Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVIII.: THAT WE OUGHT NOT TO BE ANGRY WITH THE ERRING. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XVIII.: THAT WE OUGHT NOT TO BE ANGRY WITH THE ERRING. - 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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THAT WE OUGHT NOT TO BE ANGRY WITH THE ERRING.
IF what the philosophers say be true, that all men’s actions proceed from one source; that, as they assent, from a persuasion that a thing is so, and dissent, from a persuasion that it is not, and suspend their judgment, from a persuasion that it is uncertain; so, likewise, they seek a thing, from a persuasion that it is for their advantage; — and it is impossible to esteem one thing advantageous, and yet desire another; to esteem one thing a duty, and yet pursue another; — why, after all, should we be angry at the multitude?
“They are thieves and robbers.”
What do you mean by thieves and robbers? They are in an error concerning good and evil. Ought you, then, to be angry, or rather to pity them? Do but show them their error, and you will see, that they will amend their faults; but, if they do not see the error, they will rise no higher than their convictions.
“What, then, ought not this thief and this adulterer to be destroyed?”
Nay, call him rather one who errs and is deceived in things of the greatest importance; blinded, not in the vision, that distinguishes white from black, but in the reason, that discerns good from evil? By stating your question thus, you would see how inhuman it is; and just as if you should say, “Ought not this blind, or that deaf man, to be destroyed?” For, if the greatest hurt be a deprivation of the most valuable things, and the most valuable thing to every one be rectitude of will; when any one is deprived of this, why, after all, are you angry? You ought not to be affected, O man! contrary to nature, by the evil deeds of another. Pity him rather. Yield not to hatred and anger; nor say, as many do, “What! shall these execrable and odious wretches dare to act thus?” Whence have you so suddenly learnt wisdom?
Why are we thus enraged? Because we make idols of those things which such people take from us. Make not an idol of your clothes, and you will not be enraged with the thief. Make not an idol of a woman’s beauty, and you will not be enraged with an adulterer. Know, that thief and adulterer cannot reach the things that are properly your own; but those only which belong to others, and are not within your power. If you can give up these things, and look upon them as not essential, with whom will you any longer be enraged? But while you idolize them, be angry with yourself, rather than with others. Consider the case: you have a fine suit of clothes; your neighbor has not. You have a casement; you want to air them. He knows not in what the good of man consists, but imagines it is in a fine suit of clothes; just as you imagine. Shall he not come and take them away? When you show a cake to greedy people, and are devouring it all yourself; would not you have them snatch it from you? Do not tempt them. Do not have a casement. Do not expose your clothes. I, too, the other day, had an iron lamp burning before my household deities. Hearing a noise at the window, I ran. I found my lamp was stolen. I considered, that he who took it away did nothing unaccountable. What then? I said, to-morrow you shall find an earthen one; for a man loses only what he has. — “I have lost my coat.” Ay; because you had a coat. “I have a pain in my head.” You certainly can have none in your horns. Why then are you out of humor? For loss and pain can be only of such things as are possessed.
But the tyrant will chain — what? A leg. He will take away — what? A head. What is there, then, that he can neither chain nor take away? The free will. Hence the advice of the ancients, — Know thyself.
“What then ought we to do?”
Practise yourself, for heaven’s sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater. “I have a pain in my head.” Do not lament. “I have a pain in my ear.” Do not lament. I do not say you may never groan; but do not groan in spirit; or, if your servant be a long while in bringing you something to bind your head, do not croak and go into hysterics, and say, “Everybody hates me.” For, who would not hate such a one?
Relying for the future on these principles, walk erect and free; not trusting to bulk of body, like a wrestler; for one should not be unconquerable in the sense that an ass is.
Who then is unconquerable? He whom the inevitable cannot overcome. For such a person I imagine every trial, and watch him as an athlete in each. He has been victorious in the first encounter. What will he do in the second? What, if he should be exhausted by the heat? What, if the field be Olympia? And so in other trials. If you throw money in his way, he will despise it. Is he proof against the seductions of women? What if he be tested by fame, by calumny, by praise, by death? He is able to overcome them all. — If he can bear sunshine and storm, discouragement and fatigue, I pronounce him an athlete unconquered indeed.