circa 55 AD Epictetus.

A Selection from the Discourses of Epictetus with the Encheiridion online

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wine as in a storehouse, and another thing to eat. That which has been
eaten, is digested, distributed, and is become sinews, flesh, bones,
blood, healthy color, healthy breath. Whatever is stored up, when you
choose you can readily take and show it; but you have no other advantage
from it except so far as to appear to possess it. For what is the
difference between explaining these doctrines and those of men who have
different opinions? Sit down now and explain according to the rules of
art the opinions of Epicurus, and perhaps you will explain his opinions
in a more useful manner than Epicurus himself. Why then do you call
yourself a Stoic? Why do you deceive the many? Why do you act the part
of a Jew, when you are a Greek? Do you not see how (why) each is called
a Jew, or a Syrian, or an Egyptian? and when we see a man inclining to
two sides, we are accustomed to say, This man is not a Jew, but he acts
as one. But when he has assumed the affects of one who has been imbued
with Jewish doctrine and has adopted that sect, then he is in fact and
he is named a Jew.

* * * * *

are. In the first place, you are a man; and this is one who has nothing
superior to the faculty of the will, but all other things subjected to
it; and the faculty itself he possesses unenslaved and free from
subjection. Consider then from what things you have been separated by
reason. You have been separated from wild beasts; you have been
separated from domestic animals ([Greek: probaton]). Further, you are a
citizen of the world, and a part of it, not one of the subservient
(serving), but one of the principal (ruling) parts, for you are capable
of comprehending the divine administration and of considering the
connection of things. What then does the character of a citizen promise
(profess)? To hold nothing as profitable to himself; to deliberate about
nothing as if he were detached from the community, but to act as the
hand or foot would do, if they had reason and understood the
constitution of nature, for they would never put themselves in motion
nor desire anything otherwise than with reference to the whole.
Therefore, the philosophers say well, that if the good man had
foreknowledge of what would happen, he would co-operate towards his own
sickness and death and mutilation, since he knows that these things are
assigned to him according to the universal arrangement, and that the
whole is superior to the part, and the state to the citizen. But now
because we do not know the future, it is our duty to stick to the things
which are in their nature more suitable for our choice, for we were made
among other things for this.

After this, remember that you are a son. What does this character
promise? To consider that everything which is the son's belongs to the
father, to obey him in all things, never to blame him to another, nor to
say or do anything which does him injury, to yield to him in all things
and give way, co-operating with him as far as you can. After this know
that you are a brother also, and that to this character it is due to
make concessions; to be easily persuaded, to speak good of your brother,
never to claim in opposition to him any of the things which are
independent of the will, but readily to give them up, that you may have
the larger share in what is dependent on the will. For see what a thing
it is, in place of a lettuce, if it should so happen, or a seat, to gain
for yourself goodness of disposition. How great is the advantage.

Next to this, if you are a senator of any state, remember that you are a
senator; if a youth, that you are a youth; if an old man, that you are
an old man; for each of such names, if it comes to be examined, marks
out the proper duties. But if you go and blame your brother, I say to
you, You have forgotten who you are and what is your name. In the next
place, if you were a smith and made a wrong use of the hammer, you would
have forgotten the smith; and if you have forgotten the brother and
instead of a brother have become an enemy, would you appear not to have
changed one thing for another in that case? And if instead of a man, who
is a tame animal and social, you are become a mischievous wild beast,
treacherous, and biting, have you lost nothing? But (I suppose) you must
lose a bit of money that you may suffer damage? And does the loss of
nothing else do a man damage? If you had lost the art of grammar or
music, would you think the loss of it a damage? and if you shall lose
modesty, moderation ([Greek: chtastolaen]) and gentleness, do you think
the loss nothing? And yet the things first mentioned are lost by some
cause external and independent of the will, and the second by our own
fault; and as to the first neither to have them nor to lose them is
shameful; but as to the second, not to have them and to lose them is
shameful and matter of reproach and a misfortune.

What then? shall I not hurt him who has hurt me? In the first place
consider what hurt ([Greek: blabae]) is, and remember what you have
heard from the philosophers. For if the good consists in the will
(purpose, intention, [Greek: proaireeis]), and the evil also in the
will, see if what you say is not this: What then, since that man has
hurt himself by doing an unjust act to me, shall I not hurt myself by
doing some unjust act to him? Why do we not imagine to ourselves
(mentally think of) something of this kind? But where there is any
detriment to the body or to our possession, there is harm there; and
where the same thing happens to the faculty of the will, there is (you
suppose) no harm; for he who has been deceived or he who has done an
unjust act neither suffers in the head nor in the eye nor in the hip,
nor does he lose his estate; and we wish for nothing else than (security
to) these things. But whether we shall have the will modest and faithful
or shameless and faithless, we care not the least, except only in the
school so far as a few words are concerned. Therefore our proficiency is
limited to these few words; but beyond them it does not exist even in
the slightest degree.

* * * * *

WHAT THE BEGINNING OF PHILOSOPHY IS. - The beginning of philosophy, to
him at least who enters on it in the right way and by the door is a
consciousness of his own weakness and inability about necessary things;
for we come into the world with no natural notion of a right-angled
triangle, or of a diesis (a quarter tone), or of a half-tone; but we
learn each of these things by a certain transmission according to art;
and for this reason those who do not know them do not think that they
know them. But as to good and evil, and beautiful and ugly, and becoming
and unbecoming, and happiness and misfortune, and proper and improper,
and what we ought to do and what we ought not to do, who ever came into
the world without having an innate idea of them? Wherefore we all use
these names, and we endeavor to fit the preconceptions to the several
cases (things) thus: he has done well; he has not done well; he has done
as he ought, not as he ought; he has been unfortunate, he has been
fortunate; he is unjust, he is just; who does not use these names? who
among us defers the use of them till he has learned them, as he defers
the use of the words about lines (geometrical figures) or sounds? And
the cause of this is that we come into the world already taught as it
were by nature some things on this matter ([Greek: topon]), and
proceeding from these we have added to them self-conceit ([Greek:
oiaesin]). For why, a man says, do I not know the beautiful and the
ugly? Have I not the notion of it? You have. Do I not adapt it to
particulars? You do. Do I not then adapt it properly? In that lies the
whole question; and conceit is added here; for beginning from these
things which are admitted men proceed to that which is matter of dispute
by means of unsuitable adaptation; for if they possessed this power of
adaptation in addition to those things, what would hinder them from
being perfect? But now since you think that you properly adapt the
preconceptions to the particulars, tell me whence you derive this
(assume that you do so). Because I think so. But it does not seem so to
another, and he thinks that he also makes a proper adaptation; or does
he not think so? He does think so. Is it possible then that both of you
can properly apply the preconceptions to things about which you have
contrary opinions? It is not possible. Can you then show us anything
better towards adapting the preconceptions beyond your thinking that you
do? Does the madman do any other things than the things which seem to
him right? Is then this criterion sufficient for him also? It is not
sufficient. Come then to something which is superior to seeming ([Greek:
tou dochein]). What is this?

Observe, this is the beginning of philosophy, a perception of the
disagreement of men with one another, and an inquiry into the cause of
the disagreement, and a condemnation and distrust of that which only
"seems," and a certain investigation of that which "seems" whether it
"seems" rightly, and a discovery of some rule ([Greek: chanonos]), as we
have discovered a balance in the determination of weights, and a
carpenter's rule (or square) in the case of straight and crooked
things. - This is the beginning of philosophy. Must we say that all
things are right which seem so to all? And how is it possible that
contradictions can be right? - Not all then, but all which seem to us to
be right. - How more to you than those which seem right to the Syrians?
why more than what seem right to the Egyptians? why more than what seems
right to me or to any other man? Not at all more. What then "seems" to
every man is not sufficient for determining what "is"; for neither in
the case of weights nor measures are we satisfied with the bare
appearance, but in each case we have discovered a certain rule. In this
matter then is there no rule superior to what "seems"? And how is it
possible that the most necessary things among men should have no sign
(mark), and be incapable of being discovered? There is then some rule.
And why then do we not seek the rule and discover it, and afterwards use
it without varying from it, not even stretching out the finger without
it? For this, I think, is that which when it is discovered cures of
their madness those who use mere "seeming" as a measure, and misuse it;
so that for the future proceeding from certain things (principles) known
and made clear we may use in the case of particular things the
preconceptions which are distinctly fixed.

What is the matter presented to us about which we are inquiring?
Pleasure (for example). Subject it to the rule, throw it into the
balance. Ought the good to be such a thing that it is fit that we have
confidence in it? Yes. And in which we ought to confide? It ought to be.
Is it fit to trust to anything which is insecure? No. Is then pleasure
anything secure? No. Take it then and throw it out of the scale, and
drive it far away from the place of good things. But if you are not
sharp-sighted, and one balance is not enough for you, bring another. Is
it fit to be elated over what is good? Yes. Is it proper then to be
elated over present pleasure? See that you do not say that it is proper;
but if you do, I shall then not think you worthy even of the balance.
Thus things are tested and weighed when the rules are ready. And to
philosophize is this, to examine and confirm the rules; and then to use
them when they are known is the act of a wise and good man.

* * * * *

OF DISPUTATION OR DISCUSSION. - What things a man must learn in order to
be able to apply the art of disputation, has been accurately shown by
our philosophers (the Stoics); but with respect to the proper use of the
things, we are entirely without practice. Only give to any of us, whom
you please, an illiterate man to discuss with, and he cannot discover
how to deal with the man. But when he has moved the man a little, if he
answers beside the purpose, he does not know how to treat him, but he
then either abuses or ridicules him, and says, He is an illiterate man;
it is not possible to do anything with him. Now a guide, when he has
found a man out of the road, leads him into the right way; he does not
ridicule or abuse him and then leave him. Do you also show the
illiterate man the truth, and you will see that he follows. But so long
as you do not show him the truth, do not ridicule him, but rather feel
your own incapacity.

Now this was the first and chief peculiarity of Socrates, never to be
irritated in argument, never to utter anything abusive, anything
insulting, but to bear with abusive persons and to put an end to the
quarrel. If you would know what great power he had in this way, read the
Symposium of Xenophon, and you will see how many quarrels he put an end
to. Hence with good reason in the poets also this power is most highly

Quickly with skill he settles great disputes.
Hesiod, Theogony, v. 87.

* * * * *

ON ANXIETY (SOLICITUDE). - When I see a man anxious, I say, What does
this man want? If he did not want something which is not in his power,
how could he be anxious? For this reason a lute player when he is
singing by himself has no anxiety, but when he enters the theatre, he is
anxious, even if he has a good voice and plays well on the lute; for he
not only wishes to sing well, but also to obtain applause: but this is
not in his power. Accordingly, where he has skill, there he has
confidence. Bring any single person who knows nothing of music, and the
musician does not care for him. But in the matter where a man knows
nothing and has not been practised, there he is anxious. What matter is
this? He knows not what a crowd is or what the praise of a crowd is.
However, he has learned to strike the lowest chord and the highest; but
what the praise of the many is, and what power it has in life, he
neither knows nor has he thought about it. Hence he must of necessity
tremble and grow pale. Is any man then afraid about things which are not
evils? No. Is he afraid about things which are evils, but still so far
within his power that they may not happen? Certainly he is not. If then
the things which are independent of the will are neither good nor bad,
and all things which do depend on the will are within our power, and no
man can either take them from us or give them to us, if we do not
choose, where is room left for anxiety? But we are anxious about our
poor body, our little property, about the will of Cæsar; but not anxious
about things internal. Are we anxious about not forming a false opinion?
No, for this is in my power. About not exerting our movements contrary
to nature? No, not even about this. When then you see a man pale, as the
physician says, judging from the complexion, this man's spleen is
disordered, that man's liver; so also say, this man's desire and
aversion are disordered, he is not in the right way, he is in a fever.
For nothing else changes the color, or causes trembling or chattering of
the teeth, or causes a man to

Sink in his knees and shift from foot to foot.
Iliad, xiii., 281.

For this reason, when Zeno was going to meet Antigonus, he was not
anxious, for Antigonus had no power over any of the things which Zeno
admired; and Zeno did not care for those things over which Antigonus had
power. But Antigonus was anxious when he was going to meet Zeno, for he
wished to please Zeno; but this was a thing external (out of his power).
But Zeno did not want to please Antigonus; for no man who is skilled in
any art wishes to please one who has no such skill.

Should I try to please you? Why? I suppose, you know the measure by
which one man is estimated by another. Have you taken pains to learn
what is a good man and what is a bad man, and how a man becomes one or
the other? Why then are you not good yourself? How, he replies, am I not
good? Because no good man laments or groans or weeps, no good man is
pale and trembles, or says, How will he receive me, how will he listen
to me? Slave, just as it pleases him. Why do you care about what belongs
to others? Is it now his fault if he receives badly what proceeds from
you? Certainly. And is it possible that a fault should be one man's, and
the evil in another? No. Why then are you anxious about that which
belongs to others? Your question is reasonable; but I am anxious how I
shall speak to him. Cannot you then speak to him as you choose? But I
fear that I may be disconcerted? If you are going to write the name of
Dion, are you afraid that you would be disconcerted? By no means. Why?
is it not because you have practised writing the name? Certainly. Well,
if you were going to read the name, would you not feel the same? and
why? Because every art has a certain strength and confidence in the
things which belong to it. Have you then not practised speaking? and
what else did you learn in the school? Syllogisms and sophistical
propositions? For what purpose? was it not for the purpose of
discoursing skilfully? and is not discoursing skilfully the same as
discoursing seasonably and cautiously and with intelligence, and also
without making mistakes and without hindrance, and besides all this with
confidence? Yes. When then you are mounted on a horse and go into a
plain, are you anxious at being matched against a man who is on foot,
and anxious in a matter in which you are practised, and he is not? Yes,
but that person (to whom I am going to speak) has power to kill me.
Speak the truth, then, unhappy man, and do not brag, nor claim to be a
philosopher, nor refuse to acknowledge your masters, but so long as you
present this handle in your body, follow every man who is stronger than
yourself. Socrates used to practice speaking, he who talked as he did to
the tyrants, to the dicasts (judges), he who talked in his prison.
Diogenes had practised speaking, he who spoke as he did to Alexander, to
the pirates, to the person who bought him. These men were confident in
the things which they practised. But do you walk off to your own affairs
and never leave them: go and sit in a corner, and weave syllogisms, and
propose them to another. There is not in you the man who can rule a

* * * * *

TO NASO. - When a certain Roman entered with his son and listened to one
reading, Epictetus said, This is the method of instruction; and he
stopped. When the Roman asked him to go on, Epictetus said, Every art
when it is taught causes labor to him who is unacquainted with it and is
unskilled in it, and indeed the things which proceed from the arts
immediately show their use in the purpose for which they were made; and
most of them contain something attractive and pleasing. For indeed to be
present and to observe how a shoemaker learns is not a pleasant thing;
but the shoe is useful and also not disagreeable to look at. And the
discipline of a smith when he is learning is very disagreeable to one
who chances to be present and is a stranger to the art: but the work
shows the use of the art. But you will see this much more in music; for
if you are present while a person is learning, the discipline will
appear most disagreeable; and yet the results of music are pleasing and
delightful to those who know nothing of music. And here we conceive the
work of a philosopher to be something of this kind: he must adapt his
wish ([Greek: boulaesin]) to what is going on, so that neither any of
the things which are taking place shall take place contrary to our wish,
nor any of the things which do not take place shall not take place when
we wish that they should. From this the result is to those who have so
arranged the work of philosophy, not to fail in the desire, nor to fall
in with that which they would avoid; without uneasiness, without fear,
without perturbation to pass through life themselves, together with
their associates maintaining the relations both natural and acquired, as
the relation of son, of father, of brother, of citizen, of man, of wife,
of neighbor, of fellow-traveller, of ruler, of ruled. The work of a
philosopher we conceive to be something like this. It remains next to
inquire how this must be accomplished.

We see then that the carpenter ([Greek: techton]) when he has learned
certain things becomes a carpenter; the pilot by learning certain things
becomes a pilot. May it not then in philosophy also not be sufficient to
wish to be wise and good, and that there is also a necessity to learn
certain things? We inquire then what these things are. The philosophers
say that we ought first to learn that there is a God and that he
provides for all things; also that it is not possible to conceal from
him our acts, or even our intentions and thoughts. The next thing is to
learn what is the nature of the gods; for such as they are discovered to
be, he, who would please and obey them, must try with all his power to
be like them. If the divine is faithful, man also must be faithful; if
it is free, man also must be free; if beneficent, man also must be
beneficent; if magnanimous, man also must be magnanimous; as being then
an imitator of God he must do and say everything consistently with this

* * * * *

DETERMINED. - When some persons have heard these words, that a man ought
to be constant (firm), and that the will is naturally free and not
subject to compulsion, but that all other things are subject to
hindrance, to slavery, and are in the power of others, they suppose that
they ought without deviation to abide by everything which they have
determined. But in the first place that which has been determined ought
to be sound (true). I require tone (sinews) in the body, but such as
exists in a healthy body, in an athletic body; but if it is plain to me
that you have the tone of a frenzied man and you boast of it, I shall
say to you, Man, seek the physician; this is not tone, but atony
(deficiency in right tone). In a different way something of the same
kind is felt by those who listen to these discourses in a wrong manner;
which was the case with one of my companions, who for no reason resolved
to starve himself to death. I heard of it when it was the third day of
his abstinence from food, and I went to inquire what had happened. "I
have resolved," he said. "But still tell me what it was which induced
you to resolve; for if you have resolved rightly, we shall sit with you
and assist you to depart, but if you have made an unreasonable
resolution, change your mind." "We ought to keep to our determinations."
"What are you doing, man? We ought to keep not to all our
determinations, but to those which are right; for if you are now
persuaded that it is right, do not change your mind, if you think fit,
but persist and say, We ought to abide by our determinations. Will you
not make the beginning and lay the foundation in an inquiry whether the
determination is sound or not sound, and so then build on it firmness
and security? But if you lay a rotten and ruinous foundation, will not
your miserable little building fall down the sooner, the more and the
stronger are the materials which you shall lay on it? Without any reason
would you withdraw from us out of life a man who is a friend and a
companion, a citizen of the same city, both the great and the small
city? Then while you are committing murder and destroying a man who has
done no wrong, do you say that you ought to abide by your
determinations? And if it ever in any way came into your head to kill
me, ought you to abide by your determinations?"

Now this man was with difficulty persuaded to change his mind. But it is
impossible to convince some persons at present; so that I seem now to
know what I did not know before, the meaning of the common saying, that
you can neither persuade nor break a fool. May it never be my lot to
have a wise fool for my friend; nothing is more untractable. "I am
determined," the man says. Madmen are also, but the more firmly they
form a judgment on things which do not exist, the more hellebore they
require. Will you not act like a sick man and call in the physician? - I
am sick, master, help me; consider what I must do: it is my duty to obey
you. So it is here also: I know not what I ought to do, but I am come to
learn. - Not so; but speak to me about other things: upon this I have
determined. - What other things? for what is greater and more useful than

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Online Librarycirca 55 AD EpictetusA Selection from the Discourses of Epictetus with the Encheiridion → online text (page 5 of 14)