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Encheiridion means "manual," and Epictetus's book is, fittingly, a short text of various pieces of philosophical advice for life. Epictetus was born a slave in Phrygia but was freed and became a Stoic philosopher who founded a school at Nicopolis in Greece.

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Encheiridion begins by explaining that some things are in a person's control, while other things are not; a person's actions can be controlled, but things that are not our actions cannot be controlled. When a person understands what belongs to them and chooses to focus on that, then they can be free and unhindered. Focusing on things out of one's control just brings pain and suffering. Epictetus also says in section 6 that a person should only take pride in their own excellence and not the excellence of things that aren't their own.

Epictetus suggests loving the nature of things rather than the thing itself. The example he gives is that if you love your spouse or child, remind yourself that you're just loving a person. That way, if that person dies, you won't grieve, because there are still other people to love. A person can die, but people remain.

Each of his points is broken into a short section in the text. For example, in section 5, Epictetus says that people are scared of their views of things rather than the things themselves. He uses death to illustrate that point and says that death itself is not so terrible.

In section 8, Epictetus says that a person should wish for events to go as they go rather than wishing for them to go in a specific way. Accepting what is, rather than hoping for what is not, is a large theme in the text. For example, in section 42, he says that if a person is speaking badly of you, remind yourself that their impression of you is true for them. This helps you accept their negative opinion and not take injury from it.

Much of Epictetus's advice is aimed at making a person more content by helping them focus on the things they have rather than the things they do not. It teaches a reader to let go of things that can't be controlled or changed in order to avoid being angered and upset by them. He says that when something is lost, it's better to say it is returned. Everything is only temporarily given to a person and can be lost at any time.

Epictetus also offers other types of advice. For example, he says that people should avoid sex before marriage. He says that a weak mind indulges in too much eating, drinking, and other animal urges. He says that women are flattered about their appearance from a young age and only feel honored in their beauty and virtue.

In the end, Epictetus tells readers to accept the rules they've chosen to live by as laws and not to break them. He says that philosophy's first and most important topic is the practical application of principles. He explains that people focus too much on explaining the reasoning behind the principles and aren't focused on their practical application.

Summary

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The Encheiridion, or “manual,” is a collection of short essays representing the principal teachings of the Greek philosopher Epictetus. Born as a slave in Phrygia (now Turkey), Epictetus was brought to Rome by his master, who was an influential freedman of the Roman emperor Nero. Epictetus was permitted to study under the famous philosopher Musonius Rufus. After he obtained his freedom, he began to lecture informally on philosophy at Rome, where, however, he found few followers. Later, when Greek philosophers were exiled from Rome by Emperor Domitian, Epictetus traveled to Nicopolis in Greece and established a school that attracted large numbers of students. Like Socrates, Epictetus wrote nothing himself, but a devoted student, Flavius Arrian, transcribed his brilliant lectures and gave them the title Discourses ; a considerable portion of this work survives. Arrian made a short selection of these lectures and published...

(The entire section contains 2301 words.)

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