How to be free, Epictetus style

by Massimo Pigliucci

Epictetus was a late first century and early second century slave-turned-teacher and Stoic philosopher. He literally changed my life. His Discourses were the first book from original sources that I read after discovering Stoicism as a practical philosophy, and it struck me like a ton of bricks. But in a good way. I immediately responded to Epictetus’s sense of humor, which often borders on sarcasm. I appreciated his no-nonsense talk to his students, the fact that he doesn’t pull punches, that he calls it as he sees it. But most importantly the fact that his philosophy is arguably the most useful form of Stoicism, which in turn is the most useful of ancient philosophies.

(I wrote three books on Stoicism based on Epictetus: How to Be a StoicA Handbook for New Stoics, and A Field Guide to a Happy Life.)

What better way, then, to begin this occasional series of commentaries based on the excellent “Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers” books put out by Princeton University Press, than with Anthony Long’s translation of Epictetus’s Encheiridion, retitled “How to Be Free.” Long is arguably the foremost scholar on Epictetus, and his introduction to the famous manual for a good life (as well as to a few selected excerpts from the Discourses) is well worth the price of admission. … (continue at Substack)

Published by Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

2 thoughts on “How to be free, Epictetus style

  1. Hi Massimo,
    wholly off topic, but as a philosopher-biologist this book may intrigue/interest you:

    An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, by Ed Yong

    I am sure you already know about this book but I want to suggest a review by you, from a philosophy perspective, would be most welcome. I think this marvellous book has considerable philosophical import.

    Here is the usual book blurb:

    NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Every kind of animal, including humans, is enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of our immense world. Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist Ed Yong takes us on “a thrilling tour of nonhuman perception” (The New York Times), allowing us to experience the skeins of scent, waves of electromagnetism, and pulses of pressure that other animals perceive.

    “One of this year’s finest works of narrative nonfiction . . . Yong’s reporting is layered, seasoned with vivid scenes from laboratories and in the field, interviews with researchers across a spectrum of disciplines.”—Oprah Daily

    “A dazzling ride through the sensory world of astoundingly sophisticated creatures.”—The Wall Street Journal

    The Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, electric and magnetic fields. In An Immense World, Ed Yong coaxes us beyond the confines of our own senses to encounter beetles that are drawn to fires, turtles that can track the Earth’s magnetic fields, fish that fill rivers with electrical messages, and even humans who wield sonar like bats. We discover that a crocodile’s scaly face is as sensitive as a lover’s fingertips, that the eyes of a giant squid evolved to see sparkling whales, that plants thrum with the inaudible songs of courting bugs, and that even simple scallops have complex vision. We learn what bees see in flowers, what songbirds hear in their tunes, and what dogs smell on the street. We listen to stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, while looking ahead at the many mysteries that remain unsolved.

    Funny, rigorous, and suffused with the joy of discovery, An Immense World takes us on what Marcel Proust called “the only true voyage . . . not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes.”


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