Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 1/Chapter 29

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Of steadfastness

The essence of the good is a certain kind of moral purpose, and that of the evil is a certain kind of moral purpose. What, then, are the external things? They are materials for the moral purpose, in dealing with which it will find its own proper good or evil. How will it find the good? If it does not admire the materials. For the judgements about the materials, if they be correct, make the moral purpose good, but if they be crooked and awry, they make it evil. This is the law which God has ordained, and He says, "If you wish any good thing, get it from yourself." You say, "No, but from someone else." Do not so, but get it from yourself. 5For the rest, when the tyrant threatens and summons me, I answer "Whom are you threatening?" If he says, "I will put you in chains," I reply, "He is threatening my hands and my feet." If he says, "I will behead you," I answer, "He is threatening my neck." If he says, "I will throw you into prison," I say, "He is threatening my whole paltry body"; and if he threatens me with exile, I give the same answer.—Does he, then, threaten you not at all?—If I feel that all this is nothing to me,—not at all; but if I am afraid of any of these threats, it is I whom he threatens. Who is there left, then, for me to fear? The man who is master of what? The things that are under my control? But there is no such man. The man who is master of the things that are not under my control? And what do I care for them?

Do you philosophers, then, teach us to despise our kings?—Far from it. Who among us teaches you to dispute their claim to the things over which they have authority? 10Take my paltry body, take my property, take my reputation, take those who are about me. If I persuade any to lay claim to these things, let some man truly accuse me. "Yes, but I wish to control your judgements also." And who has given you this authority? How can you have the power to overcome another's judgement? "By bringing fear to bear upon him," he says, "I shall overcome him." You fail to realize that the judgement overcame itself, it was not overcome by something else; and nothing else can overcome moral purpose, but it overcomes itself. For this reason too the law of God is most good and most just: "Let the better always prevail over the worse." "Ten are better than one," you say. For what? For putting in chains, for killing, for dragging away where they will, for taking away a man's property. Ten overcome one, therefore, in the point in which they are better. 15In what, then, are they worse? If the one has correct judgements, and the ten have not. What then? Can they overcome in this point? How can they? But if we are weighed in the balance, must not the heavier draw down the scales?

So that a Socrates may suffer what he did at the hands of the Athenians?[1]—Slave, why do you say "Socrates"? Speak of the matter as it really is and say: That the paltry body of Socrates may be carried off and dragged to prison by those who were stronger than he, and that some one may give hemlock to the paltry body of Socrates, and that it may grow cold and die? Does this seem marvellous to you, does this seem unjust, for this do you blame God? Did Socrates, then, have no compensation for this? In what did the essence of the good consist for him? To whom shall we listen, to you or to Socrates himself? And what does he say? "Anytus and Meletus can kill me, but they cannot hurt me."[2] And again, "If so it is pleasing to God, so let it be."[3] But do you prove that one who holds inferior judgements prevails over the man who is superior in point of judgements. You will not be able to prove this; no, nor even come near proving it. For this is a law of nature and of God: "Let the better always prevail over the worse." Prevail in what? In that in which it is better. 20One body is stronger than another body; several persons are stronger than one; the thief is stronger than the man who is not a thief. That is why I lost my lamp,[4] because in the matter of keeping awake the thief was better than I was. However, he bought a lamp for a very high price; for a lamp he became a thief, for a lamp he became faithless, for a lamp he became beast-like. This seemed to him to be profitable!

Very well; but now someone has taken hold of me by my cloak and pulls me into the market-place, and then others shout at me, "Philosopher, what good have your judgements done you? See, you are being dragged off to prison; see, you are going to have your head cut off." And what kind of Introduction to Philosophy could I have studied, which would prevent me from being dragged off, if a man who is stronger than I am should take hold of my cloak? Or would prevent me from being thrown into the prison, if ten men should hustle me and throw me unto it? Have I, then, learned nothing else? I have learned to see that everything which happens, if it be outside the realm of my moral purpose, is nothing to me.25—Have you, then, derived no benefit from this principle for the present case?[5] Why, then, do you seek your benefit in something other than that in which you have learned that it is?—Well, as I sit in the prison I say, "The fellow who shouts this at me neither understands what is meant, nor follows what is said, nor has he taken any pains at all to know what philosophers say, or what they do. Don't mind him." "But come out of the prison again." If you have no further need of me in the prison, I shall come out; if you ever need me there again, I shall go back in. For how long? For so long as reason chooses that I remain with my paltry body; but when reason does not so choose, take it and good health to you! Only let me not give up my life irrationally, only let me not give up my life faintheartedly, or from some casual pretext. For again, God does not so desire; for He has need of such a universe, and of such men who go to and fro upon earth. But if He gives the signal to retreat, as He did to Socrates, I must obey Him who gives the signal, as I would a general.

30What then? Must I say these things to the multitude? For what purpose? Is it not sufficient for a man himself to believe them? For example, when the children come up to us and clap their hands and say, "To-day is the good Saturnalia,"[6] do we say to them, "All this is not good"? Not at all; but we too clap our hands to them. And do you too, therefore, when you are unable to make a man change his opinion, realize that he is a child and clap your hands to him; but if you do not want to do this, you have merely to hold your peace.

All this a man ought to remember, and when he is summoned to meet some such difficulty, he ought to know that the time has come to show whether we are educated. For a young man leaving school and facing a difficulty is like one who has practised the analysis of syllogisms, and if someone propounds him one that is easy to solve, he says, "Nay, rather propound me one that is cunningly involved, so that I may get exercise from it." Also the athletes are displeased with the youths of light weight: 35"He cannot lift me," says one. "Yonder is a sturdy young man." Oh no; but when the crisis calls,[7] he has to weep and say, "I wanted to keep on learning." Learning what? If you do not learn these things so as to be able to manifest them in action, what did you learn them for? I fancy that someone among these who are sitting here is in travail within his own soul and is saying, "Alas, that such a difficulty does not come to me now as that which has come to this fellow! Alas, that now I must be worn out sitting in a corner, when I might be crowned at Olympia! When will someone bring me word of such a contest?" You ought all to be thus minded. But among the gladiators of Caesar there are some who complain because no one brings them out, or matches them with an antagonist, and they pray God and go to their managers, begging to fight in single combat; and yet will no one of you display a like spirit? I wanted to sail to Rome for this very purpose and to see what my athlete is doing, what practice he is following in his task. "I do not want," says he, "this kind of a task." What, is it in your power to take any task you want? You have been given such a body, such parents, such brothers, such a country, such a position in it; and then do you come to me and say, "Change the task for me"? What, do you not possess resources to enable you to utilize that which has been given? 40You ought to say, "It is yours to set the task, mine to practise it well." No, but you do say, "Do not propose to me such-and-such a hypothetical syllogism, but rather such-and-such a one;[8] do not urge upon me such-and-such a conclusion, but rather such-and-such a one." A time will soon come when the tragic actors will think that their masks and buskins and the long robe are themselves. Man, all these things you have as a subject-matter and a task. Say something, so that we may know whether you are a tragic actor or a buffoon; for both of these have everything but their lines in common. Therefore, if one should take away from him both his buskins and his mask, and bring him on the stage as a mere shade of an actor, is the tragic actor lost, or does he abide? If he has a voice, he abides.

And so it is in actual life. "Take a governorship." I take it and having done so I show how an educated man comports himself. 45"Lay aside the laticlave,[9] and having put on rags come forward in a character to correspond." What then? Has it not been given me to display a fine voice. "In what role, then, do you mount the stage now?" As a witness summoned by God. God says, "Go you and bear witness for Me; for you are worthy to be produced by me as a witness. Is any of those things which lie outside the range of the moral purpose either good or evil? Do I injure any man? Have I put each man's advantage under the control of any but himself?" What kind of witness do you bear for God?" I am in sore straits, O Lord, and in misfortune; no one regards me, no one gives me anything, all blame me and speak ill of me? Is this the witness that you are going to bear, and is this the way in which you are going to disgrace the summons which He gave you, in that He bestowed this honour upon you and deemed you worthy to be brought forward in order to bear testimony so important?

50But the one who has authority over you declares, "I pronounce you impious and profane." What has happened to you? "I have been pronounced impious and profane." Nothing else? "Nothing." But if he had passed judgement upon some hypothetical syllogism and had made a declaration, "I judge the statement, 'If it is day, there is light,' to be false," what has happened to the hypothetical syllogism? Who is being judged in this case, who has been condemned? The hypothetical syllogism, or the man who has been deceived in his judgement about it? Who in the world, then, is this man who has authority to make any declaration about you? Does he know what piety or impiety is? Has he pondered the matter? Has he learned it? Where? Under whose instruction? And yet a musician pays no attention to him, if he declares that the lowest string is the highest,[10] nor does a geometrician, if the man decides that the lines extending from the centre to the circumference of a circle are not equal; but shall the truly educated man pay attention to an uninstructed person when he passes judgement on what is holy and unholy, and on what is just and unjust?

How great is the injustice committed by the educated in so doing! Is this, then, what you have learned here? 55Will you not leave to others, mannikins incapable of taking pains, the petty quibbles about these things, so that they may sit in a corner and gather in their petty fees, or grumble because nobody gives them anything, and will you not yourself come forward and make use of what you have learned? For what is lacking now is not quibbles; nay, the books of the Stoics are full of quibbles. What, then, is the thing lacking now? The man to make use of them, the man to bear witness to the arguments by his acts. This is the character I would have you assume, that we may no longer use old examples in the school, but may have some example from our own time also. Whose part is it, then, to contemplate these matters? The part of him who devotes himself to learning; for man is a kind of animal that loves contemplation. But it is disgraceful to contemplate these things like runaway slaves;[11] nay, sit rather free from distractions and listen, now to tragic actor and now to the citharoede,[12] and not as those runaways do. For at the very moment when one of them is paying attention and praising the tragic actor, he takes a glance around, and then if someone mentions the word "master," they are instantly all in a flutter and upset. 60It is disgraceful for men who are philosophers to contemplate the works of nature in this spirit. For what is a "master"? One man is not master of another man, but death and life and pleasure and hardship are his masters. So bring Caesar to me, if he be without these things, and you shall see how steadfast I am. But when he comes with them, thundering and lightening, and I am afraid of them, what else have I done but recognized my master, like the runaway slave? But so long as I have, as it were, only a respite from these threats, I too am acting like a runaway slave who is a spectator in a theatre; I bathe, I drink, I sing, but I do it all in fear and misery. But if I emancipate myself from my masters, that is, from those things which render masters terrifying, what further trouble do I have, what master any more?

What then? Must I proclaim this to all men? No, but I must treat with consideration those who are not philosophers by profession, and say, "This man advises for me that which he thinks good in his own case; therefore I excuse him." 65For Socrates excused the jailor who wept for him when he was about to drink the poison, and said, "How generously he has wept for us!"[13] Does he, then, say to the jailor, "This is why we sent the women away"?[14] No, but he makes this latter remark to his intimate friends, to those who were fit to hear it; but the jailor he treats with consideration like a child.


  1. The interlocutor takes the case of Socrates as proving that a question of right cannot be settled by weighing judgements in the ordinary fashion, i.e., by counting votes.
  2. Plato, Apology, 30 C.
  3. Plato, Crito, 43 D.
  4. See I. 18, 15.
  5. Epictetus seems to stop and address himself somewhat abruptly, but the connection of this and the next sentence is not entirely clear. Schweighäuser thought that they were addressed to some one of his pupils.
  6. Equivalent to our greeting, "Merry Christmas!" In what follows it would appear that the clapping of hands upon this occasion was a kind of salutation, somewhat like the kiss at Easter among Greek Orthodox Christians.
  7. That is, when, instead of an exercise for practice, he has to meet an actual contestant, or a practical difficulty in life.
  8. Objecting, that is, to a hypothetical syllogism of a particular kind and proposing another, more to his own liking.
  9. The toga with a broad stripe of red which was worn by men of senatorial rank.
  10. The lowest string had, however, the highest note in pitch, and vice versa.
  11. The runaway slave, always apprehensive that his master may suddenly appear, is nervous and distraught, giving only half his mind to the spectacle before him.
  12. One who sang to his own accompaniment upon the cithara or harp.
  13. Slightly modified from Plato, Phaedo, 116D.
  14. Slightly modified from Plato, Phaedo, 117D.