Hello! I’m not sure whether this article counts as a book review or if it’s just me rambling about my thoughts about this book I read a while ago. It’s called the “Discourses and Selected Writings of the Greek Stoic Epictetus”, and they are a series of informal lectures by Epictetus written down by his student Arrian around 108AD. Be honest: can you say the name (Epictetus) without giggling like a schoolgirl? (Hope everyone gets the joke because I’m not sure if it would be appropriate to explain it in a school blog).
Anyways, back to the book. I picked this book because it seemed simple and straightforward for an introduction to Stoic philosophy for people who want to get into it.
Stoicism, as defined by Wikipedia, is a philosophy of life that teaches the development of *self-control* and *fortitude* as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. Stoicism teaches us that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason for things. It probably sounds a bit cringe, but this is one of those books that makes me feel fortunate as a human to be able to read. Reading it felt quite amazing, not just because of its content, but also the fact that it has survived for 2000 years, unlike other works of stoics that got erased.
It was written by his student Arrian, who wrote down his teachings word to word for other people to read.
Fun fact: Arrian wrote Alexander the Great’s autobiography. It’s sort of funny to me how everything in the Greek canon is so connected; Plato was Socrates’ student and Aristotle studied in Plato’s school, and Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle. The more you dwell into it, the more you get out of it.
Stoicism is a philosophy more as a way of life that teaches the concept of accepting things you cannot control, something most people probably already subconsciously do. Though it might seem somewhat extreme, it is nevertheless true and something that must be accepted to be truly free as an individual.
According to Epictetus, anger or sorrow are futile emotions. He says, “When did anger ever teach someone to play music or pilot a ship.” However, this does not mean that we should suppress our emotions, rather accept things for what they are instead of trying to fight them.
Epictetus explains how we have naturally bound ourselves to certain things such as family and friends or objects but according to him, these things weigh us down. We feel a sense of ownership of everything that we have bound ourselves to, but we don’t own any of them. Our friends, family, or material belongings. It even goes as far as your body not belonging to you as you cannot make it function exactly as you wish.
My favorite part of the book is how it teaches one to develop their freedom. Just because you can’t control things, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them.
The acceptance of one’s mortality is a pillar of stoicism. A Stoic is always aware of death, which might seem heavy or overbearing, but it’s also very liberating. Epictetus gives the example of Diogenes; a truly free man. He knew that everything he owned did not actually belong to him and was only temporarily attached to it. He was free from all things while still being able to enjoy them. I think it’s a reality we don’t like to admit. We prefer to see ourselves as free individuals but we’re all bound to certain things and thus from a Stoic sense, we’re not free. We sometimes even let our actions be bound to not just things, but other people’s opinions. Epictetus was a slave in his time, and according to him, you could be a slave and still be free as long as you are not bound to anything.
I think that’s a pretty hopeful and liberating view of the world. To me, there’s a lot of power in just trying to focus on your views and opinions to liberate yourself rather than dwell on things you cannot change, or external ideas which are not your own. I feel like I could go on and on and write a whole book myself so I’m going to stop here. If you made it this far, thank you. Let me know if you’d be interested in more of this.