Epictetus was born ca. 55 AD, presumably at Hierapolis, Phrygia. The name his parents gave him is unknown; the word epíktetos (επίκτητος) in Greek simply means "acquired." He spent his youth as a slave in Rome to Epaphroditos, a wealthy freedman and secretary to Nero.
Early in life, Epictetus acquired a passion for philosophy, and with the permission of his wealthy owner, he studied Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus, which allowed him to rise in respectability as he grew more educated. He somehow became crippled, and although Origen recounts a story that his leg was deliberately broken by his master, Simplicius states he had been lame from childhood.
In some manner Epictetus obtained his freedom and began to teach philosophy in Rome. About 93 AD Emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from the city, and Epictetus travelled to Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece, where he founded a philosophical school.
His most famous pupil, Arrian, studied under him when a young man (c. 108 AD) and claimed to have written the famous Discourses from his lecture notes, though some argue they should be considered an original composition by Arrian, comparable to the Socratic literature. Arrian describes Epictetus as being a powerful speaker who could "induce his listener to feel just what Epictetus wanted him to feel." Many eminent figures sought conversations with him, and the Emperor Hadrian was friendly with him and may have listened to him speak at his school in Nicopolis.
He lived a life of great simplicity, with few possessions and lived alone for a long time, but in his old age he adopted a friend's child who would otherwise have been left to die, and raised him with the aid of a woman. Epictetus died sometime around 135 AD. After his death, his lamp was purchased by an admirer for 3,000 drachmae.
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