Someone Set on Becoming a God
On the Discourses of Epictetus, the ancient framework for building mental fitness and becoming invulnerable to the vicissitudes of fate.
“Idiots,” cried a sick Diogenes at the passersby on their way to see the games—presumably the Olympics—“where are you going in such a hurry? You are going a great distance to see those damned athletes compete; why not stop a bit to see a man do combat with illness?” For the famed Cynic philosopher, competitive sports are an external amusement, a diversion. An internal struggle of much greater importance, and one that is no less challenging, is happening every moment within each of us: the battle between our impulses and our will. These are the real Olympics. And the one who conquers his transient passions, desires, anxieties and fears wins something more valuable than a golden trophy: freedom and inner tranquility.
What good is all the knowledge in the world if you are incapable of overcoming even your basic impulses? The study of the external world may help a scholar reach the top of his or her field, but if they have not spent time mastering themselves, their behavior will be at the mercy of such base things as greed, envy, anxiety and fear. They might know how to plot the motion of celestial bodies or chart the human genome, but will still be incapable of restraining their base nature, incapable of acting as a decent human being. Addressing such so-called philosophers, the Stoic sage Epictetus does not hold back: “please stop representing yourself as a philosopher, you affected fool!1 You still experience envy, pity, jealousy and fear, and hardly a day passes that you don’t whine to the gods about your life.2 Some philosopher!” The product of learning should not be a learned human being, but a good one.
Reflecting on the Stoics fifteen centuries later, Descartes observed that by conquering themselves rather than the world, the ancient philosophers were “able to free themselves from the tyranny of fortune, or, despite suffering and poverty, to rival the gods in happiness.”3 For Epictetus, a philosopher is not someone who spends his time contemplating abstract ideas, but someone who works on perfecting himself by strengthening his soul against “disturbing thoughts about illness, danger, death, exile or loss of reputation.” The philosopher aims at attaining freedom by detaching himself from the wheel of fate—he is, in Epictetus’ words, “someone set on becoming a god rather than a man.” Going still further, Seneca suggests that a philosopher actually surpasses a god in one thing, for “a god has nature to thank for his immunity from fear, while a wise man can thank his own efforts for this.”4
Can such a thing be taught? “It can … it’s the only thing within our power.”
Don’t add to your troubles
Epictetus was born around AD 50 into slavery.5 His master allowed him to study under the Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus. After he gained freedom sometime in AD 68, he began teaching Stoicism in Rome, later moving to Nicopolis when Emperor Domitian began persecuting philosophers in the capital. What we know of his teaching comes from two texts derived from notes taken down by one of his students, Arrian6: the Discourses and the Enchiridion. The latter means “handbook” in Greek, and is a compact summary of Epictetus’ principles. The former is more akin to lecture notes, a record of conversations between Epictetus and his students. These works had a profound influence on many of history’s greatest thinkers. The philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius cites Epictetus in his Meditations, the philosophers of the French Enlightenment—Voltaire, Montesquieu and Denis Diderot—all studied Epictetus, as did the Scottish philosophers Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson. Leo Tolstoy cites Epictetus extensively in his Circle of Reading. In this article I will cover what I believe to be the key principles from the Discourses (I covered the Enchiridion in another article). There are many ideas in the Discourses—here I will focus on the foundation upon which the rest stands.
The key principle of Stoic philosophy, as taught by Epictetus, is the idea of the dichotomy of control. Simply put, some things are under our control, other things are not. Our task is to differentiate between the two, and, once we make the distinction, to focus our attention only on what is under our control—i.e. desiring only what we can get, and wanting to avoid only what we can avoid.
How can we tell the two apart? It’s very simple. All that is internal to us is under our control, all that is external is not. The things that are internal to us are our impressions, judgements, will and reason—i.e. the ways we see and interpret the world and how we decide to act. These are the only things that are wholly in our power. Everything external is, without exception, outside of our control. This includes fame, status, wealth, friends, family and health. We can take actions to attain external things, increasing our chances of getting them, but the outcome will still ultimately rest in the hands of fate. An accident, a natural disaster, a war, an incurable illness—all such things can instantly bring an end to our plans and even our lives. We may do everything in our power to achieve a goal and still fail because the outcome is never guaranteed.
“There is one road to peace and happiness,” says Epictetus, and it is “renunciation of externals.” Once you realize that you do not control externals, you should not desire or wish to avoid them. Let fate decide the outcome. Doing this will liberate you, Epictetus suggests, for renouncing externals is like freeing yourself from a burden: “The gods have released you from accountability for your parents, your siblings, your body, your possessions—for death and for life itself. They made you responsible only for what is in your power—the proper use of impressions. So why take on the burden of matters which you cannot answer for?”
On the other hand, obsessing over externals corrupts our character. Epictetus illustrates this by painting a picture of children playing on a street. If someone were to scatter dried figs and nuts, the children would come rushing, and would fight one another over these things, pulling, pushing and shoving each other. Now, if a dried fig were to fall into your hands, then sure, eat it, but it is not worth it to stoop down to pick it up, and even less so to fight others over it. Yet this is what grown men and women do, pushing and shoving each other like children to get this or that external good—a contract, a job, an office. But if someone were to scatter empty shells, even the children would not seize them. When we realize how hollow and transient the things we are striving for are, we will see that we are debasing ourselves for the sake of empty shells.
“Well, should I not desire health, then?” asks a student.
“No—nor, for that matter, anything else outside the limits of your authority; and whatever you cannot produce or preserve at will lies outside your range.” The moment you focus your desires on something external, you become a slave. “If you hanker after externals you are going to be twirled round and round at the will of your master. ‘Who’s my “master”?’ Whoever controls what you desire or dislike.” This may be people, or it may be nature. Unless the object of your desires or aversions is under your control, you will always experience anxiety and suffering because you will never get everything you want.
Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, paints a metaphor of a dog tied to a cart. When the cart moves, the dog may choose to follow the cart or remain where it is. But whatever it chooses, the dog will still have to follow the cart, either willingly on its feet, or by being dragged after it. To go along with the cart is to accept your fate, to not want things to be any other way. Resisting fate will not change the outcome, only the amount of suffering that will accompany it. As it is said in the Talmud: “The one who wrestles with his circumstances will find that his circumstances will wrestle with him in turn, but the one who yields to them will find that they will yield to him.”7
When one morning Agrippinus8 was told that he was being tried at the Senate, he simply carried on with his usual daily routine of taking his bath and exercising. Later that day, he was informed that he was condemned. “To exile or death?” he asked. “To exile.” And his villa, was it confiscated? No, he was told that he still had it. “Well then, let us go to my villa in Aricia and have lunch there.” There is no point feeling upset or even thinking about the things you cannot change. “I don’t add to my troubles,” he used to say.
Don’t sell your integrity cheap
This principle has a surprising implication. Nothing that is outside of our control is good or bad, advantageous or harmful. Everything is indifferent—it just is. Only the things under our control—our judgements and decisions—are good or bad. “Where will I find the good and bad? In me, in my choices. Don’t ever speak of ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ ‘advantage’ or ‘harm,’ and so on, of anything that is not your responsibility.” For a philosophy that focuses wholly on the internal, value judgements have a wholly moral character, i.e. they only apply to what we do, not what happens to us. We judge things well or badly, we make good or bad decisions. All externals, however, all outcomes, both “favorable” and otherwise, are completely indifferent. Value judgements are inapplicable to what is beyond our control.
“Well, does that mean that we shouldn’t care how we use [externals]?” asks a student.
“Not at all,” replies Epictetus. “In fact, it is morally wrong not to care, and contrary to our nature. Be careful how you use them, because it’s not unimportant—but at the same time be calm and composed, because things in themselves don’t matter.”
The consequence of this worldview is that misfortune is not bad in itself. What is good or bad is how we react to it, how we bear it. Take, for example, an illness. Do you endure it with patience and dignity without disturbing others, or do you groan and complain to everyone around you? Or take a mistake that someone has made which caused you problems and inconvenience. Do you scream at them in their face (or behind their back), or do you accept what has occurred and move on, focusing instead on what you can do to make things better? All externals, both fortune and misfortune, are material for your actions. The material itself is not important—the things do not matter in themselves. What matters is what you make of them. A person struck by misfortune can be magnificent by acting with patience, composure and perseverance. On the other hand, someone experiencing material fortune may find his morals and character degenerate, his material wealth might come at the price of something more valuable: his human dignity.
But surely being healthy is good and sick bad, objects a student. “No, my friend,” replies Epictetus, “enjoying health in the right way is good; making bad use of your health is bad.” Even illness and death can benefit us, and there are plenty of examples of people who sacrificed their lives for a greater good. Had they chosen to keep their lives, such people “would have acquired the reputation for being timid, mean, treacherous and weak.” A boxer must train with a sparring partner if he wants to get better. He would not complain and weep if he gets hit, because he is fighting to improve. Likewise, you must view adversity as such a sparring partner, using everything it throws at you as an opportunity to practice your virtue. As the Stoic Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius put it: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
What you are prepared to put up with and how high a price you are prepared to pay for your values is up to you. When Helvidius Priscus9 was told by Emperor Vespasian not to come to the Senate, he said:
“You can disqualify me as a senator. But as long as I do remain a member I must join the assembly.”
“Well join, then, but don’t say anything,” said the emperor.
“Don’t call on me for my vote and I won’t say anything.”
“But I must call on you for your vote.”
“And I have to give whatever answer I think is right.”
“Answer, and I will kill you.”
“Did I ever say I was immortal? You do your part, and I will do mine. It is your part to kill me, mine to die without flinching; your part to exile me, mine to leave without protest.”
A lesser senator would have been happy to oblige the emperor, who would not even have stopped him coming to the Senate, being sure that if such a person were ever to open his mouth, only words in his favor would exit it. Epictetus goes on to tell the story of an athlete whose disease required the amputation of his genitals to save his life. He chose death over indignity. “Someone else might have even allowed his head to be removed, if his life could have been saved thereby,” quips Epictetus. The things you value and what you are prepared to sacrifice for them are up to you. “You are the one who knows yourself—which is to say, you know how much you are worth in your own estimation, and therefore at what price you will sell yourself; because people sell themselves at different rates … Consider at what price you sell your integrity; but please, for God’s sake don’t sell it cheap.”
After a failed conspiracy against him, Emperor Nero ordered one of the culprits, Plautius Lateranus10, to be executed by beheading. He was rushed to the chopping block without being given the time to say goodbye to his family. “He held out his neck willingly to take the blow—but the blow was deficient, so he recoiled a bit, but then had enough self-command to to offer his neck a second time.” What is more remarkable is that his executioner, Statius Proxumus, was a co-conspirator. Lateranus chose to keep silent and spare the life of the man who was about to kill him. “Death and pain are not frightening,” says Epictetus, “it’s the fear of pain and death we need to fear. Which is why we praise the poet who wrote, ‘Death is not fearful, but dying like a coward is.’”11
Freedom is a choice
Being ready to pay the ultimate price is, according to Diogenes, the only way to guarantee complete freedom. In a letter to the king of Persia, Diogenes used the metaphor of the fish to explain why the Athenians could never become slaves. “Capture them, and straight away they’ll give you the slip and be gone, like fish, which die directly they are caught and taken on board. And if the Athenians die when taken captive, what good in the end is all your military might?”12
This might sound like a piece of fanfaronade, but courageous individuals have shown this principle to be true. In his account of his time in slavery in the American South, Frederick Douglass recounts how his life forever changed the moment he chose dignity over life. After a life of being abused and treated like a brute, Douglass could stand it no more. When an especially cruel slave master called Covey tried to whip him, he resisted, choosing to fight to the death rather than face more humiliation. They fought for nearly two hours, after which Covey let him go, pretending that he had whipped him. After the fight, his material conditions did not change, he was still a captive, but his mindset was never the same. He had set a price for his dignity, beyond which he was not prepared to go. He accepted his material circumstances, but not humiliation:
I felt as I never felt before. It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom. My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day has passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.13
Incredibly, from that day on he was never whipped again. Douglass writes that he does not know exactly why that was the case, why Covey did not immediately retaliate. One explanation he gives is that since Covey had a reputation for being able to break all his slaves, he did not want to risk it by sending one of them to the whipping-post. Whatever the case, this act of defiance allowed him to shatter the chains that kept his spirit enslaved.
“A slave urgently prays to be emancipated,” Epictetus says, “because he imagines that, lacking liberty, he’s been thwarted and unhappy all his life up to then. ‘Once I’m set free,’ he says, ‘everything will be roses right away. I won’t have to wait on anybody, I can talk to everyone as an equal and a peer, travel wherever I like, come and go as I please.” But the moment he is liberated he realizes that he still has to get his bread and a roof over his head. So now, instead of worrying only about the tasks his master sets him, he has to worry about feeding himself, clothing himself, finding himself a place to stay and getting treatment when he is sick. Moreover, while he previously had only one master, he now has hundreds. He is forced to please everyone he wants to get something from.
The slave then thinks that the humiliations are temporary, that once he becomes rich he will not need to please anybody. And so he becomes rich, but his troubles do not go away, his masters only change names. Moreover, his riches only add to his anxiety. Whereas previously he had nothing to lose, he now has to worry about keeping his wealth secure. He becomes a slave to his own wealth. And it is the same story with glory. A person has to suffer endless hardships in the military to win fame, or to ingratiate himself before others to get a public office. But even if he becomes a senator, he merely “becomes a slave in fine company,” and experiences “the poshest and most prestigious form of enslavement.” Material goods cannot give you freedom, other people cannot liberate you, it is something you have to choose for yourself. As long as attach your happiness to externals, you will never be free. “Freedom is not achieved by satisfying desire, but by eliminating it.”
Recall the principle of the dichotomy of control. Total freedom is achieved only when you only want the things you can get, and only want to avoid the things you can avoid. Everything then happens according to your will, not some other person or force. Douglass set a price on his dignity beyond which he was not prepared to go—he chose not to get whipped again—but he also accepted the material reality of his situation. This does not mean that he resigned himself to it—far from it. He worked on and successfully achieved his escape. The difference was that he battled against his material prison as a free man.
But surely we cannot want unpleasant or painful things to happen to us? Would that not be madness? No, argues, Epictetus, just the opposite, for “to arbitrarily wish for things to happen that arbitrarily seem to you best is not good, it’s disgraceful.” In other words, to wait for things that are outside our power to be realized is to become a slave to fate. On the other hand, to welcome everything that happens to us as an opportunity to display our virtues is to set ourselves free. It is not the things that happen to us that are good or bad, but the way we act in response to them. Friedrich Nietzsche captured this idea in what he called amor fati—the love of fate—“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it … but love it.”14
The punishment for sin is sin
But what about other people? Surely there are bad people in the world, people who do harm to us and to others—should they not be punished? In reply to a student who asked Epictetus whether we should do away with thieves and other criminals, the philosopher suggests rephrasing the question: should we do away with people who cannot distinguish between black and white, people who are morally blind, that is, who cannot tell apart good from bad? “Put it that away, and you’ll realize how inhumane your position is. It is as if you were to say, ‘Shouldn’t this blind man, and this deaf man, be executed?’” Just as a blind person has very poor eyesight, or none at all, a wrongdoer is one who has moral blindness—one who does not know how to live well. Moreover, retaliation is self-destructive:
‘Well, does that mean that if someone wrongs me I shouldn’t hurt them in return?’ First of all, look at what wrongdoing is and remember what you have heard about it from philosophers. Because if ‘good’ as well as ‘bad’ really relate to our choices, then consider whether your position does not amount to saying something like, ‘Well, since that guy hurt himself with the injustice he did me, shouldn’t I wrong him in order to hurt myself in retaliation?’
Epictetus is not concerned with outcomes, only conduct, because for him only conduct can be considered good or bad. Consequently, those who commit bad deeds already suffer thereby, for they lose one or more of their human qualities—e.g. trustworthiness, compassion, kindness, honor, courage. Yielding to vice may grant them short term material rewards or the temporary satisfaction of their passions, but it damages the very things that make them worthy human beings. “A sorehead incurs one kind of loss, a coward another—but no one is bad without loss or penalty of some kind.” Or, as Augustine put it, “the punishment for sin is sin.”
“And what punishment do you foresee for the master who puts his own slave in chains?” asks a student.
“The act itself of putting him in chains—an idea even you will accept if you have any wish to honor the principle that human beings are civilized animals, not beasts,” replies Epictetus. “The victim may be majestic in suffering, you see, and come through a better, more fortunate person; while the one who really comes to harm, who suffers the most and the most pitifully, is the person who is transformed from human being to wolf, snake or hornet.” “Anytus and Meletus can kill me, but they cannot harm me,” said Socrates, referring to the two Athenians who brought charges against him, which led to his being sentenced to death. Their actions only brought infamy on themselves, while immortalizing the man they had condemned.
Epictetus tells the story of how one day he heard some noise near his household shrine. He rushed down to see what was happening, but when he got there he found that the iron lamp he kept by his shrine was stolen. “I reasoned that the thief who took it must have felt an impulse he couldn’t resist. So I said to myself, ‘Tomorrow you’ll get a cheaper, less attractive one made of clay.’” For Epictetus, it is really the thief who is the victim here. His impulses got the better of him, forcing him to trade something very valuable for a material good. “[H]e acquired the lamp at a price: he became a thief for its sake, for its sake he lost his ability to be trusted, for a lamp he became a brute. And he imagined he came out ahead!” His response (to get a cheaper lamp) is to avoid provoking base instincts in others. “So don’t provoke them—don’t air your clothes at the window!”
Even better, if you can, you should educate the wrongdoer. If we come across someone who is lost, we are not going to get angry at him, we are not going to shout at him or ridicule him—we are just going to show him the right direction and then be off on our way. Likewise, if we know how to lead a better life than another person, we should show him the way. “But as long as you don’t point it out to him,” continues Epictetus, “don’t make fun of him; be aware of what you need to work on instead.”
Lycurgus, the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, is said to have been blinded in one eye by a young citizen. The culprit was seized and brought to Lycurgus, who was to decide how he should be punished. But Lycurgus chose not to repay him in kind. Instead of retribution he gave the man an education, turning a thug into a good man. When he later introduced him at the theater to an indignant crowd, he said: “The person you gave me was violent and aggressive; I’m returning him to you civilized and refined.”
For Epictetus, philosophy is a practical rather than a theoretical discipline. What defines a philosopher is not what he knows, but how he acts. A philosopher who knows all about other people’s ideas but who does not apply them in practice is like an athlete who, upon being asked to show his muscles, replies: “look at my heavy weights.” “What I want to see,” says Epictetus, “isn’t the weights but how you’ve profited from using them.”
The aim of Stoic philosophy is to develop what Epictetus calls mental constitution. “People with a strong physical constitution can tolerate extremes of hot and cold; people of strong mental constitution can handle anger, grief, joy and the other emotions.” The beginning of philosophy is “an awareness of one’s own mental fitness.”
Epictetus tells how Socrates would escort people to a good sophist if they came to him seeking only to learn clever phrases. He would do it the same way one would escort a person looking for some vegetables at a marketplace aisle. The school of a philosopher is not a place to stimulate idle curiously, it is something more akin to a hospital, wherein to improve one has to suffer rather than enjoy oneself. It is easy for smart people to engage in abstract exercises of logic, but the moment someone examines their character, the moment someone points out a fault of theirs, they get angry and defensive. But that is precisely what we should expect from a philosopher and what would benefit us most. After hearing a speech of theirs we should not applaud in agreement and admiration, but should be left thinking: “The philosopher touched a nerve there; I can’t go on acting as I have.”
While a philosopher who teaches us is akin to a doctor who diagnoses our mental condition, or a coach who points where we need to improve, we also have a sparring partner who helps us train and build up our spiritual muscle. The name of this sparring partner is adversity.
The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.
Adversity is thus a kind of sparring partner who attacks you in various ways to try to throw you off balance. A Stoic accepts the punches flying his way as opportunities to develop his mental constitution. He may know the right way to act from books, but his knowledge is worthless until he applies it. “If you didn’t learn these things in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did you learn them for?” asks Epictetus.
Epictetus goes on to suggest a practical way of pursuing mental fitness, outlining something that contemporary self-improvement books revolve around, namely: how to form and strengthen good habits, and how to break bad ones. The advice from two millennia ago still remains current:
Every habit and faculty is formed by strengthened by the corresponding act—walking makes you walk better, running makes you a better runner. If you want to be literate, read, if you want to be a painter, paint. Go a month without reading, occupied with something else, and you’ll see what the result is. And if you’re laid up a mere ten days, when you get up and try to walk any distance you’ll find your legs barely able to support you. So if you like doing something, do it regularly; if you don’t like doing something, make a habit of doing something different.
Epictetus applies the same principle to moral inclinations. If you want to develop a good quality—e.g. patience, kindness, courage, etc.—you can only do so by practicing it. Likewise, if you want to quit a vice, you must break the habit of doing it. Progress happens when you do more of the one and less of the other.
Thus, to improve ourselves we must seize moments of misfortune as opportunities to practice virtue. This is difficult to understand when something unpleasant happens because it automatically disconcerts us, it makes us angry or afraid. As Mike Tyson put it, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Adversity throws a punch at us and our emotions take over. But the way we react is the one and only thing that is wholly in our power. Stop and take a step back. What happened was not actually bad. What is good or bad is how you choose to deal with it. Even simply taking in what happened calmly and patiently already conquers the event. It is a virtuous response. What fate has thrown at you has been turned to advantage if only because it gave you the opportunity to practice self-control. The faculty of self-control has been strengthened, and the next time you experience something bad, it will be easier to remain calm and not leave your actions to the mercy of emotions.
The development of spiritual fortitude is a long and gradual process. It does not happen all at once. Some terrible misfortune is sure to cause emotional havoc if your mental constitution is weak, and all the theory in the world will not help you overcome it. You have to start small. In the Enchiridion, Epictetus talks about overcoming material attachments by “starting with things of little value—a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine.” When some small thing like this is wasted or stolen, say to yourself: “For such a small price I buy tranquility and peace of mind.”
Likewise, whenever you experience some small annoyance or misfortune, instead of getting angry, realize that it is an inexpensive opportunity to develop your self-control and mental stamina. “We should discipline ourselves in small things,” says Epictetus, “and from there progress to things of greater value. If you have a headache, practice not cursing … and I’m not saying that you can’t complain, only don’t complain with your whole being.” And as you do this, remember that “nothing important comes into being overnight; even grapes and figs need time to ripen.” It is not how much you know that will make you better, but how often you keep applying it. Likewise, it is not where you are right now that matters, but where you are heading.
Epictetus says that the two most dangerous vices to a human being are lack of persistence and lack of self-control. People often fail to achieve their goals simply because they give up halfway through the work—or even on the cusp of achieving them. They lack the dedication to push through to completion. Likewise, people get distracted and fall astray because they cannot control their impulses. “Two words,” says Epictetus, “should be committed to memory and obeyed by alternately exhorting and restraining ourselves, words that will ensure we lead a mainly blameless and untroubled life.” Persist and resist.
What Epictetus refers to as "philosophers" would today probably encompass all the fields of intellectual work, from science to journalism. As Leo Tolstoy wrote on the topic, wisdom does not consist in knowing many things, but in knowing what is most important, what is less important, and what is least important. The most important? Knowing "how to live well." (The Circle of Reading, March 16)
The Stoics viewed pity as a negative emotion. The point is not that a Stoic should not care about others—in fact, the Stoics consider it their duty to help others, since they see themselves as a part of a united humankind—but simply that you should not allow reason to be overpowered by emotions.
René Descartes, "Discourse and Method," as cited in Robert Dobbin's introduction to his translation of Epictetus' Discourses. Emphasis mine.
Seneca's Letters from a Stoic (letter 53).
His birth name is unknown; the Greek word ἐπίκτητος means "gained" or "acquired."
Arrian would become better known for his account of the campaigns of Alexander the Great.
Paconius Agrippinus, a Stoic philosopher of the 1st century AD. His father was executed by emperor Tiberius, and he himself suffered exile.
Helvidius Priscus was a Stoic philosopher and statesman who was put to death by Emperor Vespasian sometime between AD 70–79.
Plautius Lateranus was a Roman senator who took part in the failed Pisonian conspiracy against Emperor Nero in AD 65.
Diogenes, the Cynic philosopher of the 4th century BC, taught Crates of Thebes, who then taught Zeno of Citium. Zeno's own school of philosophy became known as Stoicism. Epictetus gives Diogenes and Socrates as examples of truly free men. Asked whether he himself was free, Epictetus replied: "By God I wish I were, and I pray to be; but I still can't face my masters, I continue to value my poor body, I attach great importance to keeping healthy—though it isn't healthy at all."
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Emphasis mine.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.