A new translation of the Handbook, part 2, by Harald Kavli

This is the second installment of the new translation of the Handbook being carried out by Harald Kavli. The first one is here, and you can also read about the motivation behind this translation project by following the link. The Greek text of Epictetus’ Enchiridion is available from the Perseus project.



Don’t ever be proud about an advantage that depends on another. If a horse had said “I am beautiful”, then that would have been tolerable. But you, when you puff yourself up and say “I have a beautiful horse”, you should know that you are puffed up about the excellence of the horse. What, then, is yours? The usage of impressions.  Therefore, when you keep your usage of impressions in accordance with nature, be proud. For this is a good of yours that you should be proud of.

Comment to chapter VI: “…depends on another” is a translation of eph’allotrioi. Puffed up and proud are both translations of the verb ephairo, which can mean to raise up, to be elated, to be proud and to swell up. Excellence is a translation of agathoi, which means noble/good/excellent.


If you are going out to get water while you are on a voyage and the ship is anchored, you may collect a small sea-snail and a cuttlefish, but you should keep the ship in mind and always turn towards it in case the captain calls. If he calls, you must be ready to rid yourself of all this, so that you will not be bound together and thrown aboard the ship as the sheep are. And likewise in life, but rather than a little sea-snail and a cuttlefish, you will be given a little wife or a child, then there will be nothing wrong about that. But when the captain calls, you must rid yourself of all that and run to the ship and not look back. If you are old, you should never go far away from the ship, so that you will not fail to come when you are being called for.


Do not desire that things will happen as you want, but rather desire that things will happen as they do in fact happen, and you will do well.

Comment to chapter VIII: “Wish for” is a translation of zeteo, which usually means I search for, or I look for, but it can also mean to desire. “To do well” is a translation of eurhoeo, which literally means “I flow well”.


Disease is an impediment for the body, but not for the will, as long as you don’t intend it to be so. Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will. Say the same for each of the impediments. You will find out that it is not an impediment for yourself, but for something else.

Comment to chapter IX: “The will” is a translation of prohairesis, a key term in Epictetus. See the comment to chapter 4.


For each of the things that happens to you, remember to turn towards yourself and to search for what kind of power you have that you can use to deal with it. If you see a beautiful boy or girl, you will find the power to remain steadfast with regard to the boy or girl. If you must deal with pain and hard work, you will find endurance. If you must deal with abuse, you will find forbearance. And if you are habituated in this way, the impressions will not overwhelm you.

Comment to chapter X: “Pain and hard work” is a translation of ponos, which can mean both.


Don’t ever say about anything that “I have lost it”, but rather “I have returned it”. Has your child died? You have returned it. Has your wife died? You have returned her. “My property has been stolen!” Then that too has been returned. “But the man took it was a bad man!” What does the character of the man who the giver used to take your property back matter to you? As long as it is given to you, take care of it as you care for what belongs to someone else, like the travelers take care of an inn.


If you want to make progress, rid yourselves of thoughts such as “If I do not care for my things, I will not have any means of living”, or “if I do not punish my slave, he will be worthless”. Because it would be better to die by hunger and by doing so, rid oneself of pain and fear, than to live in wealth while still being upset, and it would be better if your slave turned out worthless, than if you yourself were miserable.

[2] Begin, therefore, with the small things. If some of your olive oil is poured out, or a little of your wine is stolen, say that “this is the price of freedom from emotions, this is the price of serenity”. There is no such thing as a free lunch. When you call for your slave, consider that he might not listen, or that he might listen, but not do what you want him to do. Things are not so well for him that whether you get upset or not depends on him.

Comment to chapter XII: “…freedom from emotions… serenity” are translations of apatheia and ataraxia. Both are important concepts in ancient philosophy. Apatheia is not the same as apathy, but rather a state where you are free from certain emotions which are caused by false beliefs about what is good and evil. Atarxia is more or less serenity, but a more literal translation would be “undisturbedness”.  See also the comment to chapter V.


If you want to make progress, you must endure a reputation for being stupid and foolish with regards to the external things, and do not wish to appear to understand anything. If you have a reputation for being someone, distrust yourself. Because you know that it is not easy to both make sure that you have your will in accordance with nature and also to take care of externals, and that if you care for the one, you must necessarily be careless with regards to the other.


If you want your children, your wife, and your friends to live forever, you are foolish, because then you wish that the things that do not depend on you should depend on you, and that what is not your own should be your own. And if you wish for your slave to not do anything wrong, you are an idiot, because then you wish that what is bad should not be bad, but rather something different. But if you wish that you should not fail to get the things that you strive for, that is possible. Practice then, so to be able to get them. The master of each of us is the one who has the authority over the things that we wish for, or who has the authority to keep away what we want to avoid. Therefore, those who want to be free should neither wish for nor flee from something that depend on others. If they do not do this, they will necessarily be slaves.

Comment to chapter XIV: I have changed the singular to a plural in the sentence that begins with “therefore, those who…” in order to get a bit more diversity in the pronouns.


Remember that you ought to behave as if you were at a feast. If something that is being passed around has ended up in front of you, stretch out your arm and take it modestly. If it is moving past you, do not try to grasp after it. If it has not yet come, do not send your desire towards it, but wait until it has come to you. Act also like this with children and wives, positions and wealth, and then will someday be a worthy guest of the Gods. And if you do not just abstain from taking what is placed before you, but also look down on them, then you will not just be guest of the Gods, but also rule with them. Diogenes, Hercules and people like them became worthy of both being divine and being called divine by doing so.

Comment to chapter XV: “Feast” is a translation of symposion, which was a special kind of social gathering in Ancient Greece.


When you see someone who is in pain either because her child has gone away, or her property has been destroyed, make sure that you do not get carried away by the impression that she is in a bad way because of the externals, but be ready to say  straight away that “she doesn’t suffer because of what has happened (because someone else might not have suffered over this), but she suffers rather because of her opinion about what has happened. But do not avoid her, but engage with her with consoling words, and you should even cry with her if that seems to be called for. Just take care that you do not groan on the inside.


Remember that you are an actor in a play, and that the play is the way that the director wants it to be. If he wants it to be short, it will be short. If he wants it to be long, it will be long. If he wants you to play the part of a beggar, make sure that you play that part well, and likewise with the part of a lame person, or a ruler, or a private individual. Because this is up to you, to play the role that you have been given well. To choose the role is up to another.

Comment to chapter XVII. Here we get a small sample of Epictetus’ role ethics. The word that is usually used for “role” is prosopon, but the word that is being used in the first line is hypokrites, which means actor. Hypokrites is also the etymological origin of the English word hypocrite. Interested readers are recommended to read especially Discourse 1.2 and 2.10 in Epictetus’ Discourses, but the concept is mentioned several other places in the Discourses. Brian Johnson has written an excellent book on the topic called The Role Ethics of Epictetus (2014). The heterodox, early Stoic, Aristo of Chios, seems to also have made use of the actor-analogy. See Diogenes Laërtius, book VII, paragraph 160.


Harald Kavli is the assistant editor of Stoicism Today. He studies philosophy at the University of Oslo.


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