Two of the most influential Stoic philosophers of all time are Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. They are both authors as well. Marcus Aurelius wrote “Meditations”, and Epictetus wrote “The Enchiridion”, which means the manual. In this case, the “manual” is a guide to life and how to think so that a person can go through life experiencing as little negative emotions as possible. Epictetus was a Greek speaking philosopher originally from what is now Turkey, but he lived in Rome for much of his life until he was banished. We then went to Greece and lived there. He was a very prominent philosopher during his time, and he is still influential today. He was been an inspiration to many important people throughout history, such as Marcus Aurelius. He lived a very simple life, and he never got married. He died at around 80 years old in 135 AD. An interesting fact about Epictetus is that none of his writings are truly his own. They were all things Epictetus said, which were then transcribed by his pupil. In addition to “The Enchiridion”, he has another well-known book called “The Discourses”. As stated above, Marcus Aurelius was inspired by Epictetus and even quotes him several times in his own book. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor from 121-180 AD. He was one of the Five Good Emperors of Rome. He was also a firm believer in Stoicism. Stoicism is the belief that people shouldn’t let themselves be affected by any emotions at all, even positive ones. Epictetus even says that when someone close to you dies, you shouldn’t let it affect you because there is nothing you could have done about it. Stoics believe that you should just let life go on as normal. As with all things, practicing Stoic philosophy should be in moderation and the extreme things entailed in it, such as the one above, should not be practiced. Many of the extreme beliefs of Stoics go against the very nature of human beings by trying to make people not use their emotions at all. The moderate beliefs of the Stoics however, provide many benefits. One of these beliefs is not getting your hopes up and not believing that everything is going to stay the same way it is forever. He wrote “The Meditations” for his own personal use as a tool for self improvement. He never intended for it to be read by anyone else.
Nowadays, the books by Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus are still relevant and they are both great to read, but they are clearly written differently. This is because they had different purposes when they were written. Strangely enough, they are both written in a list form. This may be because of Marcus Aurelius’ admiration for Epictetus, and he decided to write it in the same format as Epictetus, but there is no definitive way to tell. Unlike Epictetus, Aurelius states who taught him in many of his points. Epictetus’ The Enchiridion was written to motivate people and to encourage them to adopt the Stoic philosophy into their lives. This book was intentionally written for other people to read and is clearly structured for that. The messages are clear and concise and do not drag on for a long time. The Meditations does drag on for a long time in many of the points. The majority of these points are much longer than the enchiridion’s. This is due to the fact that Marcus Aurelius never anticipated other’s reading this and did not think to make it so that it would be able to keep everyone’s attention like Epictetus did. Despite the fact that Marcus Aurelius never planned to have anyone else read his book, it is still extremely well written. Unlike The Enchiridion, which has a very sophisticated choice of vocabulary that would be hard for many people to understand, the Meditations has a very plainly written and simple vocabulary that can easily be understood by anybody. In Meditations, Aurelius says “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”, while Epictetus takes almost a whole page to say the same exact thing more eloquently when it could have been said in 2 sentences. Despite the difference in vocabulary in the two books, they are both very to the point and they don’t waste too much time just dragging on. When a book doesn’t drag on, it makes for a very good experience for the reader because it continues to grab their attention.
In The Enchiridion, Epictetus uses a lot of figurative language. Many of these are analogies. One example of this is, “As a mark is not set up for the sake of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world”(Epictetus, XXVII). In this analogy, Epictetus means that evil in the world is a missed shot from the good that should be in the world. Many people think that others are inherently bad, and that human nature is to blame for this, but Epictetus disagrees and says that people are missing their target of good in the world. Another analogy in The Enchiridion is, “Why, neither does a smith provide it with shoes, nor a shoemaker with arms”(Epictetus, XXIV). In The Enchiridion and in Meditations, there is a lot of use of rhetorical questions. I think this is mainly due to the fact that these books are based on philosophy and much of philosophy involves asking oneself questions.
Meditations has an extensive use of rhetorical questions. One example of rhetorical questions in Meditations is, “But suppose that those who will remember are even immortal, what then is this to you? What is praise except indeed so far as it has a certain utility?”(Aurelius, 22). In this quote, there were two questions in a row. That just shows how widespread the use of rhetorical questions is in Meditations. of the larger points in Aurelius’ book contain rhetorical questions. He was a very big fan of incorporating them into his works.
Both of their writing styles are very eye opening. They make people realize that the way the whole is perceived just has to do with everyone’s viewpoint. That’s why different people see the world differently. Some people see it as a place filled with opportunity, while others see it as a place where everyone is destined to fail. Some people believe there is no real point to life while others think there is. The same applies to Stoicism where stoics think that there should be less emotions on earth while most people love all of the emotions on earth and would hate to not have any emotions. It all depends on someone’s viewpoint.
Overall, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius’ books were and still are very influential. That’s amazing considering they are from almost 2000 years ago. They give an insight to Stoic philosophy that most other books can’t. They both have their own unique writing style, but that’s to be expected since they wrote their books for different reasons and different audiences. Which is better really depends on personal preference. That’s one of the reasons that both of the books are so popular. The Enchiridion uses a lot of analogies, and Meditations uses a lot of rhetorical questions. Both of these are very effective in getting the main points of Stoic philosophy across to the reader.
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