The best-known proponent of Stoicism during the Roman Empire, Epictetus was known for practicing what he preached – simplicity and virtue as a path to contentment. Like many of the ancient philosophers, he was a lecturer, not a writer: the “Discourses” which are attributed to him were lectures transcribed by one of his students. His primary concern was ethics, and he believed that the only thing which truly belonged to an individual was his will, or purpose. While an individual could and should control his actions (but not thoughts), he should not attempt to control the world around him – Epictetus believed in accepting that world. Man’s responsibility is to learn and implement the will of God, a point of view that made Epictetus quite popular with early Christians.
Epictetus was born a slave; it is not known how he gained his freedom. He lived in a small hut with only a bed and a lamp for furnishings, and adopted a child who had been given up by an impoverished friend. He suffered from poor health. Epictetus lived in various places throughout the Roman Empire, and had to leave Rome in the year 89 due to a decree by the Emperor Domitian banishing all philosophers. He spent the rest of his life in Greece.