Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII.: CONCERNING SUCH AS HASTILY ASSUME THE PHILOSOPHIC DRESS. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER VIII.: CONCERNING SUCH AS HASTILY ASSUME THE PHILOSOPHIC DRESS. - 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 SUCH AS HASTILY ASSUME THE PHILOSOPHIC DRESS.
NEVER commend or censure any one for common actions, nor attribute to them either skilfulness or unskilfulness; and thus you will at once be free both from rashness and ill-nature. Such a one bathes hastily. Does he therefore do it ill? Not at all. But what? Hastily. “Is everything well done, then?” By no means. But what is done from good principles is well done; what from bad ones, ill. Till you know from what principle any one acts, neither commend nor censure the action. But the principle is not easily discerned from the external appearance. Such a one is a carpenter. Why? He uses an axe. What proof is that? Such a one is a musician, for he sings. What proof is that? Such a one is a philosopher. Why? Because he wears a cloak and long hair. What then do mountebanks wear? And so, when people see any of these acting indecently, they presently say, “See what the philosopher does.” But they ought rather, from his acting indecently, to say that he is no philosopher. For, if indeed the essence of philosophic pursuits is to wear a cloak and long hair, they say right; but if it be rather to keep himself free from faults, since he does not fulfil his profession, why do not they deprive him of his title? For this is the way with regard to other arts. When we see any one handle an axe awkwardly, we do not say, “Where is the use of this art? See how poorly carpenters acquit themselves.” But we say the very contrary, “This man is no carpenter; for he handles an axe awkwardly.” So, if we hear any one sing badly, we do not say, “Observe how musicians sing,” but rather, “This fellow is no musician.” It is with regard to philosophy alone, that people are thus affected. When they see any one acting inconsistently with the profession of a philosopher, they do not take away his title; but assuming that he is a philosopher, and then reasoning from his improper behavior, they infer that philosophy is of no use.
“What, then, is the reason of this?” Because we pay some regard to the idea which we have of a carpenter and a musician, and so of other artists, but not of a philosopher; which idea being thus vague and confused, we judge of it only from external appearances. And of what other art do we form our opinion from the dress or the hair? Has it not principles too, and materials, and an aim? What, then, are the materials of a philosopher? A cloak? No, but reason. What his aim? To wear a cloak? No, but to have his reason in good order. What are his principles? Are they how to get a great beard, or long hair? No, but rather, as Zeno expresses it, — to know the elements of reason, what is each separately and how linked together, and what their consequences.
Why, then, will you not first see, whether when acting improperly he fulfils his profession, ere you proceed to blame the study? Whereas now, when acting soberly yourself, you say, in regard to whatever he appears to do amiss, “Observe the philosopher!” As if it were proper to call a person, who does such things, a philosopher. And again, “This is philosophical!” But you do not say, “Observe the carpenter, or observe the musician,” when you know one of them to be an adulterer, or see him to be a glutton. So, in some small degree, even you perceive what the profession of a philosopher is; but are misled and confounded by your own carelessness. And, indeed, even those called philosophers enter upon their profession by commonplace beginnings. As soon as they have put on the cloak and let their beards grow, they cry, “I am a philosopher.” Yet no one says, “I am a musician,” merely because he has bought a fiddle and fiddlestick: nor, “I am a smith,” because he is dressed in the cap and apron. But they take their name from their art, not from their garb.
For this reason, Euphrates was in the right to say, “I long endeavored to conceal my embracing the philosophic life; and it was of use to me. For, in the first place, I knew that whatever I did right I did not for spectators, but for myself. I eat in a seemly manner, for my own approbation. I preserved composure of look and manner, all for God and myself. Then, as I contended alone, I alone was in danger. Philosophy was in no danger, on my doing anything shameful or unbecoming; nor did I hurt the rest of the world, which, by offending as a philosopher, I might have done. For this reason, they who were ignorant of my intention, used to wonder that while I conversed and lived entirely with philosophers, I never took up the character. And where was the harm, that I should be discovered to be a philosopher by my actions, rather than by the usual badges? See how I eat, how I drink, how I sleep, how I bear, how I forbear; how I assist others; how I make use of my desires, how of my aversions; how I preserve the natural and acquired relations, without confusion and without obstruction. Judge of me hence, if you can. But if you are so deaf and blind that you would not suppose Vulcan himself to be a good smith, unless you saw the cap upon his head, where is the harm in not being found out by so foolish a judge?”
It was thus, too, that Socrates concealed himself from the multitude; and some even came and desired him to introduce them to philosophers. Was he accustomed to be displeased, then, like us; and to say, What! do not you take me for a philosopher? No, he took them and introduced them; contented with merely being a philosopher, and rejoicing in feeling no annoyance, that he was not thought one. For he remembered his business; and what is the business of a wise and good man? To have many scholars? By no means. Let those see to it who have made this their study. Well, then, is it to be a perfect master of difficult theorems? Let others see to that, too. What, then, was his position, and what did he desire to be? What constituted his hurt or advantage? “If,” said he, “any one can still hurt me, I am accomplishing nothing. If I depend for my advantage upon another, I am nothing. Have I any wish unaccomplished? Then I am unhappy.” To such a combat he invited every one, and, in my opinion, yielded to no one. But do you think it was by making proclamation, and saying, “I am such a one?” Far from it: but by being such a one. For it is folly and insolence to say, “I am passive and undisturbed. Be it known to you, mortals, that while you are disturbed and vexed about things of no value, I alone am free from all perturbation.” Are you then so little satisfied with your exemption from pain that you must needs make proclamation: “Come hither all you who have the gout, or the headache, or a fever, or are lame, or blind; and see me, free from every distemper.” This is vain and shocking, unless you can show, like Æsculapius, by what method of cure they may presently become as free from distempers as yourself, and can bring your own health as a proof of it.
Such is the Cynic honored with the sceptre and diadem from Zeus; who says, “That you may see, O mankind, that you do not seek happiness and tranquillity where it is, but where it is not, behold, I am sent an example to you from God; — who have neither estate, nor house, nor wife, nor children, — nor even a bed, coat, or furniture. And yet see how in what good condition I am. Try me; and if you see me free from perturbation, hear the remedies, and by what means I was cured.” This now is benevolent and noble. But consider whose business it is. That of Zeus, or his whom he judges worthy of this office; that he may never show to the world anything to impeach his own testimony for virtue and against externals.
“Neither pallid of hue, nor wiping tears from his cheek.”*
And not only this, but he does not desire or seek for company, or place, or amusement, as boys do the vintage time, or holidays; — being always fortified by virtuous shame, as others are by walls, and gates, and sentinels.
But now they who have only such an inclination to philosophy as weak stomachs have to some kinds of food, of which they will presently grow sick, expect to hasten to the sceptre, to the kingdom. They let their hair grow, assume the cloak, bare the shoulder, wrangle with all they meet; and if they see any one in a thick, warm coat, must needs wrangle with him. First harden yourself against all weather, man. Consider your inclination; whether it be not that of a weak stomach, or of a longing woman. First study to conceal what you are; philosophize a little while by yourself. Fruit is produced thus. The seed must first be buried in the ground, lie hid there some time, and grow up by degrees, that it may come to perfection. But if it produces the ear before the stalk has its proper joints, it is imperfect, and of the garden of Adonis.* Now you are a poor plant of this kind. You have blossomed too soon: the winter will kill you. See what countrymen say about seeds of any sort, when the warm weather comes too early. They are in great anxiety for fear the seeds should shoot out too luxuriantly; and then one frost taking them may show how prejudicial their forwardness was. Beware you too, O man. You have shot out luxuriantly; you have sprung forth towards a trifling fame, before the proper season. You seem to be somebody, as a fool may among fools. You will be taken by the frost; or rather, you are already frozen downward at the root; you still blossom indeed a little at the top, and therefore you think you are still alive and flourishing.
Let us, at least, ripen naturally. Why do you lay us open? Why do you force us? We cannot yet bear the air. Suffer the root to grow; then the first, then the second, then the third joint of the stalk to spring from it; and thus nature will force out the fruit, whether I will or not. For who that is charged with such principles, but must perceive, too, his own powers, and strive to put them in practice. Not even a bull is ignorant of his own powers, when any wild beast approaches the herd, nor waits he for any one to encourage him; nor does a dog when he spies any game. And if I have the powers of a good man, shall I wait for you to qualify me for my own proper actions? But believe me, I have them not quite yet. Why, then, would you wish me to be withered before my time, as you are?
[* ]Homer, Odyssey, XI. 528, 529. — H.
[* ]At the feast of Adonis there were carried about little earthen pots filled with mould, in which grew several sorts of herbs. These were called gardens; and from thence the gardens of Adonis came to be proverbially applied to things unfruitful or fading; because those herbs were only sowed so long before the festival as to sprout forth and be green at that time, and then were presently cast into the water. — C.