Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XI.: OF NATURAL AFFECTION. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XI.: OF NATURAL AFFECTION. - 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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OF NATURAL AFFECTION.
WHEN an important personage once came to visit him, Epictetus, having inquired into the particulars of his affairs, asked him, Whether he had a wife and children? The other replying that he had, Epictetus likewise inquired, In what manner do you live with them? “Very miserably,” says he. — How so? For men do not marry, and get children, to be miserable; but rather to make themselves happy. — “But I am so very miserable about my children, that the other day, when my daughter was sick, and appeared to be in danger, I could not bear even to be with her; but ran away, till it was told me, that she was recovered.” — And pray do you think this was acting right? — “It was acting naturally,” said he. — Well? do but convince me that it was acting naturally, and I can as well convince you that everything natural is right. — “All, or most of us fathers, are affected in the same way.” — I do not deny the fact; but the question between us is, whether it be right. For by this way of reasoning, it must be said, that diseases happen for the good of the body, because they do happen; and even that vices are natural, because all, or most of us, are guilty of them. Do you show me then, how such a behavior as yours appears to be natural.
“I cannot undertake that. But do you rather show me, that it is neither natural nor right.”
If we were disputing about black and white, what criterion must we call in, to distinguish them?
If about hot and cold, or hard and soft, what?
Well then? when we are debating about natural and unnatural, and right and wrong; what criterion are we to take?
“I cannot tell
And yet to be ignorant of a criterion of colors, or of smells, or tastes, might perhaps be no very great loss. But do you think, that he suffers only a small loss, who is ignorant of what is good and evil, and natural and unnatural to man?
“No. The very greatest.”
Well; tell me; are all things which are judged good and proper by some, rightly judged to be so? Thus, is it possible, that the several opinions of Jews, and Syrians, and Egyptians, and Romans, concerning food, should all be right?
“How can it be possible?”
I suppose then, it is absolutely necessary that, if the opinions of the Egyptians be right, the others must be wrong; if those of the Jews be good, all the rest must be bad.
“How can it be otherwise?”
And where ignorance is, there likewise is want of wisdom and instruction in the most necessary points.
“It is granted.”
Then as you are sensible of this, you will for the future apply to nothing, and think of nothing else, but how to learn the criterion of what is agreeable to nature; and to use that, in judging of each particular case.
At present the assistance I have to give you, towards what you desire, is this. Does affection seem to you to be a right and a natural thing?
“How should it be otherwise?”
Well; and is affection natural and right, and reason not so?
“By no means.”
Is there any opposition, then, between reason and affection?
“I think not.”
Suppose there were: if one of two opposites be natural, the other must necessarily be unnatural. Must it not?
What we find, then, to accord at once with love and reason, that we may safely pronounce to be right and good.
Well, then: you will not dispute this, that to run away, and leave a sick child, is contrary to reason. It remains for us to consider, whether it be consistent with affection.
“Let us consider it.”
Did you, then, from an affection to your child, do right in running away, and leaving her? Has her mother no affection for the child?
“Yes, surely, she has.”
Would it have been right, then, that her mother too should leave her; or would it not?
“It would not.”
And does not her nurse love her?
Then ought she likewise to leave her?
“By no means.”
And does not her preceptor love her?
Then ought he also to have run away, and left her; the child being thus left alone and unassisted, from the great affection of her parents, and her friends; or left to die among people, who neither loved her, nor took care of her?
But is it not unreasonable and unjust, that what you think right in yourself, on account of your affection, should not be allowed to others, who have the very same affection with you?
“It is absurd.”
Pray, if you were sick yourself, should you be willing to have your family, and even your wife and children, so very affectionate, as to leave you helpless and alone?
“By no means.”
Or would you wish to be so loved by your friends, as from their excessive affection always to be left alone when you were sick? Or would you not rejoice, if it were possible, to have such a kind of affection from your enemies, as to make them thus let you alone? If so, it remains, that your behaviour was by no means affectionate. But now, was there no other motive that induced you to desert your child?
“How is that possible?”
I mean some such motive as induced a person at Rome to hide his face while a horse was running, to which he earnestly wished success; and when, beyond his expectation, it won the race, he was obliged himself to be sponged, to recover from his faintness.
“And what was this motive?”
At present, perhaps, it cannot be made clear to you. It is sufficient to be convinced, if what philosophers say be true, that we are not to seek any motive merely from without; but that there is the same [unseen] motive in all cases, which moves us to do or forbear any action; to speak or not to speak; to be elated or depressed; to avoid or pursue: that very impulse which hath now moved us two; you, to come, and sit and hear me; and me, to speak as I do.
“And what is that?”
Is it anything else, than that it seemed right to us to do so?
And if it had seemed otherwise to us, what else should we have done, than what we thought right? This, and not the death of Patroclus, was the real source of the lamentation of Achilles, — for every man is not thus affected by the death of a friend, — that it seemed right to him. This too was the cause of your running away from your child, that it then seemed right; and if hereafter you should stay with her, it will be because that seems right. You are now returning to Rome, because it seems right to you; but if you should alter your opinion, you will not return. In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind, is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action: but our inward opinions and principles. Do I convince you of this, or not?
Well then: such as the cause is, such will be the effect. From this day forward, then, whenever we do anything wrong, we will impute it to the wrong principle from which we act; and we will endeavor to remove and extirpate that, with greater care than we would remove wens and tumors from the body. In like manner, we will ascribe what we do right, to the same cause; and we will accuse neither servant, nor neighbor, nor wife, nor children, as the cause of any evil to us; persuaded that if we had not accepted such principles, we should not carry them to such consequences. The control of these principles lies in us, and not in any outward things. Of these principles we ourselves, and not externals, are the masters.
From this day, then, we will not so closely inquire as to any external conditions, — estate, or slaves, or horses, or dogs, — but only make sure of our own principles.
“Such is my desire,” said the visitor.
You see, then, that it is necessary for you to become a student, that being whom every one laughs at, if you really desire to make an examination of your own principles. But this, as you should know, is not the work of an hour or a day.