Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII.: WHEREIN CONSISTS THE ESSENCE OF GOOD. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER VIII.: WHEREIN CONSISTS THE ESSENCE OF GOOD. - 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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WHEREIN CONSISTS THE ESSENCE OF GOOD.
GOD is beneficial. Good is also beneficial. It should seem, then, that where the essence of God is, there too is the essence of good. What then is the essence of God? Flesh? By no means. An estate? Fame? By no means. Intelligence? Knowledge? Right reason? Certainly. Here, then, without more ado, seek the essence of good. For do you seek that quality in a plant? No. Or in a brute? No. If, then, you seek it only in a rational subject, why do you seek it anywhere but in what distinguishes that from things irrational? Plants make no voluntary use of things; and therefore you do not apply the term of good to them. — Good, then, implies such use. And nothing else? If so, you may say, that good, and happiness, and unhappiness, belong to mere animals. But this you do not say, and you are right; for, how much soever they have the use of things, they have not the intelligent use; and with good reason; for they are made to be subservient to others, and not of primary importance. Why was an ass made? Was it as being of primary importance? No; but because we had need of a back, able to carry burdens. We had need too that he should be capable of locomotion; therefore he had the voluntary use of things added; otherwise he could not have moved. But here his endowments end; for, if an understanding of that use had been likewise added, he would not, in reason, have been subject to us, nor have done us these services; but would have been like and equal to ourselves. Why will you not, therefore, seek the essence of good in that without which you cannot say that there is good in anything?
What then? Are not all these likewise the works of the gods? They are; but not primary existences, nor parts of the gods. But you are a primary existence. You are a distinct portion of the essence of God; and contain a certain part of him in yourself. Why then are you ignorant of your noble birth? Why do not you consider whence you came? why do not you remember, when you are eating, who you are who eat; and whom you feed? When you are in the company of women; when you are conversing; when you are exercising; when you are disputing; do not you know, that it is the Divine you feed; the Divine you exercise? You carry a God about with you, poor wretch, and know nothing of it. Do you suppose I mean some god without you of gold or silver? It is within yourself that you carry him; and you do not observe that you profane him by impure thoughts and unclean actions. If the mere external image of God were present, you would not dare to act as you do; and when God himself is within you, and hears and sees all, are not you ashamed to think and act thus; insensible of your own nature, and at enmity with God?
Why then are we afraid, when we send a young man from the school, into active life, that he should behave indecently, eat indecently, converse indecently with women; that he should either debase himself by slovenliness, or clothe himself too finely? Knows he not the God within him? Knows he not in what company he goes? It is provoking to hear him say [to his instructor], “I wish to have you with me.” Have you not God? Do you seek any other, while you have him? Or will He tell you any other things than these? If you were a statue of Phidias, as Zeus or Minerva, you would remember both yourself and the artist; and, if you had any sense, you would endeavor to be in no way unworthy of him who formed you, nor of yourself; nor to appear in an unbecoming manner to spectators. And are you now careless how you appear, when you are the workmanship of Zeus himself? And yet, what comparison is there, either between the artists, or the things they have formed? What work of any artist has conveyed into its structure those very faculties which are shown in shaping it? Is it anything but marble, or brass, or gold, or ivory? And the Minerva of Phidias, when its hand is once extended, and a Victory placed in it, remains in that attitude forever. But the works of God are endowed with motion, breath, the powers of use and judgment. Being, then, the work of such an artist, will you dishonor him, — especially, when he hath not only formed you, but given your guardianship to yourself? Will you not only be forgetful of this, but, moreover, dishonor the trust? If God had committed some orphan to your charge, would you have been thus careless of him? He has delivered yourself to your care; and says, “I had no one fitter to be trusted than you: preserve this person for me, such as he is by nature; modest, faithful, noble, unterrified, dispassionate, tranquil.” And will you not preserve him?
But it will be said: “What need of this lofty look, and dignity of face?”
I answer, that I have not yet so much dignity as the case demands. For I do not yet trust to what I have learned, and accepted. I still fear my own weakness. Let me but take courage a little, and then you shall see such a look, and such an appearance, as I ought to have. Then I will show you the statue, when it is finished, when it is polished. Do you think I will show you a supercilious countenance? Heaven forbid? For Olympian Zeus doth not haughtily lift his brow; but keeps a steady countenance, as becomes him who is about to say,
“My promise is irrevocable, sure.”*
Such will I show myself to you; faithful, modest, noble, tranquil.
“What, and immortal too, and exempt from age and sickness?”
No. But sickening and dying as becomes the divine within me. This is in my power; this I can do. The other is not in my power, nor can I do it. Shall I show you the muscular training of a philosopher?
“What muscles are those?”
A will undisappointed; evils avoided; powers duly exerted; careful resolutions; unerring decisions. These you shall see.
[* ]Iliad, I. 526. — H.