Epictetus by Thomas Cole

This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent

The set consists of several Roman columns and a large block of stone

ARRIAN, a middle-aged patrician, wearing a fine toga, addresses the audience

Epictetus emulated Socrates. Like Socrates, Epictetus had an inner
voice, his daimon, that guided him to say and do the right thing. His
daimon was God’s representative within him. He believed that each
of us has a daimon. May I be guided by my daimon in the words I
choose today.

It has been several weeks since Epictetus died. Thank you for
delaying this memorial service so that I could travel from Cappadocia
to participate. I am Arrian, Governor of Cappadocia.

Thirty years ago I was a student of Epictetus here in Nicopolis at
this very spot. Out in the open. Pedestrians would stop to listen to
him. Some of them interrupted his lectures to ask questions. He
showed no annoyance and replied to them frankly. His bluntness
sometimes hurt their feelings.

Persons of high rank did not awe Epictetus. Officials who tried to
intimidate him quickly regretted it. Hadrian was not one of those
foolish officials. He respected Epictetus. He visited this school
shortly before becoming emperor. That was when I met him. I served
under him after he became emperor.

Epictetus was born a slave. His mother was a slave. He was born in
Hierapolis, far from Rome, a hundred miles from Ephesus. When he was
a young man he was bought by Epaphroditus. You may have heard of
Epaphroditus. He was a freedman and secretary to Emperor Nero. At
Nero’s request, he helped him to commit suicide. A decade later
Epaphroditus became secretary to the Emperor Domitian.

Epictetus, intelligent, confident and conscientious, served
Epaphroditus well inside and outside the palace. Epictetus came to
the attention of the senator and Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus.
Observing the talents and potential of Epictetus, Musonius persuaded
Epaphroditus to let Epictetus become one of his students. Epictetus
absorbed Stoic teachings quickly and thoroughly. Stoicism made him a
free man, not physically, but mentally, which is far more important.
It is better to be a slave in the flesh than a slave to folly.

In his youth Epictetus suffered an injury to his leg that caused him
to limp for the rest of his life. It has been said that
Epaphroditus got drunk one day and broke Epictetus’s leg on a
torture wheel. Later, hung over and remorseful, he set Epictetus
free. That’s the story, but I don’t know if it’s true.
Epictetus never spoke of his injury in my presence. .

Epictetus started a school in Rome for the sons of high ranking
Romans. Emperor Domitian apparently felt threatened by philosophers,
for he banished them from Rome. Epictetus re-established his school
here. He taught Stoic Philosophy, Ethics and Logic. Besides the
lectures of the curriculum, Epictetus frequently spoke to his students
informally in order to motivate us to live according to Stoic
principles. We felt what Epictetus intended us to feel. We
experienced the moral force of his character. I believed that it was
important for me to preserve his wisdom and study it for my own well
being. I had a talent for taking notes quickly, nearly verbatim. I
wrote down every informal lecture by Epictetus I attended during the
two years I was his student. When I told Epictetus what I was doing,
he did not object, and I think he approved, for if he hadn’t, he
would certainly have told me. I called his informal lectures The
Discourses and they totaled eight volumes at the end of two years.

I am the author of several works. I wrote Anabasis, which is a
history of the military campaigns of Alexander the Great. Critics
say it is my best work.. I disagree. My best work is the
transcription I made of the words of Epictetus. The Discourses are a
trove of wisdom that has benefited me greatly. I shared them with my
friends, and they must have shared them with others, for The
Discourses are now widely read. I made a short collection of sayings
by Epictetus called The Handbook, which became more popular than The

What was it like to be a student of Epictetus? I recall him entering
this very arena.

Lights out on ARRIAN, who exits.

Lights up on EPICTETUS as he enters limping, wearing a plain toga.

Lead me, O Zeus and Destiny
To the end long ago assigned to me.
Willing or not, brazenly or cravenly,
I am obliged to follow.

Thus prayed Cleanthes, one of the philosophers you will study.

Young men of Rome, welcome to this school in the City of Victory,

Your parents sent you here to study Philosophy, Logic and Ethics .

Some of you are new students. Some of you, such as Arrian, have been
here for awhile.If you are uncertain about something I say, see
Arrian. He takes the best notes.


No, you will not study Rhetoric in this school. You will not be
taught the art of throwing sand into the eyes of others. .

Anyone else? No?

From time to time during your stay here we will meet like this.

Now I have a question for all of you, for each of you: What do you
control? Think about it and answer. What things are in your control?
Give me an example.

Yes, you.

So you say that your health is under your control. How?

Yes, I see. If you eat and drink the right things in moderation you
will be healthy. Your father told you that, and it seems to be true,
for it works for him. Have I correctly stated your answer to my question?


Does anyone see a problem with his answer?

Yes. Accidents happen that may ruin a person’s health. A tree limb
might fall on a person’s head. There are also diseases that afflict
people regardless of their healthful habits.

So you see that your health is not under your control. What is under
your control? Name something.

Wealth? If you work hard and are careful about your financial affairs
you will gain wealth. So, you can control your wealth. What’s wrong
with what he says?

Yes. A person could be a good business man and still suffer huge
financial loss due to a natural disaster or other event. You do not
control your wealth, no matter how careful you are.

So far you have learned that you cannot control your health or wealth.
What can you control?


Your reputation! You can control your reputation by leading a
virtuous life, by always being honest and forthright in your dealings
with your fellow man. Right? Would that it were so!

Have you not heard of Socrates, the most virtuous man in Athens,
sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting young men? He was
innocent, but his enemies ruined his reputation with slander.

So, you cannot control your health, wealth or reputation.. What can
you control? Are there any more nominations?

No? So, are you young men telling me with your silence that you can
control nothing?

Imagine you are a soldier going into battle. The enemy soldiers are
charging, shrieking, waving their swords, bearing down on you. What
do you control in this situation?

Yes, you may flee or fight. You have a choice. .

Men, in every situation you find yourself, without exception, you have
a choice. In battle, will you flee or fight? It’s up to you.

When verbally abused by someone, will you keep calm or let your anger
loose? It’s up to you.

Your attitude is up to you.. Your judgments are up to you.

[End of Extract]

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