The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
The 'forlorn' state is the condition of one without help. For a man is not forlorn simply because he is alone, any more than a man in a crowd is unforlorn. At any rate when we lose a brother or a son or a friend, in whom we rest our trust, we say that we have been left forlorn, though often we are in Rome, with that great throng meeting us in the streets, and those numbers living about us, and sometimes we have a multitude of slaves. For according to its conception the term 'forlorn' means that a man is without help, exposed to those who wish to harm him. For this reason, when we are travelling, we call ourselves forlorn most of all, when we fall among robbers. For it is not the sight of a man as such that relieves us from being forlorn, but the sight of one who is faithful and self-respecting and serviceable. For if being alone is enough to make one forlorn, you must say that Zeus Himself is forlorn at the Conflagration of the Universe 3-9 and bewails Himself: 'Unhappy me! I have neither Hera nor Athena nor Apollo nor, in a word, brother or son or grandson or kinsman.' And in fact this is what some say that He does, when left alone in the Conflagration: for they cannot conceive of the mode of life of a solitary Being: they start with a natural principle, the fact that men are by nature drawn by ties of fellowship and mutual affection, and enjoy converse with their kind. But nevertheless a man must prepare himself for solitude too—he must be able to suffice for himself, and able to commune with himself. Just as Zeus communes with Himself and is at peace with Himself and reflects upon the nature of His government, and occupies Himself with thoughts appropriate to Himself, so should we be able to talk to ourselves, without need of others, or craving for diversion: we should study the divine government and the relation in which we stand to other things: we should consider what was our attitude to events before, and what it is now: what the things are which still afflict us: how they may be cured, how removed: if any things need to be brought to perfection, perfect them as reason requires.
For see: Caesar 3-10 seems to provide us with profound peace; there are no wars nor battles any more, no great bands of robbers or pirates: we are able to travel by land at every season, and to sail from sunrise to sunset. Can he then provide us also with peace from fever, from shipwreck, from fire or earthquake or thunderbolt? Go to, can he give us peace from love? He cannot. From mourning? He cannot. From envy? No! he cannot give us peace from any of them. But the reasoning of philosophers promises to give us peace from these troubles also. What does it say? 'Men, if you attend to me, wherever you may be, whatever you may be doing, you will feel no distress, no anger, no compulsion, no hindrance, but will live undisturbed and free from all distractions.' When a man has this peace proclaimed to him, not by Caesar (how could he proclaim it?) but proclaimed by God, through the voice of reason, is he not content when he is alone? When he considers and reflects, 'Now no evil can befall me, robber exists not for me, earthquake exists not: all is full of peace and tranquillity: every road, every city, every meeting, neighbour, companion—all are harmless.' Another, Who takes care of me, supplies food and raiment; He has given me senses and primary conceptions; and when He does not provide necessaries, He sounds the recall, He opens the door and says, "Come." Where? To nothing you need fear, but to that whence you were born, to your friends and kindred, the elements. So much of you as was fire shall pass into fire, what was earth shall pass into earth, the spirit into spirit, the water into water. There is no Hades, nor Acheron, nor Cocytus, nor Pyriphlegethon, but all is full of gods and divine beings. When one has this to think upon, and when he beholds the sun and moon and stars, and enjoys land and sea, he is not forlorn any more than he is destitute of help.
'Nay,' you say, 'but what if one come upon me alone and murder me?' Fool, he murders not you, but your paltry body.
How can we speak any more then of being forlorn and helpless? Why do we make ourselves worse than children? For what do children do when they are left alone? They pick up potsherds and dust and build something or other and then pull it down and build something else again, and so they never lack diversion. If you sail away, am I to sit and shed tears because I am left alone and forlorn? Shall I not in that case have my potsherds and my dust? But they do this in their foolishness: do we in our wisdom make ourselves miserable?
Great power is always dangerous in a beginner. We must then bear such things according to our strength, but always according to nature. A certain course may suit a strong man but not a consumptive. Be content to practise the life of an invalid, that you may one day live the life of a healthy man. Take scant food, drink water: refrain from willing
to get anything for a while, that you may one day direct your will rationally. If you do so, then, when you have some good in you, you will direct your will aright.
'No,' you say, 'we want at once to live as wise men and benefit mankind.'
Benefit indeed! What are you after? Did you ever benefit yourself? 'But I want to stir them up.'
Have you stirred yourself up first? You want to benefit them; then show them in your own life what sort of men philosophy makes, and cease to talk folly. When you eat, benefit those who eat with you, when you drink, benefit those who drink, by yielding and giving way to all, by bearing with them: that is the way to benefit them and not by venting your own phlegm 3-11 upon them!