Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXVI.: CONCERNING THOSE WHO ARE IN DREAD OF WANT. - 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 XXVI.: CONCERNING THOSE WHO ARE IN DREAD OF WANT. - 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.
CONCERNING THOSE WHO ARE IN DREAD OF WANT.
ARE not you ashamed to be more fearful and mean-spirited than fugitive slaves? To what estates, to what servants, do they trust, when they run away and leave their masters? Do they not, after carrying off a little with them for the first days, travel over land and sea, contriving first one, then another method of getting food? And what fugitive ever died of hunger? But you tremble, and lie awake at night, for fear you should want necessaries. Foolish man! are you so blind? Do not you see the way whither the want of necessaries leads?
“Why, whither does it lead?”
Whither a fever, or a falling stone may lead, — to death. Have you not, then, often said this to your companions? Have you not read, have you not written, many things on this point? And how often have you arrogantly boasted that you are undisturbed by fears of death.
“Ay; but my family, too, will perish with hunger.”
What then? Does their hunger lead any other way than yours? Is there not the same descent? The same state below? Will you not then, in every want and necessity, look with confidence there, where even the most rich and powerful, and kings and tyrants themselves, must descend? You indeed may descend hungry, perhaps; and they, full of indigestion and drunkenness. For have you often seen a beggar who did not live to old age, nay, to extreme old age? Chilled by day and night, lying on the ground, and eating only what is barely necessary, they yet seem almost to become incapable of dying. But cannot you write? Cannot you keep a school? Cannot you be a watchman at somebody’s door?
“But it is shameful to come to this necessity.”
First, therefore, learn what things are shameful, and then claim to be a philosopher; but at present do not suffer even another to call you so. Is that shameful to you which is not your own act? Of which you are not the cause? Which has happened to you by accident, like a fever or the head-ache? If your parents were poor, or left others their heirs, or though living, do not assist you, are these things shameful for you? Is this what you have learned from the philosophers? Have you never heard that what is shameful is blamable; and what is blamable must be something which deserves to be blamed? Whom do you blame for an action not his own, which he has not himself performed? Did you, then, make your father such as he is? Or is it in your power to mend him? Is that permitted you? What, then, must you desire what is not permitted; and when you fail of it be ashamed? Are you thus accustomed, even when you are studying philosophy, to depend on others, and to hope nothing from yourself? Sigh, then, and groan and eat in fear that you shall have no food to-morrow. Tremble, lest your servants should rob you, or run away from you, or die. Thus live on forever, whoever you are, who have applied yourself to philosophy in name only, and as much as in you lies have disgraced its principles, by showing that they are unprofitable and useless to those who profess them. You have never made constancy, tranquillity, and serenity the object of your desires; have sought no teacher for this knowledge, but many for mere syllogisms. You have never, by yourself, confronted some delusive semblance with — “Can I bear this, or can I not bear it? What remains for me to do?” But, as if all your affairs went safe and well, you have aimed only to secure yourself in your present possessions. What are they? Cowardice, baseness, worldliness, desires unaccomplished, unavailing aversions. These are the things which you have been laboring to secure. Ought you not first to have acquired something by the use of reason, and then to have provided security for that? Whom did you ever see building a series of battlements without placing them upon a wall? And what porter is ever set, where there is no door? But you study! Can you show me what you study?
“Not to be shaken by sophistry.”
Shaken from what? Show me first, what you have in your custody; what you measure, or what you weigh; and then accordingly show me your weights and measures; and to what purpose you measure that which is but dust. Ought you not to show what makes men truly happy, what makes their affairs proceed as they wish? How we may blame no one, accuse no one; how acquiesce in the administration of the universe? Show me these things. “See, I do show them,” say you; “I will solve syllogisms to you.” This is but the measure, O unfortunate! and not the thing measured. Hence you now pay the penalty due for neglecting philosophy. You tremble, you lie awake; you advise with everybody, and if the result of the advice does not please everybody, you think that you have been ill-advised. Then you dread hunger, as you fancy; yet it is not hunger that you dread; but you are afraid that you will not have some one to cook for you; some one else for a butler; another to pull off your shoes; a fourth to dress you; others to rub you; others to follow you: that when you have undressed yourself in the bathing-room, and stretched yourself out, like a man crucified, you may be rubbed here and there; and the attendant may stand by, and say, “Come this way; give your side; take hold of his head; turn your shoulder”; and that when you are returned home from the bath you may cry out, “Does nobody bring anything to eat?” And then, “Take away; wipe the table.” This is your dread, that you will not be able to lead the life of a sick man. But learn the life of those in health; how slaves live, how laborers, how those who are genuine philosophers; how Socrates lived, even with a wife and children; how Diogenes; how Cleanthes, at once studying and drawing water [for his livelihood]. If these are the things you would have, you can possess them everywhere, and with a fearless confidence.
In the only thing that can be confided in; in what is sure, incapable of being restrained or taken away; your own will.
But why have you contrived to make yourself so useless and good for nothing, that nobody will receive you into his house; nobody take care of you: but although, if any sound useful vessel be thrown out of doors, whoever finds it will take it up and prize it as something gained; yet nobody will take you up, but everybody esteem you a loss. What, cannot you so much as perform the office of a dog or a cock? Why, then, do you wish to live any longer if you are so worthless? Does any good man fear that food should fail him? It does not fail the blind; it does not fail the lame. Shall it fail a good man? A paymaster is always to be found for a soldier, or a laborer, or a shoemaker, and shall one be wanting to a good man? Is God so negligent of his own institutions, of his servants, of his witnesses, whom alone he uses for examples to the uninstructed, to show that He exists, and that he administers the universe rightly, and doth not neglect human affairs; and that no evil can happen to a good man, either living or dead? What, then, is the case, when he doth not bestow food? What else than that, like a good general, he hath made me a signal of retreat? I obey, I follow; speaking well of my leader, praising his works. For I came when it seemed good to him, and, again, when it seems good to him, I depart; and in life it was my business to praise God within myself and to every auditor, and to the world. Doth he grant me but few things? Doth he refuse me affluence? It is not his pleasure that I should live luxuriously; for he did not grant that even to Hercules, his own son; but another reigned over Argos and Mycene, while he obeyed, labored, and strove. And Eurystheus was just what he was; neither truly king of Argos, nor of Mycene; not being indeed king over himself. But Hercules was ruler and governor of the whole earth and seas; the expeller of lawlessness and injustice; the introducer of justice and sanctity. And this he effected naked and alone. Again; when Ulysses was shipwrecked and cast away, did his helpless condition at all deject him? Did it break his spirit? No: but how did he go to Nausicaa and her attendants, to ask those necessaries which it seems most shameful to beg from another?
“As some lion, bred in the mountains, confiding in strength.”*
Confiding in what? Not in glory, or in riches, or in dominion, but in his own strength; that is, in his knowledge of what is within him and without him. For this alone is what can render us free and incapable of restraint; can raise the heads of the humble, and make them look, with unaverted eyes, full in the face of the rich and of the tyrants; and this is what philosophy bestows. But you will not even set forth with confidence; but all trembling about such trifles as clothes and plate. Foolish man! have you thus wasted your time till now?
“But what if I should be sick?”
It will then be for the best that you should be sick.
“Who will take care of me?”
God and your friends.
“I shall lie in a hard bed.”
But like a man.
“I shall not have a convenient room.”
Then you will be sick in an inconvenient one.
“Who will provide food for me?”
They who provide for others, too; you will be sick like Manes.†
“But what will be the conclusion of my sickness? Any other than death?”
Why, do you not know, then, that the origin of all human evils, and of baseness, and cowardice, is not death; but rather the fear of death? Fortify yourself, therefore, against this. Hither let all your discourses, readings, exercises, tend. And then you will know that thus alone are men made free.
[* ]Homer, Odyssey, VI. 130. — H.
[† ]The name of a slave, particularly of a slave who once belonged to Diogenes; and perhaps this expression alludes to some story about him, which is now unknown. — C.