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The Ethics of the Stoic Epictetus

An English Translation, Revised Edition


William O. Stephens

This text remains the only English translation of Bonhöffer’s classic, definitive examination of Epictetus’s ethics. Thorough, knowledgeable, perceptive, and accessible, the unity of this book and its thematic presentation make it an invaluable resource for both scholars and general readers eager to apply Stoic thinking in their daily lives. The translation is crisp, clear, consistent, and very readable. Careful attention to the details and nuances of the German as well as the Greek of Epictetus make this an excellent achievement. This new edition includes a useful biography of Bonhöffer, a new overview of the last twenty years of scholarship on Epictetus, and an extensive bibliography. It is essential reading for students taking courses on ancient Hellenistic or Roman philosophy, their instructors, and any non-academics who want to learn Stoicism.

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Concluding Consideration


The merits and shortcomings of Epictetus’ ethics have, in the main, become self-evident over the whole course of the presentation, in part they were even explicitly emphasized. Yet it seems to me called for to integrate the scattered judgments in the presentation of individual doctrines into an overall characterization.

First of all, as far as the form of Epictetus’ ethics is concerned, the excellent uniformity and consistency of his system of thought is above all impressive: everything he expounds is from one font, it springs from one fixed, clear, powerful conviction. In keeping with the simplicity and clarity of the style, the liveliness of the presentation and the force and vividness of the mode of expression are unvarnished merits which make reading his Dissertationes a real pleasure. There we find no dry analyses, no scholastic distinctions, no empty declamations, but everywhere we feel the warm pulsation of life and earnest, personal conviction. As little as Epictetus despises theory, but rather in most cases makes the Stoic doctrines in their stereotyped version the foundation of his discourses, so too all the same does he abandon the doctrinaire tone in order to proceed directly to the lively development and urgent application of those doctrines. Whoever approaches these discourses of Epictetus without prejudice and devotes himself to their impression will surely verify the judgment of Arrian, one of the most beautiful testimonies that a grateful student has ever written for his teacher: “if someone ←195 | 196→despised his discourses, then Epictetus...

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