EPICTETUS: Stoic philosopher; b. at Hierapolis (121 m. s.e. of Smyrna), in Phrygia, c. 50 A.D.; d. at Nicopolis (3 m. n. of Prevesa), in Epirus, c. 120. For a time he lived in Rome as the slave of Epaphroditus, a freedman and favorite of Nero, but later he secured his freedom and became a courtier of Nero. He studied the Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus and achieved distinction at Rome as a teacher of philosophy. When Domitian drove the philosophers from Rome about 90 A.D. Epictetus settled at Nicopolis, where he taught with great success till the end of his life. He seems to have written nothing himself, but his sayings were recorded by his pupil Flavius Arianus, who did for his master what Xenophon did for Socrates. As reported by Arianus, the works of Epictetus consist of the Encheiridion, a manual of moral teaching, and the "Discourses" in eight books, of which only four are extant.
As a philosopher Epictetus was intensely practical, and his teaching was concerned with the conduct of life, rather than with the problems of metaphysics. His ethics are of peculiar interest because of the similarity between his teachings and those of Jesus. Like other Stoics (see STOICISM) he made virtue the purpose and end of life and identified a virtuous life with a happy life. As this ideal is to be attained largely through asceticism, "bear and forbear" becomes the watchword of a virtuous and, therefore, happy life. To be happy, one must restrict his desires and not meddle with things over which he has no control. The only thing in the world that is absolutely ours is our will Nothing can break that; whatever we do, we do because we will it. But this will in us is only the divine will; and hence Epictetus deduces all moral laws from the will of God. As rational creatures we have part in the reason of God; we are divine. All that is irrational in the world, external sin and evil, is merely an appearance, and should not affect us. Epictetus lived in accordance with his ascetic teachings and is described as a model of wisdom and virtue.
His works have been edited by J. Schweighäuser (5 vols., Leipsic, 1799-1800), and by H. Schenkl (Leipsic, 1894; 1898). Among translations may be mentioned that of Elizabeth Carter (London, 1758), which has been revised and edited by T. W. Higginson (Boston, 1865), also those of George Long (London, 1890) and T. W. Rolleston (London, 1888).
Bibliography: The early life is by Diogenes Laertius in his "Lives of the Philosophers" (best edition by H. G. Hübner, Leipsic, 1828-31). For a modern appreciation consult F. W. Farrar, Seekers after God, London, 1868. For further discussion consult F. Ueberweg, Geschichte der Philosophie, ed. M. Heinze, Berlin, 1896-97, and in Eng. the translations of the History of Philosophy of Erdmann (London, 1893), and of Windelband (ib. 1893). Also, E. M. Schranka, Der Stoiker Epiktet und seine Philosophie, Leipsic, 1885; A. Bonhöffer, Epictet und die Stoa, Stuttgart, 1890; idem, Die Ethik des ... Epictet, ib. 1894. Other literature is indicated in J. M. Baldwin, Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, iii. 1, pp. 191-192, New York, 1905.