I always find it difficult to recommend books without knowing the context of the person looking for something to read.

However, in this article, I’ll outline my recommendations for original Stoic texts in order.

If you’re a beginner or new to Stoicism, I wrote a list of my favorite entry books into Stoic philosophy here.

There’s no reason not to read the original Greek and Roman texts, but they can be a bit dense at times (particularly Epictetus), and sometimes it’s worth while getting to grips with the principles from a more modern perspective before diving into the books I’ve outlined below. This is probably a personal preference, though, so feel free to take whatever path you’d like.

So, lets get to it.

1. Discourses by Epictetus

The Discourses of Epictetus are a collection of lectures given by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus and are my personal favorite texts from ancient Stoicism.

Interestingly, the books were not written by Epictetus but by his student Arrian who transcribed Epictetus’ lectures.

Without Arrian we wouldn’t have two of, in my opinion, the best Stoic texts from the ancient world.

Despite his student’s efforts to preserve the teachings of Epictetus, only four of the eight books are still with us, the other four being lost to history.

However, what we do have are four excellent books outlining a practical and logical philosophy and encouraging it’s students to focus on their own opinions, actions, worries, desires, and fears so that:

“they may never fail to get what they desire, nor fall into what they avoid.”

Central to his teachings is the idea of self-governance and responsibility.

“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”

– Epictetus

Epictetus stresses that God has entrusted us with ourselves, giving us control over our will and the ability to make choices that align us with nature and virtue.

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”

– Epictetus

Through these choices, we arrive at a good and happy life, or eudaimonia.

We also become free. We free ourselves of our desires, of our fears, and of our anxieties.

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”

– Epictetus

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2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are twelve journals of Marcus Aurelius that were originally published in 1558 by Xylander and have since been translated and published all over the world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’d be over the mood to find out my journals had been published and shared with millions of people, but I’m glad we have them from Aurelius.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
― Marcus Aurelius

Some think that the texts were written as a guide for his son, Commodus. Others believe that they were private reflections. Whatever the reason for their original creation, they’re now widely considered the greatest Stoic text from the ancient world.

In it’s pages are a handful of core messages:

  1. The Importance of Self-Reflection: Aurelius frequently writes about the need for self-examination and understanding one’s role in the larger context of the world and our society.

  2. Stoic Principles: The text is grounded in Stoic philosophy, advocating for a life of virtue, reason, and resilience in the face of adversity.

  3. Impermanence and Acceptance: A recurring theme is the transient nature of life and the importance of accepting our fate with grace and dignity.

  4. Personal Responsibility: Marcus Aurelius stresses the significance of personal responsibility and the idea that our reactions to events, rather than the events themselves, shape our experiences.

“Be like the cliff against which the waves continually break; but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.”
― Marcus Aurelius

Page Break Image of a Greek Temple

3. Letters by Seneca

The “Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca are a collection of 124 letters written by the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca to his friend Lucilius Junior.

The letters, written towards the end of Seneca’s life around 65 AD, are both a guide to Stoic philosophy and a personal reflection on Seneca’s own experiences and thoughts.

“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.”

– Seneca

They cover a range of topics, including the nature of the good life, the importance of self-control, the transient nature of fame and wealth, and the value of friendship. Amazingly most of what Seneca covers is still relevant thousands of years later, meaning that we can read these letters and apply their teachings to things we’re struggling with today.

These letters, written in the first century AD, are some of the best practical Stoicism we have today and provide a window into real-world letters between friends and wisdom that uses Stoic philosophy in the application of daily life.

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

– Seneca

Further reading:

The books above are my top three; however, there are more Stoic texts that you may well find valuable or even prefer over the texts outlined above.

If you’re interested in reading more Stoic philosophy, here’s a list of further reading:

  1. “Enchiridion” by Epictetus – A short manual of Epictetus’ philosophical teachings, compiled by his student Arrian. It focuses on practical advice for living a Stoic life.

  2. “On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca – An essay in which Seneca reflects on the nature of time, the shortness of human life, and how to live wisely and fully within the time we have.

  3. “On the Happy Life” by Seneca – Another of Seneca’s essays, this one discussing what constitutes true happiness and how it can be achieved through Stoic practice.

  4. “On the Brevity of Life” by Seneca – Similar in theme to “On the Shortness of Life,” this work delves into how people waste much of their life and how one can live a more meaningful existence.

  5. “Fragments” by Heraclitus – While Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic philosopher and not strictly a Stoic, his writings influenced the development of Stoicism, particularly his doctrines about the constant change and unity of opposites in the universe.

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