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The Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote, “No man is free who is not master of himself.” I can relate to this quote because of personal experiences and through books I have read about the concept of freedom. Personally, I have been able to experience this wisdom first hand. Freedom is the opposite of being enslaved or held down against ones will, desires or actions. One must be free to live, think and act as one wants in order to be a “master of oneself.” One must be in control of one’s own life! My personal experiences as well as writings from skilled authors help illustrate the validity of Epictetus’ quote.
I cannot say I have always been the master of myself because I have not always done what I have wanted. For example, I always wanted to go to college but I did not know where. I ended up going to the Virginia Military Institute even though I wanted to attend the University of Virginia. I was accepted to both schools but my parents wanted me to go to VMI. Since my older brother, who is my best friend, was already there and because my parents wanted me to go, I decided to attend VMI. Had I been a master of myself at the time I doubt I would have gone. I am glad I went there now, though, because I succeeded and accomplished many things I did not think I could do prior to my arrival. My personal experience that best relates to the quote by Epictetus would have to be during the time I was expelled from VMI. I believe I became in many aspects a slave to myself, thereby living a life opposite of the one inferred by Epictetus’ quote. I became my own slave due to my own negative thoughts, feelings and actions. I had plenty of support and opposition during my dismissal from VMI but ultimately it was me who created the largest problems that kept me from feeling in control of my life. I was depressed and I felt I had no free will; I was a slave to fate and myself. This lasted for about one and a half years and it was terrible. I eventually regained control of my life and myself and put things back in perspective. I now feel I am the master of myself and I am freer to think and act as I desire.
One of the most popular discussions of all time is the Free Will vs. Fate debate. The Babylonians, for example, believed that certain disturbances in the heavens that were irregular, such as the comets or meteors showers, were indicative of divine intervention interfering with or disrupting nature. Stoic astrological perspectives conceived the world as a great organism, with destiny connected with an infinite succession of causes, with the “regularity of the celestial configurations as indicative of this destiny. Fatalism is one of the major principles that promoters of astrology imposed on the world because of the irrefutable observational evidence of celestial regularity, leading to an assumed philosophic derivation of this fate from necessity, and emanating from the awareness of divine plan” (Cumont, 85). I do not think Epictetus meant to discuss whether man is driven by free will or fate with the above quote; however, the concept of freedom and mastering oneself has an underlying correlation with free will and fate. If Epictetus’ belief is that one can master oneself to gain freedom, one can assume he believes in free will since fate would disregard any notion of mastering oneself for freedom. If one is able to live the life they choose, they and are not confined by fate. Perhaps the Babylonians would have had a different perspective on life if they spoke with Epictetus.
Through my experience with depression and negativity and reading about freedom and fate in literature, I can confidently agree with Epictetus’ quote about mastering oneself in order to be free.
Cumont, Franz. (1912). Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans. New York:
"A History of Horoscopic Astrology", Goold interpretation of Manilius, page 25.
"Philosophy, The Power of Ideas" second edition, Bruder, Kenneth and Moore, Noel Brooke
(1993), Part 1, Metaphysics and Epistemology: Existence and
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Epictetus, Philosophy of life, Free will, Astrology
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