The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
Perhaps the contention of philosophers that it is possible in everything we do to combine confidence with caution may appear a paradox, but nevertheless we must do our best to consider whether it is true. In a sense, no doubt, caution seems to be contrary to confidence, and contraries are by no means compatible. But I think that what seems to many a paradox in this subject depends on a confusion, and it is this. If we really called upon a man to use caution and confidence in regard to the same things, they might fairly find fault with us as uniting qualities which cannot be united. But as a matter of fact there is nothing strange in the statement: for if it is true, as has often been said and often proved, that the true nature of good and also of evil depends on how we deal with impressions, and if things outside the will's control cannot be described as good or bad, we cannot surely call it a paradoxical demand of the philosophers if they say, 'Be confident in all that lies beyond the will's control, be cautious in all that is dependent on the will.' For if evil depends on evil choice, it is only in regard to matters of will that it is right to use caution; and if things outside the will's control, which do not depend on us, concern us in no way, we should use confidence in regard to these. And in that way we shall be at once cautious and confident and indeed confident because of our caution. For because we are cautious as to things which are really evil we shall get confidence to face things which are not so.
However, we behave like deer: when hinds fear the feathers 2-1 and fly from them, where do they turn, and in what do they take refuge as a safe retreat? They turn to the nets, and so they perish because they confuse objects of fear with objects of confidence.
So it is with us. Where do we show fear? In regard to things outside our will's control. Again, when do we behave with confidence as though there were nothing to fear? In matters within the will's control. So if only we are successful in things beyond our will's control we think it is of no consequence to us to be deceived or to act rashly, or to do a shameless deed, or to conceive a shameful desire. But where death or exile or pain or infamy confronts us, there we show the spirit of retreat and of wild alarm. Wherefore, as is likely with men who are mistaken in the
greatest matters, we convert our natural confidence into something bold, desperate, reckless, shameless, whereas we change our natural caution and modesty into a cowardly and abject quality, full of fears and perturbations. For if a man transfers his caution to the region of the will and the operations of the will, with the will to be cautious he will find that the will to avoid lies in his control: while if he turns his caution to what is beyond the control of our will, inasmuch as his will to avoid will be directed to what depends upon others he will of necessity be subject to fear, inconstancy, and perturbation. For it is not death or pain which is a fearful thing, but the fear of pain or death. Therefore men praise him who said
Not death, but shameful death, is to be feared.
We ought then to turn our confidence towards death, and our caution towards the fear of death: what we really do is just the contrary; we fly from death, yet we pay no heed to forming judgements about death, but are reckless and indifferent. Socrates called such fears 'bogies', and rightly too. [Plato, Phaedo, 77e] For just as masks seem fearful and terrible to children from want of experience, so we are affected by events for much the same reason as children are affected by 'bogies'. For what makes a child? Want of knowledge. What makes a child? Want of instruction. For so far as a child knows those things he is no worse off than we are. What is death? A bogy. Turn it round and see what it is: you see it does not bite. The stuff of the body was bound to be parted from the airy element, either now or hereafter, as it existed apart from it before. Why then are you vexed if they are parted now? For if not parted now, they will be hereafter. Why so? That the revolution of the universe may be accomplished, for it has need of things present, things future, and things past and done with. What is pain? A bogy. Turn it round and see what it is. The poor flesh is subject to rough movement, then again to smooth. If it is not to your profit, the door stands open: if it is to your profit, bear it. For in every event the door must stand open and then we have no trouble.
What then is the fruit of these judgements? A fruit which must needs be most noble and most becoming to those who are truly being educated —a mind tranquil and fearless and free. For on these matters you must not trust the multitude, who say, 'Only the free may be educated', but rather the philosophers who say, 'Only the educated are free.'
'What do you mean by that?'
I mean this. What else is freedom but power to pass our life as we will?
Tell me, fellow men, do you wish to live doing wrong?
'We do not.'
Is no one free who does wrong?
Do you wish to live in fear, in pain, in distress of mind?
'By no means.'
Well, no man who suffers fear or pain or distress of mind is free, but whoever is quit of fears and pains and distresses is by the self-same road quit of slavery. How then shall we go on believing you, dearest lawgivers?
Do we allow none but the free to get education?
Nay! philosophers say that we do not allow any to be free except those whose education is complete: that is, God does not allow it.
'Well then, when a man turns his slave round before the praetor, 2-2 does he do nothing?'
He does something.
He turns his slave round before the praetor.
Yes, he is bound to pay the twentieth for him.
'What follows? Has not the man to whom this is done gained freedom?'
No more than he has gained peace of mind. For do you who can confer this freedom own no master? Have you not a master in money, a girl lover or a boy lover, the tyrant, or a friend of the tyrant? If not, why do you tremble when you go away to face a crisis of this sort? Therefore I say many times over: What you must practise and have at command is to know what you ought to approach with confidence, and what with caution; all that is beyond the control of the will with confidence, and what is dependent on the will with caution.
'But' (says my pupil), 'have I not recited to you? Do you not know what I am doing?'
What are you engaged on? Paltry phrases. Away with your paltry phrases: show me how you stand in regard to the will to get and the will to avoid: if you do not fail to get what you will, or fall into what you will to avoid. As for those paltry periods, if you have sense you will take them away somewhere or other and make away with them.
'What do you mean? Did not Socrates write?'
Yes, who wrote so much as he? But under what conditions? He could not always have some one at hand examining his judgements or to be examined by him in turn, and therefore be examined and questioned himself and was always putting to trial some primary conception or other in a practical way. This is what a philosopher writes: but paltry
phrases and periods he leaves to others, to the stupid or the blessed, those whose peace of mind gives them leisure for study or those who can draw no logical conclusions because of their folly.
To-day, when the crisis calls you, will you go off and display your recitation and harp on, 'How cleverly I compose dialogues'? Nay, fellow man, make this your object, 'Look how I fail not to get what I will. Look how I escape what I will to avoid. Let death come and you shall know; bring me pains, prison, dishonour, condemnation.' This is the true field of display for a young man come from school. Leave those other trifles to other men; let no one ever hear you say a word on them, do not tolerate any compliments upon them; assume the air of being no one and of knowing nothing. Show that you know this only, how not to fail and how not to fall. Let others practise law-suits, logical puzzles and syllogisms: let your study be how to suffer death, bondage, the rack, exile: let all this be done with confidence and trust in Him who has called you to face them, and judged you worthy of this place you hold, wherein at your appointed post you shall show what is the power of reason, the Governing Principle, when arrayed against forces which are outside the will. And, if you do this, that paradox will no longer seem impossible or paradoxical—that we must show caution and confidence at the same time, confidence in regard to things beyond the will, caution in things which depend on the will.