The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
Those who have learnt precepts and nothing more are anxious to give them out at once, just as men with weak stomachs vomit food. First digest your precepts, and then you will not vomit them; undigested, they become vomit indeed, impure and uneatable. Show us that you have digested them to some purpose, and that your Governing Principle is changed, as athletes can show their shoulders, as a result of their training and eating, and as those who have acquired the arts can show
the result of their learning. The carpenter does not come and say, 'Hear me discourse on carpentry', but he undertakes a contract and builds a house and so shows that he has acquired the art. Do you likewise: eat as a man, drink as a man, adorn yourself, marry, get children, live a citizen's life; endure revilings, bear with an inconsiderate brother, bear with a father, a son, a travelling companion. Show us that you can do this, and then we shall see that you have in truth learnt something from the philosophers. Not you: you say, 'Come and hear me reading out comments!' Away with you, look for some one to disgorge your vomit on.
'I assure you I will expound Chrysippus' doctrines to you as no one else can. I will break up his language and make it quite clear. I will add, it may be, a touch of Antipater's or Archedemus' verve.'
What! is it for this that young men are to leave their countries and their parents, that they may come and hear you expounding petty points of language? Ought they not to return ready to bear with others and work with them, tranquil and free from tumult, furnished with a provision for life's journey, which will enable them to bear what befalls them well and to adorn themselves thereby? And how are you to impart to them what you do not possess yourself? For your sole occupation from the first has been this—how you are to resolve syllogisms and variable arguments, and arguments concluding with a question.
'But So-and-so gives lectures, why should not I?'
Slave, you cannot do this off-hand, and in a random fashion. It demands mature years, and a certain way of life, and the guidance of God.
You say no: but no one sails from harbour without sacrificing to the gods and invoking their help, and men do not sow at random, but only when they have invoked Demeter; and when a man has laid his hand to a task so momentous as this without the gods' help, will he be secure and will those who come to him be fortunate in their coming? Man, what are you doing but making the Mysteries common? You say, 'There is a shrine at Eleusis, lo, here is one also: there is a hierophant there: I too will make a hierophant: there is a herald there, I too will appoint a herald: there is a torch-bearer there, I too will have a torch-bearer: there are torches there, so there are here: the cries are the same. What difference is there between our doings and the Mysteries?'
Most impious of men, is there no difference? The benefit of the Mysteries depends on proper place and time: one must approach with sacrifice and prayer, with body purified and mind ready and disposed to approach holy rites and ancient sanctities. Only so do the Mysteries bring benefit, only so do we arrive at the belief that all these things were established by those of old for our education and the amendment of our life. But you publish and divulge them out of place and out of
season, without sacrifices or purifying: you have not the dress which the hierophant should have, nor the proper hair, nor the fillet: you have not the right voice nor age, you have not lived pure as he has, but you have merely learnt off the words and say, 'The words have a holy power in themselves.'
You must approach the task in another fashion: it is momentous and full of mystery, not a chance gift which any one can command. The care of the young demands, it may be, more than wisdom: yes, by Zeus, one must have a certain readiness and special fitness, and a certain habit of body, and above all the counsel of God advising one to discharge this duty, as He counselled Socrates to examine men, and Diogenes to rebuke men in royal fashion, and Zeno to instruct and lay down precepts. You open a doctor's consulting-room with nothing but some drugs, without ever taking the trouble to acquire a knowledge of when or how they are applied. 'See, that's his remedy, eye-salve' (you say): 'I have that too.' Have you also the faculty of using it? Do you know when and how and to whom it will do good? Why then do you play at hazard with matters of highest moment, why are you reckless, why do you take in hand a task unsuited to your powers? Leave it to those who can do it and do it with distinction.
Do not bring disgrace upon philosophy by your personal act, nor join those who disparage the profession; but if the study of precepts really attracts you, sit quietly and turn them over in your mind, but never call yourself a philosopher nor allow any one else to do so, but say: 'He is in error: I am unchanged; my will, my impulses, my assent, are what they were, and, in a word, I have not advanced from my position, but deal with impressions as before.' So think, so speak about yourself, if you would think aright. But if this is beyond you, then play at hazard and do as you are doing, for you will be acting in character.