Portable Stoicism


Stoic wisdom is eminently quotable and often found dotted around in modern self-help. Tim Ferris, remember, loves Seneca and quotes from him a lot in The 4-Hour Workweek.

To round off our series of posts for Stoic Week, we’ve gone straight to the main sources of Stoic wisdom (Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius) and collected some passages for your quiet contemplation, focusing on subjects most relevant to Escapology.

Seneca on the employed:

They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.

Seneca on money:

Wealth is the slave of a wise man. The master of a fool.

Epictetus on consumerism:

Who’s my master? Whoever controls what you desire or dislike.

Marcus Aurelius on simple pleasures:

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.

Seneca on taking our leisure now, not later:

You will hear many men saying: “After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties.” And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? […] Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!

Epictetus on escape plans:

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.

Marcus Aurelius on internal cultivation:

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.

Seneca on choosing freedom:

Man is possessed by greed that is insatiable […] by a toilsome devotion to tasks that are useless.

In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal.

Epictetus on minimalism or simple living:

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.

Marcus Aurelius on going it alone:

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Seneca on want:

It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.

Epictetus on distinction or competitiveness:

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.

Seneca on reconnecting with childhood interests (something we cover in New Escapologist Issue 9):

Hang on to your youthful enthusiasms — you’ll be able to use them better when you’re older.

Epictetus on freedom:

No man is free who is not master of himself.

Epictetus (and this one’s beautiful) on life:

You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.

All for now. Remember there’s a handbook about Stoic Week if you’d like to indulge in the experiment (the week itself is over but nobody will know if you do it anyway) and New Escapologist recommends William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life as a guide to practical Stoicism.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at www.wringham.co.uk/about.

5 Responses to “Portable Stoicism”

  1. David says:

    Thank you, this has helped me get through a challenging week!

  2. Cheers David! And you’re welcome. I hope your next week is okay. Whether it is or isn’t, approach it Stoically!

  3. Spoonman says:

    Thank you for posting all these great quotes. I love the wit in Seneca’s wisdom! I’m sure he must’ve been good at cracking jokes and making witty come-backs.

    Oh, and thanks for posting a bust of Marcus Aurelius. I told you he knows how to rock curly hair! I can recognize his bust from a mile away.

  4. Wit and humour in ancient philosophy is something I keep meaning to look more deliberately into. I know Aristotle (pre- the Stoics and Epicureans) counted joke-telling among his “virtues”, so it’d be interesting to see if/how that thread continued into the Hellenistic philosophers.

  5. Zainab Usman says:

    Thanks for putting in one place this great quotes. They are a useful reminder as I grapple with choosing between work/money and more leisure. I am torn between guilty feelings about leaving a very well paying job in a country that has few of such and a feeling that I have indeed earned my freedom after over 20 years of toiling.

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