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Nearly two thousand years ago, a former slave named Epictetus opened a school in Greece . . . and became the most famous Stoic philosophy teacher in the world. The Urban Enchiridion updates his simple, life-changing lessons with modern expressions and images, envisioning how Epictetus would have talked about Stoicism if he had lived in our contemporary times.

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What is The Enchiridion?


Okay, we should get this part out of the way first: the word is pronounced “EN-KA-RID-EE-UN.” (Don’t worry, I didn’t know how to pronounce it when I first saw it, either.)

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A couple thousand years ago in Greece, there was a school of Stoic philosophy run by a guy named Epictetus (pronounced “Epic-Teetus”). He was a former slave who had one hell of a tough life, but after being freed he became the most famous Stoicism teacher in the world.

Lots of important Roman families sent their sons to learn about Stoicism from Epictetus at his school. (It was sort of like how rich people today sign their kids up for boarding schools that will look good on their resumes.) People came from all over the place to listen to his lectures — even Hadrian, who was Emperor of Rome, made a trip to attend a few classes.

Epictetus never wrote any stuff down himself that we know of. But one of his students, Arrian, took some really detailed notes of what Epictetus said in class, and published them later. He called a part of those notes The Enchiridion, which basically means “handbook.”

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The Best Stoicism Book for Beginners


This collection of teachings from Epictetus has been translated into dozens of languages, and it’s one of the most important ancient books we have about Stoicism. A lot of people who read it are seriously amazed at how simple, powerful and life-changing the lessons in The Enchiridion are, and I think it’s the best book for beginners to learn about Stoic philosophy.

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A scene from Nicopolis, Greece, where Epictetus started his school.

But here’s the problem: the translations aren’t read as much as they could be . . . because for the average person, they’re kind of boring.

You’ll notice, though, that I never said Epictetus or his lessons are boring. In fact, I think Epictetus was stimulating, clever, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. He even comes across as a bit of a smartass on some pages (it was probably quite an experience to sit in one of his classes).

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Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius learned from his own personal copy of The Enchiridion.

It’s the available translations of his lessons that are sometimes boring, because most of them just regurgitate the same archaic speaking style and imagery that people used two thousand years ago.

Some people might like reading translations that use old-fashioned, antiquated language, and that’s fine. But those shouldn’t be the only kind of translations available to people who want to know what Epictetus taught.

Anyway, that was the thinking behind this project. While I adapted The Enchiridion, I tried to imagine the words Epictetus might use if he’d been born in our time, and lived in the same environment that we do.

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An illustration of Epictetus from an Enchiridion translation printed in 1715.

Our world might be very different than it was two thousand years ago, but people are still basically the same. My hope is that The Urban Enchiridion helps a few more of us discover just how simple it is to change our lives for the better with Stoic thinking.

Phil Van Treuren


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