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Exploring Encheiridion (Introduction) – Episode 30


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This episode of Stoicism On Fire kicks off an exploration of the powerful, poignant, and perennially inspiring Encheiridion of Epictetus. The fifty-three chapters of this Stoic handbook will provide the primary content and plan for this exploration of Stoic theory and practice. However, I will incorporate other Stoic texts and the insights of scholars when it's appropriate for the subject at hand. In this introductory episode, I will provide some background on the Encheiridion. Then, in the next episode of Stoicism On Fire, we will begin the chapter-by-chapter exploration with the frequently quoted chapter one. About the Encheiridion Origin and Authorship The Encheiridion, like the Discourses, was written by Flavius Arrian, who was a student of Epictetus and later became a public servant under Emperor Hadrian, and a respected historian. In a letter to Lucias Gellius, Arrian claims the Discoursesare “word for word” taken “as best I could” from the lectures of Epictetus.[1] The Encheiridion, frequently referred to as the Handbook, is a compilation of passages drawn from those Discourses. As a result, many of the chapters in the Encheiridion can be directly correlated to passages in the Discourses; those that cannot are likely from portions of the Discourses that are lost to us. History The Encheiridion, more so than the Discourses, has been the historical gateway into the thought of Epictetus. For example, Simplicius, a sixth-century Neoplatonist, wrote a commentary on the Encheiridion that served as an introduction to Neoplatonist philosophy. Additionally, as Christopher Gill notes in his introduction to the Robin Hard translation of Epictetus, The Handbook was also adopted, with some modifications (including replacing the name of ‘Socrates’ with ‘St Paul’), by Christian monks, and used for centuries by the Eastern (Greek Orthodox) Church. Through Syriac Christian scholars, Epictetus’ thought spread to the Islamic East, influencing, for instance, the teaching on ‘dispelling sorrow’ by al-Kindī, a major figure in the study of Greek texts in ninth-century Baghdad.[2] The fact that the Encheiridion served as the sole source of Epictetus’ teaching for many who are not otherwise interested in Stoicism produced a negative side effect. As W. A. Oldfather, the author of the Loeb Classical Library translations of Epictetus points out, the “necessary aridity and formalism” of this condensed version obscures “the more modest, human, and sympathetic aspects of [Epictetus’] character.”[3] Unfortunately, a compendium like this can easily create misunderstanding and result in unwarranted criticism of Epictetus’ thought. This brings up an excellent point. The Encheiridion is not a substitute for the Discourses of Epictetus. Instead, its passages should serve as reminders for those who are already familiar with Stoic teachings. Purpose According to Simplicius, Arrian wrote a letter to Messalenus that describes the Encheiridion as a “selection” of those passages from the Discourses that are “most timely and essential to philosophy, and which most stir the soul.” Simplicius further suggests: The aim of [the Encheiridion]—if it meets with people who are persuaded by it, and do not merely read it but are actually affected by the speeches and bring them into effect—is to make our soul free, as the Demiurge and Father, its maker and generator, intended it to be: not fearing anything, or distressed at anything, or mastered by anything inferior to it.[4] Because the Encheiridion was created to serve as a handy reminder of Epictetus’ teaching, I waited to address it on the Stoicism In Fire podcast until I covered the essentials of Stoic theory and practice. The Encheiridion is not a standalone text of Stoic doctrine. Instead, it serves to remind us about teachings with which students and practitioners of Stoicism should already be familiar. This podcast series will explore the Encheiridion with that in mind; therefore,

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