Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: WHAT IS THE CHIEF CONCERN OF A GOOD MAN; AND IN WHAT WE CHIEFLY OUGHT TO TRAIN OURSELVES. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER III.: WHAT IS THE CHIEF CONCERN OF A GOOD MAN; AND IN WHAT WE CHIEFLY OUGHT TO TRAIN OURSELVES. - 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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WHAT IS THE CHIEF CONCERN OF A GOOD MAN; AND IN WHAT WE CHIEFLY OUGHT TO TRAIN OURSELVES.
THE chief concern of a wise and good man is his own Reason. The body is the concern of a physician, and of a gymnastic trainer; and the fields, of the husbandman. The business of a wise and good man is, to use the phenomena of existence, conformably to Nature. Now, every soul, as it is naturally formed for an assent to truth, a dissent from falsehood, and a suspense of judgment with regard to things uncertain; so it is moved by a desire of good, an aversion from evil, and an indifference to what is neither good nor evil. For, as a money-changer, or a gardener, is not at liberty to reject Cæsar’s coin; but when once it is shown, is obliged, whether he will or not, to deliver his wares in exchange for it; so is it with the soul. Apparent good at first sight attracts, and evil repels. Nor will the soul any more reject an evident appearance of good, than Cæsar’s coin.
Hence depends every movement, both of God and man; and hence good is preferred to every obligation, however near. My connection is not with my father; but with good. — Are you so hard-hearted? — Such is my nature, and such is the coin which God hath given me. If therefore good is interpreted to be anything but what is fair and just, away go father, and brother, and country, and everything. What! Shall I overlook my own good, and give it up to you? For what? “I am your father.” But not my good. “I am your brother.” But not my good. But, if we place it in a rightly trained Will, good must then consist in an observance of the several relations of life; and then, he who gives up mere externals, acquires good. Your father deprives you of your money; but he does not hurt you. He will possess more land than you, as much more as he pleases; but will he possess more honor? More fidelity? More affection? Who can deprive you of this possession? Not even Zeus; for he did not will it so, since he has put this good into my own power, and given it me, like his own, uncompelled, unrestrained, and unhindered. But when any one deals in coin different from this, then whoever shows it to him, may have whatever is sold for it, in return. A thievish proconsul comes into the province. What coin does he use? Silver. Show it him, and carry off what you please. An adulterer comes. What coin does he use? Women. Take the coin, says one, and give me this trifle. “Give it me, and it is yours.” Another is addicted to other debauchery; give him but his coin, and take what you please. Another is fond of hunting; give him a fine pony or puppy, and he will sell you for it what you will, though it be with sighs and groans. For there is that within which controls him, and assumes this to be current coin.
In this manner ought every one chiefly to train himself. When you go out in the morning, examine whomsoever you see, or hear; and answer as if to a question. What have you seen? A handsome person? Apply the rule. Is this a thing controllable by Will, or uncontrollable? Uncontrollable. Then discard it. What have you seen? One in agony for the death of a child. Apply the rule. Death is inevitable. Banish this despair then. Has a consul met you? Apply the rule. What kind of thing is the consular office? Controllable by Will, or uncontrollable? Uncontrollable. Throw aside this too. It will not pass. Cast it away. It is nothing to you.
If we acted thus, and practised in this manner from morning till night, by Heaven, something would be done. Whereas now, on the contrary, we are allured by every semblance, half asleep; and, if we ever awake, it is only a little in the school; but as soon as we go out, if we meet any one grieving, we say, “He is undone.” If a consul, “How happy is he!” If an exile, “How miserable.” If a poor man, “How wretched; he has nothing to eat!”
These miserable prejudices then are to be lopped off; and here is our whole strength to be applied. For what is weeping and groaning? Prejudice. What is misfortune? Prejudice. What is sedition, discord, complaint, accusation, impiety, levity? All these are prejudices, and nothing more; and prejudices concerning things uncontrollable by Will, as if they could be either good or evil. Let any one transfer these convictions to things controllable by Will, and I will engage that he will preserve his constancy, whatever be the state of things about him.
The soul is like a vase filled with water; while the semblances of things fall like rays upon its surface. If the water is moved, the ray will seem to be moved likewise, though it is in reality without motion. When, therefore, any one is seized with a giddiness in his head, it is not the arts and virtues that are bewildered, but the mind in which they lie; when this recovers its composure, so will they likewise.