Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX.: HOW FROM THE DOCTRINE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD, WE ARE TO DEDUCE ITS CONSEQUENCES. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER IX.: HOW FROM THE DOCTRINE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD, WE ARE TO DEDUCE ITS CONSEQUENCES. - 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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HOW FROM THE DOCTRINE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD, WE ARE TO DEDUCE ITS CONSEQUENCES.
IF what philosophers say of the kinship between God and men be true, what has any one to do, but, like Socrates, when he is asked what countryman he is, never to say that he is a citizen of Athens, or of Corinth, but of the universe? For why, if you limit yourself to Athens, do you not farther limit yourself to that mere corner of Athens where your body was brought forth? Is it not, evidently, from some larger local tie, which comprehends not only that corner, and your whole house, but the whole country of your fathers, that you call yourself an Athenian, or a Corinthian? He then, who understands the administration of the universe, and has learned that the principal and greatest and most comprehensive of all things is this vast system, extending from men to God; and that from Him the seeds of being are descended, not only to one’s father or grandfather, but to all things that are produced and born on earth; and especially to rational natures, as they alone are qualified to partake of a communication with the Deity, being connected with him by reason; why may not such a one call himself a citizen of the universe? Why not a son of God? And why shall he fear anything that happens among men? Shall kinship to Cæsar, or any other of the great at Rome, enable a man to live secure, above contempt, and void of all fear whatever; and shall not the having God for our maker, and father, and guardian, free us from griefs and alarms?
“But wherewithal shall I be fed? For I have nothing.”
To what do fugitive slaves trust, when they run away from their masters? Is it to their estates? Their servants? Their plate? To nothing but themselves. Yet they do not fail to obtain the necessaries of life. And must a philosopher, think you, leave his own abode, to rest and rely upon others; and not take care of himself? Must he be more helpless and anxious than the brute beasts; each of which is self-sufficient, and wants neither proper food, nor any suitable and natural provision? One would think that you would need an instructor, not to guard you from thinking too meanly or ignobly of yourselves; but that his business would be to take care lest there be young men of such a spirit, that, knowing their affinity to the gods, and that we are as it were fettered by the body and its possessions, and by so many other things as are thus made needful for the daily pursuits of life, they should resolve to throw them all off, as both troublesome and useless, and depart to their divine kindred.
This is the work, if any, that ought to employ your master and preceptor, if you had one, that you should come to him, and say: “Epictetus, we can no longer bear being tied down to this poor body; feeding, and resting, and cleaning it, and vexed with so many low cares on its account. Are not these things indifferent, and nothing to us; and death no evil? Are we not of kindred to God; and did we not come from him? Suffer us to go back thither from whence we came: suffer us at length to be delivered from these fetters that bind and weigh us down. Here thieves and robbers, courts and tyrants, claim power over us, through the body and its possessions. Suffer us to show them that they have no power.”
And in this case it would be my part to answer: “My friends, wait for God till he shall give the signal, and dismiss you from this service; then return to him. For the present, be content to remain at this post, where he has placed you. The time of your abode here is short and easy, to such as are disposed like you; for what tyrant, what robber, what thief or what court can be formidable to those who thus count for nothing the body and its possessions. Stay, nor foolishly depart.”
Thus ought the case to stand between a preceptor and ingenuous young men. But how stands it now? The preceptor has no life in him; and you have none. When you have had enough to-day, you sit weeping about to-morrow, how you shall get food. Why, if you have it, slave, you will have it; if not, you will go out of life. The door is open; why do you lament; what room remains for tears; what occasion for flattery? Why should any one person envy another? Why should he be impressed with awe by those who have great possessions, or are placed in high rank? especially, if they are powerful and passionate? For what will they do to us? The things which they can do, we do not regard: the things about which we are concerned, they cannot reach. Who then, after all, shall hold sway over a person thus disposed? How behaved Socrates in regard to these things? As it became one conscious of kinship with the gods. He said to his judges: —
“If you should tell me, ‘We will acquit you, upon condition that you shall no longer discourse in the manner you have hitherto done, nor make any disturbance either among our young or our old people’; I would answer: ‘You are ridiculous in thinking, that if your general had placed me in any post, I ought to maintain and defend it, and choose to die a thousand times, rather than desert it; but that if God hath assigned me any station or method of life, I ought to desert that for you.’ ”
This it is, for a man to truly recognize his relationship with God. But we habitually think of ourselves as mere stomach and intestines and bodily parts. Because we fear, because we desire, we flatter those who can help us in these matters; we dread them too.
A person desired me once to write for him to Rome. He was one vulgarly esteemed unfortunate, as he had been formerly illustrious and rich, and was afterwards stripped of all his possessions, and reduced to live here. I wrote for him in a submissive style; but, after reading my letter, he returned it to me, and said: “I wanted your assistance, not your pity; for no evil hath befallen me.”
Thus Rufus, to try me, used to say, this or that you will have from your master. When I answered him, these are mere human affairs; Why then, says he, should I intercede with him,* when you can receive from yourself things more important? For what one hath of his own, it is superfluous and vain to receive from another. Shall I then, who can receive nobleness and a manly spirit from myself, receive an estate, or a sum of money, or a place, from you? Heaven forbid! I will not be so insensible of my own possessions. But, if a person is fearful and abject, what else is necessary, but to apply for permission to bury him as if he were dead. “Please forward to us the corpse of such a one.” For, in fact, such a one is that, and nothing more. For, if he were anything more, he would be sensible that man is not to be made miserable at the will of his fellow-man.
[* ]This is a disputed passage, and something is probably lost. The above version mainly follows Upton and Mrs. Carter. — H.