Characters Behind Ancient Quotes – Lao-tzu & Epictetus

Lao-tzu and Epictetus had a great deal to say during their time , one a Greek philosopher and the other a central figure of an important religion. An idea of how they thought and spoke is expressed in this article.

Epictetus (55 , 135)

This Greek Stoic philosopher was most likely a slave when he was born at Hierapolis, Phyrygia (which is today Pamukkale, Turkey). He spent his life out in Rome until he was exiled to Nicopolis, situated in the northwestern part of Greece. This is where he lived most of his life and eventually passed away. As a youth, the slave lived in Rome with Epaphroditus, who was a rather rich freedman of Nero. It was during this time that Epictetus studied Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus, who was also a slave.

At one point in time, Epictetus became a cripple where differing opinions on how this came to be would haunt his memory. Some believe it was Epaphroditus who broke the slave’s leg on purpose, while others rely on the statement of Simplicius, who reveals that his leg was lame since childhood. A couple sayings, phrases, and quotes of Epitetus includes:

“Men are not worried by things, but by their ideas about things. When we meet with difficulties, become anxious or troubled, let us not blame others, but rather ourselves, that is, our ideas about things.”

“One must not tie a ship to a single anchor, nor life to a single hope.”

“Remember that you are only an actor in a play, which the manager directs”

Lao-tzu (604 BC – 531 BC)

Lao Tse was known by many different references (including Lao tzu, Laozi, Laotze, and Lao Zi), but made his mark as a philosopher during ancient Chinese times. He would become a central figure in Taoism and his name actually translates to mean “Old Master.” In Taosim, the man was seen as a god and even earned the honor of “One of the Three Pure Ones.” According to Chinese tradition, Laozi resided during the 6th century BC. Historians will differ on opinion regarding his existence, as some feel the man never existed and that he was actually a mythical character. Some contend that he thrived during the 4th century BC when the Hundred Schools of Thought and the Warring States Period was brewing.

However, the man earned a central place within Chinese culture and both the nobles and the commoners regarded his words. Below you will find a collection of his thoughts:

“Seek not happiness too greedily, and be not fearful of happiness.”

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”

“He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

He who knows others is wise;
He who know himself is enlightened.”

“He who loves the world as his body may be entrusted with the empire.”

“Manifest plainness,
Embrace simplicity,
Reduce selfishness,
Have few desires.”

“People are difficult to govern because they have too much knowledge.”

“The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world.”

“To be worn out is to be renewed.

To have little is to possess.
To have plenty is to be perplexed.

To know that you do not know is the best.
To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.

To produce things and to rear them,
To produce, but not to take possession of them,
To act, but not to rely on one’s own ability,
To lead them, but not to master them –
This is called profound and secret virtue.

When armies are mobilized and issues are joined,
The man who is sorry over the fact will win.

When the highest type of men hear Tao,
They diligently practice it.
When the average type of men hear Tao,
They half believe in it.
When the lowest type of men hear Tao,
They laugh heartily at it.

When the people of the world all know beauty as beauty,
There arises the recognition of ugliness.
When they all know the good as good,
There arises the recognition of evil.”