The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
'I am ill here,' says one, 'and want to go away home.'
What, were you never ill at home? Do you not consider whether you are doing anything here to improve your will, for if you are doing no good, you might just as well never have come? Go away, and attend to your affairs at home: for if your Governing Principle cannot be brought into accord with Nature, no doubt your bit of land will prosper; you will add to your bit of money! You will tend your old father, frequent the market-place, serve as a magistrate, do anything that comes next, poor wretch, in your wretched way. But if you understand that you are getting rid of bad judgements and gaining others in their place, and that you have transferred your attention from things outside the will's control to things within it, and that now if you cry, 'Ah me!' it is not for your father or your brother but for yourself that you cry, then why should you take account of illness any more? Do you not know
that disease and death are bound to overtake us whatever we are doing? They overtake the farmer at his farming, the sailor on the seas. What would you like to be doing when they overtake you? For you must needs be overtaken, whatever you are doing. If you can find anything better than this to be doing when you are overtaken, do it by all means!
For my own part I would wish death to overtake me occupied with nothing but the care of my will, trying to make it calm, unhindered, unconstrained, free. I would fain be found so employed, that I may be able to say to God, 'Did I transgress Thy commands? Did I use the faculties Thou gayest me to wrong purpose? Did I use my senses or my primary notions in vain? Did I ever accuse Thee? Did I ever find fault with Thy ordinance? I fell sick, when it was Thy will: so did others, but I rebelled not. I became poor when Thou didst will it, but I rejoiced in my poverty. I held no office, because it was Thy will: I never coveted office. Didst Thou ever see me gloomy for that reason? Did I ever come before Thee but with a cheerful face, ready for any commands or orders that Thou mightest give? Now it is Thy will for me to leave the festival. I go, giving all thanks to Thee, that Thou didst deign to let me share Thy festival and see Thy works and understand Thy government.' May these be my thoughts, these my studies, writing or reading, when death comes upon me!
'But I am ill, and shall not have my mother to hold my head.'
Go to your mother then; for you deserve to be ill, with her to hold your head.
'But I had a nice bed to lie on at home.'
Go to your nice bed then; sick or well you deserve to lie on a bed of that sort! Pray do not lose what you can do there.
But what does Socrates say? 'As one man', he says, 'delights to improve his field, and another his horse, so I delight in following day by day my own improvement.'
'In what? In paltry phrases?'
Man, hold your peace.
'In pretty precepts then?'
Enough of that.
'Nay, but philosophers busy themselves with nothing else, so far as I see.'
Is it nothing (do you think?) never to accuse any one, God or man, never to blame any, to go in and out with the same countenance? These are the things which Socrates knew, and yet he never said that he knew or taught anything; and if any one asked for phrases or precepts, he would take him away to Protagoras or Hippias. In the same way if any one had come looking for greenstuff, he would have taken him to the gardener. Which of you then makes this the purpose of his life? Why,
if you did, you would gladly suffer sickness and hunger and death. If any one of you was ever in love with a pretty girl, he knows that I speak true!