Sayings Collections and Spiritual Exercises

In: The Sermon on the Mount and Spiritual Exercises

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Chapter two presents the evidence that leads many scholars of antiquity to conclude that some ancient sayings collections formed the basis for practices intended to transform practitioners into particular ethical ideals, for what the historian of philosophy Pierre Hadot calls “spiritual exercises.” It examines Epicurus’ Kyriai Doxai and Epictetus’ Encheiridion, both widely considered the bases for such exercises, to discern how one might know that a particular gnomic work is an instrument intended for use in transformative work on oneself. It describes Epicurus’ ideal self and then show that his Kyriai Doxai restates that ideal in gnomic form and that further evidence internal to the work and external to it (e.g., Epicurus’ other writings as well as testimonia about the Kyriai Doxai) indicates that it facilitates a spiritual exercise that enables one to become that idealized self. It shows the same for Epictetus and the Encheiridion.