The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
If a thing goes against another's nature, you must not take it as evil for you; for you are born not to share humiliation or evil fortune, but to share good fortune. And if a man is unfortunate, remember that his misfortune is his own fault; for God created all men for happiness and peace of mind. To this end He gave men resources, giving each man some things for his own, and some not for his own, things subject to hindrance and deprivation and compulsion not for his own, but things beyond hindrance for his own. The true nature of good and evil He gave man for his own, as was natural for Him to do, Who cares for us and protects us as a Father.
'Oh, but I have just parted from such an one, and he is distressed!'
Why did he count as his own what was not his? When he rejoiced to look on you why did he not reflect that you are mortal, and that you may go on a journey? Wherefore he pays the penalty for his own foolishness. But why do you bewail yourself, and to what end? Did not you study this distinction either? Did you, as worthless women do, regard all the things in which you took pleasure—places, persons, ways of life —as though they would always be with you? And so now you sit and weep because you do not see the same persons and pass your time in the same place. No doubt you deserve this fate—to be more wretched than rooks and ravens, who may fly where they will and change their nests, and cross the seas, without lamenting or longing for their first possessions.
'Yes, but this happens to them because they have no reason.'
Is our reason then given us by the gods for misfortune and misery, that we may continue in wretchedness and mourning? Or would you have all men to be immortal, and no one go abroad? Are we never to
go away but all to stay rooted like plants, and if one of our close friends goes abroad are we to sit and weep: and again, if he return, are we to dance and clap like little children?
Shall we not at last give up the milk of babes, and remember what we heard from the philosophers, unless we took what they said for enchanters' tales? 'This world is one city, and the substance of which it is constructed is one; and things must needs move in a cycle, one thing giving way to another, and some things must pass away, and others come into being, some must abide as they are and others must move; and the universe is full of friends—the gods first, and after them men, whom nature has made akin to one another; some of them must be with one another and others must go away, and we should rejoice in those that are with us, yet not be sad at those who go away. And man, besides being born to a high courage, and to despise all that is beyond his will, has this too for his own, that he is not rooted nor attached to the earth, but goes now to one place, now to another, at one time under the pressure of business, at another merely to see the world.' Such indeed was the lot of Odysseus:
and yet earlier it was the lot of Heracles to go about all the inhabited world,
cleansing the world and casting forth the insolent, and bringing "in the rule of law. Yet how many friends, think you, had he in Thebes, how many in Argos, how many in Athens, and how many did he win for himself as he went about, seeing that he married a wife, where he thought fit, and got children, and forsook his children, with no mourning nor longing, nor as one leaving them orphans? For he knew that no man is an orphan, but that all men have always the Father Who cares for them continually; for to him it was no mere tale that he had heard that Zeus is the Father of men, for he believed Him to be his own father and called Him so, and all that he did he did as looking to Him, wherefore it was in his power to live happily everywhere. But happiness and longing for what is absent can never be united; for that which is happy must needs have all that it will, and be as it were in a state of satisfaction; no thirst or hunger must come near it. But Odysseus, you say, had a sense of longing for his wife, and sat upon a rock and wept. Do you take Homer for your authority in everything, and Homer's stories? If Odysseus
really wept, was he not miserable, and what good man is ever miserable? The universe is indeed managed ill if Zeus does not take care of His citizens, that they may be happy as He is. It is not lawful or right even to think of such a thing, and if Odysseus wept and lamented, he was no good man. For how can a man be good, when he knows not who he is, and how can he know this when he has forgotten that all things that have come into being are perishable, and that it is impossible for man to be with man for ever? Now to desire what is impossible is slavish and silly; it is to make oneself a stranger in the world, and to fight against God with one's own judgements, as alone one can.
'But my mother mourns because she does not see me.'
Why does she not take to heart these lessons? Yet I do not say that we must not take pains to prevent her lamenting; but that we must not wish absolutely for what is not ours. Another's sorrow is no concern of mine, my sorrow is my own; and so I shall absolutely check my own sorrow, for it is in my power, but another's I shall try to check only so far as I can, but not absolutely; otherwise I shall fight against God, I shall set myself against Zeus and array myself against His conduct of the universe, and the penalty for this battling with God and this disobedience will be paid not only by 'children's children', but by me in my own person, by day and by night, when I start in my dreams and am disturbed, when I tremble at every message, when my peace of mind hangs upon another's letters.
Some one is come from Rome.
'If only it be no ill news!'
What ill can happen to you in a place where you are not?
'If only it be no ill news!'
On this principle, every place can cause you misery. Is it not enough that you should be miserable where you are yourself? Must you needs be miserable overseas, and by letter? Is this what you mean by being secure?
What happens then if your friends there die?
What else except that mortal men have died? How can you wish at the same time to grow old and not to see the death of any that you love? Do you not know that in the long course of time many events of divers sorts must happen? One man must be overcome by fever, another by a robber, a third by a despot. For such is the nature of the atmosphere about us, and of our companions; cold and heat and unsuitable food, and travel by land, and sea, and winds and manifold perils destroy one man and send another into exile, and another they send on an embassy or as a soldier. Sit still then with your wits dazed at all these
things—mourning, unfortunate, miserable, depending on something other than yourself—not one thing or two, but things innumerable.
Is this what your lesson comes to, is this what you learnt in the philosopher's school? Do you not know that life is a soldier's service? One man must keep guard, another go out to reconnoitre, another take the field. It is not possible for all to stay where they are, nor is it better so. But you neglect to fulfil the orders of the general and complain, when some severe order is laid upon you; you do not understand to what a pitiful state you are bringing the army so far as in you lies; you do not see that if all follow your example there will be no one to dig a trench, or raise a palisade, no one to keep night watch or fight in the field, but every one will seem an unserviceable soldier.
Again, if you go as a sailor on shipboard, keep to one place and hold fast to that; if you are called on to climb the mast, refuse, if to run out on the bows, refuse that. Why, what ship's master will put up with you, and not fling you overboard like a useless bit of furniture, a mere
4 hindrance and bad example to the other sailors? So too it is in the world; each man's life is a campaign, and a long and varied one. It is for you to play the soldier's part—do everything at the General's bidding, divining His wishes, if it be possible. For there is no comparison between that General and the ordinary one in power and superiority of character. You are set in an imperial City and not in some humble town; you are always a senator. Do you not know that such an one can attend but little to his own household? He must spend most of his time abroad, in command or under command, or as subordinate to some officer, or as soldier or judge? And yet you tell me you want to be attached like a plant and rooted in the same place?
'Yes, for it is pleasant.'
Who denies it? Dainties are pleasant too, and a beautiful woman is a pleasant thing. Your talk is the talk of those who make pleasure their end.
Do you not realize whose language you are using, the language of Epicureans and abandoned creatures? and yet though your actions and your principles are theirs, you quote to us the words of Zeno and Socrates? Fling away from you, as far as may be, these alien properties that you adorn yourself with, and that do not fit you! People of that sort have no wish except to sleep without hindrance or compulsion, and then to get up and yawn at their ease and wash their face, then to write and read at their pleasure, then to talk nonsense and be complimented by their friends, whatever they say, then to go out for a walk and after a little walk to have a bath, then to eat, and then go to sleep—the sort of sleep men of that kind are likely to indulge in—I need say no more—you may judge what it is.
Come, now, tell me the way of life your heart is set on—you who profess to admire truth and Socrates and Diogenes. What do you want to do in Athens? Just what you are doing? Nothing else? Then why do you call yourself a Stoic? If those who speak falsely of the Roman constitution are seriously punished, are those who speak falsely of so great and serious a subject and a name to get off scot free? That cannot be; none may escape this divine and mighty law, which exacts the greatest punishments from those whose offence is greatest. What does it say? 'He that pretends to qualities that concern him not, let him be given to vanity and arrogance; let him that disobeys the divine government be an abject slave, let him be subject to pain, envy, pity, in a word, let him be miserable and full of lamentations.'
'What is your conclusion? Would you have me court this great man or that and frequent his doorstep?'
If reason so determine, for country's sake or kindred or mankind, why should you not go to him? You are not ashamed to go to the shoemaker when you want shoes, nor to the market-gardener when you want lettuces. Are you ashamed to go to the rich when you want something they can give?
'Yes, but I do not admire the shoemaker.'
Do not admire the rich man either.
'I shall not flatter the market-gardener.'
Do not flatter the rich man either.
'How then am I to get what I want?'
Do I say to you, 'Go, and you will get what you want', or only, 'Go, and act up to your character'?
'Why do I go then?'
That you may come away feeling that you have fulfilled the acts required of a citizen, a brother, a friend. But remember that you have gone to a shoemaker, a greengrocer, one who has no authority over great or high matters, though he sell what he has for a big price. You are going as it were to fetch lettuces; they are worth an obol, but not a talent.
Apply this principle. The business is worth going to a man's door for. Very well, I will go. It is worth an interview. Very well, I will have an interview with him. But if I must kiss his hand and flatter him with compliments, that is like paying a talent. I will have none of it. It is not to my profit, nor to the profit of the city or my friends to ruin a good citizen and a friend.
'But men will think you took no pains if you fail.'
Have you again forgotten why you went there? Do you not know that a good man does nothing for the sake of what men think, but only for the sake of doing right?
'What does he gain by doing right?'
What does a man gain who writes Dio's name correctly? The gain of writing.
'Is there no further reward?'
Do you look for any greater reward for a good man than to do what is noble and right? At Olympia you do not want anything else; you are content to have been crowned at Olympia. Does it seem to you so small and worthless a thing to be noble and good and happy? Therefore, since the gods have made you a citizen of this city and you are bound to set your hand betimes to a man's work, why hanker after nurses and the breast, and allow silly women to soften you and make you effeminate with their tears? Will you then never cease to be a babe? Do you not know that he who acts like a child is ridiculous in proportion to his years?
Did you not see any one in Athens, or go to any one's house?
'Yes, the man I wanted to see.'
Do the same here; choose to see the man you want, and you will see him; only do it in no abject spirit, without will to get or to avoid, and all will be well with you; but it does not depend on going or standing at the door, but on the judgements that are within you. When you have come to despise things without you and beyond your will's control, and have come to regard none of them as your own, but only this—to be right in judgement, in thought, in impulse, in will to get and to avoid, what room is left for flattery or abjectness of mind? Why do you still long for the peace of your home, and for your familiar haunts? Wait a little and these places will become familiar to you in their turn. Then if your spirit is as degenerate as this, go weep and mourn as soon as you are again parted from these.
'How then am I to prove myself affectionate?'
In a noble and not a miserable spirit. For it is against all reason to be of an abject and broken spirit and to depend on another and to blame God or man. Prove yourself affectionate, but see that you observe these rules; if this affection of yours, or whatever you call it, is going to make you a miserable slave, it is not for your good to be affectionate. Nay, what prevents you loving a man as one who is mortal and bound to leave you? Did not Socrates love his children? Yes, but as one who is free and bears in mind that the love of the gods stands first, and therefore he failed in none of the duties of a good man, either in his defence, or in assessing his penalty, or earlier still as a member of the council or a soldier in the field. But we abound in every kind of excuse for a mean spirit; with some of us it is a child, with others our mother or our brothers. We ought not to let any one make us miserable, but let every one make us happy, and God above all, Who created us for this. Go to,
did Diogenes love no one, he who was so gentle and kind-hearted that he cheerfully took upon him all those troubles and distresses of body for the general good of men? But how did he love? As the servant of Zeus should love, caring for his friends, but submitting himself to God. That was why he alone made the whole world his country, and no special land, and when he was made prisoner he did not long for Athens or for his friends and companions there, but made himself at home with the pirates who took him and tried to make them better, and afterwards when he was sold he lived in Corinth just as he lived before in Athens; yes, and if he had gone away to the Perrhaebians it would have been just the same. That is how freedom is achieved. That is why he said, 'Since Antisthenes freed me, I have ceased to be a slave.' How did he free him? Hear what he says: 'He taught me what is mine and what is not mine; property is not mine; kinsfolk, relations, friends, reputation, familiar places, converse with men—none of these is my own.'
What is yours then?
'Power to deal with impressions. He showed me that I possess this beyond all hindrance and compulsion; no one can hamper me, no one can compel me to deal with them otherwise than I will. Who then has authority over me any more? Has Philip, or Alexander, or Perdiccas, or the Great King? How can they? for he who is to be mastered by men, must first—long before—allow himself to be mastered by things. When a man is not overcome by pleasure, or pain, or reputation, or wealth, and, when it seems good to him, can spit his whole body in the tyrant's face, 3-17 and so leave this world, whose slave can you call him any more? To whom is he subject? But if he had sought his pleasure by living in Athens, and had allowed life in Athens to have the mastery over him, he would have been in every man's control, and any one who was stronger than he would have had power to cause him pain. You can imagine how he would have flattered the pirates to sell him to an Athenian, that he might one day see the beautiful Peiraeus and the Long Walls and the Acropolis.
Slave, who are you that want to see them? If you are servile and abject what good will they do you?
'Nay, I shall be free.'
Show me how you are free. Suppose some one, no matter who, takes you away from your familiar course of life; he has laid hands on you and says, 'You are my slave, for it is in my power to prevent you from living as you will, it rests with me to relax your servitude, or to humiliate you; when I choose you can put on a glad face again and go off in high spirits to Athens.' What do you say to this man who leads you captive? Whom do you produce to set you free from him? Or do you refuse to look him in the face, and cutting arguments short implore him
to let you go? Man, you ought to go to prison rejoicing, listening thither before your gaoler can lay hands on you. What! You decline to live in Rome, and long for Hellas? I suppose you will weep in our faces again, when you have to die, because you are not going to see Athens and have a walk in the Lyceum?
Is this what you went abroad for? Is this why you sought converse with a teacher who might do you good? Good forsooth! Was your object to analyse syllogisms more readily or track out hypothetical propositions? Was it for this reason that you left brother, country, friends, relations, that you might learn this lesson and return? It was not then to secure constancy or peace of mind that you went abroad; it was not that you might be set beyond harm's reach and never blame or accuse any one any more, it was not that no one should be able to injure you, and that so you might maintain your life unhindered in all its relations.
A fine traffic this that you have achieved by your travels—syllogisms and shifting terms and hypothetical arguments! Yes, you had better sit in the market if you think fit, and post up a notice like the druggists. Nay! will you not rather deny knowledge of what you learnt, that you may not get your precepts condemned as useless? What harm has philosophy done you, how has Chrysippus wronged you, that you should prove his labours to be useless by your own act? Not content with the ills you had at home, which were enough to cause you pain and sorrow, even if you had not gone abroad, did you acquire new ills besides?
Yes, and if again you have other friends and companions, and if you attach yourself to another country you will only multiply your causes for lamentation. Why then do you live, only to involve yourself in trouble after trouble and make yourself miserable? What, man! You call this 'affection'? Affection indeed! If affection is good, it can cause no evil. If it is evil, I have no concern with it. I am born for what is good for me, not for what is evil.
What then is the proper training for this? In the first place, the principal and most important thing, on the very threshold so to speak, is that when you are attached to a thing, not a thing which cannot be taken away but anything like a ewer, or a crystal cup, you should bear in mind what it is, that you may not be disturbed when it is broken. So should it be with persons; if you kiss your child, or brother, or friend, never allow your imagination to range at large, nor allow your exultation to go as far as it will, but pluck it back, keep it in check like those who stand behind generals driving in triumph and remind them that they are men. In like manner you must remind yourself that you love a mortal, and that nothing that you love is your very own; it is given you for the moment, not for ever nor inseparably, but like a fig or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year, and if you long for
it in winter you are a fool. So too if you long for your son or your friend, when it is not given you to have him, know that you are longing for a fig in winter time. For as winter is to the fig, so is the whole pressure of the universe to that which it destroys. And therefore in the very moment that you take pleasure in a thing, set before your mind the opposite impressions. What harm is there in whispering to yourself as you kiss your child, 'To-morrow you will die', and to your friend in like manner, 'To-morrow you or I shall go away, and we shall see one another no more'?
'But such words are of ill omen.'
Yes, and so are some incantations, but because they do good, I do not mind, if only they do good. But do you give the name 'ill-omened' to anything but what signifies evil? Cowardice is an ill-omened thing, and so is a mean spirit, mourning, sorrow, shamelessness; these are ill-omened words, yet even these we must not hesitate to utter, that we may guard against the things themselves. Do you call any word ill-omened that signifies a process of nature? Say that harvesting ears of corn is ill-omened, for it means destruction of the ears; yes, but not the destruction of the world. Say that the fall of the leaf is ill-omened and the change of the fresh fig into the dry and of grapes into raisins; for all these are changes from a previous state into a new one. This is not destruction but an ordered dispensation and government of things. Going abroad is a slight change; death is a greater change—from what now is, not to what is not, but to what is not now.
'Shall I then be no more?'
You will not be, but something else will be, of which the world now has need; for indeed you came into being, not when you willed it, but when the world had need. For this reason the good man, remembering who he is and whence he has come, and by whom he was created, sets his mind on this alone, how he shall fill his place in an orderly fashion with due obedience to God. To God he says, 'Dost Thou want me still to live? I will live as one who is free and noble, in accordance with Thy will; for Thou didst give me freedom from hindrance in what was mine. Hast Thou no more need of me? Then may it be well with Thee; I stayed here until now for Thee and for none other, and so now I obey Thee and depart.'
'How do you depart?'
Again, as Thou willest, as a free man, as Thy servant, as one who has learnt what Thou dost command and forbid. But as long as I continue among Thy creatures, whom wouldst Thou have me be? A magistrate or a private person, a senator or a commoner, a soldier or a general, a teacher or the head of a household? Whatever place or post Thou dost commit to my charge, 'I will die ten thousand times', tg use Socrates'
words, 'sooner than abandon it.' Where wouldst Thou have me be? In Rome or Athens or Thebes or Gyara? Only remember me there. If Thou dost send me to a place where men cannot live as their nature requires, I shall go away, not in disobedience but believing that Thou dost sound the note for my retreat. I do not abandon Thee; heaven forbid! but I recognize that Thou hast no need of me. But if it be given me to live in accordance with nature, I shall not seek another place than where I am or other society than that in which I am.
Let these thoughts be at your command by night and day: write them, read them, talk of them, to yourself and to your neighbour. Go first to one and then to another, asking him, 'Can you help me towards this?' Then if some so-called 'undesirable' event befall you, the first immediate relief to you will be, that it was not unexpected. For in all matters it is a great thing to say, 'I knew that I had begotten a mortal.' 3-18 For this is what you will say, and again, 'I knew that I was mortal. I knew that I might have to go away, that I might be cast into exile. I knew that I might be thrown into prison.' Then if you reflect within yourself and ask from what quarter the event has come, you will at once remember, 'It comes from the region of things outside my will, which are not mine; how then does it concern me?' Then comes the most commanding question of all: 'Who has sent it me?'
The Prince or the General, the City or the Law of the City.
Give it me then, for I must always obey the law in everything.
And further, when your imagination (which is not in your control) bites deep into your soul, struggle against it with your reason, fight it down, suffer it not to grow strong nor to advance the next step, calling up at pleasure what pictures it will. If you are in Gyara do not imagine your way of life in Rome, and the great delights you enjoyed when you lived there and that you would enjoy on your return. No, make your one effort there, to live a brave life in Gyara, as one who lives in Gyara should; and if you are in Rome do not imagine life in Athens, but make life in Rome your one study.
Further, you should put this delight first in place of all others, the delight that comes from understanding that you are obeying God, that not in word but in deed you are fulfilling the part of the good man. What a fine thing it is to be able to say to myself, 'I am now putting into action what other men talk big of in the lecture-room, and win a name for paradox. As they sit there it is my virtues they are expounding, it is about me they are inquiring, it is my praise they are singing. I say, Zeus wished to make my experience prove this truth to me, and He wished to discover for Himself, whether He had a soldier in the true sense, a citizen in the true sense, and to put me forward as a witness to the rest of mankind of what does and does not depend on man's will. "Behold,"
[paragraph continues] He says, "your fears are idle and your desires vain. Do not seek good things outside you but within, or you will not find them." It is on these terms that now He brings me here, and again sends me thither; He shows me to men poor, without office, sick, sends me to Gyara, puts me in prison; not that He hates me—heaven forbid! who hates his best servant?—nor that He takes no thought of me, for He takes thought of the lowliest, but because He is training me and using me as a witness to other men. When I am appointed to such a service as this, it is not for me to consider where or in whose company I am or what they say of me, but rather to spend all my effort on God and His commands and ordinances.'
If you always have these thoughts at hand, and make yourself familiar with them and keep them at command, you will never want for one to comfort and strengthen you. For dishonour consists not in having nothing to eat, but in not having reason sufficient to secure you from fear and pain. But if you once win yourself freedom from fear and pain, then tyrants and their guards, and the Emperor's household, will cease to exist for you; you, who have received this high office from Zeus, will not feel the sting of an imperial appointment or of those who offer sacrifice on the Capitol in virtue of their offices.
Only make no display of your office, and boast not yourself in it, but prove it by your conduct; be content, even if no one observes you, to live in true health and happiness.