Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, [1916], at



When one of his acquaintances asked why more progress was made in old days, although the processes of reason have been more studied by the men of to-day, he answered, On what has the effort been spent, and in what was the greater progress in the past? For you will find that progress to-day corresponds exactly to the effort spent. The fact is that to-day men have spent their effort on the analysis of syllogisms, and progress is made in that: in old days men spent their effort on maintaining their mind in accord with Nature, and they made progress in that. Therefore do not confound the processes, nor seek to spend effort on one thing and make progress in another. If you look whether any of us who sets himself to keep in accord with Nature and to live his life so, fails to make progress, you will find there is none.

'The good man can suffer no defeat.'

Of course, for he engages in no contest where he is not superior. 'Take my lands, if you will: take my servants, take my office, take my poor body, yet you will not make me fail to get what I will or fall into what I will to avoid.' This is the only contest for which he enters—that which is concerned with the sphere of the will, and therefore he cannot fail to be invincible.

When some one asked him what 'general perception' meant, he replied, You might describe the faculty which only distinguishes sounds as 'general' hearing, but the faculty which distinguishes musical sounds you would not call 'general' but 'technical'. In the same way there are certain things which all men who are not utterly perverted can see in virtue of their general faculties. It is this mental constitution to which the name 'general perception' is given.

It is not easy to give stimulus to young men who have no grit: 'you cannot lift a cream-cheese by a hook' [Musonius Rufus]; but young men of parts hold fast to reason even if you try to deter them. That is why Rufus generally tried to deter them, and made this his test of those who were gifted and those who were not; 'for', said he, 'just as the stone, if you throw it up, will fall to the earth by its own nature, so the gifted soul is all the more inclined towards its natural object, the more you try to beat it off.'

Next: Chapter XII. Dialogue with the Commissioner of the Free Cities, Who was an Epicurean