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October 02 , 2007

The Teaching of Epictetus: Being the 'Encheiridion of Epictetus With Selections From the 'Dissertations' and 'Fragments'


“Arrian to Lucius Gellius, hail. The style of the Dissertations, as they have reached us, answers very well to the above account of their origin and purpose. They contain much that the world should be as little willing to neglect as anything that Greek philosophy has left us; but they contain also many repetitions, redundancies, incoherencies; and are absolutely devoid of any sort of order or system in their arrangement. Each chapter has generally something of a central theme, but beyond this all is chaos. The same theme will be dwelt on again and again in almost the same phrases; utterances of majestic wisdom are imbedded in pages of tedious argument, and any grouping of the chapters according to a progressive sequence of ideas will be looked for in vain. As regards the style of my translation, I hope the tinge of archaism I have given it will be felt to suit the matter. I could think of no idiom so varied, so flexible even down to its use of various grammatical forms, so well suited alike to colloquy, or argument, or satire, or impassioned eloquence, as Elizabethan English. The founder of the Stoic philosophy was Zeno, a native of Cyprus, who taught in Athens, about 300 b. c., in that frescoed arcade, or Stoa, which gave its name to his school. His birthplace is worth noting, for Zeno lived at the beginning of that epoch, himself one of the first products of it, in which the influence of the East became strongly apparent in Greek thought; the period called Hellenistic in contradistinction to the purely Hellenic period which ended in the conquests of the Macedonians. In many ways the conditions of life in the Hellenistic period formed the most favorable milieu possible for the development of Greek thought upon the only lines which, after Aristotle, it could fruitfully pursue; and this not in spite of, but even because of, the great degradation of political and social life from which all Hellendom then suffered. What the democratic polities were like, on which was laid the problem of confronting Philip of Macedon, we may conjecture from the history of the best known and assuredly not the worst of them, Athens. And the best type of Athenian whose rise to power was favored by the conditions of this time and place was Demosthenes: Demosthenes, the grand historical warning to all peoples against committing their destinies to professional orators; the statesman whose doubtless real veneration for his country and her past served only to make him a more mischievous counselor in her present difficulties; whose splendid power as a wielder of words was scarcely more signal than his incapacity and cowardice when he was called upon to match those words with deeds. Athens, entangling the Thebans in an alliance against Macedon, and then leaving them to face Alexander alone; deifying Demetrius the Besieger for driving out a Macedonian garrison, and allotting him the Parthenon itself to be his lodging and the scene of his unspeakable profligacies; murdering Phocion, the one man who dared to bring sincerity and virtue to her service—Athens was a type of the Greek States of this epoch: too unprincipled for democratic government, too contentious for despotism, too vain to submit to foreign rule, too lacking in valor, purpose, union, to resist it with effect
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