Review of "Art of Living"

The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness is practical codes for living a good life according to the ancient Greek stoic and sophist Epictetus. While the translation by Sharon Lebell is quite free in its adherence to the original text, hence her deeming it a “new interpretation”, this is not a weakness as the book contains a good amount of pithy insight that can be used as a guide for positive living.

Advice such as “Avoid making idle promises whenever possible, ” “New experiences are meant to deepen out lives and advance us to new levels of competence” and “Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish and only caters to or exploits people’s weaknesses” are somewhat platitudinous, but they are nonetheless important reminders as to how one can live a life of character and integrity while adhering to one’s specific life goals. I read this particular translation for the first time as part of research for a course on classical Greek philosophy and drama that I would teach as a F.I.C.A.M. elective. I will be pairing this with selected works of Plato, Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics and some plays by Euripides and Sophocles. What is perhaps most interesting about the book is that much of the self-help literature of today is so similar to its message with the exception that the style of the writing, eighty or so short messages, that it evades the need to present an overarching, developmental thrust.

In this regard I find it difficult to delve into too much analytical depth as to do so would be to engage each brief message directly. What I can say as that even though there is much good here, there is also an element of political quietism to it that those in the modern context and not in the “elite” a fact already recognized by Hegel in his Phenomenology of Spirit. Despite this, however, it is an important read and so short that it begs to be repeatedly read or referenced at random by seekers of inner peace.