The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Enchiridion

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Enchiridion
This ebook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and
most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg License included with this ebook or online
at If you are not located in the United States,
you will have to check the laws of the country where you are located
before using this eBook.

Title: The Enchiridion

Author: Epictetus

Translator: Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Release date: March 10, 2014 [eBook #45109]
Most recently updated: February 12, 2023

Language: English

Credits: Stephen Hutcheson, Chris Curnow and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team


The Library of Liberal Arts
OSKAR PIEST, _General Editor_

The Enchiridion

The Enchiridion

Translated by

With an Introduction by
_Professor of Sociology
New School for Social Research_



First Edition, _October, 1948_
_December, 1950_; _August, 1954_
Second Edition, _November, 1955_

Published at 153 West 72nd Street, New York 23, N. Y.
Printed in the United States of America


Note on the Text
Selected Bibliography
The Enchiridion


The text of the second edition is a reprint of the first edition except
for a few minor corrections in style, punctuation, and spelling, which
have been revised to conform to current American usage.

The editorial staff of the publishers has added a few explanatory notes
which are set in brackets and marked “Ed.”



The little book by Epictetus called _Enchiridion_ or “manual” has played
a disproportionately large role in the rise of modern attitudes and
modern philosophy. As soon as it had been translated into the vernacular
languages, it became a bestseller among independent intellectuals, among
anti-Christian thinkers, and among philosophers of a subjective cast.
Montaigne had a copy of the _Enchiridion_ among his books. Pascal
violently rejected the megalomaniac pride of the Stoic philosopher.
Frederick the Great carried the book with him on all campaigns. It was a
source of inspiration and encouragement to Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury,
in the serious illness which ended only in his death; many pages of his
diaries contain passages copied from the _Enchiridion_. It has been
studied and widely quoted by Scottish philosophers like Francis
Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and Adam Ferguson who valued Stoic moral
philosophy for its reconciliation of social dependency and personal

That there was a rebirth of Stoicism in the centuries of rebirth which
marked the emergence of the modern age was not mere chance.
Philosophical, moral, and social conditions of the time united to cause
it. Roman Stoicism had been developed in times of despotism as a
philosophy of lonely and courageous souls who had recognized the
redeeming power of philosophical reason in all the moral and social
purposes of life. Philosophy as a way of life makes men free. It is the
last ditch stand of liberty in a world of servitude. Many elements in the
new age led to thought which had structural affinity with Roman Stoicism.
Modern times had created the independent thinker, the free intellectual
in a secular civilization. Modern times had destroyed medieval liberties
and had established the new despotism of the absolute state supported by
ecclesiastical authority. Modern philosophies continued the basic trend
in Stoicism in making the subjective consciousness the foundation of
philosophy. The Stoic emphasis on moral problems was also appealing in an
era of rapid transition when all the values which had previously been
taken for granted were questioned and reconsidered.

While it is interesting to observe how varied were the effects produced
by this small volume, this epitome of the Stoic system of moral
philosophy, these effects seem still more remarkable when we consider
that it was not intended to be a philosophical treatise on Stoicism for
students. It was, rather, to be a guide for the advanced student of
Stoicism to show him the best roads toward the goal of becoming a true
philosopher. Thus Epictetus and his _Enchiridion_ have a unique position
in Roman Stoicism. Seneca and Marcus Aurelius had selected Stoic
philosophy as the most adequate system for expressing their existential
problems of independence, solitude, and history. In this enterprise,
Seneca made tremendous strides toward the insights of social psychology
as a by-product of his consciousness of decadence (in this he was close
to Nietzsche), but he was not primarily concerned with the unity of the
Stoic system. Marcus Aurelius changed the philosophical doctrine into the
regimen of the lonesome ruler. In contrast to both, Epictetus was
teaching Stoic philosophy as a doctrine and as a way of life. The
_Enchiridion_ is a summary of theoretical and applied Stoicism.

Epictetus was the son of a woman slave, born between 50 and 60 A.D. at
Hieropolis in Phrygia. We do not know how he came to Rome. He was there
as slave to one of Nero’s distinguished freedmen who served as the
Emperor’s secretary. While still in service, Epictetus took courses with
Musonius Rufus, the fashionable Stoic philosopher, who was impressed by
the sincere and dynamic personality of the young slave and trained him to
be a Stoic philosopher. Epictetus became a free man and began teaching
philosophy on street corners, in the market, but he was not successful.
During the rule of Domitian, Epictetus with many other philosophers was
exiled from Rome, probably between 89 and 92 A.D. He went to Nicopolis,
across Actium in Epirus, where he conducted his own school. He was so
well regarded and highly esteemed that he established the reputation of
the place as the town of Epictetus’ school. Students came from Athens and
Rome to attend his classes. Private citizens came to ask his advice and
guidance. Some of his students returned to their homes to enter the
traditional careers to which they were socially obligated. Others assumed
the philosophic way of life in order to escape into the sphere of Stoic

Among the students was a young Roman, Flavius Arrian, who took courses at
Nicopolis when Epictetus was already old. Flavius, who was born in 108
A.D., was one of the intimates of Hadrian, who made him consul in 130
A.D. He probably studied with Epictetus between the years 123 and 126
A.D. The informal philosophical talks which Epictetus had with his
students fascinated him. Needless to say there were also systematic
courses in the fields of philosophy. But it was the informal discourses
which convinced Arrian that he had finally discovered a Stoic Socrates or
a Stoic Diogenes, who was not merely teaching a doctrine, but also living
the truth. Arrian recorded many of the discourses and informal
conversations of Epictetus with his intimate students. He took them down
in shorthand in order not to lose the ineffable liveliness, grace, and
wit of the beloved teacher. Arrian retired into private life after the
death of Hadrian in 138 A.D. and dedicated himself to his literary work.
He published his notes on Epictetus’ teaching under the title:
_Discourses in Four Books_. The _Enchiridion_, which was also arranged by
Arrian, is a brief summary of the basic ideas of Stoic philosophy and an
introduction to the techniques required to transform Stoic philosophy
into a way of life.

Thus we do not have any original writings of Epictetus. Like G. H. Mead
in recent times, he was completely dedicated to the human and
intellectual problems of his students. He left it for them to preserve
what they considered to be the lasting message of the teacher. In
contrast to Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus had no subjective
approach to the Stoic doctrines. Moral philosophy was the center of his
teaching, and epistemology was only instrumental. It is even permissible
to say that he took physics or cosmology too lightly. If this is granted,
we must admit that he is completely absorbed by the fundamentals of Stoic
thought as presented in the _Enchiridion_. Epictetus’ personality is
totally integrated in the act of reasoning which establishes conformity
with nature.

A remarkable difference between the _Discourses_ and the _Enchiridion_
should be mentioned. The _Discourses_ are a living image of the teacher
in action; they present the process of philosophizing, not the finished
product. They show the enthusiastic and sober, the realistic and pathetic
moralist in constantly changing perspectives determined by the changing
students with their various concerns, problems, and questions; his
teachings, his formulations, have direct reference to the various life
situations in which the students should apply and practice the master’s
Stoic teaching. No human situation is omitted; as a guide to conduct,
philosophy has relevance for all. Whether the students have to attend a
dinner party, whether they are among competitors in a stadium or in a
swimming pool, whether they have to present themselves at court or in an
office, whether they are in the company of their mothers and sisters or
of girl friends, in all human situations the philosopher knows the
correct advice for the philosophical apprentice. Thus, in the
_Discourses_, Arrian presents the unique individuality of the philosopher
and of his applied moral method in living contact with various students
in concrete situations. Epictetus as teacher anticipates very modern
educational methods in his regard for the structure of situations and the
changing perspectives in human relationships.

Nothing like this is revealed in the _Enchiridion_. Gone is the Stoic
philosopher as living spirit. What remains is the living spirit of
Stoicism. The _Enchiridion_ is a manual for the combat officer. This
analogy should be taken seriously. The Roman Stoics coined the formula:
_Vivere militare!_ (Life is being a soldier.) The student of philosophy
is a private, the advancing Stoic is a non-commissioned officer, and the
philosopher is the combat officer. For this reason all Roman Stoics apply
metaphors and images derived from military life. Apprentice students of
Stoicism are described as messengers, as scouts of God, as
representatives of divine nature. The advancing student who is close to
the goal of being a philosopher has the rank of an officer. He is already
able to establish inner freedom and independence. He understands the
basic Stoic truth of subjective consciousness, which is to distinguish
what is in our power from what is not in our power. Not in our power are
all the elements which constitute our environment, such as wealth,
health, reputation, social prestige, power, the lives of those we love,
and death. In our power are our thinking, our intentions, our desires,
our decisions. These make it possible for us to control ourselves and to
make of ourselves elements and parts of the universe of nature. This
knowledge of ourselves makes us free in a world of dependencies. This
superiority of our powers enables us to live in conformity with nature.
The rational philosophy of control of Self and of adjustment to the Whole
implies an asceticism of the emotional and the sensitive life. The
philosopher must examine and control his passions, his love, his
tenderness at all times in order always to be ready for the inevitable
moment of farewell. The Stoics practiced a Jesuitism _avant la lettre_.
They were able to live in the world as if they did not live in it. To the
Stoic, life is a military camp, a play on the stage, a banquet to which
we are invited. The _Enchiridion_ briefly indicated the techniques which
the philosopher should apply in acting well the diverse roles which God
might assign to those whom he loves, the Stoic philosophers. From the
rules of social conduct to the recommendations of sexual asceticism
before marriage, and the method of true thinking, the advanced Stoic will
find all principles of perfection and all precepts for realizing
philosophical principles in his conduct in this tiny volume.

Thus the _Enchiridion_ was liberating for all intellectuals who learned
from it that there are philosophical ways of self-redemption. From its
time, the secular thinker could feel jubilant because he was not in need
of a divine grace. Epictetus had taught him that philosophical reason
could make him free and that he was capable of redeeming himself by sound

In the Stoic distinctions of personality and world, of I and mine, of
subjective consciousness and the world of objects, of freedom and
dependence, we find implicit the basic elements of modern philosophies of
rationalism and of objective idealism or pantheism. For this reason there
is a continuous renascence of Stoicism from Descartes, Grotius, and
Bishop Butler, to Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and Kant. In this long
development in modern times, the tiny _Enchiridion_ of Epictetus played a
remarkable part.

The translations of Epictetus and of all other Stoics had the widest
effect on philosophers, theologians, and lay thinkers. They were studied
by the clergy of the various Christian denominations, by the scientists
who were striving for a natural religion, and by the independent
philosophers who were eager to separate philosophy from religion. There
were many outstanding bishops in the Catholic and Anglican Churches who
were eager to transform the traditions of Roman Stoicism into Christian
Stoicism. Among the Calvinistic denominations were many thinkers who were
in sympathy with Stoic moral principles because of their praise of the
austerity of life and of the control of passions. Likewise the adherents
of natural religion were propagating Stoicism as the ideal pattern of
universally valid and intelligible religion. Renascent Stoicism had three
functions in the rise of the modern world. First, it reconciled Christian
traditions to modern rationalistic philosophies; secondly, it established
an ideal pattern of natural religion; and, thirdly, it opened the way for
the autonomy of morals.


The New School
for Social Research
Want to print your doc?
This is not the way.
Try clicking the ⋯ next to your doc name or using a keyboard shortcut (
) instead.