Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIX.: OF THE RIGHT TREATMENT OF TYRANTS. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XIX.: OF THE RIGHT TREATMENT OF TYRANTS. - 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 THE RIGHT TREATMENT OF TYRANTS.
WHEN a person is possessed of some personal advantage, either real or imaginary, he will necessarily be puffed up with it, unless he has been well instructed. A tyrant openly says, “I am supreme over all.” And what can you bestow on me? Can you exempt my desires from disappointment? How should you? For do you never incur what you shun? Are your own aims infallible? Whence came you by that privilege? Pray, on shipboard, do you trust to yourself, or to the pilot? In a chariot, to whom but the driver? And to whom in all other arts? Just the same. In what, then, does your power consist?
“All men pay regard to me.”
So do I to my desk. I wash it, and wipe it; and drive a nail for my oil-flask.
“What, then, are these things to be valued beyond me?”
No; but they are of some use to me, and therefore I pay regard to them. Why, do I not pay regard to an ass? Do I not wash his feet? Do I not clean him? Do not you know, that every one pays such regard even to himself; and that he does it to you, just as he does to an ass? For who pays regard to you as a man? Show that. Who would wish to be like you? Who would desire to imitate you, as he would Socrates?
“But I can take off your head?”
You say rightly. I had forgot, that one is to pay regard to you as to a fever, or the cholera; and that there should be an altar erected to you, as there is to the goddess Fever at Rome.
What is it, then, that disturbs and terrifies the multitude? The tyrant and his guards? By no means. What is by nature free, cannot be disturbed or restrained by anything but itself. But its own convictions disturb it. Thus, when the tyrant says to any one, “I will chain your leg,” he who chiefly values his leg, cries out for pity; while he who chiefly values his own free will, says, “If you imagine it for your interest, chain it.”
“What! do not you care?”
No; I do not care.
“I will show you that I am master.”
You? How should you? Zeus has set me free. What! do you think he would suffer his own son to be enslaved? You are master of my carcass; take it.
“So that, when you come into my presence, you pay no regard to me?”
No, but to myself; or, if you will have me recognize you also, I will do it as if you were a piece of furniture. This is not selfish vanity; for every animal is so constituted, as to do everything for itself. Even the sun does all for himself; and for that matter so does even Zeus himself. But when he would be styled the dispenser of rain and plenty, and the father of gods and men, you see that he cannot attain these offices and titles, unless he contributes to the common good. And he has universally so constituted the nature of every reasonable creature, that no one can attain its own good without contributing something for the good of all. And thus it becomes not selfish to do everything for one’s self. For, do you expect, that a man should desert himself, and his own concerns; when all beings have one and the same original instinct, self-preservation? What follows then? That where we recognize those absurd convictions, which treat things outward as if they were the true good or evil of life, there must necessarily be a regard paid to tyrants; and I wish it were to tyrants only, and not to the very officers of their bed-chamber too. For how wise doth a man grow on a sudden, when Cæsar has made him his flunkey? How immediately we say, “Felicio talked very sensibly to me!” I wish he were turned out of office, that he might once more appear to you the fool he is.
Epaphroditus owned a shoemaker; whom, because he was good for nothing, he sold. This very fellow being, by some strange luck, bought by a courtier, became shoemaker to Cæsar. Then you might have seen how Epaphroditus honored him. “How is good Felicio, pray?” And, if any of us asked, what the great man himself was about, it was answered, “He is consulting about affairs with Felicio.” Did not he sell him previously as good for nothing? Who then, has all on a sudden, made a wise man of him? This it is to reverence externals.
Is any one exalted to the office of tribune? All who meet him congratulate him. One kisses his eyes, another his neck, and the slaves his hands. He goes to his house; finds it illuminated. He ascends the capitol; offers a sacrifice. Now, who ever offered a sacrifice for having good desires? For conforming his aims to Nature? Yet we thank the gods for that wherein we place our good.
A person was talking with me to-day about applying for the priesthood in the temple of Augustus. I said to him, let the thing alone, friend; you will be at great expense for nothing. “But my name,” said he, “will be written in the annals.” Will you stand by, then, and tell those who read them, “I am the person whose name is written there?” And even if you could tell every one so now, what will you do when you are dead? — “My name will remain.” — Write it upon a stone, and it will remain just as well. And, pray, what remembrance will there be of you out of Nicopolis? — “But I shall wear a crown of gold.” — If your heart is quite set upon a crown, make and put on one of roses; for it will make the prettier appearance.