The Enchiridion (Greek for Handbook) of Epictetus is a favourite text of the Stoic school of philosophy. Compiled by Arrian, a former pupil around the time of Epictetus' death in 135 AD, this enduring text is a compilation of lecture notes based on Epictetus' lessons. It has long been considered an excellent manual of practical philosophy.
Epictetus (55 - 135 AD) was born at Hierapolis in what is now Turkey. Sold to Epaphroditos, who was secretary to Emperor Nero, he spent his youth in Rome. He developed a consuming passion for philosophy. With the permission of his master, Epictetus was allowed to study Stoic philosophy. Over time, as his learning and wisdom grew, he became a respectable citizen of Rome, and an esteemed philosopher.
Epictetus, unlike some of his metaphysical forebears, concentrated on making philosophy practical. How it could be used beneficially in everyday life. The timeless message of the Enchiridion is as practical today as it was in ancient Greece. Perhaps this is where the Enchiridion gets its enduring power and long-life.
A central theme of the work is to clearly distinguish between what we can and cannot control in life. We can control what we think, and how we act. We cannot control what others think and how they act. We must put our effort into what we can control and refuse to worry about what we cannot.
Following on from this is to limit our expectations. If we understand we cannot control people, then we will not expect them to behave in a certain way, and we will not get upset or disappointed when they do something different.
Another theme is to not become attached to people and things such that when they disappear from our lives, we will be upset. This idea bears a striking resemblance to the central Buddhist tenet of non-attachment to impermanence.
Epictetus urges us to observe carefully the patterns of Nature and learn to live in harmony with them. This includes accepting what happens in life with grace, without resistance.
It is how we think about events that makes them good or bad, not the event itself. Our beliefs create our reality. The same event could be interpreted by two people in diametrically opposed ways, according to their belief.
These have been a sampler of the many practical recommendations to be found in this remarkable book.
The first English translation was published around 1567, though this book is based on Elizabeth Carter's 18th Century translation.