Best Quotes by Epictetus

Lennox Johnson Quotes Leave a Comment

This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes by Epictetus. Details about the book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable.

On sadness:

I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?

Discourses, I, 1, trans. George Long

On greatness:

Nothing great . . . is produced suddenly, since not even the grape or the fig is. If you say to me now that you want a fig, I will answer to you that it requires time: let it flower first, then put forth fruit, and then ripen. Is, then, the fruit of a fig-tree not perfected suddenly and in one hour, and would you possess the fruit of a man’s mind in so short a time and so easily? Do not expect it, even if I tell you.

Discourses, I, 15, trans. George Long

On education:

We must not believe the many, who say that free persons only ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers, who say that the educated only are free.

Discourses, II, 1, trans. George Long

On freedom:

No one . . . who lives in error is free. Do you wish to live in fear? Do you wish to live in sorrow? Do you wish to live in perturbation? “By no means.” No one . . . who is in a state of fear or sorrow or perturbation is free; but whoever is delivered from sorrows and fears and perturbations, he is at the same time also delivered from servitude.

Discourses, II, 1, trans. George Long

On philosophers:

What is the first business of him who philosophizes? To throw away self-conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn that which he thinks that he knows.

Discourses, II, 17, trans. George Long

On habit:

Every habit and faculty is maintained and increased by the corresponding actions: the habit of walking by walking, the habit of running by running. If you would be a good reader, read; if a writer, write.

Discourses, II, 18, trans. George Long

On friendship:

Did you never see little dogs caressing and playing with one another, so that you might say there is nothing more friendly? but, that you may know what friendship is, throw a bit of flesh among them, and you will learn.

Discourses, II, 22, trans. George Long

On the good:

What a man applies himself to earnestly, that he naturally loves. Do men then apply themselves earnestly to the things which are bad? By no means. Well, do they apply themselves to things which in no way concern themselves? Not to these either. It remains, then, that they employ themselves earnestly only about things which are good; and if they are earnestly employed about things, they love such things also.

Discourses, II, 22, trans. George Long

On logic:

When one of those who were present said, “Persuade me that logic is necessary,” he replied: Do you wish me to prove this to you? The answer was, “Yes.” Then I must use a demonstrative form of speech. This was granted. How then will you know if I am cheating you by argument? The man was silent. Do you see, said Epictetus, that you yourself are admitting that logic is necessary, if without it you cannot know so much as this, whether logic is necessary or not necessary

Discourses, II, 25, trans. George Long

On society:

As a foot is no longer a foot if it is detached from the body, so you are no longer a man if you are separated from other men. For what is a man? A part of a state, of that first which consists of Gods and of men; then of that which is called next to it, which is a small image of the universal state.

Discourses, II, 5, trans. George Long

On action:

The carpenter does not come and say, “Hear me talk about the carpenter’s art”; but having undertaken to build a house, he makes it, and proves that he knows the art. You also ought to do something of the kind; eat like a man, drink like a man, dress, marry, beget children, do the office of a citizen, endure abuse, bear unreasonable brother, bear with your father, bear with your son, neighbour, compassion. Show us these things that we may see that you have in truth learned something from the philosophers.

Discourses, III, 21, trans. George Long

On aging:

How are you desirous at the same time to live to old age, and at the same time not to see the death of any person whom you love?

Discourses, III, 24, trans. George Long

On the good:

Seek not the good in things external; seek it in yourselves: if you do not, you will not find it.

Discourses, III, 24, trans. George Long

On morality:

A good man does nothing for the sake of appearance, but for the sake of doing right.

Discourses, III, 24, trans. George Long

On desire:

To you everything appears small that you possess: to me all that I have appears great. Your desire is insatiable: mine is satisfied. To (children) who put their hand into a narrow necked earthen vessel and bring out figs and nuts, this happens; if they fill the hand, they cannot take it out, and then they cry. Drop a few of them and you will draw things out. And do you part with your desires: do not desire many things and you will have what you want.

Discourses, III, 9, trans. George Long

On freedom:

He is free who lives as he wishes to live; who is neither subject to compulsion nor to hindrance, nor to force; whose movements to action are not impeded, whose desires attain their purpose, and who does not fall into that which he would avoid. Who, then, chooses to live in error? No man. Who chooses to live deceived, liable to mistake, unjust, unrestrained, discontented, mean? No man. Not one then of the bad lives as he wishes; nor is he, then, free. And who chooses to live in sorrow, fear, envy, pity, desiring and failing in his desires, attempting to avoid something and falling into it? Not one. Do we then find any of the bad free from sorrow, free from fear, who does not fall into that which he would avoid, and does not obtain that which he wishes? Not one; nor then do we find any bad man free.

Discourses, IV, 1, trans. George Long

On philosophy:

When a man sees another handling an ax badly, he does not say, “What is the use of the carpenter’s art? See how badly carpenters do their work”; but he says just the contrary, “This man is not a carpenter, for he uses an ax badly.” In the same way if a man hears another singing badly, he does not say, “See how musicians sing”; but rather, “This man is not a musician.” But it is in the matter of philosophy only that people do this. When they see a man acting contrary to the profession of a philosopher, they do not take away his title, but they assume him to be a philosopher, and from his acts deriving the fact that he is behaving indecently they conclude that there is no use in philosophy.

Discourses, IV, 8, trans. George Long

On the will:

There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs. Now the things within our power are by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are weak, dependent, restricted, alien. Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent and take what belongs to others for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you take for your own only that which is your own and view what belongs to others just as it really is, then no one will ever compel you, no one will restrict you; you will find fault with no one, you will accuse no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm.

Enchiridion, I, trans. T. W. Higginson

On the will:

You can be unconquerable if you enter into no combat in which it is not in your own power to conquer. When, therefore, you see anyone eminent in honors or power, or in high esteem on any other account, take heed not to be bewildered by appearances and to pronounce him happy; for if the essence of good consists in things within our own power, there will be no room for envy or emulation. But, for your part, do not desire to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free; and the only way to this is a disregard of things which lie not within our own power.

Enchiridion, XIX, trans. T. W. Higginson

On equality:

These reasonings have no logical connection: “I am richer than you, therefore I am your superior.” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am your superior.” The true logical connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my possessions must exceed yours.” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style must surpass yours.” But you, after all, consist neither in property nor in style.

Enchiridion, XLIV, trans. T. W. Higginson

On desire:

Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand and take a moderate share. Does it pass by you? Do not stop it. Is it not yet come? Do not yearn in desire toward it, but wait till it reaches you. So with regard to children, wife, office, riches; and you will some time or other be worthy to feast with the gods. And if you do not so much as take the things which are set before you, but are able even to forego them, then you will not only be worthy to feast with the gods, but to rule with them also.

Enchiridion, XV, trans. T. W. Higginson

On fate:

Remember that you are an actor in a drama of such sort as the Author chooses—if short, then in a short one; if long, then in a long one. If it be his pleasure that you should enact a poor man, or a cripple, or a ruler, or a private citizen, see that you act it well. For this is your business—to act well the given part, but to choose it belongs to another.

Enchiridion, XVII, trans. T. W. Higginson

On philosophers:

Do you think that you can act as you do and be a philosopher, that you can eat, drink, be angry, be discontented, as you are now? You must watch, you must labor, you must get the better of certain appetites, must quit your acquaintances, be despised by your servant, be laughed at by those you meet; come off worse than others in everything—in offices, in honors, before tribunals. When you have fully considered all these things, approach, if you please—that is, if, by parting with them, you have a mind to purchase serenity, freedom, and tranquillity. If not, do not come hither; do not, like children, be now a philosopher, then a publican, then an orator, and then one of Caesar’s officers. These things are not consistent. You must be one man, either good or bad. You must cultivate either your own reason or else externals; apply yourself either to things within or without you—that is, be either a philosopher or one of the mob.

Enchiridion, XXIX, trans. T. W. Higginson

If you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *