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FROM STOBÆUS, ANTONIUS, AND MAXIMUS. * - 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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FROM STOBÆUS, ANTONIUS, AND MAXIMUS.*
A LIFE at odds with Fortune resembles a wintry torrent; for it is turbulent and muddy and difficult to pass, and violent and noisy and brief.
A soul conversant with virtue resembles a perpetual fountain; for it is clear and gentle and agreeable and sweet and serviceable and rich and harmless and innocent.
If you would be good, first believe that you are bad.
It is better sometimes frankly to offend, and act often wisely, than to say we seldom err and offend frequently.
Chastise your passions, that they may not chastise you.
Be not so much ashamed of what is inglorious, as studious to shun what is untruthful.
If you would be well spoken of, learn to speak well of others. And when you have learned to speak well, endeavor likewise to do well; and thus you will reap the fruit of being well spoken of.
Freedom and slavery are merely names of virtue and of vice; and both these are matters of will. But neither of them belongs to things in which will has no share. But Fortune is accustomed to dispose at her pleasure of the body, and those things relating to the body in which will has no share. For no one is a slave whose will is free.
Fortune is an evil chain to the body, and vice to the soul. For he whose body is unbound, and whose soul is chained, is a slave. On the contrary, he whose body is chained, and his soul unbound, is free. The chain of the body, Nature unbinds by death, or baseness for money; the chain of the soul, virtue unbinds by wisdom and experience and philosophic training.
If you would live tranquil and contented, endeavor that all who live with you may be good. And you can have them good by instructing the willing and dismissing the unwilling. For sin and bondage will fly with those who leave you, and with those who remain with you will virtue and liberty be left.
It is scandalous, that he who sweetens his drink by the gift of the bees, should by vice embitter reason, the gift of the Gods.
No one who is a lover of money, a lover of pleasure, or a lover of glory, is likewise a lover of mankind; but only he who is a lover of virtue.
As you would not wish to sail in a large and elegant and gilded ship, and sink; so neither is it desirable to inhabit a grand and sumptuous house, and be in a tumult.
When we are invited to an entertainment we take what we find; and if any one should bid the master of the house set fish or tarts before him, he would be thought absurd. Yet in the world we ask the Gods for what they do not give us; and that, though there are so many things which they have given us.
They are pretty fellows indeed, said he, who value themselves on things not in our own power. I am a better man than you, says one; for I have many estates, and you are pining with hunger. I have been consul, says another; I am a ruler, says a third; and I have a fine head of hair, says a fourth. Yet one horse does not say to another, “I am better than you; for I have a great deal of hay and a great deal of oats; and I have a gold bridle and embroidered trappings”; but only, “I am swifter than you.” And every creature is better or worse from its own good or bad qualities. Is man, then, the only creature which has no natural good quality? And must we take account of hair, and clothes, and ancestors?
Patients are displeased with a physician who does not prescribe to them; and think he gives them over. And why are none so affected towards a philosopher as to conclude that he despairs of their recovery to a right way of thinking, if he tells them nothing for their good?
They who have a good constitution of body can bear heat and cold; and so they who have a right constitution of soul can meet anger and grief and immoderate joy and the other passions.
Examine yourself, whether you had rather be rich or happy; and if rich, be assured that this is neither a good, nor altogether in your own power; but if happy, that this is both a good, and in your own power; since the one is a temporary loan of Fortune, and the other depends on will.
As when you see a viper, or an asp, or a scorpion, in a box of ivory or gold, you do not love it or think it happy because of the magnificence of the material in which it is enclosed; but you shun and detest it, because it is of a pernicious nature: so, likewise, when you see vice lodged in the midst of wealth, and the swelling pride of fortune, be not struck by the splendor of the material with which it is surrounded; but despise the base alloy of its manners.
Riches are not among the number of things which are good; prodigality is of the number of those which are evil; modesty of those which are good. Now modesty invites to frugality and the acquisition of things that are good; but riches invite to prodigality and seduce from modesty. It is difficult, therefore, for a rich person to be modest, or a modest person rich.
If you had been born and bred in a ship, you would not be impatient to become the pilot. For you are not necessarily identified with the ship there, nor with riches here; but with reason everywhere. That therefore which is natural and congenial to you, reason, think likewise to be peculiarly your own, and take care of it.
If you were born in Persia, you would not endeavor to live in Greece; but to be happy in the place where you were. Why, then, if you are born in poverty, do you yearn to be rich, and not rather to be happy in the condition where you are?
As it is better to lie straitened for room upon a little couch, in health, than to toss upon a wide bed in sickness, so it is better to contract yourself within the compass of a small fortune, and be happy, than to have a great one and be wretched.
It is not poverty that causes sorrow, but covetous desires; nor do riches deliver from fear, but only reasoning. If therefore you acquire a habit of reasoning, you will neither desire riches, nor complain of poverty.
A horse is not elated, and does not value himself on his fine stable or trappings or saddle-cloths, nor a bird on the warm materials of its nest; but the former on the swiftness of his feet, and the latter of its wings. Do not you, therefore, glory in your food or dress; or in short any external advantage; but in integrity and beneficence.
There is a difference between living well and living profusely. The one arises from contentment and order and propriety and frugality; the other from dissoluteness and luxury and disorder and indecency. In short, to the one belongs true praise; to the other, censure. If therefore you would live well, do not seek to be praised for profuseness.
Let the first satisfaction of appetite be always the measure to you of eating and drinking; and appetite itself the sauce and the pleasure. Thus you will never take more than is necessary, nor will you want cooks; and you will be contented with whatever drink falls in your way.
Consider that you do not thrive merely by the food in your stomach; but by the elevation of your soul. For the former, as you see, is evacuated and carried off altogether; but the latter, though the soul be parted, remains uncorrupted through all things.
In every feast remember that there are two guests to be entertained, the body and the soul; and that what you give the body you presently lose, but what you give the soul remains forever.
Do not mingle anger with profusion, and set them before your guests. Profusion, when it has made its way through the body, is quickly gone; but anger, when it has penetrated the soul, abides for a long time. Take care not to pay a great price merely to be transported with anger, and affront your guests; but rather delight them at a cheap rate by gentle behavior.
Take care at your meals that the attendants be not more in number than those whom they are to attend. For it is absurd that many persons should wait on a few chairs.
It would be best if, both while you are personally making your preparations and while you are feasting at table, you could give among the servants part of what is before you. But if such a thing be difficult at that time, remember that you, who are not weary, are attended by those who are; you who are eating and drinking, by those who are not; you who are talking, by those who are silent; you who are at ease, by those who are under constraint: and thus you will never be heated into any unreasonable passion yourself, nor do any mischief by provoking another.
Strife and contention are always absurd, but particularly unbecoming at table conversations. For a person warmed with wine will never either teach, or be convinced by, one who is sober. And wherever sobriety is wanting, the end will show that you have exerted yourself to no purpose.
Grasshoppers are musical; but snails are dumb. The latter rejoice in being wet; and the former in being warm. Then the dew calls out the one race, and for this they come forth; but, on the contrary, the noonday sun awakens the others, and in this they sing. If therefore you would be a musical and harmonious person, whenever the soul is bedewed with wine at drinking-parties, suffer her not to go forth and defile herself. But when in rational society she glows by the beams of reason, then command her to speak from inspiration, and utter the oracles of justice.
Consider him with whom you converse in one of these three ways; either as your superior, or inferior, or equal. If superior, you ought to hear him and be convinced; if inferior, to convince him; if equal, to agree with him; and thus you will never be led into the love of strife.
It is better, by yielding to truth, to conquer prejudice, than by yielding to principle to be defeated by truth.
If you seek truth, you will not seek merely victory at all hazards; and when you have found truth, you will have a security against being conquered.
Truth conquers by itself; prejudice, by appealing to externals.
It is better, through living with one free person, to be fearless and free, than to be a slave in company with many.
What you avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others. You avoid slavery, for instance; take care not to enslave. For if you can bear to exact slavery from others, you appear to have been yourself a slave. For vice has nothing in common with virtue, nor freedom with slavery. As a person in health would not wish to be attended by the sick, nor to have those who live with him in a state of sickness; so neither would a person who is free bear to be served by slaves, nor to have those who live with him in a state of slavery.
Whoever you are that would live apart from slaves, deliver yourself from slavery. And you will be free if you deliver yourself from appetite. For neither was Aristides called just, nor Epaminondas divine, nor Lycurgus a preserver, because they were rich and slave-holders; but because, being poor, they delivered Greece from slavery.
If you would have your house securely inhabited, imitate the Spartan Lycurgus. And as he did not enclose his city with walls, but fortified the inhabitants with virtue, and preserved the city always free; so do you, likewise, not surround yourself with a great court-yard, nor raise high towers, but strengthen those who live with you by benevolence, and fidelity, and friendship. And thus nothing hurtful will enter, even if the whole band of wickedness be set in array against it.
Do not hang your house round with tablets and pictures; but adorn it with virtue. For those are merely foreign and a fading deception of the eyes; but this, a congenial and indelible and perpetual ornament to the house.
Instead of herds of oxen, endeavor to assemble flocks of friends about your house.
As a wolf resembles a dog, so much does a flatterer, an adulterer, a parasite, resemble a friend. Take heed therefore, that instead of guardian dogs, you do not inadvertently admit ravening wolves.
To seek admiration by adorning one’s house with stucco belongs to a tasteless man; but to adorn our characters by the charm of an amiable nature shows at once a lover of beauty and a lover of man.
If you chiefly admire little things, you will never be held worthy of great ones; but if you are above little things, you will be held greatly worthy.
Nothing is meaner than the love of pleasure, the love of gain, and insolence. Nothing is nobler than magnanimity, meekness, and philanthropy.
[We represent] those intractable philosophers who do not think pleasure to be in itself the natural state of man; but merely an incident of those things in which his natural state consists, — justice, moderation, and freedom. Why, then, should the soul rejoice and be glad in the minor blessings of the body, as Epicurus says, and not be pleased with its own good, which is the very greatest? And yet Nature has given me likewise a sense of shame; and I am covered with blushes when I think I have uttered any indecent expression. This emotion will not suffer me to recognize pleasure as a good and the end of life.
The ladies at Rome have Plato’s Republic in their hands, because he allows a community of wives; for they attend merely to the words of the author, and not to his sense. For he does not first order one man and one woman to marry and live together, and then allow a community of wives; but he abolishes that system of marriage, and introduces one of another kind. And, in general, men are pleased in finding out excuses for their own faults. Yet philosophy says, it is not fit even to move a finger without some reason.
It is the rarest pleasures which especially delight us.
Once exceed moderation, and the most delightful things may become the most undelightful.
Agrippinus was justly entitled to praise on this account, that, though he was a man of the highest worth, he never praised himself; but blushed, even if another praised him. And he was a man of such a character, as to commend every untoward event that befell him: if he was feverish, the fever; if disgraced, the disgrace; if banished, the banishment. And, when once, as he was going to dine, a messenger brought him word that Nero ordered him to banishment; Well then, said Agrippinus, let us dine at Aricia.*
Diogenes affirmed no labor to be good, unless the end were a due state and tone of the soul, and not of the body.
As a true balance is neither set right by a true one, nor judged by a false one; so likewise a just person has neither to be set right by just persons, nor to be judged by unjust ones.
As what is straight needs no straightness, so what is just needs [to borrow] no justice.
Give no judgment from another tribunal before you have yourself been judged at the tribunal of absolute justice.
If you would give a just decision, heed neither parties nor pleaders, but the cause itself.
You will commit the fewest faults in judging, if you are faultless in your own life.
It is better, by giving a just judgment, to be blamed by him who is deservedly condemned, than by giving an unjust judgment, to be justly censured by Nature.
As the touchstone which tries gold, but is not itself tried by the gold; such is he, who has the standard of judgment.
It is scandalous for a judge to have to be judged by others.
As nothing is straighter than absolute straightness, so nothing is juster than absolute justice.
Who among you does not admire the action of Lycurgus the Lacedemonian? For when he had been deprived of one of his eyes by one of the citizens, and the people had delivered the young man to him, to be punished in whatever manner he should think proper, Lycurgus forbore to give him any punishment. But having instructed him, and rendered him a good man, he brought him into the theatre; and while the Lacedemonians were struck with admiration: “I received,” said he, “this person from you, dangerous and violent, and I restore him to you gentle and a good citizen.”
When Pittacus had been unjustly treated by some person, and had the power of chastising him, he let him go, saying, “Forgiveness is better than punishment; for the one is the proof of a gentle, the other of a savage nature.”
This, above all, is the business of nature, to connect and apply the active powers to what appears fit and beneficial.
It is the character of the most mean-spirited and foolish men, to suppose that they shall be despised by others, unless they somehow strike the first blow at their enemies.
When you are going to attack any one with vehemence and threatening, remember to say first to yourself, that you are constituted gentle, and that by doing nothing violent, you will live without the need of repentance, and irreproachable.
We ought to know that it is not easy for a man to form his principles of action, unless he daily reiterates and hears the same things, and at the same time applies them in action.
Nicias was so intent on business, that he often asked his domestics whether he had bathed, and whether he had dined.
While Archimedes was intent on his diagrams, his servants drew him away by violence, and anointed* him, and after his body was anointed, he traced his figures upon that.
When Lampis, the naval commander, was asked how he acquired wealth; he answered, that great wealth cost but little trouble, but that a little wealth [at the beginning] cost a great deal.
When Solon was silent at an entertainment, and was asked by Periander, whether he was silent for want of words, or from folly: “No fool,” answered he, “can be silent at a feast.”
Consult nothing so much, upon every occasion, as discretion. Now it is more discreet to be silent than to speak; and to omit speaking whatever is not accompanied with sense and reason.
As light-houses in harbors, by kindling a great flame from a few faggots, afford a considerable assistance to ships wandering on the sea; so an illustrious person, in a state harassed by storms, confers great benefits on his fellow-citizens, when himself contented with little.
You would certainly, if you undertook to steer a ship, learn the steersman’s art. And as in that case, you can steer the whole ship; so in another case, the whole state.
If you have a mind to adorn your city by consecrated monuments, first consecrate in yourself the most beautiful monument, — of gentleness, and justice, and benevolence.
You will confer the greatest benefits on your city, not by raising its roofs, but by exalting its souls. For it is better that great souls should live in small habitations, than that abject slaves should burrow in great houses.
Do not variegate the structure of your walls with Eubœan and Spartan stone; but adorn both the minds of the citizens and of those who govern them by the Greek culture. For cities are made good habitations by the sentiments of those who live in them, not by wood or stone.
As, if you were to breed lions, you would not be solicitous about the magnificence of their dens, but about the qualities of the animals; so, if you undertake to preside over your fellow-citizens, be not so solicitous about the magnificence of the buildings, as careful of the nobleness of those who inhabit them.
As a skilful manager of horses does not feed the good colts, and suffer the unruly ones to starve; but feeds them both alike, chastising the one more, to make him draw equally with his fellow; so a man of foresight and administrative skill endeavors to do good to the well-disposed citizens, but not at once to destroy those that are otherwise. He by no means denies subsistence to either of them; only he disciplines and urges on, with the greater vehemence, him who resists reason and the laws.
As a goose is not alarmed by hissing, nor a sheep by bleating; so neither be you terrified by the voice of a senseless multitude.
As you do not comply with a multitude, when it unreasonably asks of you any part of your own property; so neither be disconcerted before a mob, demanding of you any unjust compliance.
Pay in advance your dues to the public, and you will never be asked for what is not due.
As the sun waits not for prayers and incantations to be prevailed on to rise, but immediately shines forth, and is received with universal salutation; so neither do you wait for applauses and shouts and praises in order to do good; but be a voluntary benefactor, and you will be beloved like the sun.
A ship ought not to be held by one anchor, nor life by a single hope.
We ought not to stretch either our legs or our hopes for a point they cannot reach
Thales, being asked what was the most universal possession, answered, “Hope; for they have it who have nothing else.”
It is more necessary for the soul to be healed than the body; for it is better to die than to live ill.
Pyrrho used to say, “There is no difference between living and dying.” A person asked him, Why then do you not die? “Because,” answered Pyrrho, “there is no difference.”
Nature is admirable, and, as Xenophon says, avaricious of life. Hence we love and tend the body, which is of all things the most unpleasant and squalid. For if we were obliged, for only five days, to take care of our neighbor’s body, we would not endure it. For only consider what it would be, when we rise in the morning, to clean the teeth of others, and do all requisite offices besides. In reality, it is wonderful that we should love a thing which every day demands so much attendance. I stuff this sack, and then I empty it again. What is more troublesome? But I must obey God. Therefore I remain, and endure to wash and feed and clothe this poor body. When I was younger, he demanded of me still more, and I bore it. And when Nature, which gave the body, takes it away, will you not bear that? “I love it,” say you. This is what I have just been observing; and this very love has Nature given you, but she also says, “Now let it go, and have no further trouble.”
When a young man dies, some one blames the Gods that, at the time when he himself ought to be at rest, he is still encumbered with the troubles of life. Yet when death approaches, he wishes to live, and sends for the physician, and entreats him to omit no care or pains. It is marvellous that men should not be willing either to live or die.
To a longer and worse life, a shorter and better is by all means to be preferred by every one.
When we are children, our parents deliver us to the care of a tutor; who is continually to watch over us that we get no hurt. When we are become men, God delivers us to the guardianship of an implanted conscience. We ought by no means, then, to despise this guardian; for it will both displease God, and we shall be enemies to our own conscience.
Riches ought to be used as the means to some end, and not lavished on every occasion.
All men should wish rather for virtue than for wealth, which is dangerous to the foolish, since vice is increased by riches. And in proportion as any one is foolish, he becomes the more profuse, through having the means of gratifying his passion for pleasure.
What ought not to be done, do not even think of doing.
Deliberate much before you speak or act; for what is once said or done you cannot recall.
Every place is safe to him who dwells with justice.
Crows pick out the eyes of the dead, when they are no longer of any use. But flatterers destroy the souls of the living by blinding their eyes.
The anger of a monkey and the threats of a flatterer deserve equal regard.
Kindly receive those who are willing to give good advice; but not those who upon every occasion are eager to flatter. For the former truly see what is advantageous; but the latter consider only the opinions of their superiors; and imitate the shadows of bodies, nodding assent to what they say.
An adviser ought, in the first place, to have a regard to the delicacy and sense of shame of the person admonished. For they who are beyond blushing are incorrigible.
It is better to advise than reproach; for the one is mild and friendly, the other stern and severe; the one corrects the erring, the other only convicts them.
Impart to strangers and persons in need according to your ability. For he who gives nothing to the needy shall receive nothing in his own need.
A person once brought clothes to a pirate, who had been cast ashore, and almost killed by the severity of the weather; then carried him to his house, and furnished him with all necessaries. Being reproached by some one for doing good to the evil; “I have paid this regard,” answered he, “not to the man, but to humanity.”
We ought not to choose every pleasure; but that whose end is good.
It belongs to a wise man to resist pleasure; and to a fool to be enslaved by it.
In all vice, pleasure, being presented like a bait, draws sensual minds to the hook of perdition.
Choose rather to punish your appetites than to be punished by them.
No one is free who commands not himself.
The vine bears three clusters; the first of pleasure, the second of intoxication, the third of outrage.
Do not talk much over wine to show your learning; for your discourse will be unpleasing.
He is a drunkard who takes more than three glasses; and though he be not drunk, he has exceeded moderation.
Let discourse of God be renewed every day more surely than our food.
Think of God oftener than you breathe.
If you always remember that God stands by as a witness of whatever you do, either in soul or body, you will never err, either in your prayers or actions, and you will have God abiding with you.
As it is pleasant to view the sea from the shore, so it is pleasant to one who has escaped, to remember his past labors.
Law aims to benefit human life; but it cannot, when men themselves choose to suffer, for it manifests its proper virtue on condition of obedience.
As physicians are the preservers of the sick, so are the laws, of the injured.
The justest laws are the truest.
It is decent to yield to a law, to a ruler, and to a wiser man.
Things done contrary to law are to be regarded as undone.
In prosperity it is very easy to find a friend; in adversity, nothing is so difficult.
Time delivers fools from grief; and reason, wise men.
He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.
Epictetus being asked how a person might grieve his enemy, answered, “By doing as well as possible himself.”
Let no wise man estrange himself from the government of the state; for it is both wicked to withdraw from being useful to the needy, and cowardly to give way to the worthless. For it is foolish to choose rather to be governed ill than to govern well.
Nothing is more becoming a ruler, than to despise no one, nor be insolent, but to preside over all impartially.
Any person may live happy in poverty, but few in wealth and power. So great is the advantage of poverty, that no wise man would exchange it for disreputable wealth; unless indeed Themistocles, the son of Neocles, the most wealthy of the Athenians, but poor in virtue, was better than Aristides and Socrates. But both himself and his wealth are perished, and without a name. For a bad man loses all in death; but virtue is eternal.
[Remember] that such is, and was, and will be, the nature of the world, nor is it possible that things should be otherwise than they now are; and that not only men and other creatures upon earth partake of this change and transformation, but diviner things also. For indeed even the four elements are transformed and metamorphosed; and earth becomes water, and water air, and this again is transformed into other things. And the same manner of transformation happens from things above to those below. Whoever endeavors to turn his mind towards these points, and persuade himself to receive with willingness what cannot be avoided, will pass his life in moderation and harmony.
He who is discontented with things present and allotted, is unskilled in life. But he who bears them, and the consequences arising from them, nobly and rationally, is worthy to be esteemed a good man.
All things serve and obey the [laws of the] universe; the earth, the sea, the sun, the stars, and the plants and animals of the earth. Our body likewise obeys the same, in being sick and well, young and old, and passing through the other changes decreed. It is therefore reasonable that what depends on ourselves, that is, our own understanding, should not be the only rebel. For the universe is powerful and superior, and consults the best for us by governing us in conjunction with the whole. And further; opposition, besides that it is unreasonable, and produces nothing except a vain struggle, throws us into pain and sorrows.
The following Fragments are ascribed jointly to Epictetus and other authors.
[* ]Stobæus lived early in the fifth century, Maximus in the seventh, and Antonius, surnamed Melissa, or the Bee, in the eighth. Their collections are printed together. Many of these sayings are merely traditional. — H.
[* ]The first stage on his journey into banishment. See note, ante, p. 7. — H.
[* ]The ancients anointed the body every day. — C.