The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
The material of the good man is his own Governing Principle, as the body is the material of the physician and trainer, the land of the farmer; and it is the function of the good man to deal with his impressions naturally. And just as it is the nature of every soul to assent to what is true and dissent from what is false, and withhold judgement in what is uncertain, so it is its nature to be moved with the will to get what is good and the will to avoid what is evil, and to be neutral towards what is neither good nor evil. For just as neither the banker nor the greengrocer can refuse the Emperor's currency, but, if you show it, he must part, willy-nilly, with what the coin will buy, so it is also with the soul. The very sight of good attracts one towards it, the sight of evil repels. The soul will never reject a clear impression of good, any more than we reject Caesar's currency. On this depends every motion of man and of God. Therefore the good is preferred to every tie of kinship.
I have no concern with my father, but with the good!
'Are you so hard-hearted?'
It is my nature; this is the currency which God has given me. Therefore if the good is different from the noble and just, then father and brother, country and all such things disappear.
I say, am I to neglect my good, that you may get it? am I to make way for you? Why should I?
'I am your father.'
But not my good.
'I am your brother.'
But not my good. If we make the good consist in right will, the mere maintenance of such relations becomes good: further, he who resigns some of his external possessions attains the good.
'My father is taking away my money.'
But he is not harming you.
'My brother will have the greater part of the land.'
Let him have as much as he likes: does he gain in character? Is he more modest, trustworthy, brotherly? Who can eject one from that possession? Not even Zeus: nor did He wish to eject me; He put my character in my keeping and gave it me as He had it himself, unhindered, unfettered, unrestrained.
Inasmuch then as different people have a different currency, a man shows his coin and gets what it will buy. A thief has come to the province as Proconsul. What coin does he use? Money. Show him money, and carry off what you will. An adulterer has come. What currency does he use? Pretty girls. 'Take your coin', says he, 'and sell me the thing I want.' Give, and buy. Another's heart is set on minions. Give him the coin and take what you will. Another is a sportsman. Give him a fine horse or dog. With sighs and groans he will sell you what you like for it: for he is constrained from within, by Another, who has ordained this currency.
It is by this principle above all that you must guide yourself in training. Go out as soon as it is dawn and whomsoever you may see and hear, question yourself and answer as to an interrogator.
What did you see? A beautiful woman or boy. Apply the rule: Is this within the will's control or beyond it? Beyond. Away with it then!
What did you see? One mourning at his child's death. Apply the rule: Is death beyond the will, or can the will control it? Death is beyond the will's control. Put it out of the way then!
Did a Consul meet you? Apply the rule: What is a consulship? Is it beyond the will's control or within it? Beyond it. Take it away: the coin will not pass; reject it, you have no concern with it.
I say, if we did this and trained ourselves on this principle every day from dawn to night, we should indeed achieve something. As it is, we are caught open-mouthed by every impression we meet, and only in the lecture-room, if then, does our mind wake up a little. Then we go into the street and if we see a mourner we say, 'He is undone'; if a
[paragraph continues] Consul, 'Lucky man'; if an outlaw, 'Miserable man'; if a poor man, 'Wretched man, he has nothing to buy food with.'
These mistaken judgements we must eradicate, and concentrate our efforts on doing so. For what is weeping and lamenting? A matter of judgement. What is misfortune? Judgement. What is faction, discord, criticism, accusation, irreligion, foolishness? All these are judgements, nothing else, and judgements passed on things beyond the will, as though they were good and evil. Only let a man turn these efforts to the sphere of the will, and I guarantee that he will enjoy peace of mind, whatever his circumstances may be.
The soul is like a dish full of water, and the impressions like the rays of light which strike the water. Now when the water is disturbed the light seems to be disturbed too, but it is not really disturbed. So when a man has a fit of dizziness, the arts and virtues are not put to confusion, but only the spirit in which they exist: when this is at rest, they come to rest too.