The Wisdom of the Stoics - Selections from Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius

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Lovely selection of the three most famous stoics. A must read.


Arnold Benett:

I suppose there are some thousands of authors who have written with more or less sincerity on the management of the human machine. But the two which, for me, stand out easily above all the rest are Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Epictetus…. Aurelius is assuredly regarded as the greatest of writers in the human machine school, and not to read him daily is considered by many to be a bad habit. As a confession his work stands alone. But as a practical 'Bradshaw' of existence, I would put the discourses of Epictetus before M. Aurelius….He is brimming over with actuality for readers of the year 1908. Nevertheless [Aurelius] is of course to be read, and re-read continually. When you have gone through Epictetus --a single page or paragraph per day, well masticated and digested, suffices -- you can go through M. Aurelius, and then you can return to Epictetus, and so on, morning by morning, or night by night, till your life's end.

Seneca has the most copius vocabulary, is the richest in aphorisms, writes the most finished prose, and appeals by his strong and consistent common sense.
Epictetus (as transcribed by Arrian) is the wittiest and most humorous, but also the most harshly uncompromising, and while he always keeps his reader awake, he also tends to put him off by his apparent coldness.
Marcus lacks some of the gifts of either of his predecessors, but writes with a nobility and sincerity that has few equals in the whole realm of literature.

the Stoics meant not at all, however, that he should yield to his bodily appetites, but that he should be ruled by Reason.
The highest good was the virtuous life. Virtue alone is happiness. Virtue is its own sufficient reward, and vice its own punishment.
Good must be found by every man within himself.
All outward things that are commonly regarded as good or bad, such as wealth and poverty, pleasure and pain, health and sickness, are matters of indifferences to the true Stoic. He can be as happy stretched upon a rack as reposing on a bed of roses.

The Stoics made a sharp distinction between things that are in our power and things that are not. Desire and dislike, opinion and affection, are within the power of the will; health, wealth, position, reputation, and the like are commonly not.
The Stoics strongly insisted on the unity of the universe, and on man's duty as part of a great whole.

The three great Stoics represented here preached essentially the same doctrines, though colored by their individual experience and temperaments.

In comparison with the two others, the wealthy Seneca expounded only a modified Stoicism, with a much greater admixture of worldly wisdom. Yet it was he who reminded his readers: "If what you have seems insufficient to you, then, though you possess the world, you will yet be miserable."

When we come to Epictetus, there is no compro- mise with worldliness: "Let death and exile be daily before your eyes." "Better to die in hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation."

Marcus is not as unfeeling as Epictetus some- times appears to be, yet such consolation as he offers must be bought at a high price. "Let it make no difference to thee whether thou art cold or warm, if thou art doing thy duty." He even tells himself at one point: "Do not then consider life a thing of any value."

it may be hard to see what there was in the doctrines of Stoicism to attract adherents.
the Stoic was told only that the reward of virtue was that of being virtuous.
Yet Stoicism did in fact appeal to the noblest among the ancients, and it has held that appeal for more than two thousand years.

For all men must face death; the loss of loved ones; disappointment, hardship, accident, defeat, ingratitude, rejection, affronts, humiliation, pain.

The selections from Seneca are taken from the seven- teenth-century translation by Sir Roger L1Estrange;
For Epictetus we have chosen the Elizabeth Carter translation of 1758;
For Marcus Aurelius we have for the most part used the George Long translation of 1862.


There is not anything in this world, perhaps, that is more talked of, and less understood, than the business of a happy life.
It is every man's wish and design; and yet not one of a thousand that knows wherein that happiness consists.
We live, however, in a blind and eager pursuit of it; and the more haste we make in a wrong way, the further we are from our journey's end.