Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 2/Chapter 13

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Of anxiety

When I see a man in anxiety, I say to myself, What can it be that this fellow wants? For if he did not want something that was outside of his control, how could he still remain in anxiety? That is why the citharoede when singing all alone shows no anxiety, but does so when he enters the theatre, even though he has a very beautiful voice and plays the cithara admirably; for he does not wish merely to sing well, but also to win applause, and that is no longer under his control. Accordingly, where he has skill, there he shows confidence. Set before him any layman that you please, and the musician pays no attention to him; but in a matter of which he has no knowledge, and which he has never studied, there he is in anxiety. What is the meaning of this? Why, he simply does not know what a crowd is, or the applause of a crowd; to be sure, he has learned how to strike the lowest and the highest strings on the cithara, but what the praise of the multitude is, and what function it has in life, that he neither knows nor has studied. 5Hence he must needs tremble and turn pale.

Now then, I cannot say that the man is not a citharoede, when I see anyone in a state of fear, but I can say something else of him, and, indeed, not one thing only, but a number of things. And first of all, I call him a stranger and say: This man does not know where in the world he is, but though he has been living here so long a time, he is ignorant of the laws of the city and its customs, what he is allowed to do and what he is not allowed to do. Nay more, he has never even called in a lawyer to tell him and explain to him what are the usages conformable with law; yet he does not write a will without knowing how he ought to write it or else calling in an expert, nor does he just casually affix his seal to a bond or give a written guarantee; but without the services of a lawyer he exercises desire and aversion and choice and design and purpose. How do I mean "without the services of a lawyer"? Why, he does not know that he is wishing for things that are not vouchsafed him, and wishing to avoid the inevitable, and he does not know either what is his own or what is another's. Did he but know, he would never feel hindered, never constrained, would not be anxious. How could he? Is any man in fear about things that are not evil?—No.—What then? Is he in fear about things that are evil, indeed, but that are in his own power to prevent?—Not at all.10—If, then, things indifferent are neither good nor bad, but all matters of moral purpose are under our control, and no man can either take them away from us, or bring upon us such of them as we do not wish, what room is there left for anxiety? Yet we are anxious about our wretched body, about our trifling estate, about what Caesar will think, but are anxious about none of the things that are within us. We are not anxious about not conceiving a false opinion, are we?—No, for that is under my control.—Or about making a choice contrary to nature?—No, not about this, either.—Then, whenever you see a man looking pale, just as the physician judging from the complexion says, "This mans spleen is affected, and this man's liver," so do you also say, "This man's desire and aversion are affected, he is not getting along well, he is feverish." For there is nothing else that changes a man's complexion, or makes him tremble, or his teeth to chatter, or to

"Shift from knee to knee and rest on either foot."[1]

That is why Zeno was not anxious when he was about to meet Antigonus; for over none of the things that Zeno regarded highly did Antigonus have power, and what Antigonus did have power over Zeno cared nothing about. 15But Antigonus was anxious when he was about to meet Zeno, and very naturally so; for he wanted to please him, and that lay outside of his control; yet Zeno did not care about pleasing him, any more than any other artist cares about pleasing one who has no knowledge of his art.

Do I care to please you? What do I gain thereby? For do you know the standards according to which man is judged by man? Have you been concerned to know what a good man is, and what an evil man, and how each becomes what he is? Why, then, are you not a good man yourself?—How do you make out, he answers, that I am not a good man?—Why, because no good man grieves or groans, no good man laments, no good man turns pale and trembles, or asks, "How will he receive me? How will he listen to me?" You slave! He will receive you and listen to you as seems best to him. Why, then, are you concerned about things that are not your own? Now is it not his own fault if he gives a bad reception to what you have to say?—Of course.—Is it possible for one man to make the mistake and yet another suffer the harm?—No.—Why, then, are you anxious over what is not your own?—That is all very well, but I am anxious over how I shall speak to him.—What, are you not privileged to speak to him as you please?—Yes, but I am afraid that I shall be disconcerted.20—You are not afraid of being disconcerted when you are about to write the name Dio, are you?—No, not at all.—What is the reason? Is it not that you have practised writing?—Yes, of course.—What then? If you were about to read something, would you not feel the same way about it?—Quite the same.—What is the reason? Why, because every art has an element of strength and confidence inside its own field. Have you, then, not practised speaking? And what else did you practise in your school?—Syllogisms and arguments involving equivocal premisses.—To what end? Was it not to enable you to conduct an argument skilfully? And does not "skilfully" mean seasonably and securely and intelligently, and, more than that, without making mistakes and without embarrassment, and, in addition to all this, with confidence?—Surely.—Well then, if you are on horseback and have ridden out upon the plain against a man who is on foot, are you in anxiety, assuming that you are in practice and the other is not?—Yes, that is all very well, but Caesar has authority to put me to death.—Then tell the truth, wretch, and do not brag, nor claim to be a philosopher, nor fail to recognize your masters; but as long as you let them have this hold on you through your body, follow everyone that is stronger than you are. But Socrates used to practise speaking to some purpose—Socrates, who discoursed as he did to the Tyrants,[2] to his judges, and in the prison. Diogenes had practised speaking—Diogenes, who talked to Alexander as he did, to Philip, to the pirates, to the man who had bought him[† 1] . . . 25[Leave such matters] to those who are seriously interested in them, to the brave; but do you walk away to your own concerns and never depart from them again; go into your corner and sit down, and spin syllogisms and propound them to others:

"In thee the State hath found no leader true."[3]


  1. Homer, Iliad, XIII. 281; that is, the coward in ambush is restless and cannot keep in one position.
  2. The "Thirty Tyrants," who ruled in Athens a short while before the death of Socrates.
  3. A verse of unknown authorship.

Select critical notes[edit]

  1. The editors have noted a lacuna here.