Epictētus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

(Ἐπίκτητος). An eminent Stoic philosopher, born in a servile condition at Hierapolis in Phrygia, about A.D. 50. The names of his parents are unknown; neither do we know how he came to be brought to Rome. But in that city he was for some time a slave to Epaphroditus, a freedman of Nero, who had been one of his body-guard. An anecdote related by Origen, which illustrates the fortitude of Epictetus, would also show, if it were true, that Epaphroditus was a most cruel master. Epictetus, when his master was twisting his leg one day, smiled and quietly said, "You will break it"; and when he did break it, only observed, "Did I not tell you that you would do so?" It is not known how or when Epictetus managed to effect his freedom, but he could not have been still a slave when he left Rome in consequence of an edict against philosophers. This event, the only one in his life the date of which can be assigned, took place, as has been said, in the year A.D. 89, being the eighth year of Domitian's reign. Epictetus then retired to Nicopolis in Epirus, and it is a question whether he ever returned to Rome. The chief ground for believing that he did is a statement of Spartianus (Hadr. 16), that Epictetus lived on terms of intimacy with the emperor Hadrian; while it is agreed, on the other hand, that there is no good evidence of any of his discourses having been delivered at Rome, but that they contain frequent mention of Nicopolis. This argument, however, is hardly sufficient to overthrow the express testimony of Spartianus. It is not known when he died. Suidas says that he lived till the reign of Marcus Aurelius, yet the authority of Aulus Gellius is strong on the other side. He, writing during the reign of the first Antonine, speaks of Epictetus, in two places, as being dead (Noct. Att. ii. 18; xvii. 19). Epictetus led a life of exemplary contentment, simplicity, and virtue, practising in all particulars the morality which he taught. He lived for a long while in a small hut, with no other furniture than a bed and a lamp, and without an attendant; until he benevolently adopted a child whom a friend had been compelled by poverty to expose, and hired a nurse for its sake. A teacher of the Stoic philosophy, he was the chief of those who lived during the period of the Roman Empire. His lessons were principally, if not solely, directed to practical morality. His favourite maxim, and that into which he resolved all practical morality, was "bear and forbear," ἀνέχου καὶ ἀπέχου. He appears to have differed from the Stoics on the subject of suicide. We are told by Arrian, in his Preface to the Discourses, that he was a powerful and inspiring lecturer; and, according to Origen (c. Cels. 7, ad init.), his style was superior to that of Plato. It is a proof of the estimation in which Epictetus was held, that, on his death, his lamp was purchased by some aspirant after philosophy more eager than wise for 3000 drachmas, or over $500. Though it is said by Suidas that Epictetus wrote much, there is good reason to believe that he himself wrote nothing. His Διατριβαί were taken down by his pupil Arrian, and published after his death in eight books, of which four remain. The same Arrian compiled the Enchiridion or "manual," an abstract of the teaching of his master, and wrote a life of Epictetus, which is lost. Some fragments have been preserved, however, by Stobaeus. Simplicius has also left a commentary on his doctrine in the Eclectic manner. The best edition of the remains of Epictetus is still that of Schweighäuser, 5 vols. (Leipzig, 1800). The text and a Latin translation by Dübner (1840) may be recommended. The best English translations are those of Higginson, with a sketch of Epictetus (Boston, 1865); Long (London, 1877); and Rolleston (1881). See the popular work of Canon Farrar, Seekers after God (1863).

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