How To Be Free by Epictetus

The book is How To Be Free by Epictetus. I read the 2018 hardcover edition by Princeton University Press. This is from the Ancient Wisdom For Modern Readers series of books. This book is a reprinting of selections from Epictetus’ Discourses and The Encheiridion. I read this book in May of 2022. 

I read this book because I want to learn more about Stoicism. Epictetus was a Roman stoic philosopher. (c. 55–135AD). I’ve read six books now including this one, in the Ancient Wisdom For Modern Readers series which include works from ancient philosophers such as Seneca and Cicero. These books are small and easy to read. They have the original language on the left page (Greek in this case) with its English translation on the right page. 

This book is basically a collection of proverbs on how to be mentally free. To Epictetus, being free means not letting other people control you by insulting you or abusing you. He writes about the wisdom of  letting things go. That seems to be a core tenant of Stoicism. Don’t get too bent out of shape by haters. 

When reading these super old books, it’s hard not to see them as cliche. A lot of the wisdom imparted in these pages might seem a little obvious or “old news.” Maxims like “the expert in anything was once a beginner” might prompt us to roll our eyes with feelings of “yeah, I’ve heard that one.” But we have to keep in mind that these ancient works are where those “cliches” come from. And how privileged we are that such advice is now received as kinda common sense. It wasn’t so way back then. This was groundbreaking stuff to the first audience. Put yourself in their sandals. Strip away all the modern self-help platitudes and imagine a relatively dark time when someone is bringing a bright word of positive, life-oriented progress. But keep in mind, this is around the same time and place that the good news of Jesus Christ was spreading like holy fire. 

I learned that haters gonna hate and ainters gonna aint. You choose how things affect you. If you can brush it off, brush it off. Minding your own business is a good default mode. 

Some compelling points I caught? Don’t worry about looking stupid if you’re in the process of learning. Accept good faith criticism and don’t drink the haterade. 

I’d recommend this to anyone wanting to uncover the roots of ancient “cliche” wisdom. This seems to be a good dip of the toe in the waters of Stoicism. Plus, these color-coded little hardcovers look great on your bookshelf.

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