On Self-Knowledge

Three Exceptional Excerpts from Epictetus

Epictetus is the first Stoic that really caught my attention. In Discourses, a collection of his conversations and monologues, he shares a lifetime worth of useful ideas. Epictetus also wrote the Enchiridon, which translates to Handbook. My introduction to the ideas from Discourses and Enchiridon came through a curated collection of excerpts titled The Golden Sayings of Epictetus. I’d like to share three short passages that have had the largest impact on me. I think of them each frequently and I’ve felt the difference that they make into my actions.

If thou wouldst make progress, be content to seem foolish and void of understanding with respect to outward things. Care not to be thought to know anything. If anyone should make account of thee, distrust thyself.

The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, CLVIII, Page 174

This passage is a useful reminder that it is entirely OK to be idiotic. Epictetus is telling us that if you wish to grow (And don’t we all), then you should expect to look silly. Beyond this acceptance of idiocy, this passage encourages the listener to ignore the ridicule and praise of others.

Keep death and exile daily before thine eyes, with all else that men deem terrible, but more especially Death. Then wilt thou never think a mean thought nor covet anything beyond measure.

The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, CLXI, Page 174

I tend to think of this passage when I need perspective. Each of us only has a brief period on this earth, and there is no use in making it miserable.

If you seek Truth, you will not seek to gain victory by every possible means; and when you have found Truth, you need not fear being defeated.

The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, CXLIX, Page 171

This is the first quote that I read from The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, and it immediately had me hooked. This sentence tells you what is most important, as well as the implications of realizing what is important.

When you get the chance, write these down onto a piece of paper and think about them. What could happen if you implemented the truth from these into your life?

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