The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
Remember that it is not only desire of office and of wealth that makes men abject and subservient to others, but also desire of peace and leisure and travel and learning. Regard for any external thing, whatever it be, makes you subservient to another. What difference does it make then whether you desire to be a senator, or not to be a senator, to be in office, or to be out of office? What difference is there between saying, 'I am miserable, I don't know what to do, I am tied to my books like a corpse', and saying, 'I am miserable, I have no leisure to read'? For books, like salutations and office, belong to the outer world which is beyond your own control. If you deny it, tell me why do you want to read? If you are drawn by the mere pleasure of reading, or by curiosity, you are a trifler, without perseverance: but if you judge it by the true standard, what is that but peace of mind? If reading does not win you peace of mind, what is the good of it?
'Nay,' he says, 'it does, and that is just why I am vexed at being deprived of it.'
And what, pray, is this peace of mind, which any one can hinder—I do not mean Caesar, or Caesar's friend, but a raven, a flute-player, a fever, countless other things? Nothing is so characteristic of peace of mind as that it is continuous and unhindered. Suppose now I am called away to do something: I shall go and attend to the limits which one must observe—acting with self-respect and security, with no will to get or to avoid external things, watching men also to see what they say and how they move, and that not from ill nature, nor to blame or mock at them, but looking at myself all the time to see if I am making the same mistakes too.
'How then shall I cease to err?' you ask.
Time was when I made the same mistakes as others, but I do so no more, thanks be to God. If you have acted thus and devoted yourself to this, have you done worse than if you had read a thousand lines or written as many? When you eat, are you vexed that you are not reading? Are you not content with eating as your reading bids you? And the same when you wash and take exercise? Why, then, do you not keep an equable tenor always, even when you approach Caesar or this or that great man? What do you lack, if you keep yourself free from passion, undismayed, modest, if you are rather a 'spectator of events than a spectacle to others, if you do not envy those preferred to you, if you are not dazzled by material things?
You say you lack books? How, or to what end? Books are, no doubt, a preparation for life, but life itself is made up of things different from hooks. To ask for books is as though an athlete should complain, as he enters the arena, that he is not training outside. Life is what you were training for all along, this is what the leaping-weights, and the sawdust, and the young men you wrestled with were leading up to. What? Are you hankering after them, when the time for action is come? It is as if in the sphere of assent, when impressions are presented to us, some which are 'apprehensive', and some which have no such power, we should refuse to distinguish between them and should prefer to read the theory of apprehensive impressions.
What, then, is the reason of our failure?
The reason is that we never directed our reading or our writing to the right object—that is, to dealing naturally with the impressions that come upon us, when we have to act. We are content to go thus far and no farther—to understand what is said, and to be able to explain it to another, to analyse the syllogism and trace out the hypothetical argument. Therefore hindrance besets us in the sphere where our pains are spent.
Do you want things which are not always in your power?
Be condemned, then, to hindrance, obstruction, failure. But if we were to study the doctrine of impulse, not to see what is said about impulse but to make our own impulses good, if we were to study the will to get and the will to avoid to the end that we may never fail to get what we will nor fall into what we avoid, and study the doctrine of what is fitting that we may remember our true relations and may do nothing irrationally or contrary to what is fitting—then we should not have to suffer vexation at being hindered in regard to the principles we have studied, but should find contentment in acting in accordance with them, and we should cease to calculate as we have been wont to do till to-day, 'To-day I read so many lines, wrote so many', and should reckon thus, 'To-day I governed my impulse by the precepts of the philosophers, I did not entertain desire, I avoided only things within the compass of my will, I was not awed by this man, or over-persuaded by that man, but trained my faculty of patience, of abstinence, of co-operation': and then we should give thanks to God, for the gifts for which our thanks are due.
As it is, we do not realize that we too, with a difference, behave like the multitude. Another man fears that he may not become a magistrate, you fear that you may be one. Man, act not so. Nay, just as you laugh at him who fears he may not hold office, so laugh at yourself too. There is nothing to choose between being thirsty with fever, and shunning water like a madman. If you act thus; how shall you be able to say, as Socrates did, 'If God so wills, so be it'? Do you think that, if Socrates had set his desire on a life of leisure and daily conversation with young men in the
Lyceum or the Academy, he would have cheerfully gone on all the campaigns in which he served? Would he not have groaned and lamented, 'Unhappy that I am, wretched and miserable in the field, when I might be sunning myself in the Lyceum.' What? Was this your task in life, to sun yourself? Was it not to have a mind at peace, to be free from hindrance and encumbrance? Nay, how would he have been Socrates any more, if he had lamented like that? How could he have written songs of triumph in prison?
In a word, then, remember this, that, whenever you pay regard to anything outside your will's control, you so far destroy your will. And freedom from office lies outside your will just as much as office, leisure just much as business.
'Am I, then, to pass my life amid this tumult?'
What do you mean by 'tumult'?
'Amid a multitude of men.'
Well, and what is there hard in that? Imagine you are at Olympia, make up your mind that it is a festival. There, too, one cries this, another that, one does this, another that, and one man jostles another. The public baths, too, are thronged, yet which of us does not enjoy this assemblage, and leave it with pain? Be not dissatisfied nor peevish at what happens. 'Vinegar disgusts me, for it is acid; honey disgusts me, for it upsets my tone; I dislike green stuff.' In the same way you say, 'I dislike retirement, it means solitude; I dislike a crowd, it means disturbance.'
Say not so, but, if things so turn out, that you live alone or in a small company, call it 'peace' and make a proper use of it: converse with yourself, train your impressions, develop your primary notions. If you chance on a crowd, call it 'games', 'assembly', 'festival', and try to share the feast with your fellow men. For what sight is pleasanter for the man who loves his kind than a multitude of men? We are pleased to see troops of horses or oxen, we delight to see a multitude of ships: does the sight of a multitude of men vex us?
'Nay, but their clamour overwhelms me.'
Well, that is only a hindrance to your hearing: how does it affect you? Does it affect your faculty of dealing with your impressions? Who can hinder you from dealing naturally with the will to get and the will to avoid, the impulse to act and not to act? What tumult can avail to touch these?
Only remember these general principles: 'What is mine, what is not mine? What is given me? What does God wish me to do now? What does He not wish?' A little while ago His will was that you should live a quiet life in converse with yourself, and write on these matters, read, listen, prepare yourself: you had sufficient time for this. Now He says to you,
[paragraph continues] 'Now come into the conflict, show us what you have learnt, how you have trained. How long are you going to exercise yourself in solitude? The time has now come for you to discover whether you are an athlete worthy of victory, or one of those who go about the world suffering continual defeat.' Why, then, are you vexed? There is no conflict without a crowd: there must be many to train beforehand, many to cry applause, many stewards, many spectators.
'Yes, but I wanted to live a quiet life.'
Lament and mourn, then, as you deserve: for what greater penalty than this can fall on him who is uninstructed and disobedient to the ordinances of God than to be distressed, to mourn, to envy, in a word, to be unhappy and miserable? Have you no wish to free yourself from these ills?
'And how shall I free myself?'
Have you not often heard, that you must get rid of the will to get altogether, and must will to avoid only those things which are within your control? That you must give up everything—body, property, reputation, books, the throng, office, private life? For if once you swerve from this path you become a slave and a subject, you are liable to hindrance and compulsion, and completely at the mercy of others. But the saying of Cleanthes is ready to our need,
Lead me, O Zeus, and lead me, Destiny.
[paragraph continues] Will you have me go to Rome? To Rome then. To Gyara? I will go to Gyara. To Athens? I will go to Athens. To prison? I will go to prison. If once you say, 'When are we to get away to Athens?' you are lost. That wish, if unfulfilled, must make you miserable, and, if fulfilled, it must make you puffed up, elated on false grounds: again, if you are hindered. it must make you unhappy, at the conflict between circumstances and your will. Give up all these things then.
'Athens is beautiful.'
Yes, but happiness is far more beautiful—freedom from passion and disturbance, the sense that your affairs depend on no one.
'In Rome there is crowd and salutations.'
Yes, but peace of mind outweighs all discomforts. If, then, the time for these has come, why do you not get rid of your will to avoid them? Why must you bear your burden like a cudgelled ass? If you do this, you must needs (look you) be the perpetual slave of him who has power to accomplish your departure, or him who can in any way hinder it, and you are bound to pay respect to him as to an Evil Genius.
There is but one way to peace of mind (keep this thought by you at dawn and in the day-time and at night)—to give up what is beyond your control, to count nothing your own, to surrender everything to heaven
and fortune, to lehve everything to be managed by those to whom Zeus has given control, and to devote yourself to one object only, that which is your own beyond all hindrance, and in all that you read and write and hear to make this your aim. Therefore I cannot call a man industrious, if I am merely told that he reads or writes, no, not even if one adds 'he is at work all night', unless I know what he is working for. You do not call a man industrious who keeps late hours for the sake of a mistress: neither do I. But if he does it for glory, I call him ambitious; if for money, I call him fond of money, not fond of work. But if the object of his work is his own Governing Principle, if he is working to make this live a natural life, then and then only I call him industrious. You must never praise or blame men for qualities that are indifferent, but for their judgements. For it is these which are each man's property, these which make their actions base or noble. Bear this in mind and rejoice in what is at hand and be content with what the moment brings. If you see any of the principles that you have learnt and thought over being realized by you in action, rejoice over them. If you have put away bad nature, and evil-speaking, or made them less, if you have got rid of wantonness, foul speaking, recklessness, slackness, if you are not excited by things that once excited you, or at least not as before, then you can keep festival day by day, to-day because you behaved well in this action, to-morrow because you did well in another. How much greater cause is this for offering sacrifice than if you were made consul or prefect! These things come to you from your own self and from the gods. Remember Who is the Giver, and to whom He gives and why. If you are brought up to reason thus, you need no longer raise the question, 'Where shall I be happy?' and 'Where shall I please God?' Do not men have their equal portion in all places? Do they not everywhere alike behold what comes to pass?