Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV.: CONCERNING THOSE WHO EARNESTLY DESIRE A LIFE OF REPOSE. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER IV.: CONCERNING THOSE WHO EARNESTLY DESIRE A LIFE OF REPOSE. - 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 THOSE WHO EARNESTLY DESIRE A LIFE OF REPOSE.
REMEMBER that it is not only the desire of riches and power that debases us and subjects us to others, but even that of quiet, leisure, learning, or travelling. For, in general, reverence for any external thing whatever makes us subject to others. Where is the difference, then, whether you desire to be a senator or not to be a senator? Where is the difference, whether you desire power or to be out of power? Where is the difference, whether you say “I am in a wretched way, I have nothing to do; but am tied down to books, as inactive as if I were dead”; — or, “I am in a wretched way, I have no leisure to read?” For as levees and power are among things external and uncontrollable by will, so, likewise is a book. For what purpose would you read? Tell me. For if you rest merely in being amused and learning something, you are insignificant and miserable. But if you refer it to the proper end, what is that but a life truly prosperous? And if reading does not procure you a prosperous life, of what use is it. “But it does procure a prosperous life (say you); and therefore I am uneasy at being deprived of it.” And what sort of prosperity is that which everything can hinder; — I do not say Cæsar alone, or Cæsar’s friend, but a crow, a man practising the flute, a fever, or ten thousand other things? But nothing is so essential to prosperity as that it should be permanent and unhindered. Suppose I am now called to do something. I now go, therefore, and will be attentive to the bounds and measures which ought to be observed; that I may act modestly, steadily, and without desire or aversion as to externals. In the next place, I am attentive to other men; what they say, and how they are moved; and that not from ill-nature, nor that I may have an opportunity for censure or ridicule; but I turn to myself. “Am I also guilty of the same faults; and how then shall I leave them off?” or, “I once thus erred, but, God be thanked, not now.” Well; when you have done thus, and been employed on such things, have you not done as good a work as if you had read a thousand lines or written as many? For are you uneasy at not reading while you are eating? When you eat, or bathe, or exercise, are you not satisfied with doing it in a manner corresponding to what you have read? Why, then, do you not reason in like manner about everything? When you approach Cæsar or any other person, if you preserve yourself dispassionate, fearless, sedate; if you are rather an observer of what is done than the subject of observation; if you do not envy those who are preferred to you; if you are not overcome by the occasion, what need you more? Books? How, or to what end? For these are not the real preparation for living, but living is made up of things very different. Just as if a champion, when he enters the lists, should begin crying because he is not still exercising without. It was for this that you were exercised. For this were the dumb-bells, the dust, and your young antagonists. And do you now seek for these when it is the time for actual business? This is just as if, in forming our opinions, when perplexed between true and false semblances, we should, instead of practically distinguishing between them, merely peruse dissertations on evidence.
What, then, is the trouble? That we have neither learned by reading, nor by writing, how to deal practically with the semblances of things, according to the laws of nature. But we stop at learning what is said, and, being able to explain it to others, at solving syllogisms and arranging hypothetical arguments. Hence where the study is, there, too, is the hindrance. Do you desire absolutely what is out of your power? Be restrained then, be hindered, be disappointed. But if we were to read dissertations about the exertion of our efforts, not merely to see what might be said about our efforts, but to exert them well; on desire and aversion, that we might not be disappointed of our desires, nor incur our aversions; on the duties of life, that, mindful of our relations, we might do nothing irrational nor inconsistent with them; then we should not be provoked at being hindered in our reading; but should be contented with the performance of actions suitable to us, and should learn a new standard of computation. Not, “To-day I have perused so many lines; I have written so many”; but, “To-day I have used my efforts as the philosophers direct. I have restrained my desires absolutely; I have applied my aversion only to things controllable by will. I have not been terrified by such a one, nor put out of countenance by such another. I have exercised my patience, my abstinence, my beneficence.” And thus we should thank God for what we ought to thank him.
But now we resemble the crowd in another way also, and do not know it. One is afraid that he shall not be in power; you, that you shall. By no means be afraid of it, man; but as you laugh at him, laugh at yourself. For there is no difference, whether you thirst like one in a fever, or dread water like him who is bit by a mad dog. Else how can you say, like Socrates, “If it so pleases God, so let it be?” Do you think that Socrates, if he had fixed his desires on the leisure of the lyceum or the academy, or the conversation of the youth there, day after day, would have made so many campaigns as he did, so readily? Would not he have lamented and groaned: “How wretched am I! now must I be miserable here, when I might be sunning myself in the lyceum?” Was that your business in life, then, to sun yourself? Was it not to be truly successful? To be unrestrained and free? And how could he have been Socrates, if he had lamented thus? How could he after that have written Pæans in a prison?
In short, then, remember this, that so far as you prize anything external to your own will, you impair that will. And not only power is external to it, but the being out of power too; not only business, but leisure too. “Then must I live in this tumult now?” What do you call a tumult? “A multitude of people.” And where is the hardship? Suppose it to be the Olympic Games. Think it a public assembly. There, too, some bawl out one thing, some another; some push the rest. The baths are crowded. Yet who of us is not pleased with these assemblies, and does not grieve to leave them? Do not be hard to please, and squeamish at what happens. “Vinegar is disagreeable, for it is sour. Honey is disagreeable, for it disorders my constitution. I do not like vegetables.” “So I do not like retirement, it is a desert; I do not like a crowd, it is a tumult.” Why, if things are so disposed, that you are to live alone or with few, call this condition repose, and make use of it as you ought. Talk with yourself, judge of the appearances presented to your mind; train your mental habits to accuracy. But if you happen on a crowd, call it one of the public games, a grand assembly, a festival. Endeavor to share in the festival with the rest of the world. For what sight is more pleasant to a lover of mankind than a great number of men? We see companies of oxen or horses with pleasure. We are highly delighted to see a great many ships. Who is sorry to see a great many men? “But they stun me with their noise.” Then your hearing is hindered; and what is that to you? Is your faculty of making a right use of the appearances of things hindered too? Or who can restrain you from using your desire and aversion, your powers of pursuit and avoidance, conformably to nature? What tumult is sufficient for this?
Do but remember the general rules. What is mine? What not mine? What is allotted me? What is it the will of God that I should do now? What is not his will? A little while ago it was His will that you should be at leisure, should talk with yourself, write about these things, read, hear, prepare yourself. You have had sufficient time for this. At present, He says to you, “Come now to the combat. Show us what you have learned; how you have wrestled.” How long would you exercise by yourself? It is now the time to show whether you are of the number of those champions who merit victory, or of those who go about the world conquered in all the circle of games. Why, then, are you out of humor? There is no combat without a tumult. There must be many preparatory exercises, many acclamations, many masters, many spectators. “But I would live in quiet.” Why, then, lament and groan as you deserve. For what greater punishment is there to those who are uninstructed and disobedient to the orders of God, than to grieve, to mourn, to envy; in short, to be disappointed and unhappy? Are you not willing to deliver yourself from all this? “And how shall I deliver myself?” Have you not heard that you must absolutely control desire, and apply aversion to such things only as are controllable by will? That you must consent to resign all, body, possessions, fame, books, tumults, power, exemption from power? For to whichsoever your disposition is, you are a slave; you are under subjection; you are made liable to restraint, to compulsion; you are altogether the property of others. But have that maxim of Cleanthes always ready,
“Conduct me, Zeus; and thou, O destiny.”
Is it your will that I should go to Rome? Conduct me to Rome. To Gyaros? — To Gyaros. To Athens? — To Athens. To prison? — To prison. If you once say, “When may I go to Athens?” you are undone. This desire, if it be unaccomplished, must necessarily render you disappointed; and, if fulfilled, vain respecting what ought not to elate you; — if, on the contrary, you are hindered, then you are wretched through incurring what you do not like. Therefore give up all these things.
“Athens is a fine place.” But it is a much finer thing to be happy, serene, tranquil, not to have your affairs dependent on others. “Rome is full of tumults and visits.” But prosperity is worth all difficulties. If, then, it be a proper time for these, why do not you withdraw your aversion from them? What necessity is there for you to be made to carry your burden, by being cudgelled like an ass? Otherwise, consider that you must always be a slave to him who has the power to procure your discharge, — to every one who has the power of hindering you; — and must worship him like your evil genius.
The only way to real prosperity (let this rule be at hand morning, noon, and night) is a resignation of things uncontrollable by will; to esteem nothing as property; to deliver up all things to our tutelar genius and to fortune; to leave the control of them to those whom Zeus hath made such; to be ourselves devoted to that only which is really ours; to that which is incapable of restraint; and whatever we read, or write, or hear, to refer all to this.
Therefore I cannot call any one industrious, if I hear only that he reads or writes; nor do I call him so even if he adds the whole night to the day, unless I know to what he applies it. For not even you would call him industrious who sits up for the sake of a girl; nor, therefore, in the other case do I. But if he does it for fame, I call him ambitious; if for money, avaricious; if from the desire of learning, bookish; but not industrious. But if he applies his labor to his ruling faculty, in order to treat and regulate it conformably to nature, then only I call him industrious. Never praise or blame any person on account of outward actions that are common to all; but only on account of principles. These are the peculiar property of each individual, and the things which make actions good or bad.
Mindful of this, enjoy the present and accept all things in their season. If you meet in action any of those things which you have made a subject of study, rejoice in them. If you have laid aside ill-nature and reviling; if you have lessened your harshness, indecent language, inconsiderateness, effeminacy; if you are not moved by the same things as formerly, or if not in the same manner as formerly; — you may keep a perpetual festival, to-day for success in one affair, to-morrow for another. How much better a reason for sacrifice is this than obtaining a consulship or a government? These things you have from yourself and from the gods. Remember this, who it is that gave them, and to whom and for what purpose. Habituated once to these reasonings, can you still think that it makes any difference what place God allots you? Are not the gods everywhere at the same distance? Do not they everywhere see equally what is doing?