Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI.: OF PROVIDENCE. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER VI.: OF PROVIDENCE. - Epictetus, The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments [100 AD]
The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments. A Translation from the Greek based on that of Elizabeth Carter, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1865).
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FROM every event that happens in the world it is easy to celebrate Providence, if a person hath but these two qualities in himself; a faculty of considering what happens to each individual, and a grateful temper. Without the first, he will not perceive the usefulness of things which happen; and without the other, he will not be thankful for them. If God had made colors, and had not made the faculty of seeing them, what would have been their use? None. On the other hand, if he had made the faculty of observation, without objects to observe, what would have been the use of that? None. Again; if he had formed both the faculty and the objects, but had not made light? Neither in that case would they have been of any use.
Who is it then that hath fitted each of these to the other? Who is it that hath fitted the sword to the scabbard, and the scabbard to the sword? Is there no such Being? From the very construction of a complete work, we are used to declare positively, that it must be the operation of some artificer, and not the effect of mere chance. Doth every such work, then, demonstrate an artificer; and do not visible objects, and the sense of seeing, and light, demonstrate one? Do not the difference of the sexes, and their inclination to each other, and the use of their several powers; do not these things demonstrate an artificer? Most certainly they do.
But further; this constitution of understanding, by which we are not simply impressed by sensible objects, but take and subtract and add and combine, and pass from point to point by inference; is not all this sufficient to prevail on some men, and make them ashamed of leaving an artificer out of their scheme? If not, let them explain to us what the power is that effects each of these; and how it is possible that chance should produce things so wonderful, and which carry such marks of design?
What, then, do these things belong to us alone?
Many indeed; such as are peculiarly necessary for a reasonable creature; but you will find many, which are common to us with mere animals.
Then, do they too understand what happens?
Not at all; for use is one affair, and understanding another. But God had need of animals, to make use of things; and of us to understand that use. It is sufficient, therefore, for them to eat, and drink, and sleep, and continue their species, and perform other such offices as belong to each of them; but to us, to whom he hath given likewise a faculty of understanding, these offices are not sufficient. For if we do not proceed in a wise and systematic manner, and suitably to the nature and constitution of each thing, we shall never attain our end. For where the constitution of beings is different, their offices and ends are different likewise. Thus where the constitution is adapted only to use, there use is alone sufficient; but where understanding is added to use, unless that too be duly exercised, the end of such a being will never be attained.
Well then; each of the animals is constituted either for food, or husbandry, to produce milk, or for some other like use; and for these purposes what need is there of understanding things, and being able to discriminate concerning them? But God hath introduced man, as a spectator of himself and of his works; and not only as a spectator, but an interpreter of them. It is therefore shameful that man should begin and end, where irrational creatures do. He is indeed to begin there, but to end where nature itself hath fixed our end; and that is, in contemplation and understanding, and in a scheme of life conformable to nature.
Take care, then, not to die without the contemplation of these things. You take a journey to Olympia to behold the work of Phidias, and each of you thinks it a misfortune to die without a knowledge of such things; and will you have no inclination to see and understand those works, for which there is no need to take a journey; but which are ready and at hand, even to those who bestow no pains! Will you never perceive what you are, or for what you were born, or for what purpose you are admitted to behold this spectacle?
But there are in life some things unpleasant and difficult.
And are there none at Olympia? Are not you heated? Are not you crowded? Are not you without good conveniences for bathing? Are not you wet through, when it happens to rain? Do you not have uproar, and noise, and other disagreeable circumstances? But I suppose, by comparing all these with the merit of the spectacle, you support and endure them. Well; and have you not received faculties by which you may support every event? Have you not received greatness of soul? Have you not received a manly spirit? Have you not received patience? What signifies to me anything that happens, while my soul is above it? What shall disconcert or trouble or appear grievous to me? Shall I not use my powers to that purpose for which I received them; but lament and groan at every casualty?
“True, no doubt; but I have such a disagreeable catarrh!” Attend to your diseases, then, as best you can. Do you say, it is unreasonable that there should be such a discomfort in the world?
And how much better is it that you should have a catarrh than complain? Pray, what figure do you think Hercules would have made, if there had not been a lion, and a hydra, and a stag, and unjust and brutal men, whom he expelled and cleared away? And what would he have done, if none of these had existed? Is it not plain, that he must have wrapt himself up and slept? In the first place, then, he would never have become a Hercules, by slumbering away his whole life in such delicacy and ease; or if he had, what good would it have done? What would have been the use of his arm and his strength, — of his patience and greatness of mind, — if such circumstances and subjects of action had not roused and exercised him?
What then, must we provide these things for ourselves; and introduce a boar, and a lion, and a hydra, into our country?
This would be madness and folly. But as they were in being, and to be met with, they were proper subjects to call out and exercise Hercules. Do you therefore likewise, being sensible of this, consider the faculties you have; and after taking a view of them, say, “Bring on me now, O Zeus, what difficulty thou wilt, for I have faculties granted me by thee, and powers by which I may win honor from every event.” — No; but you sit trembling, for fear this or that should happen, and lamenting, and mourning, and groaning at what doth happen; and then you accuse the gods. For what is the consequence of such a baseness, but impiety? And yet God hath not only granted these faculties, by which we may bear every event, without being depressed or broken by it; but, like a good prince, and a true father, hath placed their exercise above restraint, compulsion, or hindrance, and wholly within our own control; nor hath he reserved a power, even to himself, of hindering or restraining them. Having these things free, and your own, will you not use them, nor consider what you have received, nor from whom? But you sit groaning and lamenting, some of you, blind to him who gave them, and not acknowledging your benefactor; and others basely turn themselves to complaints and accusations against God! Yet I undertake to show you, that you have means and powers to exhibit greatness of soul, and a manly spirit; but what occasion you have to find fault, and complain, do you show me if you can.