Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 4/Chapter 1

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Of freedom

He is free who lives as he wills, who is subject neither to compulsion, nor hindrance, nor force, whose choices are unhampered, whose desires attain their end, whose aversions do not fall into what they would avoid. Who, then, wishes to live in error?—No one.—Who wishes to live deceived, impetuous, unjust, unrestrained, peevish, abject?—No one.—Therefore, there is no bad man who lives as he wills, and accordingly no bad man is free. And who wishes to live in grief, fear, envy, pity, desiring things and failing to get them, avoiding things and falling into them?—No one at all.—5Do we find, then, any bad man free from grief or fear, not falling into what he would avoid, nor failing to achieve what he desires?—No one.—Then we find no bad man free, either.

Now if some man who has been consul twice hear this, he will forgive you, if you add, "But you are a wise man; this does not apply to you." Yet if you tell him the truth, to wit: "In point of being a slave you are not a whit better than those who have been thrice sold," what else can you expect but a flogging? "Why, how am I a slave?" says he. "My father was free, my mother free; no one has a deed of sale for me. More than that, I am a member of the senate, and a friend of Caesar, and I have been consul, and I own many slaves." Now in the first place, most worthy senator, it is very likely that your father was the same kind of slave that you are, and your mother, and your grandfather, and all your ancestors from first to last. 10But even if they were free to the limit, what does that prove in your case? Why, what does it prove if they were noble, and you are mean-spirited? If they were brave, and you a coward? If they were self-controlled, and you unrestrained?

And what, says someone, has this to do with being a slave?—Doesn't it strike you as "having to do with being a slave" for a man to do something against his will, under compulsion?—Granted the point, he replies. But who can put me under compulsion, except Caesar, the lord of all?—There, you have yourself admitted that you have one master. And let it not comfort you that he is, as you say, the common master of all men, but realize that you are a slave in a great house. So also the men of Nicopolis[1] are wont to shout: "Yea, by the fortune of Caesar, we are free men!"

15However, let us leave Caesar out of account, if you please, for the present, but answer me this: Were you never in love with anyone, a pretty girl, or pretty boy, a slave, a freedman?—What, then, has that to do with being either slave or free?—Were you never commanded by your sweetheart to do something you didn't wish to do? Did you never cozen your pet slave? Did you never kiss his feet? Yet if someone should compel you to kiss the feet of Caesar, you would regard that as insolence and most extravagant tyranny. What else, then, is slavery? Did you never go out at night where you didn't want to go? Did you never spend more than you wanted to spend? Did you never utter words with groaning and lamentation, endure to be reviled, to have the door shut in your face? Well, if you are ashamed to admit such things about yourself, observe what Thrasonides says and does, a man who had served on so many campaigns—perhaps more even than you have. First, he went out at night when Geta hasn't the courage to go abroad, but, if the latter had been compelled by him to do so, he would have gone out crying aloud and bewailing his bitter slavery. 20And then what does Thrasonides say? Says he,

A cheap little wench has made of me a perfect slave.
Of me, though never a one among all my foemen might.[2]

Sad wretch, to be the slave of a wench, and a cheap one at that! Why, then, do you call yourself free any longer? And why do you talk of your campaigns? Then he calls for a sword, and gets angry at the man who refuses out of good-will to give it to him, and sends presents to the girl who hates him, and begs, and weeps, and again, when he has had a little success, he is elated. And yet even then, so long as he had not learned to give up passionate desire or fear, could this man have been in possession of freedom?

Consider now, in the case of the animals, how we employ the concept of freedom. 25Men shut up tame lions in a cage, and bring them up, and feed them, and some take them around with them. And yet who will call such a lion free? Is it not true that the more softly the lion lives the more slavishly he lives? And what lion, were he to get sense and reason, would care to be one of these lions? Why, yes, and the birds yonder, when they are caught and brought up in cages, what do they suffer in their efforts to escape? And some of them starve to death rather than endure such a life, while even such as live, barely do so, and suffer and pine away, and if ever they find any opening, make their escape. Such is their desire for physical freedom, and a life of independence and freedom from restraint. And what is wrong with you here in your cage? "What a question! My nature is to fly where I please, to live in the open air, to sing when I please. You rob me of all this, and then ask, 'What is wrong with you?'"

That is why we shall call free only those animals which do not submit to captivity, but escape by dying as soon as they are captured. 30So also Diogenes says somewhere:[3] "The one sure way to secure freedom is to die cheerfully"; and to the Persian[4] king he writes: "You cannot enslave the Athenian State any more than you can enslave the fish." "How so? Shall I not lay hold of them?" "If you do," he replies, "they will forthwith leave you and escape, like the fish. And that is true, for if you lay hold of one of them, it dies; and if these Athenians die when you lay hold of them, what good will you get from your armament?"[† 1] That is the word of a free man who has seriously examined the matter, and, as you might expect, had discovered truth about it. But if you look for it where it does not exist, why be surprised if you never find it?

It is the slave's prayer that he be set free immediately. Why? Do you think it is because he is eager to pay his money to the men who collect the five per cent tax?[5] No, it is because he fancies that up till now he is hampered and uncomfortable, because he has not obtained his freedom from slavery. "If I am set free," he says, "immediately it is all happiness, I shall pay no attention to anybody, I talk to everybody as an equal and as one in the same station in life, I go where I please, I come whence I please, and where I please." 35Then he is emancipated, and forthwith, having no place to which to go and eat, he looks for someone to flatter, for someone at whose house to dine. Next he either earns a living by prostitution,[6] and so endures the most dreadful things, and if he gets a manger at which to eat he has fallen into a slavery much more severe than the first; or even if he grows rich, being a vulgarian he has fallen in love with a chit of a girl, and is miserable, and laments, and yearns for his slavery again. "Why, what was wrong with me? Someone else kept me in clothes, and shoes, and supplied me with food, and nursed me when I was sick; I served him in only a few matters. But now, miserable man that I am, what suffering is mine, who am a slave to several instead of one! However, if I get rings on my fingers,"[7] he says, "then indeed I shall live most prosperously and happily." And so, first, in order to get them he submits to—what he deserves! Then when he has got them, you have the same thing over again. Next he says, "If I serve in a campaign, I am rid of all my troubles." He serves in a campaign, he submits to all that a jail-bird suffers, but none the less he demands a second campaign and a third.[8] 40After that, when he adds the very colophon,[9] and becomes a senator, then he becomes a slave as he enters the senate, then he serves in the handsomest and sleekest slavery.

Come, let him not be a fool, let him learn, as Socrates used to say, "What each several thing means,"[10] and not apply his preconceptions at random to the particular cases. For this is the cause to men of all their evils, namely, their inability to apply their general preconceptions to the particular instances. But some of us think one thing and some another. One man fancies he is ill. Not at all; the fact is that he is not applying his preconceptions. Another fancies he is a beggar; another that he has a hard-hearted father or mother; still another that Caesar is not gracious to him. But this means one thing and one thing only—ignorance of how to apply their preconceptions. Why, who does not have a preconception of evil, that it is harmful, that it is to be avoided, that it is something to get rid of in every way? One preconception does not conflict with another, 45but conflict arises when one proceeds to apply them. What, then, is this evil that is harmful and is to be avoided? One person says it is not to be Caesar's friend;[11] he is off the course, he has missed the proper application, he is in a bad way, he is looking for what is not pertinent to the case in hand; because, when he has succeeded in being Caesar's friend, he has none the less failed to get what he was seeking. For what is it that every man is seeking? To live securely, to be happy, to do everything as he wishes to do, not to be hindered, not to be subject to compulsion. When, therefore, he becomes a friend of Caesar, has he been relieved of hindrance, relieved of compulsion, does he live securely, does he live serenely? From whom shall we inquire? What better witness have we than this very man who has become Caesar's friend? Come into the midst and tell us. When did you sleep more peacefully, now or before you became Caesar's friend? Immediately the answer comes: "Stop, I implore you by the gods, and do not jest at my lot; you don't know what I suffer, miserable man that I am; no sleep visits me, but first one person comes in and then another and reports that Caesar is already awake, and is already coming out; then troubles, then worries!" Come, when did you dine more pleasantly, now or formerly? Listen to him and to what he has to say on this topic. If he is not invited, he is hurt, and if he is invited, he dines like a slave at a master's table, all the time careful not to say or do something foolish. And what do you suppose he is afraid of? That he be scourged like a slave? How can he expect to get off as well as that? But as befits so great a man, a friend of Caesar, he is afraid he will lose his head. When did you take your bath in greater peace? And when did you take your exercise at greater leisure? In a word, which life would you rather live, your present life or the old one? 50I can take oath that no one is so insensate or so incurable as not to lament his misfortunes the more he is a friend of Caesar.[12]

When, therefore, neither those who are styled kings live as they will, nor the friends of these kings, what free men are left?—Seek and you will find. For nature has given you resources to find the truth. But if you are unable of yourself, by employing these resources alone, to find the next step, listen to those who have already made the search. What do they say? Does freedom seem to you to be a good?—Yes, the greatest.—Is it possible, then, for a man who has this greatest good to be unhappy, or to fare ill?—No.—When, therefore, you see men unhappy, miserable, grieving, declare confidently that they are not free.—I do so declare.—Very well, then, we have now got away from buying and selling[13] and arrangements of that kind in the acquisition of property. For if you are right in agreeing to these propositions, whether it be the Great King[14] who is unhappy, or a little king, whether it be a man of consular rank, or one who has been a consul twice, he could not be free.—Granted.

Answer me, then, this further question: Does freedom seem to you to be a great and noble thing, and precious?—Of course.—Is it possible, then, for a man who achieves a thing so great and precious and noble, to be of abject spirit?—It is not.55—When, therefore, you see one man cringing before another, or flattering him contrary to his own opinion, say confidently of this man also that he is not free; and that not merely if he be doing so for the sake of a paltry meal, but even if it be for a governorship or a consulship. Call rather those who do these things for certain small ends slaves on a small scale, and the others, as they deserve, slaves on a grand scale—This also I grant.—And does freedom seem to you to be something independent and self-governing?—Of course.—When, therefore, it is in another's power to put hindrances in a man's way and subject him to compulsion, say confidently that this man is not free. And please don't look at his grandfathers and great-grandfathers, or look for a deed of sale or purchase, but if you hear him say "Master," in the centre of his being and with deep emotion, call him a slave, even if twelve fasces[15] precede him; and if you hear him say, "Alas! What I must suffer!" call him a slave; and, in short, if you see him wailing, complaining, in misery, call him a slave in a toga praetexta.[16] However, if he does none of these things, do not call him free yet, but find out what his judgements are, whether they are in any respect subject to compulsion, to hindrance, to unhappiness; and if you find him to be that kind of a person, call him a slave on holiday at the Saturnalia;[17] say that his master is out of town; later on he will return, and then you will learn what the fellow suffers.—Who will return?—Anyone who has control over the things which some man desires, to get these for him or to take them away.—Have we, then, so many masters?—Yes, so many. For even before these personal masters we have masters in the form of circumstances, and these are many. Hence, it needs must follow that those too who have authority over some one of these circumstances are our masters. 60Why, look you, no one is afraid of Caesar himself, but he is afraid of death, exile, loss of property, prison, disfranchisement. Nor does anyone love Caesar himself, unless in some way Caesar is a person of great merit; but we love wealth, a tribuneship, a praetorship, a consulship. When we love and hate and fear these things, it needs must be that those who control them are masters over us. That is why we even worship those persons as gods; for we consider that what has power to confer the greatest advantage is divine. And then we lay down the wrong minor premiss: "This man has power to confer the greatest advantage."[† 2] It needs must be that the conclusion from these premisses is wrong too.[18]

What, then, is it which makes a man free from hindrance and his own master? For wealth does not do it, nor a consulship, nor a province, nor a kingdom, but something else has to be found. What, therefore, is it which makes a man free from hindrance and restraint in writing?—The knowledge of how to write.—And what in playing on the harp?—The knowledge of how to play on the harp.—So also in living, it is the knowledge of how to live. Now you have already heard this, as a general principle, but consider it also in its particular applications. Is it possible for the man who is aiming at some one of these things which are under the control of others to be free from hindrance?—No.—Is it possible for him to be free from restraint?—No.65—Therefore, it is not possible for him to be free, either. Consider then: Have we nothing which is under our own exclusive control, or is everything in that state; or are some things under our control and others under the control of others?—How do you mean?—When you want your body to be whole, is the matter under your control, or not?—It is not.—And when you want it to be well?—Nor that, either.—And to live or to die?—Nor that, either.—Therefore, your body is not your own possession, it is subject to everyone who is stronger than you are.—Granted.—And your farm, is it under your control to have it when you want, and as long as you want; and in the condition that you want?—No.—And your paltry slaves?—No.—And your clothes?—No.—And your paltry house?—No.—And your horses?—None of these things.—And if you wish by all means your children to live, or your wife, or your brother, or your friends, is the matter under your control?—No, nor that, either.

Have you, then, nothing subject to your authority, which is under your control and yours only, or do you have something of that sort?—I do not know.—Look, then, at the matter this way, and consider it. No one can make you assent to what is false, can he?—No one.—Well, then, in the region of assent you are free from hindrance and restraint.—Granted.—70Come, can anyone force you to choose something that you do not want?—He can; for when he threatens me with death or bonds, he compels me to choose.—If, however, you despise death and bonds, do you pay any further heed to him?—No.—Is it, then, an act of your own to despise death, or is it not your own act?—It is mine.—So it is your own act to choose, or is it not?—Granted that it is mine.—And to refuse something? This also is yours.—Yes, but suppose I choose to go for a walk and the other person hinders me?—What part of you will he hinder? Surely not your assent?—No; but my poor body.—Yes, as he would a stone.—Granted that, but I do not proceed to take my walk.—But who told you, "It is your own act to take a walk unhindered"? As for me, I told you that the only unhindered thing was the desire; but where there is a use of the body and its co-operation, you have heard long ago that nothing is your own.—Granted that also.—Can anyone force you to desire what you do not want?—No one.—Or to purpose or plan, or, in a word, to deal with the impressions that come to you?—No, nor that, either; 75but he will hinder me, when I set my desire upon something, from achieving what I desire.—If you desire something which is your own and not subject to hindrance, how will he hinder you?—Not at all.—Who, then, tells you that the man who sets his desire upon what is not his own is free from hindrance?

Shall I not, then, set my desire on health?—No, not at all, nor on anything else which is not your own. For that which is not in your power to acquire or to keep is none of yours. Keep far away from it not merely your hands, but above all your desire; otherwise, you have delivered yourself into slavery, you have bowed your neck to the burden, if you admire anything that is not your own, if you conceive a violent passion for anything that is in subjection to another and mortal.—Is not my hand my own?—It is a part of you, but by nature it is clay, subject to hindrance and compulsion, a slave to everything that is stronger than you are. And why do I name you the hand? You ought to treat your whole body like a poor loaded-down donkey, as long as it is possible, as long as it is allowed; and if it be commandeered and a soldier lay hold of it, let it go, do not resist nor grumble. If you do, you will get a beating and lose your little donkey just the same. 80But when this is the way in which you should act as regards the body, consider what is left for you to do about all the other things that are provided for the sake of the body. Since the body is a little donkey, the other things become little bridles for a little donkey, little pack-saddles, little shoes, and barley, and fodder. Let them go too, get rid of them more quickly and cheerfully than of the little donkey itself.

Once prepared and trained in this fashion to distinguish what is not your own from what is your own possession, the things which are subject to hindrance from those which are free from it, to regard these latter as your concern, and the former as no concern of yours, diligently to keep your desire fixed on the latter, and your aversion directed toward the former, then have you any longer anyone to fear?—No one.—Of course; what is there to be fearful about? About the things that are your own, wherein is the true nature of good and evil for you? And who has authority over these? Who can take them away, who can hinder them, any more than one can hinder God? But shall you be fearful about your body and your property? About the things that are not your own? About the things that are nothing to you? And what else have you been studying, from the very outset, but how to discriminate between what is your own and what is not your own, what is under your control and what is not under your control, what is subject to hindrance and what is free from it? For what purpose did you go to the philosophers? That you might no less than before be unfortunate and miserable? You will not, then, in that case, be free from fear and perturbation. And what has pain to do with you? For fear of things anticipated becomes pain when these things are present. And what will you any longer passionately seek? For you possess a harmonious and regulated desire for the things that are within the sphere of the moral purpose, as being excellent, and as being within your reach; and you desire nothing outside the sphere of the moral purpose, so as to give place to that other element of unreason, which pushes you along and is impetuous beyond all measure.

85Now when you face things in this fashion, what man can inspire fear in you any longer? For what has one human being about him that is calculated to inspire fear in another human being, in either his appearance, or conversation, or intercourse in general, any more than one horse, or dog, or bee inspires fear in another horse, or dog, or bee? Nay, it is things that inspire man with fear; and when one person is able to secure them for another, or to take them away, then he becomes capable of inspiring fear.

How, then, is a citadel destroyed?[19] Not by iron, nor by fire, but by judgements. For if we capture the citadel in the city, have we captured the citadel of fever also, have we captured that of pretty wenches also, in a word, the acropolis within us, and have we cast out the tyrants within us, whom we have lording it over each of us[20] every day, sometimes the same tyrants, and sometimes others? But here is where we must begin, and it is from this side that we must seize the acropolis and cast out the tyrants; we must yield up the paltry body, its members, the faculties, property, reputation, offices, honours, children, brothers, friends—count all these things as alien to us. And if the tyrants he thrown out of the spot, why should I any longer raze the fortifications of the citadel, on my own account, at least? For what harm does it do me by standing? Why should I go on and throw out the tyrant's bodyguard? For where do I feel them? Their rods, their spears, and their swords they are directing against others. But I have never been hindered in the exercise of my will, nor have I ever been subjected to compulsion against my will.[21] And how is this possible? I have submitted my freedom of choice unto God. He wills that I shall have fever; it is my will too. He wills that I should choose something; it is my will too. He wills that I should desire something; it is my will too. He wills that I should get something; it is my wish too. He does not will it; I do not wish it. 90Therefore, it is my will to die; therefore, it is my will to be tortured on the rack. Who can hinder me any longer against my own views, or put compulsion upon me? That is no more possible in my case than it would be with Zeus.

This is the way also with the more cautious among travellers. A man has heard that the road which he is taking is infested with robbers; he does not venture to set forth alone, but he waits for a company, either that of an ambassador, or of a quaestor, or of a proconsul, and when he has attached himself to them he travels along the road in safety. So in this world the wise man acts. Says he to himself: "There are many robber-bands, tyrants, storms, difficulties, losses of what is most dear. Where shall a man flee for refuge? How shall he travel secure against robbery? What company shall he wait for that he may pass through in safety? To whom shall he attach himself? To So-and-so, the rich man, or the proconsul? And what is the good of that? He himself is stripped, groans, sorrows. Yes, and what if my fellow-traveller himself turn upon me and rob me? What shall I do? 95I will become a friend of Caesar; no one will wrong me if I am a companion of his. But, in the first place, the number of things I must suffer and endure in order to become his friend! and the number of times, and the number of persons by whom I must first be robbed! And then, even if I do become his friend, he too is mortal. And if some circumstance lead him to become my enemy, where indeed had I better retire? To a wilderness? What, does not fever go there? What, then, is to become of me? Is it impossible to find a fellow-traveller who is safe, faithful, strong, free from the suspicion of treachery?" Thus he reflects and comes to the thought that, if he attach himself to God, he will pass through the world in safety.

How do you mean "attach himself"?—Why, so that whatever God wills, he also wills, and whatever God does not will, this he also does not will.—100How, then, can this be done?—Why, how else than by observing the choices of God and His governance? What has He given me for my own and subject to my authority, and what has He left for Himself? Everything within the sphere of the moral purpose He has given me, subjected them to my control, unhampered and unhindered. My body that is made of clay, how could He make that unhindered? Accordingly He has made it subject to the revolution of the universe—my property, my furniture, my house, my children, my wife. Why, then, shall I strive against God? Why shall I will what is not in the province of the will, to keep under all circumstances what has not been given me outright? But how should I keep them? In accordance with the terms upon which they have been given, and for as long as they can be given.[22] But He who gave also takes away.[23] Why, then, shall I resist? I do not say that I shall be a fool for trying to use force upon one who is stronger than I am, but before that I shall be wicked. For where did I get these things when I came into the world? My father gave them to me. And who gave them to him? Who has made the sun, who the fruits, who the seasons, who the union and fellowship of men one with another?

And so, when you have received everything, and your very self, from Another,[24] do you yet complain and blame the Giver, if He take something away from you? Who are you, and for what purpose have you come? Did not He bring you into the world? Did not He show you the light? Did not He give you fellow-workers? Did not He give you senses also and reason? And as what did He bring you into the world? Was it not as a mortal being? Was it not as one destined to live upon earth with a little portion of paltry flesh, and for a little while to be a spectator of His governance, and to join with Him in His pageant and holiday? 105Are you not willing, then, for so long as has been given you, to be a spectator of His pageant and His festival, and then when He leads you forth, to go, after you have made obeisance and returned thanks for what you have heard and seen? "No," you say, "but I wanted to go on with the holiday." Yes, and so do the initiates in the mysteries want to go on with the initiation, and no doubt the spectators at Olympia want to see still other athletes; but the festival has come to an end; leave, depart as a grateful and reverent spectator departs; make room for others; yet others must be born, even as you were born, and once born they must have land, and houses, and provisions. But if the first-comers do not move along, what is left for those who follow after? Why are you insatiate? Why never satisfied? Why do you crowd the world?

Yes, but I want my little children and my wife to be with me.—Are they yours? Do they not belong to Him who gave them? To Him who made your Will you not, therefore, give up what is not your own? Will you not yield to your superior?—Why, then, did He bring me into the world on these conditions?—And if they do[25] not suit you, leave; God has no need of a fault-finding spectator. He needs those who join in the holiday and the dance, that they may applaud rather, and glorify, and sing hymns of praise about the festival. But the peevish and the cowardly He will not be distressed to see left out of the festival; for when they were present they did not act as though they were on a holiday, nor did they fill the proper rôle; but they were distressed, found fault with the Deity, with fate, and with the company; insensible to what had been vouchsafed them, and to their own powers which they had received for the very opposite use—high-mindedness, nobility of character, courage, and the very freedom for which we are now seeking.—110For what purpose, then, did I receive these gifts?—To use them.—How long?—For as long as He who lent them to you wills.—But what if they are necessary to me?—Do not set your heart upon them, and they will not be necessary to you. Do not say to yourself that they are necessary, and they will not be.

This is what you ought to practise from morning till evening. Begin with the most trifling things, the ones most exposed to injury, like a pot, or a cup, and then advance to a tunic, a paltry dog, a mere horse, a bit of land; thence to yourself, your body, and its members, your children, wife, brothers. Look about on every side and cast these things away from you. Purify your judgements, for fear lest something of what is not your own may be fastened to them, or grown together with them, and may give you pain when it is torn loose. And every day while you are training yourself, as you do in the gymnasium, do not say that you are "pursuing philosophy" (indeed an arrogant phrase!), but that you are a slave presenting your emancipator in court;[26] for this is the true freedom. This is the way in which Diogenes was set free by Antisthenes,[27] and afterwards said that he could never be enslaved again by any man. 115How, in consequence, did he behave when he was captured![28] How he treated the pirates! He called none of them master, did he? And I am not referring to the name! it is not the word that I fear, but the emotion, which produces the word. How he censures them because they gave bad food to their captives! How he behaved when he was sold! Did he look for a master? No, but for a slave. And how he behaved toward his master after he had been sold! He began immediately to argue with him, telling him that he ought not to dress that way, or have his hair cut that way, and about his sons, how they ought to live. And what is there strange about that? Why, if he had bought a gymnastic trainer, would he have employed him as a servant, or as a master, in the exercises of the palaestra? And if he had bought a physician, or a master-builder, the same would have been true. And thus in every subject-matter, it is quite unavoidable that the man of skill should be superior to the man without skill. In general, therefore, whoever possesses the science of how to live, how can he help but be the master? For who is master in a ship?—The helmsman.—Why? Because the man who disobeys him is punished.—But my master is able to give me a sound flogging.—He cannot do so with impunity, can he?—So I thought.—But because he cannot do so with impunity, therefore he has no authority to do it; no man can do wrong with impunity.—120And what is the punishment that befalls the man who has put his own slave in chains, when he felt like it?—The putting of him in chains; this is something which you will admit yourself, if you wish to maintain the proposition that man is not a wild beast but a tame animal.[29] For when is a vine faring badly? When it is acting contrary to its own nature. When is a cock faring badly? Under the same conditions. So also man. What, then, is his nature? To bite, and kick, and throw into prison, and behead? No, but to do good, to work together, and to pray for the success of others. Therefore, he is faring badly, whether you will or no, when he acts unfeelingly.

You imply, then, that Socrates did not fare badly?—He did not; it was his judges and accusers who fared badly.—Nor Helvidius[30] at Rome?—No, but the man who put him to death.—How so?—Just as you too do not say that the cock which has won a victory, even though he be severely cut up, has fared badly, but rather the one who has been beaten without suffering a blow. Nor do you call a dog happy when he is neither in pursuit nor toiling hard, but when you see him sweating, suffering, bursting from the chase. 125What is there paradoxical in the statement, if we say that everything's evil is what is contrary to its own nature? Is that paradoxical? Do you not say it yourself in the case of everything else? Why, then, do you take a different course in the case of man alone? But our statement that the nature of man is gentle, and affectionate, and faithful, is this not paradoxical?—No, that is not paradoxical, either.—How, then, does it come about that he suffers no harm, even though he is soundly flogged, or imprisoned, or beheaded? Is it not thus—if he bears it all in a noble spirit, and comes off with increased profit and advantage, while the other man is the one who suffers harm, the man who is subjected to the most pitiful and disgraceful experience, who becomes a wolf, or a snake, or a wasp, instead of a human being?

Come, now, and let us review the points on which we have reached agreement. The unhampered man, who finds things ready to hand as he wants them, is free. But the man who can be hampered, or subjected to compulsion, or hindered, or thrown into something against his will, is a slave. And who is unhampered? The man who fixes his aim on nothing that is not his own. And what are the things which are not our own? All that are not under our control, either to have, or not to have, or to have of a certain quality, or under certain conditions. 130Therefore, the body is not our own, its members are not our own, property is not our own. If, then, you conceive a strong passion for some one of these things, as though it were your immediate possession, you will be punished as he should be who fixes his aim upon what is not his own. This is the road which leads to freedom, this is the only surcease of slavery, to be able to say at any time with your whole heart.

Lead thou me on, O Zeus, and Destiny,
To that goal long ago to me assigned.[31]

But what say you, philosopher? The tyrant calls upon you to say something that is unworthy of you. Do you say it, or not say it? Tell me.—Let me think about it.—Think about it now? But what were you thinking about when you were attending lectures? Did you not study the questions, what things are good, and what bad, and what are neither good nor bad?—I did.—What conclusions were approved, then, by you and your fellows?—That things righteous and excellent were good, things unrighteous and disgraceful bad.—Life is not a good thing, is it?—No.—Nor death a bad thing? —No.—Nor imprisonment?—No.—But ignoble speech and faithless, and betrayal of a friend, and flattery of a tyrant, what did you and your fellows think of these?—We thought them evil.—What then? You are not thinking about the question now, nor have you thought about it and considered it hitherto. Why, what kind of inquiry is it, to raise the question whether it is fitting, when it is in my power to get for myself the greatest goods, not to get for myself the greatest evils! A fine and necessary question, forsooth, that requires a great deal of deliberation. Why are you making fun of us, man? Such an inquiry is never made. 135Besides, if you had honestly imagined that disgraceful things were bad, and all else indifferent, you would never have approached this inquiry, no, nor anything near it; but you would have been able to settle the question on the spot, by intuition, just as in a case involving sight. Why, when do you stop to "think about it," if the question is, Are black things white, or, Are heavy things light? Do you not follow the clear evidence of your senses? How comes it, then, that now you say you are thinking it over, whether things indifferent are more to be avoided than things bad? But you do not have these judgements; on the contrary, imprisonment and death do not appear to you to be indifferent, but rather the greatest evils, and dishonourable words and deeds are not bad in your sight, but rather things that do not concern us. For that is the habit which you developed from the start. "Where am I?" you say. "In school. And who are listening to me? I am talking in the company of philosophers. But now I have left the school; away with those sayings of pedants and fools!" That is how a friend is condemned on the testimony of a philosopher,[32] that is how a philosopher turns parasite, that is how he hires himself out for money, that is how at a meeting of the senate a man does not say what he thinks, while within his breast his judgement shouts loudly, 140no cold and miserable remnant suspended from idle argumentations as by a hair, but a strong and serviceable judgement, and familiar with its business by having been trained in action. Watch yourself, and see how you take the word—I do not say the word that your child is dead; how could you possibly bear that?—but the word that your oil is spilled, or your wine drunk up. Well might someone stand over you, when you are in this excited condition, and say simply, "Philosopher, you talk differently in the school; why are you deceiving us? Why, when you are a worm, do you claim that you are a man?" I should like to stand over one of these philosophers when he is engaged in sexual intercourse, so as to see how he exerts himself, what manner of words he utters, whether he remembers his own name, or the arguments that he hears, or repeats, or reads!

And what has all this to do with freedom?—Nay, nothing but all this has to do with freedom, whether you rich people so wish or not.—145And what is your witness to this?—Why, what else but you yourselves who have this mighty master,[33] and live at his nod and gesture, who faint away if he but look at one of you with a scowl on his face, paying court to the old women and the old men, and saying, "I cannot do this; I am not allowed"? Why are you not allowed? Were you not just now arguing with me and claiming that you were free? "But Aprulla[34] has prevented me." Tell the truth, then, slave, and do not run away from your masters, nor make denial, nor dare to present your emancipator,[35] when you have so many proofs to convict you of slavery. And, indeed, when a man out of passionate love is under the compulsion to do something contrary to his opinion, all the time seeing the better thing but lacking the strength to follow, one might be all the more inclined to regard him as deserving pity, because he is in the grip of something violent, and, in a manner of speaking, divine. But who could endure you with your passion for old women and old men, wiping the noses and washing the faces of old women, corrupting them with presents, and all the while you are nursing them, like a slave, in some illness, praying for them to die, and asking the physicians if they are finally on their deathbed? Or again, when for the sake of these mighty and dignified offices and honours you kiss the hands of other men's slaves, so as to be the slave of men who are not even free? And then, God save the mark, you walk around in your dignity as a praetor or a consul! Don't I know how you came to be praetor, how you got your consulship, who gave it to you? 150As for me, I should not care even to live, if I had to owe my life to Felicio,[36] putting up with his insolence and slavish arrogance; for I know what a slave is, who is prosperous as the world goes, and puffed up with pride.[37]

Are you, then, free, says someone?—By the gods I wish to be, and pray to be, but I am not yet able to look into the face of my masters, I still honour my paltry body, I take great pains to keep it sound, although it is not sound in any case.[38] But I can show you a free man, so that you will never again have to look for an example, Diogenes was free. How did that come? It was not because he was born of free parents, for he was not, but because he himself was free, because he had cast off all the handles of slavery, and there was no way in which a person could get close and lay hold of him to enslave him. Everything he had was easily loosed, everything was merely tied on.[39] If you had laid hold of his property, he would have let it go rather than followed you for its sake; if you had laid hold of his leg, he would have let his leg go; if of his whole paltry body, his whole paltry body; and so also his kindred, friends, and country. He knew the source from which he had received them, and from whom, and upon what conditions. His true ancestors, indeed, the gods, and his real Country[40] he would never have abandoned, nor would he have suffered another to yield them more obedience and submission, nor could any other man have died more cheerfully for his Country. 155For it was never his wont to seek to appear to do anything in behalf of the Universe,[41] but he bore in mind that everything which has come into being has its source there, and is done on behalf of that Country, and is entrusted to us by Him who governs it. Therefore, see what he himself says and writes: "For this reason," he says, "you are permitted, O Diogenes, to converse as you please with the king of the Persians and with Archidamus, the king of the Lacedaemonians." Was it, indeed, because he was born of free parents? No doubt it was because they were all the children of slaves that the Athenians, and Lacedaemonians, and Corinthians were unable to converse with these monarchs as they pleased, but were afraid of them and paid court to them! Why, then, someone asks, are you permitted? "Because I do not regard my paltry body as my own; because I need nothing; because the law, and nothing else, is everything to me." This it was which allowed him to be a free man.

And that you may not think I am showing you an example of a man who was solitary, and had neither wife, nor children, nor country, nor friends, nor kinsmen, who might have bent him and diverted him from his purpose, take Socrates and observe a man who had a wife and little children, but regarded them as not his own, who had a country, as far as it was his duty, and in the way in which it was his duty, and friends, and kinsmen, one and all subject to the law and to obedience to the law. 160That is why, when it was his duty to serve as a soldier, he was the first to leave home, and ran the risks of battle most ungrudgingly; and when he was sent by the Tyrants to fetch Leon,[42] because he regarded it as disgraceful, he never deliberated about the matter at all, although he knew that he would have to die, if it so chanced. And what difference did it make to him? For there was something else that he wished to preserve; not his paltry flesh, but the man of honour, the man of reverence, that he was. These are things which are not to be entrusted to another, not to be made subject. Later on, when he had to speak in defence of his life, he did not behave as one who had children, or a wife, did he? Nay, but as one who was alone in the world. Yes, and when he had to drink the poison, how does he act? When he might have saved his life, and when Crito said to him, "Leave the prison for the sake of your children," what is his reply? Did he think it a bit of good luck? Impossible! No, he regards what is fitting, and as for other considerations, he does not so much as look at or consider them. For he did not care, he says, to save his paltry body, but only that which is increased and preserved by right conduct, and is diminished and destroyed by evil conduct.[43] Socrates does not save his life with dishonour, the man who refused to put the vote when the Athenians demanded it of him,[44] the man who despised the Tyrants, the man who held such noble discourse about virtue and moral excellence; 165this man it is impossible to save by dishonour, but he is saved by death,[45] and not by flight. Yes, and the good actor, too, is saved when he stops at the right time, rather than the one who acts out of season. What, then, will the children do? "If I had gone to Thessaly, you would have looked after them; but when I have gone down to the house of Hades, will there be no one to look after them?"[46] See how he calls death soft names,[47] and jests at it. But if it had been you or I, we should forthwith have fallen into the philosophic vein, and said, "One ought to repay evil-doers in kind," and added, "If I save my life I shall be useful to many persons, but if I die I shall be useful to no one"; yes, indeed, and if we had had to crawl out through a hole to escape, we should have done so! And how should we have been of use to anybody? For where could we have been of use, if the others still remained in Athens?[48] Or if we were useful to men by living, should we not have done much more good to men by dying when we ought, and as we ought? And now that Socrates is dead the memory of him is no less useful to men, nay, is perhaps even more useful, than what he did or said while he still lived.

170Study these things, these judgements, these arguments, look at these examples, if you wish to be free, if you desire the thing itself in proportion to its value. And what wonder is there if you buy something so great at the price of things so many and so great? For the sake of what is called freedom some men hang themselves, others leap over precipices, sometimes whole cities perish; for true freedom, which cannot be plotted against and is secure, will you not yield up to God, at His demand, what He has given? Will you not, as Plato[49] says, study not merely to die, but even to be tortured on the rack, and to go into exile, and to be severely flogged, and, in a word, to give up everything that is not your own? If not, you will be a slave among slaves; even if you are consul ten thousand times, even if you go up to the Palace—a slave none the less; and you will perceive that, as Cleanthes[50] used to say, "Possibly the philosophers say what is contrary to opinion, but assuredly not what is contrary to reason." For you will learn by experience that what they say is true, and that none of these things which are admired and sought after are of any good to those who attain them; while those who have not yet attained them get an impression that, if once these things come to them, they will be possessed of all things good, and then, when they do come, the burning heat is just as bad, there is the same tossing about on the sea, the same sense of surfeit, the same desire for what they do not have. 175For freedom is not acquired by satisfying yourself with what you desire, but by destroying your desire. And that you may learn the truth of all this, as you have toiled for those other things, so also transfer your toil to these; keep vigils for the sake of acquiring a judgement which will make you free, devote yourself to a philosopher instead of to a rich old man, be seen about his doors; it will be no disgrace to be so seen, you will not retire thence empty and without profit, if you approach him in the right fashion. Anyway, try it at least; there is no disgrace in making the attempt.


  1. Where he was teaching. The very form of the oath contradicts the statement made.
  2. From the Misoumenos of Menander: Koch 338; Körte², p. 129; Allinson, p. 412 (Loeb Classical Library).
  3. Here as in II. 3 and in § 156 of this same chapter Epictetus seems to have used a larger collection of letters ascribed to Diogenes than that which has survived to our time. See Schenkl's note on § 156 below.
  4. Schenkl deletes the word, and Orelli conjectures Μακεδόνων, making the reference to Philip or Alexander; but about 355 Artaxerxes Ochus seems actually to have threatened war against Athens. See Judeich in the Real-Encyclopädie², 2, 1319, 25 ff.
  5. See note on II. 1, 26.
  6. For the euphemistic phrase used in the Greek see Demosthenes, 59, 20.
  7. The members of the Equestrian order at Rome had the right to wear a gold ring.
  8. Required of those who held the higher offices. See note on II. 14, 17.
  9. i.e. the finishing touch. See note on II. 14, 19.
  10. Xenophon, Mem. IV. 6, 1.
  11. That is, persona grata at court.
  12. Compare with this section the grave words of Francis Bacon: "Men in great place are thrice servants, servants to the sovereign or state, servants of fame, and servants of business, so as they have no freedom, neither in their persons, nor in their actions, nor in their times." Essays, "Of Great Place."
  13. The reference is to the ordinary method of acquiring slaves, since relatively few were ever bred.
  14. That is, of Persia.
  15. The number for a consul.
  16. The robe worn by high officials at Rome. Cf. I. 2, 18.
  17. When slaves had special liberties.
  18. The major premiss is: "What has power to confer the greatest advantage is divine"; the minor premiss, as in the text; from which follows the conclusion: "Therefore, this man is divine," which is wrong because of the false minor premiss.
  19. Probably a reference to some proverb, or well-known saying, like that of Alcaeus, "Valiant men are the tower of a city" (Smyth, Greek Melic Poets, frag. 15).—The citadel is the keep, or tower, from which a tyrant is represented as overawing a city.
  20. So Schweighäuser; but there is some uncertainty about the meaning of ἐφ᾽ ἑκάστοις, which Schegk, Wolf, and Upton take to refer to matters, or affairs (πράγματα, as in § 85).
  21. The metaphor in this passage is complicated. I take it to mean, using wealth as a convenient example, something like this: The tyrant is a false judgement (δόγμα) about wealth; the acropolis and the bodyguard are wealth itself, which is dangerous only so long as the false judgement prevails. Once that is overthrown, actual wealth itself need not be destroyed, at least for the man who is freed from the false judgement about it, because wealth as such has no longer any power over him. Other people may be menaced by it, but every man has a ready means of defence, which is to secure a correct judgement about the thing itself. Many matters or affairs (πράγματα) like death and disease cannot, in any event, be destroyed. It is vain labour to try to destroy the things themselves, when it is only the false judgements that are dangerous, and these any man can himself overcome.
  22. Very similar is the phrase ἐφ᾽ ὅσον ἂν οἶόν τε ᾖ in § 79 above.
  23. As Job i. 21: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away."
  24. That is, God.
  25. Or possibly, "He does not suit you," as Capps suggests.
  26. It is tempting to conjecture καρπιστείαν, "making provision for your emancipation," since every man must win his own freedom for himself. But Epictetus probably is thinking here of a man being won to freedom by following some great philosopher, who is his emancipator, as in the famous illustration in the next sentence. It is interesting to observe how, with all its insistence upon individual responsibility, even Stoicism at this time was becoming a religion of books, examples, and saviours.
  27. See III. 24, 67.
  28. A very famous incident in the life of the philosopher. See especially, Musonius frag. 9 (p. 49, 8ff., Hense): Gellius, II, 18, 9-10; Lucian, Vit. Auct. 7; Diogenes Laertius, 6, 30; 36; 74; Ps.-Crates, Epist. 34; and above, III. 24, 66.
  29. The phrase is from Plato, Sophistes, 222 B. See also IV. 5. 10.
  30. A prominent Stoic senator at Rome. See I. 2, 19 ff.
  31. From the Hymn of Cleanthes. See on II. 23, 42.
  32. Possibly an allusion to Egnatius Celer, who accused his friend, Barea Soranus, in the reign of Nero, A.D. 66, when Epictetus was a boy. See Tacitus, Annals, 16, 32, and Juvenal, 3, 116f.
  33. i.e., the Emperor.
  34. Obviously some rich old woman.
  35. See § 113 and note.
  36. A freedman of Nero's. See I. 17, 19, 20 and 21.
  37. A pretty clear reference to his experiences with his master, Epaphroditus, who had been a slave of Nero.
  38. Alluding to his lameness, as the Scholiast observes. See Vol. 1, Introd., pp. ix-x.
  39. That is, not grown to him so as to cause pain when torn loose, as in § 112.
  40. Clearly, from what follows, the Universe.
  41. Compare Marcus Aurelius, 7, 73: "When thou hast done well to another . . . why go on like the foolish to look for . . . the credit of having done well?" (Haines).
  42. A leader of the opposition, whom the Thirty Tyrants wished to murder. See Plato, Apology, 32 C.
  43. A free paraphrase of Plato, Crito, 47 D.
  44. In the illegal action of the assembly after the battle of Arginusae. See Xenophon, Memorabilia, I. 1, 18; Plato, Apology, 32 B.
  45. A singular parallel to "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. x. 39).
  46. A paraphrase of Plato, Crito, 54 A.
  47. "I have been half in love with easeful Death,
    Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rime."
    Keats, Ode to a Nightingale. 

  48. This is probably the best emendation that has been suggested for a corrupt passage, but I do not feel certain that it is what Epictetus actually said.
  49. Phaedo, 64 A, and Republic, II. 361 E.
  50. A somewhat similar remark ascribed to Zeno (Gnomol. Vat., ed. Sternbach, 295) has in the second clause "contrary to law," a much less pointed remark, and true only with important qualifications.

Select critical notes

  1. There is some uncertainty about the extent of the quotation from Diogenes. Capps extends it as far as this point, while Schenkl thought it stopped with ἰχθύες, three lines above.
  2. The last eleven words are here wrongly repeated in S, as Schenkl observed; but he was mistaken in assuming that the repetition began immediately after ἔχει whereas it probably was due to the eye going back to the wrong ὠφελείας.