The Art of Living Book Summary - The Art of Living Book explained in key points
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The Art of Living summary


The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness – A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell

4.7 (614 ratings)
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Brief summary

The Art of Living by Epictetus is a philosophical guide that teaches us how to live a happy and fulfilling life by controlling our thoughts and actions. It encourages us to focus on what we can control and let go of what we cannot.

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    The Art of Living
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    Epictetus rose from humble roots to become a leading Stoic philosopher.

    Let’s travel back to 55 AD, back when the Roman Empire dominated the entire Mediterranean. In the small city of Hierapolis, in what’s now central Turkey, a boy was born into slavery. His name was Epictetus.

    From a young age, Epictetus showed an unusually sharp mind. In fact, his intellect was so promising that he was sent to Rome to study under the renowned philosopher Gaius Musonius Rufus. There, after years of hard work, he began teaching pupils of his own. These lectures were such a hit that in 94 AD the Roman emperor Domitian exiled him to northern Greece in order to curb his growing influence.

    Epictetus continued to gain a following. Today, he’s remembered as a foundational figure in classical philosophy.

    The key message here is: Epictetus rose from humble roots to become a leading Stoic philosopher.

    Epictetus followed a philosophy known as Stoicism. He and his fellow Stoics believed that philosophy shouldn’t be about airy and abstract debates, but should help people navigate the vagaries of everyday life. Through his teachings, Epictetus aimed to provide practical guidance for living a life filled with happiness, tranquility, and a deep sense of personal satisfaction.

    Like many philosophers of his time, Epictetus avoided writing. Rather than create long, dense texts, he delivered his thoughts by engaging the public directly through lectures and debates. Luckily, a devoted pupil and historian named Flavius Arrian transcribed many of his teachings into two volumes known as the Discourses. These were later summarized into the Enchiridion, or the manual. 

    In accordance with Epictetus’s philosophy, these works were written to be entertaining and accessible to everyday people. Enchiridion was even formatted like a military manual – which were popular texts of the time – and distilled the essence of Stoic thinking down to a series of short observations and adages.

    While only portions of these texts survive, they were wildly popular throughout the Roman Empire and soldiers were known to carry copies of Enchiridion into battle. Epictetus even found a follower in the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius carefully studied Epictetus’s teachings and used his Stoic philosophy as the basis for his own work, Meditations.

    So, what exactly was Epictetus teaching? We’ll dive into the details of that in the next blink.

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    What is The Art of Living about?

    The Art of Living (1995) is a clear and concise introduction to Stoic philosophy. This modern interpretation of Epictetus’s teachings gives timeless insight into living a stable and satisfying life.

    Who should read The Art of Living?

    • Modern thinkers curious about ancient philosophy
    • Hectic go-getters needing advice on slowing down
    • Anyone seeking a more Stoic lifestyle

    About the Author

    Sharon Lebell is a best-selling author, classically-trained musician, and highly-esteemed teacher of spirituality and philosophy. Her previous works include Naming Ourselves, Naming Our Children and The Music of Silence, which she coauthored with her brother.

    Epictetus was a Greek philosopher born around 50 AD. He is often cited as a defining figure in Stoic philosophy and his collected works include Discourses and Enchiridion.

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