Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher who lived in the age of Paul. He was exiled from Rome by the Emperor Nero and had a large following in his exile. He was not much aware of Christianity; the new religion was just beginning to blossom. Nevertheless, many of his ideas resonated with Christians.

Like Socrates, Epictetus did not write down the sayings for which he became famous. They were taken down by a pupil named Arrian. Arrian endeavored to write his notes as close to the actual spoken word as possible. At the time of their writing he had not intended his notes to be published. Even so, they later reached the public and were much studied and admired in the first and second centuries. The maxims have been quoted, copied and studied by students of morality and ethics ever since. They especially influenced the early church fathers.

Even modern day writers have taken a shine to Epictetus. Tom Wolfe in his monumental novel, "A Man in Full", uses the Discourses of Epictetus as the driving moral force in his plot. In essence Wolfe tries to reveal how following Stoicism can improve the life of the individual and how that individual can influence all of society. The work of Epictetus is that of a moral philosopher. Although the Stoics had a comprehensive philosophy that covered physics and aesthetics, etcetera, Epictetus concentrated on ethics, how people should act, and what their duties and relationships are.

As the commentator Irwin Edman said of Epictetus, "What he is concerned with is decency, personal dignity, modesty, proportion...He expresses with quietude and sincerity the sense of the duties of life, of the importance of good will whatever the consequences, and of the values of inner serenity over outer goods dependent on chance and time." No wonder Christians have so often found Epictetus instructive and insightful.

Again it must be made clear, Epictetus was not a Christian; he refers to God as Zeus. Even so, his conception of God adheres fairly closely to our conception of God. There are, though, deviations. The student should not let these differences obscure the importance, influence and validity of the moral philosophy expounded by this venerable ancient.

As you read through the course keep in mind all you already know about the Christian writers. Compare and contrast The Discourses of Epictetus with the letters of Paul, James and Peter. I refer frequently to the similarities and differences. I also endeavor to bring in elements of moral philosophy that were constructed in the subsequent centuries. You should come away from this book with a new understanding of Christianity and a cohesive moral philosophy to help guide your actions in the future.

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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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