Tag Archives: What is in our power?

Epictetus: A Short Review

If you’ve poked around on my blog before, you’ll know that Seneca is my favorite Stoic author. He’s eloquent, and I just feel like I “get” him. However, these past several years as my life situation has taken a turn for the better, it’s been easy to put Stoicism on the back burner and just ride life out. There are a couple of problems with this, however.

First:

At no time should Fortune be less trusted than when it is best.

Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

The second reason has to do with impressions and Virtue. I’ve held a steady job for the past four years, even obtaining a promotion. Relationships seem to be going well. Life is fine and dandy, but I don’t feel satisfied. I fret more than is logical. I complain more than I should. I get frustrated over common events. There are just some things I do in daily life that I know I shouldn’t, but for some reason I simply can’t stop. Time to get back to the gym.

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Not as toned as you’d like to be? Time to get back to the gym.

When I’m feeling too comfortable in life, the last thing I need is a gentle guiding voice telling me to “just keep making progress,” and “All in good time, Kirsten.” No! I need a wake-up call. A “come to Jesus” moment. Someone who has the guts to say, “Just because life is going well, you don’t need to change a thing? FALSE.” Who better than Epictetus to get the ball rolling? Then I discovered that I already had this lovely book Epictetus’ Handbook and the Tablet of Cebes by Keith Seddon! I thoroughly enjoyed Seddon’s book Stoic Serenity and was thrilled at the prospect of him guiding me through a piece of Stoic literature. Let’s see what insights he can add to these amazing, ancient writings.

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Epictetus: Discourses 1.1

I randomly decided that I want to read through the works of the three most famous Stoics—Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius—and type up their works in a language that is quick and easy to understand. Once all is said and done, I may or may not print and bind the document, as a sort of “Stoic Trilogy” to keep at hand for quick reading of the main texts.

I’m starting with Epictetus’ Discourses. As you may well know, my favorite Stoic writer is Seneca. He’s funny, and he’s got a way with words. We’ll spend time with him later. But right now we’re working with Epictetus. Epictetus is a bad ass; he’s like a Stoic drill sergeant. I can imagine him tearing up a student, “You think that’s worth crying about, huh?? Shut the hell up and use that damn brain the gods gave you!” Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 4.5: “Woe is Me” Exercise

Over the course of chapter 4 of Stoic Serenity, we’ve examined the Stoic concepts of matter, God, and Fate. An (extremely) quick review:

matter – that which comprises the Universe. The Stoics were monists, believing that only one type of matter existed in the Universe. (God, Fate, myself, are all part of this matter that pervades the Universe).

God – the single matter, intelligence, reason that pervades the entire Universe. Individual people’s minds are simply “fragments of God.” Evident in everything from reason to nature itself.

Fate – one in the same with God, and therefore, with matter. Everything in the Universe is bound up and interrelated. Seen as a complex web that has been in the process of being spun since eternity, resulting in the current moment of who I am and what my life is like. “Prescribed” for me individually by the Universe.


Runaway Slaves

These are pretty abstract ideas, but hopefully you’ve gotten a grasp of what the ancient Stoics believed in. Before we finish chapter 4, we have a couple of exercises to complete regarding the nature of the Universe. Today we read Letter 107 from Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. In it, Lucilius’ slaves have apparently run away, and Lucilius is throwing himself a big pity party. Seneca writes him some words of advice, hopefully to knock some sense back into him. Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 2.3: Power Log Exercise

As much as I’m really anxious to get through the rest of this chapter, we do need to spend some time applying Epictetus’ dichotomy of control to our personal lives. Stoicism is fascinating to study, but the catch always lies in practice. It’s hard to remember to change our entire outlook on life!

Before we get to our assignment, here’s a funny little clip by a Stoic comedian, Michael Connell, originally shared in the Facebook Group “Stoicism Group (Stoic Philosophy)” by Massimo Pigliucci of How to Be a Stoic.


Our assignment is simple:

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Stoic Serenity 2.2: What is “In Our Power”

On one hand, there are things that are in our power. And on the other hand, there are things that are not in our power. In our power are our opinion, intention, desire, aversion; whatever is our own doing. Things not in our power include our body, possessions, reputations, status; whatever is not our own doing.

(Epictetus, Handbook 1.1)

Are you sick of this quote yet? If you’re sick of it, then that should mean you’ve memorized it! If you’re not sick of it yet, well good for you. 🙂

Hopefully we’ve begun to comprehend Epictetus’ meaning over the course of the last two days. We should have a relatively good understanding of the various items (opinion, intention desire, etc.) as well as what it means for something to be “in our power” and for something to be “not in our power.”

Moving forward, we turn once again to Seddon’s book Stoic Serenity, the second part of chapter two. Epictetus makes his argument for this basic tenet of Stoicism in the Discourses. We’ll take a look at this dialogue below. Remember that Epictetus’ teachings were recorded by one of his students, and they consisted of dialogues that occurred after the day’s formal lecture had ended. As usual, I’ll be paraphrasing just a bit for us: Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 2.1.4: IN My Power

On one hand, there are things that are in our power. And on the other hand, there are things that are not in our power. In our power are our opinion, intention, desire, aversion; whatever is our own doing. Things not in our power include our body, possessions, reputations, status; whatever is not our own doing.

(Epictetus, Handbook 1.1)

Yesterday we looked at the second part of Epictetus’ claim concerning what is not in our power. As you went about your activities yesterday, were you able to think of potential obstacles that might hinder your success? As we learned, our body, possessions, reputations, and status are not 100% completely under our own control. The flip-side of this is Epictetus’ first claim, that our opinion, intention, desire, and aversion are 100% completely under our own control. All the time. No matter the circumstances. Read more of this post

Stoic Serenity 2.1.3: NOT in My Power

On one hand, there are things that are in our power. And on the other hand, there are things that are not in our power. In our power are our opinion, intention, desire, aversion; whatever is our own doing. Things not in our power include our body, possessions, reputation, status; whatever is not our own doing.

(Epictetus, Handbook 1.1)

Yesterday we took some time out to cover just a few basic Greek words and concepts in philosophy. I left you with the quote above. This quote is extremely important within Stoicism, and it will be well worth our time to study it more in depth and become well acquainted with it. Believe me, when we return back to Stoic Serenity after studying these couple of posts in depth, Epictetus’ dichotomy of controlthat is, what is in our power and what is not in our power, will become much more clear to us. Read more of this post

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