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Walking down the street with the first rays of sunlight trying to break through the olive trees covered in morning dew, I approach the now-familiar portico. The ground feels cold and damp as I step out of my sandals and place them against the wall next to the others. I’m a bit late and feel a slight apprehension entering the main courtyard. My teachings quickly push this initial anxiety away and I take my seat. There is a little nod from the person on my right, I nod back. Then both our eyes turn to the front. We are three rows back.

For the first few minutes I sit and let the familiar voice guide me to the moment. The words echo from wall to wall with a clear purpose. yet, the vibrations are long and smooth, compelling the ears of the active listener to reach for them. A twofold effect flows over me; the projected calmness takes engulfs me and the wisdom penetrates my mind.

Trained to uphold the mind

Not sure why, but my head tilts to the right and I see a figure in the middle of the circle. Bare feet, with one leg sticking out which must be his bad one. The other is firmly placed on the ground. The wooden chair doesn’t look like much, but it provides him with all the support he needs. The toga he wears still shows remnants of his yesteryear posture. It is however less filled and hangs loosely over his now reduced body. His presence is no less imposing though. His back straight and his shoulders wide, properly trained to uphold the mind that only grows deeper.

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Reaching his face, his eyes capture your attention. They give you the feeling that this is the source of the words. Looking into the world to find the proper discourse. I’m sure his mouth must move, but there is no evidence of that other than his messages waving through the yard. Even his silence sends ripples across the attendees. The long beard ends in a point midway his chest, while the hair on his head has long been gone.

Epictetus advocated a practical form of Stoicism

This is how I would picture what attending one of Epictetus’ meetings would be like. Sitting next to Arrian as he takes studious notes. Ones he will later compile in the discourses and handbook we read now. There is little known about his actual life and we don’t know if he wrote books or texts. What we do know comes to us from Arrian. He documented everything and published it. This is how, like us, the other famous Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, learned from him.

Epictetus Discourses, Handbook and Fragments – Everyman edition

Epictetus, like his mentor Musonius Rufus, advocated for a more practical form of Stoicism. It was good to talk and think, but the real test was in the doing. He didn’t soften his words and replied to his students in clear and direct speech. One time reproached a father who left his family because he couldn’t bear seeing his daughter ill. The father abandoned her, his wife, and the maid to deal with the situation; as if they didn’t struggle.

I recognize myself more when I read Epictetus compared to, for example, Seneca. As you can read in my reflections on believing in yourself and responsibility, I needed a verbal slap to see what is demanded of me. As well as standing my ground and finding my strength in difficult times.

Who was Epictetus

The life of Epictetus

Epictetus was born a slave in 50 AD and at one point in his life, someone crippled him. Even though he was a slave, his master allowed Epictetus to study. This is when he met Musonius Rufus who became his guide into Stoic philosophy. He was born in Greece and was freed after the death of Nero in Rome. During the reign of Domitian, who banished all philosophers, he went to Nicopolis. This is where founded his school and stayed until his death in 135 AD.

The discourses and his handbook have given me numerous insights into myself and the world around me. I highly recommend reading and rereading them, as I will keep doing.

If you are interested in other philosophers, you can read my introductions on Marcus AureliusSeneca, or Michel de Montaigne.

Who was Epictetus?
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