglected it? Why be attacked to it so?

The kinship with flesh is either faithless & treacherous like wolves, savage & untamed like lions, or malignant & slanderous like foxes.

On progress or improvement

If you’ve made progress, you’ll have learned that desire is the desire of good things & aversion is the aversion of bad things. You’ll fail in those by not getting what you want & not avoiding what you want to avoid.”

If you avoid anything independent of your will, you’ll run into something you don’t want to at some point. If virtue promises good fortune, progress towards virtue will be progress toward these things. Perfection means progress towards the goal. How often have you seen people admit that & then seek progress in other things? What’s the product virtue? Tranquility.

Who makes progress? One who reads self-help books or philosophy? Shouldn’t you also understand it? Progress means reading, understanding & putting into action – virtue produces progress.

Where is progress? Withdrawing from externals, turning one’s will to its own exercise & making it conformable with nature, avoiding things not in our power & acting on it.

Against the Sceptics

If a man opposes evident truths, it’s not easy to find arguments to make him change his opinion. This isn’t from his strength or the teacher’s weakness. The man is hardened like a stone & we can’t deal with him by argument.

There are 2 kinds of hardening.

  1. in understanding.

  2. in the sense of shame – when a man won’t admit the obvious or stop contradicting himself.

Most of us are afraid of bodily mortification & wish to avoid it all costs but don’t do the same with the mortification of the soul. It a man’s like that, we think he’s in a bad condition. But if the sense of shame & modesty are deadened, we think he’s strong.

Can we still argue with this man? What fire or iron shall we use on him to let him know he’s deadened? He doesn’t see the contradiction: he’s in a bad condition. His rational faculty hasn’t been cut off but it is brutalized.

On providence

Providence means the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power.

It’d be easy to praise Providence for everything. If a person can see what belongs & happens to all things & people, & a grateful disposition. If he doesn’t have those 2 qualities, a person won’t see the use of things & won’t be thankful.

If God made colors, wouldn’t he have made the ability to see them? What use would they be otherwise? If he made vision, wouldn’t he have made stuff to look at? Suppose he made both but no light. Why would he?

What is only in the rational animal? We have a lot in common with irrational animals. God gave them the ability to make use of appearances but he gave us the ability to understand them. We have the intellectual faculty because just seeing isn’t enough – we must act in a proper & orderly manner in line with nature or we’ll never arrive at our true end. Those animals with only the use of the ability, it is enough. But the animal with the ability to understand must use that understanding to attain one’s goal.

That talents are treacherous for the uneducated

We must not concentrate on learning about argumentation before sufficiently improving our character. In other words, we should not be distracted from the business of improving our character by dividing our attention for other studies at this point in our education.

Proof and persuasion are important skills, but they become dangerous for the morally weak. They make people with weak characters conceited and full of themselves.

Concerning family affection

Epictetus asked a man about his family situation, who responded that it was miserable because his daughter was sick. He couldn’t say & watch it so he left & asked someone to come & tell him when she got better.

Epictetus asked if he’d done the right thing. He answered that he acted naturally. Epictetus told him that would be the case with most father, but did he do the right thing?

When we ask if something is black or white, hot or cold, we could use sight & touch to give us the answer. But if we don’t know what criterion & faculty we use to determine right & wrong, we’re in a bad way.

But when there’s ignorance, there’s a lack of learning & training that you have to make up for. You ought to think of nothing else but to learn the criterion of things according to nature.

Death & illness isn’t a choice but how we react to them is. When doing something wrong, we should see it coming from our weak will to do the wrong thing, which makes matters worse.

On satisfaction

If you believe there is a God you ought to obey him, just as you obey a law of the state.

The only thing we can change in our minds is to put them in harmony with things that we can’t change. We can’t escape other men or change them. We don’t have that power or a method to do so.

What happens to those who do not accept things? The punishment is for them to be as they are. If a person’s unhappy being alone, his punishment is to be alone. You might say “put him in prison”, but he’s already there. He doesn’t have any control over the world & he can’t accept that fact – just like a prison.

Choose a place where you are equal to the gods by using your intelligence to stick with things within your control.

Concerning the necessity of logic

Since reason is the faculty that analyzes & perfects, shouldn’t it be analyzed? But by what? Either reason itself or something above it (which doesn’t exist). If it’s reason who’ll analyze that reason? Reason is analyzed by itself.

When asked if it was more important to cure opinion or whether the things you argue are true or false. Epictetus said that distinguishing is more urgent & therefore logical arts are more important. The tools we use have to be honed in order for our logic to be solid. Without it, you can’t learn anything else.

This logic is to understand the will of nature. People make mistakes, often involuntarily, but once they do learn the truth, they must act right.

Don’t be angry with wrongdoers

If philosophers are correct in saying all men have one principle & men can be persuaded in many ways, why should we be angry with the many?

We should see “criminals” as people with faulty faculties. Not having the faculty to distinguish good from bad, these people have been deprived of a proper will. So, we should pity them, not hate them.

The ancients taught us to know ourselves & to be aware of what we can improve on. If something pains us we shouldn’t carry that pain around & mope about it.

How to act towards the powerful

If a man has any superiority, or thinks he is superior, he’ll be puffed up by the fact. So, if you run into a tyrant, he’ll say “I’m master of all.”

If the tyrant threatens your body & you value it, he has something over you & can make you bend. If you realize he can only threaten your body & not your mind, tell him: “do your worst. You are master of my carcass”.

About reason, and how it studies itself

Every art & faculty contemplates certain things especially. E.g. The grammarians’ art is used for articulate speech but it is not articulate speech itself.


The art that contemplates itself is reason which has been given to us by nature to use for appearances. Sound sense allows us to contemplate good & evil, & everything in between. Good sense can contemplate itself & the opposite.

When we think there’s a wide difference between being right & wrong, we ought to use this faculty to find out how things go wrong. If we are careless, we can be deceived by appearances. Why be careless in distinguishing good from evil? It's like walking around blind.

Against those who wish to be admired

When a man is in his proper station in life, he doesn’t look beyond it. If you’re satisfied, & desire & avoid as nature would have you do, you don’t look beyond where you are in life.

Some might wish to be admired – “What a great philosopher!” Who are those people you wish to be admired by? The same ones said were mad? Why wish to be admired by mad men?

On precognitions

Precognition, also called prescience, future vision, or future sight, is a claimed psychic ability to see events in the future.

Precognitions are common to all men. Who doesn’t think good is useful & what we should follow & pursue. Who doesn’t think justice is important? No one. So where does all the contradiction start? When men don’t agree on how the definition is applied to situations. We all agree it is good but Jews & Syrians have contradicting definitions of what it is to be holy.

Let’s adapt our precognitions to the present matter. Think of education. What is it? It’s learning how to adapt the natural precognitions to particular things conformably to nature. Then we distinguish the things that are in our power from those that are not.

Things in our power are in our will. Things not in our power are the body, possessions, other people, the country, society, etc.

Things not in our power do affect us like health, family, etc. But as a person maintains his duty towards the gods & himself, the badness that stems from things outside of our control can be minimized.

How we should struggle with circumstances

Circumstances show you what men are made of. So when difficulty comes your way, just think of it as God matching you in a wrestling match with a young, strong man so that you can train to become an Olympic champion.

But it’s never done without sweat & struggle. No scout is any good if he’s slow, stupid & cowardly. He needs to be trained in what’s required for his trade/profession.

Death is no evil, nor is it base. So says Diogenes: "It’s better to be naked than in any purple robe. To sleep on the ground is better than the softest bed. It demonstrates your courage, tranquility & freedom. You’re not a slave to comfort. "

When you don’t get what you want, remember that it was never yours in the first place. You’ll see everything you get as a gift when given to you & nothing if it isn’t given to you.

The good of a man is in the will, as in the evil. If everything else doesn’t concern us, why are we still disturbed & afraid? We are too concerned with things in nobody’s power.

What is the law of life?

Epictetus said that when we make hypothetical arguments, we have to accept the results. But before this law, is the law of life, which is that we must act conformably to nature. If we want to see what’s natural, it’s clear we should also make it our goal to see what follows & not to admit the contradictory.

Philosophers exercise us in theory & then lead us to more difficult things. But many things distract us in matters of life. It’s hard to start with the real world first but it’s so messy. Start simple.

What is the cause of wrong doing? Ignorance. Why not choose to get rid of ignorance? This is the beginning of philosophy – a person's perception of the state of his ruling faculty. When a man knows he’s weak, he won’t use it for the hardest things.

How to deal with appearances

Appearances come in 4 ways:

  1. as they are & as they appear to be.
  2. as they aren’t & don’t even appear to be.
  3. as they are but don’t appear to be.
  4. as they aren’t but do appear to be.

If something looks good & it really is bad, we need to fix this. If a habit annoys us, let’s fix it. Usually, doing the opposite works. This works with other things as well, not only with breaking a bad habit.

We should not be angry with people

What makes us agree to anything? When something to be true. We couldn’t agree with something that looked false. We are naturally inclined toward the true & away from the false. When we’re not sure, we withhold our assent. When a man assents to something false, he didn’t intend to, it was just that it appeared to be true.

On steadfastness

Steadfastness means the quality of staying the same for a long time and not changing quickly or unexpectedly.

The being of the good is a certain will & the being of the bad is a certain will.

You can take my property, body, reputation & those around me. But if you try to command my opinions, who’s given this power? How is it even possible? By applying terror?

Opinion conquers itself & is not conquered by another. The law of God is most powerful & most just: “Let the stronger always be superior to the weaker.” Having the right opinion makes you much more powerful than having the wrong opinion.

How to prepare for trouble

When you go in front of any great person, remember there’s someone above who sees what’s going on. You ought to please the one above him rather than the man.

He’ll ask if we learned that exile, prison chains, death, calumny, disgrace were indifferent things… Yes. My opinion of them doesn’t change them & they don’t change me. So what are the things that are indifferent?

What’s the good of person? A good opinion & to understand appearances.

Then go to this great person with that in mind & you will see the difference between the ignorant & the informed. You’ll be thinking: "Why am I going to such trouble? It’s all for this man & his little world. This is nothing but I’ve been acting like it’s a big deal."


The Discourses - Book II

Confidence does not conflict with caution

The opinion of philosophers may be a paradox. It is possible to do everything with both caution & confidence. It appears that these things can’t be combined. But if they can, how?


Philosopher say where things aren’t dependent on the will, we should use courage. Where they are dependent on the will, we should use action.

If bad consists in a bad exercise of the will, then caution may fix things. If things aren’t up to us, use courage. In this way, we can be both confident & cautious – based on if we can exercise will.

What about in cases of fear? Again, in matters independent of the will there’s nothing to be cautious about. So we must be brave. Being deceived in our perception is not great but we act based on whether or not we can do anything. Sometimes when there is death, we try to run away & are struck with terror.

We may expect that of people who are wrong in the greatest matters & convert natural courage into audacity.

If a person should transfer caution to things concerning the will, he might – by being cautious – be able to avoid things that he doesn’t have control of.

On Tranquility

Consider what you want to maintain & what you want to succeed in. If you want to maintain a will conformable to nature, you’ll have security, facility & no troubles. If that makes you happy, then what else do you need? Just pursue objects & avoid objects in your power.


If you wish to maintain externals – your body, property, esteem – you will subject to externals what is your own, & choose to be a slave. You have a choice to do this or not do this.

If you fixate on externals, you make them your master & that will require you to obey them. Who is the master? He who has the power over things you want to gain or avoid.

To those who recommend persons to philosophers

Diogenes was asked for a letter of recommendation & responded:


"I can only tell someone you are a person – he’ll know that the minute he sees you. If he’s skilled in reading people, he’ll see if you are good or bad from what you show him. If he’s not skilled in reading people, he’ll never know no matter what I tell him."

To someone who had been caught cheating *

Epictetus learned this lesson of a person's credibly accused of adultery.


People are made for fidelity & one who subverts fidelity subverts the peculiar characteristic of men.

When we take away that fidelity & chase after the neighbor’s wife, what are we doing? We are destroying & overthrowing the man of fidelity, modesty & sanctity – all the neighborhood, friendship & community.

What should I think of you, then? A neighbor? A friend? A citizen? Can I trust you? I can’t even trust you as a friend because you can’t be trusted with the most important thing to a man, his marriage.

How confidence and carefulness are compatible

Things are indifferent but use of them isn’t. So, how can a man preserve firmness & tranquility, while at the same time be careful & not rash, or negligent? You’ve got to do as those who play dice do: the counters are indifferent & the dice are indifferent. How do you know what the dice will say? You won’t. Just roll them carefully.


Likewise, remember that: externals aren’t in your power but your will is. We should not be careless because that’s bad use of the will & contrary to nature. So act carefully firmly & with freedom from perturbation because the material is indifferent & there man can hinder or compel me.

On indifference

Hypothetical proposition is indifferent but judgment about it is not. Judgment is either knowledge, opinion or error. So life is indifferent but use of it isn’t. When someone tells you these things are indifferent, don’t become negligent.


When a person warns you to be careful, don’t become abject & be struck with admiration of material things. You should know your own preparation & power in things you haven’t prepared for so you can keep quiet, especially if others have an advantage over you. Yield to those who’ve had practice & experience.

Always remember what’s yours & what belongs to another, & you won’t be disturbed.

What is the nature of the good

God is beneficial but so is good. Where the nature of God is, there the nature of good should be. But what is the nature of God? Flesh? Real estate? Fame? No. Is it intelligence, knowledge & right reason? Yes.

Don’t look for it in plants or irrational animals. Look for it in rational animals as they are superior over irrational animals.

If you don’t try to look for it there, you won’t find it elsewhere. Plants & animals may be works of God but they’re superior things. You are a superior thing. You are a portion separated from God & have a piece of him in you.

If you knew an image of God was present in you, you wouldn’t dare do what you’re doing.

When God is present in you & sees all you do & you aren’t ashamed of it, you are ignorant of your own nature & are subject to the anger of God.

Social roles as a guide to conduct

Consider who you are. You’re a person with the superior faculty of the will & all other things are subject to it. The faculty he has is unenslaved & free from subjection.


You are separate from wild beasts & domestic animals. You’re a citizen of the world & not subservient to anyone. You are capable of understanding diving administration & the connection of things. What does a citizen’s character promise? Not to hold anything as profitable to himself & to deliberate about nothing as is her were detached from the community but to act as a hand or foot would act as a part of the whole body.

Starting philosophy

If you go into philosophy the right way you’ll see that philosophy is a door to a consciousness of your own weakness & inability about necessary things. We come into the world with no natural notions of math & science but we learn about them in due course.


But we are born with an idea of good & evil, ugly & beautiful. But we don’t use them for practical matters in life.


It falls apart even more when we go into matters of dispute without being able to use these innate but undeveloped ideas. If we did, what would stop us from being perfect?

On the art of argumentation

Philosophers have shown what you must learn to use the art of disputation but it’s clear we don’t practice them. Take any illiterate person (someone who doesn't know how to read and/or write) as an example. You don’t get far with him by abusing or ridiculing him. If you want to get a man on the right path, don’t ridicule or abuse him.

Being conscious of our own inability, we don’t attempt a thing. The majority & the rash, when disputing, confuse themselves & others. They then abused their adversaries & got abused by them, they then stormed off.

On anxiety and nerves *

When I see a man anxious, I say: “What does he want? If he didn’t want something he couldn’t have, he wouldn’t be so anxious. A musician may do well playing alone but once he’s in front of a crowd, he gets nervous.

The cause of anxiety is because he not only wants to sing well but to get an applause. That’s not in his power. He has confidence in what he has skills in.


Is any man afraid about things that aren’t evil? No. Is he afraid about evil but so far within his power that this may not happen? If things independent of the will are neither good nor bad, & all things which do depend on the will are within our power & no man can either take them from us or give them to us. If we don’t choose these, why are we anxious?

To people who cling too hard to certain of their decision

"When people hear that a man ought to be constant & the will is naturally free & not subject to compulsion or the power of others, they think they ought to abide by everything they’ve determined."

Often it’s impossible to convince some people to change their minds. But it’s said hard to break or persuade a fool. Mad men are the same. They form judgments based on things that don’t exist.

We don't put our beliefs into practice *

Where’s the good? In the will. But where is nor good or bad in them? Things independent of the will?

Did you notice you only get good at things you study? If you don’t study, you won’t improve at all. So, you may succeed in one area of your work – the one you’ve studied – but fail or flounder in another – the one you’ve done nothing to improve in.

This may have to do with dissatisfaction you face with things not under your control. You may be a good writer but be unhappy because you didn’t get praise. You can control what you write & how to make it better but not how people respond to your work.

You can affect your work which may be seen differently but you can’t control other people’s reactions.

Other people’s opinions are often the heaviest & most disturbing things to us. We only get bent out of shape from lack of perspective & lack of appreciate for ourselves & the world around us.

How to fight against impressions *

Every habit & faculty is maintained & increased by its own use:
  • The habit of walking is improved by walking, running by running. If you want to be a good reader, read a lot – if a writer, write.

When you’ve done nothing in that department for a month straight, you’ll see the deterioration in your skills. Just lie down for 10 days & try to go for a long walk. Your legs are significantly weaker.

The same goes for your soul. When you get angry, not only is it terrible but you increase the habit of getting angry.

Be willing to be approved by yourself & to appear beautiful to God. Desire to be pure in yourself & with God.

To those who tackle philosophy just to be able to talk about

The “ruling argument” appears to come from the following principles & there is a common contradiction between 2 of the following 3:

  1. Everything past must of necessity be true.
  2. An impossibility doesn’t follow a possibility.
  3. A thing is possible which neither is nor will be true.

Diodorus used the first 2 to come to the conclusion: “Nothing is possible which neither is nor will be true”. Another could come to a different conclusion & others to another.

Who is a stoic? A man who’s fashioned according to the doctrines he utters. Show me a man sick but happy, in danger but happy, dying but happy, in exile but happy, in disgrace but happy.

Against the Epicureans & Academics *

True & evident propositions are used even by people who contradict them.

A man might consider it the greatest proof of a thing being if it’s found to be necessary for even those who deny it to make use of it at the same time.

  • If a man denies something is universally true, he has to make the contradictory negation that nothing is universally true. That itself is a statement.
  • If a man should say, “know that there’s nothing that can be known & all things are incapable of sure evidence,” he’s contradicting himself.

Epicurus tries to destroy the natural friendship of mankind but tries to make use of it. He makes a point to say there is no fellowship of men & others are trying to deceive & seduce you. Then he says “Don’t be fooled, believe me.” That doesn’t make sense.


Belief is a part of the fellowship of man. He tries to make a point about men not being trustworthy & then asks us to believe him. Why should we read his books or listen to his words if he isn’t trustworthy?

On inconsistency

On some things people readily confess, other things they don’t.

No one will confess he’s a fool but you will hear people wish they had a fortune to match their understanding. But a person will confess to being timid or compassionate. A person won’t readily confess to be intemperate, envious, or unjust or even being a busy-body.

The main point is inconsistency & confusion in things with respect to good & evil. People don’t usually confess to the base things. They may suppose timidity to be good, as well as compassion. But silliness is a characteristic of a slave.

They don’t admit to things that are offenses to society. They’ll confess to error because they imagine that being timid or compassionate is involuntary. If he’s intemperate, love is often seen as involuntary. But men don’t see injustice as involuntary – perhaps jealousy is.

Living among people who are so confused about what they say & what evils they may or may not have, why they have them, how to get rid of them, it’s worthwhile to ask if you are one of them & how to conduct yourself prudently.

People go to school just to confirm what they already think rather than to improve themselves. They don’t go to focus on how to do good & avoid evil, or focus on what those truly are. They just cement their minds on what they already suspected.

On love and friendship

A person naturally loves what he applies himself to earnestly. Do people apply themselves earnestly to things which are bad? No! They don’t apply themselves to things that don’t concern them either.

People only go for good things & things they love. Whoever understands what good is, can also know how to love. But those who can’t tell good from bad, or those which are neither can’t really know love. So, to love is only in the power of the wise.

But some will say that fools can love their children. But what makes them so foolish? They have sense. They eat, wear clothes & have a home. So what’s so foolish about them?

A person can be wrong about who his friends & enemies are because the use of appearances is out of whack. If you are wrong about someone you are not his friend. We might appear to be friends under certain circumstances but if those change, things could turn ugly quickly. Men & even animals are attached to their own interests. When an impediment shows up, they hate it, even cursing the gods.

Where will is, where there is a right use of appearances, you may confidently declare that men there are friends, as they are faithful & just. Where else is friendship than where there’s fidelity & modesty, where this is a communion of honest things, & nothing else?

On the art of expression

"Every person will read a book with more pleasure if it’s written well & so every person will listen more readily to what’s spoken if it’s spoken well."


We can’t say there’s no faculty of expression. That’s what a timid or impious man would say. The impious man would say this because he undervalues gifts from God. Be neither ungrateful for gifts but don’t forget the things superior to them. Remember God has given you something else better than anything – the power to use things, proving them & estimating the value of each.

The Discourses - Book III

What is the material proper to the good person?

The body is the raw material of the doctor and physical therapist. Land is the farmer’s raw material. The raw material of a good person is their mind - his goal being to respond to impressions he way nature intended.

To students who want to leave school

Consider whether you are doing anything in school to improve your will. Because if you aren’t achieving anything, you arrived for no good reason, to begin with.

Why training for impressions is necessary

Just as we practice answering sophisticated questions, so should we train for impressions every day, as they implicitly pose their own questions.


If somethings is outside your control, your impression should be: "It’s something I had no control over, so it’s not a bad thing that happened".

That one should be careful about entering into social relations

It is inevitable if you enter into relations with people on a regular basis, either for conversations, dining or simple friendships, that you will grow to be like them, unless you can get them to emulate you.

Every circumstance represents an opportunity *

Everyone agrees that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the case of objective judgements applies to us, not to things outside us. We call a correct judgement good and an incorrect judgement bad - the consequence being that good even comes of error, when we recognize the error as such.

“Being healthy is good, being sick is bad”:
NO! Enjoying health in the right way is good; making bad use of your health is bad.

“So even illness and disability can benefit us?”
Why not, if even death can have advantages.

On Cynicism

Cynicism is an attitude characterized by a general distrust of others' motives. A cynic may have a general lack of faith or hope in people motivated by ambition, desire, greed, gratification, materialism, …

If you picture a circumstance realistically and don’t think that you are unworthy, you are on the right path to stop being a cynic.

  • Don’t blame anyone but yourself.
  • Suspend desire completely, train aversion only on things under your control.
  • Be indifferent to anyone in any context (be yourself)

On rhetorical display

First, tell yourself what you want to be, then act accordingly.

This is a theory that applies on any field.

Athletes decide first what they want to be, then proceed to do what is necessary. A distance runner means using a particular diet, racecourse workout, … With sprinters those factors are different.


The Discourses - Book IV

On freedom

Freedom is the person who lives as he wishes and cannot be compelled, whose impulses cannot be interfered., who always gets what he desires and never has to experience what he would rather avoid.

No bad person lives the way he wants, and no bad person is free.

On social intercourse *

You should be especially careful when associating with one of your former friends or acquaintances not to sink to their level; otherwise, you will lose yourself. If you are troubled by the idea that “He’ll think I’m boring and won’t treat me the way he used to”, remember that everything comes at a price. It isn’t possible to change your behavior and still be the same person you were before.

So choose:

  • Either regain the love of your old friends by reverting to your former self
  • Remain better than you once were and forfeit their affection

Don’t give in to second thoughts, because no one who wavers will make progress.

And if you are committed to making progress and ready to devote yourself to the effort, then give up everything else.

What to aim for in exchange for what

If you forfeit an external possession, make sure to notice what you get in return. If it is something more valuable, never say ‘I have suffered a loss.’ It is no loss if you get a horse in return for an ass, cattle for sheep, a kind act for a little money, real peace in place of idle chatter, decency in exchange for vulgarity.

Bear in mind and you will everywhere preserve your proper character, forget it and I assure you that your time here will be a waste, and whatever care you are now expending on yourself will all go down the drain.

Very little is needed for everything to be upset and ruined, only a slight lapse in reason.

It’s much easier for a mariner to wreck his ship than it is for him to keep it sailing safely

To those that intent on living quietly

Remember, it isn’t just desire for power and money that makes a man humble and deferential towards others, but also dire for the opposite - for a life of peace and quiet.

It makes no difference whether we wish to be a senator, or wish not to be one; whether we desire to have an office or to avoid it.

To those who lightly share personal information *

Whenever we think that someone has spoken frankly about their personal affairs, somehow one way or another we are impelled to share our secrets with them too and think this is being honest. This is because we think it is unfair to hear news from someone without sharing some news back.

People ofter say “I have told you everything about me, why won’t you share anything with me?”. Additionally, we believe that it is safe to confide in someone who has already entrusted us with private information, on the assumption that they would never betray our secrets unless we betray theirs, which is just how incautious people are entrapped.

Not everyone you meet is your friend.

Ancient arts of discourse

  • Rethoric
  • Grammar
  • Logic

Best quotes by Epictetus *

It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.

No bull reaches maturity in an instant, nor do men become heroes overnight.

Remember that if you hang out with someone covered in dirt you can hardly avoid getting a little dirty yourself.

Be confident in everything outside the will, and cautious in everything under the will’s control.

You need to suspend desire completely, and train aversion only on things within your power. You should dissociate yourself from everything outside yourself.

How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?


My take

The Discourses and fragments are incredibly powerful resources to use in your own life. The tone of the Discourses are more academic than either Meditations or Letters from a Stoic but if that does not deter you then it is an excellent read. Each chapter of the four books have their own theme and can be read self-contained. Throughout the book are the Stoic principles outlined and demonstrated such as the use of impressions, how reason is the greatest gift we have, how we must not fear death or generally fear anything outside our own control. The style of the books varies from purely being an explanation of how to live to being arguments on why we should live like a Stoic and is very thought-provoking.