Greek Stoicism in 18th-century Russia

EPIKTIT [EPICTETUS], Kevit Fiveiskii [CEBES of Thebes] and Grigorii POLETIKA (translator)

Epiktita stoicheskago filosofa Enkhiridion i Apofoegmy i Kevita Fiveiskago Kartina ili Izobrazhenie zhitiia chelovecheskago

[Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher's Enchiridion and Apothegms; and The Picture, or a Representation of the Life of Man, by Cebes of Thebes]

Publication: Sanktpeterburg, Imp. Akad. nauk, 1759.

EPIKTIT [EPICTETUS], Kevit Fiveiskii [CEBES of Thebes] and Grigorii POLETIKA (translator), Epiktita stoicheskago filosofa Enkhiridion i Apofoegmy i Kevita Fiveiskago Kartina ili Izobrazhenie zhitiia chelovecheskago

An important edition: the first of Epictetus and Cebes in Russia, and one of the first translations of Greek into Russian. Very rare: no copy traced outside Russia.

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Our Notes & References

First Russian edition of Epictetus and of the ‘Tabula’, then attributed to Cebes of Thebes as his only extant work – at the same time one of the very first translations of Ancient Greek into Russian, by the first systematic translator of Greek into Russian.

Rare: although copies are found in Russian institutions, we could not trace any example in WorldCat nor at auctions outside Russia. It is apparently “surviving only in a limited number of copies” (Bronzov).

Epictetus’ stoic philosophy became particularly influential and widespread in Europe of the 15th and 16th centuries thanks in particular to Latin versions of two works gathering extracts of his teachings: the ‘Apothegms’ [The Discourses] and the ‘Enchiridion’ [Manual], preserved by his student Arrian of Nicomedia.

Russia however was reached only later: “it was not until the great reformer [Peter the Great] and the founding of Petersburg in 1703 that the classical culture of antiquity was firmly established in Russia” (Meynieux, our translation here and below). Yet printed texts remained extremely scarce until the second half of the 18th century – especially direct translations from the original Greek. Except most notably Mikhail Lomonosov’s anthology ‘Ritorika’ in 1748 (with excerpts from works by Homer, Anacreon, Demosthenes, Lucian and Latin poets) and indirect translations of Aesop around the same time, the first significant works of Greek thinkers appeared in a series of groundbreaking translations from the original Greek, all due to the industrious Grigorii Poletika (1725-84). A member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences but also a pro-Ukrainian political figure, Poletika published only Aristotle’s ‘Politics’ (1757) before this Epictetus, and Xenophon the same year (as well as another work a few years later).

Poletika’s long preface is of particular interest, as he states as his main goal the enrichment of the Russian language and the enlightenment of society: “is it not by [the translation of the classics] that many European nations spread science and knowledge, enriched their languages, eliminated rudeness and ignorance?” This contribution proved to be crucial for the subsequent development of the Russian language, laying the foundations for the Golden Age of Russian literature: “one of the extremely important roles of translators in 18th-c. Russia was contributing to the creation of the Russian literary language. The written Russian language up to then was cluttered with Slavonicisms and was generally disconcertingly poor in vocabulary outside of religious usage” (Meynieux).

Poletika wasn’t the first to attempt a translation of Epictetus – but he certainly was the first to publish it, next to his other translations. Apparently at least five translations of the ‘Enchiridion’ were made in the first decades of the 18th century, including one from Latin by the Swedish linguist and diplomat Johan Sparfwenfeldt (1710), and one from Greek by the poet Antiokh Kantemir (1744); the other three did not survive (Bulanin), and neither of the five were published.

For this first Russian edition of Epictetus, Poletika analysed European translations and laid out his own approach to translation: avoiding both literalism and excessive freedom, following the Greek original, and “in dark and ambiguous parts” addressing critical interpretations. He also included a short biography of the stoic philosopher, taken from the French philologist Gilles Boileau (1631-69).

Epictetus is here complemented by what was then considered to be the only extant work by the Ancient philosopher Cebes of Thebes (c. 430 – 350 BC), his ‘Tabula’ (also known as ‘Tablet’, or ‘Pinax’, and here translated into Russian as ‘Picture’). Poletika notes in the preface: “Of Cebes and his writings I can tell you, favoured reader, nothing more than that he, according to Diogenes Laërtius, was a pupil of Socrates, and wrote three discourses, of which two are lost, and the third, called Tabula, survived to our times; and that Plato mentions him in a discourse called Phaedo, or On The Soul, counting him among the friends of Socrates” […] This work has been published in almost all European languages, for the most part together with Enchiridion”. It is now believed that Tabula may be a later work, written by somebody else.

Kantemir had also worked on a translation, in 1729, but this wasn’t published until 1868.

Printed by Poletika’s Academy of Sciences, the best press of the country at the time, the book uses pleasant Cyrillic types, and occasionally Greek in the footnotes. Poletika dedicated his work to the prominent philanthropist and curator of Moscow Imperial University Ivan Ivanovich Shuvalov.

A second edition followed in 1767; many other Russian translations of Epictetus and Cebes were later published, together, but based on French and German translations instead of the original Greek.


Title with “№1555” in ink and blind stamped initials “P. Y” under a nobility crown; lower flyleaf with “Numa [?] Pompillia” in brown ink, and traces of 20th-c. bookdealer ink stamp.


SK 8650; Sopikov 3733; Guberti, I, № 93; Bitovt 1294; Smirdin 1274.

Aleksandr Bronzov, “Okhristianizovannyi “Enkhiridion” stoika Epikteta” // Khristianskoe chtenie, 1904, #7, pp. 59-74.

Dmitrii Bulanin, “‘Enkhiridion’ Epikteta (Slavianskii perevod)”, Slovo sv. 73, Zagreb 2023, pp. 45–61.

André Meynieux, “L’antiquité gréco-latine en Russie de Pierre-le-Grand à l’âge d’or”, Bulletin de l’Association Guillaume Budé, # 3, 1961, pp. 360-375.

Fu Khen, “Perevod A. D. Kantemira traktata ‘Kartina’ Kebeta Fivanskogo” // Uchenye zapiski Petrozavodskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta, T. 43, #3, 2021.

Item number



Physical Description

Duodecimo (16 × 10 cm). Title, [28] pp. dedication and preface, 230 pp., errata leaf.


Contemporary Russian calf, spine with raised bands, red edges.


Spine restored, spine and boards a bit creased and rubbed, title piece rubbed out; small damp stain in lower internal corner throughout, occasional minor marginal soiling; still a pleasant, crisp example.

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