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CHAPTER XXIII.: CONCERNING SUCH AS READ AND DISPUTE OSTENTATIOUSLY. - 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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CONCERNING SUCH AS READ AND DISPUTE OSTENTATIOUSLY.
FIRST, say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do. For in almost everything we see this to be the practice. Olympic champions first determine what they would be, and then act accordingly. To a racer, in a longer course, there must be one kind of diet, walking, anointing, and training; to one in a shorter, all these must be different; and to a Pentathlete, still more different. You will find the case the same in the manual arts. If a carpenter, you must have such and such things; if a smith, such other. For if we do not refer each of our actions to some end, we shall act at random; if to an improper one, we shall miss our aim. Further; there is a general and a particular end. The first is, to act as a man. What is comprehended in this? To be gentle, yet not sheepish; not to be mischievous, like a wild beast. But the particular end relates to the study and choice of each individual. A harper is to act as a harper; a carpenter, as a carpenter; a philosopher, as a philosopher; an orator, as an orator. When, therefore, you say, “Come, and hear me read,” observe, first, not to do this at random; and, in the next place, after you have found to what end you refer it, consider whether it be a proper one. Would you be useful, — or be praised? You presently hear him say, “What do I value the praise of the multitude?” And he says well; for this is nothing to a musician, or a geometrician, as such. You would be useful then. In what? Tell us, that we too may run to make part of your audience. Now, is it possible for any one to benefit others, who has received no benefit himself? No; for neither can he who is not a carpenter, or a shoemaker, benefit any one in respect to those arts. Would you know, then, whether you have received benefit? Produce your principles, philosopher. What is the aim and promise of desire? Not to be disappointed. What of aversion? Not to be incurred. Come, do we fulfil this promise? Tell me the truth; but, if you falsify, I will tell it to you. The other day, when your audience came but coldly together, and did not receive what you said with acclamations of applause, you went away dejected. Again; the other day when you were praised, you went about asking everybody, “What did you think of me?” — “Upon my life, sir, it was prodigious.” — “But how did I express myself upon that subject?” — “Which?” — “Where I gave a description of Pan and the Nymphs.”* — “Most excellently.” And do you tell me, after this, that you regulate your desires and aversions conformably to Nature? Get you gone! Persuade somebody else.
Did not you, the other day, praise a man contrary to your own opinion? Did not you flatter a certain senator? Yet would you wish your own children to be like him? “Heaven forbid!” Why then did you praise and cajole him? “He is an ingenuous young man, and attentive to discourses.” How so? “He admires me.” Now indeed you have produced your proof.
After all, what do you think? Do not these very people secretly despise you? When a man conscious of no good action or intention finds some philosopher saying, “You are a great genius, and of a frank and candid disposition”; what do you think he says, but, “This man has some need of me.” Pray tell me what mark of a great genius he has shown. You see he has long conversed with you, has heard your discourses, has attended your lectures. Has he turned his attention to himself? Has he perceived his own faults? Has he thrown off his conceit? Does he seek an instructor? “Yes, he does.” An instructor how to live? No, fool, but how to talk; for it is upon this account that he admires you. Hear what he says: “This man writes with very great art, and much more finely than Dion.” That is quite another thing. Does he say, This is a modest, faithful, calm person? But if he said this too, I would ask him, if he is faithful, what it is to be faithful? And if he could not tell, I would add, “First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.”
While you are in this bad disposition, then, and gaping after applauders, and counting your hearers, can you be of benefit to others? “To-day I had many more hearers.” — “Yes, many; we think there were five hundred.” — “You say nothing; estimate them at a thousand.” — “Dion never had so great an audience.” — “How should he?” — “And they have a fine taste for discourses.” — “What is excellent, sir, will move even a stone.” — Here is the language of a philosopher! Here is the disposition of one who is to be beneficial to mankind! Here is the man, attentive to discourses! Who has read the works of the Socratic philosophers, as such; not as if they were the writings of orators, like Lysias and Isocrates. “I have often wondered by what arguments — ”* No; “By what argument”; that is the more perfectly accurate expression. Is this to have read them any otherwise than as you read little pieces of poetry? If you read them as you ought, you would not dwell on such trifles, but would rather consider such a passage as this: “Anytus and Melitus may kill, but they cannot hurt me.” And “I am always so disposed as to defer to none of my friends, but to that reason which, after examination, appears to me to be the best.”† Hence, who ever heard Socrates say, “I know, or teach anything”? But he sent different people to different instructors; they came to him, desiring to be introduced to the philosophers; and he took them and introduced them. No; but [you think] as he accompanied them he used to give them such advice as this: “Hear me discourse to-day at the house of Quadratus.” Why should I hear you? Have you a mind to show me how finely you put words together, sir? And what good does that do you? “But praise me.” What do you mean by praising you? “Say, Incomparable! prodigious!” Well; I do say it. But if praise be that which the philosophers call by the appellation of good, what have I to praise you for? If it be good to speak well, teach me, and I will praise you. “What, then, ought these things to be heard without pleasure?” By no means. I do not hear even a harper without pleasure; but am I therefore to devote myself to playing upon the harp? Hear what Socrates says to his judges. “It would not be decent for me to appear before you, at this age, composing speeches like a boy.”* Like a boy, he says. For it is, without doubt, a pretty accomplishment to select words and place them together, and then to read or speak them gracefully in public; and in the midst of the discourse to observe that “he vows by all that is good, there are but few capable of these things.” But does a philosopher apply to people to hear him? Does he not attract those who are fitted to receive benefit from him, in the same manner as the sun or their necessary food does? What physician applies to anybody to be cured by him? (Though now indeed I hear that the physicians at Rome apply for patients; but in my time they were applied to.) “I apply to you to come and hear that you are in a bad way, and that you take care of everything but what you ought; that you knew not what is good or evil, and are unfortunate and unhappy.” A fine application! And yet, unless the discourse of a philosopher has this effect, both that and the speaker are lifeless.
Rufus used to say, “If you are at leisure to praise me, I speak to no purpose.” And indeed he used to speak in such a manner, that each of us who heard him supposed that some person had accused us to him; he so precisely hit upon what was done by us, and placed the faults of every one before his eyes.
The school of a philosopher is a surgery. You are not to go out of it with pleasure, but with pain; for you do not come there in health; but one of you has a dislocated shoulder; another, an abscess; a third, a fistula; a fourth, the headache. And am I, then, to sit uttering pretty, trifling thoughts and little exclamations, that, when you have praised me, you may each of you go away with the same dislocated shoulder, the same aching head, the same fistula, and the same abscess that you brought? And is it for this that young men are to travel? And do they leave their parents, their friends, their relations, and their estates, that they may praise you while you are uttering little exclamations? Was this the practice of Socrates? Of Zeno? Of Cleanthes?
What then! is there not in speaking a style and manner of exhortation? Who denies it? Just as there is a manner of confutation and of instruction. But who ever, therefore, added that of ostentation for a fourth? For in what doth the hortatory manner consist? In being able to show, to one and all, the contradictions in which they are involved; and that they care for everything rather than what they mean to care for: for they mean the things conducive to happiness, but they seek them where they are not to be found. To effect this, must a thousand seats be placed, and an audience invited; and you, in a fine robe or cloak, ascend the rostrum, and describe the death of Achilles? Forbear, for Heaven’s sake, to bring, so far as you are able, good works and practices into disgrace. Nothing, to be sure, gives more force to exhortation, than when the speaker shows that he has need of the hearers; but tell me who, when he hears you reading or speaking, is solicitous about himself? Or turns his attention upon himself? Or says, when he is gone away, “The philosopher hit me well.” Instead of this, even though you are in high vogue, one hearer merely remarks to another, “He spoke finely about Xerxes!” — “No,” says the other; “but on the battle of Thermopylæ!” Is this the audience for a philosopher?
[* ]Mr. Upton observes that these florid descriptions were the principal study of the Sophists. — C.
[* ]These words are the beginning of Xenophon’s Memoirs of Socrates; and it was a debate among the minute critics, whether argument or arguments was the proper reading. — C.
[† ]Plato, Apology, § 18; Crito, § 6. — H.
[* ]Plato, Apology, § 1. — H.