There was a certain class of philosophers whose external mark and whose sole claim to distinction rested in the length of their beards; and when the decree of Domitian was passed these gentleman contented themselves with shaving. Epictetus alludes to this in his second Discourse, “Come, Epictetus, shave off your beard,” he imagines some one to say to him. “If I am a philosopher I will not,” he replies. “Then I will take off your head.” “By all means, if that will do you any good.”
He went to Nicopolis, a town of Epirus, which had been built by Augustus in commemoration of his victory at Actium. Whether he ever revisited Rome is uncertain, but it is probable that he did so, for we know that he enjoyed the friendship of several eminent philosophers and statesmen, and was esteemed and honoured by the Emperor Hadrian himself. He is said to have lived to a good old age, surrounded by affectionate and eager disciples, and to have died with the same noble simplicity which had marked his life. The date of his death is as little known as that of his birth. It only remains to give a sketch of those thoughts which, poor though he was, and despised, and a slave, yet made him “dear to the immortals.”
THE “MANUAL” AND “FRAGMENTS” OF EPICTETUS.
It is nearly certain that Epictetus never committed any of his doctrines to writing. Like his great exemplar. Socrates, he contented himself with oral instruction, and the bulk of what has come down to us in his name consists in the Discourses reproduced for us by his pupil Arrian. It was the ambition of Arrian “to be to Epictetus what Xenophon had been to Socrates,” that is, to hand down to posterity a noble and faithful picture of the manner in which his master had lived and taught. With this view, he wrote four books on Epictetus,—a life, which is now unhappily lost; a book of conversation or “table talk,” which is also lost; and two books which have come down to us, viz. the Discourses and the Manual. It is from these two invaluable books, and from a good many isolated fragments, that we are enabled to judge what was the practical morality of Stoicism, as expounded by the holy and upright slave.
The Manual is a kind of abstract of Epictetus’s ethical principles, which, with many additional illustrations and with more expansion, are also explained in the Discourses. Both books were so popular that by their means Arrian first came into conspicuous notice, and ultimately attained the highest eminence and rank. The Manual was to antiquity what the Imitatio of Thomas a Kempis was to later times, and what Woodhead’s Whole Duty of Man or Wilberforce’s Practical View of Christianity have been to large sections of modern Englishmen. It was a clear, succinct, and practical statement of common daily duties, and the principles upon which they rest. Expressed