Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXIV.: THAT WE OUGHT NOT TO BE AFFECTED BY THINGS NOT IN OUR OWN POWER. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
Return to Title Page for The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER XXIV.: THAT WE OUGHT NOT TO BE AFFECTED BY THINGS NOT IN OUR OWN POWER. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THAT WE OUGHT NOT TO BE AFFECTED BY THINGS NOT IN OUR OWN POWER.
LET not another’s disobedience to Nature become an ill to you; for you were not born to be depressed and unhappy with others, but to be happy with them. And if any is unhappy, remember that he is so for himself; for God made all men to enjoy felicity and peace. He hath furnished all with means for this purpose; having given them some things for their own; others, not for their own. Whatever is subject to restraint, compulsion, or deprivation is not their own; whatever is not subject to restraint is their own. And the essence of good and evil He has placed in things which are our own; as it became Him who provides for, and protects us, with paternal care.
“But I have parted with such a one, and he is therefore in grief.”
And why did he esteem what belonged to another his own? Why did he not consider, while he was happy in seeing you, that you are mortal, that you are liable to change your abode? Therefore he bears the punishment of his own folly. But to what purpose, or for what cause, do you too suffer depression of spirits? Have you not studied these things? Like trifling, silly women, have you regarded the things you took delight in, the places, the persons, the conversations, as if they were to last for ever; and do you now sit crying, because you do not see the same people, nor live in the same place? Indeed, you deserve to be so overcome, and thus to become more wretched than ravens or crows, which, without groaning or longing for their former state, can fly where they will, build their nests in another place, and cross the seas.
“Ay, but this happens from their want of reason.”
Was reason then given to us by the gods, for the purpose of unhappiness and misery, to make us live wretched and lamenting? O, by all means, let every one be deathless! Let nobody go from home! Let us never go from home ourselves, but remain rooted to a spot, like plants! And if any of our acquaintance should quit his abode, let us sit and cry; and when he comes back, let us dance and clap our hands like children. Shall we never wean ourselves, and remember what we have heard from the philosophers, — unless we have heard them only as juggling enchanters; — that the universe is one great city, and the substance one of which it is formed; that there must necessarily be a certain rotation of things; that some must give way to others, some be dissolved, and others rise in their stead; some remain in the same situation, and others be moved; but that all is full of beloved ones, first of the gods, and then of men, by nature endeared to each other; that some must be separated, others live together, rejoicing in the present, and not grieving for the absent: and that man, besides a natural greatness of mind and contempt of things independent on his own will, is likewise formed not to be rooted to the earth, but to go at different times to different places; sometimes on urgent occasions, and sometimes merely for the sake of observation. Such was the case of Ulysses, who
“Saw the cities and watched the habits of various men.”*
And, even before him, of Hercules, to travel over the habitable world,
“Observing manners, good or ill, of men.”
To expel and clear away the one, and, in its stead, to introduce the other. Yet how many friends do you not think he must have at Thebes? How many at Argos? How many at Athens? And how many did he acquire in his travels? He married, too, when he thought it a proper time, and became a father, and then quitted his children; not lamenting and longing for them, nor as if he had left them orphans; for he knew that no human creature is an orphan, but that there is a father, who always, and without intermission, takes care of all. For he had not merely heard it as matter of talk, that Zeus was the Father of Mankind; but he esteemed and called him his own Father, and performed all that he did with a view to Him. Hence he was, in every place, able to live happy. But it is never possible to make happiness consistent with a longing after what is not present. For true happiness implies the possession of all which is desired, as in case of satiety with food; there must be no thirst, no hunger.
“But Ulysses longed for his wife, and sat weeping on a rock.”
Why do you regard Homer and his fables in everything? Or, if Ulysses really did weep, what was he but a wretched man? But what wise and good man is wretched? The universe is surely but ill governed, if Zeus does not take care that his subjects may be happy like himself. But these are unlawful and profane thoughts; and Ulysses, if he did indeed cry and bewail himself, was not a good man. For who can be a good man who does not know what he is? And who knows this, and yet forgets that all things made are perishable; and that it is not possible for man and man always to live together? What then? To desire impossibilities is base and foolish: it is the behavior of a stranger [to the world]; of one who fights against God in the only way he can, by holding false principles.
“But my mother grieves when she does not see me.”
And why has not she learned these doctrines? I do not say that care ought not to be taken that she may not lament; but that we are not to insist absolutely upon what is not in our own power. Now the grief of another is not in my power; but my own grief is. I will therefore absolutely suppress my own, for that is in my power; and I will endeavor to suppress another’s grief so far as I am able; but I will not insist upon it absolutely, otherwise I shall fight against God; I shall resist Zeus, and oppose him in the administration of the universe. And not only my children’s children will bear the punishment of this disobedience and fighting against God, but I myself too; starting, and full of perturbation, both in the day-time and in my nightly dreams; trembling at every message, and having my peace dependent on intelligence from others. “Somebody is come from Rome.” “I trust no harm has happened.” Why, what harm can happen to you where you are not? “From Greece.” — “No harm, I hope.” Why, at this rate, every place may be the cause of misfortune to you. Is it not enough for you to be unfortunate where you are, but it must happen beyond sea, too, and by letters? Such is the security of your condition!
“But what if my friends there should be dead?”
What, indeed, but that those are dead who were born to die? Do you at once wish to grow old, and yet not to see the death of any one you love? Do you not know that, in a long course of time, many and various events must necessarily happen? That a fever must get the better of one; a highwayman, of another; a tyrant, of a third? For such is the world we live in; such they who live in it with us. Heats and colds, improper diet, journeys, voyages, winds, and various accidents destroy some, banish others; destine one to an embassy, another to a camp. And now, pray, will you sit in consternation about all these things; lamenting, disappointed, wretched, dependent on another; and not on one or two only, but ten thousand times ten thousand!
Is this what you have heard from the philosophers? This what you have learned? Do you not know what sort of a thing warfare is? One must keep guard, another go out for a spy, another even to battle. It is neither possible, nor indeed desirable, that all should be in the same place; but you, neglecting to perform the orders of your General, complain whenever anything a little hard is commanded; and do not consider what influence you have on the army, so far as lies in your power. For, if all should imitate you, nobody will dig a trench, or throw up a rampart, or stand guard, or expose himself to danger, but every one will appear useless to the expedition. Again; if you were a sailor in a voyage, suppose you were to fix upon one place, and there remain? If it should be necessary to climb the mast, refuse to do it; if to run to the bow of the ship, refuse to do it! And what captain would tolerate you? Would he not throw you overboard as a useless piece of goods and mere luggage, and a bad example to the other sailors? Thus, also, in the present case; every one’s life is a warfare, and that long and various. You must observe the duty of a soldier, and perform everything at the nod of your General, and even, if possible, divine what he would have done. For there is no comparison between the above-mentioned General and this whom you now obey, either in power or excellence of character. You are placed in an extensive command, and not in a mean post; your life is a perpetual magistracy? Do you not know that such a one must spend but little time on his affairs at home; but be much abroad, either commanding or obeying; attending on the duties either of a magistrate, a soldier, or a judge? And now, pray, would you be fixed and rooted on the same spot, like a plant?
“Why; it is pleasant.”
Who denies it? And so is a ragout pleasant, and a fine woman is pleasant. Is not this just what they say who make pleasure their end? Do you not perceive whose language you have spoken? That of Epicureans and debauchees. And while you follow their practices and hold their principles, do you talk to us of the doctrines of Zeno and Socrates? Why do you not throw away as far as possible those assumed traits which belong to others, and with which you have nothing to do? What else do the Epicureans desire than to sleep without hindrance, and rise without compulsion; and when they have risen, to yawn at their leisure and wash their faces; then write and read what they please; then prate about some trifle or other, and be applauded by their friends, whatever they say; then go out for a walk, and, after they have taken a turn, bathe, and then eat, and then to bed; in what manner they spend their time there, why should one say? For it is easily guessed. Come now; do you also tell me what course of life you desire to lead, who are a zealot for truth, and Diogenes, and Socrates? What would you do at Athens? These very same things? Why then do you call yourself a Stoic? They who falsely pretend to the Roman citizenship are punished severely; and must those be dismissed with impunity who falsely claim so great a thing, and so venerable a title, as you? Or is not this impossible; and is there not a divine, and powerful, and inevitable law, which exacts the greatest punishments from those who are guilty of the greatest offences? For what says this law? — Let him who claims what belongs not to him be arrogant, be vainglorious, be base, be a slave; let him grieve, let him envy, let him pity; and in a word, let him lament and be miserable.
“What then! would you have me pay my court to such a one? Would you have me frequent his door?”
If reason requires it for your country, for your relations, for mankind, why should you not go? You are not ashamed to go to the door of a shoemaker when you want shoes; nor of a gardener when you want lettuce. Why then in regard to the rich, when you have some similar want?
“Ay; but I need not be awed before a shoemaker.”
Nor before a rich man.
“I need not flatter a gardener.”
Nor a rich man.
“How, then, shall I get what I want?”
Why, do I bid you go in expectation of getting it? No; only that you may do your duty.
“Why, then, after all, should I go?”
That you may have gone; that you may have discharged the duties of a citizen, of a brother, of a friend. And, after all, remember, that you are going as if to a shoemaker, to a gardener, who has no monopoly of anything great or respectable, though he should sell it ever so dear. You are going as if to buy lettuces, worth an obolus, but by no means worth a talent. So here too, if the matter is worth going to his door about, I will go; if it is worth talking with him about, I will talk with him. But if one must kiss his hand, too, and cajole him with praise; that is paying too dear. It is not expedient for myself, nor my country, nor my fellow-citizens, nor my friends, to destroy what constitutes the good citizen and the friend.
“But one will appear not to have set heartily about the business, if one thus fails.”
What, have you again forgotten why you went? Do you not know that a wise and good man does nothing for appearance; but everything for the sake of having acted well?
“What advantage is it, then, to him, to have acted well?”
What advantage is it to one who writes down the name of Dion without a blunder? The having written it.
“Is there no reward, then?”
Why; do you seek any greater reward for a good man than the doing what is fair and just? And yet, at Olympia, you desire nothing else; but think it enough to be crowned victor. Does it appear to you so small and worthless a thing to be just, good, and happy? Besides; being introduced by God into this Great City [the world] and bound to discharge at this time the duties of a man, do you still want nurses and a mamma; and are you conquered and effeminated by the tears of poor weak women? Are you thus determined never to cease being an infant? Do not you know that, if one acts like a child, the older he is, so much the more he is ridiculous?
Did you never visit any one at Athens at his own house?
“Yes; whomsoever I pleased.”
Why; now you are here, be willing to visit this person, and you will still see whom you please; only let it be without meanness, without undue desire or aversion, and your affairs will go well; but their going well, or not, does not consist in going to the house and standing at the door, or the contrary; but lies within, in your own principles; when you have acquired a contempt for things uncontrollable by Will, and esteem none of them your own, but hold that what belongs to you is only to judge and think, to exert rightly your aims, your desires, and aversions. What further room is there after this for flattery, for meanness? Why do you still long for the quiet you elsewhere enjoyed; for places familiar to you? Stay a little, and these will become familiar to you in their turn; and, then, if you are so meanspirited, you may weep and lament again on leaving these.
“How, then, am I to preserve an affectionate disposition?”
As becomes a noble-spirited and happy person. For reason will never tell you to be dejected and broken-hearted; or to depend on another; or to reproach either God or man. Be affectionate in such a manner as to observe all this. But if, from affection, as you call it, you are to be a slave and miserable, it is not worth your while to be affectionate. And what restrains you from loving any one as a mortal, — as a person who may be obliged to quit you? Pray did not Socrates love his own children? But it was as became one who was free, and mindful that his first duty was, to gain the love of the gods. Hence he violated no part of the character of a good man, either in his defence or in fixing a penalty on himself.* Nor yet before, when he was a senator, or a soldier. But we make use of every pretence to be mean-spirited; some, on account of a child; some, of a mother; and some, of a brother. But it is not fit to be unhappy on account of any one; but happy on account of all; and chiefly of God, who has constituted us for this purpose. What! did Diogenes love nobody; who was so gentle and benevolent as cheerfully to undergo so many pains and miseries of body for the common good of mankind? Yes, he did love them; but how? As became a minister of Zeus; at once caring for men, and obedient to God. Hence the whole earth, not any particular place, was his country. And when he was taken captive he did not long for Athens and his friends and acquaintance there; but made himself acquainted with the pirates, and endeavored to reform them; and when he was at last sold into captivity, he lived at Corinth just as before at Athens; and, if he had gone to the Perrhœbeans,* he would have been exactly the same. Thus is freedom acquired. Hence he used to say, “Ever since Antisthenes made me free† I have ceased to be a slave.” How did he make him free? Hear what he says. “He taught me what was my own and what not. An estate is not my own. Kindred, domestics, friends, reputation, familiar places, manner of life, all belong to another.” — “What is your own then?” — “The right use of the phenomena of existence. He showed me that I have this, not subject to restraint or compulsion; no one can hinder or force me in this, any otherwise than as I please. Who, then, after this, has any power over me? Philip, or Alexander, or Perdiccas, or the Persian king? Whence should they have it? For he that is to be subdued by man must first be subdued by things. He, therefore, of whom neither pleasure, nor pain, nor fame, nor riches, can get the better; and he who is able, whenever he thinks fit, to abandon his whole body with contempt and depart, whose slave can he ever be? To whom is he subject?” But if Diogenes had taken pleasure in living at Athens, and had been subdued by that manner of life, his affairs would have been at every one’s disposal; and whoever was stronger would have had the power of grieving him. How would he have flattered the pirates, think you, to make them sell him to some Athenian, that he might see again the fine Piræus, the Long Walls, and the Citadel? How would you see them? As a slave and a miserable wretch? And what good would that do you? “No; but as free.” How free? See, somebody lays hold on you, takes you away from your usual manner of life, and says: “You are my slave; for it is in my power to restrain you from living as you like. It is in my power to afflict and humble you. Whenever I please you may be cheerful once more; and set out elated for Athens.” What do you say to him who thus enslaves you? What rescuer can you find? Or dare you not so much as look up at him; but, without making many words, do you supplicate to be dismissed? Why, you ought even to go to prison, man, with alacrity, with speed, outstripping your conductors. Instead of this do you regret living at Rome and long for Greece? And, when you must die, will you then, too, come crying to us, that you shall no more see Athens, nor walk in the Lyceum? Is it for this that you have travelled? Is it for this that you have been seeking for somebody to do you good? What good? That you may the more easily solve syllogisms and manage hypothetical arguments? And is it for this reason you left your brother, your country, your friends, your family, that you might carry back such acquirements as these? So that you did not travel to learn constancy nor tranquillity; nor that, secured from harm, you might complain of no one, accuse no one; that no one might injure you; and that thus you might preserve your human relations, without impediment. You have made a fine traffic of it, to carry home hypothetical arguments and convertible propositions! If you please, too, sit in the market, and cry them for sale, as mountebanks do their medicines. Why will you not rather deny that you know even what you have learned; for fear of bringing a scandal upon such theorems as useless? What harm has philosophy done you, — in what has Chrysippus injured you, — that you should demonstrate by your actions that such studies are of no value? Had you not evils enough at home? How many causes for grief and lamentation had you there, even if you had not travelled? But you have added more; and, if you ever get any new acquaintance and friends, you will find fresh causes for groaning; and, in like manner, if you attach yourself to any other country. To what purpose, therefore, do you live? To heap sorrow upon sorrow, to make you wretched? And then you tell me this is affection. What affection, man? If it be good, it cannot be the cause of any ill; if ill, I will have nothing to do with it. I was born for my own good, not ill.
“What, then, is the proper training for these cases?”
First, the highest and principal means, and as obvious as if at your very door, is this, — that when you attach yourself to anything, it may not be as to a secure possession.
As to something brittle as glass or earthenware; that, when it happens to be broken, you may not lose your self-command. So here, too; when you embrace your child, or your brother, or your friend, never yield yourself wholly to the fair semblance, nor let the passion pass into excess; but curb it, restrain it, — like those who stand behind triumphant victors, and remind them that they are men. Do you likewise remind yourself that you love what is mortal; that you love what is not your own. It is allowed you for the present, not irrevocably, nor forever; but as a fig, or a bunch of grapes, in the appointed season. If you long for these in winter you are foolish. So, if you long for your son, or your friend, when you cannot have him, remember that you are wishing for figs in winter. For as winter is to a fig, so is every accident in the universe to those things with which it interferes. In the next place, whatever objects give you pleasure, call before yourself the opposite images. What harm is there, while you kiss your child, in saying softly, “To-morrow you may die”; and so to your friend, “To-morrow either you or I may go away, and we may see each other no more.”
“But these sayings are ominous.”
And so are some incantations; but, because they are useful, I do not mind it; only let them be useful. But do you call anything ominous except what implies some ill? Cowardice is ominous; baseness is ominous; lamentation, grief, shamelessness. These are words of bad omen; and yet we ought not to shrink from using them, as a guard against the things they mean. But do you tell me that a word is ominous which is significant of anything natural? Say, too, that it is ominous for ears of corn to be reaped; for this signifies the destruction of the corn; but not of the world. Say, too, that the fall of the leaf is ominous; and that confectionery should be produced from figs, and raisins from grapes. For all these are changes from a former state into another; not a destruction, but a certain appointed economy and administration. Such is absence, a slight change; such is death, a greater change; not from what now is nothing, but to what now is not.
“What, then, shall I be no more?”
True; but you will be something else, of which at present the world has no need; for even you were not produced when you pleased, but when the world had need of you. Hence a wise and good man, mindful who he is and whence he came, and by whom he was produced, is attentive only how he may fill his post regularly and dutifully before God. “Dost Thou wish me still to live? Let me live free and noble, as Thou desirest; for Thou hast made me incapable of restraint in what is my own. But hast Thou no farther use for me? Farewell! I have staid thus long through Thee alone, and no other; and now I depart in obedience to Thee.” — “How do you depart?” — “Still as Thou wilt; as one free, as thy servant, as one sensible of thy commands and thy prohibitions. But, while I am employed in thy service, what wouldst Thou have me to be? A prince, or a private man; a senator, or a plebeian; a soldier, or a general; a preceptor, or a master of a family? Whatever post or rank Thou shalt assign me, — like Socrates, I will die a thousand times rather than desert it. Where wouldst thou have me to be? At Rome, or at Athens; at Thebes, or at Gyaros? Only remember me there. If Thou shalt send me where men cannot live conformably to nature, I will not depart unbidden, but upon a recall as it were sounded by Thee. Even then I do not desert Thee; Heaven forbid! but I perceive that Thou hast no use for me. If a life conformable to nature be granted, I will seek no other place but that in which I am; nor any other company but those with whom I dwell.”
Let these things be ready at hand, night and day. These things write; these things read; of these things talk both to yourself and others. [Ask them,] “Have you any assistance to give me for this purpose?” And, again, go and ask another and another. Then, if any of those things should happen that are called disagreeable, this will surely be a relief to you; in the first place, that it was not unexpected. For it is much to be able always to say, “I knew that I begot one born to die.”* Thus do you say too, “I knew that I was liable to die, to travel, to be exiled, to be imprisoned.” If afterwards you turn to yourself, and seek from what quarter the event proceeds, you will presently recollect: “It is from things uncontrollable by will, not from what is my own. What then is it to me?” Then, farther, which is the chief point: “Who sent this? The commander, the general, the city, the public law? Give it to me, then, for I must always obey the law in all things.”
Farther yet; when any delusive appearance molests you (for this may not depend on you,) strive against it, and conquer it through reason. Do not suffer it to gain strength, nor to lead you indefinitely on, beguiling you at its own will. If you are at Gyaros, do not represent to yourself the manner of living at Rome; how many pleasures you used to find there, and how many would attend your return; but dwell rather on this point; how he, who must live at Gyaros, may live there nobly. And if you are at Rome, do not represent to yourself the manner of living at Athens; but consider only how you ought to live where you are.
Lastly, for all other pleasures substitute the conciousness that you are obeying God, and performing not in word, but in deed, the duty of a wise and good man. How great a thing is it to be able to say to yourself: “What others are now solemnly arguing in the schools, and can state in paradoxes, this I put in practice. Those qualities which are there discoursed, disputed, celebrated, I have made mine own. Zeus hath been pleased to let me recognize this within myself, and himself to discern whether he hath in me one fit for a soldier and a citizen, and to employ me as a witness to other men, concerning things uncontrollable by will. See that your fears were vain, your appetites vain. Seek not good from without: seek it within yourselves, or you will never find it. For this reason he now brings me hither, now sends me thither; sets me before mankind, poor, powerless, sick; banishes me to Gyaros; leads me to prison; not that he hates me, — Heaven forbid! For who hates the most faithful of his servants? Nor that he neglects me, for he neglects not one of the smallest things; but to exercise me, and make use of me as a witness to others. Appointed to such a service, do I still care where I am, or with whom, or what is said of me, — instead of being wholly attentive to God and to his orders and commands?”
Having these principles always at hand, and practising them by yourself, and making them ready for use, you will never want any one to comfort and strengthen you. For shame does not consist in having nothing to eat, but in not having wisdom enough to exempt you from fear and sorrow. But if you once acquire that exemption, will a tyrant, or his guards, or courtiers, be anything to you? Will offices or office-seekers disturb you, who have received so great a command from Zeus? Only do not make a parade over it, nor grow insolent upon it. But show it by your actions; and though no one else should notice it, be content that you are well and blessed.
[* ]Homer, Odyssey, I. 3. Afterwards, XV. 487. — H.
[* ]It was the custom at Athens, in cases where no fixed punishment was appointed by the law, before the judges gave sentence, to ask the criminal himself what penalty he thought he deserved. Socrates refused either to comply with this form himself, or suffer any of his friends to do it for him; alleging that the naming a penalty was a confession of guilt. When the judges therefore asked him what penalty he thought he deserved, he answered, “The highest honors and rewards, and to be maintained in the Prytaneum at the public expense.” An answer which so extremely irritated his judges, that they immediately condemned him to death. — C.
[* ]A people towards the extremity of Greece. — C.
[† ]Diogenes was the disciple of Antisthenes. — C.
[* ]This was said by Xenophon, when news was brought him that his son Gryllus was killed in a battle. — C.