Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIII.: WHAT SOLITUDE IS; AND WHAT A SOLITARY PERSON. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XIII.: WHAT SOLITUDE IS; AND WHAT A SOLITARY PERSON. - 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 SOLITUDE IS; AND WHAT A SOLITARY PERSON.
IT is solitude to be in the condition of a helpless person. For he who is alone is not therefore solitary, any more than one in a crowd is the contrary. When, therefore, we lose a son, or a brother, or a friend, on whom we have been used to repose, we often say we are left solitary, even in the midst of Rome, where such a crowd is continually meeting us; where we live among so many, and where we have, perhaps, a numerous train of servants. For he is understood to be solitary who is helpless, and exposed to such as would injure him. Hence, in a journey especially, we call ourselves solitary when we fall among thieves; for it is not the sight of a man that removes our solitude, but of an honest man, a man of honor, and a helpful companion. If merely being alone is sufficient for solitude, Zeus may be said to be solitary at the great conflagration,* and bewail himself that he hath neither Here, nor Athene, nor Apollo, nor brother, nor son, nor descendant, nor relation. This, some indeed say, he doth when he is alone at the conflagration. Such as these, moved by some natural principle, some natural desire of society, and mutual love, and by the pleasure of conversation, do not rightly consider the state of a person who is alone. But none the less should we be prepared for this also, to suffice unto ourselves, and to bear our own company. For as Zeus converses with himself, acquiesces in himself, and contemplates his own administration, and is employed in thoughts worthy of himself; so should we too be able to talk with ourselves, and not to need the conversation of others, nor suffer ennui; to attend to the divine administration; to consider our relation to other beings; how we have formerly been affected by events, how we are affected now; what are the things that still press upon us; how these too may be cured, how removed; if anything wants completing, to complete it according to reason. You perceive that Cæsar has procured us a profound peace; there are neither wars nor battles, nor great robberies nor piracies; but we may travel at all hours, and sail from east to west. But can Cæsar procure us peace from a fever too? From a shipwreck? From a fire? From an earthquake? From a thunder storm? Nay, even from love? He cannot. From grief? From envy? No; not from any one of these. But the doctrine of philosophers promises to procure us peace from these too. And what doth it say? “If you will attend to me, O mortals! wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, you shall neither grieve, nor be angry, nor be compelled, nor restrained; but you shall live serene, and free from all.” Shall not he who enjoys this peace proclaimed, not by Cæsar (for how should he have it to proclaim?) but by God, through Reason, — be contented when he is alone, reflecting and considering: “To me there can now no ill happen; there is no thief, no earthquake. All is full of peace, all full of tranquillity; every road, every city, every assembly, neighbor, companion, is powerless to hurt me.” Another whose care it is, provides you with food, with clothes, with senses, with ideas. Whenever He doth not provide what is necessary, He sounds a retreat; He opens the door, and says to you, “Come.” Whither? To nothing dreadful; but to that whence you were made; to what is friendly and congenial, to the elements. What in you was fire goes away to fire; what was earth, to earth; what air, to air; what water, to water. There is no Hades, nor Aclieron, nor Cocytus, nor Pyriphlegethon; but all is full of gods and divine beings. He who can have such thoughts, and can look upon the sun, moon, and stars, and enjoy the earth and sea, is no more solitary than he is helpless. “Well; but suppose any one should come and murder me when I am alone.” Foolish man; not you; but that insignificant body of yours.
What solitude is there then left? What destitution? Why do we make ourselves worse than children? What do they do when they are left alone? They take up shells and dust; they build houses, then pull them down; then build something else; and thus never want amusement. Suppose you were all to sail away; am I to sit and cry because I am left alone and solitary? Am I so unprovided with shells and dust? But children do this from folly; and shall we be wretched through wisdom?
Every great gift is dangerous to a beginner. Study first how to live like a person in sickness; that in time you may know how to live like one in health. Abstain from food. Drink water. Totally repress your desire, for some time, that you may at length use it according to reason; and, if so, when you are stronger in virtue, you will use it well. No; but we would live immediately as men already wise; and be of service to mankind. Of what service? What are you doing? Why; have you been of so much service to yourself that you would exhort them? You exhort! Would you be of service to them, show them by your own example what kind of men philosophy makes; and do not trifle. When you eat, be of service to those who eat with you; when you drink, to those who drink with you. Be of service to them by giving way to all, yielding to them, bearing with them; and not by venting upon them your own ill humor.
[* ]The Stoics held to successive conflagrations at destined periods; in which all beings were reabsorbed into the Deity. — C.