There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will. — Epictetus
The life of Epictetus showcased his philosophy in full bloom. He started life in a bad position but was able to have a successful life as a philosopher of Stoicism. Epictetus advocated for the idea that a man should focus on what is in his control, and not worry about the things outside of it. He campaigned for the idea philosophy should be lived, not merely discussed. He demonstrated both of these ideas in how he lived his life.
You may fetter my leg, but Zeus himself cannot get the better of my free will. — Epictetus
Little information has been found about the early life of Epictetus. His birth date and birth location have remained unknown. There is some debate regarding how Epictetus became a slave, but one theory suggests his parents sold him into slavery to pay off a debt. He was a native to Hierapolis in Phrygia and belonged to Epaphroditus, a profligate freedman of Nero.
Epictetus was lame and has often been depicted with a crutch ( see picture above). Two major theories have been proposed on how this came to be. 1) Epaphroditus, his master, broke his leg and it never fully recovered. 2) His body was weak and he was lame from an early age. The second option appears to have been more likely.
Despite being a slave, Epictetus received a decent education. Epaphroditus allowed Epictetus to attend the lectures of C. Musionius Rufus, a stoic philosopher. Despite allowing him to learn, Epaphroditus never freed Epictetus. Epictetus was freed after the Epaphroditus was put to death by Domitian after Epaphroditus aided Nero in committing suicide. Epictetus was set free around 68 A.D.
Life as a Philosopher
Don’t Explain your philosophy. Embody it. — Epictetus
Epictetus taught stoicism in Rome after gaining his freedom. He taught there until 89 A.D when Domitian banished all philosophers from Rome. Following that, Epictetus moved to Nicopolis of Epirus, and he taught there until his death.
Epictetus did not write down any of his own teachings. Instead, his lectures were transcribed by his pupil, Arrian. Arrian curated eight discourses of Epictetus, but four of them have been lost to time. The other four were combined to create The Discourses of Epictetus. These lectures gave practical advice to living free and happy lives. One of the key takeaways ideas in this book was that each individual should distinguish what they have control over and what they do not and that individuals should learn to love their fate. The Discourses of Epictetus has been an influential book since it’s conception, and it was quoted several times by Marcus Aurelius in Meditations.
The Enchiridion was another famous writing by Epictetus. Epictetus conceived it as a handbook for stoicism and contained practical rules for everyday life. The Enchiridion provided 52 rules to follow. I recommend this book to anyone who would like some bite-sized stoicism.
Give me by all means the shorter and nobler life, instead of one that is longer but less account! — Epictetus
Epictetus lived a simple life. He spent most of his life alone, but he did start a family later in life. Epictetus adopted a child from friends who were going to dispose of the child on account of poverty. Epictetus hired a woman to be a nurse for the child, and it is unclear if they married. Epictetus stayed in Nicopolis and taught philosophy until his death sometime around 135 A.D.
The importance of his life
Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well. — Epictetus
The life of Epictetus shaped his personal philosophy and Stoicism as a whole. Epictetus demonstrated that Philosophy was not limited to rich, but could be used by people of a lesser disposition. He started out a slave, but when given the opportunity, became a student and teacher in stoic philosophy. That did not mean “Love fate, and you will receive great riches in the future.” Rather, He focused on what he could do instead of what could possibly come to him. Epictetus practiced what he preached. His philosophy was not limited to being discussed but was embodied by what he did. His life showed that a person should focus on what they can control and live according to their principles. That was how Epictetus lived.
Epictetus, The Discourses of Epictetus, unpublished 2nd Century