Discourses by Epictetus

Discourses by Epictetus


Author: Epictetus
Date read: Late 2017
How strongly I recommend it: 10/10

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Summary & High Level Thoughts

Epictetus, one of the four big Stoics, was born a slave in present day Turkey, and lived in Rome until his banishment, when he went to Nicopolis to continue his work with stoicism.

While The Enchiridion is a short manual, the Discourses is a longer read that covers the foundations of Stoic philosophy. Contrary to popular belief, Epictetus didn’t write a thing. His teachings were written down and published by his pupil Arrian.

Although it’s a better read for people familiar with stoicism, Discourses can be a solid starting point if read correctly.

“Bring your will inline with events so that nothing happens contrary to your wishes, and conversely, nothing fails to happen that we want to happen.”


The main lesson Epictetus attempts to convey through his Discourses is that nearly all things in life are outside of our control, therefore we shouldn't be troubled by them.

- So-and-so’s son died. 
- Answer: Since it’s nothing he can control, it isn’t bad. 
- So-and-so’s father left his son nothing when he sided. 
- Not something the son can control, so not bad. 
- Ceaser condemned him. Outside his control - not bad. 
- He lamented this events. 
- That IS in his control - and bad. 
- He withstood it like a man. 
- That IS in his control - and good.

In the above extract, Epictetus maintains the even the life-altering events shouldn't altere us. Instead, we should put our entire focus on what we can control – how we withstand and react to said hardships.

“What should we do then? Make the best use of what is in our power and treat the rest in accordance with it’s nature"

The optimal way to not yearn what's outside your control isn't to bend the world to your liking, but rather bring your will inline with events.

“Bring your will inline with events so that nothing happens contrary to your wishes, and conversely, nothing fails to happen that we want to happen.”

Epictetus sustains that whoever controls what you desire controls you, therefore, to achieve happiness and tranquility, the only viable alternative is that you become that person.

“Who is your master? He who controls what you desire.”

Finally, worry about things big - like death - and small - like a deadline - when the time comes. If there is nothing you can control at the moment, expel it from your mind.

“I have to die. If it is not, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived, and dying I will tend to later”

Other lessons

  • Death is neutral, neither good, nor bad.

  • Perceptions matter, perceptions are everything

  • Old friendships are great, but prioritize yourself

    “So choose: either regain the love of your old friends by reverting to your former self or reman better than you once were and forfeit their affection.”
  • Money, power, influence aren’t what we want. What we want is happiness. Everything else is just a proxy that helps, but doesn’t fix the underlying issue.

    “Free is the person who lives as he wishes and cannot be coerced, impeded or compelled, whose impulses cannot be thwarted, who always gets what he desires and never has to experience what he would rather avoid.”
  • Obstacles are a way to grow, an opportunity to grow.

  • It’s usually incapacity, not malice.

  • There are no overnight successes.

    “Nothing important comes into being overnight”
  • Focus

    “Don’t put your purpose in one place and expect to see progress somewhere else”
  • Don’t place important in external validation. Who are the people you look validation from? They’ll soon be dead.

    "When someone is properly grounded in life, they shouldn’t have to look outside themselves for approval."
Gonz Sanchez

About Gonz Sanchez

Argentinean in Paris. I read, fly, speak 4 languages, and lift heavy things. I don't mind the occasional burger or ramen. My body is not symmetrical, which led me to stoicism and writing.