Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX.: THAT SOME PERSONS, FAILING TO FULFIL WHAT THE CHARACTER OF A MAN IMPLIES, ASSUME THAT OF A PHILOSOPHER. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER IX.: THAT SOME PERSONS, FAILING TO FULFIL WHAT THE CHARACTER OF A MAN IMPLIES, ASSUME THAT OF A PHILOSOPHER. - 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 SOME PERSONS, FAILING TO FULFIL WHAT THE CHARACTER OF A MAN IMPLIES, ASSUME THAT OF A PHILOSOPHER.
IT were no slight attainment, could we merely fulfil what the nature of man implies. For what is man? A rational and mortal being. Well; from what are we distinguished by reason? From wild beasts. From what else? From sheep, and the like.
Take care, then, to do nothing like a wild beast; otherwise you have destroyed the man; you have not fulfilled what your nature promises. Take care too, to do nothing like cattle; for thus likewise the man is destroyed.
In what do we act like cattle?
When we act gluttonously, lewdly, rashly, sordidly, inconsiderately, into what are we sunk? Into cattle. What have we destroyed? The rational being.
When we behave contentiously, injuriously, passionately, and violently, into what have we sunk? Into wild beasts.
And further; some of us are wild beasts of a larger size; others, little mischievous vermin; such as suggest the proverb, Let me rather be eaten by a lion.
By all these means, that is destroyed which the nature of man implies.
For, when is a conjunctive proposition sustained? When it fulfils what its nature implies. So then the sustaining of such a proposition consists in this: that its several parts remain a series of truths.
When is a disjunctive proposition sustained? When it fulfils what its nature implies.
When is a flute, a harp, a horse, or a dog, preserved in existence? While each fulfils what its nature implies.
Where is the wonder, then, that manhood should be preserved or destroyed in the same manner? All things are preserved and improved by exercising their proper functions; as a carpenter, by building; a grammarian, by grammar: but if he permit himself to write ungrammatically, his art will necessarily be spoiled and destroyed. Thus modest actions preserve the modest man, and immodest ones destroy him; faithful actions preserve the faithful man, and the contrary destroy him. On the other hand, the contrary actions heighten the contrary characters. Thus the practice of immodesty develops an immodest character; knavery, a knavish one; slander, a slanderous one; anger, an angry one; and fraud, a covetous one.
For this reason, philosophers advise us not to be contented with mere learning; but to add meditation likewise, and then practice. For we have been long accustomed to perverse actions, and have practised upon wrong opinions. If, therefore, we do not likewise habituate ourselves to practise upon right opinions, we shall be nothing more than expositors of the abstract doctrines of others. For who among us is not already able to discourse, according to the rules of art, upon good and evil? “That some things are good, some evil, and others indifferent: the good include the virtues and all things appertaining; the evil comprise the contrary; and the indifferent include riches, health, reputation”; — and then, if, while we are saying all this, there should happen some more than ordinary noise, or one of the by-standers should laugh at us, we are disconcerted. Philosopher, what is become of what you were saying? Whence did it proceed? Merely from your lips? Why then, do you confound the remedies which might be useful to others? Why do you trifle on the most important subjects? It is one thing to hoard up provision in a storehouse, and another to eat it. What is eaten is assimilated, digested, and becomes nerves, flesh, bones, blood, color, breath. Whatever is hoarded is ready indeed, whenever you desire to show it; but is of no further use to you than in the mere knowledge that you have it.
For what difference does it make whether you discourse on these doctrines, or those of the heterodox? Sit down and comment skilfully on Epicurus, for instance; perhaps you may comment more profitably than himself. Why then do you call yourself a Stoic? Why do you act like a Jew, when you are a Greek? Do not you see on what terms each is called a Jew, a Syrian, an Egyptian? And when we see any one wavering, we are wont to say, This is not a Jew, but only acts like one. But, when he assumes the sentiments of one who has been baptized and circumcised, then he both really is, and is called, a Jew. Thus we, falsifying our profession, may be Jews in name, but are in reality something else. We are inconsistent with our own discourse; we are far from practising what we teach, and what we pride ourselves on knowing. Thus, while we are unable to fulfil what the character of a man implies, we are ready to assume besides so vast a weight as that of a philosopher. As if a person, incapable of lifting ten pounds, should endeavor to heave the same stone with Ajax.