Book Review: The Enchiridion by Epictetus

It is always a little weird to think about how much the musings of people from ancient Rome are still applicable today

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It is always a little weird to think about how much the musings of people from ancient Rome are still applicable today, in my daily life as a citizen of the 21st century. I guess that’s the appeal of history, philosophy, and literature, though. At least it is to me.

About the Book

Title: The Enchiridion

Author: Epictetus

Genre: classics, philosophy, history

My Rating: 5 stars


My Thoughts

Born in 50 CE, Epictetus was one of the most prominent Stoic philosopher, and this book is basically a summary of his principles. I got into Stoicism last year, after I was introduced to the concepts of mindfulness, many of which are influenced a lot by Buddhism and also Stoicism.


A large emphasis in this book is on the difference in outlook you should have between things that are in your control and things that are out of your control.

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus death is nothing terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible. When, therefore, we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved let us never impute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own views. It is the action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own misfortunes; of one entering upon instruction, to reproach himself; and of one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others or himself.”

Things that are out of your control, you have no influence over, and cannot prevent. The only thing you can do is control your reaction to it. Likewise, no one can hurt you if you do not let them, and everything depends on your reaction to it.

One thing I don’t like about the Christian religion is how it portrays death as a punishment, and an unspeakably horrible thing, that is visited upon us because of our sinfulness. Growing up with this perception, I was always terrified of it. When I became an atheist, I was initially really depressed about not going to heaven. Over time I have been trying to retrain myself to accept what is. Independently I came to the conclusion that my fear of death is just a product of my biological programming, and have been trying to accept my position as an unremarkable member of the species homo sapiens, without having to think I am destined for greatness and eternal paradise in heaven. But sometimes it is hard. However this book, specifically the above quoted paragraph, helps me put things into perspective and recognize that oftentimes things are only as upsetting as your perception of them.

There is also a lot of invocations of “the gods” and their plan for things. While obviously I’m not religious, nor do I think there’s any sort of grand plan involved in this wasteland of a planet, I really needed that message about accepting events for what they are. Instead of being upset and fighting your “fate”, so to speak, you should approach things with a Stoic attitude, recognizing that you can’t change everything about your circumstances and must instead manage your reactions. You can be either upset or accept things for how they are.



Another important message I got from this book is the importance of remaining humble and refraining from judging others. I’m really bad about this, as I get mad at people really easily, and judge them for things. The idea is though that you and them are fundamentally the same, in that you are both humans with flaws. Therefore you should refrain from judgements of others because you have plenty of your own flaws.

You should also maintain an honest perspective of your own faults, and recognize where you need to improve. You should not let the criticisms of others make you upset, and instead make improvements where necessary. I REALLY need this, as someone who cannot handle criticism (lol)


Somewhat related to the last one, there is a lot about refraining from ostentation and not putting value on the perceptions of others. You should not do things merely for how they will boost your reputation, or be motivated by anything besides the improvement of your own virtues, for yourself.

“Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source. It is not to be found in your personal associations, nor can it be found in the regard of other people. It is a fact of life that other people, even people who love you, will not necessarily agree with your ideas, understand you, or share your enthusiasms. Grow up! Who cares what other people think about you!”



Seize the day and don’t wait for a better opportunity for self-improvement. Though it is very easy to say “I’ll do it tomorrow”, the best course of action is always to stop procrastinating, and incorporate the principles you want to live by now.

“Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer. Put your principles into practice – now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! You aren’t a child anymore. The sooner you set yourself to your spiritual program, the happier you will be. The longer you wait, the more you’ll be vulnerable to mediocrity and feel filled with shame and regret, because you know you are capable of better. From this instant on, vow to stop disappointing yourself. Separate yourself from the mob. Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do – now.”

Make sure that the way you spend your time and the media you consume, so that it aligns with your goals and values.

“You become what you give your attention to.”

“Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish and only caters to or exploits people’s weaknesses. Avoid being one of the mob who indulges in such pastimes. Your life is too short and you have important things to do. Be discriminating about what images and ideas you permit into your mind. If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will, and their motives may not be the highest. It is the easiest thing in the world to slide imperceptibly into vulgarity. But there’s no need for that to happen if you determine not to waste your time and attention on mindless pap.”

It is so striking that the ideas put forth in a compilation this old are found often in the self-help books of today


Have you read the Enchiridion? What did you think of it? Do you like Stoicism? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

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1 comments on “Book Review: The Enchiridion by Epictetus”

  1. Excellent, Emily. Yes, those old guys (Greek and Roman) focused deeply on what it means to have a happy/good life — maybe with more wisdom and less distraction than we are capable of. You are so right that they give us perspective when we’re weary of the world. My own little blog on the Stoics ( is less detailed, but you might enjoy it as another version of a nutshell summary. Gary

    Liked by 1 person

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