Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVIII.: HOW THE SEMBLANCES OF THINGS ARE TO BE COMBATED. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XVIII.: HOW THE SEMBLANCES OF THINGS ARE TO BE COMBATED. - 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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HOW THE SEMBLANCES OF THINGS ARE TO BE COMBATED.
EVERY habit and faculty is preserved and increased by correspondent actions; as the habit of walking, by walking; of running, by running. If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write. But if you do not read for a month together, but do something else; you will see what will be the consequence. So, after sitting still for ten days, get up and attempt to take a long walk; and you will find how your legs are weakened. Upon the whole then, whatever you would make habitual, practise it; and, if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practise it, but habituate yourself to something else.
It is the same with regard to the operations of the soul. Whenever you are angry, be assured, that it is not only a present evil, but that you have increased a habit, and added fuel to a fire. When you are overcome by the seductions of a woman, do not consider it as a single defeat alone, but that you have fed, that you have increased, your dissoluteness. For it is impossible, but that habits and faculties must either be first produced, or strengthened and increased, by corresponding actions. Hence the philosophers derive the growth of all maladies. When you once desire money, for example, if reason be applied to produce a sense of the evil, the desire ceases, and the governing faculty of the mind regains its authority; whereas, if you apply no remedy, it returns no more to its former state, but, being again similarly excited, it kindles at the desire more quickly than before; and by frequent repetitions, at last becomes callous, and by this malady is the love of money fixed. For he who has had a fever, even after it has left him, is not in the same state of health as before, unless he was perfectly cured; and the same thing happens in distempers of the soul likewise. There are certain traces and blisters left in it; which, unless they are well effaced, whenever a new hurt is received in the same part, instead of blisters will become sores.
If you would not be of an angry temper, then, do not feed the habit. Give it nothing to help its increase. Be quiet at first, and reckon the days in which you have not been angry. I used to be angry every day; now every other day; then every third and fourth day; and if you miss it so long as thirty days, offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. For habit is first weakened, and then entirely destroyed. “I was not vexed to-day; nor the next day; nor for three or four months after; but restrained myself under provocation.” Be assured, that you are in an excellent way. “To-day, when I saw a handsome person, I did not say to myself, O that I could possess her! and how happy is her husband” (for he who says this, says too, how happy is her gallant); “nor did I go on to fancy her in my arms.” On this I stroke my head, and say, Well done, Epictetus; thou hast solved a hard problem, harder than the chief syllogism. But, if even the lady should happen to be willing and give me intimations of it, and send for me, and press my hand, and place herself next to me; and I should then forbear, and get the victory; that would be a triumph beyond all the forms of logic. This is the proper subject for exultation, and not one’s power in handling the syllogism.
How then is this to be effected? Be willing to approve yourself to yourself. Be willing to appear beautiful in the sight of God; be desirous to converse in purity with your own pure mind, and with God; and then, if any such semblance bewilders you, Plato directs you: “Have recourse to expiations; go a suppliant to the temples of the averting deities.” It is sufficient, however, if you propose to yourself the example of wise and good men, whether alive or dead; and compare your conduct with theirs. Go to Socrates, and see him placed beside his beloved, yet not seduced by youth and beauty. Consider what a victory he was conscious of obtaining! What an Olympic triumph! How near does he rank to Hercules!* So that, by Heaven, one might justly salute him; hail! wondrous victor!† instead of those sorry boxers and wrestlers, and the gladiators who resemble them.
By placing such an example before you, you will conquer any alluring semblance, and not be drawn away by it. But in the first place, be not hurried away by excitement; but say, Semblance, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are, and what you represent. Let me try you. Then, afterwards, do not suffer it to go on drawing gay pictures of what will follow; if you do, it will lead you wherever it pleases. But rather oppose to it some good and noble semblance, and banish this base one. If you are habituated to this kind of exercise, you will see what shoulders, what nerves, what sinews, you will have. But now it is mere trifling talk, and nothing more. He is the true athlete, who trains himself against such semblances as these. Stay, wretch, do not be hurried away. The combat is great, the achievement divine; for empire, for freedom, for prosperity, for tranquillity. Remember God. Invoke him for your aid and protector; as sailors do Castor and Pollux, in a storm. For what storm is greater than that which arises from these perilous semblances, contending to overset our reason? Indeed what is the storm itself, but a semblance? For, do but take away the fear of death, and let there be as many thunders and lightnings as you please, you will find, that to the reason all is serenity and calm; but if you are once defeated, and say, you will get the victory another time, and then the same thing over again; assure yourself that you will at last be reduced to so weak and wretched a condition, you will not so much as know when you do amiss; but you will even begin to make defences for your behavior, and thus verify the saying of Hesiod: —
With constant ills, the dilatory strive.*
[* ]Hercules is said to have been the author of the gymnastic games; and the first victor. Those who afterwards conquered in wrestling, and the pancratium, were numbered from him. — C.
[† ]This pompous title was given to those who had been victors in all the Olympic games. — C.
[* ]Works and Days, v. 383. — H.