Epiktetus (Επίκτητος)


Epictetus was born around AD 50, presumably at Hierapolis, Phrygia. The name his parents gave him is unknown; the word epíktētos (ἐπίκτητος) in Greek simply means "gained" or "acquired"; the Greek philosopher Plato, in his Laws, used the term to mean property that is "added to one's hereditary property". He spent his youth in Rome as a slave to Epaphroditus, a wealthy freedman and secretary to Nero.

Early in life, Epictetus acquired a passion for philosophy, and, with the permission of his wealthy master, he studied Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus. Becoming more educated in this way raised his social status. At some point, he became disabled. Celsus, quoted by Origen, wrote that this was because his leg had been deliberately broken by his master. Simplicius, in contrast, wrote that he had simply been disabled from childhood.

Roman-era ruins (the Nymphaeum) at Nicopolis

Epictetus obtained his freedom sometime after the death of Nero in AD 68, and he began to teach philosophy in Rome. Around AD 93, when the Roman emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from the city, Epictetus moved to Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece, where he founded a school of philosophy.

His most famous pupil, Arrian, studied under him as a young man (around AD 108) and claimed to have written his famous Discourses based on the notes he took on Epictetus's lectures. Arrian argued that his Discourses should be considered comparable to the Socratic literature. Arrian described Epictetus as a powerful speaker who could "induce his listener to feel just what Epictetus wanted him to feel." Many eminent figures sought conversations with him. Emperor Hadrian was friendly with him and may have heard him speak at his school in Nicopolis.

He lived a life of great simplicity, with few possessions. He lived alone for a long time, but in his old age, he adopted a friend's child who otherwise would have been left to die and raised him with the aid of a woman. It is unclear whether Epictetus and she were married. He died sometime around AD 135. After his death, according to Lucian, his oil lamp was purchased by an admirer for 3,000 drachmae.