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CHAPTER XIII.: OF ANXIETY. - 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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WHEN I see any one anxious, I say, what does this man mean? Unless he wanted something or other, not in his own power, how could he still be anxious? A musician, for instance, feels no anxiety, while he is singing by himself, but when he appears upon the stage he does; even if his voice be ever so good, or he plays ever so well. For what he wishes is not only to sing well, but likewise to gain applause. But this is not in his own power. In short, where his skill lies, there is his courage. Bring any ignorant person, and he does not mind him. But in the point which he neither understands, nor has studied, there he is anxious.
“What point is that?”
He does not understand what a multitude is, nor what the applause of a multitude. He has learnt, indeed, how to sound bass and treble; but what the applause of the many is, and what force it has in life, he neither understands, nor has studied. Hence he must necessarily tremble, and turn pale. I cannot indeed say, that a man is no musician, when I see him afraid; but I can say something else, and indeed many things. And, first of all, I call him a stranger, and say, this man does not know in what country he is; and though he has lived here so long, he is ignorant of the laws and customs of the state, and what is permitted, and what not; nor hath he ever consulted any legal adviser, who might tell and explain to him the laws. But no man writes a will, without knowing how it ought to be written, or consulting some one who knows; nor does he rashly sign a bond, or give security. Yet he indulges his desires and aversions, exerts his pursuits, intentions, and resolutions, without consulting any legal adviser about the matter.
“How do you mean, without a legal adviser?”
He knows not, when he chooses what is not allowed him, and does not choose what is necessary; and he knows not what is his own, and what belongs to others; for if he did know, he would never be hindered, would never be restrained, would never be anxious.
Why? does any one fear things that are not evils?
Does any one fear things, that seem evils indeed, but which it is in his own power to prevent?
If, then, the things independent of our will are neither good nor evil; and all things that do depend on will, are in our own power, and can neither be taken away from us, nor given to us, unless we please; what room is there left for anxiety? But we are anxious about this paltry body or estate of ours, or about what Cæsar thinks; and not at all about anything internal. Are we ever anxious not to take up a false opinion? No; for this is within our own power. Or not to follow any pursuit contrary to nature? No; nor this. When, therefore, you see any one pale with anxiety, just as the physician pronounces from the complexion, that such a patient is disordered in the spleen, and another in the liver; so do you likewise say, this man is disordered in his desires and aversions; he cannot walk steadily; he is in a fever. For nothing else changes the complexion, or causes trembling, or sets the teeth chattering.
“He crouching walks, or squats upon his heels.”*
Therefore Zeno,† when he was to meet Antigonus, felt no anxiety. For over that which he prized, Antigonus had no power: and those things over which he had power, Zeno did not regard. But Antigonus felt anxiety when he was to meet Zeno; and with reason, for he was desirous to please him; and this was external ambition. But Zeno was not solicitous to please Antigonus; for no one skilful in any art is solicitous to please a person unskilful.
“I am solicitous to please you.”
For what? Do you know the rules, by which one man judges of another? Have you studied to understand what a good, and what a bad man is; and how each becomes such? Why then are not you yourself a good man?
“In what respect am I not?”
Because no good man laments, or sighs, or groans; no good man turns pale, and trembles, and says, “How will such a one receive me; how will he hear me?” — As he thinks fit, foolish man. Why do you trouble yourself about what belongs to others? Is it not his fault, if he receives you ill?
And can one person be in fault, and another the suffer?
Why then are you anxious about what belongs to others?
“Well; but I am anxious how I shall speak to him.”
What then, cannot you speak to him as you will?
“But I am afraid I shall be disconcerted.”
If you were going to write down the name of Dion, should you be afraid of being disconcerted?
“By no means.”
What is the reason? Is it because you have learned how to write?
And if you were going to read, would it not be exactly the same?
What is the reason?
“Because every art gives a certain assurance and confidence, on its own ground.
Have you not learned, then, how to speak? And what else did you study at school?
“Syllogisms, and convertible propositions.”
For what purpose? Was it not in order to talk properly? And what is that, but to talk seasonably, and discreetly, and intelligently, and without flutter or hesitation; and by means of all this, with courage?
When, therefore, you go into the field on horseback, are you anxious on being matched against one who is on foot? you being practised and he unpractised?
“Ay, but the person has power to kill me.”
Then speak the truth, O! unfortunate! and be not arrogant, nor take the philosopher upon you, nor conceal from yourself who are your masters; but while you are thus to be held by the body, follow the strongest. Socrates, indeed, had studied how to speak, who talked in such a manner to tyrants and judges, and in prison. Diogenes* had studied how to speak, who talked in such a manner to Alexander, to Philip, to the pirates, to the person who bought him. This belonged to those who had studied the matter; who had courage. But do you go where you belong and remain there. Retire into some corner, and there sit and weave syllogisms, and propose them to others. For there is not in you a man who can rule the city.
[* ]Homer, Iliad, xiii. 281. — H.
[† ]Antigonus Gonatas, king of Macedon, had so great an esteem for Zeno, that he often took a journey to Athens to visit him; and endeavored, by magnificent promises, to allure him to his court, but without success. He gave it as a reason for the distinguished regard which he paid him, that, though he had made him many, and very considerable offers, Zeno never appeared either mean or insolent. — C.
[* ]When Diogenes was sailing to Ægina, he was taken by pirates, and carried to Crete, and there exposed to sale. Being asked what he could do, he answered, “Govern men”; and pointing to a well-dressed Corinthian, who was passing by, “Sell me,” said he, “to him; for he wants a master.” The Corinthian, whose name was Xeniades, bought him, and appointed him the tutor to his children; and Diogenes perfectly well discharged his trust. — C.