Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII.: OF FEARLESSNESS. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER VII.: OF FEARLESSNESS. - 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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WHAT makes a tyrant formidable? His guards, say you, and their swords; they who protect his bedchamber; and they who keep out intruders. Why, then, if you bring a child to him amidst these guards, is it not afraid? Is it because the child does not know what they mean? Suppose, then, that any one knows what is meant by guards, and that they are armed with swords; and for that very reason comes in the tyrant’s way, being desirous, on account of some misfortune, to die, and seeking to die easily by the hand of another. Does such a man fear the guards? No; for he desires the very thing that renders them formidable. Well, then; if any one being without an absolute desire to live or die, but indifferent to it, comes in the way of a tyrant, what prevents his approaching him without fear? Nothing. If, then, another should think concerning his estate, or wife, or children, as this man thinks concerning his body; and, in short, from some madness or folly should be of such a disposition as not to care whether he has them or not; but just as children, playing with shells, are busied with the play, but not with the shells, so he should pay no regard to these affairs, except to carry on the play with them, what tyrant, what guards or swords are any longer formidable to such a man?
And is it possible that any one should be thus disposed towards these things from madness; and the Galileans from mere habit; yet that no one should be able to learn, from reason and demonstration, that God made all things in the world, and made the whole world itself unrestrained and perfect; and all its parts for the use of the whole? All other creatures are indeed excluded from a power of comprehending the administration of the world; but a reasonable being has abilities for the consideration of all these things: both that itself is a part, and what part; and that it is fit the parts should submit to the whole. Besides, being by nature constituted noble, magnanimous, and free, it sees that of the things which relate to it some are unrestrained and in its own power, some restrained and in the power of others: the unrestrained, such as depend on will; the restrained, such as do not depend on it. And for this reason, if it esteems its good and its interest to consist in things unrestrained and in its own power, it will be free, prosperous, happy, safe, magnanimous, pious, thankful to God for everything, never finding fault with anything, never censuring anything that is brought about by him. But if it esteems its good and its interest to consist in externals, and things uncontrollable by will, it must necessarily be restrained, be hindered, be enslaved to those who have the power over those things which it admires and fears; it must necessarily be impious, as supposing itself injured by God, and unjust, as claiming more than its share; it must necessarily, too, be abject and base.
Why may not he who discerns these things live with an easy and light heart, quietly awaiting whatever may happen, and bearing contentedly what has happened? Shall it be poverty? Bring it; and you shall see what poverty is when it is met well. Would you have power? Bring toils too along with it. Banishment? Wherever I go, it will be well with me there; for it was well with me here, not on account of the place, but of the principles which I shall carry away with me; for no one can deprive me of these; on the contrary, they alone are my property, and cannot be taken away; and their possession suffices me wherever I am, or whatever I do.
“But it is now time to die.” What is that you call dying? Do not talk of the thing in a tragedy strain; but state the thing as it is, that it is time for your material part to revert whence it came. And where is the terror of this? What part of the world is going to be lost? What is going to happen that is new or prodigious? Is it for this that a tyrant is formidable? Is it on this account that the swords of his guards seem so large and sharp? Try these things upon others. For my part, I have examined the whole. No one has authority over me. God hath made me free; I know his commands; after this no one can enslave me. I have a proper vindicator of my freedom; proper judges. Are you the master of my body? But what is that to me? Of my little estate? But what is that to me? Of banishment and chains? Why all these again, and my whole body, I give up to you; make a trial of your power whenever you please, and you will find how far it extends.
Whom, then, can I any longer fear? Those who guard the chamber? Lest they should do — what? Shut me out? If they find me desirous to come in, let them. “Why do you come to the door, then?” Because it is fitting for me, that while the play lasts I should play too. “How then are you incapable of being shut out?” Because, if I am not admitted, I would not wish to go in; but would much rather that things should be as they are, for I esteem what God wills to be better than what I will. To Him I yield myself as a servant and a follower. My pursuits, my desires, my very will, must coincide with His. Being shut out does not affect me; but those who push to get in. Why, then, do not I push too? Because I know that there is no really good thing distributed to those who get in. But when I hear any one congratulated on the favor of Cæsar, I ask what he has got. “A province.” Has he the needed wisdom also? “A public office.” Has he with it the knowledge how to use it? If not, why should I push my way in?
Some one scatters nuts and figs. Children scramble and quarrel for them; but not men, for they think them trifles. But if any one should scatter shells, not even children would scramble for these. Provinces are being distributed. Let children look to it. Money. Let children look to it. Military command, a consulship. Let children scramble for them. Let these be shut out, be beaten, kiss the hands of the giver, or of his slaves. But to me they are mere figs and nuts. “What, then, is to be done?” If you miss them while he is throwing them, do not trouble yourself about it; but if a fig should fall into your lap, take it, and eat it; for one may pay so much regard even to a fig. But if I am to stoop and throw down one [rival] or be thrown down by another, and flatter those who succeed, a fig is not worth this, nor is any other of those things which are not really good, and which the philosophers have persuaded me not to esteem as good.
Show me the swords of the guards. “See how large and how sharp they are.” What, then, can these great and sharp swords do? “They kill.” And what can a fever do? “Nothing else.” And a [falling] tile? “Nothing else.” Do you then wish me to be bewildered by all these things, and to worship them, and to go about as a slave to them all? Heaven forbid! But having once learned that everything that is born must likewise die, (that the world may not be at a stand, nor the course of it hindered,) I no longer see any difference, whether this be effected by a fever, or a tile, or a soldier; but if any comparison is to be made, I know that the soldier will effect it with less pain and more speedily. Since then I neither fear any of those things which he can inflict upon me, nor covet anything which he can bestow, why do I stand any longer in awe of a tyrant? Why am I amazed at him? Why do I fear his guards? Why do I rejoice, if he speaks kindly to me, and receives me graciously; and why boast to others of my reception? For is he Socrates or Diogenes, that his praise should show what I am? Or have I set my heart on imitating his manners? But to keep up the play I go to him and serve him, so long as he commands nothing unreasonable or improper. But if he should say to me, “Go to Salamis, and bring Leon,”* I bid him seek another, for I play no longer. “Lead him away.” I follow as a part of the play. “But your head will be taken off.” And will his own remain on forever; or yours, who obey him? “But you will be thrown out unburied.” If I am identical with my corpse, I shall be thrown out; but if I am something else than the corpse, speak more handsomely, as the thing is, and do not think to frighten me. These things are frightful to children and fools. But if any one, who has once entered into the school of a philosopher, knows not what he himself is, then he deserves to be frightened, and to flatter the last object of flattery; if he has not yet learnt that he is neither flesh, nor bones, nor nerves, but is that which makes use of these, and regulates and comprehends the phenomena of existence.
“Well; but these reasonings make men despise the laws.” And what reasonings, then, render those who use them more obedient to the laws? But the law of fools is no law. And yet, see how these reasonings render us properly disposed, even towards such persons, since they teach us not to assert against them any claim wherein they can surpass us. They teach us to give up body, to give up estate, children, parents, brothers, to yield everything, to let go everything, excepting only principles; which even Zeus hath excepted and decreed to be every one’s own property. What unreasonableness, what breach of the laws, is there in this? Where you are superior and stronger, there I give way to you. Where, on the contrary, I am superior, do you submit to me; for this has been my study, and not yours. Your study has been to walk upon a mosaic floor, to be attended by your servants and clients, to wear fine clothes, to have a great number of hunters, fiddlers, and players. Do I lay any claim to these? On the other hand, have you made a study of principles, or even of your own reason? Do you know of what parts it consists? How they are combined and joined, and with what powers? Why, then, do you take it amiss, if another, who has studied them, has the advantage of you in these things? “But they are of all things the greatest.” Well; and who restrains you from being conversant with them, and attending to them ever so carefully? Or who is better provided with books, with leisure, with assistants? Only turn your thoughts now and then to these matters; bestow but a little time upon your own ruling faculty. Consider what is the power you have, and whence it came, that uses all other things, that examines them all, that chooses, that rejects. But while you employ yourself merely about externals, you will possess those indeed beyond all rivals; but all else will be, just as you elect to have it, sordid and neglected.
[* ]As with Socrates; see note, ante, p. 314.