Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 1/Chapter 14

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That the Deity oversees all men

Now when someone asked him how a man could be convinced that each thing which he does is under the eye of God, Do you not think, he answered, that all things are united in one?—I do, said the other.—Very well, do you not think that what is on earth feels the influence[1] of that which is in heaven?—I do, he replied.—For how else comes it that so regularly, as if from God's command, when He bids the plants flower, they flower, when He bids them put forth shoots, they put them forth, when He bids them bear their fruit, they bear it, when to ripen, they ripen; when again He bids them drop their fruit and let fall their leaves and gather themselves together and remain quiet and take their rest, they remain quiet and take their rest? And how else comes it that at the waxing and waning of the moon and at the approach and recession of the sun we see among the things that are on earth so great an alteration and change to the opposite? 5But are the plants and our own bodies so closely bound up with the universe, and do they so intimately share its affections,[1] and is not the same much more true of our own souls? But if our souls are so bound up with God and joined together with Him, as being parts and portions of His being, does not God perceive their every motion as being a motion of that which is His own and of one body with Himself? And yet you have power to think about the divine dispensation and about each several item among things divine, and at the same time also about human affairs, and you have the faculty of being moved by myriads of matters at the same time both in your senses and in your intelligence, and at the same time you assent to some, while you dissent from others, or suspend judgement about them; and you guard in your own soul so many impressions derived from so many and various matters, and, on being moved by these impressions, your mind falls upon notions corresponding to the impressions first made, and so from myriads of matters you derive and retain arts, one after the other, and memories. All this you do, and is God not able to oversee all things and to be present with all and to have a certain communication from them all? 10Yet the sun is capable of illuminating so large a portion of the universe, and of leaving unilluminated only the small space which is no larger than can be covered by the shadow that the earth casts; and is He who has created the sun, which is but a small portion of Himself[2] in comparison with the whole, and causes it to revolve, is He not able to perceive all things?

And yet, says one, I cannot follow all these things at one and the same time.—But does anyone go so far as to tell you this, namely, that you possess a faculty which is equal to that of Zeus? Yet none the less He has stationed by each man's side as guardian his particular genius,[3]—and has committed the man to his care,—and that too a guardian who never sleeps and is not to be beguiled. For to what other guardian, better and more careful, could He have committed each one of us? Wherefore, when you close your doors and make darkness within, remember never to say that you are alone, for you are not alone; nay, God is within, and your own genius is within. And what need have they of light in order to see what you are doing? 15Yes, and to this God you also ought to swear allegiance, as the soldiers do to Caesar. They are but hirelings, yet they swear that they will put the safety of Caesar above everything; and shall you, indeed, who have been counted worthy of blessings so numerous and so great be unwilling to swear, or, when you have sworn, to abide by your oath? And what shall you swear? Never to disobey under any circumstances, never to prefer charges, never to find fault with anything that God has given, never to let your will rebel when you have either to do or to suffer something that is inevitable. Can the oath of the soldiers in any way be compared with this of ours? Out there men swear never to prefer another in honour above Caesar; but here we swear to prefer ourselves in honour above everything else.


  1. 1.0 1.1 This is the famous principle of συμπάθεια (συμπάθεῖν and συμπέποθεν in the text here), i.e., the physical unity of the cosmos in such a form that the experience of one part necessarily affects every other. This doctrine, especially popular with the Stoics, is essentially but a philosophic formulation of the vague ideas that underlie the practices of sympathetic magic. For the literature on this topic see Pease on Cicero's De Divinatione, ii. 34, where συμπάθεια is defined by Cicero as a coniunetio naturae et quasi concentus et consensus.
  2. Chrysippus identified the Universe, of which the sun is but a part, with God. See Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii. 38 f.
  3. Compare Seneca, Epist. 41, 2: sacer intra nos spiritus sedet, malorum bonorumque nostrorum observator et custos, and especially Menander, Epitr. 881 ff., with Capps's note. Almost exactly the same idea appears also in Marcus Aurelius, V. 27.