London: S. Richardson, 1758. Large quarto, measuring 11 x 9 inches: , xlii, 505, . Contemporary calf, raised bands ruled in gilt, red morocco spine label lettered in gilt, edges speckled red. Preliminaries include an ode to Epictetus, twelve-page list of subscribers, Carter’s introduction, and Arrian’s letter; index and appendix at rear. Decorative headpieces, initials, and tailpieces throughout text. Armorial bookplate of John Russell Greenhill, Buckinghamshire (1727-1813). Small chip to margin of first blank, light pencil notes on 62 and 176, lightest shelfwear.
First edition in English of the works of the second-century Stoic philosopher Epictetus, translated from the Greek by Elizabeth Carter. Born a slave, and crippled early in life, Epictetus gained his freedom in Rome and moved to the Adriatic coast, where he opened a school of philosophy. His Discourses were collected by his student Arrian, who also edited the handbook known as the Enchiridion, and collected the fragments translated here. Epictetus understood philosophy as an active pursuit, more difficult than the abstract exercise of logic: “we are eager and loquacious in the Schools; and, when any little Question arises . . . we are prepared to trace its Consequences: but drag us into Practice, and you will find us miserably shipwrecked.” Properly practiced, philosophy is a continual intellectual triumph over personal desires and aversions, liberating us and giving purpose to our lives: “shame doth not consist in not having anything to eat, but in not having reason enough to exempt you from fear and sorrow. But, if you once acquire that exemption, will a tyrant, or his guards and courtiers, be anything to you?” Epictetus’s emphasis on self-knowledge and self-discipline greatly impressed the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who quotes him at length in the Meditations, and his philosophy was read across Renaissance Europe in Latin translation. English translator Elizabeth Carter was a scholar and poet: considered “the most learned lady in England,” she appears in Richard Samuel’s 1778 painting, Nine Living Muses of Great Britain, surrounded by fellow members of the Blue Stocking Circle. Original subscribers to Carter’s Epictetus included Samuel Johnson and Elizabeth Montagu, and her translation remained the English standard for two hundred years. A near-fine copy of a classic of Greek and English literature, in a handsome unrestored contemporary binding.