Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI.: OF CIRCUMSTANCES. * - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER VI.: OF CIRCUMSTANCES. * - 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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A PROCESS of reasoning may be an indifferent thing; but our judgment concerning it is not indifferent; for it is either knowledge, or opinion, or mistake. So the events of life occur indifferently, but the use of it is not indifferent. When you are told, therefore, that these things are indifferent, do not, on that account, ever be careless; nor yet, when you are governed by prudence, be abject, and dazzled by externals. It is good to know your own qualifications and powers; that, where you are not qualified, you may be quiet, and not angry that others have there the advantage of you. For you too will think it reasonable, that you should have the advantage in the art of reasoning; and, if others should be angry at it, you will tell them, by way of consolation, “This I have learned, and you have not.” Thus too, wherever practice is necessary, do not pretend to what can only be attained by practice; but leave the matter to those who are practised, and do you be contented in your own serenity.
“Go, for instance, and pay your court to such a person.” — How? I will not do it abjectly. So I find myself shut out; for I have not learned to get in at the window, and finding the door shut, I must necessarily either go back, or get in at the window. — “But speak to him at least.” I am willing. “In what manner?” Not basely at any rate. “Well, you have failed.” This is not your business, but his. Why do you claim what belongs to another? Always remember what is your own, and what is another’s, and you will never be disturbed.
Hence Chrysippus rightly says: While consequences are uncertain, I will keep to those things which will bring me most in harmony with nature; for God himself hath formed me to choose this. If I knew, that it was inevitable for me to be sick, I would conform my inclinations that way; for even the foot, if it had understanding, would be inclined to get into the dirt. For why are ears of corn produced, if it be not to ripen? and why do they ripen, if not to be reaped? For they are not isolated, individual things. If they were capable of sense, do you think they would wish never to be reaped? It would be a curse upon ears of corn not to be reaped, and we ought to know that it would be a curse upon man not to die; like that of not ripening, and not being reaped. Since, then, it is necessary for us to be reaped, and we have, at the same time, understanding to know it, are we angry at it? This is only because we neither know what we are, nor have we studied what belongs to man, as jockies do what belongs to horses. Yet Chrysantas, when he was about to strike an enemy, on hearing the trumpet sound a retreat, drew back his hand; for he thought it more eligible to obey the command of his general, than his own inclination.* But not one of us, even when necessity calls, is ready and willing to obey it; but we weep and groan over painful events, calling them our “circumstances.” What circumstances, man? For if you call what surrounds you circumstances, everything is a circumstance; but, if by this you mean hardships, where is the hardship, that whatever is born must die? The instrument is either a sword, or a wheel, or the sea, or a tile, or a tyrant. And what does it signify to you by what way you descend to Hades? All are equal; but, if you would hear the truth, the shortest is that by which a tyrant sends you. No tyrant was ever six months in cuting any man’s throat; but a fever often takes a year. All these things are mere sound, and the rumor of empty names.
“My life is in danger from Cæsar.”
And am I not in danger, who dwell at Nicopolis, where there are so many earthquakes? And when you yourself recross the Adriatic, what is then in danger? Is it not your life?
“Ay, and my convictions also.”
What, your own? How so? Can any one compel you to have any convictions contrary to your own inclination?
“But the convictions of others too.”
And what danger is it of yours, if others have false convictions?
“But I am in danger of being banished.”
What is it to be banished? only to be somewhere else than at Rome.
“Yes? but what if I should be sent to Gyaros?”
If it be thought best for you, you will go; if not, there is another place than Gyaros whither you are sure to go, — where he who now sends you to Gyaros must go likewise, whether he will or not. Why, then, do you come to these, as to great trials? They are not equal to your powers. So that an ingenuous young man would say, it was not worth while for this, to have read and written so much, and to have sat to long listening to this old man. Only remember the distinction between what is your own, and what is not your own, and you will never claim what belongs to others. Judicial bench or dungeon, each is but a place, one high, the other low; but your will is equal to either condition, and if you have a mind to keep it so, it may be so kept. We shall then become imitators of Socrates, when, even in a prison, we are able to write hymns of praise;* but as we now are, consider whether we could even bear to have another say to us in prison, “Shall I read you a hymn of praise?” — “Why do you trouble me; do you not know my sad situation? In such circumstances, am I able to hear hymns?” — What circumstances? — “I am going to die.” — And are all other men to be immortal?
[* ]This discourse is supposed to have been addressed to a pupil, who feared to remain at Rome, because of the persecutions aimed by Domitian at the philosophers. — H.
[* ]In a speech which Cyrus made to his soldiers, after the battle with the Assyrians, he mentioned Chrysantas, one of his captains, with particular honor, for this instance of obedience. Xenoph. Cyrop. IV. 1. — C.
[* ]Diogenes Laertius in his life of Socrates (c. 42) gives the first verse of a hymn thus composed by him. — H.