The Indisputable Epictetus

It’s not often that an emperor writes in awe of a slave.

And, when the slave turns out to be a wise man extraordinaire, invoked even after many centuries, he deserves a closer study.

The stoic wisdom of ancient Greek slave-turned-philosopher Epictetus is refreshingly practical. How to live the good life? He offers simple ideas to crack this knotty puzzle. His handbook (Enchiridion) provides about 50 succinct tips.

1. Some things are in our control & others not. Avoid, dismiss, ignore the latter. Indisputable.

2. Suppress desires. Indisputable.

3. We are often disturbed, not by things or people or situations, but by our own ideas, principles and notions of these things, people & situations (which can be false, misunderstood etc.). Indisputable.

4. Don’t preach. Quietly practice. Indisputable.

5. In all circumstances, we can choose to act, think, & respond in positive & uplifting ways (or at least avoid negative & depressing ways). Indisputable.

Is he absolutely indisputable? Almost. His life & times were vastly different, so one must read him in context, adapting his ideas to modern situations. Humans being humans, history often rhyming, and there being nothing much new under the sun, he remains immensely relevant. Practicing even a few of his ideas can catapult one closer to The Good Life, however uniquely one may conceive it.

He wrote nothing and that makes his popularity more interesting. His students transcribed & transmitted his teachings. If his ideas didn’t work, nobody would have bothered to keep him alive for so long. The Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, wouldn’t have bothered. Nor the many fans & students to this day. That he sounds similar to other great sources of wisdom, like the Gita, makes his appeal universal.

How a wise man faces death is usually instructive. Sadly, Epictetus seems to have gradually faded away from a busy teaching life and we don’t know how he died. He seems to have led a quiet and simple life, retiring with an adopted child.

An indisputable giant.

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