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Words of Wisdom

Selections from “The Golden Sayings of Epictetus,” Part 1 of 2

2021-08-03
Language:English

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Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher, who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. At an early age, Epictetus developed a significant interest in philosophy. With his owner’s permission, he studied under Gaius Musonius Rufus, who, along with Epictetus, is now considered one of the great Stoic philosophers of the Roman Empire. After acquiring his freedom in 68 CE, young Epictetus became a teacher of philosophy in Rome, later continuing his practice in northwestern Greece by founding a philosophical school there. “The Golden Sayings of Epictetus” compiled and translated by Hastings Crossley, contains over 180 sayings of the wise Philosopher, in the form of aphorisms, parables and short lessons expounding on Stoic philosophy.

“Are these the only works of Providence within us? What words suffice to praise or set them forth? Had we but understanding, should we ever cease hymning and blessing the Divine Power, both openly and in secret, and telling of His gracious gifts? Whether digging or ploughing or eating, should we not sing the hymn to God? Great is God, for that He has given us such instruments to till the ground with. Great is God, for that He has given us hands and the power of swallowing and digesting; of unconsciously growing and breathing while we sleep! Thus should we ever have sung; yes and this, the grandest and divinest hymn of all: Great is God, for that He has given us a mind to apprehend these things, and duly to use them!”

“But what says God? ‘Had it been possible, Epictetus, I would have made both that body of thine and thy possessions free and unimpeded, but as it is, be not deceived: it is not thine own; it is but finely tempered clay. Since then this I could not do, I have given thee a portion of myself, in the power of desiring and declining and of pursuing and avoiding, and in a word the power of dealing with the things of sense. And if thou neglect not this, but place all that thou have therein, thou shalt never be let or hindered; thou shalt never lament; thou shalt not blame or flatter any. What then? Seem this to thee a little thing?’ God forbid! ‘Be content then therewith!’ And so I pray the Gods.”

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