From Slave To Philosophical Giant

Born in AD 50 in present-day Turkey, Epictetus spent much of his life in Rome as a slave. This experience had a profound impact on his philosophy and outlook on the world.  Despite his lowly status, Epictetus’s brilliant intellect and profound insights into the human experience have made his teachings relevant and valuable today. 

Epictetus’s most enduring contributions to Stoicism revolve around his philosophy on personal freedom and the importance of self-discipline. He believed that while we cannot control external events, we have the power to control our thoughts and reactions. This core idea is encapsulated in his famous quote… 

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them,” 

Another fundamental teaching of Epictetus is the dichotomy of control. He asserted that there are things within our control, such as our beliefs, desires, and judgments, and things outside our control, like the behavior of others or the natural course of events. By recognizing this distinction, we can avoid unnecessary suffering and maintain inner tranquility.

Epictetus’s wisdom transcends the centuries and remains applicable in our modern world. For example, consider how consumed we are by the world of online rage bait and politics. While we cannot control how others perceive or judge us online, we can choose not to allow their opinions to dictate our self-worth. This is an essential reminder for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the pressures of today’s hyper-connected society.

Despite enduring physical abuse from his master Epaphroditus, Epictetus remained composed and dedicated to learning and developing his own philosophical framework. It is assumed that he used his experiences to illustrate his philosophical teachings, proving that one can maintain inner peace and resilience regardless of external circumstances.

His influence extended well beyond his lifetime, with the Roman Emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, citing Epictetus as a significant inspiration. Epictetus’s teachings were recorded by his student Arrian in a series of books known as the Discourses, which, along with the Enchiridion—a manual of his core ideas—serve as foundational texts for students of Stoicism today.