Today I am going to write a new post about Epictetus, a Greek – speaking philosopher who lived during the Roman empire. His thought is actual and interesting, as he tried to explain how to reach the happiness.
He was born on 55 AC at Hierapolis, in Phrigia. We don’t know his real name and probably “Epictetus” is only a nickname which means “acquired”. Epictetus was in fact a slave and during his youth in Rome he served his master Epaphroditus, who was the secretary of the Roman emperor Nero. Thanks to his wealthy owner, Epictetus could study philosophy under the stoic thinker Musonius Rufus. He somehow became crippled, perhaps because of his master, who broke his leg as a punishment. After Nero’s death in 68 AC, Epictetus started to teach philosophy in Rome. Eventually he was banished from the capital city with other philosophers and astrologists because of an edict from the Roman emperor Domitian, who wanted to throw out these people. According to Domitian’s mind, they were working togheter with the aristocracy to bring back the ancient Republic. Epictetus ran off to Nicopolis in Epirus, where he established a philosophical school. Like Socrates, he never worried about writing books. He lived a simple life, without many possessions. Although he lived always alone, nonetheless in his old age he adopted a friend’s child who would otherwise have been left to die, and raised him with the aid of a woman. His thought was passed on by his pupil Arrian, who became later a famous writer and politician. He was a close friend of the emperor Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius deemed him as a spiritual guide. Epictetus died in 135 AC and his lamp was purchased by an admirer for 3,000 drachmae.
His thought is focused on ethic. The main feature of his philosophy is the Prohairesis, which allows us to use our rational capacity in order to make the right choice for ourselves. The Prohairesis is none other than intellect, which makes the human being different from the animals. Thanks to the Prohairesis people can make a dieresis (choice) which can lead them to happiness.
Afterwards Epictetus distinguishes between prohairetic and aprohairetic things. In the first class are our opinions, desires and adversions, which are in our power. In the second class are the things that are not in our power, like our bodies, possessions, impulses and desires.
According to Epictetus, we do not have power over the external things. People are unhappy because they try to handle the aprohairetic things. The human being can be happy only if uses conveniently his reason (Prohairesis), which allows people to understand what is useful and what is in our power. Trying to reach the external things leads to the greatest errors, misfortunes, troubles and to the slavery of the soul.
Using reason well carries us to happiness because we behave according to our nature of rational creatures. When people try to achieve aprohairetic things, they are acting against the nature. When we are able to choose reasonably our path we reach true freedom, ataraxia (peace of mind) and apatheia (divine command over the emotions).
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” [Epictetus]