Discourses of Epictetus

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Cover of The Discourses of Epictetus, circa 1887.png
Cover, circa 1887.
Author Epictetus
Original title The Discourses of Epictetus
Country Greece
Language Greek
Genre Philosophy
Publication date

The Discourses of Epictetus (Greek: Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί, Epiktētou diatribai) are a series of extracts of the teachings of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus written down by Arrian c. 108 AD.


There were originally eight books, but only four now remain in their entirety, along with a few fragments of the others. In a preface attached to the Discourses, Arrian explains how he came to write them:

I neither wrote these Discourses of Epictetus in the way in which a man might write such things; nor did I make them public myself, inasmuch as I declare that I did not even write them. But whatever I heard him say, the same I attempted to write down in his own words as nearly as possible, for the purpose of preserving them as memorials to myself afterwards of the thoughts and the freedom of speech of Epictetus.[1]

The Discourses are unlikely to be word-for-word transcriptions and are probably written-up versions of Arrian's lecture notes.[citation needed] The books did not have a formal title in ancient times. Although Simplicius called them Diatribai (Διατριβαί, Discourses),[2] other writers gave them titles such as Dialexis (Διαλέξεις, Talks),[3] Apomnêmoneumata (Ἀπομνημονεύματα, Records),[4] and Homiliai (Ὁμιλίαι, Conversations).[5] The modern name comes from the titles given in the earliest medieval manuscript: "Arrian's Diatribai of Epictetus" (Greek: Ἀρριανοῦ τῶν Ἐπικτήτου Διατριβῶν).

Manuscript editions[edit]

The Codex Bodleianus of the Discourses of Epictetus. Note the large stain on the manuscript which has made this passage (Book 1. 18. 8-11) partially illegible.

The earliest manuscript of the Discourses is a twelfth-century manuscript kept at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.[6] In the Bodleian manuscript, a blot or stain has fallen onto one of the pages, and has made a series of words illegible;[7] in all the other known manuscripts these words (or sometimes the entire passage) are omitted,[8] thus all the other manuscripts are derived from this one archetype.[9]

The Discourses were first printed (in Greek) by Vettore Trincavelli, at Venice in 1535.[10]

English translations[edit]

The first English translation did not appear until 1758 with the appearance of Elizabeth Carter's translation. This proved to be very successful, with a second edition appearing a year later (1759), a third edition in 1768, and a fourth edition published posthumously in 1807. It influenced later translations: e.g. those of Higginson and George Long (see his Introduction for comments, some critical of Carter).

A complete list of English translations is as follows:

All of these are complete translations with the exception of Robert Dobbin's book which only contains 64 out of the 95 Discourses. Robin Hard has produced two translations: the first (for Everyman in 1995) was just a revision of Elizabeth Carter's version, however his 2014 edition (for Oxford University Press) is the first complete original translation since the 1920s.


  1. ^ Epictetus, Discourses.
  2. ^ Simplicius, Commentary on Epictetus' Enchiridion.
  3. ^ Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights.
  4. ^ Stobaeus.
  5. ^ Photius, Biblioth. 58
  6. ^ Oxford University Philosophy Faculty Library - Manuscripts and rare books Archived March 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Book 1. 18. 8-11
  8. ^ W. M. Lindsay (1896), An Introduction to Latin Textual Emendation, page 44.
  9. ^ Aston et al., (1984), The History of the University of Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  10. ^ Smith W (1870) Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.

External links[edit]