An acquaintance of mine recently got me a copy of the Enchiridion, containing recorded teachings of the stoic philosopher Epictetus. As I have no acquaintance with his works, I expect it to be informative – but I want to talk about the delight I take in the book’s name.
As I understand it (between the book and quick research), “enchiridion” translates roughly as “a thing in the hand” or “something you hold in one hand.” It usually applies to two things – a manual or a dagger.
When referring to a book, it implies a manual, a concise guide – something small enough to hold with one hand while you read it. That take on the word reminds me of how many books I like are essentially manuals. The Tao Te Ching, The Secret of the Golden Flower, and of course many small publications in my library. “A useful thing that fits in one hand” gives the feeling of conciseness, focus, and a lack of epehemra.
Enchiridion also means a one-handed dagger or sword – a term I was not familiar with and have mostly seen used in games if at all. It’s also an understandable use of the term – a weapon that fits in one hand.
Both takes put me in mind of a single word – tool. Either use of the term Enchiridion implies something simple, focused, and useful.
This reminded me of how books, pamphlets, and zines can be made so they’re tools. Focused, precise, useful – and not over large. A book can overstay it’s welcome, or one book is best as several. A good manual, an Enchiridion if you will, should be something that does the job, just like the term meant a book that fit in one hand (before tablets, that’s cheating).
It’s OK to write something small. One of Epictetus’ students did, and it’s survived to this day, so I can sit here and ruminate on the very name it holds
Go write yourself your own Enchiridion, your own special tool for people.