The term enchiridion in Latin connotes a small, essential handbook summing up a particular matter or subject. So it is with the well-regarded enchiridion of Epictetus, which successfully expresses the most important principles of Stoicism into this small text.
Important for general students of ancient philosophy, or for those interested in learning the Stoical life, this book exemplifies the tenets of an ethical and Stoic philosophy of life. For its unstinting commitment to such, this text remained influential and much read among Greek, Roman and later Christian scholars through the centuries following antiquity. The ethical outlook of Epictetus would notably gain favour and quotation from Marcus Aurelius, the ‘philosopher king’ of the Roman Empire.
Shortly after the invention of the printing press, The Enchiridion of Epictetus would become one of the first works of Roman era philosophy to receive a wide printing at the end of the fifteenth century. Well-liked in renaissance Rome for its relative simplicity of comprehension, practicality and alignment to Christian thinking, the text would be a staple in education for centuries thereafter. It would become synonymous with an introduction to moral rectitude among both academic and religious communities in Europe and the New World.
To some extent, this text may be read as a compact version of the Discourses of Epictetus, in that the subject matter and philosophic principles expressed are broadly similar throughout both corresponding texts. In the modern world of the 21st century, this short manual remains a useful reference for ethics – a source of calm and perspective in stressful circumstances, or whenever the mind expresses want of contemplation. Given its size, memorising passages from this text, thereby assimilating its principles into daily behaviour is a doable task.