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"Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected here, The Discourses argue that happines "Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected here, The Discourses argue that happiness lies in learning to perceive exactly what is in our power to change and what is not, and in embracing our fate to live in harmony with god and nature. In this personal, practical guide to the ethics of Stoicism and moral self-improvement, Epictetus tackles questions of freedom and imprisonment, illness and fear, family, friendship and love, and leaves an intriguing document of daily life in the classical world." In the introduction that accompanies his lively new translation, Robert Dobbin discusses Epictetus' life, his place in the Stoic tradition, his influence on world philosophies and his relevance in the modern day. This edition also includes a bibliography, notes and a glossary of names.


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"Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected here, The Discourses argue that happines "Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected here, The Discourses argue that happiness lies in learning to perceive exactly what is in our power to change and what is not, and in embracing our fate to live in harmony with god and nature. In this personal, practical guide to the ethics of Stoicism and moral self-improvement, Epictetus tackles questions of freedom and imprisonment, illness and fear, family, friendship and love, and leaves an intriguing document of daily life in the classical world." In the introduction that accompanies his lively new translation, Robert Dobbin discusses Epictetus' life, his place in the Stoic tradition, his influence on world philosophies and his relevance in the modern day. This edition also includes a bibliography, notes and a glossary of names.

30 review for Discourses and Selected Writings (Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    In this rereading of Epictetus’ Discourses, I wanted to concentrate on two things in particular: first, whether his belief in God or the gods (and Epictetus is by far the most overtly religious and theistic of the Greco-Roman moralists) is strictly necessary to his philosophy; and, second, how closely Epictetus’ stoicism approaches the non-theistic position of philosophical Buddhism. Epictetus regularly uses Socrates as his example of what all men should be. And one finds the admonition that rea In this rereading of Epictetus’ Discourses, I wanted to concentrate on two things in particular: first, whether his belief in God or the gods (and Epictetus is by far the most overtly religious and theistic of the Greco-Roman moralists) is strictly necessary to his philosophy; and, second, how closely Epictetus’ stoicism approaches the non-theistic position of philosophical Buddhism. Epictetus regularly uses Socrates as his example of what all men should be. And one finds the admonition that reading about how to be virtuous is of no value unless one practices being virtuous. The secret seems to be in focusing on those things that it is in our power to influence, those being largely our own responses to events that we cannot control. In assuming that “what-is” requires “God” to have been its author, especially when extolling the “fit,” eg, of the capacity for sight, light, and color, Epictetus reveals his failure to understand evolution by natural selection, ie that things are simply because they have randomly arrived at this condition and then to have had selective advantage, a concept that always seems somehow distressing or incomprehensible to many people even today. Nonetheless, this seems peripheral to his assertion that we focus on and concern ourselves only with those things actually in our control, an assertion with which I certainly agree. Indeed, one of Epictetus’ primary techings is tha we suffer not because of circumstances but because of our opinions about circumstances, our judgments about them. “Freedom is acquired not by the full possession of the things which are desired, but by removing the desire.” What is this but one of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism? In Bk 1, Chap 1, Epictetus discusses the omniscience and omnipotence of God. I find such anthropomorphism unconvincing if one were to view God as being a transcendent Creator. But here is where the Stoic conception of God differs from the Judeo-Christian; as a Stoic, Epictetus views God (Zeus or “nature”, the terms being almost interchangeable) as the immanent rational order of the Cosmos, humans being endowed with a greater degree of reason than the rest of the universe. The very term, “God,” therefore, is a most ambiguous one if we take it to mean for Epictetus what it commonly means for our own culture. Perhaps that is why I prefer to think of the organizing principle of the universe as Tao, Order, Information. In Book 4, Epictetus has an interesting discussion on death and why one should not fear it. Like so many other places in his work, though, he introduces the concept of a deity in what seems to me to be an arbitrary and unnecessary way, his argument standing as strongly if he were simply to refer to Fate or The Way Things Are. Maybe one can simply assume that he was talking in culturally convenient and determined ways and that there is no harm to the argument at all if one uses “Tao” or no specific term at all. He introduces a little exercise in letting go that is very akin to Buddhist practice, particularly to mindfulness meditation, his goal being much the same as that of philosophical Buddhism, the relinquishment of all that is not under one’s control, of all that is determined and conditional. In that sense, Epictetus’ stoicism seems very congenial. “What is the first business of him who philosophizes? To throw away self-conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn that which he thinks he knows.” This is the same lesson as demonstrated in the little Zen story about the overflowing teacup. The more I study of Epictetus, the less I find his opinions incompatible with Buddhism, Taoism, or Zen. There are obviously common and universal truths here, far beyond any particular doctrines. The wisdom contained in this book is common to all with vision and insight, is familiar though not often followed, and is sound and deep. One of the things, though, that seems at variance with other opinions, eg those of Robert Solomon, is the stress on the negativity of the emotions (an apparent common theme in both Epictetus and Buddhism). It seems equally plausible that one can appreciate the emotions and make constructive use of them (as well as to enjoy and, indeed, “befriend” them), at the minimum of utilizing them as signals of wherein dwell previously unrecognized judgments. Actually, at a very fundamental level of Buddhist mindfulness is the stress on simply noting what one is feeling without evaluating the feeling or experiencing the necessity to change anything, the feeling or anything else, such mindfulness being the foundation on which wise action is built. In summary, Epictetus’ guidance is wise and applicable to everyone, a solid and helpful basis for ethics, not dependent upon any particular religious persuasion, not only compatible with but even much the same as non-theistic philosophical Buddhism (despite Epictetus‘s own personal theistic piety) and the basis for a life well led, worthy of being read and studied again and again.

  2. 4 out of 5

    William2

    Read The Enchiridion. Breezy Stoic tonics for daily living. Surprisingly Buddhistic. Star rating refers to that section only.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Delara Emami

    I gave Marcus Aurelius' Mediations a five star rating only because the writing was more clear. However Aurelius was inspired by Epictetus and that is why I chose to read this book. I really enjoyed the read. It had a very powerful effect on the way I viewed life. If you are seeking to change your perspective or you're looking to grow,, this is a good starting book for you. I most enjoyed discussions on family, friendship, and integrity. I also enjoyed the enchiridion at the very end.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    The most useful book I have ever read, back when philosophy really meant 'love of wisdom'. For you will learn by experience that it's true: the things that men admire and work so hard to get prove useless to them once they're theirs. Meanwhile, people to whom such things are still denied come to imagine that everything good will be theirs if only they could acquire them. Then they get them: and their longing is unchanged, their anxiety is unchanged, their disgust is no less, and they still long f The most useful book I have ever read, back when philosophy really meant 'love of wisdom'. For you will learn by experience that it's true: the things that men admire and work so hard to get prove useless to them once they're theirs. Meanwhile, people to whom such things are still denied come to imagine that everything good will be theirs if only they could acquire them. Then they get them: and their longing is unchanged, their anxiety is unchanged, their disgust is no less, and they still long for whatever is lacking. Freedom is not achieved by satisfying desire, but by eliminating it. Assure yourself of this by expending as much effort on these new ambitions as you did on those elusive goals: work day and night to attain a liberated frame of mind Don't hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace. But what says Zeus? 'Epictetus, if it were possible, I would have made both your little body and your little property free and unrestricted. As it is, though, make no mistake: this body does not belong to you, but it is only cunningly constructed clay. And since I was not able to do for you what I have mentioned, I have given you a small portion of myself, this faculty of positive and negative impulse, and the faculty of desire and aversion - the power, in other words, of making good use of impressions. If you will take care of this faculty and consider it your only possession, you will never be hindered, never meet with impediments; you will not lament, you will not blame, you will not flatter any person. Is that enough to satisfy you?' 'It's more than enough. Thank you.' Seek at once, therefore, to be able to say to every strong impression, 'An impression is all you are, not the source of the impression' And then test it with your criteria; and first and chiefly, by this: ask, 'Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?' And if it's not one of the things that you control, be ready with the reaction, 'Then it's none of my concern.' As in a voyage, when the ship is at anchor, if you go on shore to get water, you may amuse yourself with picking up a shell-fish or a truffle in your way, but your thoughts ought to be bent towards the ship, and perpetually attentive, lest the captain should call, and then you must leave all these things, that you may not have to be carried on board the vessel, bound like a sheep; thus likewise in life, if, instead of a truffle or shell-fish, such a thing as a wife or a child be granted you, there is no objection; but if the captain calls, run to the ship, leave all these things, and never look behind. But if you are old, never go far from the ship, lest you should be missing when called for. There is so much more I could include here, but I can't keep typing forever, pick up a copy.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dino

    There are 2 things which Epictetus wants us to remember: 1. You can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you will react to it. 2. Epicurus was an ignorant prick.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    I just read Epictetus with a small group and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. In my totally dilettantish opinion, after only 1 reading – I found the Discourses rambling and repetitive, and Epictetus too much of a scold – but with interruptions of actual genius. On the other hand, the short Enchiridion (or "handbook") at the end is a gem of bitter wisdom. Epictetus's stoicism is a philosophy for the desperate moments of life, but in such moments it holds up pretty well. (Cf. "Courage Under Fi I just read Epictetus with a small group and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. In my totally dilettantish opinion, after only 1 reading – I found the Discourses rambling and repetitive, and Epictetus too much of a scold – but with interruptions of actual genius. On the other hand, the short Enchiridion (or "handbook") at the end is a gem of bitter wisdom. Epictetus's stoicism is a philosophy for the desperate moments of life, but in such moments it holds up pretty well. (Cf. "Courage Under Fire" or "The World of Epictetus" by James Bond Stockdale, easily available on the internet - each of which is an excellent introduction to and recommendation for Epictetus. Who knew?)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    A classic of Stoic philosophy. A self-help book before there were self-help books. Some great stuff, although it's a bit repetitive, which will be largely due to its origins in lecture notes by a devoted pupil.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Connor Whittle

    This being the first time I've read an entire book dedicated to the teachings of a single philosopher makes me unqualified, and therefore incapable of assessing and coming to a fair conjecture of the teachings. That's why my review will focus on the writing and more importantly, my ease of understanding. Looking at it, and considering that's it's an ancient brand of an already dense subject (Philosophy) I think people would probably be put off by it's apparent complexity--but to be honest, as a This being the first time I've read an entire book dedicated to the teachings of a single philosopher makes me unqualified, and therefore incapable of assessing and coming to a fair conjecture of the teachings. That's why my review will focus on the writing and more importantly, my ease of understanding. Looking at it, and considering that's it's an ancient brand of an already dense subject (Philosophy) I think people would probably be put off by it's apparent complexity--but to be honest, as a starting point it really worked for me. I found myself taking it in well-enough, the notes were detailed and regular, so you don't need an in depth knowledge of Greek Mythology, Philosophers or politics to derive understanding from Epictetus' teachings. The writing, (Which is written-speech), is fluid and unpretentious, whilst simultaneously it manages to be artistic, lively and clever. Basically, it's an easy book to consume, and (For me, but obviously there are people more knowledgeable than I) it seems to work as an interesting start-point for Greek Philosophy, and probably Philosophy as a whole.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brady

    The Discourses (and fragments) is in one of the three must-reads on Stoicism, along with Seneca's Letters from a Stoic and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. I'm not a huge fan of the the Enchiridion, however. The Enchiridion has a lot about what a Stoic should act like, but nothing on how or why one should act and think the way it describes and thus should not be read first by anyone interesting in Stoicism.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Birau Catalin

    Awesome. Clear ideas and sound logic. Almost as pleasurable to read as his student, Marcus Aurelius

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ektoras (Ross)

    Me: Epictetus, why is life so difficult? Why can’t I get what I want? Why are people so immature? Why can I never seem to be satisfied? Epictetus: Because you are a damned fool! *smacks you over the head with his cane.* Seek virtue within not in external things! There will you find peace!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    A difficult but powerful perspective to be found here; what this book seems to promise is the secret to invincibility. But it's not what most people at first thought would expect or even for that matter want. Out the window go the traditional definitions of evil. Suffering is thought very little of here; it's not even given a consolation in any sort of afterlife. There is an overwhelming faith here in the abilities of the mind not to eliminate but to stand above and resist to the waves of misery A difficult but powerful perspective to be found here; what this book seems to promise is the secret to invincibility. But it's not what most people at first thought would expect or even for that matter want. Out the window go the traditional definitions of evil. Suffering is thought very little of here; it's not even given a consolation in any sort of afterlife. There is an overwhelming faith here in the abilities of the mind not to eliminate but to stand above and resist to the waves of misery inevitably found in human life. Key to success is limiting our concerns to what we're in control over and often it's not a lot. Sometimes all we're left with is our response and attitude to the circumstances. It's easy to strawman stoicism as advocating a petrified lifestyle in which one simply sits down and let's the world pass them by but I didn't find that here. Epictetus advocates using reason to discover one's calling, and one's limits, which don't have to be removed from the world, but the foundation must remain reason, and it's power over the senses. Attacked is the hedonism of the Epicureans and the nihilism of the Skeptics. Epictetus believes in reason as that which mortals share with God.  There is a lot of passionate prose here about fortitude, determination, heroism in the face of adversity, about the value of a person not coming from their possessions, or natural born abilities, but rather from their character in the face of suffering, and the payoff of patiently facing it all and, bringing good out of the bad.  Fittingly enough I failed a job interview in the middle of reading this and while the book's ideals were very clearly floating around my mind, they did not seem to offer a solution to the disappointment, despair and envy I went through in subsequent weeks. Nonetheless I kept reading this and contemplating it  and perhaps my recovery was hastened.   I still agree with a lot of what Epictetus says, but my ironic lapse helped me see that it's not enough to read him, but rather to put these methods into practice and preparation, even when, our lives seem at peace. He advocates testing one's endurance, and strengthening oneself against the impressions that can bother us so much. It's a harsh effort, and as a crippled slave in ancient Rome, Epictetus most likely knew more about suffering than moderns. It will be a lifelong challenge with many falls along the way, but the payoff is appealing. Back to my petty concerns, I would consider that during the next interview it would be best to remember beforehand very sincerely that there's nothing I can do to guarantee acceptance, and that all I can do is give it my all and fail gracefully, because it seems that jobs, possessions, relationships, and health are not enough by themselves to bring us peace of mind, and that accepting loss may be one of the most important abilities that any human being can learn.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Neeraj Shukla

    Thoughts on life and philosophy behind things. A good read. Might take a long time to digest the wisdom contained in this book. In fact the prime teaching of the book is that, it is not good to be knowledgeable about things in life, but to develop a consistent ability to practice whatever you believe is to be right. The book dwells on developing character and virtues. Persist and resist- Persist on the path that you decide is the right one for you and resist any temptations that you may encounter i Thoughts on life and philosophy behind things. A good read. Might take a long time to digest the wisdom contained in this book. In fact the prime teaching of the book is that, it is not good to be knowledgeable about things in life, but to develop a consistent ability to practice whatever you believe is to be right. The book dwells on developing character and virtues. Persist and resist- Persist on the path that you decide is the right one for you and resist any temptations that you may encounter in the journey of your life.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Asaad Mahmood

    Definitely a good read. Further helping me understand the Stoic stance a bit more. One thing that I fail to come to terms with is the concept of gratefulness (that we normally advocate), with Stoic philosophy. The book for those unfamiliar advocates a distance from external things. External things are neither to be seen as good or bad and one should be indifferent to them. Principles of good and bad should only be applied to things you can control - that being your will or your mind. Thus, if one Definitely a good read. Further helping me understand the Stoic stance a bit more. One thing that I fail to come to terms with is the concept of gratefulness (that we normally advocate), with Stoic philosophy. The book for those unfamiliar advocates a distance from external things. External things are neither to be seen as good or bad and one should be indifferent to them. Principles of good and bad should only be applied to things you can control - that being your will or your mind. Thus, if one was to practice gratitude for the gifts he has received, whether of wealth, health, companion, off=spring, or anything external, one is then bound to fret, or be affected when he incurs a loss in those things. One cannot appreciate external things and then at the same time be impervious to them when they are taken away. Which is why I fail to understand how gratitude can be expressed if one has a Stoic stance, as gratitude itself can be seen as a precursor to agony and grief from Stoic perspective. Nonetheless, Stoicism is one of my favourite school of thought in Philosophy. The gist is that we should welcome adversities as it by facing adversities themselves, that we get to practice Philosophy, and become better. We should treat adversities as a boxer would treat his sparring partner. Hercules would not be a legend if he lived a life full of luxury, pleasure, and of numerous fortunes at his behest.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sammy

    I loved this book. My long term, low level fear of death has considerably abated. Epictetus was a slave who, when freed, started his own Stoic philosophy school in second century Nicopolis (ancient Greece I think). This book, his sayings and lectures recorded by one of his students Arrian is a magnificent testament to the wisdom of the Ancients. Sometimes in the middle ages, repurposed for bracing tutelage of Christian monks - all they did was revise this pagan philosophers language - 'Zeus' or I loved this book. My long term, low level fear of death has considerably abated. Epictetus was a slave who, when freed, started his own Stoic philosophy school in second century Nicopolis (ancient Greece I think). This book, his sayings and lectures recorded by one of his students Arrian is a magnificent testament to the wisdom of the Ancients. Sometimes in the middle ages, repurposed for bracing tutelage of Christian monks - all they did was revise this pagan philosophers language - 'Zeus' or 'the gods' became 'God', and hey presto! an inspirational christian text. The language attributed to Epictetus is direct and clear - free of confounding complications. Epictetus central thesis seems to be to concern yourself only with what is within your power to influence. All of the rest are 'indifferents'. Live with what you can live with, and when you can no longer, die without regret. I look forward to the day i re-read this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Castles

    Humbly, I can’t review a 2,000-year-old book of the great philosophers as if it’s just an ordinary read. I’ve learned a lot and Remembered how good it feels to read simple yet complicated truths again. Along with Marcus Aurelius, this book is another step in my journey through the wonderful world of the stoic philosophy. the book is translated superbly and way more accessible than I’d ever imagined.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Henry Manampiring

    Without a doubt, 5 stars. The more complete treatise on Stoicism, this record of Epictetus writings is absolute joy and inspiration. Once you read it, you wouldn't believe it was written 2000 years ago, because it is still so relevant with today's situation. Most recommended for anyone interested in Stoicism.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Erik Golbiw

    If I were to give advice on how to read the book, start with the Enchiridion - Snippets and summaries of Stoic teaching. Then move to the Fragments. Finally, take on the Discourses - This is the ‘heavier’ part of the book and the most difficult for me to get my arms around. That said, I have found this experience, of reading philosophy, to be quite mind opening. And useful.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Christian Solorzano

    Discourses and Selected Writings is a wonderful manual on how to live a life of virtue and stoicism. Considering that Epictetus lived almost two thousand years ago—much of what he says still stands true. It's truly a blessing to be able to read his work. I recommend this book to anybody that is interested in living a good life that is in alignment with nature.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shane Orr

    Epictetus was a Roman slave and philosopher who later became the teacher of Marcus Aurelius. I read his Manual for Living last year. This has a lot more in it, but it's pretty dry stuff. On the plus side, there is a lot of stoic philosophy here. Focus only on the things you can control and not on the things you can't. Accept what life throws your way. Some good advice to live by.

  21. 5 out of 5

    ybk

    It took me for a while to finish this book (starting in March 2017) as I tried to read very little by little every morning (unfortunately didn't do all mornings). I really like Book VI. As I started practicing Stoicism a few years ago - still on-going challenge, I will revisit this book. Next: Seneca.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Rudolph

    “I must die. But must I die bawling? I must be put in chains – but moaning and 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.”

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eric Escalante

    It's a life saver.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert Muir

    Even though Penguin classifies this as literature, it is really philosophy written differently.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    An excellent translation. Modern and a pleasure to read, with a good body of notes explaining the text.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    A very vibrant and lively translation. I prefer this over Robin Hard's version, although it's a pity a significant portion of the Discourses were not included.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Arthur

    Best one so far.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    A jolly good read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Warren

    enjoyed a lot of good information in it

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jcc Cabenda

    Dit boek is de basis van de stoïcijnse filosofie. Ik raad iedereen die geïnteresseerd is in de stoa met Epictetus te beginnen.

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