The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
Impressions come to us in four ways: either things are and seem so to us; or they are not and seem not to be; or they are and seem not; or they are not and yet seem to be. Now it is the business of the true philosopher to deal rightly with all these; he ought to afford help at whatever point the pressure comes. If it is the fallacies of Pyrrho and of the Academy which crush us, let us render help against them. If it is the plausibilities of circumstances, which make things seem good which are not, let us seek help against this danger: if it is habit which crushes us, we must try to discover help against that.
What, then, can we discover to help us against habit?
You hear ignorant folk saying, 'Unhappy man that he was, he died': 'His father perished, and his mother': 'He was cut off, yes, and untimely and in a foreign land.' Now listen to the arguments on the other side;
draw yourself away from these voices, set against habit the opposite habit. Set against fallacious arguments the processes of reason, training yourself to be familiar with these processes: against the plausibilities of things we must have our primary conceptions clear, like weapons bright and ready for use.
When death appears an evil we must have ready to hand the argument that it is fitting to avoid evils, and death is a necessary thing. What am I to do? Where am I to escape it? Grant that I am not Sarpedon son of Zeus, to utter those noble words, 'I would fain go and achieve glory or afford another the occasion to achieve it: if I cannot win success myself, I will not grudge another the chance of doing a noble deed'. Grant that this is beyond us, can we not compass the other?
I ask you, Where am I to escape death? Point me to the place, point me to the people, among whom I am to go, on whom it does not light, point me to a charm against it. If I have none, what would you have me do? I cannot escape death: am I not to escape the fear of it? Am I to die in tears and trembling? For trouble of mind springs from this, from wishing for a thing which does not come to pass. Wheresoever I can alter external things to suit my own will, I alter them: where I cannot, I am fain to tear any man's eyes out who stands in my way. For man's nature is such that he cannot bear to be deprived of what is good, nor can he bear to be involved in evil. And so the end of the matter is that when I cannot alter things, nor blind him that hinders me, I sit still and moan and revile whom I can—Zeus and the other gods; for if they heed me not, what have I to do with them?
'Yes, but that will be impious of you.'
Well, how shall I be worse off than I am now? In a word, we must remember this, that unless piety and true interest coincide, piety cannot be preserved in a man. Do not these principles seem to you to be urgent?
Let the Pyrrhonist and the disciple of the Academy come and maintain the contrary! For my part I have no leisure for these discussions, nor can I act as advocate to the common-sense view.
If I had some petty action concerned with a plot of land, I should have called in another to be my advocate, how much more in a matter of this concern.
With what argument, then, am I content? With what is appropriate to the subject in hand. How sensation takes place, whether through the whole body or through particular parts, I cannot render a reasoned account, though I find difficulty in both views. But that you and I are not the same persons, I know absolutely and for certain. How is that? When I want to swallow a morsel I never lift it to your mouth, but to mine. When I want to take a piece of bread, I never take rubbish instead,
but go to the bread as to a mark. And even you who make nothing of the senses, act just as I do. Which of you when he wants to go to the bath goes to the mill instead?
What follows? Must we not to the best of our power hold fast to this —that is, maintain the view of common sense, and guard ourselves against all that upsets it? Yes, who disputes that? But these are matters for one who has the power and the leisure: the man who trembles, and is disturbed, and whose heart is shaken within him, ought to devote his time to something else.