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CHAPTER V.: CONCERNING THE QUARRELSOME AND FEROCIOUS. - 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 THE QUARRELSOME AND FEROCIOUS.
A WISE and good person neither quarrels with any one himself, nor, as far as possible, suffers another to do so. The life of Socrates affords us an example of this too, as well as of other things; since he not only everywhere avoided quarrelling himself, but did not even suffer others to quarrel. See in Xenophon’s Banquet how many quarrels he ended; how, again, he bore with Thrasymachus, with Polus, with Callicles; how with his wife, how with his son, who attempted to confute him, and cavilled at him. For he well remembered that no one is master of the ruling faculty of another; and therefore he desired nothing but what was his own. “And what is that?” Not that any particular person should be dealt with conformably to nature; for that belongs to others; but that while they act in their own way, as they please, he should nevertheless live conformably to nature, only doing what belongs to himself, in order to make them live conformably to nature also. For this is the point that a wise and good person has in view. To have the command of an army? No; but if it be allotted him, to properly apply his own powers in that sphere. To marry? No; but if marriage be allotted him, to act in this sphere also, according to the laws of nature. But if he expects perfection in his wife or his child, then he asks to have that for his own which really belongs to others. And wisdom consists in this very point, to learn what things are our own and what belong to others.
What room is there then for quarrelling, to a person thus disposed? For does he wonder at anything that happens? Does it appear strange to him? Does he not prepare for worse and more grievous injuries from bad people than actually happen to him? Does he not reckon it so much gained if they come short of the last extremities? Such a one has reviled you. You are much obliged to him that he has not struck you. But he has struck you too. You are much obliged to him that he has not wounded you too. But he has wounded you too. You are much obliged to him that he has not killed you. For when did he ever learn, or from whom, that he is a gentle, that he is a social animal; that the very injury itself is a great mischief to him who inflicts it? As, then, he has not learned these things, nor believes them, why should he not follow what appears to be for his interest? Your neighbor has thrown stones. What then? Is it any fault of yours? But your goods are broken. What then? Are you a piece of furniture? No; but your essence consists in the faculty of will. What behavior then is assigned you in return? If you consider yourself as a wolf, — then, to bite again, to throw more stones. But if you ask the question as a man, then examine your treasure; see what faculties you have brought into the world with you. Are they fitted for ferocity? For revenge? When is a horse miserable? When he is deprived of his natural faculties. Not when he cannot crow, but when he cannot run. And a dog? Not when he cannot fly, but when he cannot hunt. Is not a man, then, also unhappy in the same manner? Not he who cannot strangle lions or perform athletic feats, (for he has received no faculties for this purpose from nature); but who has lost his rectitude of mind, his fidelity. This is he who ought to receive public condolence for the misfortunes into which he is fallen; not, by Heaven, either he who has the misfortune to be born or to die; but he whom it has befallen while he lives to lose what is properly his own. Not his paternal possessions, his paltry estate or his house, his lodging or his slaves, for none of these are a man’s own; but all these belong to others, are servile, dependent, and very variously assigned by the disposers of them. But his personal qualifications as a man, the impressions which he brought into the world stamped upon his mind; such as we look for in money, accepting or rejecting it accordingly. “What impression has this piece of money?” — “Trajan’s.” — “Give it me.” — “Nero’s.”* Throw it away. It is false; it is good for nothing. So in the other case. “What stamp have his principles?” — “Gentleness, social affection, patience, good-nature.” Bring them hither. I receive them. I make such a man a citizen; I receive him for a neighbor, a fellow-traveller. Only see that he have not the Neronian stamp. Is he passionate? Is he resentful? Is he querulous? Would he, if he took the fancy, break the heads of those who fell in his way? Why then do you call him a man? For is everything determined by a mere outward form? Then say, just as well, that a piece of wax is an apple, or that it has the smell and taste, too. But the external figure is not enough; nor, consequently, is it sufficient to constitute a man, that he has a nose and eyes, if he have not the proper principles of a man. Such a one does not understand reason, or apprehend when he is confuted. He is like an ass. Another is dead to the sense of shame. He is a worthless creature; anything rather than a man. Another seeks whom he may kick or bite: so that he is neither sheep nor ass. But what then? He is a wild beast.
“Well; but would you have me despised, then?” By whom? By those who know you? And how can they despise you who know you to be gentle and modest? But, perhaps, by those who do not know you? And what is that to you? For no other artist troubles himself about those ignorant of art. “But people will be much readier to attack me.” Why do you say me? Can any one hurt your will, or restrain you from treating, conformably to nature, the phenomena of existence? Why, then, are you disturbed and desirous to make yourself appear formidable? Why do you not make public proclamation that you are at peace with all mankind, however they may act; and that you chiefly laugh at those who suppose they can hurt you? “These wretches neither know who I am, nor in what consist my good and evil; nor how little they can touch what is really mine.” Thus the inhabitants of a fortified city laugh at the besiegers. “What trouble, now, are these people giving themselves for nothing? Our wall is secure; we have provisions for a very long time, and every other preparation.” These are what render a city fortified and impregnable; but nothing but its principles render the human soul so. For what wall is so strong, what body so impenetrable, what possession so unalienable, what dignity so secured against stratagems? All things else, everywhere else, are mortal, easily reduced; and whoever in any degree fixes his mind upon them, must necessarily be subject to perturbation, despair, terrors, lamentations, disappointed desires, and unavailing aversions.
And will we not fortify, then, the only citadel that is granted us; and, withdrawing ourselves from what is mortal and servile, diligently improve what is immortal and by nature free? Do we not remember that no one either hurts or benefits another; but only the principles which we hold concerning everything? It is this that hurts us; this that overturns us. Here is the fight, the sedition, the war. It was nothing else that made Eteocles and Polynices enemies, but their principles concerning empire, and their principles concerning exile; that the one seemed the extremest evil, the other, the greatest good. Now the very nature of every one is to pursue good, to avoid evil; to esteem him as an enemy and betrayer who deprives us of the one, and involves us in the other, though he be a brother, or a son, or father. For nothing is more nearly related to us than good. So that if good and evil consist in externals, there is no affection between father and son, brother and brother; but all is everywhere full of enemies, betrayers, sycophants. But if a right choice be the only good, and a wrong one the only evil, what further room is there for quarrelling, for reviling? About what can it be? About what is nothing to us. Against whom? Against the ignorant, against the unhappy, against those who are deceived in the most important respects.
Mindful of this, Socrates lived in his own house, patiently bearing a furious wife, a senseless son. For what were the effects of her fury? The throwing as much water as she pleased on his head, the trampling* a cake under her feet. “And what is this to me, if I think such things nothing to me? This very point is my business; and neither a tyrant, nor a master, shall restrain my will; nor multitudes, though I am a single person; nor one ever so strong, though I am ever so weak. For this is given by God to every one, free from restraint.”
These principles make friendship in families, concord in cities, peace in nations. They make a person grateful to God, everywhere courageous, as dealing with things merely foreign and of minor importance. But we, alas! are able indeed to write and read these things, and to praise them when they are read; but very far from being convinced by them. In that case, what is said of the Lacedemonians,
“Lions at home, foxes at Ephesus,”
may be applied to us, too; lions in the school, but foxes out of it.
[* ]Nero being declared an enemy by the Senate, his coin was, in consequence of this, prohibited and destroyed. — C.
[* ]Alcibiades sent a fine great cake as a present to Socrates; which so provoked the jealousy of the meek Xantippe, that she threw it down, and stamped upon it. Socrates only laughed, and said, “Now you will have no share in it yourself.” — C.