The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus was born into slavery around 55 AD in Hierapolis, Phrygia. After being granted his freedom as a young man, Epictetus became one of the most influential Stoic philosophers of his time, teaching many students in Rome how to find tranquility and resilience in the face of life’s hardships. Epictetus left behind an immense philosophical legacy, including his famous Enchiridion and Discourses, which capture the essence of Stoic ethical teachings.
Stoicism was a school of thought founded in Athens by the philosopher Zeno of Citium around 300 BC. The Stoics taught that destructive emotions like anxiety, frustration, and despair stem from errors in judgment and perception. By living in agreement with nature and being indifferent to what lies outside one’s control, the Stoics aimed to maintain inner calm, virtue, and freedom.
Focus Energy on What You Can Control
“Some things are in our control and others not. We control opinions, pursuits, desires, aversion, and, in a word, whatever our actions are. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in a word, whatever are not our actions.”
Epictetus argues that we should differentiate between what we have power over and what we do not. We can control our opinions, desires, and actions without external outcomes. Realizing this prevents anxiety and turmoil over what we cannot change. For example, you can only sometimes control whether you get the desired job or promotion. But you can control how skillfully you interview and your attitude towards the process.
Accept What You Cannot Change
“Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.”
Here, Epictetus counsels acceptance rather than frustration when faced with undesirable circumstances. Wish situations to unfold as they do, not as you wish. For instance, if your flight gets canceled, accept it gracefully instead of raging against this reality and focus on productive solutions like rebooking.
Be Willing to Learn and Grow
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”
Pride and ego often inhibit growth and improvement. Epictetus argues that we should set aside concern for appearances and judgment if we sincerely wish to learn and progress. For example, Self-mastery and stability were paramount.
Epictetus was profoundly shaped by Stoic doctrine and left behind many insightful quotes that encapsulate the tradition’s core philosophical principles. By examining some of his most potent quotes, we can uncover profound lessons on facing adversity with resilience, overcoming destructive passions through reason, and ultimately leading a life marked by wisdom, virtue, and tranquility. The quotes distill critical aspects of Stoic thought to their essence, offering simple yet impactful guidance that still rings true today. Studying the words of Epictetus gives us a framework to build unshakeable strength of character even amidst turmoil. This article will explore a selection of his most indispensable quotes on topics like resilience, acceptance, freedom, and adversity. Internalizing these teachings equips us to meet life’s inevitable ups and downs with grace and grit. A novice pianist must be willing to sound clumsy and amateurish when first practicing complex pieces. Focusing on growth over perception is vital.
True Freedom Lies in Limiting Desires
“Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of desires, but by the removal of desire.”
For Stoics, the path to freedom is limiting attachments and desires, not multiplying them. The more we want, the more enslaved we are. By purging external cravings, we gain inner liberty. For instance, desiring the newest smartphone model enslaves you to chase material goods. Limiting this desire frees you to enjoy simplicity.
Adversity Reveals Character
“Difficulties are things that show a person what they are.”
Stoics saw challenges and hardships as opportunities to test and strengthen character. When faced with crises, we reveal our true nature. Meeting adversity with courage and resilience allows for growth. A debilitating illness, for example, surfaces perseverance and perspective that may have otherwise remained dormant.
Apply Stoic Principles, Transform Your Life
John was struggling with anxiety and felt his life was spiraling out of control. He decided to read up on Stoic philosophy. Taking Epictetus’ advice to heart, he began focusing only on what he could control – his thoughts, actions, and attitudes. He accepted setbacks gracefully rather than railing against them. He overcame pride to ask for help at work when he struggled with a project. He realized how little he needed as he limited his material desires. Over time, implementing Stoic principles transformed John’s outlook. He became resilient in facing challenges and approached life with tranquility and wisdom.
The luminous quotes of Epictetus have resonated through the centuries because they offer such acute insight into the human condition and guidance for overcoming its trials. By focusing only on what lies within our power, accepting external events and circumstances as they unfold, limiting unnecessary desires, and embracing adversity as a chance for growth, we gain the resilience and self-reliance needed to live with wisdom, virtue, and inner freedom.
Epictetus endured significant hardship, having been born a slave with a permanent physical disability. But through the rigorous application of Stoic principles, he gained renown in his time for meeting all of life’s difficulties with grace, dignity, and composure. The wisdom he gained from personal experience shines through in his words and offers a timeless roadmap for those seeking stability amidst the ups and downs of life.
There will always be factors beyond our control. But Epictetus’ quotes remind us that our judgments, perspectives, actions, and mental habits remain entirely within our power and jurisdiction. This gives us responsibility over our life experience, liberating us from being swayed by the whims of fortune or circumstance. By following the guidance of this great Stoic philosopher, serenity and strength of character lie within anyone’s reach, regardless of status or station in life. His words grant us the wisdom and perspective to shape ourselves into individuals marked by resilience, virtue, and unassailable poise.