BY SOFO ARCHON
Here is a hand-picked collection of 70 deep, wise, brilliant quotes from the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus, on topics such as life and death, god and truth, philosophy and knowledge, will and freedom.
It is not death or pain that is to be feared, but the fear of pain or death.
Crows pick out the eyes of the dead, when the dead have no longer need of them; but flatterers mar the soul of the living, and her eyes they blind.
What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.
Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth.
When you do anything from a clear judgment that it ought to be done, never shun the being seen to do it, even though the world should make a wrong supposition about it; for, if you don’t act right, shun the action itself; but, if you do, why are you afraid of those who censure you wrongly?
Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don’t lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried; but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried.
These reasonings are unconnected: “I am richer than you, therefore I am better”; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better.” The connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;” “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours.” But you, after all, are neither property nor style.
Wherever a man is against his will, that to him is a prison.
If you have assumed a character beyond your strength, you have both played a poor figure in that, and neglected one that is within your powers.
To you, all you have seems small: to me, all I have seems great. Your desire is insatiable, mine is satisfied. See children thrusting their hands into a narrow-necked jar, and striving to pull out the nuts and figs it contains: if they fill the hand, they cannot pull it out again, and then they fall to tears.— ‘Let go a few of them, and then you can draw out the rest!’—You, too, let your desire go! covet not many things, and you will obtain.
No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.
If you seek Truth, you will not seek to gain a victory by every possible means; and when you have found Truth, you need not fear being defeated.
Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.
It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself.
Let silence be your general rule; or say only what is necessary and in few words.
Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater.
A man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.
Give me by all means the shorter and nobler life, instead of one that is longer but of less account!
A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope.
Even as the Sun doth not wait for prayers and incantations to rise, but shines forth and is welcomed by all: so thou also wait not for clapping of hands and shouts and praise to do thy duty; nay, do good of thine own accord, and thou wilt be loved like the Sun.
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?
It is better to die of hunger having lived without grief and fear, than to live with a troubled spirit, amid abundance.
Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.
There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.
Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.
If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.
The world turns aside to let any man pass who knows where he is going.
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. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents.
Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.
He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at.
Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.
The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.
God gave man two ears, but only one mouth, that he might hear twice as much as he speaks.
He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.
It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.
Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.
It is not so much what happens to you as how you think about what happens.