Philosophy Pages

    Dictionary    Study Guide  Logic   F A Q s
  History Timeline Philosophers   Locke


Life and Works
. . Stoicism
Internet Sources

Even though he was born a slave in Hierapolis and endured a permanent physical disability, Epictetus held that all human beings are perfectly free to control their lives and to live in harmony with nature. After intense study of the traditional Stoic curriculum (established by Zeno of Citium and Chrysippus) of logic, physics, and ethics, Epictetus spent his entire career teaching philosophy and promoting a daily regime of rigorous self-examination. He eventually gained his freedom, but was exiled from Rome by Domitian in 89.

Epictetus's pupil Arrianus later collected lecture notes from the master and published them as the Discourses. The more epigrammatic Encheiridion, or Manual represents an even later distillation of the same material. From a fundamental distinction between our ability to think or feel freely and our lack of control over external events or circumstances, Epictetus derived the description of a calm and disciplined life. We can never fail to be happy, he argued, if we learn to desire that things should be exactly as they are.

That the same approach to human life may work for others as well as for a slave is suggested by the persuasive oratory of the Roman statesman Seneca. The Meditations of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius illustrate the practical value of a Stoic approach even in the best of circumstances.

Recommended Reading:

Primary sources:

  • Epictetus, Enchiridion, tr. by George Long (Prometheus, 1955)

Secondary sources:

  • Malcolm Schofield, The Stoic Idea of the City (Chicago, 1999)
  • Adolf Friedrich Bonhoffer, The Ethics of the Stoic Epictetus, tr. by William O. Stephens (Peter Lang, 2000)
  • A. A. Long, Hellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics (California, 1986)

Additional on-line information about Epictetus includes:

Creative Commons License
The Philosophy Pages by Garth Kemerling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

©1997, 2011 Garth Kemerling.
Last modified 22 November 2011.
Questions, comments, and suggestions may be sent to: the Contact Page.