Epictetus Analysis


Born a slave, Epictetus (ehp-ihk-TEET-uhs) was brought to Rome at an early age and became the slave of Nero’s freedman and secretary, Epaphroditus, a cruel master. According to theologian Origen’s anecdote, Epictetus did not flinch when Epaphroditus broke his leg. Epictetus learned Stoicism from Gaius Musonius Rufus and at some point became a freedman. When Domitian expelled all philosophers from Rome (c. 89 c.e.), Epictetus went to Nicopolis, Epirus, Greece, where he established a school. He may have returned to Rome during the reign of Hadrian.

Epictetus wrote nothing himself. His Enchiridion (n.d.; known as the Manual, 1916) and four books of Discourses (translation 1916) were transcribed by his student, Arrian (also known as Flavius Arrianus).


Epictetus and the emperor Marcus Aurelius were the two greatest Stoic ethicists. Much of the emperor’s thought derived from that of the slave. Both Stoics, especially Epictetus, had exceptional influence on Western culture. Epictetus was most popular in times when military virtues, secular values, self-reliance, individualism, forbearance, equanimity, and persistence were most honored. Thinkers and leaders in the Italian and French Renaissances, Enlightenment Prussia, and Victorian England all held him in high esteem.


Arnold, Edward Vernon. Roman Stoicism. 1911. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1971. This book focuses on the Stoics of Epictetus’s era. Chapter 4 discusses Epictetus’s life and influence, and later chapters emphasize his views on religion, morality, duty, and death. Includes a bibliography.

Barnes, Jonathan. Logic and the Imperial Stoa. New York: E. J. Brill, 1997. A detailed examination of particular texts from Discourses.

Bonhöffer, Adolf F. The Ethics of the Stoic Epictetus: An English Translation. Translated by William O. Stephens. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. A look at Epicurean thought. Contains a bibliography and an index.

Hicks, R. D. Stoic and Epicurean. 1911. Reprint. New York: Russell and Russell, 1962. An excellent discussion of some of the tenets within Stoic, Epicurean, and Skeptical thought. Chapter 4, “The Teaching of the Later Stoics,” is a thorough discussion of Epictetus’s beliefs and three-stage method of instruction. Contains a time line and a bibliography.

Inwood, Brad. Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. Traces the development of ethics in Stoics, including Epictetus. The emphasis is on textual analysis and interpretation of key terminology. Includes a bibliography.

Lebell, Sharon. A Manual for Living: Epictetus. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. An excellent introduction to the wisdom of Epictetus. This new translation relates his sayings to modern life.

Rist, J. M. Stoic Philosophy. London: Cambridge University Press, 1969. A chronological narrative of all Stoic philosophy. Rist discusses Epictetus’s speculation on phenomenology, suicide, and metaphysics.

Sandbach, F. H. The Stoics. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975. An introductory summary of the history of Stoic philosophy that pinpoints areas such as ethics, fate, and logic. Epictetus is granted a section that clearly describes his most significant insights. Includes an annotated bibliography, a glossary of Greek and Latin terms, and a time line.

Stadter, Philip A. Arrian of Nicomedia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980. A look at the man known for the transcription of Epictetus’s lectures, the only extant examples of Epictetus’s thoughts. Chapter 2 details Arrian’s time as a student of Epictetus. Includes a map that shows Epictetus’s homeland Phrygia, present-day Turkey.

Xenakis, Iason. Epictetus: Philosopher-Therapist. The Hague, the Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969. The first book-length commentary published in English devoted solely to Epictetus. Includes a brief biography and a bibliography.