Epictetus
Epictetus


Mind Control

What does Zeus say? "Epictetus, if it were possible, I would have made both your little body and your little property free and not exposed you to hindrance. Be not ignorant of this: this body is not yours, but it is clay finely tempered. And since I was not able to do for you what I have mentioned, I have given you a small portion of us God's divinity which is this faculty of choosing to pursue an object or avoiding it, and the faculty of desire and aversion, and, in a word, the faculty of using the appearances of things. If you will take care of this faculty and consider it your only possession, you will never be hindered, never meet with impediments; you will not lament; you will not blame; you will not flatter any person."

Epictetus tells us that God gave us control of just one thing, our minds. Even our bodies are, ultimately, not subject to our will. Our bodies inevitably age; we can sicken; we can suffer injury. Thus, we cannot rely on them for happiness. Yet the control God has granted us of our minds is sufficient to allow us to live a full and satisfying existence.

Epictetus was not a Christian. Thus, he does not write from a strictly Judeo-Christian point of view. However, his concept of "Zeus" had similarities to our concept of God. In later chapters it will be striking how some passages will remind the reader of Paul or James or Peter. Because his work so struck the early church fathers, they ensured that Epictetus was recopied by scribes and Epictetus would be among the relatively few thinkers whose work survived the "Dark Ages".

In the time before the printing press books had to be copied over by hand. Because of this they were expensive, and books considered unworthy tended to mold on the back shelves of libraries until they disintegrated. Ancient works that stayed in demand or were considered important were recopied and passed from one generation to the next. Many great works of literature were lost, but the surviving work was the best the ancient world had to offer. Yet this guaranteed that, in some sense, we would see the ancient world through the lens of the medieval mind.

Chapter 1:

  1. Of the Things Which Are and Are Not in Our Power
  2. What Is Fitting (1a)
  3. Mind Control (1b)
  4. Don't Worry, Be Happy (1c)
  5. Lateranus the Stoic (1d)
  6. Free Will and Zeus (1e)
  7. Thrasea the Roman Senator (1f)
  8. The Reaction of Aggripinus (1g)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus


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