Part 1 out of 2
This Etext was prepared by:
David P. Steelman
The Golden Sayings of Epictetus
Are these the only works of Providence in us? What words
suffice to praise or set them forth? Had we but understanding,
should we ever cease hymning and blessing the Divine Power, both
openly and in secret, and telling of His gracious gifts? Whether
digging or ploughing or eating, should we not sing the hymn to
Great is God, for that He hath given us such instruments to till
the ground withal:
Great is God, for that He hath given us hands, and the power of
swallowing and digesting; of unconsciously growing and
breathing while we sleep!
Thus should we ever have sung: yea and this, the grandest and
divinest hymn of all:--
Great is God, for that He hath given us a mind to apprehend these
things, and duly to use them!
What then! seeing that most of you are blinded, should there
not be some one to fill this place, and sing the hymn to God on
behalf of all men? What else can I that am old and lame do but
sing to God? Were I a nightingale, I should do after the manner
of a nightingale. Were I a swan, I should do after the manner of
a swan. But now, since I am a reasonable being, I must sing to
God: that is my work: I do it, nor will I desert this my post, as
long as it is granted me to hold it; and upon you too I call to
join in this self-same hymn.
How then do men act? As though one returning to his country
who had sojourned for the night in a fair inn, should be so
captivated thereby as to take up his abode there.
"Friend, thou hast forgotten thine intention! This was not
thy destination, but only lay on the way thither."
"Nay, but it is a proper place."
"And how many more of the sort there be; only to pass
through upon thy way! Thy purpose was to return to thy country;
to relieve thy kinsmen's fears for thee; thyself to discharge the
duties of a citizen; to marry a wife, to beget offspring, and to
fill the appointed round of office. Thou didst not come to choose
out what places are most pleasant; but rather to return to that
wherein thou wast born and where thou wert appointed to be a
Try to enjoy the great festival of life with other men.
But I have one whom I must please, to whom I must be
subject, whom I must obey:-- God, and those who come next to
Him.(1) He hath entrusted me with myself: He hath made my will
subject to myself alone and given me rules for the right use
(1) I.e., "good and just men."
Rufus(2) used to say, If you have leisure to praise me, what I
say is naught. In truth he spoke in such wise, that each of us
who sat there, thought that some one had accused him to Rufus:-- so
surely did he lay his finger on the very deeds we did: so surely
display the faults of each before his very eyes.
(2) C. Musonius Rufus, a Stoic philosopher, whose lectures
Epictetus had attended.
But what saith God?-- "Had it been possible, Epictetus, I
would have made both that body of thine and thy possessions free
and unimpeded, but as it is, be not deceived:-- it is not thine
own; it is but finely tempered clay. Since then this I could not
do, I have given thee a portion of Myself, in the power of
desiring and declining and of pursuing and avoiding, and in a
word the power of dealing with the things of sense. And if thou
neglect not this, but place all that thou hast therein, thou
shalt never be let or hindered; thou shalt never lament; thou
shalt not blame or flatter any. What then? Seemeth this to thee a
little thing?"--God forbid!--"Be content then therewith!"
And so I pray the Gods.
What saith Antisthenes?(3) Hast thou never heard?--
It is a kingly thing, O Cyrus, to do well and to be evil
(3) The founder of the Cynic school of philosophy.
"Aye, but to debase myself thus were unworthy of me."
"That," said Epictetus, "is for you to consider, not for me.
You know yourself what you are worth in your own eyes; and at
what price you will sell yourself. For men sell themselves at
various prices. This was why, when Florus was deliberating
whether he should appear at Nero's shows, taking part in the
performance himself, Agrippinus replied, 'Appear by all means.'
And when Florus inquired, 'But why do not you appear?' he
answered, 'Because I do not even consider the question.' For the
man who has once stooped to consider such questions, and to
reckon up the value of external things, is not far from
forgetting what manner of man he is. Why, what is it that you
ask me? Is death preferable, or life? I reply, Life. Pain or
pleasure? I reply, Pleasure."
"Well, but if I do not act, I shall lose my head."
"Then go and act! But for my part I will not act."
"Because you think yourself but one among the many threads
which make up the texture of the doublet. You should aim at being
like men in general--just as your thread has no ambition either
to be anything distinguished compared with the other threads. But
I desire to be the purple--that small and shining part which
makes the rest seem fair and beautiful. Why then do you bid me
become even as the multitude? Then were I no longer the purple."
If a man could be thoroughly penetrated, as he ought, with
this thought, that we are all in an especial manner sprung from
God, and that God is the Father of men as well as of Gods, full
surely he would never conceive aught ignoble or base of himself.
Whereas if Caesar were to adopt you, your haughty looks would be
intolerable; will you not be elated at knowing that you are the
son of God? Now however it is not so with us: but seeing that in
our birth these two things are commingled--the body which we
share with the animals, and the Reason and Thought which we share
with the Gods, many decline towards this unhappy kinship with the
dead, few rise to the blessed kinship with the Divine. Since then
every one must deal with each thing according to the view which
he forms about it, those few who hold that they are born for
fidelity, modesty, and unerring sureness in dealing with the
things of sense, never conceive aught base or ignoble of
themselves: but the multitude the contrary. Why, what am I?--A
wretched human creature; with this miserable flesh of mine.
Miserable indeed! but you have something better than that paltry
flesh of yours. Why then cling to the one, and neglect the other?
Thou art but a poor soul laden with a lifeless body.
The other day I had an iron lamp placed beside my household
gods. I heard a noise at the door and on hastening down found my
lamp carried off. I reflected that the culprit was in no very
strange case. "To-morrow, my friend," I said, "you will find an
earthenware lamp; for a man can only lose what he has."
The reason why I lost my lamp was that the thief was
superior to me in vigilance. He paid however this price for the
lamp, that in exchange for it he consented to become a thief: in
exchange for it, to become faithless.
But God hath introduced Man to be a spectator of Himself and
of His works; and not a spectator only, but also an interpreter
of them. Wherefore it is a shame for man to begin and to leave
off where the brutes do. Rather he should begin there, and leave
off where Nature leaves off in us: and that is at contemplation,
and understanding, and a manner of life that is in harmony with
See then that ye die not without being spectators of these
You journey to Olympia to see the work of Phidias; and each
of you holds it a misfortune not to have beheld these things
before you die. Whereas when there is no need even to take a
journey, but you are on the spot, with the works before you, have
you no care to contemplate and study these?
Will you not then perceive either who you are or unto what
end you were born: or for what purpose the power of contemplation
has been bestowed upon you?
"Well, but in life there are some things disagreeable and
hard to bear."
And are there none at Olympia? Are you not scorched by the
heat? Are you not cramped for room? Have you not to bathe with
discomfort? Are you not drenched when it rains? Have you not to
endure the clamor and shouting and such annoyances as these?
Well, I suppose you set all this over against the splendour of
the spectacle, and bear it patiently. What then? have you not
received powers wherewith to endure all that comes to pass?
have you not received greatness of heart, received courage,
received fortitude? What care I, if I am great of heart, for
aught that can come to pass? What shall cast me down or disturb
me? What shall seem painful? Shall I not use the power to the
end for which I received it, instead of moaning and wailing
over what comes to pass?
If what philosophers say of the kinship of God and Men be
true, what remains for men to do but as Socrates did:--never,
when asked one's country, to answer, "I am an Athenian or a
Corinthian," but "I am a citizen of the world."
He that hath grasped the administration of the World, who
hath learned that this Community, which consists of God and men,
is the foremost and mightiest and most comprehensive of all:--
that from God have descended the germs of life, not to my father
only and father's father, but to all things that are born and
grow upon the earth, and in an especial manner to those endowed
with Reason (for those only are by their nature fitted to hold
communion with God, being by means of Reason conjoined with Him)
--why should not such an one call himself a citizen of the world?
Why not a son of God? Why should he fear aught that comes to pass
among men? Shall kinship with Caesar, or any other of the great
at Rome, be enough to hedge men around with safety and
consideration, without a thought of apprehension: while to have
God for our Maker, and Father, and Kinsman, shall not this set us
free from sorrows and fears?
I do not think that an old fellow like me need have been
sitting here to try and prevent your entertaining abject notions
of yourselves, and talking of yourselves in an abject and ignoble
way: but to prevent there being by chance among you any such
young men as, after recognising their kindred to the Gods, and
their bondage in these chains of the body and its manifold
necessities, should desire to cast them off as burdens too
grievous to be borne, and depart to their true kindred. This is
the struggle in which your Master and Teacher, were he worthy of
the name, should be engaged. You would come to me and say:
"Epictetus, we can no longer endure being chained to this
wretched body, giving it food and drink and rest and
purification; aye, and for its sake forced to be subservient to
this man and that. Are not these things indifferent and nothing
to us? Is it not true that death is no evil? Are we not in a
manner kinsmen of the Gods, and have we not come from them? Let
us depart thither, whence we came: let us be freed from these
chains that confine and press us down. Here are thieves and
robbers and tribunals: and they that are called tyrants, who
deem that they have after a fashion power over us, because of
the miserable body and what appertains to it. Let us show them
that they have power over none."
And to this I reply:--
"Friends, wait for God. When He gives the signal, and
releases you from this service, then depart to Him. But for the
present, endure to dwell in the place wherein He hath assigned
you your post. Short indeed is the time of your habitation
therein, and easy to those that are thus minded. What tyrant,
what robber, what tribunals have any terrors for those who thus
esteem the body and all that belong to it as of no account?
Stay; depart not rashly hence!"
Something like that is what should pass between a teacher
and ingenuous youths. As it is, what does pass? The teacher is a
lifeless body, and you are lifeless bodies yourselves. When you
have had enough to eat to-day, you sit down and weep about
to-morrow's food. Slave! if you have it, well and good; if not,
you will depart: the door is open--why lament? What further room
is there for tears? What further occasion for flattery? Why
should one envy another? Why should you stand in awe of them that
have much or are placed in power, especially if they be also
strong and passionate? Why, what should they do to us? What they
can do, we will not regard: what does concern us, that they
cannot do. Who then shall still rule one that is thus minded?
Seeing this then, and noting well the faculties which you
have, you should say,--"Send now, O God, any trial that Thou
wilt; lo, I have means and powers given me by Thee to acquit
myself with honour through whatever comes to pass!"-- No; but
there you sit, trembling for fear certain things should come to
pass, and moaning and groaning and lamenting over what does come
to pass. And then you upbraid the Gods. Such meanness of spirit
can have but one result--impiety.
Yet God has not only given us these faculties by means of
which we may bear everything that comes to pass without being
crushed or depressed thereby; but like a good King and Father, He
has given us this without let or hindrance, placed wholly at our
own disposition, without reserving to Himself any power of
impediment or restraint. Though possessing all these things free
and all your own, you do not use them! you do not perceive what
it is you have received nor whence it comes, but sit moaning and
groaning; some of you blind to the Giver, making no
acknowledgment to your Benefactor; others basely giving
themselves to complaints and accusations against God.
Yet what faculties and powers you possess for attaining
courage and greatness of heart, I can easily show you; what you
have for upbraiding and accusation, it is for you to show me!
How did Socrates bear himself in this regard? How else than
as became one who was fully assured that he was the kinsman of
If God had made that part of His own nature which He severed
from Himself and gave to us, liable to be hindered or constrained
either by Himself or any other, He would not have been God, nor
would He have been taking care of us as He ought . . . . If you
choose, you are free; if you choose, you need blame no man--
accuse no man. All things will be at once according to your mind
and according to the Mind of God.
Petrifaction is of two sorts. There is petrifaction of the
understanding; and also of the sense of shame. This happens when
a man obstinately refuses to acknowledge plain truths, and
persists in maintaining what is self-contradictory. Most of us
dread mortification of the body, and would spare no pains to
escape anything of that kind. But of mortification of the soul we
are utterly heedless. With regard, indeed, to the soul, if a man
is in such a state as to be incapable of following or
understanding anything, I grant you we do think him in a bad way.
But mortification of the sense of shame and modesty we go so far
as to dub strength of mind!
If we were as intent upon our own business as the old fellows at
Rome are upon what interests them, we too might perhaps
accomplish something. I know a man older than I am, now
Superintendent of the Corn-market at Rome, and I remember when he
passed through this place on his way back from exile, what an
account he gave me of his former life, declaring that for the
future, once home again, his only care should be to pass his
remaining years in quiet and tranquility. "For how few years have
I left!" he cried. "That," I said, "you will not do; but the
moment the scent of Rome is in your nostrils, you will forget it
all; and if you can but gain admission to Court, you will be glad
enough to elbow your way in, and thank God for it." "Epictetus,"
he replied, "if ever you find me setting as much as one foot
within the Court, think what you will of me."
Well, as it was, what did he do? Ere ever he entered the
city, he was met by a despatch from the Emperor. He took it, and
forgot the whole of his resolutions. From that moment, he has
been piling one thing upon another. I should like to be beside
him to remind him of what he said when passing this way, and to
add, How much better a prophet I am than you!
What then? do I say man is not made for an active life? Far
from it! . . . But there is a great difference between other
men's occupations and ours. . . . A glance at theirs will make it
clear to you. All day long they do nothing but calculate,
contrive, consult how to wring their profit out of food-stuffs,
farm-plots and the like. . . . Whereas, I entreat you to learn
what the administration of the World is, and what place a Being
endowed with reason holds therein: to consider what you are
yourself, and wherein your Good and Evil consists.
A man asked me to write to Rome on his behalf who, as most
people thought, had met with misfortune; for having been before
wealthy and distinguished, he had afterwards lost all and was
living here. So I wrote about him in a humble style. He however
on reading the letter returned it to me, with the words: "I asked
for your help, not for your pity. No evil has happened unto me."
True instruction is this:-- to learn to wish that each thing
should come to pass as it does. And how does it come to pass? As
the Disposer has disposed it. Now He has disposed that there
should be summer and winter, and plenty and dearth, and vice and
virtue, and all such opposites, for the harmony of the whole.
Have this thought ever present with thee, when thou losest
any outward thing, what thou gainest in its stead; and if this be
the more precious, say not, I have suffered loss.
Concerning the Gods, there are who deny the very existence
of the Godhead; others say that it exists, but neither bestirs
nor concerns itself nor has forethought for anything. A third
party attribute to it existence and forethought, but only for
great and heavenly matters, not for anything that is on earth. A
fourth party admit things on earth as well as in heaven, but only
in general, and not with respect to each individual. A fifth, of
whom were Ulysses and Socrates, are those that cry:--
I move not without Thy knowledge!
Considering all these things, the good and true man submits
his judgment to Him that administers the Universe, even as good
citizens to the law of the State. And he that is being instructed
should come thus minded:--How may I in all things follow the
Gods; and, How may I rest satisfied with the Divine
Administration; and, How may I become free? For he is free for
whom all things come to pass according to his will, and whom none
can hinder. What then, is freedom madness? God forbid. For
madness and freedom exist not together.
"But I wish all that I desire to come to pass and in the
manner that I desire."
--You are mad, you are beside yourself. Know you not that
Freedom is a glorious thing and of great worth? But that what I
desired at random I should wish at random to come to pass, so far
from being noble, may well be exceeding base.
You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to
become a man's own, unless each day he maintain it and hear it
maintained, as well as work it out in life.
You are impatient and hard to please. If alone, you call it
solitude: if in the company of men, you dub them conspirators
and thieves, and find fault with your very parents, children,
brothers and neighbours. Whereas when by yourself you should
have called it Tranquillity and Freedom: and herein deemed
yourself like unto the Gods. And when in the company of the
many, you should not have called it a wearisome crowd and
tumult, but an assembly and a tribunal; and thus accepted all
What then is the chastisement of those who accept it not? To
be as they are. Is any discontented with being alone? let him be
in solitude. Is any discontented with his parents? let him be a
bad son, and lament. Is any discontented with his children? let
him be a bad father.--"Throw him into prison!"--What prison?--
Where he is already: for he is there against his will; and
wherever a man is against his will, that to him is a prison.
Thus Socrates was not in prison, since he was there with his own
Knowest thou what a speck thou art in comparison with the
Universe?--That is, with respect to the body; since with respect
to Reason, thou art not inferior to the Gods, nor less than they.
For the greatness of Reason is not measured by length or height,
but by the resolves of the mind. Place then thy happiness in that
wherein thou art equal to the Gods.
Asked how a man might eat acceptably to the Gods, Epictetus
replied:--If when he eats, he can be just, cheerful, equable,
temperate, and orderly, can he not thus eat acceptably to the
Gods? But when you call for warm water, and your slave does not
answer, or when he answers brings it lukewarm, or is not even
found to be in the house at all, then not to be vexed nor burst
with anger, is not that acceptable to the Gods?
"But how can one endure such people?"
Slave, will you not endure your own brother, that has God to
his forefather, even as a son sprung from the same stock, and of
the same high descent as yourself? And if you are stationed in a
high position, are you therefore forthwith to set up for a
tyrant? Remember who you are, and whom you rule, that they are
by nature your kinsmen, your brothers, the offspring of God.
"But I paid a price for them, not they for me."
Do you see whither you are looking--down to the earth, to
the pit, to those despicable laws of the dead? But to the laws of
the Gods you do not look.
When we are invited to a banquet, we take what is set before
us; and were one to call upon his host to set fish upon the table
or sweet things, he would be deemed absurd. Yet in a word, we ask
the Gods for what they do not give; and that, although they have
given us so many things!
Asked how a man might convince himself that every single act
of his was under the eye of God, Epictetus answered:--
"Do you not hold that all things are bound together in one?"
"Well, and do you not hold that things on earth and things in
heaven are continuous and in unison with each other?"
"I do," was the reply.
"Else how should the trees so regularly, as though by God's
command, at His bidding flower; at His bidding send forth shoots,
bear fruit and ripen it; at His bidding let it fall and shed
their leaves, and folded up upon themselves lie in quietness and
rest? How else, as the Moon waxes and wanes, as the Sun
approaches and recedes, can it be that such vicissitude and
alternation is seen in earthly things?
"If then all things that grow, nay, our own bodies, are thus
bound up with the whole, is not this still truer of our souls?
And if our souls are bound up and in contact with God, as being
very parts and fragments plucked from Himself, shall He not feel
every movement of theirs as though it were His own, and belonging
to His own nature?"
"But," you say, "I cannot comprehend all this at once."
"Why, who told you that your powers were equal to God's?"
Yet God hath placed by the side of each a man's own Guardian
Spirit,(4) who is charged to watch over him--a Guardian who
sleeps not nor is deceived. For to what better or more watchful
Guardian could He have committed each of us? So when you have
shut the doors and made a darkness within, remember never to say
that you are alone; for you are not alone, but God is within,
and your Guardian Spirit, and what light do they need to behold
what you do? To this God you also should have sworn allegiance,
even as soldiers unto Caesar. They, when their service is hired,
swear to hold the life of Caesar dearer than all else: and will
you not swear your oath, that are deemed worthy of so many and
great gifts? And will you not keep your oath when you have sworn
it? And what oath will you swear? Never to disobey, never to
arraign or murmur at aught that comes to you from His hand: never
unwillingly to do or suffer aught that necessity lays upon you.
"Is this oath like theirs?"
They swear to hold no other dearer than Caesar: you, to hold
our true selves dearer than all else beside.
(4) To the Stoics the Guardian Spirit was each man's Reason.
"How shall my brother cease to be wroth with me?"
Bring him to me, and I will tell him. But to thee I have
nothing to say about his anger.
When one took counsel of Epictetus, saying, "What I seek is
this, how even though my brother be not reconciled to me, I may
still remain as Nature would have me to be," he replied: "All
great things are slow of growth; nay, this is true even of a
grape or of a fig. If then you say to me now, I desire a fig, I
shall answer, It needs time: wait till it first flower, then cast
its blossom, then ripen. Whereas then the fruit of the fig-tree
reaches not maturity suddenly nor yet in a single hour, do you
nevertheless desire so quickly and easily to reap the fruit of
the mind of man?-- Nay, expect it not, even though I bade you!"
Epaphroditus(5) had a shoemaker whom he sold as being
good-for-nothing. This fellow, by some accident, was afterwards
purchased by one of Caesar's men, and became shoemaker to
Caesar. You should have seen what respect Epaphroditus paid him
then. "How does the good Felicion? Kindly let me know!" And if
any of us inquired, "What is Epaphroditus doing?" the answer was,
"He is consulting about so and so with Felicion."-- Had he not
sold him as good-for-nothing? Who had in a trice converted him
into a wiseacre?
This is what comes of holding of importance anything but the
things that depend on the Will.
(5) A freedman of Nero, and at one time owner of Epictetus.
What you shun enduring yourself, attempt not to impose on
others. You shun slavery-- beware of enslaving others! If you can
endure to do that, one would think you had been once upon a time
a slave yourself. For Vice has nothing in common with virtue, nor
Freedom with slavery.
Has a man been raised to the tribuneship? Every one that he
meets congratulates him. One kisses him on the eyes, another on
the neck, while the slaves kiss his hands. He goes home to find
torches burning; he ascends to the Capitol to sacrifice.-- Who
ever sacrificed for having had right desires; for having
conceived such inclinations as Nature would have him? In truth we
thank the Gods for that wherein we place our happiness.
A man was talking to me to-day about the priesthood of
Augustus. I said to him, "Let the thing go, my good Sir; you will
spend a great deal to no purpose."
"Well, but my name will be inserted in all documents and
"Will you be standing there to tell those that read them,
That is my name written there? And even though you could now be
there in every case, what will you do when you are dead?"
"At all events my name will remain."
"Inscribe it on a stone and it will remain just as well. And
think, beyond Nicopolis what memory of you will there be?"
"But I shall have a golden wreath to wear."
"If you must have a wreath, get a wreath of roses and put it
on; you will look more elegant!"
Above all, remember that the door stands open. Be not more
fearful than children; but as they, when they weary of the game,
cry, "I will play no more," even so, when thou art in the like
case, cry, "I will play no more," and depart. But if thou
stayest, make no lamentation.
Is there smoke in the room? If it be slight, I remain; if
grievous, I quit it. For you must remember this and hold it fast,
that the door stands open.
"You shall not dwell at Nicopolis!"
Well and good.
"Nor at Athens."
Then I will not dwell at Athens either.
"Nor at Rome."
Nor at Rome either.
"You shall dwell in Gyara!"(6)
Well: but to dwell in Gyara seems to me like a grievous
smoke; I depart to a place where none can forbid me to dwell:
that habitation is open unto all! As for the last garment of all,
that is the poor body; beyond that, none can do aught unto me.
This is why Demetrius(7) said to Nero: "You threaten me with
death; it is Nature who threatens you!"
(6) An island in the Aegean, used as a place of banishment.
(7) A well-known Cynic philosopher.
The beginning of philosophy is to know the condition of
one's own mind. If a man recognises that this is in a weakly
state, he will not then want to apply it to questions of the
greatest moment. As it is, men who are not fit to swallow even a
morsel, buy whole treatises and try to devour them. Accordingly
they either vomit them up again, or suffer from indigestion,
whence come gripings, fluxions, and fevers. Whereas they should
have stopped to consider their capacity.
In theory it is easy to convince an ignorant person: in
actual life, men not only object to offer themselves to be
convinced, but hate the man who has convinced them. Whereas
Socrates used to say that we should never lead a life not
subjected to examination.
This is the reason why Socrates, when reminded that he
should prepare for his trial, answered: "Thinkest thou not that I
have been preparing for it all my life?"
"In what way?"
"I have maintained that which in me lay."
"I have never, secretly or openly, done a wrong unto any."
In what character dost thou now come forward?
As a witness summoned by God. "Come thou," saith God, "and
testify for Me, for thou art worthy of being brought forward as a
witness by Me. Is aught that is outside thy will either good or
bad? Do I hurt any man? Have I placed the good of each in the
power of any other than himself? What witness dost thou bear to
"I am in evil state, Master, I am undone! None careth for
me, none giveth me aught: all men blame, all speak evil of me."
Is this the witness thou wilt bear, and do dishonour to the
calling wherewith He hath called thee, because He hath done thee
so great honour, and deemed thee worthy of being summoned to bear
witness in so great a cause?
Wouldst thou have men speak good of thee? speak good of
them. And when thou hast learned to speak good of them, try to do
good unto them, and thus thou wilt reap in return their speaking
good of thee.
When thou goest in to any of the great, remember that
Another from above sees what is passing, and that thou shouldst
please Him rather than man. He therefore asks thee:--
"In the Schools, what didst thou call exile, imprisonment,
bonds, death and shame?"
"I called them things indifferent."
"What then dost thou call them now? Are they at all
"Is it then thou that art changed?"
"Say then, what are things indifferent?"
"Things that are not in our power."
"Say then, what follows?"
"That things which are not in our power are nothing to me."
"Say also what things you hold to be good."
"A will such as it ought to be, and a right use of the
things of sense."
"And what is the end?"
"To follow Thee!"
"That Socrates should ever have been so treated by the
Slave! why say "Socrates"? Speak of the thing as it is: That
ever then the poor body of Socrates should have been dragged away
and haled by main force to prison! That ever hemlock should have
been given to the body of Socrates; that that should have
breathed its life away!-- Do you marvel at this? Do you hold this
unjust? Is it for this that you accuse God? Had Socrates no
compensation for this? Where then for him was the ideal Good?
Whom shall we hearken to, you or him? And what says he?
"Anytus and Meletus(8) may put me to death: to injure me is
beyond their power."
"If such be the will of God, so let it be."
(8) The accusers of Socrates. See Plato's Apology.
Nay, young man, for heaven's sake; but once thou hast heard
these words, go home and say to thyself:--"It is not Epictetus
that has told me these things: how indeed should he? No, it is
some gracious God through him. Else it would never have entered
his head to tell me them--he that is not used to speak to any
one thus. Well, then, let us not lie under the wrath of God, but
be obedient unto Him."--Nay, indeed; but if a raven by its
croaking bears thee any sign, it is not the raven but God that
sends the sign through the raven; and if He signifies anything to
thee through human voice, will He not cause the man to say these
words to thee, that thou mayest know the power of the Divine--
how He sends a sign to some in one way and to others in another,
and on the greatest and highest matters of all signifies His will
through the noblest messenger?
What else does the poet mean:--
I spake unto him erst Myself, and sent
Hermes the shining One, to check and warn him,
The husband not to slay, nor woo the wife!
In the same way my friend Heraclitus, who had a trifling
suit about a petty farm at Rhodes, first showed the judges that
his cause was just, and then at the finish cried, "I will not
entreat you: nor do I care what sentence you pass. It is you who
are on your trial, not I!"--And so he ended the case.(9)
(9) Or, "And so he lost his case" (Long).
As for us, we behave like a herd of deer. When they flee
from the huntsman's feathers(10) in affright, which way do they
turn? What haven of safety do they make for? Why, they rush upon
the nets! And thus they perish by confounding what they should
fear with that wherein no danger lies. . . . Not death or pain is
to be feared, but the fear of death or pain. Well said the poet
Death has no terror; only a Death of shame!
(10) Colored feathers fixed to ropes partly surrounding the
How is it then that certain external things are said to be
natural, and others contrary to Nature?
Why, just as it might be said if we stood alone and apart
from others. A foot, for instance, I will allow it is natural
should be clean. But if you take it as a foot, and as a thing
which does not stand by itself, it will beseem it (if need be) to
walk in the mud, to tread on thorns, and sometimes even to be cut
off, for the benefit of the whole body; else it is no longer a
foot. In some such way we should conceive of ourselves also. What
art thou?--A man.--Looked at as standing by thyself and
separate, it is natural for thee in health and wealth long to
live. But looked at as a Man, and only as a part of a Whole, it
is for that Whole's sake that thou shouldst at one time fall
sick, at another brave the perils of the sea, again, know the
meaning of want and perhaps die an early death. Why then repine?
Knowest thou not that as the foot is no more a foot if detached
from the body, so thou in like case art no longer a Man? For what
is a Man? A part of a City:--first, of the City of Gods and Men;
next, of that which ranks nearest it, a miniature of the
universal City. . . . In such a body, in such a world enveloping
us, among lives like these, such things must happen to one or
another. Thy part, then, being here, is to speak of these things
as is meet, and to order them as befits the matter.
That was a good reply which Diogenes made to a man who asked
him for letters of recommendation.--"That you are a man, he will
know when he sees you;--whether a good or bad one, he will know
if he has any skill in discerning the good and the bad. But if he
has none, he will never know, though I write to him a thousand
times."--It is as though a piece of silver money desired to be
recommended to some one to be tested. If the man be a good judge
of silver, he will know: the coin will tell its own tale.
Even as the traveller asks his way of him that he meets,
inclined in no wise to bear to the right rather than to the left
(for he desires only the way leading whither he would go), so
should we come unto God as to a guide; even as we use our eyes
without admonishing them to show us some things rather than
others, but content to receive the images of such things as they
present unto us. But as it is we stand anxiously watching the
victim, and with the voice of supplication call upon the augur:--
"Master, have mercy on me: vouchsafe unto me a way of escape!"
Slave, would you then have aught else than what is best? is there
anything better than what is God's good pleasure? Why, as far as
in you lies, would you corrupt your Judge, and lead your
God is beneficent. But the Good also is beneficent. It
should seem then that where the real nature of God is, there too
is to be found the real nature of the Good. What then is the real
nature of God?--Intelligence, Knowledge, Right Reason. Here then
without more ado seek the real nature of the Good. For surely
thou dost not seek it in a plant or in an animal that reasoneth
Seek then the real nature of the Good in that without whose
presence thou wilt not admit the Good to exist in aught else.--
What then? Are not these other things also works of God?--They
are; but not preferred to honour, nor are they portions of God.
But thou art a thing preferred to honour: thou art thyself a
fragment torn from God:--thou hast a portion of Him within
thyself. How is it then that thou dost not know thy high descent
--dost not know whence thou comest? When thou eatest, wilt thou
not remember who thou art that eatest and whom thou feedest? In
intercourse, in exercise, in discussion knowest thou not that it
is a God whom thou feedest, a God whom thou exercisest, a God
whom thou bearest about with thee, O miserable! and thou
perceivest it not. Thinkest thou that I speak of a God of silver
or gold, that is without thee? Nay, thou bearest Him within thee!
all unconscious of polluting Him with thoughts impure and unclean
deeds. Were an image of God present, thou wouldst not dare to
act as thou dost, yet, when God Himself is present within thee,
beholding and hearing all, thou dost not blush to think such
thoughts and do such deeds, O thou that art insensible of thine
own nature and liest under the wrath of God!
Why then are we afraid when we send a young man from the
Schools into active life, lest he should indulge his appetites
intemperately, lest he should debase himself by ragged clothing,
or be puffed up by fine raiment? Knows he not the God within him;
knows he not with whom he is starting on his way? Have we
patience to hear him say to us, Would I had thee with me!--Hast
thou not God where thou art, and having Him dost thou still seek
for any other? Would He tell thee aught else than these things?
Why, wert thou a statue of Phidias, an Athena or a Zeus, thou
wouldst bethink thee both of thyself and thine artificer; and
hadst thou any sense, thou wouldst strive to do no dishonour to
thyself or him that fashioned thee, nor appear to beholders in
unbefitting guise. But now, because God is thy Maker, is that why
thou carest not of what sort thou shalt show thyself to be? Yet
how different the artists and their workmanship! What human
artist's work, for example, has in it the faculties that are
displayed in fashioning it? Is it aught but marble, bronze, gold,
or ivory? Nay, when the Athena of Phidias has put forth her hand
and received therein a Victory, in that attitude she stands for
evermore. But God's works move and breathe; they use and judge
the things of sense. The workmanship of such an Artist, wilt thou
dishonor Him? Aye, when he not only fashioned thee, but placed
thee, like a ward, in the care and guardianship of thyself alone,
wilt thou not only forget this, but also do dishonour to what is
committed to thy care! If God had entrusted thee with an orphan,
wouldst thou have thus neglected him? He hath delivered thee to
thine own care, saying, I had none more faithful than myself:
keep this man for me such as Nature hath made him--modest,
faithful, high-minded, a stranger to fear, to passion, to
perturbation. . . .
Such will I show myself to you all.--"What, exempt from
sickness also: from age, from death?"--Nay, but accepting
sickness, accepting death as becomes a God!
No labour, according to Diogenes, is good but that which
aims at producing courage and strength of soul rather than of
A guide, on finding a man who has lost his way, brings him
back to the right path--he does not mock and jeer at him and
then take himself off. You also must show the unlearned man the
truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as you
do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel your own
It was the first and most striking characteristic of
Socrates never to become heated in discourse, never to utter an
injurious or insulting word--on the contrary, he persistently
bore insult from others and thus put an end to the fray. If you
care to know the extent of his power in this direction, read
Xenophon's Banquet, and you will see how many quarrels he put an
end to. That is why the Poets are right in so highly commending
Quickly and wisely withal even bitter feuds would he settle.
Nevertheless the practice is not very safe at present,
especially in Rome. One who adopts it, I need not say, ought not
to carry it out in an obscure corner, but boldly accost, if
occasion serve, some personage of rank or wealth.
"Can you tell me, sir, to whose care you entrust your
"Is it to the first comer, who knows nothing about them?"
"Well, what of the man who takes care of your gold, your
silver or your raiment?"
"He must be experienced also."
"And your body--have you ever considered about entrusting
it to any one's care?"
"Of course I have."
"And no doubt to a person of experience as a trainer, a
"Are these things the best you possess, or have you anything
"What can you mean?"
"I mean that which employs these; which weighs all things;
which takes counsel and resolve."
"Oh, you mean the soul."
"You take me rightly; I do mean the soul. By Heaven, I hold
that far more precious than all else I possess. Can you show me
then what care you bestow on the soul? For it can scarcely be
thought that a man of your wisdom and consideration in the city
would suffer your most precious possession to go to ruin through
carelessness and neglect."
"Well, do you take care of it yourself? Did any one teach
you the right method, or did you discover it yourself?"
Now here comes in the danger: first, that the great man may
answer, "Why, what is that to you, my good fellow? are you my
master?" And then, if you persist in troubling him, may raise his
hand to strike you. It is a practice of which I was myself a warm
admirer until such experiences as these befell me.
When a youth was giving himself airs in the Theatre and
saying, "I am wise, for I have conversed with many wise men,"
Epictetus replied, "I too have conversed with many rich men, yet
I am not rich!"
We see that a carpenter becomes a carpenter by learning
certain things: that a pilot, by learning certain things, becomes
a pilot. Possibly also in the present case the mere desire to be
wise and good is not enough. It is necessary to learn certain
things. This is then the object of our search. The Philosophers
would have us first learn that there is a God, and that His
Providence directs the Universe; further, that to hide from Him
not only one's acts but even one's thoughts and intentions is
impossible; secondly, what the nature of God is. Whatever that
nature is discovered to be, the man who would please and obey Him
must strive with all his might to be made like unto Him. If the
Divine is faithful, he also must be faithful; if free, he also
must be free; if beneficent, he also must be beneficent; if
magnanimous, he also must be magnanimous. Thus as an imitator of
God must he follow Him in every deed and word.
If I show you, that you lack just what is most important and
necessary to happiness, that hitherto your attention has been
bestowed on everything rather than that which claims it most;
and, to crown all, that you know neither what God nor Man is--
neither what Good nor Evil is: why, that you are ignorant of
everything else, perhaps you may bear to be told; but to hear
that you know nothing of yourself, how could you submit to that?
How could you stand your ground and suffer that to be proved?
Clearly not at all. You instantly turn away in wrath. Yet what
harm have I done you? Unless indeed the mirror harms the
ill-favoured man by showing him to himself just as he is; unless the
physician can be thought to insult his patient, when he tells
him:--"Friend, do you suppose there is nothing wrong with you?
why, you have a fever. Eat nothing to-day, and drink only water."
Yet no one says, "What an insufferable insult!" Whereas, if you
say to a man, "Your desires are inflamed, your instincts of
rejection are weak and low, your aims are inconsistent, your
impulses are not in harmony with Nature, your opinions are rash
and false," he forthwith goes away and complains that you have
Our way of life resembles a fair. The flocks and herds are
passing along to be sold, and the greater part of the crowd to
buy and sell. But there are some few who come only to look at the
fair, to inquire how and why it is being held, upon what
authority and with what object. So too, in this great Fair of
life, some, like the cattle, trouble themselves about nothing but
the fodder. Know all of you, who are busied about land, slaves
and public posts, that these are nothing but fodder! Some few
there are attending the Fair, who love to contemplate what the
world is, what He that administers it. Can there be no
Administrator? is it possible, that while neither city nor
household could endure even for a moment without one to administer
and see to its welfare, this Fabric, so fair, so vast, should be
administered in order so harmonious, without a purpose and by
blind chance? There is therefore an Administrator. What is His
nature and how does He administer? And who are we that are His
children and what work were we born to perform? Have we any close
connection or relation with Him or not?
Such are the impressions of the few of whom I speak. And
further, they apply themselves solely to considering and
examining the great assembly before they depart. Well, they are
derided by the multitude. So are the lookers-on by the traders:
aye, and if the beasts had any sense, they would deride those who
thought much of anything but fodder!
I think I know now what I never knew before--the meaning of
the common saying, A fool you can neither bend nor break. Pray
heaven I may never have a wise fool for my friend! There is
nothing more intractable.--"My resolve is fixed!"--Why, so madmen
say too; but the more firmly they believe in their delusions, the
more they stand in need of treatment.
--"Oh! when shall I see Athens and its Acropolis again?"--
Miserable man! art thou not contented with the daily sights that
meet thine eyes? canst thou behold aught greater or nobler than
the Sun, Moon, and Stars; than the outspread Earth and Sea? If
indeed thou apprehendest Him who administers the universe, if
thou bearest Him about within thee, canst thou still hanker after
mere fragments of stone and a fine rock? When thou art about to
bid farewell to the Sun and Moon itself, wilt thou sit down and
cry like a child? Why, what didst thou hear, what didst thou
learn? why didst thou write thyself down a philosopher, when
thou mightest have written what was the fact, namely, "I have
made one or two Compendiums, I have read some works of
Chrysippus, and I have not even touched the hem of Philosophy's
Friend, lay hold with a desperate grasp, ere it is too late,
on Freedom, on Tranquility, on Greatness of soul! Lift up thy
head, as one escaped from slavery; dare to look up to God, and
say:--"Deal with me henceforth as Thou wilt; Thou and I are of
one mind. I am Thine: I refuse nothing that seemeth good to Thee;
lead on whither Thou wilt; clothe me in what garb Thou pleasest;
wilt Thou have me a ruler or a subject--at home or in exile--
poor or rich? All these things will I justify unto men for Thee.
I will show the true nature of each. . . ."
Who would Hercules have been had he loitered at home? no
Hercules, but Eurystheus. And in his wanderings through the world
how many friends and comrades did he find? but nothing dearer to
him than God. Wherefore he was believed to be God's son, as
indeed he was. So then in obedience to Him, he went about
delivering the earth from injustice and lawlessness.
But thou art not Hercules, thou sayest, and canst not
deliver others from their iniquity--not even Theseus, to deliver
the soil of Attica from its monsters? Purge away thine own, cast
forth thence--from thine own mind, not robbers and monsters, but
Fear, Desire, Envy, Malignity, Avarice, Effeminacy, Intemperance.
And these may not be cast out, except by looking to God alone, by
fixing thy affections on Him only, and by consecrating thyself to
His commands. If thou choosest aught else, with sighs and groans
thou wilt be forced to follow a Might greater than thine own,
ever seeking Tranquillity without, and never able to attain unto
her. For thou seekest her where she is not to be found; and where
she is, there thou seekest her not!
If a man would pursue Philosophy, his first task is to throw
away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn
what he has a conceit that he already knows.
Give me but one young man, that has come to the School with
this intention, who stands forth a champion of this cause, and
says, "All else I renounce, content if I am but able to pass my
life free from hindrance and trouble; to raise my head aloft and
face all things as a free man; to look up to heaven as a friend
of God, fearing nothing that may come to pass!" Point out such a
one to me, that I may say, "Enter, young man, into possession of
that which is thine own. For thy lot is to adorn Philosophy.
Thine are these possessions; thine these books, these
And when our champion has duly exercised himself in this
part of the subject, I hope he will come back to me and say:--
"What I desire is to be free from passion and from perturbation;
as one who grudges no pains in the pursuit of piety and
philosophy, what I desire is to know my duty to the Gods, my duty
to my parents, to my brothers, to my country, to strangers."
"Enter then on the second part of the subject; it is thine
"But I have already mastered the second part; only I wished
to stand firm and unshaken--as firm when asleep as when awake,
as firm when elated with wine as in despondency and dejection."
"Friend, you are verily a God! you cherish great designs."
"The question at stake," said Epictetus, "is no common one;
it is this:--Are we in our senses, or are we not?"
If you have given way to anger, be sure that over and above
the evil involved therein, you have strengthened the habit, and
added fuel to the fire. If overcome by a temptation of the flesh,
do not reckon it a single defeat, but that you have also
strengthened your dissolute habits. Habits and faculties are
necessarily affected by the corresponding acts. Those that were
not there before, spring up: the rest gain in strength and
extent. This is the account which Philosophers give of the origin
of diseases of the mind:--Suppose you have once lusted after
money: if reason sufficient to produce a sense of the evil be
applied, then the lust is checked, and the mind at once regains
its original authority; whereas if you have recourse to no
remedy, you can no longer look for this return--on the contrary,
the next time it is excited by the corresponding object, the
flame of desire leaps up more quickly than before. By frequent
repetition, the mind in the long run becomes callous; and thus
this mental disease produces confirmed Avarice.
One who has had fever, even when it has left him, is not in
the same condition of health as before, unless indeed his cure is
complete. Something of the same sort is true also of diseases of
the mind. Behind, there remains a legacy of traces and of
blisters: and unless these are effectually erased, subsequent
blows on the same spot will produce no longer mere blisters, but
sores. If you do not wish to be prone to anger, do not feed the
habit; give it nothing which may tend to its increase. At first,
keep quiet and count the days when you were not angry: "I used
to be angry every day, then every other day: next every two,
next every three days!" and if you succeed in passing thirty
days, sacrifice to the Gods in thanksgiving.
How then may this be attained?--Resolve, now if never
before, to approve thyself to thyself; resolve to show thyself
fair in God's sight; long to be pure with thine own pure self and
That is the true athlete, that trains himself to resist such
outward impressions as these.
"Stay, wretched man! suffer not thyself to be carried away!"
Great is the combat, divine the task! you are fighting for
Kingship, for Liberty, for Happiness, for Tranquillity. Remember
God: call upon Him to aid thee, like a comrade that stands beside
thee in the fight.
Who then is a Stoic--in the sense that we call that a statue of
Phidias which is modelled after that master's art? Show me a man
in this sense modelled after the doctrines that are ever upon his
lips. Show me a man that is sick--and happy; in danger--and
happy; on his death-bed--and happy; an exile--and happy; in evil
report--and happy! Show me him, I ask again. So help me Heaven,
I long to see one Stoic! Nay, if you cannot show me one fully
modelled, let me at least see one in whom the process is at
work--one whose bent is in that direction. Do me that favour!
Grudge it not to an old man, to behold a sight that he has never
yet beheld. Think you I wish to see the Zeus or Athena of
Phidias, bedecked with gold and ivory?--Nay, show me, one of
you, a human soul, desiring to be of one mind with God, no more
to lay blame on God or man, to suffer nothing to disappoint,
nothing to cross him, to yield neither to anger, envy, nor
jealousy--in a word, why disguise the matter? one that from a
man would fain become a God; one that while still imprisoned
in this dead body makes fellowship with God his aim. Show me
him!--Ah, you cannot! Then why mock yourselves and delude
others? why stalk about tricked out in other men's attire,
thieves and robbers that you are of names and things to which
you can show no title!
If you have assumed a character beyond your strength, you
have both played a poor figure in that, and neglected one that is
within your powers.
Fellow, you have come to blows at home with a slave: you
have turned the household upside down, and thrown the
neighbourhood into confusion; and do you come to me then with
airs of assumed modesty--do you sit down like a sage and
criticise my explanation of the readings, and whatever idle
babble you say has come into my head? Have you come full of envy,
and dejected because nothing is sent you from home; and while the
discussion is going on, do you sit brooding on nothing but how
your father or your brother are disposed towards you:--"What are
they saying about me there? at this moment they imagine I am
making progress and saying, He will return perfectly omniscient!
I wish I could become omniscient before I return; but that would
be very troublesome. No one sends me anything--the baths at
Nicopolis are dirty; things are wretched at home and wretched
here." And then they say, "Nobody is any the better for the
School."--Who comes to the School with a sincere wish to learn:
to submit his principles to correction and himself to treatment?
Who, to gain a sense of his wants? Why then be surprised if you
carry home from the School exactly what you bring into it?
"Epictetus, I have often come desiring to hear you speak,
and you have never given me any answer; now if possible, I
entreat you, say something to me."
"Is there, do you think," replied Epictetus, "an art of
speaking as of other things, if it is to be done skilfully and
with profit to the hearer?"
"And are all profited by what they hear, or only some among
them? So that it seems there is an art of hearing as well as of
speaking. . . . To make a statue needs skill: to view a statue
aright needs skill also."
"And I think all will allow that one who proposes to hear
philosophers speak needs a considerable training in hearing. Is
that not so? Then tell me on what subject you are able to hear
"Why, on good and evil."
"The good and evil of what? a horse, an ox?"
"No; of a man."
"Do we know then what Man is? what his nature is? what is the
idea we have of him? And are our ears practised in any degree on
the subject? Nay, do you understand what Nature is? can you
follow me in any degree when I say that I shall have to use
demonstration? Do you understand what Demonstration is? what True
or False is? . . .must I drive you to Philosophy? . . . Show me
what good I am to do by discoursing with you. Rouse my desire to
do so. The sight of the pasture it loves stirs in a sheep the
desire to feed: show it a stone or a bit of bread and it remains
unmoved. Thus we also have certain natural desires, aye, and one
that moves us to speak when we find a listener that is worth his
salt: one that himself stirs the spirit. But if he sits by like
a stone or a tuft of grass, how can he rouse a man's desire?"
"Then you will say nothing to me?"
"I can only tell you this: that one who knows not who he is
and to what end he was born; what kind of world this is and with
whom he is associated therein; one who cannot distinguish Good
and Evil, Beauty and Foulness, . . . Truth and Falsehood, will
never follow Reason in shaping his desires and impulses and
repulsions, nor yet in assent, denial, or suspension of
judgment; but will in one word go about deaf and blind, thinking
himself to be somewhat, when he is in truth of no account. Is
there anything new in all this? Is not this ignorance the cause
of all the mistakes and mischances of men since the human race
began? . . ."
"This is all I have to say to you, and even this against the
grain. Why? Because you have not stirred my spirit. For what can
I see in you to stir me, as a spirited horse will stir a judge of
horses? Your body? That you maltreat. Your dress? That is
luxurious. Your behaviour, your look?--Nothing whatever. When you
want to hear a philosopher, do not say, 'You say nothing to me';
only show yourself worthy or fit to hear, and then you will see
how you will move the speaker."
And now, when you see brothers apparently good friends and
living in accord, do not immediately pronounce anything upon
their friendship, though they should affirm it with an oath,
though they should declare, "For us to live apart is a thing
impossible!" For the heart of a bad man is faithless,
unprincipled, inconstant: now overpowered by one impression, now
by another. Ask not the usual questions, Were they born of the
same parents, reared together, and under the same tutor; but ask
this only, in what they place their real interest--whether in
outward things or in the Will. If in outward things, call them
not friends, any more than faithful, constant, brave or free:
call them not even human beings, if you have any sense. . . . But
should you hear that these men hold the Good to lie only in the
Will, only in rightly dealing with the things of sense, take no
more trouble to inquire whether they are father and son or
brothers, or comrades of long standing; but, sure of this one
thing, pronounce as boldly that they are friends as that they are
faithful and just: for where else can Friendship be found than
where Modesty is, where there is an interchange of things fair
and honest, and of such only?
No man can rob us of our Will--no man can lord it over that!
When disease and death overtake me, I would fain be found
engaged in the task of liberating mine own Will from the assaults
of passion, from hindrance, from resentment, from slavery.
Thus would I fain be found employed, so that I may say to God,
"Have I in aught transgressed Thy commands? Have I in aught
perverted the faculties, the senses, the natural principles that
Thou didst give me? Have I ever blamed Thee or found fault with
Thine administration? When it was Thy good pleasure, I fell sick--
and so did other men: but my will consented. Because it was Thy
pleasure, I became poor: but my heart rejoiced. No power in the
State was mine, because Thou wouldst not: such power I never
desired! Hast Thou ever seen me of more doleful countenance on
that account? Have I not ever drawn nigh unto Thee with cheerful
look, waiting upon Thy commands, attentive to Thy signals? Wilt
Thou that I now depart from the great Assembly of men? I go: I
give Thee all thanks, that Thou hast deemed me worthy to take
part with Thee in this Assembly: to behold Thy works, to
comprehend this Thine administration."
Such I would were the subject of my thoughts, my pen, my
study, when death overtakes me.
Seemeth it nothing to you, never to accuse, never to blame
either God or Man? to wear ever the same countenance in going
forth as in coming in? This was the secret of Socrates: yet he
never said that he knew or taught anything. . . . Who amongst you
makes this his aim? Were it indeed so, you would gladly endure
sickness, hunger, aye, death itself.
How are we constituted by Nature? To be free, to be noble,
to be modest (for what other living thing is capable of blushing,
or of feeling the impression of shame?) and to subordinate
pleasure to the ends for which Nature designed us, as a handmaid
and a minister, in order to call forth our activity; in order to
keep us constant to the path prescribed by Nature.
The husbandman deals with land; physicians and trainers with
the body; the wise man with his own Mind.
Which of us does not admire what Lycurgus the Spartan did? A
young citizen had put out his eye, and been handed over to him by
the people to be punished at his own discretion. Lycurgus
abstained from all vengeance, but on the contrary instructed and
made a good man of him. Producing him in public in the theatre,
he said to the astonished Spartans:--"I received this young man
at your hands full of violence and wanton insolence; I restore
him to you in his right mind and fit to serve his country."
A money-changer may not reject Caesar's coin, nor may the
seller of herbs, but must when once the coin is shown, deliver
what is sold for it, whether he will or no. So is it also with
the Soul. Once the Good appears, it attracts towards itself; evil
repels. But a clear and certain impression of the Good the Soul
will never reject, any more than men do Caesar's coin. On this
hangs every impulse alike of Man and God.
Asked what Common Sense was, Epictetus replied:--
As that may be called a Common Ear which distinguishes only
sounds, while that which distinguishes musical notes is not
common but produced by training; so there are certain things
which men not entirely perverted see by the natural principles
common to all. Such a constitution of the Mind is called Common
Canst thou judge men? . . . then make us imitators of
thyself, as Socrates did. Do this, do not do that, else will I
cast thee into prison; this is not governing men like reasonable
creatures. Say rather, As God hath ordained, so do; else thou
wilt suffer chastisement and loss. Askest thou what loss? None
other than this: To have left undone what thou shouldst have
done: to have lost the faithfulness, the reverence, the modesty
that is in thee! Greater loss than this seek not to find!
"His son is dead."
What has happened?
"His son is dead."
"His ship is lost."
What has happened?
"His ship is lost."
"He has been haled to prison."
What has happened?
"He has been haled to prison."
But that any of these things are misfortunes to him, is an
addition which every one makes of his own. But (you say) God is
unjust in this.--Why? For having given thee endurance and
greatness of soul? For having made such things to be no evils?
For placing happiness within thy reach, even when enduring them?
For opening unto thee a door, when things make not for thy
good?--Depart, my friend, and find fault no more!
You are sailing to Rome (you tell me) to obtain the post of
Governor of Cnossus.(11) You are not content to stay at home with
the honours you had before; you want something on a larger scale,
and more conspicuous. But when did you ever undertake a voyage
for the purpose of reviewing your own principles and getting rid
of any of them that proved unsound? Whom did you ever visit for
that object? What time did you ever set yourself for that? What
age? Run over the times of your life--by yourself, if you are
ashamed before me. Did you examine your principles when a boy?
Did you not do everything just as you do now? Or when you were a
stripling, attending the school of oratory and practising the art
yourself, what did you ever imagine you lacked? And when you were
a young man, entered upon public life, and were pleading causes
and making a name, who any longer seemed equal to you? And at
what moment would you have endured another examining your
principles and proving that they were unsound? What then am I to
say to you? "Help me in this matter!" you cry. Ah, for that I
have no rule! And neither did you, if that was your object, come
to me as a philosopher, but as you might have gone to a herb-seller
or a cobbler.--"What do philosophers have rules for,
then?"--Why, that whatever may betide, our ruling faculty may be
as Nature would have it, and so remain. Think you this a small
matter? Not so! but the greatest thing there is. Well, does it
need but a short time? Can it be grasped by a passer-by?--grasp
it, if you can!
Then you will say, "Yes, I met Epictetus!"
Aye, just as you might a statue or a monument. You saw me!
and that is all. But a man who meets a man is one who learns the
other's mind, and lets him see his in turn. Learn my mind--show me
yours; and then go and say that you met me. Let us try each
other; if I have any wrong principle, rid me of it; if you have,
out with it. That is what meeting a philosopher means. Not so,
you think; this is only a flying visit; while we are hiring the
ship, we can see Epictetus too! Let us see what he has to say.
Then on leaving you cry, "Out on Epictetus for a worthless
fellow, provincial and barbarous of speech!" What else indeed did
you come to judge of?
(11) In Crete.
Whether you will or no, you are poorer than I!
"What then do I lack?"
What you have not: Constancy of mind, such as Nature would
have it to be: Tranquillity. Patron or no patron, what care I?
but you do care. I am richer than you: I am not racked with
anxiety as to what Caesar may think of me; I flatter none on
that account. This is what I have, instead of vessels of gold
and silver! your vessels may be of gold, but your reason, your
principles, your accepted views, your inclinations, your desires
are of earthenware.
To you, all you have seems small: to me, all I have seems
great. Your desire is insatiable, mine is satisfied. See children
thrusting their hands into a narrow-necked jar, and striving to
pull out the nuts and figs it contains: if they fill the hand,
they cannot pull it out again, and then they fall to tears.--
"Let go a few of them, and then you can draw out the rest!"--
You, too, let your desire go! covet not many things, and you will
Pittacus,(12) wronged by one whom he had it in his power to
punish, let him go free, saying, Forgiveness is better than
revenge. The one shows native gentleness, the other savagery.
(12) One of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. He ruled Mytilene
in Lesbos in the seventh century B.C.
"My brother ought not to have treated me thus."
True: but he must see to that. However he may treat me, I
must deal rightly by him. This is what lies with me, what none
Nevertheless a man should also be prepared to be sufficient
unto himself--to dwell with himself alone, even as God dwells
with Himself alone, shares His repose with none, and considers
the nature of His own administration, intent upon such thoughts
as are meet unto Himself. So should we also be able to converse
with ourselves, to need none else beside, to sigh for no
distraction, to bend our thoughts upon the Divine Administration,
and how we stand related to all else; to observe how human
accidents touched us of old, and how they touch us now; what
things they are that still have power to hurt us, and how they
may be cured or removed; to perfect what needs perfecting as
Reason would direct.
If a man has frequent intercourse with others, either in the
way of conversation, entertainment, or simple familiarity, he
must either become like them, or change them to his own fashion.
A live coal placed next a dead one will either kindle that or be
quenched by it. Such being the risk, it is well to be cautious in
admitting intimacies of this sort, remembering that one cannot
rub shoulders with a soot-stained man without sharing the soot
oneself. What will you do, supposing the talk turns on
gladiators, or horses, or prize-fighters, or (what is worse) on
persons, condemning this and that, approving the other? Or
suppose a man sneers or jeers or shows a malignant temper? Has
any among us the skill of the lute-player, who knows at the first
touch which strings are out of tune and sets the instrument
right: has any of you such a power as Socrates had, in all his
intercourse with men, of winning them over to his own
convictions? Nay, but you must needs be swayed hither and thither
by the uninstructed. How comes it then that they prove so much
stronger than you? Because they speak from the fulness of the
heart--their low, corrupt views are their real convictions:
whereas your fine sentiments are but from the lips, outwards;
that is why they are so nerveless and dead. It turns one's
stomach to listen to your exhortations, and hear of your
miserable Virtue, that you prate of up and down. Thus it is that
the Vulgar prove too strong for you. Everywhere strength,
everywhere victory waits your conviction!
In general, any methods of discipline applied to the body
which tend to modify its desires or repulsions, are good--for
ascetic ends. But if done for display, they betray at once a man
who keeps an eye on outward show; who has an ulterior purpose,
and is looking for spectators to shout, "Oh what a great man!"
This is why Apollonius so well said: "If you are bent upon a
little private discipline, wait till you are choking with heat
some day--then take a mouthful of cold water, and spit it out
again, and tell no man!"
Study how to give as one that is sick: that thou mayest
hereafter give as one that is whole. Fast; drink water only;
abstain altogether from desire, that thou mayest hereafter
conform thy desire to Reason.
Thou wouldst do good unto men? then show them by thine own
example what kind of men philosophy can make, and cease from
foolish trifling. Eating, do good to them that eat with thee;
drinking, to them that drink with thee; yield unto all, give way,
and bear with them. Thus shalt thou do them good: but vent not
upon them thine own evil humour!