Epictetus Quotes

Quotes Attributed to Epictetus

Epictetus. Engraving of Epictetus as conceived by S. Beyssent 18th C.
Epictetus. Engraving of Epictetus as conceived by S. Beyssent 18th C. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Epictetus (A.D. c. 55 - c.135)

  • To a reasonable creature, that alone is insupportable which is unreasonable; but everything reasonable may be supported.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. ii.

  • The rational and the irrational are naturally different for different persons as are good and evil and profitable and unprofitable. For this reason we need to learn how to adjust our conceptions of rational and irrational and keep them in harmony with nature. When we determine the rational and the irrational we use both our estimates of external things and the criterion of our own character. This makes it most important that we understand ourselves. You must know how highly you value yourself and at what price you will sell yourself; different men sell themselves at different prices.

    Epictetus - Discourses 1.2

    Courtesy of translator Giles Laurén, author of The Stoic's Bible.

  • When Vespasian sent word to Helvidius Priscus not to attend the Senate, he answered: It is in your power to forbid me to be a member of the Senate, but so long as I am one I must attend its meetings.

    Epictetus - Discourses 1.2.

    Courtesy of translator Giles Laurén, author of The Stoic's Bible.

  • If every man could be convinced heart and soul in the belief that we are all begotten by Zeus, father to both men and gods, I think he could no longer have any ignoble or mean thought about himself. If Caesar adopts you no one will be able to endure your conceit, but if you know you are a son of Zeus shouldn't you be elated? Two elements are commingled in us: the body which we have in common with the brutes and intelligence which we have in common with the gods. Many of us incline towards the former which is unblessed and mortal and only a few incline towards the latter which is divine and blessed. Clearly, every man is free to deal with things according to his opinions of them, and those few who think that their birth is a call to fidelity, self-respect and unerring judgement cherish no mean or ignoble thoughts about themselves, whereas the multitude do quite the opposite and cleave to their animal part and become rascally and degraded.

    Epictetus - Discourses 1.3.

    Courtesy of translator Giles Laurén, author of The Stoic's Bible.

  • He who is making progress has learned that desire is for things good and that aversion is for things evil, and further, that peace and calm are only achieved as a man gets the things he wants and avoids the things he doesn't want. Since virtue is rewarded with happiness, calm and serenity, progress towards virtue is progress towards its benefits and this progress is always a step towards perfection.

    Epictetus - Discourses 1.4.

    Courtesy of translator Giles Laurén, author of The Stoic's Bible.

  • In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action, but our inward opinions and principles.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap xi.

  • Reason is not measured by size or height, but by principle.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xii.

  • O slavish man! will you not bear with your own brother, who has God for his Father, as being a son from the same stock, and of the same high descent? But if you chance to be placed in some superior station, will you presently set yourself up for a tyrant?

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xiii.

  • When you have shut your doors, and darkened your room, remember never to say that you are alone, for you are not alone; but God is within, and your genius is within, -- and what need have they of light to see what you are doing?

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xiv.

  • No great thing 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.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xv.

  • Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a Providence to an humble and grateful mind.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xvi.

  • Were I a nightingale, I would act the part of a nightingale; were I a swan, the part of a swan.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xvi.

  • Since it is Reason which shapes and regulates all other things, it ought not itself to be left in disorder.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xvii.

  • If what the philosophers say be true,--that all men's actions proceed from one source; that as they assent from a persuasion that a thing is so, and dissent from a persuasion that it is not, and suspend their judgment from a persuasion that it is uncertain, -- so likewise they seek a thing from a persuasion that it is for their advantage.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xviii.

  • Practise yourself, for heaven's sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap xviii.

  • Every art and every faculty contemplates certain things as its principal objects.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xx.

  • Why, then, do you walk as if you had swallowed a ramrod?

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xxi.

  • When one maintains his proper attitude in life, he does not long after externals. What would you have, O man?

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xxi.

  • Difficulties are things that show what men are.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xxiv.

  • If we are not stupid or insincere when we say that the good or ill of man lies within his own will, and that all beside is nothing to us, why are we still troubled?

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xxv.

  • In theory there is nothing to hinder our following what we are taught; but in life there are many things to draw us aside.

    Epictetus - Discourses Chap. xxvi.

  • Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man's task.

    Epictetus - Discourses. Chap. xxvii.

  • Everything has two handles, -- one by which it may be borne; another by which it cannot.

    Epictetus - Enchiridion. xliii.

  • When a man prides himself on being able to understand and interpret a difficult book, say to yourself: If the book had been well written this man would have nothing on which to pride himself.

    Epictetus - Encheiridon 49.

    Courtesy of translator Giles Laurén, author of The Stoic's Bible.

  • My object is to understand and follow Nature, so I look for someone who understands her and I read his book. When I have found a man of understanding, it is not for me to praise his book but rather to act on his precepts.

    Epictetus - Encheiridon 49.

    Courtesy of translator Giles Laurén, author of The Stoic's Bible.

  • Once you have fixed on you governing principles, you must hold them as laws that you cannot transgress. Pay no heed to what is said of you for it is beyond your control.

    Epictetus - Encheiridon 50.

    Courtesy of translator Giles Laurén, author of The Stoic's Bible.

  • The appearance of things to the mind is the standard of every action to man.

    Epictetus - That we ought not to be angry with Mankind. Chap. xxviii.

  • The essence of good and evil is a certain disposition of the will.

    Epictetus - Of Courage. Chap. xxix.

  • It is not reasonings that are wanted now; for there are books stuffed full of stoical reasonings.

    Epictetus - Of Courage. Chap. xxix.

  • For what constitutes a child? -- Ignorance. What constitutes a child? -- Want of instruction; for they are our equals so far as their degree of knowledge permits.

    Epictetus - That Courage is not inconsistent with Caution. Book ii. Chap. i.

  • Appear to know only this, -- never to fail nor fall.

    Epictetus - That Courage is not inconsistent with Caution. Book ii. Chap. i.

  • The materials of action are variable, but the use we make of them should be constant.

    Epictetus - How Nobleness of Mind may be consistent with Prudence. Chap. v.

  • Shall I show you the muscular training of a philosopher? ''What muscles are those?'' -- A will undisappointed; evils avoided; powers daily exercised; careful resolutions; unerring decisions.

    Epictetus - Wherein consists the Essence of Good. Chap. viii.

  • Dare to look up to God and say, ''Make use of me for the future as Thou wilt. I am of the same mind; I am one with Thee. I refuse nothing which seems good to Thee. Lead me whither Thou wilt. Clothe me in whatever dress Thou wilt.''

    Epictetus - That we do not study to make Use of the established Principles concerning Good and Evil. Chap. xvi.

  • What is the first business of one who studies philosophy? To part with self-conceit. For it is impossible for any one to begin to learn what he thinks that he already knows.

    Epictetus - How to apply general Principles to particular Cases. Chap. xvii.

  • Every habit and faculty is preserved and increased by correspondent actions,--as the habit of walking, by walking; of running, by running.

    Epictetus - How the Semblances of Things Are to Be Combated. Chap. xviii.

  • Whatever you would make habitual, practise it; and if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practise it, but habituate yourself to something else.

    Epictetus - How the Semblances of Things Are to Be Combated. Chap. xviii.

  • Reckon the days in which you have not been angry. I used to be angry every day; now every other day; then every third and fourth day; and if you miss it so long as thirty days, offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.

    Epictetus - How the Semblances of Things Are to Be Combated. Chap. xviii.

  • What saith Antisthenes? Hast thou never heard? It is a kingly thing, O Cyrus, to do well and to be evil spoken of.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - VII

  • Whereas if Caesar were to adopt you, your haughty looks would be intolerable; will you not be elated at knowing that you are the son of God?

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - IX

  • There is petrifaction of the understanding; and also of the sense of shame. This happens when a man obstinately refuses to acknowledge plain truths, and persists in maintaining what is self-contradictory.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XXIII

  • If what philosophers say of the kinship of God and Man be true, what remains for men to do but as Socrates did; -- never, when asked one's country, to answer, 'I am an Athenian or a Corinthian,' but 'I am a citizen of the world.'

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XV

  • But there is a great difference between other men's occupations and ours. . . . A glance at theirs will make it clear to you. All day long they do nothing but calculate, contrive, consult how to wring their profit out of food-stuffs, farm-plots and the like. . . . Whereas, I entreat you to learn what the administration of the World is, and what place a Being endowed with reason holds therein: to consider what you are yourself, and wherein your Good and Evil consists.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XXIV

  • True instruction is this:-- to learn to wish that each thing should come to pass as it does. And how does it come to pass? As the Disposer has disposed it. Now He has disposed that there should be summer and winter, and plenty and dearth, and vice and virtue, and all such opposites, for the harmony of the whole.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XXVI

  • Concerning the Gods, there are who deny the very existence of the Godhead; others say that it exists, but neither bestirs nor concerns itself nor has forethought for anything. A third party attribute to it existence and forethought, but only for great and heavenly matters, not for anything that is on earth. A fourth party admit things on earth as well as in heaven, but only in general, and not with respect to each individual. A fifth, of whom were Ulysses and Socrates are those that cry: -- I move not without Thy knowledge!

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XXVIII

  • You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to become a man's own, unless each day he maintain it and hear it maintained, as well as work it out in life.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XXX

  • What you shun enduring yourself, attempt not to impose on others. You shun slavery -- beware of enslaving others! If you can endure to do that, one would thing you had been once upon a time a slave yourself. For Vice has nothing in common with virtue, nor Freedom with slavery.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XLI

  • Above all, remember that the door stands open. Be not more fearful than children; but as they, when they weary of the game, cry, 'I will play no more,' even so, when thou art in the like case, cry, 'I will play no more' and depart. But if thou stayest, make no lamentation.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XLIV

  • Death has no terror; only a Death of shame!

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LV

  • That was a good reply which Diogenes made to a man who asked him for letters of recommendation. -- 'That you are a man, he will know when he sees you; -- whether a good or bad one, he will know if he has any skill in discerning the good or bad. But if he has none, he will never know, though I write him a thousand times.'

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LVII

  • God is beneficent. But the Good also is beneficent. It should seem then that where the real nature of God is, there too is to be found the real nature of the Good. What then is the real nature of God?--Intelligence, Knowledge, Right Reason. Here then without more ado seek the real nature of the Good. For surely thou dost not seek it in a plant or in an animal that reasoneth not.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LIX

  • Why, wert thou a statue of Phidias, an Athena or a Zeus, thou wouldst bethink thee both of thyself and thine artificer; and hadst thou any sense, thou wouldst strive to do no dishonour to thyself or him that fashioned thee, nor appear to beholders in unbefitting guise. But now, because God is thy Maker, is that why thou carest not of what sort thou shalt show thyself to be?

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXI

  • Since then every one must deal with each thing according to the view which he forms about it, those few who hold that they are born for fidelity, modesty, and unerring sureness in dealing with the things of sense, never conceive aught base or ignoble of themselves: but the multitude the contrary.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - IX

  • You also must show the unlearned man the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as you do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel your own incapacity.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXIII

  • It was the first and most striking characteristic of Socrates never to become heated in discourse, never to utter an injurious or insulting word -- on the contrary, he persistently bore insult from others and thus put an end to the fray.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXIV

  • When we are invited to a banquet, we take what is set before us; and were one to call upon his host to set fish upon the table or sweet things, he would be deemed absurd. Yet in a word, we ask the Gods for what they do not give; and that, although they have given us so many things!

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XXXV

  • Knowest thou what a speck thou art in comparison with the Universe? -- That is, with respect to the body; since with respect to Reason, thou art not inferior to the Gods, nor less than they. For the greatness of Reason is not measured by length or height, but by the resolves of the mind. Place then thy happiness in that wherein thou art equal to the Gods.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XXIII

  • Who would Hercules have been had he loitered at home? no Hercules, but Eurystheus. And in his wanderings through the world how many friends and comrades did he find? but nothing dearer to him than God. Wherefore he was believed to be God's son, as indeed he was. So then in obedience to Him, he went about delivering the earth from injustice and lawlessness.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXXI

  • The reason why I lost my lamp was that the thief was superior to me in vigilance. He paid however this price for the lamp, that in exchange for it he consented to become a thief: in exchange for it, to become faithless.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XII

  • No labour, according to Diogenes, is good but that which aims at producing courage and strength of soul rather than of body.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXII

  • But thou art not Hercules, thou sayest, and canst not deliver others from their iniquity--not even Theseus, to deliver the soil of Attica from its monsters? Purge away thine own, cast forth thence--from thine own mind, not robbers and monsters, but Fear, Desire, Envy, Malignity, Avarice, Effeminacy, Intemperance.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXXI

  • If a man would pursue Philosophy, his first task is to throw away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit that he already knows.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXXII

  • 'The question at stake,' said Epictetus, 'is no common one; it is this: -- Are we in our senses, or are we not?'

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXXIV

  • One who has had fever, even when it has left him, is not in the same condition of health as before, unless indeed his cure is complete. Something of the same sort is true also of diseases of the mind. Behind, there remains a legacy of traces and blisters: and unless these are effectually erased, subsequent blows on the same spot will produce no longer mere blisters, but sores. If you do not wish to be prone to anger, do not feed the habit; give it nothing which may tend its increase.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXXV

  • No man can rob us of our Will--no man can lord it over that!

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - LXXXIII

  • Wouldst thou have men speak good of thee? speak good of them. And when thou hast learned to speak good of them, try to do good unto them, and thus thou wilt reap in return their speaking good of thee.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - L

  • The beginning of philosophy is to know the condition of one's own mind. If a man recognises that this is in a weakly state, he will not then want to apply it to questions of the greatest moment. As it is, men who are not fit to swallow even a morsel, buy whole treatises and try to devour them. Accordingly they either vomit them up again, or suffer from indigestion, whence come gripings, fluxions, and fevers. Whereas they should have stopped to consider their capacity.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XLVI

  • In theory it is easy to convince an ignorant person: in actual life, men not only object to offer themselves to be convinced, but hate the man who has convinced them. Whereas Socrates used to say that we should never lead a life not subjected to examination.

    Epictetus - Golden Sayings - XLVII