ca. A.D. 50-120

Stoic philosopher

Born a slave, Epictetus became a noted philosopher* whose teachings influenced the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Originally from Hierapolis, a city in west-central Asia Minor, Epictetus came to Rome as a young man with his owner, an assistant to the emperor Nero. While still a slave, Epictetus studied with Musonius Rufus, from whom he learned the basic tenets, or beliefs, of Stoicism*. Epictetus became a teacher of Stoicism after gaining his freedom. Expelled from Rome along with other philosophers in A.D.92 by the emperor Domitian, Epictetus founded a school in Epirus, in the northwest of Greece, where he spent the rest of his life.

Like Socrates, Epictetus wrote nothing, but he was renowned for his skills as a teacher. His reputation attracted many upper-class Roman students, including the historian Arrian, who recorded his teachings in a series of books known as the Discourses, as well as in a shorter work titled the Encheiridion (or Manual). The main theme of Epictetus’s philosophy was freedom. People can be free only if they refrain from wanting things that are not in their control, such as health or money. Only by peacefully accepting what God has given them can they be happy. Epictetus argued that people generally did what they believed was right. Evil was simply the result of a lack of education. He trained his students to recognize what was morally good. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher of the late A.D. 100s, based his famous Meditations on the teachings of Epictetus. (See also Stoicism.)

* philosopher scholar or thinker concerned with the study of ideas, including science

* Stoicism philosophy that emphasized control over one's thoughts and emotions

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