Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXV.: ON THE SAME SUBJECT. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
Return to Title Page for The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER XXV.: ON THE SAME SUBJECT. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
ON THE SAME SUBJECT.
IF these things are true; and if we are not stupid, or insincere, when we say, that the good or ill of man lies within his own will, and that all beside is nothing to us; why are we still troubled? Why do we still fear? What truly concerns us is in no one’s power: what is in the power of others concerns not us. What embarrassment have we left?
“But you must direct me.”
Why should I direct you? Has not Zeus directed you? Has he not given you what is your own, incapable of restraint or hindrance; and what is not your own, liable to both? What directions, then, what orders, have you brought from him? “By all means guard what is your own: what belongs to others do not covet. Honesty is your own: a sense of virtuous shame is your own. Who, then, can deprive you of these? Who can restrain you from making use of them, but yourself? And how do you do it? When you make that your concern which is not truly your own, you lose that which is.” Having such precepts and directions from Zeus, what sort do you still want from me? Am I better than He, or more worthy of credit? If you observe these precepts, what others do you need? Are not these His? Apply the recognized principles; apply the demonstrations of philosophers; apply what you have often heard, and what you have said yourself; what you have read, and what you have carefully studied.
How long is it right to devote one’s self to these things and not break up the game?
As long as it goes on well. A king is chosen at the Saturnalian Festival, supposing that it was agreed to play at that game: he orders: “Do you drink; you mix the wine; you sing; you go; you come.” I obey; that the game may not be broken up by my fault.
[Then he orders] “I bid you think yourself to be unhappy.” I do not think so; and who shall compel me to think so?
Again; suppose we agreed to play Agamemnon and Achilles. He who is appointed for Agamemnon says to me, “Go to Achilles, and force away Briseis.” I go. “Come.” I come. We should deal with life as with these imaginary orders.
“Suppose it to be night.” Well; suppose it. “Is it day then?” No: for I admitted the hypothesis, that it was night. “Suppose that you think it to be night.” Well; suppose it. “But you must really think that it is night.” That by no means follows from the hypothesis. Thus it is in the case illustrated. Suppose you have ill luck. Suppose it. “Are you then unlucky?” Yes. “Are you thoroughly unfortunate?” Yes. “Well; but you must really regard yourself as miserable.” But this is no part of the assumption, and there is a power who forbids me to admit that.
How far then are we to carry such analogies? As far as is useful; that is, till we go farther than is reasonable and fit.
Moreover, some are peevish and fastidious, and say, I cannot dine with such a fellow, to be obliged to hear him all day recounting how he fought in Mysia. “I told you, my friend, how I gained the eminence.” There I begin to suffer another siege. But another says, “I had rather get a dinner, and hear him prate as much as he pleases.”
Do you decide between these opinions; but do not let it be with depression and anxiety, and the assumption that you are miserable; for no one compels you to that. Is there smoke in my house? If it be moderate, I will stay; if very great, I will go out. For you must always remember, and hold to this, that the door is open. “You are forbidden to live at Nicopolis.” I will not live there. “Nor at Athens.” Well, nor at Athens. “Nor at Rome.” Nor at Rome. “But you shall live at Gyaros.”* I will live there. But suppose that living at Gyaros seems to me like living in a great smoke. I can then retire where no one can forbid me to live, for it is an abode open to all; and put off my last garment, this poor body of mine; beyond this, no one has any power over me.
Thus Demetrius said to Nero: “You sentence me to death; and Nature you.” If I prize my body first, I have surrendered myself as a slave; if my estate, the same; for I at once betray where I am vulnerable. Just as when a reptile pulls in his head, I bid you strike that part of him which he guards; and be you assured, that wherever you show a desire to guard yourself, there your master will attack you. Remember but this, and whom will you any longer flatter or fear?
“But I want to sit where the senators do.”
Do not you see, that by this you incommode and torment yourself?
“Why, how else shall I see the show in the Amphitheatre advantageously?”
Do not insist on seeing it, O man! and you will not be incommoded. Why do you vex yourself? Or wait a little while; and when the show is over, go sit in the senators’ places, and sun yourself. For remember, that this holds universally; we incommode and torment ourselves; that is, our own preconceived notions do it for us. What is it to be reviled, for instance? Stand by a stone, and revile it; and what will you get by it? If you, therefore, would listen only as a stone, what would your reviler gain? But, if the reviler has the weakness of the reviled for a vantage-ground, then he carries his point.
“Strip him,” [bids the tyrant]. What mean you by him? Take my clothes, strip them, at your pleasure. “I meant only to insult you.” Much good may it do you.
These things were the study of Socrates; and, by these means, he always preserved the same countenance. Yet we had rather exercise and study anything, than how to become unrestrained and free. “But the philosophers talk paradoxes.” And are there not paradoxes in other arts? What is more paradoxical, than to prick any one’s eye, that he may see? Should one tell this to one ignorant of surgery, would not he laugh at him? What wonder then, if, in philosophy also, many truths appear paradoxes to the ignorant?
[* ]An island in the Ægean Sea, to which the Romans used to banish criminals. — C.