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The Art of Living    by Epictetus & Sharon Lebell order for
Art of Living
by Epictetus
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2004 (1995)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In this small volume, Sharon Lebell presents a 'New Interpretation' of the sayings and doctrine of the great Stoic Epictetus. He was born a Roman Empire slave about AD 55 and died around AD 135. Amongst others, he taught a future Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Lebell tells us of the philosopher's life that Epictetus 'walked his talk', and that his classical wisdom emphasizes 'moral progess' as opposed to 'moral perfection'.

His enormous influence through the centuries is clear from the familiarity of so many of his notions today, for example 'Things and people are not what we wish them to be nor what they seem to be. They are what they are'. Epictetus tells us that 'Desire and aversion, though powerful, are but habits' that we can train, and that we should rouse ourselves 'from the daze of unexamined habit.' The philosopher says that 'One of the signs of the dawning of moral progress is the extinguishing of blame', and that 'The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.'

I especially like 'If you want to live a wise life, live it on your own terms and in your own eyes', and appreciate the warning in 'It is always our choice whether or not we wish to pay the price for life's rewards', which goes on to mention that the price may be our integrity. We are told that a good person has 'formed the habit of asking on every occasion, "What is the right thing to do now?"' I chuckled on reading Epictetus' perception of popular entertainment as 'mindless pap', and will try to remember 'Forgive yourself over and over and over again. Then try to do better next time.'

The book ends appropriately on 'Give your best and always be kind.' I highly recommend The Art of Living to you - keep a copy by your desk or bedside to dip into for wisdom and solace, or give one to a friend. It would make a wonderful graduation gift and I plan to pass my own copy to my teenage son.

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