The Stoics: Excerpts from Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius

“Say thus to thyself every morning: today I may have to deal with some intermeddler in other men’s affairs, with an ungrateful man; an insolent or a crafty or an envious or an unsociable or selfish man”

-Marcus Aurelius

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“As soon as you have devoted yourself to philosophy, you will have overcome all disgust at life, you will not wish for darkness because you are weary of light, nor will you be a trouble to yourself and useless to others…”

-Seneca

 

“The beginning of philosophy is to know the condition of one’s own mind.”

-Epictetus

 

“You may revolve such thoughts as these, about the nicest delicacies of senses: about food, this is the dead car-case of fish, a fowl, a hog: about wine, this is the juice of a little grape: about your purple robes, this is the wool of a sheep, steeped in the blood of a little shellfish: about venereal enjoyments, they are the attrition of a base part of our body, and a convulsive sort of excretion of a mucus…Thus we should employ the mind, in all parts of life: when things occur, which, at first, seem worthy of high estimation, we should strip them naked,  view their meanness, and cast aside these pompous descriptions of them by which they seem so glorious.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“We must take a higher view of all things, and bear with them more easily: it better becomes a man to scoff at life than to lament over it. Add to this that he who laughs at the human race deserves better of it than he who mourns for it, for the former leaves it some good hopes of improvement, while the latter stupidly weeps over what he has given up all hopes of mending.”

-Seneca

 

“Each man’s life is flying away, and thine is almost gone, before thou hast paid just honor to thyself; having hitherto made thy happiness dependent on the minds and opinions of others.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“A philosopher’s school is surgery: pain, not pleasure, you should have felt therein. For on entering none of you are whole.”

-Epictetus

 

“Evil only comes hard upon those who have lived without giving it a thought and whose attention has been exclusively directed to happiness.”

-Seneca

 

“If you are in Gyaros, do not let your mind dwell upon life at Rome and all the pleasures it offered to you when living there, and all that would attend your return.”

-Epictetus

 

“Hence men undertake aimless wanderings, travel along distant shores, and at one time at sea, another by land, trying to soothe that fickleness of disposition which always is dissatisfied with the present. ”

-Seneca

 

“Let nothing which befalls thee from without distract thee; and take leisure to thy self, to learn something truly good. Wander no more to and fro; and guard also against this other wandering. For there are some too who trifle away their activity, by wearying themselves in life, without having a settled scope or mark, to which they may direct all their desires and all their projects.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“If you have given way to anger, be sure that over and above the evil involved therein, you have strengthened the habit, and added fuel to the fire. If overcome by a temptation of the flesh, do not reckon it a single defeat, but that you have also strengthened your dissolute habits.”

-Epictetus

 

“Everyone hurries his life on and suffers from a yearning for the future and a weariness of the present. But he bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow.”

-Seneca

 

“Let silence be your general rule; or say only what is necessary and in few words. We shall, however, when occasion demands, enter into discourse sparingly, avoiding common topics as gladiators, horse races, athletes; and the perpetual talk about food and drink. Above all avoid speaking of persons, either in way of praise or blame, or comparison.”

-Epictetus

 

“We should suggest to ourselves on every occasion this question; is this necessary? But we ought to quit, not only unnecessary actions, but even imaginations, and thus, superfluous actions, diverting us from our purpose, would not ensue.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”

-Seneca

 

“.. But one man is possessed by an avarice that is insatiable, another by a toilsome devotion to tasks that are useless; one man is besotted with wine, another is paralyzed by sloth; one man is exhausted by an ambition that always hangs upon the decision of others, another, driven on by the greed of the trader, is led over all lands and all seas by the hope of gain…”

-Seneca

 

“The deified Augustus, to whom the gods vouchsafed more than to any other man, did not cease to pray for rest and to seek release from public affairs; all his conversation ever reverted to this subject—his hope of leisure. ”

-Seneca

 

“What agreeable leisure does he procure to himself, who takes no notice of what others say, do, or intend; but, attends to this only, that his own actions be just and holy; and, according to Agathon, that there be nothing black or ill-natured in his temper.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“Don’t form designs as if you were to live a thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while you may, become good.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, whether moreover they belong to the same author , and various other matters of this stamp, which, if you keep them to yourself, in no way pleasure your secret soul, and, if you publish them, make you seem more of a bore than a scholar.”

-Seneca

 

“Never call yourself a Philosopher nor talk much among the unlearned about Principles, but do that which follows from them. Thus at a banquet do not discuss how people ought to eat, but eat as you ought.”

-Epictetus

 

“Short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this is only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less one who died long ago.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

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