The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
Are you not ashamed of being more cowardly and mean-spirited than runaway slaves? How do they leave their masters when they run away? What lands or servants have they to trust to? Do not they steal just a morsel to last them for the first days, and then go on their way over land or it may be sea, contriving one resource after another to keep themselves alive? And when did a runaway slave ever die of hunger? Yet you are all of a flutter and keep awake at nights for fear you should run short of necessaries. Miserable man, are you so blind as not to see the road, to which want of necessaries leads you? Where does it lead? The same way as fever, the same way as a falling stone—to death. Well, and is not this exactly the situation you often described to your companions? Many a passage did you read and write about it. How often did you boast that you could face death at any rate with a quiet mind!
'Yes, but my family will starve.'
What of that? Does their hunger lead in a different direction? Is not
the way that leads below the same, and the world it leads to the same? Will you then not have courage to face every form of want and necessity, and to look on that world whither even the richest and those who have held the highest offices must descend, nay even kings and emperors themselves? Only you will descend hungry, if it so chance, and they will burst with over-eating and over-drinking.
Did you ever by chance see a beggar who was not old? They are all far gone in years; yet they bear the pinch of cold night and day, and lie forlorn upon the ground, and their food is what bare necessity demands and no more, but they almost arrive at immortality, and yet you who are sound in hand and foot are so afraid of starving!
Can you not draw water, or write, or take charge of children, or be another man's doorkeeper?
But it is disgraceful, you say, to be reduced to this necessity.
First learn then what is disgraceful, and then tell us that you are a philosopher; but for the present, if another call you so, do not allow him.
When a thing is not your business, when you are not responsible for it, when it has befallen you without your own act, like a headache or a fever, can it disgrace you? If your parents were poor, or if they made others their heirs instead of you, if they give you no help while they are alive, is this any disgrace to you? Is this what you learnt with the philosophers? Did you never hear that what is disgraceful is blameable, and the blameable is what deserves blame, and it is absurd to blame a man for what is not his own act, done by himself? Well, did you make your father what he is, or is it in your power to mend his character? Is this given you? What follows? Ought you to desire what is not given you, or to be ashamed if you do not attain to it? Is this all the habit you acquired when you studied philosophy, to look to others and to hope for nothing from yourself and your own acts? Lament therefore and mourn, and when you eat be fearful that you will have nothing to eat to-morrow. Tremble for your wretched slaves, lest they should steal, or run away, or die. Live in this spirit, and never cease to live so, you who never came near philosophy, except in name, and disgraced its principles so far as in you lies, by showing them to be useless and unprofitable to those who take them up. You never set your will to gain constancy, tranquillity, and peace of mind; you never paid regard to any master for this end, though you attended to many for the sake of syllogisms. You never tested any of these impressions thoroughly for yourself, asking, 'Can I bear it or can I not? What have I to look to?' No, you assumed that all was well with you, and that you were quite secure, and devoted your efforts to the final study of all, how to be immovable. And in what were you to make yourself immovable? Cowardice, a
base spirit, admiration of the rich, failure to get what you will, defeat of your will to avoid. It was to secure these results that you spent all your care.
Ought you not to win some possession from philosophy, before you try to make it secure? Did you ever see any one build a coping, unless he had a wall round which to build it? Who ever appoints a doorkeeper where there is no door to guard?
Again, you make it your study to be able to demonstrate. Demonstrate what? You study not to be shaken by fallacies. Shaken from what position? Show me first what you are guarding, what you are measuring, or what you are weighing; then it is time enough to show me the balance or the bushel. How long do you mean to measure dust and ashes? Ought you not to demonstrate those principles which make men happy, which make things prosper as they wish, principles which make them not blame any one or accuse any one, but acquiesce in the government of the universe? Show me these.
'See, I do show them', he says. 'I will analyse syllogisms for you.'
Slave, this is the measuring instrument, not that which is measured. That is why you now pay the penalty for your neglect of philosophy; you tremble, you lie awake, you take counsel with every one, and unless your plans promise to please every one you think you have taken bad counsel.
Then you fear starvation, as you think; but what you really fear is not starvation; you are afraid that you may not have a cook, that you may not have another to cater for you, another to shoe you, another to dress you, others to rub you, others to follow you; when you have stripped in the bath and stretched yourself out like the crucified, you want to be rubbed on this side and that, and then you want the masseur to stand by and say, 'Turn, and give me his side, take his head, hand me his shoulder'; and then when you have left the bath and gone home you expect to cry out, 'Will no one bring me something to eat?' and then, 'Remove the tables, and wipe them.' What you really fear is that you may not be able to live the life of an invalid; for the life of healthy men you have only to see how slaves and labourers and true philosophers live; the life of Socrates, though he had a wife and children to live with, the life of Diogenes, and of Cleanthes, who combined philosophy with drawing water. If this is what you want to have, you will have it everywhere, and will live with confidence. Confidence in what? In that which alone it is possible to confide in, what is trustworthy, and cannot be hindered or taken away, that is, your own will. Why have you made yourself so useless and unprofitable that no one is willing to take you into his house and take care of you? Every one will pick up a vessel that is whole and fit for use if it is flung aside and will count it gain; but
every one will count you loss, not gain. Cannot you even serve the purpose of a dog or a cock? Why then do you wish to live any more, if this is your character?
Does a good man ever fear that food may fail him? It does not fail the blind, it does not fail the lame, will it fail the good man? There is no want of some one to give pay to the good soldier, or workman, or shoemaker: will the good man find none? Does God so disregard His own principles, His servants, His witnesses, whom alone He uses as examples to the untaught, to show 'that He exists and orders the universe well, and does not disregard human things, and that for the good man nothing is evil, whether he lives or dies'? [Plato, Apology, 41d] What if He does not provide food? It only means that, like a good general, He has given me the signal to retire. I obey, I follow, I praise my Commander, and laud His acts. For I came when He thought fit, and again shall go when He thinks fit; and while I lived this was the work I had to do, to praise God in my own heart, and to others, be it to one or to many. If He does not provide me with much or with abundance, His will is for me to live simply; for He did not give abundance to Heracles, His own son; another than he was king of Argos and Mycenae, and he was subject to him and suffered toils and discipline. Yet Eurystheus was the man he was, no true king of Argos and Mycenae, for he was not king over himself, while Heracles was ruler and commander of all land and sea, cleansing them from lawlessness and wrong, and bringing in justice and righteousness, and this he did unarmed and single-handed.
And when Odysseus was shipwrecked and cast ashore, his necessity never broke his spirit, or made it abject. Nay, how did he approach the maidens to ask of them the necessaries of life, which men think it most shameful to beg from another?
[paragraph continues] Trusting in what? Not in reputation, not in money, nor office, but in his own might, that is in judgements on things within our power and beyond it. For it is these alone that make free men, whom nothing can hinder, which lift up the neck of those who are in humiliation, and make them look with unwavering eyes upon rich men and upon despots.
And this was what the philosopher had to give, but you are going to leave him, it seems, not with courage but trembling for your pitiful clothes and plate. Miserable man! have you so wasted your time until now?
'What then, if I fall ill?'
You shall bear illness well.
'Who shall tend me?'
God, and your friends.
'I shall lie on a hard bed.'
But you can do it like a man.
'I shall not have a proper house.'
If you have one, you will be ill all the same.
'Who will give me food?'
Those who find it for others; you will be no worse off than Manes 3-19 on your sick-bed. And what is the end of the illness? Nothing worse than death. Will you realize once for all that it is not death that is the source of all man's evils, and of a mean and cowardly spirit, but rather the fear of death? Against this fear then I would have you discipline yourself; to this let all your reasonings, your lectures, and your trainings be directed; and then you will know that only so do men achieve their freedom.