Stoic Wisdom: The Golden Sayings Of Epictetus

This is part two in a series on Stoic philosophy, a Hellenistic school of philosophy founded in Ancient Athens. Stoics sought simplicity of living and Socratic inquiry. They believed in a quest towards personal freedom and intellectual growth, all with a profound sense of respect for nature. This installment is a series of excerpts from Epictetus’ Golden Sayings.

Epictetus (c. 55 – c. 135 AD) was born a slave, and lived in Rome until he was banished to Greece. His teachings were recognized as unusually sagely and published by his pupils. Epictetus believed in fate but on the grounds that individuals were responsible for their own actions; this prompted the conviction that we must live without fear or attachment to circumstances. Fatalism excluded, this will sound very familiar to those familiar with Zen philosophy. What is external is often outside our control and should not be dwelled on. Internal peace of mind is important and can be achieved through self-discipline and compassion for others.

These are just a few snippets from Golden Sayings. They’ll encourage you to dig deeper and make positive changes towards improving your approach towards life.

Try to enjoy the great festival of life with other men. (3)

Thou shalt not blame or flatter any. (6)

True instruction is this: —to learn to wish that each thing should come to pass as it does. (26)

A guide, on finding a man who has lost his way, brings him back to the right path—he does not mock and jeer at him and then take himself off.You also must show the unlearned man the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as you do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel your own incapacity. (63)

If a man would pursue Philosophy, his first task is to throw away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit that he already knows. (72)

To you, all you have seems small: to me, all I have seems great. Your desire is insatiable, mine is satisfied. See children thrusting their hands into a narrow-necked jar, and striving to pull out the nuts and figs it contains: if they fill the hand, they cannot pull it out again, and then they fall to tears.—’Let go a few of them, and then you can draw out the rest!’—You, too, let your desire go! covet not many things, and you will obtain. (95)

A man should also be prepared to be sufficient unto himself—to dwell within himself alone. (98)

Above all avoid speaking of persons, either in the way of praise or blame, or comparison. If you can, win over the conversation of your company to what it should be by your own. But if you should find yourself cut off without escape among strangers and aliens, be silent. (164)

What wouldst thou be found doing when overtaken by Death? If I might choose, I would be found doing some deed of true humanity, of wide import, beneficent and noble. But if I may not be found engaged in aught so lofty, let me hope at least for this—what none may hinder, what is surely in my power—that I may be found raising up in myself that which had fallen; learning to deal more wisely with the things of sense; working out my own tranquillity, and thus rendering that which is its due to every relation of life. (189)

If thou wouldst make progress, be content to seem foolish and void of understanding with respect to outward things. Care not to be thought to know anything. If any should make account of thee, distrust thyself. (158)

If any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone. (122)

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