Discourses: Book 1

Discourses: Book 1

Discourses: Book 1

Discourses: Book 1


About Epictetus: Little is known for certain about Epictetus' life. He was born in the second half of the first century AD, probably in Asia Minor; he was a slave for some of his life; he studied philosophy in Rome, and worked at the imperial court, at the end of the century; he subsequently lived in Epirus, the northwestern part of Greece. About this work: The Discourses are a key source for ancient Stoicism, one of the richest and most influential schools of thought in Western philosophy. They not only represent the Stoicism of Epictetus' own time, but also reflect the teachings of such early Stoics as Zeno and Chrysippus, whose writings are largely lost. The first of the four books of the Discourses is philosophically the richest: it focuses primarily on ethics and moral psychology, but also touches on issues of logic, epistemology, science, and rhetoric. Other notable schools of ancient thought, including Epicureanism, the Sceptics, and the Cynics, are discussed. About this edition: Robert Dobbin presents a new translation into clear modern English of this important work, together with the first commentary on the work since the eighteenth century. Each of the thirty discourses that make up Book 1 is introduced and summarized; then the arguments are examined in detail. The general introduction gives background information about Epictetus' life, the intellectual context of the work, the style of the discourses, and the history of the text. A bibliography surveys the literature. The volume serves as a guide to Epictetus' thought as a whole. About CLAP: This series is designed to encourage philosophers and students of philosophy to explore the fertile terrain of later ancient philosophy. The texts will range in date from the first century BC to the fifth century AD, and they will cover all the parts and all the schools of philosophy. Each volume contains a substantial introduction, an English translation, and a critical commentary on the philosophical claims and arguments of the text. The translations aim primarily at accuracy and fidelity, but also at readability; they are accompanied by notes on textual problems that affect the philosophical interpretation. No knowledge of Greek or Latin is assumed.


Epictetus has historically been one of the most widely read philosophers. He also attracted a good deal of attention from scholars in the early modern era. But in our century he has been much less studied. That, fortunately, is beginning to change, as the revival of interest in later Greek philosophy has caught up with him and again made him the focus of scholarly activity. Although Epictetus might regard this improvement in his academic fortunes a bit cynically, given his insistence that philosophy should be practised, not just read, my book is nevertheless intended to further the trend and assist others in rehabilitating this recently neglected author.

Epictetus wrote for the public, which accounts for his traditional popularity. The Discourses are not dull treatises, but sermons (or 'diatribes') enlivened with all the resources that ancient rhetoric had at its command. In this respect they resemble the work of other philosophers of the early Empire such as Dio Chrysostom and Maximus of Tyre. Like their work, the Discourses benefit, I think, from a commentary that is not just philosophical but philological as well. The appearance of this volume in the Clarendon Later Ancient Philosophers series ensures that the philosophical will predominate, which I think is the right emphasis in any case. But I have tried to furnish the literary or cultural background to certain passages, and I hope readers looking for purely philosophical edification will know enough in such places to skim.

I wish to thankJonathan Barnes and Tony Long, the editors of the series, for their comments on earlier drafts of the book. I owe a particular debt to Tony for his help over the years, and for fostering my research into Epictetus. Christopher Gill read the whole book as it neared completion, and made many suggestions for improvement. I also received valuable help from David Sedley, Benson Mates, Daniel Warren, and Menachem Luz. John Strohmeier has been a friend and a supporter of the work from the beginning. My thanks to all of them. My greatest thanks are due to my father, to whom the book is dedicated.

R. F. D.

Berkeley, August 1997 . . .

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