103 Stoic Quotes on Books and Reading

Updated November 2, 2022

When you spend time reading books, you are able to peer into the minds of other people in a way that can be tremendously beneficial to your own growth and development. At the same time, some of these Stoic quotes on books and reading might surprise you– the great Stoic philosophers often urge themselves and others to practice moderation when it comes to reading books.

How should you approach reading as a person that is trying to apply Stoicism to your daily life? How should you decide what to read and what not to read? Is it better to read as many different books by as many different authors as possible, or should you dive deeply into a smaller array of works by the great masters of history?

Let’s take a look at what advice Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus have to give, in addition to some profound thoughts from other Stoic-minded thinkers.

Marcus Aurelius Quotes About Reading, Books, and Writing

When you think about some of the wisest minds of history, like that of Marcus Aurelius, it’s easy to assume that they would advise everyone to spend as much time reading as possible. After all, doesn’t reading make you wise, and isn’t wisdom one of the cardinal virtues?

Marcus Aurelius, of course, was an incredibly well-read man. From the texts, he references in his Meditations and a number of Roman histories that tell the story of the Stoic philosopher and emperor, we know that Aurelius read the works of great philosophers such as Epictetus, Plato, and Heraclitus. He also read Roman law texts and is thought to have enjoyed reading histories and satires, and even mentions one of Aesop’s fables.

Though obviously an avid reader, Aurelius reminds himself several times in his writings of the importance of another virtue– moderation– in relation to reading. He wisely recognized that even reading can become a crutch and an escape and that there are other duties in life that must be attended to.

marcus aurelius quote about reading and writing

"Mastery of reading and writing requires a master. Still more so life."

– Marcus Aurelius

“He does not write at all whose poems no man reads.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Cast your books from you; distract yourself no more; for you have not the right to do so.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“The Gods watched over me also when I first applied myself to philosophy. For I fell not into the hands of any Sophist, nor sat poring over many volumes, nor devoted myself to solving syllogisms, or star-gazing.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Perhaps there are none more lazy, or more truly ignorant, than your everlasting readers.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“From Alexander the Platonic, not frequently nor without necessity to say to any one, or to write in a letter, that I have no leisure; nor continually to excuse the neglect of duties required by our relation to those with whom we live, by alleging urgent occupations.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“In reading and writing, you cannot lay down rules until you have learnt to obey them. Much more so in life.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius on Learning and Education

As an incredibly educated man, Marcus Aurelius recognized that natural ability plays a huge role in a person’s ability to achieve greatness in life. At the same time, he believed that we can learn to gain power over our own minds to lead a life in accordance with Nature.

marcus aurelius quote about education and natural ability

“Natural ability without education has more often raised a man to glory and virtue than education without natural ability.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Seneca Quotes About Reading and Writing

Like Marcus Aurelius and the other Stoics, Seneca recognized the value of moderation in reading. He writes that we should be careful not to spread ourselves too thin when it comes to choosing which books we read and that we should focus instead on diving deeply into the works of “master thinkers.”

“We ought not to confine ourselves either to writing or to reading; the one, continuous writing, will cast a gloom over our strength, and exhaust it; the other will make our strength flabby and watery. It is better to have recourse to them alternately, and to blend one with the other, so that the fruits of one's reading may be reduced to concrete form by the pen.”

– Seneca

"Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. "

– Seneca

“Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed.”

– Seneca

“It is not how many books thou hast, but how good; careful reading profiteth, while that which is full of variety delighteth.”

– Seneca

“When an author is too meticulous about his style, you may presume that his mind is frivolous and his content flimsy.”

– Seneca

"Whether you are an avid reader, an avid writer, or both, there is much wisdom to be gleaned from what Seneca the Younger has to say about writing. When we write, it is important to understand the duty we have to be truthful. When we read, we should search for ideas that we can apply directly to our lives rather than getting lost in abstraction."

– Seneca

“It is dishonorable to say one thing and think another; how much more dishonorable to write one thing and think another.”

– Seneca

“I have withdrawn not only from men, but from affairs, especially my own affairs; I am working for later generations, writing down some ideas that may be of assistance to them.”

– Seneca

“My advice is really this: what we hear the philosophers saying and what we find in their writings should be applied in our pursuit of the happy life. We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application-not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech-and learn them so well that words become works.”

– Seneca

Seneca Quotes on Books

It is all too easy to get lost in the world of books– Seneca tells us that “the abundance of books is a distraction.” Books are wonderful, incredible things, but we must remember to work on developing our own minds and not simply run around quoting the ideas of others.

seneca image and quote about books

“It does not matter how many books you have, but how good the books are which you have.”

– Seneca

“It is one thing to remember, another to know. To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to the memory. But to know is to make each thing one's own, not depend on the text and always to look back to the teacher. "Zeno said this, Cleanthes said this." Let there be space between you and the book.”

– Seneca

“I am like a book, with pages that have stuck together for want of use: my mind needs unpacking and the truths stored within must be turned over from time to time, to be ready when occasion demands.”

– Seneca

“The book-keeping of benefits is simple: it is all expenditure; if anyone returns it, that is clear gain; if he does not return it, it is not lost, I gave it for the sake of giving.”

– Seneca

“The abundance of books is distraction.”

– Seneca

Seneca on Learning and Education

Seneca the Younger teaches us that “virtue is something which must be learned” and that learning how to live is something we have to continue doing for the whole of our lives. Rather than seeing education as a box, you check off somewhere in your teens or twenties. Education is a life-long pursuit.

“Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.”

– Seneca

"As long as you live, keep learning how to live. To err is human, but to persist in the mistake is diabolical."

– Seneca

“No man is good by chance. Virtue is something which must be learned.”

– Seneca

Epictetus on Learning and Education

As a former slave, the advice of Epictetus that “only the educated are free” truly carries a lot of weight. When learning, we have to remember to be aware of the fact that there is much we don’t know, otherwise, we will become too stubborn to learn new things, correct our mistakes, and grow as people towards a virtuous life with good flow.

epictetus image and stoic quotes on education

“Only the educated are free.”

– Epictetus

“To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.”

– Epictetus

epictetus image and stoic quote on education

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

– Epictetus

"For as time passes we forget what we learned and end up doing the opposite, and hold opinions the opposite of what we should."

– Epictetus

Epictetus on Writing

Epictetus is a great guy to turn to if you’re looking for some no-nonsense advice on a great number of topics. The topic of writing is no exception.

“If you can make music with someone you don't need words. If you wish to be a writer, write.”

– Epictetus

“Who exactly do you want to be? What kind of person do you want to be? What are your personal ideals? Whom do you admire? What are their special traits that you would make your own It's time to stop being vague. If you wish to be an extraordinary person, if you wish to become wise, then you should explicitly identify the kind of person you aspire to become. If you have a daybook, write down who you're trying to be, so that you can refer to this self-determination. Precisely describe the demeanor you want to adopt so that you may preserve it when you are by yourself or with other people.”

– Epictetus

“When a man is proud because he can understand and explain the writings of Chrysippus, say to yourself, 'if Chrysippus had not written obscurely, this man would have had nothing to be proud of.'”

– Epictetus

Stoic Quotes on Philosophy

If you are a student of Stoicism, you have likely spent a great deal of time thinking about and reading about philosophy. After all, learning about practical philosophy is one of the best things you can do when you have made the decision to focus and work on yourself.

Let’s see what the likes of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Musonius Rufus, and Epictetus have to say about reading, writing, and practically applying philosophy.

"Just as there is no use in medical study unless it leads to the health of the human body, so there is no use to a philosophical doctrine unless it leads to the virtue of the human soul."

– Musonius Rufus

"Virtue is not simply theoretical knowledge, but it is practical application as well…So a man who wishes to become good not only must be thoroughly familiar with the precepts which are conducive to virtue but must also be earnest and zealous in applying these principles."

– Musonius Rufus

“Philosophy is the art and law of life, and it teaches us what to do in all cases, and, like good marksmen, to hit the white at any distance.”

– Seneca

“The philosopher: he alone knows how to live for himself. He is the one, in fact, who knows the fundamental thing: how to live.”

– Seneca

“Philosophy's power to blunt all the blows of circumstance is beyond belief.”

– Seneca

“Philosophy takes as her aim the state of happiness...she shows us what are real and what are only apparent evils. She strips men's minds of empty thinking, bestows a greatness that is solid and administers a check to greatness where it is puffed up and all an empty show; she sees that we are left no doubt about the difference between what is great and what is bloated.”

– Seneca

“Life is a gift of the immortal Gods, but living well is the gift of philosophy.”

– Seneca

“When some state or other offered Alexander a part of its territory and half of all its property he told them that 'he hadn't come to Asia with the intention of accepting whatever they cared to give him, but of letting them keep whatever he chose to leave them.' Philosophy, likewise, tells all other occupations: 'It's not my intention to accept whatever time is leftover from you; you shall have, instead, what I reject.' Give your whole mind to her.”

– Seneca

“Philosophy is good advice, and no one gives good advice at the top of his lungs.”

– Seneca

“Philosophy does not regard pedigree, she received Plato not as a noble, but she made him one.”

– Seneca

“Philosophy alone makes the mind invincible, and places us out of the reach of fortune, so that all her arrows fall short of us.”

– Seneca

“Philosophy is the health of the mind.”

– Seneca

“Misfortunes, in fine, cannot be avoided; but they may be sweetened, if not overcome, and our lives made happy by philosophy.”

– Seneca

“How can a man find a sensible way to live? One way and one only- Philosophy. And my philosophy means keeping that vital spark within you free from damage and degradation, using it to transcend pain and pleasure, doing everything with a purpose, avoiding lies and hypocrisy, not relying on another person's actions or failings. To accept everything that comes, and everything that is given, as coming from that same spiritual source.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Doctors keep their scalpels and other instruments handy, for emergencies. Keep your philosophy ready too - ready to understand heaven and earth. In everything you do, even the smallest thing, remember the chain that links them. Nothing earthly succeeds by ignoring heaven, nothing heavenly by ignoring earth.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it.”

– Epictetus

“The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.”

– Epictetus

“All philosophy lies in two words, sustain and abstain.”

– Epictetus

What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit”. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.”

Epictetus

“What is it to be a philosopher? Is it not to be prepared against events?”

– Epictetus

“If you set your heart upon philosophy, you must straightway prepare yourself to be laughed at and mocked by many who will say Behold a philosopher arisen among us! or How came you by that brow of scorn? But do you cherish no scorn, but hold to those things which seem to you the best, as one set by God in that place. Remember too, that if you abide in those ways, those who first mocked you, the same shall afterwards reverence you; but if you yield to them, you will be laughed at twice as much as before.”

– Epictetus

“The beginning of philosophy is the recognition of the conflict between opinions.”

– Epictetus

“A vulgar man, in any ill that happens to him, blames others; a novice in philosophy blames himself; and a philosopher blames neither, the one nor the other.”

– Epictetus

Stoic Quotes About Books

In some cases, the writings of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and other Stoics have had a huge influence on the ideas of other great minds in history. In other cases, ideas that could be considered Stoic emerged before the founding of Stoicism or in non-Western cultures.

Let’s take a look at some of the best Stoic-minded quotes about books from the likes of Confucius, Ben Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and more.

“Genius without education is like silver in the mine.”

– Benjamin Franklin

"Reading without thinking will confuse you. Thinking without reading will place you in danger."

– Confucius

"Any day we wish we can discipline ourselves to change it all. Any day we wish; we can open the book that will open our mind to new knowledge. Any day we wish; we can start a new activity. Any day we wish; we can start the process of life change. We can do it immediately, or next week, or next month, or next year."

– Jim Rohn

For books are more than books, they are the life, the very heart and core of ages past, the reason why men worked and died, the essence and quintessence of their lives.”

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

"Nature and books belong to the eyes that see them."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"As the art of reading (after a certain stage in one's education) is the art of skipping, so the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook."

– William James

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders."

– Gautama Buddha

“Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, discourse a clear man.”

– Benjamin Franklin

"The most permanent lessons in morals are those which come, not of book teaching, but of experience."

– Mark Twain

"Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary. We must not permit anything to stand between us and the book that could change our lives."

– Jim Rohn

"Some books leave us free and some books make us free."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“For the best return on your money, pour your purse into your head.”

– Benjamin Franklin

"The difference between where you are today and where you'll be five years from now will be found in the quality of books you've read."

– Jim Rohn

"Friends should be like books, easy to find when you need them, but seldom used."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“He that composes himself is wiser than he that composes a book.”

– Benjamin Franklin

"If you want to live a top shelf life then you need to stand on the books you have read. Never stop learning, never stop growing."

– Jim Rohn

"Just as money is not real, consumable wealth, books are not life. To idolize scriptures is like eating paper currency."

– Alan Watts

"If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I would advise you to read with a pen in your hand and enter in a little book short hints of what you feel that is common or that may be useful; for this will be the best method of imprinting such portcullis in your memory.”

– Benjamin Franklin

"It isn’t what the book costs. It’s what it will cost you if you don’t read it."

– Jim Rohn

"I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Some people claim that it is okay to read trashy novels because sometimes you can find something valuable in them. You can also find a crust of bread in a garbage can, if you search long enough, but there is a better way."

– Jim Rohn

“Read much, but not too many books.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The books you don’t read won’t help.”

– Jim Rohn

Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.

– Mark Twain

“Life is our dictionary.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Don't read a book and be a follower; read a book and be a student.”

– Jim Rohn

"Man Thinking must not be subdued by his instruments. Books are for the scholar's idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men's transcripts of their readings."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"To get to where you want to be in the next 5 years, you are either reading the right books or you're not."

– Jim Rohn

"Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.”

– Franz Kafka

Stoic Quotes About Reading

Searching for more thought-provoking quotes about reading? Here are a number of Stoic quotes from a diverse cast of characters, including Murakami, Goethe, and Mark Twain.

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

– Benjamin Franklin

“One must be an inventor to read well.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”

– Victor Hugo                  

"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.”

– Oscar Wilde

"Sit in a room and read--and read and read. And read the right books by the right people. Your mind is brought onto that level, and you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time."

– Joseph Campbell

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

– Frederick Douglass

"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.”

– W. Somerset Maugham

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”

– Mark Twain

"If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

– Oscar Wilde

"The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There is creative reading as well as creative writing.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Every reader, if he has a strong mind, reads himself into the book, and amalgamates his thoughts with those of the author.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

– Haruki Murakami

"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”

– Thomas Jefferson

"If the book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But, for God's sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose.”

– Thomas Jefferson

"A room without books is like a life without meaning.”

– Thomas Jefferson

If you’re looking for a huge library of quotes by the great Stoics and Stoic-minded thinkers, you’ve come to the right place. Be sure to check out our Stoic quotes blog to access thousands of quotes that will help you practically apply Stoicism to your everyday life.

Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This website provides the best stoic quotations on the topics of life, death, control, anxiety, and wisdom in general.

Memento Mori.
Copyright © 2022 - StoicQuotes.com
crossmenu linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram