Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 1/Chapter 10

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CHAPTER X

To those who have set their hearts on preferment at Rome

If we philosophers had applied ourselves to our own work as zealously as the old men at Rome have applied themselves to the matters on which they have set their hearts, perhaps we too should be accomplishing something. I know a man older than myself who is now in charge of the grain supply[1] at Rome. When he passed this place on his way back from exile, I recall what a tale he told as he inveighed against his former life and announced for the future that, when he had returned to Rome, he would devote himself solely to spending the remainder of his life in peace and quiet, "For how little is yet left to me!"—And I told him, "You will not do it, but when once you have caught no more than a whiff of Rome you will forget all this." And if also admission to court should be granted, I added that he would rejoice, thank God and push his way in.—"If you find me, Epictetus," said he, "putting so much as one foot inside the court, think of me what you will." 5Well, now, what did he do? Before he reached Rome, letters from Caesar met him; and as soon as he received them, he forgot all those resolutions of his, and ever since he has been piling up one property after another. I wish I could stand by his side now and remind him of the words that he uttered as he passed by here, and remark, "How much more clever a prophet I am than you!"

What then? Do I say that man is an animal made for inactivity?[2] Far be it from me! But how can you say that we philosophers are not active in affairs? For example, to take myself first: as soon as day breaks I call to mind briefly what author I must read over.[3] Then forthwith I say to myself: "And yet what difference does it really make to me how so-and-so reads? The first thing is that I get my sleep." Even so, in what are the occupations of those other men comparable to ours? If you observe what they do, you will see. For what else do they do but all day long cast up accounts, dispute, consult about a bit of grain, a bit of land, or similar matters of profit? 10Is it, then, much the same thing to receive a little petition from someone and read: "I beseech you to allow me to export a small quantity of grain," and this one: "I beseech you to learn from Chrysippus what is the administration of the universe, and what place therein the rational animal has; and consider also who you are, and what is the nature of your good and evil"? Is this like that? And does it demand the like kind of study? And is it in the same way shameful to neglect the one and the other? What then? Is it we philosophers alone who take things easily and drowse? No, it is you young men far sooner. For, look you, we old men, when we see young men playing, are eager to join in the play ourselves. And much more, if I saw them wide-awake and eager to share in our studies, should I be eager to join, myself, in their serious pursuits.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Praefectus annanae, a very important official during the Empire.
  2. As opposed in the 'active' lives of business or politics.
  3. The passage is somewhat obscure, because the precise expression employed here occurs elsewhere only in Ench. 49. Apparently Epictetus read over, or made special preparation upon a certain text, before meeting his pupils. In class then he would have a pupil read and interpret an assignment, somewhat what as in our "recitation," and follow that by a reading and exposition of his own (ἐπαναγνῶναι), which was intended to set everything straight and put on the finishing touches. See Schweighäuser's note and especially Ivo Bruns, De Schola Epicteti (1897), 8 f. By changing μέ to μοί, as Capps suggests, a satisfactory sense is secured, i.e., "what pupil must read to me," but the ἐπί in the compound verb would thus be left without any particular meaning, and perhaps it is not necessary to emend.