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Epictetus on Stoa

Selected and edited by M. Divjak


    Reason first and foremost
    Things within and outside our control
    Things do not disturb us
    People cannot hurt you
    It has been returned
    How to win freedom
    Ship in a harbor
    Life as a banquet
    Don't allow them to pull you down
    Safeguard your mind
    Prepare beforehand
    On getting rich and powerful
    Celebrities are not necessarily happy
    Everything has a true price
    Don't babble
    Let your deeds speak
    Live in harmony with nature
    Comport yourself with dignity
    On spiritual progress
    Start living your ideals

Reason first and foremost

    The life of wisdom is the life of reason.

    The virtuous life depends on reason first and foremost. If you
    safeguard your reason, it will safeguard you.

    People who subordinate reason to their feelings of the moment
    are actually slaves of their desires and aversions.

    What is a good person? The one who achieves tranquility by
    having formed the habit of asking on every occasion, "What is
    the right thing to do now?"

Things within and outside our control

    Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one
    principle. Some things are within our control, and some things
    are not ... Within our control are our own opinions,
    aspirations, desires, and the things repel us ... Outside our
    control, however, are such things as what kind of body we have,
    whether we're born into wealth or strike it rich, how we are
    regarded by others, and our status in societry.

Things do not disturb us

    When something happens, the only thing in our power is your
    attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it ... It
    is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their

People cannot hurt you

    Except for extreme physical abuse, other people cannot hurt
    you unless you allow them to ... Don't consent to be hurt and
    you won't be hurt - this is a choice over which you have

It has been returned

    Inner peace begins when we stop saying of things, "I have lost
    it" and instead say, "It has been returned to where it came
    from." Have your children died? They are returned to where they
    came from ... The important thing is to take great care with
    what you have while the world lets you have it, just as a
    traveller takes care of a room at the inn.

How to win freedom
    Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by
    disregarding things that lie beyond our control ...

    If it's freedom you seek, then will nothing and shun nothing
    that depends on others, or you will always be a helpless slave.

Ship in a harbor

    There is time and place for diversion and amusement, but you
    should never allow them to override your true purposes. If you
    were on a voyage and the ship anchored in a harbor, you might
    go ashore for water and happen to pick up a shellfish or a
    plant. But be careful: listen for the call of the captain. Keep
    your attention directed at the ship. Getting distracted by
    triffles is the easiest thing in the world. Should the captain
    call, you must be ready to leave those distrations and come
    running, without even looking back.

Life as a banquet

    Think of your life as if it were a banquet where you would
    behave graciously. When dishes are passed to you, extend your
    hand and help yourself to a moderate portion. If a dish should
    pass you by, enjoy what is already on your plate. Or if the
    dish hasn't been passed to you yet, patiently wait your time.

Don't allow them to pull you down

    If you find yourself in conversation with someone who is
    depressed, hurt, or frustrated, show them kindness and give
    them a sympathetic ear; just don't allow yourself to be pulled
    down too.

    Many people who have progressively lowered their personal
    standards in an attempt to win social acceptance and life's
    comforts bitterly resent those of philosophical bent who refuse
    to compromise their spiritual ideals and who seek to better
    themselves. Never live your life in reaction to these
    diminished souls. Be compassionate toward them, and at the same
    time hold to what you know is good.

    Why then do you feel no shame in giving your precious mind over
    to any person who might wish to influence you? Think twice
    before you give up your own mind to someone who may revile you,
    living you confused and upset.

Safeguard your mind

    Your life is too short and you have important things to do. Be
    discriminate about what images and ideas you permit into your

    Be careful whom you associate with. It is human to imitate the
    habits of those with whom we interact. We inadvertently adopt
    their interests, their opinions, their values, and their habit
    of interpreting events.

    Just because some people are nice to you doesn't mean you
    should spend time with them. Just because they seek you out and
    are interested in you or your affairs doesn't mean you should
    associate with them. Be selective about whom you take on as
    friends, colleagues, and neighbors. All of these people can
    affect your destiny.

Prepare beforehand

    There is a place for prudent planning and for making provision
    for situations to come. Proper preparation for the future
    consists of forming good personal habits. This is done by
    actively pursuing the good in all the particulars of your daily
    life and by regularly examining your motives to make sure they
    are free of the chackles of fear, greed, and laziness ...

    Cultivate the habit of surveying and testing a prospective
    action before undertaking it.

    If some pleasure is promised to you and it seductively calls to
    you, step back and give yourself some time before mindlessly
    jumping at it ... If, in calmly considering the pleasure, you
    realize that if you indulge in it you will regret it, abstain
    and rejoice in your forbearance.

    Instead of averting your eyes from the painful events of life,
    look at them squarely and contemplate them often.

On getting rich and powerful

    If I can get rich and powerful while preserving my own honor,
    faithfulness to family, friends, principles, and self-respect,
    show me how and I'll do it. But if I have to sacrifice my
    personal integrity, it's stupid and silly to urge me on.

Celebrities are not necessarily happy

    Don't make the mistake of assuming that celebrities, public
    figures, political leaders, and wealthy, or people with great
    intellectual or artistic gifts are necessarily happy. To do so
    is to be bewildered by appearances ...

Everything has a true price

    You will never earn the same rewards as others without
    employing the same methods and investment of time as they do.
    It is unreasonable to think we can earn rewards without being
    willing to pay the true price.

Don't babble

    So many people feel compelled to give voice to any passing
    feeling, thought, or impression they have. They randomly dump
    the contents of their minds without regard to the consequences.
    This is practically and morally dangerous. If we babble about
    every idea that occurs to us - big and small - we can easily
    fritter away in the trivial currents of mindless talk ideas
    that have true merit ... When we blather about trivial things,
    we ourselves become trivial.

Let your deeds speak

    Only the morally week feel compelled to defend or explain
    themselves to others. Let the quality of your deeds speak on
    your behalf.

Live in harmony with nature

    Respect your body's needs. Give your body excellent care to
    promote its health and well-being. Give it everything it
    absolutely requires, including healthy food and drink,
    dignified clothing, and a warm and comfortable home.

    Your possessions should be proportionate to the needs of your
    body, just as the shoe should fit the foot.

    When you carry out your tasks, such as taking your bath, do so
    - to the best of your ability - in harmony with nature. When
    you eat, do so - to the best of your ability - in harmony
    with nature, and so on.

Comport yourself with dignity

    No matter where you find yourself, comport yourself as if you
    were a distinguished person ... If you find yourself in a public
    event, remain rooted in your own purposes and ideals.

On spiritual progress

    As you think, so you become.

    First, say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have
    to do.

    Know first who you are and what yoĆ¼re capable of. Just as
    nothing great is created instantly, the same goes for
    perfecting of our talents and aptitudes ... Still, don't kid
    yourself: If you try to be something or someone you are not,
    you belittle your true self and end up not developing in those
    areas that you would have excelled at quite naturally.

    It is one thing to wish to be a champion or to do something
    skilfully; it is another to actually do it and to do it with
    consummate skill. Different people are made for different

    Spiritual progress requires us to highlight what is essential
    and to disregard everything else as trivial pursuits unworthy
    of our attention ... Refrain from trying to win other people's
    approval and admiration. You are taking a higher road.

    One of the best ways to elevate your character immediately is
    to find a worthy role models to emulate.

Start living your ideals

    There is a big difference between saying valuable things and
    doing valuable things.

    Grow up! Who cares what other people think about you! Create
    your own merit ... You have been given your own work to do. Get
    to it right now, do your best at it, and don't be concerned
    with who is watching you.

    Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals ... How
    long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your
    nobler self cannot wait any longer. Put your principles into
    practice - now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This
    is your life! You aren't a child anymore. The sooner you set
    yourself to your spiritual program, the happier you will be.
    The longer you wait, the more you will be vulnerable to the
    mediocrity and feel filled with shame and regret, because you
    know you are capable of better. From this instant on, vow to
    stop disappointing yourself. Separate yourself from the mob.
    Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do - now.