I recently picked up Sharon Lebell’s modern day interpretation of Epictetus; The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness
While many had recommended this book to me, having read and been familiar with Epictetus’ official surviving texts — the Enchiridion and Discourses — I didn’t really see the need to read this version also.
Well, I was wrong.
Sharon Lebell has done a fantastic job taking the pretty dense text of the original documents and interpreting them for a modern day, lay audience who may not be familiar with Epictetus or Stoicism.
This is a great intro into not only the wisdom of one of the seminal exponents of Stoicism; but to Stoicism itself. For those who may have never have read him before but want to start this is an excellent place.
I’ve enumerated some of my favourite passages from the book below but would also highly encourage you to pick up the book for yourself.
- “When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.”
- “We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
- “When we suffer setbacks, disturbances, or grief, let us never place the blame on others, but on our own attitudes.”
- “It is a fact of life that other people, even people who love you, will not necessarily agree with your ideas, understand you, or share your enthusiasms. Grow up! Who cares what other people think about you!”
- “Personal merit cannot be achieved through our associations with people of excellence. You have been given your own work to do, Get to it right now, do your best at it, and don’t be concerned with who is watching you.”
- “What is really your own? The use you make of the ideas, resources, and opportunities that come your way. Do you have books? Read them. Learn from them. Apply their wisdom. Do you have specialised knowledge? Put it to its full and good use. Do you have tools? Get them out and build or repair things with them. Do you have good ideas? Follow up and follow through on it. Make the most of what you’ve got, what is actually yours.”
- “Focus on your main duty: there is a time and place for diversion and amusements, but you should never allow them to override your true purposes.
- “The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths”
- “The great thing is to take great care with what you have while the world lets you have it”
- It’s much better to die of hunger unhindered by grief and fear than to live affluently beset with worry, dread, suspicion, and unchecked desire”
- “Don’t be concerned with other people’s impressions of you. They are dazzled and deluded by appearances. Stick with your purpose. This alone will strengthen your will and give your life coherence.”
- “Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative , unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.”
- “Although we can’t control which roles are assigned to us, it must be our business to act our given role as best as we possibly can and to refrain from complaining about it. Wherever you find yourself, and in whatever circumstances, give an impeccable performance”
- “Assume, instead, that everything that happens to you does so for some good. That if you decided to be lucky, you are lucky. All events contain an advantage for you — if you look for it!”
- “Instead of averting your eyes from the painful events of life, look at them squarely and contemplate them often. By facing the realities of death, infirmity, loss, and disappointment, you free yourself of illusions and false hopes and you avoid miserable, envious thoughts.”
- “Hold true to your aspirations no matter what is going on around you”
- “It’s your job to comport yourself humbly and to consistently hew to your moral ideals. Cling to what you know in your heart is best, Then, if you are steadfast, the very people who ridiculed you will come to admire you”
- “Remember. You will never earn the same rewards as others without employing the same methods and investment of time they did. It is unreasonable to think we can earn rewards without being willing to pay their true price. Those who ‘’win’’ at something have no real advantage over you, because they had to pay the price for the reward. It is always our choice if we wish to pay the price for life’s rewards.”
- “Evil is a by-product of forgetfulness, laziness, or distraction: it arises when we lose sight of our true aim in life”
- “If someone were to casually give your body away to any old passerby, you would be furious. So why then do you feel no shame in giving your precious mind over to any person who may wish to influence you?”
- “By considering the big picture, you distinguish yourself from the mere dabbler, the person who plays at things as long as they feel comfortable and interesting. This is not noble. Think things through and fully commit!”
- “Don’t consent to be hurt, and you won’t be hurt. This is a choice over which you have full control”
- “Most people tend to delude themselves into thinking that freedom comes from doing what feels good or what fosters comfort and ease. The truth is that people who subordinate reason to their feelings of the moment are actually slaves to their desires and aversions”
- “What is a good person? The one who achieves tranquility by having formed the habit of asking on every occasion, ‘what is the right thing to do now?’”
- “When we blather about trivial things, we ourselves become trivial, for our attention gets taken up with trivialities. You become what you give your attention to”
- “Philosophy is the love of wisdom, it’s the art of living a good life.”
- “Philosophy is intended for everyone, and it is authentically practised only by those who wed it with action in the world toward a better life for all”
- “We become Philosophers to discover what is really true and what is merely the accidental result of flawed reasoning, recklessly acquired erroneous judgements, well-intentioned but misguided teachings of parents and teachers, and unexamined acculturation”
- “Don’t declare yourself a wise person — show your character and commitment to personal nobility through your actions”
- “The person who truly understands the the precepts of the great mind is the person who actually applies the philosopher's teachings. There is a big difference between saying valuable things and doing valuable things”
- “Don’t give too much weight to erudition alone. Look to the example of people whose actions are consistent with their professed principles”
- “Behold the world fresh — as it is, on its own terms– through the eyes of a beginner. To know that you do not know and to be willing to admit that you do not know without sheepishly apologising is real strength and sets the stage for learning and progress in any endeavour”
- “To do anything well you must have the humility to to bumble around a bit, to follow your nose, to get lost, to goof. Have the courage to try an undertaking and possibly do it poorly. Unremarkable lives are marked by the fear of not looking capable or trying something new”
- “Examine things as they appear to your own mind; objectively consider what is said by others, and then establish your own convictions. Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.”
- “Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind.”
- “We are not privy to the stories behind people’s actions, so we should be patient with them and suspend our judgement of them, recognising the limits of our understanding”
- “Forgive others for their misdeeds over and over again. This gesture fosters inner ease. Forgive yourself over and over again. Then try to do better next time”
- “It’s so simple really: if you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you start something, finish it”
- “To live a good life, you have to become consistent, even when it isn’t convenient, comfortable, or easy.”
- “As concerns of the art of living, the material is your own life. No great thing is created suddenly. There must be time. Give your best and always be kind”