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Enchiridion of Epictetus: My Interpretations



The life that depends on luck is a floating bubble. It is of short duration. What Epictetus is implying here is that the more you depend on the external factors, the more difficult your life will be. Build the internal mechanism.


If you wish to be good, first believe that you are bad. Without knowing your faults, your shortcomings, it is hard to set yourself on the path of self-improvement. If you don’t know what hinders you, then, what would you rectify?


When a person discredits you or gives a bad opinion of you, don’t let that affect you. Instead, let truth be your North Star, scold yourself if you don’t live up to truth.


Those who hanker after money, pleasure and fame often fail to concern themselves with the matters of humanity. Only those who live a virtuous life (free from tempting vices) do.


Would you sail in a huge ship that is ornated by gold and is stuffed with all luxurious amenities onboard, but has a decrepit hull underneath? Your answer would probably be no. In the similar vein, Epictetus suggests you not to take on an opulent lifestyle, the maintenance of which could haunt you day in and day out.


When you go to a party, you normally partake of whatever there is on the menu. You don’t ask  maître d’hôtel to bring you exotic wines and dishes when they are not there on the host’s menu. If you do, you’d be branded as an unreasonable fool. Similary, we often ask God to give us things which we don’t have, while staying oblivious to everything that He has endowed us with.


Epictetus takes a swipe at fellow human-beings and says only humans weigh each other basis the amount of possessions they have.

When someone unabashedly announces, “I have 5 cars, and I live in a palatial bungalow“, he is implying he is better than most of his friends and acquaintances. He is setting a benchmark.

In animal kingdom, we don’t have such comparisons, says Epictetus. A lion does not say to another lion, “I am better than you because I got a thicker mane.” We are better or worse only because of the presence or absence of our virtues.


If you are physically in good shape, you would endure extreme weather and survive. Similarly, if you are intrinsically strong, if you have a strong moral compass, you would stave off all emotions such as anger, grief and even excessive joy.


Ask yourself if you want to be rich or happy. As a Stoic, he abhors the desire to riches and calls it a probabilistic endeavor. It is something not entirely in your control. However, becoming a happy person lies in our control and it is life-changing, too.


Epictetus poses to the reader, if you find a golden box with a deadly viper or a scorpion locked inside it, would you still be appreciative of the material and ignore the vicious creature that resides in it? No, you would try to get rid of it asap.

In the similar vein, stay away from vile people who may have all the luxuries, but have a rotten, immoral soul on the inside. Don’t let their outer trappings entice you.


Moderation is bliss. Rare pleasures amplify our happiness. If you overindulge in an activity, the pleasure that you derive out of it would fade away sooner than later.


The beginning is always the hardest. This is a cliched phrase today, but ancient Stoics underlined it twenty centuries ago. The book mentions the account of a shipowner.

When he was asked how he acquired his wealth, he replied, “With no difficulty, my great wealth; but my small wealth (my first gains), with much labor.”


Epictetus instructs the reader to repay their debts as soon as possible. Acting quickly averts the unpleasant situation wherein you might be asked to repay what you don’t owe (I believe he is alluding to interest in this precept).


It appears that the ancient Stoics despised sychophants. To achieve excellence in life, don’t let boot-lickers lurk around you. Don’t pay heed to their words, for their only purpose is to tell you what you want to hear. Epictetus calls sychophants ‘destroyers of souls’.

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