Slave, poor as Irus, halting as I trod, I, Epictetus, was the friend of God1
Epictetus was a slave woman’s son, and for many years a slave himself.2 The tone and temper of his whole life were determined thereby. An all-engulfing passion for independence
- 1Δοῦλος Ἐπίκτητος γενόμην καὶ σῶμ᾿ ἀνάπηρος καὶ πενίην Ἶρος καὶ φίλος ἀθανάτοις. An anonymous epigram (John Chrys., Patrol. Gr. LX.111; Macrob. Sat. I.11, 45; Anth. Pal. VII.676), as translated by H. Macnaghten. The ascription to Leonidas is merely a palaeographical blunder in part of the MS. tradition, that to Epictetus himself (by Macrobius) a patent absurdity.
- 2This is the explicit testimony of an undated but fairly early inscription from Pisidia (J. R. S. Sterrett: Papers of the Amer. School of Class. Stud. At Athens, 1884–5, 3, 315f.; G. Kaibel: Hermes, 1888, 23, 542 ff.), and of Palladius (Ps.-Callisthenes, III.10, ed. C. Müller), and is distinctly implied by a phrase in a letter professedly addressed to him by one of the Philostrati (Ep. 69: ἐκλάνθανεσθαι τίς εἶ καὶ τίνων γέγονας). I see, therefore, no reason to doubt the statement, as does Schenkl (2nd ed., p. xvi). The phrase δοῦλος . . . γενόμην in the epigram cited above cannot be used as certain evidence, because γίγνεσθαι, as Schenkl observes, too frequently equals εἶναι in the poets, but, in view of the other testimony, it is probable that servile origin was what the author of it had in mind. There is little reason to think, with Martha (Les Moralistes, etc., 159), that Epictetus was not his real name, and that the employment of it is indicative of a modesty so real that it sought even a kind of anonymity, since the designation is by no means restricted to slaves, while his modesty, because coupled with Stoic straightforwardness, is far removed from the shrinking humility that seeks self-effacement.