On setting aside The Discourses of Epictetus

I’ve had to move Discourses, Fragments, Handbook (Oxford Worlds Classics) by Epictetus 📚 to my Reading, but like not right now shelf. I have completed Book 1, and will shortly finish Book 2. Books 3 and 4, the Fragments, and the Handbook will have to wait until some other time. I’ll probably start with the Handbook when I do pick it back up. I have some more thoughts…

I may do a more well thought out review later, when I finish the rest of it. But here is my hot-ish take right now:

  1. Is it me or is he brining up death, exile, and suicide-as-a-legitimate-option kind of a lot? Maybe times were a lot different back then and these were common concerns. Or maybe these things loomed large in the minds of his target audience: the wealthy men that could afford to hire philosophy teachers.
  2. He has his moments when he’ll say directly what he means. But a lot of the time he is pretty round about with getting to the point, or saying clearly what he is trying to tell his students. It can be rather indirect. Is it a mysterious affectation? A conversational style to engage the listener? He was speaking these words, after all. Something else, like giving the audience what they want to hear, what they’re expecting a philosopher to sound like?
  3. Come to think of it, I get the sense that he doesn’t think too highly of a lot of the students or interlocutors he’s addressing. Even if they are just hypothetical people he sets up to knock down, it seems like not the most trusting of teaching styles. It also seems like his students maybe had a habit of coming all haughtily arrogant and he’s got to take them down a peg. I find it off putting and boring. Tiresome. The teacher is not taking the students seriously.
  4. At several points he makes rather unserious arguments. That a god or gods exists isn’t even said as an axiom, it’s just so obvious that anyone who says differently is a fool. This, Epictetus, is not an argument. Instead of treating the competing philosophical schools seriously, they are usually rather casually characatured, or straw man/person’d and considered dealt with. Frankly, I can hear the guy yelling about it through the ages and pages even today.
  5. Not a very inclusive group either. It was the times, sure. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t color the rest of the work. How are you going to just paint over those pieces and not see/wonder how they have distorted the rest?

All that said, there have been a few passages that seem quite useful. There were some interesting points made that are worth pondering. But there was a lot of wading through sections that wavered on the edge of just not worth reading, with the occassional bit of useful life observation hidden in there that makes you not give up. Even if the life observed was almost 2000 years ago, some things are still familiar.


J. Garo @garo