EPICTETUS THE STOIC: The Unknown Philosopher!

This philosopher's real name remains unknown - "Epictetus" simply means "slave".

EPICTETUS THE STOIC: The Unknown Philosopher!

written by Fred Van Lente drawn by Ryan Dunlavey colored by Adam Guzowski

Script for Action Philosophers: Epictetus the Stoic



Panel 1: Epictetus the Stoic is down on his hands on knees like Cindarella, scrubbing the tile of an Imperial Roman villa – while he’s daydreaming (in a big thought balloon) about Zeno of Citium (different than the Zeno’s Paradox Zeno) and his students, who loiter out in front of a stoa and pour out a 40 for the homies. Yuppie Romans pass by and stare at them dubiously. If Socrates’ followers were punks, Zeno’s are hip-hop corner boyz.


CAPTION: This philosopher’s real name remains UNKNOWN – “Epictetus” simply means “SLAVE”. 

CAPTION: His Roman MASTER allowed him to be tutored in a school of thought developed by ZENO OF CITIUM, a city on the southeast coast of what is now CYPRUS. 

CAPTION: This philosophy got its name from Zeno’s habit of hanging out in the STOA, or porticos of buildings.

CREDITS (small): Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Ryan Dunlavey
But it’s not like we’re PROUD of it or anything. 

CREDITS 2 (small): (We’re not ASHAMED, either.) 

Panel 2: Zeno holds up an egg that we can see through a cross-section to its three component parts: shell, white, yolk. (Quote: After Aristotle 60)

CAPTION: Diogenes writes that the Stoics thought of philosophy like an EGG:

CAPTION: “The shell is LOGIC, next comes the white, ETHICS, and the yolk in the center is PHYSICS.”

Panel 3: Pantheism in comics form: God walks down the street in front of the God building, pass God in a dress pushing a baby God in a bassinet; the stop sign on the corner even says “GOD”. The building they walk past is the “GOD BLDG.”, etc. (After Aristotle 80) 

CAPTION: All Stoic PHYSICAL THEORY returns to the idea that GOD IS IN ALL THINGS.

CAPTION: There are two PRINCIPLES for the universe, the ACTIVE and the PASSIVE. 

CAPTION: MATTER is the passive form of GOD and God is the active form of MATTER. 


Panel 1: God unfurls his fingers – which form various people, including Zeno, Epictetus, and Seneca. (After Aristotle 94)

CAPTION: The Roman Stoic SENECA writes:

SENECA: Why should you not believe that something of DIVINITY exists in one who is part of GOD? 

SENECA: The whole universe which contains us is ONE, and is GOD; we are His associates and His MEMBERS.  

Panel 2: Romans gather around a plane tree that is sprouting lyres. (Ibid.)

CAPTION: Zeno himself uses THIS analogy: 

CAPTION: “If PLANE TREES bore LYRES resounding melodiously, you would also naturally think that MUSIC existed in PLANE TREES.” 

CAPTION: “Why, therefore, is the WORLD not considered ANIMATE and INTELLIGENT, when it produces from ITSELF animate and intelligent beings?” 

Panel 3: Epictetus (in chains) hands his toga-and-laurel-wearing Roman master a wad of cash, and in exchange his master gives Epictetus the key to the shackles around his wrists. (After Aristotle 101)

CAPTION: NOTHING, as PLUTARCH says, “either rests or is moved otherwise than according to the reason of GOD, which is the same thing as FATE.” 

CAPTION: Little wonder that such a FATALISTIC outlook attracted adherents among SLAVES… 

CAPTION: …but our nameless hero wanted to CONTINUE to preach Stoicism in Rome even AFTER he earned his FREEDOM! 

Panel 4: The Emporer Domitian watches a raft set drift away from the coast – on it are Epictetus and a bunch of other philosophers (including: Sartre, Descartes, Kierkegaard, etc. … Your favorites. Not Plato or Aristotle, though. They’re dead.

CAPTION: Unfortunately for HIM, the paranoid Emperor Domitian EXILED all philosophers from the Imperial capital in AD 94. 



Panel 1: Epictetus has gathered his own homie followers in a stoa in Greece. A curler-wearing housewife and muu-muu who lives there points angrily at the sign on one pillar: “NO LOITERING”.

CAPTION: Epictetus wound up in GREECE, specifically EPIRUS, where his teachings really began to CATCH on.

CAPTION: After he died around 127, his student FLAVIUS ARRIAN assembled his teachings into eight DISCOURSES

Panel 2: Epictetus addresses the reader. (133)

CAPTION: --the ETHICAL parts of which he condensed into the Enchiridion (MANUAL), which famously begins:

EPICTETUS: Of all existing things, some are IN our power, and others are NOT in our power.  

Panel 3: Same shot: Inside Epictetus’s outline is the raging cosmos. Outside him is white—Blank background. 

EPICTETUS: IN our power are thought, impulse, will to GET and will to AVOID…

EPICTETUS: …in a word, everything which IS our own doing.

CAPTION: Things in our power are by nature FREE, unhindered, untrammeled. 

Panel 4: Same shot: Epictetus’s outline is completely filled in. Around him is a screaming boss – a ringing phone – a crying child. 

EPICTETUS: Things NOT in our power include the body, property, reputation, office…

EPICTETUS: …in a word, everything which is NOT our own doing. 

CAPTION: Things not in our power are weak, servile, subject to hindrance, dependent on OTHERS. 

Panel 5: Crystal Skillman’s relatives try to drag her toward an airport gate – she fearfully resists, holding a newspaper with the headline “TERRORISM”! In a thought balloon imagines an EXPLOSION. 

CAPTION: Remember then that if you imagine what is naturally SLAVISH is free, and what is naturally another’s is your OWN…

CAPTION: …you will be HAMPERED, you will MOURN, you will be put to CONFUSION, you will blame gods and MEN. 

Panel 6: Crystal lies asleep in an airplane seat as clouds pass overhead. 

CAPTION: But if you think that only your own belongs to you, and that what is another’s is indeed another’s…

CAPTION: ….NO ONE WILL HARM YOU, you will have no enemy, for no harm can TOUCH you. 


Panel 1: Epictetus sticking above the panels below, addressing the reader. 

EPICTETUS: Aiming then at these LOFTY MATTERS, you must remember that to ATTAIN them requires more than ORDINARY effort. 

EPICTETUS: You will have to give up some things entirely, and put others off for the MOMENT.

EPICTETUS: And if you would have status and wealth, you may FAIL to get them, just because your desire is set on the FORMER…

EPICTETUS: …and you will CERTAINLY fail to attain those things which alone bring freedom and HAPPINESS. 

Panel 2: In the airport gate waiting area, Crystal coolly holds up a hand at this floating, nasty Meanie of Fear that tries to attack. Closing her eyes, she speaks. 

CAPTION: Make it your study then to confront EVERY harsh impression with the words:

CRYSTAL: You are but an IMPRESSION, and not at all what you SEEM TO BE. 

Panel 3: Crystal administers a standardized S.A.T. test to the Meanie, who hunkers over a seat at the gate and works on it. She strides behind it like a schoolmarm, holding a ruler behind her back. 

CAPTION: Then TEST IT by those rules that you POSSESS; and first by THIS:  

MEANIE: “Are you concerned with what is in MY power or with what is NOT in my power?” Hmmm… 

Panel 4: Crystal stamps a failing “F” on the Meanie’s test while it looks on fearfully. 

CAPTION: And if it is concerned with what is NOT in your power… 

CRYSTAL: I have NO control over what EVIL PEOPLE might do! 

Panel 5: From his cave hideout, Osama bin Laden gnashes his teeth in fury as he sees on his TV monitor that Crystal proudly hands her ticket to the gate check girl. 

CAPTION: …be ready with the answer that it is NOTHING TO YOU.


Panel 6: An upside-down Epictetus sticks out from under the cluster of four panels like his twin above (feel free to stat) and says: 

EPICTETUS: What troubles men are not THINGS, but rather the JUDGMENTS they make about things. 

EPICTETUS: For example, DEATH has nothing about it to be feared, or else it would have appeared fearful to SOCRATES. 

EPICTETUS: But the JUDGMENT that death has something fearful about it—THAT is what is FEARFUL. 



Panel 1: Big panel depicts Crystal at a lavish feast with the Greco-Roman gods: Zeus, Athena, Diana, Apollo, Mercury… All our faves. She accepts a plate of food as it’s passed around. 

CAPTION: Remember that you should behave in life as at a BANQUET. 

CAPTION: When the dish that is being passed around comes to you, reach out your hand and take it with discretion. 

CAPTION: If it has not yet ARRIVED, do not ANTICIPATE it from afar with your DESIRES – WAIT until it REACHES you. 

CAPTION: Do the same with status, love, and MONEY, and you will be worthy to sit ONE DAY at the table of the GODS. 

Panel 2: God hands out scripts to costumed actors in the rear of a theatre—one is a clown, one is a black top-hat wearing Jack the Ripper type, one is a heroic explorer type… 

CAPTION: Remember that you are an ACTOR of a role that the author wanted a CERTAIN WAY; 

CAPTION: SHORT, if he wanted it short;

CAPTION: LONG, if he wanted it long;

CAPTION: It is up to you to PLAY WELL the character that is GIVEN to you. 

CAPTION: But CHOOSING it—that is up to someone ELSE. 

Panel 3: A nerd gets pounded senseless in a boxing ring – while a computer nearby spits sparks and smokes, having gone unrepaired.  (After Aristotle 144)

CAPTION: If you try to act a part BEYOND your powers, you not only disgrace YOURSELF with it…

CAPTION: …but you NEGLECT the part which you COULD have filled with SUCCESS.

Panel 4: A placid-looking Epictetus walks up to the “RETURNS” window at a department store, which is manned by a bored-looking God. Epictetus carries a child-sized coffin with a wreath on it. Behind him, mourners wail at the child’s death. (135)

CAPTION: Never say of anything, “I LOST IT”, but say, “I gave it BACK.” 

CAPTION: Has your ESTATE been taken from you? It was given back. Has your SON died? Was not this also given back?  

CAPTION: But you say, “He who took it from me is WICKED.” 

CAPTION: What does it matter to you through whom the Giver asked it back? As long as Zeus gives it to you, take care of it, but not as your OWN; treat it as passers-by treat an INN. 


Panel 1: Epictetus walks across a panel border – on the left hand side is a serene Aegean Sea beach; on the other, the stoa, where indignant passersby criticize him and pelt him with rocks

CAPTION: Determine for YOURSELF as of NOW a way of life, a plan of conduct that you will FOLLOW; both when you are ALONE and when you find yourself with others. 

CAPTION: When you do something after having recognized that it is necessary to do it, do not fear being SEEN doing it, even if the CROWD must judge it UNFAVORABLY. 

CAPTION: If you are WRONG to do it, avoid the action ITSELF; if you are RIGHT, why do you fear those who will be wrong to BLAME you? 

Panel 2: Epictetus approaches a critic who is bad-mouthing him – his word balloon is filled with death’s-heads and daggers. 

CAPTION: Pay no heed to what OTHERS say about you… 

Panel 3: Epictetus freaks out his critic because he grabs the word balloon out of the air like it was corporeal! 

CAPTION: …for this is something BEYOND your own control. 

Panel 4: The critic runs away as Epictetus uses the pointer of the word balloon to saw away the right hand side of the panel. 

CAPTION: Once one has lost the sense of MEASURE… 

Panel 5: Epictetus walks right OUT of the panel and out of the comic, receding into the distance on a field of white, his footsteps the only trail out of this panel to the next…

CAPTION: …there is no longer any LIMIT.