Lives of the Stoics

Ryan Holiday

Kindle Highlights

  • The only reason to study philosophy is to become a better person. Anything else, as Nietzsche said, is merely a “critique of words by means of other words.”
  • It was Seneca, a Stoic philosopher of the Roman era, far removed from the academy, who would say quite bluntly that there was no other purpose to reading and study if not to live a happy life.
  • “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck.” For it was the shipwreck that sent Zeno to Athens, on the path to creating what would become Stoic philosophy.
  • the fate of any exemplary figure is mockery by parasites, just as the great bull is beset by flies.
  • “Fate guides the man who’s willing,” he writes in one short fragment, “drags the unwilling.”
  • Zeno’s somewhat ingenious argument was to call these things—being healthy, being handsome, possessing an illustrious last name—“preferred indifferents.”
  • There is no better definition of a Stoic: to have but not want, to enjoy without needing.
  • Learn. Apply. Learn. Apply. Learn. Apply. This is the Stoic way.
  • You can and should be interested in everything, the Stoics taught, because you can and should learn wisdom from everything.
  • to. One must design one’s life, Posidonius said, “to live contemplating the truth and order of the universe and promoting it as much as possible, being led in no respect by the irrational part of the soul.”
  • “If it is not right, do not do it,” Marcus Aurelius would write in his encapsulation of Stoic doctrine, “if it is not true, do not say it.”
  • it was better to have people ask why there wasn’t a statue in your honor than why there was.
  • At the core of Stoicism is the acceptance of what we cannot change.
  • The mind must be replenished with leisure, Athenodorus believed, or it was likely to break under pressure, or be susceptible to vices.
  • “Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. . . . The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
  • “Nero can kill me,” Thrasea said, echoing Socrates’s last words, “but he cannot harm me.”
  • the most potent poison ever known rests in a Caesar’s laurel crown.
  • A good marriage, he believed, was one where a couple strove to outdo each other in devotion. He spoke of the kind of “beautiful union” that Brutus and Porcia had, where two souls stick with each other through the adversity of life and inspire each other to greater virtue.
  • A Stoic must avoid doing the wrong thing, even if the reward for it is great.
  • “Do not be irked by difficult circumstances,” he once said, “but reflect on how many things have already happened to you in life in ways that you did not wish, and yet they have turned out for the best.”
  • “It is not possible to live well today unless one thinks of it as his last.”
  • To Epictetus, no human was the full author of what happened in life. Instead, he said, it was as if we were in a play, and if it was the playwright’s “pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.”
  • “If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious,” Epictetus said, yet we so easily hand our mind over to other people, letting them inside our heads or making us feel a certain way.
  • “Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed,”
  • “If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it easier to maintain control.”
  • You can only lose what you have. You don’t control your possessions, so don’t ascribe more value to them than they deserve.
  • “Don’t explain your philosophy,” Epictetus said, “embody it.”
  • You owe it to yourself and to the world to actively engage with the brief moment you have on this planet. You cannot retreat exclusively into ideas. You must contribute.
  • “Waste no more time talking about what a good man is like. Be one.”
  • “Start praying like this and you’ll see,” he wrote to himself. “Not ‘some way to sleep with her’—but a way to stop wanting to. Not ‘some way to get rid of him’—but a way to stop trying. Not ‘some way to save my child’—but a way to lose your fear.”*
  • “Recognize that if it’s humanly possible,” he said both to us and to himself, “you can do it too.”
  • “Why should we feel anger at the world,” he writes in Meditations, cribbing a line from a lost Euripides play, “as if the world would notice.”
  • “The cucumber is bitter?” he said rhetorically. “Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around. That’s all you need to know.”
  • Forget protests. Forget criticism and the agendas of the critics. Forget the hard work it takes to enact something new or pioneering. Do what is right. Come what may.
  • “Life is warfare and a journey far from home,”
  • “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
  • writings reflect this insight, time and time again. “Think of yourself as dead,” he writes. “You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.”

Share this book

Related Books I've Read