Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVI.: THAT WE DO NOT STUDY TO MAKE USE OF THE ESTABLISHED PRINCIPLES CONCERNING GOOD AND EVIL. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XVI.: THAT WE DO NOT STUDY TO MAKE USE OF THE ESTABLISHED PRINCIPLES CONCERNING GOOD AND EVIL. - 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 WE DO NOT STUDY TO MAKE USE OF THE ESTABLISHED PRINCIPLES CONCERNING GOOD AND EVIL.
WHERE lies good? In the will. Where evil? In the will. Where neither good nor evil? In things inevitable. What then? Does any one of us remember these lessons out of the schools? Does any one of us study how to answer for himself in the affairs of life, as in common questions? “Is it day?” — “Yes.” — “Is it night, then?” — “No.” — “Is the number of stars even?” — “I cannot tell.” — When a bribe is offered you, have you learned to make the proper answer, that it is not a good? Have you exercised yourself in such answers as these; or only in sophistries? Why do you wonder, then, that you improve in points which you have studied; while in those which you have not studied, there you remain the same? When an orator knows that he has written well; that he has committed to memory what he has written; and that he brings an agreeable voice with him; why is he still anxious? Because he is not contented with what he has studied. What does he want then? To be applauded by the audience. He has studied the power of speaking, then; but he has not studied censure and applause. For when did he hear from any one what applause, what censure is? What is the nature of each? What kind of applause is to be sought, and what kind of censure to be shunned? And when did he ever apply himself to study what follows from these lessons? Why do you wonder then, if, in what he has learned, he excels others; but, where he has not studied, he is the same with the rest of the world? Just as a musician knows how to play, sings well, and has the proper dress of his profession; yet trembles when he comes upon the stage. For the first he understands; but what the multitude is, or what mean the clamor and laughter of the multitude, he does not understand. Nor does he even know what anxiety itself is; whether it be our own affair, or that of others; or whether it be possible to suppress it, or not. Hence, if he is applauded, he is puffed up, when he makes his exit: but if he is laughed at, the inflation is punctured, and subsides.
Thus are we too affected. What do we admire? Externals. For what do we strive? Externals. And are we then in any doubt why we fear and are anxious? What is the consequence, then, when we esteem the things that are brought upon us to be evils? We cannot but fear; we cannot but be anxious. And then we say, “O Lord God, how shall I avoid anxiety!” Have you not hands, foolish man? Hath not God made them for you? You might as well kneel and pray to be cured of your catarrh. Take care of your disease, rather; and do not murmur. Well; and hath he given you nothing in the present case? Hath he not given you patience? Hath he not given you magnanimity? Hath he not given you fortitude? When you have such hands as these, do you still seek for aid from another? But we neither study nor regard these things. For give me but one, who cares how he does anything, who does not regard the success of anything, but his own manner of acting. Who, when he is walking, regards his own action? Who, when he is deliberating, prizes the deliberation itself, and not the success that is to follow it? If it happens to succeed, he is elated; and cries: “How prudently have we deliberated! Did not I tell you, my dear friend, that it was impossible, when we considered about anything, that it should not happen right?” But if it miscarries, the poor wretch is dejected; and knows not what to say about the matter. Who among us ever, for such a purpose, consulted a diviner? Who of us ever slept in a temple, to be instructed [in a dream] concerning his manner of acting? I say, who? Show me one who is truly noble and ingenuous, that I may see what I have long sought. Show me either a young or an old man.
Why then are we still surprised, if, when we waste all our attention on the mere materials of action, we are, in the manner of action itself, low, sordid, unworthy, timid, wretched, and altogether failures? For we do not care about these things, nor make them our study. If we had feared, not death or exile, but fear itself, we should have studied not to fall into what appears to us to be evil. But, as the case now stands, we are eager and loquacious in the schools; and, when any little question arises about any of these things, we are prepared to trace its consequences; but drag us into practice, and you will find us miserably shipwrecked. Let something of alarming aspect attack us, and you will perceive what we have been studying, and in what we are exercised. Besides, through this negligence, we always exaggerate, and represent things greater than the reality. In a voyage, for instance, casting my eyes down upon the ocean below, and looking round me, and seeing no land, I am beside myself, and imagine that, if I should be shipwrecked, I must swallow all that ocean; nor does it occur to me, that three pints are enough for me. What is it then, that alarms me? The ocean? No; but my own impressions. Again; in an earthquake, I imagine the city is going to fall upon me; but is not one little stone enough to knock my brains out? What is it then, that oppresses, and makes us beside ourselves? Why, what else but our own impressions? For what is it, but mere impressions, that distress him, who leaves his country, and is separated from his acquaintance, and friends, and place, and usual manner of life? When children cry, if their nurse happens to be absent for a little while, give them a cake, and they forget their grief. Shall we compare you to these children then?
“No, indeed. For I do not desire to be pacified by a cake; but by right impressions. And what are they?”
Such as a man ought to study all day long, so as not to be absorbed in what does not belong to him; neither friend, place, nor academy, nor even his own body; but to remember the law, and to have that constantly before his eyes. And what is the divine law? To preserve inviolate what is properly our own; not to claim what belongs to others; to use what is given us, and not desire what is not given us; and, when anything is taken away, to restore it readily, and to be thankful for the time you have been permitted the use of it; and not cry after it, like a child for its nurse and its mamma. For what does it signify, what gets the better of you, or on what you depend? Which is the worthier, one crying for a doll, or for an academy? You lament for the portico and the assembly of young people, and such entertainments. Another comes lamenting that he must no longer drink the water of Dircè.* Why, is not the Marcian water as good? “But I was used to that.” And in time you will be used to the other. And, when you are attached to this too, you may weep again, and set yourself, in imitation of Euripides, to celebrate, in verse,
The baths of Nero, and the Marcian water.
Hence see the origin of Tragedy, when trifling accidents befall foolish men. “Ah, when shall I see Athens and the citadel again?” Foolish man, are not you contented with what you see every day? Can you see anything better than the sun, the moon, the stars, the whole earth, the sea? But if, besides, you comprehend him who administers the whole, and carry him about within yourself, do you still long after certain stones, and a fine rock? What will you do then, when you are to leave even the sun and moon? Will you sit crying, like an infant? What, then, have you been doing in the school? What did you hear? What did you learn? Why have you written yourself down a philosopher, instead of writing the real fact? “I have prepared some abstracts, and read over Chrysippus; but I have not so much as approached the door of philosophy. For what pretensions have I in common with Socrates, who died and who lived in such a manner? Or with Diogenes? Do you observe either of these crying, or out of humor, that he is not to see such a man, or such a woman; nor to live any longer at Athens, nor at Corinth; but at Susa, for instance, or Ecbatana? For does he stay and repine, who may at any time, if he will, quit the entertainment, and play no longer? Why does he not stay, as children do, so long as he is amused? Such a one, no doubt, will bear perpetual banishment and a sentence of death wonderfully well! Why will not you be weaned, as children are; and take more solid food? Will you never cease to cry after your mammas and nurses, whom the old women about you have taught you to bewail? “But if I go away, I shall trouble them also.” You trouble them! No; it will not be you; but that which troubles you too, — a mere impression. What have you to do then? Rid yourself of that impression; and, if they are wise, they will do the same for theirs; or, if not, they must lament for themselves.
Boldly make a desperate push, man, as the saying is, for prosperity, for freedom, for magnanimity. Lift up your head at last, as being free from slavery. Dare to look up to God, and say, “Make use of me for the future as Thou wilt. I am of the same mind; I am one with Thee. I refuse nothing which seems good to Thee. Lead me whither Thou wilt. Clothe me in whatever dress Thou wilt. Is it Thy will that I should be in a public or a private condition; dwell here, or be banished; be poor, or rich? Under all these circumstances I will testify unto Thee before men. I will explain the nature of every dispensation.” No? Rather sit alone, then, in safety, and wait till your mamma comes to feed you. If Hercules had sat loitering at home, what would he have been? Eurystheus, and not Hercules. Besides, by travelling through the world, how many acquaintances and how many friends he made. But none more his friend than God; for which reason he was believed to be the son of God; and was so. In obedience to him, he went about extirpating injustice and lawless force. But you are not Hercules, nor able to extirpate the evils of others; nor even Theseus, to extirpate the evils of Attica. Extirpate your own then. Expel, instead of Procrustes and Sciron,* grief, fear, desire, envy, malevolence, avarice, effeminacy, intemperance. But these can be no otherwise expelled than by looking up to God alone, as your pattern; by attaching yourself to him alone, and being consecrated to his commands. If you wish for anything else, you will, with sighs and groans, follow what is stronger than you; always seeking prosperity without, and never able to find it. For you seek it where it is not, and neglect to seek it where it is.
[* ]A beautiful clear river in Bœotia, flowing into the Ismenus The Marcian water was conveyed by Ancus Marcius to Rome. — C.
[* ]Two famous robbers who infested Attica, and were at last killed by Theseus. — C.