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Habit in Epictetus' Discourses



In how many ways appearances exist, and what aids we should provide against them 1

Appearances to us in four ways: for either things appear as they are; or they are not, and do not even appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Further, in all these cases to form a right judgement is the office of an educated man. But whatever it is that annoys us, to that we ought to apply a remedy. If the sophisms of Pyrrho and of the Academics are what annoys, we must apply the remedy to them. If it is the persuasion of appearances, by which some things appear to be good, when they are not good, let us seek a remedy for this. If it is habit which annoys us, we must try to seek aid against habit. What aid then can we find against habit, The contrary habit. You hear the ignorant say: "That unfortunate person is dead: his father and mother are overpowered with sorrow; he was cut off by an untimely death and in a foreign land." Here the contrary way of speaking: tear yourself from these expressions: oppose to one habit the contrary habit; to sophistry oppose reason, and the exercise and discipline of reason; against persuasive appearances we ought to have manifest precognitions, cleared of all impurities and ready to hand.

When death appears an evil, we ought to have this rule in readiness, that it is fit to avoid evil things, and that death is a necessary thing. For what shall I do, and where shall I escape it? Suppose that I am not Sarpedon, the son of Zeus, nor able to speak in this noble way: "I will go and I am resolved either to behave bravely myself or to give to another the opportunity of doing so; if I cannot succeed in doing anything myself, I will not grudge another the doing of something noble." Suppose that it is above our power to act thus; is it not in our power to reason thus? Tell me where I can escape death: discover for me the country, show me the men to whom I must go, whom death does not visit. Discover to me a charm against death. If I have not one, what do you wish me to do? I cannot escape from death. Shall I not escape from the fear of death, but shall I die lamenting and trembling? For the origin of perturbation is this, to wish for something, and that this should not happen. Therefore if I am able to change externals according to my wish, I change them; but if I cannot, I am ready to tear out the eyes of him who hinders me. For the nature of man is not to endure to be deprived of the good, and not to endure the falling into the evil. Then, at last, when I am neither able to change circumstances nor to tear out the eyes of him who hinders me, I sit down and groan, and abuse whom I can, Zeus and the rest of the gods. For if they do not care for me, what are they to me? "Yes, but you will be an impious man." In what respect then will it be worse for me than it is now? To sum up, remember this that unless piety and your interest be in the same thing, piety cannot be maintained in any man. Do not these things seem necessary?

Let the followers of Pyrrho and the Academics come and make their objections. For I, as to my part, have no leisure for these disputes, nor am I able to undertake the defense of common consent. If I had a suit even about a bit of land, I would call in another to defend my interests. With what evidence then am I satisfied? With that which belongs to the matter in hand. How indeed perception is effected, whether through the whole body or any part, perhaps I cannot explain: for both opinions perplex me. But that you and I are not the same, I know with perfect certainty. "How do you know it?" When I intend to swallow anything, I never carry it to your mouth, but to my own. When I intend to take bread, I never lay hold of a broom, but I always go to the bread as to a mark. And you yourselves who take away the evidence of the senses, do you act otherwise? Who among you, when he intended to enter a bath, ever went into a mill?

What then? Ought we not with all our power to hold to this also, the maintaining of general opinion, and fortifying ourselves against the arguments which are directed against it? Who denies that we ought to do this? Well, he should do it who is able, who has leisure for it; but as to him who trembles and is perturbed and is inwardly broken in heart, he must employ his time better on something else.



 

How we should struggle against appearances 2

Every habit and faculty is maintained and increased by the corresponding actions: the habit of walking by walking, the habit of running by running. If you would be a good reader, read; if a writer, write. But when you shall not have read thirty days in succession, but have done something else, you will know the consequence. In the same way, if you shall have lain down ten days, get up and attempt to make a long walk, and you will see how your legs are weakened. Generally, then, if you would make anything a habit, do it; if you would not make it a habit, do not do it, but accustom yourself to do something else in place of it.

So it is with respect to the affections of the soul: when you have been angry, you must know that not only has this evil befallen you, but that you have also increased the habit, and in a manner thrown fuel upon fire. When you have been overcome in sexual intercourse with a person, do not reckon this single defeat only, but reckon that you have also nurtured, increased your incontinence. For it is impossible for habits and faculties, some of them not to be produced, when they did not exist before, and others not be increased and strengthened by corresponding acts.

In this manner certainly, as philosophers say, also diseases of the mind grow up. For when you have once desired money, if reason be applied to lead to a perception of the evil, the desire is stopped, and the ruling faculty of our mind is restored to the original authority. But if you apply no means of cure, it no longer returns to the same state, but, being again excited by the corresponding appearance, it is inflamed to desire quicker than before: and when this takes place continually, it is henceforth hardened, and the disease of the mind confirms the love of money. For he who has had a fever, and has been relieved from it, is not in the same state that he was before, unless he has been completely cured. Something of the kind happens also in diseases of the soul. Certain traces and blisters are left in it, and unless a man shall completely efface them, when he is again lashed on the same places, the lash will produce not blisters but sores. If then you wish not to be of an angry temper, do not feed the habit; throw nothing on it which will increase it: at first keep quiet, and count the days on which you have not been angry. I used to be in passion every day; now every second day; then every third, then every fourth. But if you have intermitted thirty days, make a sacrifice to God. For the habit at first begins to be weakened, and then is completely destroyed. "I have not been vexed to-day, nor the day after, nor yet on any succeeding day during two or three months; but I took care when some exciting things happened." Be assured that you are in a good way. To-day when I saw a handsome person, I did not say to myself, "I wish I could lie with her," and "Happy is her husband"; for he who says this says, "Happy is her adulterer also." Nor do I picture the rest to my mind; the woman present, and stripping herself and lying down by my side. I stroke my head and say, "Well done, Epictetus, you have solved a fine little sophism, much finer than that which is called the master sophism." And if even the woman is willing, and gives signs, and sends messages, and if she also fondle me and come close to me, and I should abstain and be victorious, that would be a sophism beyond that which is named "The Liar," and "The Quiescent." Over such a victory as this a man may justly be proud; not for proposing, the master sophism.

How then shall this be done? Be willing at length to be approved by yourself, be willing to appear beautiful to God, desire to he in purity with your own pure self and with God. Then when any such appearance visits you, Plato says, "Have recourse to expiations, go a suppliant to the temples of the averting deities." It is even sufficient if "you resort to the society of noble and just men," and compare yourself with them, whether you find one who is living or dead. Go to Socrates and see him lying down with Alcibiades, and mocking his beauty: consider what a victory he at last found that he had gained over himself; what an Olympian victory; in what number he stood from Hercules; so that, by the Gods, one may justly salute him, "Hail, wondrous man, you who have conquered not less these sorry boxers and pancratiasts nor yet those who are like them, the gladiators." By placing these objects on the other side you will conquer the appearance: you will not be drawn away by it. But, in the first place, be not hurried away by the rapidity of the appearance, but say, "Appearances, wait for me a little: let me see who you are, and what you are about: let me put you to the test." And then do not allow the appearance to lead you on and draw lively pictures of the things which will follow; for if you do, it will carry you off wherever it pleases. But rather bring in to oppose it some other beautiful and noble appearance and cast out this base appearance. And if you are accustomed to be exercised in this way, you will see what shoulders, what sinews, what strength you have. But now it is only trifling words, and nothing more.

This is the true athlete, the man who exercises himself against such appearances. Stay, wretch, do not be carried away. Great is the combat, divine is the work; it is for kingship, for freedom, for happiness, for freedom from perturbation. Remember God: call on him as a helper and protector, as men at sea call on the Dioscuri in a storm. For what is a greater storm than that which comes from appearances which are violent and drive away the reason? For the storm itself, what else is it but an appearance? For take away the fear of death, and suppose as many thunders and lightnings as you please, and you will know what calm and serenity there is in the ruling faculty. But if you have once been defeated and say that you will conquer hereafter, then say the same again, be assured that you at last be in so wretched a condition and so weak that you will not even know afterward that you are doing wrong, but you will even begin to make apologies for your wrongdoing, and then you will confirm the saying of Hesiod to be true,

With constant ills the dilatory strives.



About exercise 3

We ought not to make our exercises consist in means contrary to nature and adapted to cause admiration, for, if we do so, we, who call ourselves philosophers, shall not differ at all from jugglers. For it is difficult even to walk on a rope; and not only difficult, but it is also dangerous. Ought we for this reason to practice walking on a rope, or setting up a palm tree, or embracing statues? By no means. Everything, which is difficult and dangerous is not suitable for practice; but that is suitable which conduces to the working out of that which is proposed to us as a thing to be worked out. To live with desire and aversion, free from restraint. And what is this? Neither to be disappointed in that which you desire, nor to fall into anything which you would avoid. Toward this object, then, exercise ought to tend. For, since it is not possible to have your desire not disappointed and your aversion free from falling into that which you would avoid, great and constant practice you must know that if you allow your desire and aversion to turn to things which are not within the power of the will, you will neither have your desire capable of attaining your object, nor your aversion free from the power of avoiding that which you would avoid. And since strong habit leads, and we are accustomed to employ desire and aversion only to things which are not within the power of our will, we ought to oppose to this habit a contrary habit, and where there is great slipperiness in the appearances, there to oppose the habit of exercise.

I am rather inclined to pleasure: I will incline to the contrary side above measure for the sake of exercise. I am averse to pain: I will rub and exercise against this the appearances which are presented to me for the purpose of withdrawing my aversion from every such thing. For who is a practitioner in exercise? He who practices not using his desire, and applies his aversion only to things which are within the power of his will, and practices most in the things which are difficult to conquer. For this reason one man must practice himself more against one thing and another against another thing. What, then, is it to the purpose to set up a palm tree, or to carry about a tent of skins, or a mortar and a pestle? Practice, man, if you are irritable, to endure if you are abused, not to be vexed if you are treated with dishonour. Then you will make so much progress that, even if a man strikes you, you will say to yourself, "Imagine that you have embraced a statue": then also exercise yourself to use wine properly so as not to drink much, for in this also there are men who foolishly practice themselves; but first of all you should abstain from it, and abstain from a young girl and dainty cakes. Then at last, if occasion presents itself, for the purpose of trying yourself at a proper time, you will descend into the arena to know if appearances overpower you as they did formerly. But at first fly far from that which is stronger than yourself: the contest is unequal between a charming young girl and a beginner in philosophy. "The earthen pitcher," as the saying is, "and the rock do not agree."

After the desire and the aversion comes the second topic of the movements toward action and the withdrawals from it; that you may be obedient to reason, that you do nothing out of season or place, or contrary to any propriety of the kind. The third topic concerns the assents, which is related to the things which are persuasive and attractive. For as Socrates said, "we ought not to live a life without examination," so we ought not to accept an appearance without examination, but we should say, "Wait, let me see what you are and whence you come"; like the watch at night, "Show me the pass." "Have you the signal from nature which the appearance that may be accepted ought to have?" And finally whatever means are applied to the body by those who exercise it, if they tend in any way toward desire and it, aversion, they also may be fit means of exercise; but if they are for display, they are the indications of one who has turned himself toward something external, and who is hunting for something else, and who looks for spectators who will say, "Oh the great man." For this reason, Apollonius said well, "When you intend to exercise yourself for your own advantage, and you are thirsty from heat, take in a mouthful of cold water, and spit it out, and tell nobody."



That we ought with caution to enter, into familiar intercourse with men 4

If a man has frequent intercourse with others, either for talk, or drinking together, or generally for social purposes, he must either become like them, or change them to his own fashion. For if a man places a piece of quenched charcoal close to a piece that is burning, either the quenched charcoal will quench the other, or the burning charcoal will light that which is quenched. Since, then, the danger is so great, we must cautiously enter into such intimacies with those of the common sort, and remember that it is impossible that a man can keep company with one who is covered with soot without being partaker of the soot himself. For what will you do if a man speaks about gladiators, about horses, about athletes, or, what is worse, about men? "Such a person is bad," "Such a person is good": "This was well done," "This was done badly." Further, if he scoff, or ridicule, or show an ill-natured disposition? Is any man among us prepared like a lute-player when he takes a lute, so that as soon as he has touched the strings, he discovers which are discordant, and tunes the instrument? such a power as Socrates had who in all his social intercourse could lead his companions to his own purpose? How should you have this power? It is therefore a necessary consequence that you are carried about by the common kind of people.

Why, then, are they more powerful than you? Because they utter these useless words from their real opinions: but you utter your elegant words only from your lips; for this reason they are without strength and dead, and it is nauseous to listen to your exhortations and your miserable virtue, which is talked of everywhere. In this way the vulgar have the advantage over you: for every opinion is strong and invincible. Until, then, the good sentiments are fixed in you, and you shall have acquired a certain power for your security, I advise you to be careful in your association with like wax in the sun there will be melted away whatever you inscribe on your minds in the school. Withdraw, then, yourselves far from the sun so long as you have these waxen sentiments. For this reason also philosophers advise men to leave their native country, because ancient habits distract them and do not allow a beginning to be made of a different habit; nor can we tolerate those who meet us and say: "See such a one is now a philosopher, who was once so-and-so." Thus also physicians send those who have lingering diseases to a different country and a different air; and they do right, Do you also introduce other habits than those which you have: fix your opinions and exercise yourselves in them. But you do not so: you go hence to a spectacle, to a show of gladiators, to a place of exercise, to a circus; then you come back hither, and again from this place you go to those places, and still the same persons. And there is no pleasing habit, nor attention, nor care about self and observation of this kind, "How shall I use the appearances presented to me? according to nature, or contrary to nature? how do I answer to them? as I ought, or as I ought not? Do I say to those things which are independent of the will, that they do not concern me?" For if you are not yet in this state, fly from your former habits, fly from the common sort, if you intend ever to begin to be something.



To those who fall off from their purpose 5

Consider as to the things which you proposed to yourself at first, which you have secured and which you have not; and how you are pleased when you recall to memory the one and are pained about the other; and if it is possible, recover the things wherein you failed. For we must not shrink when we are engaged in the greatest combat, but we must even take blows. For the combat before us is not in wrestling and the Pancration, in which both the successful and the unsuccessful may have the greatest merit, or may have little, and in truth may be very fortunate or very unfortunate; but the combat is for good fortune and happiness themselves. Well then, even if we have renounced the contest in this matter, no man hinders us from renewing the combat again, and we are not compelled to wait for another four years that the games at Olympia may come again; but as soon as you have recovered and restored yourself, and employ the same zeal, you may renew the combat again; and if again you renounce it, you may again renew it; and if you once gain the victory, you are like him who has never renounced the combat. Only do not, through a habit of doing the same thing, begin to do it with pleasure, and then like a bad athlete go about after being conquered in all the circuit of the games like quails who have run away.

"The sight of a beautiful young girl overpowers me. Well, have I not been overpowered before? An inclination arises in me to find fault with a person; for have I not found fault with him before?" You speak to us as if you had come off free from harm, just as if a man should say to his physician who forbids him to bathe, "Have I not bathed before?" If, then, the physician can say to him, "Well, and what, then, happened to you after the bath? Had you not a fever, had you not a headache?" And when you found fault with a person lately, did you not do the act of a malignant person, of a trifling babbler; did you not cherish this habit in you by adding to it the corresponding acts? And when you were overpowered by the young girl, did you come off unharmed? Why, then, do you talk of what you did before? You ought, I think, remembering what you did, as slaves remember the blows which they have received, to abstain from the same faults. But the one case is not like the other; for in the case of slaves the pain causes the remembrance: but in the case of your faults, what is the pain, what is the punishment; for when have you been accustomed to fly from evil acts? Sufferings, then, of the trying character are useful to us, whether we choose or not.



To those who are desirous of passing life in tranquility 6

Remember that not only the desire of power and of riches makes us mean and subject to others, but even the desire of tranquillity, and of leisure. and of traveling abroad, and of learning. For, to speak plainly, whatever the external thing may be, the value which we set upon it places us in subjection to others. What, then, is the difference between desiring, to be a senator or not desiring to be one; what is the difference between desiring power or being content with a private station; what is the difference between saying, "I am unhappy, I have nothing, to do, but I am bound to my books as a corpse"; or saying, "I am unhappy, I have no leisure for reading"? For as salutations and power are things external and independent of the will, so is a book. For what purpose do you choose to read? Tell me. For if you only direct your purpose to being amused or learning something, you are a silly fellow and incapable of enduring labour. But if you refer reading to the proper end, what else is this than a tranquil and happy life? But if reading does not secure for you a happy and tranquil life, what is the use of it? But it does secure this," the man replies, "and for this reason I am vexed that I am deprived of it." And what is this tranquil and happy life, which any man can impede; I do not say Caesar or Caesar's friend, but a crow, a piper, a fever, and thirty thousand other things? But a tranquil and happy life contains nothing so sure is continuity and freedom from obstacle. Now I am called to do something: I will go, then, with the purpose of observing the measures which I must keep, of acting with modesty, steadiness, without desire and aversion to things external; and then that I may attend to men, what they say, how they are moved; and this not with any bad disposition, or that I may have something to blame or to ridicule; but I turn to myself, and ask if I also commit the same faults. "How then shall I cease to commit them?" Formerly I also acted wrong, but now I do not: thanks to God.

Come, when you have done these things and have attended to them, have you doone a worse act than when you have read a thousand verses or written as many? For when you eat, are you grieved because you are not reading? are you not satisfied with eating according to what you have learned by reading, and so with bathing and with exercise? Why, then, do you not act consistently in all things, both when you approach Caesar and when you approach any person? If you maintain yourself free from perturbation, free from alarm, and steady; if you look rather at the things which are done and happen than are looked at yourself; if you do not envy those who are preferred before you; if surrounding circumstances do not strike you with fear or admiration, what do you want? Books? How or for what purpose? for is not this a preparation for life? and is not life itself made up of certain other things than this? This is just as if an athlete should weep when he enters the stadium, because he is not being exercised outside of it. It was for this purpose that you used to practice exercise; for this purpose were used the halteres, the dust, the young men as antagonists; and do you seek for those things now when it is the time of action? This is just as if in the topic of assent when appearances present themselves, some of which can he comprehended, and some cannot be comprehended, we should not choose to distinguish them but should choose to read what has been written about comprehension.

What then is the reason of this? The reason is that we have never read for this purpose, we have never written for this purpose, so that we may in our actions use in a way conformable to nature the appearances presented to us; but we terminate in this, in learning what is said, and in being able to expound it to another, in resolving a syllogism, and in handling the hypothetical syllogism. For this reason where our study is, there alone is the impediment. Would you have by all means the things which are not in your power? Be prevented then, be hindered, fail in your purpose. But if we read what is written about action, not that we may see what is said about action, but that we may act well: if we read what is said about desire and aversion, in order that we may neither fall in our desires, nor fall into that which we try to avoid: if we read what is said about duty, in order that, remembering the relations, we may do nothing irrationally nor contrary to these relations; we should not be vexed in being hindered as to our readings, but we should be satisfied with doing, the acts which are conformable, and we should be reckoning not what so far we have been accustomed to reckon; "To-day I have read so many verses, I have written so many"; but, "To-day I have employed my action as it is taught by the philosophers; I have not employed any desire; I have used avoidance only with respect to things which are within the power of my will; I have not been afraid of such a person, I have not been prevailed upon by the entreaties of another; I have exercised my patience, my abstinence my co-operation with others"; and so we should thank God for what we ought to thank Him.

But now we do not know that we also in another way are like the many. Another man is afraid that he shall not have power: you are afraid that you will. Do not do so, my man; but as you ridicule him who is afraid that he, shall not have power, so ridicule yourself also. For it makes no difference whether you are thirsty like a man who has a fever, or have a dread of water like a man who is mad. Or how will you still be able to say as Socrates did, "If so it pleases God, so let it be"? Do you think that Socrates, if he had been eager to pass his leisure in the Lyceum or in the Academy and to discourse dally with the young men, would have readily served in military expeditions so often as he did; and would he not have lamented and groaned, "Wretch that I am; I must now be miserable here, when I might be sunning myself in the Lyceum"? Why, was this your business, to sun yourself? And is it not your business to be happy, to be free from hindrance, free from impediment? And could he still have been Socrates, if he had lamented in this way: how would he still have been able to write Paeans in his prison?

In short, remember this, that what you shall prize which is beyond your will, so far you have destroyed your will. But these things are out of the power of the will, not only power, but also a private condition: not only occupation, but also leisure. "Now, then, must I live in this tumult?" Why do you say "tumult"? "I mean among many men." Well what is the hardship? Suppose that you are at Olympia: imagine it to be a panegyris, where one is calling out one thing, another is doing another thing, and a third is pushing another person: in the baths there is a crowd: and who of us is not pleased with this assembly and leaves it unwillingly, Be not difficult to please nor fastidious about what happens. "Vinegar is disagreeable, for it is sharp; honey is disagreeable, for it disturbs my habit of body. I do not like vegetables." So also, "I do not like leisure; it is a desert: I do not like a crowd; it is confusion." But if circumstances make it necessary for you to live alone or with a few, call it quiet and use the thing as you ought: talk with yourself, exercise the appearances, work up your preconceptions. If you fall into a crowd, call it a celebration of games, a panegyris, a festival: try to enjoy the festival with other men. For what is a more pleasant sight to him who loves mankind than a number of men? We see with pleasure herds of horses or oxen: we are delighted when we see many ships: who is pained when he sees many men? "But they deafen me with their cries." Then your hearing is impeded. What, then, is this to you? Is, then, the power of making use of appearances hindered? And who prevents you from using, according to nature, inclination to a thing and aversion from it; and movement toward a thing and movement from it? What tumult is able to do this?

Do you only bear in mind the general rules: "What is mine, what is not mine; what is given to me; what does God will that I should do now? what does He not will?" A little before he willed you to be at leisure, to talk with yourself, to write about these things, to read, to hear, to prepare yourself. You had sufficient time for this. Now He says to you: "Come now to the contest; show us what you have learned, how you have practiced the athletic art. How long will you be exercised alone? Now is the opportunity for you to learn whether you are an athlete worthy of victory, or one of those who go about the world and are defeated." Why, then, are; you vexed? No contest is without confusion. There be many who exercise themselves for the contests, many who call out to those who exercise themselves, many masters, many spectators. "But my wish is to live quietly." Lament, then, and groan as you deserve to do. For what other is a greater punishment than this to the untaught man and to him who disobeys the divine commands: to be grieved, to lament, to envy, in a word, to be disappointed and to he unhappy? Would you not release yourself from these things? "And how shall I release myself?" Have you not often heard that you ought to remove entirely desire, apply aversion to those things only which are within your power, that you ought to give up everything, body, property, fame, books, tumult, power, private station? for whatever way you turn, you are a slave, you are subjected, you are hindered, you are compelled, you are entirely in the power of others. But keep the words of Cleanthes in readiness,

Lead me, O Zeus, and thou necessity.

Is it your will that I should go to Rome? I will go to Rome. To Gyara? I will go to Gyara. I will go to Athens? I will go to Athens. To prison? I will go to prison. If you should once say, "When shall a man go to Athens?" you are undone. It is a necessary consequence that this desire, if it is not accomplished, must make you unhappy; and if it is accomplished, it must make you vain, since you are elated at things at which you ought not to be elated; and on the other hand, if you are impeded, it must make you wretched because you fall into that which you would not fall into. Give up then all these things. "Athens is a good place." But happiness is much better; and to be free from passions, free from disturbance, for your affairs not to depend on any man. "There is tumult at Rome and visits of salutation." But happiness is an equivalent for all troublesome things. If, then, the time comes for these things, why do you not take away the wish to avoid them? what necessity is there to carry to avoid a burden like an ass, and to be beaten with a stick? But if you do not so, consider that you must always be a slave to him who has it in his power to effect your release, and also to impede you, and you must serve him as an evil genius.

There is only one way to happiness, and let this rule be ready both in the morning and during the day and by night; the rule is not to look toward things which are out of the power of our will, to think that nothing is our own, to give up all things to the Divinity, to Fortune; to make them the superintendents of these things, whom Zeus also has made so; for a man to observe that only which is his own, that which cannot be hindered; and when we read, to refer our reading to this only, and our writing and our listening. For this reason, I cannot call the man industrious, if I hear this only, that he reads and writes; and even if a man adds that he reads all night, I cannot say so, if he knows not to what he should refer his reading. For neither do you say that a man is industrious if he keeps awake for a girl; nor do I. But if he does it for reputation, I say that he is a lover of reputation. And if he does it for money, I say that he is a lover of money, not a lover of labour; and if he does it through love of learning, I say that he is a lover of learning. But if he refers his labour to his own ruling power, that he may keep it in a state conformable to nature and pass his life in that state, then only do I say that he is industrious. For never commend a man on account of these things which are common to all, but on account of his opinions; for these are the things which belong to each man, which make his actions bad or good. Remembering these rules, rejoice in that which is present, and be content with the things which come in season. If you see anything which you have learned and inquired about occurring, to you in your course of life, be delighted at it. If you have laid aside or have lessened bad disposition and a habit of reviling; if you have done so with rash temper, obscene words, hastiness, sluggishness; if you are not moved by what you formerly were, and not in the same way as you once were, you can celebrate a festival daily, to-day because you have behaved well in one act, and to-morrow because you have behaved well in another. How much greater is this a reason for making sacrifices than a consulship or the government of a province? These things come to you from yourself and from the gods. Remember this, Who gives these things and to whom, and for what purpose. If you cherish yourself in these thoughts, do you still think that it makes any difference where yon shall be happy, where you shall please God? Are not the gods equally distant from all places? Do they not see from all places alike that which is going on?



To a person who had been changed to a character of shamelessness 7

When you see another man in the possession of power, set against this the fact that you have not the want of power; when you see another rich, see what you possess in place of riches: for if you possess nothing in place of them, you are miserable; but if you have not the want of riches, know that you possess more than this man possesses and what is worth much more. Another man possesses a handsome woman: you have the satisfaction of not desiring a handsome wife. Do these things appear to you to he small? And how much would these persons give, these very men who are rich and in possession of power, and live with handsome women, to be able to despise riches and power and these very women whom they love and enjoy? Do you not know, then, what is the thirst of a man who has a fever? He possesses that which is in no degree like the thirst of a man who is in health: for the man who is in health ceases to be thirsty after he has drunk; but the sick man, being pleased for a short time, has a nausea; he converts the drink into bile, vomits, is griped, and more thirsty. It is such a thing to have desire of riches and to possess riches, desire of power and to possess power, desire of a beautiful woman and to sleep with her: to this is added jealousy, fear of being deprived of the thing which you love, indecent words, indecent thoughts, unseemly acts.

"And what do I lose?" you will say. My man, you were modest, and you are so no longer. Have you lost nothing? In place of Chrysippus and Zeno you read Aristides and Evenus; have you lost nothing? In place of Socrates and Diogenes, you admire him who is able to corrupt and seduce most women. You wish to appear handsome and try to make yourself so, though you are not. You like to display splendid clothes that you may attract women; and if you find any fine oil, yon imagine that you are happy. But formerly you did not think of any such thing, but only where there should be decent talk, a worthy man, and a generous conception. Therefore you slept like a man, walked forth like a man, wore a manly dress, and used to talk in a way becoming a good man; then do you say to me, "I have lost nothing?" So do men lose nothing more than coin? Is not modesty lost? Is not decent behavior lost? is it that he who has lost these things has sustained no loss? Perhaps you think that not one of these things is a loss. But there was a time when you reckoned this the only loss and damage, and you were anxious that no man should disturb you from these words and actions.

Observe, you are disturbed from these good words and actions by nobody but by yourself. Fight with yourself, restore yourself to decency, to modesty, to liberty. If any man ever told you this about me, that a person forces me to be an adulterer, to wear such a dress as yours, to perfume myself with oils, would you not have gone and with your own hand have killed the man who thus calumniated me? Now will you not help yourself? and how much easier is this help? There is no need to kill any man, nor to put him in chains, nor to treat him with contumely, nor to enter the Forum, but it is only necessary for you to speak to yourself who will be the most easily persuaded, with whom no man has more power of persuasion than yourself. First of all, condemn what you are doing, and then, when you have condemned it, do not despair of yourself, and be not in the condition of those men of mean spirit, who, when they have once given in, surrender themselves completely and are carried away as if by a torrent. But see what the trainers of boys do. Has the boy fallen? "Rise," they say, "wrestle again till you are made strong." Do you also do something of the same kind: for be well assured that nothing is more tractable than the human soul. You must exercise the will, and the thing is done, it is set right: as on the other hand, only fall a-nodding, and the thing is lost: for from within comes ruin and from within comes help. "Then what good do I gain?" And what greater good do you seek than this? From a shameless man you will become a modest man, from a disorderly you will become an orderly man, from a faithless you will become a faithful man, from a man of unbridled habits a sober man. If you seek anything more than this, go on doing what you are doing: not even a God can now help you.



On attention 8

When you have remitted your attention for a short time, do not imagine this, that you will recover it when you choose; but let but let this thought be present to you, that in consequence of the fault committed to-day your affairs must be in a worse condition for all that follows. For first, and what causes most trouble, a habit of not attending is formed in you; then a habit of deferring your attention. And continually from time to time you drive away, by deferring it, the happiness of life, proper behavior, the being and living conformably to nature. If, then, the procrastination of attention is profitable, the complete omission of attention is more profitable; but if it is not profitable, why do you not maintain your attention constant? "To-day I choose to play." Well then, ought you not to play with attention? "I choose to sing." What, then, hinders you from doing so with attention? Is there any part of life excepted, to which attention does not extend? For will you do it worse by using attention, and better by not attending at all? And what else of things in life is done better by those who do not use attention? Does he who works in wood work better by not attending to it? Does the captain of a ship manage it better by not attending? and is any of the smaller acts done better by inattention? Do you not see that, when you have let your mind loose, it is no longer in your power to recall it, either to propriety, or to modesty, or to moderation: but you do everything that comes into your mind in obedience to your inclinations?

To what things then ought I to attend? First to those general (principles) and to have them in readiness, and without them not to sleep, not to rise, not to drink, not to eat, not to converse with men; that no man is master of another man's will, but that in the will alone is the good and the bad. No man, then, has the power either to procure for me any good or to involve me in any evil, but I alone myself over myself have power in these things. When, then, these things are secured to me, why need I be disturbed about external things? What tyrant is formidable, what disease, what poverty, what offense? "Well, I have not pleased a certain person." Is he then my work, my judgement? "No." Why then should I trouble myself about him? "But he is supposed to be some one." He will look to that himself; and those who think so will also. But I have One Whom I ought to please, to Whom I ought to subject myself, Whom I ought to obey, God and those who are next to Him. He has placed me with myself, and has put my will in obedience to myself alone, and has given me rules for the right use of it; and when I follow these rules in syllogisms, I do not care for any man who says anything else: in sophistical argument, I care for no man. Why then in greater matters do those annoy me who blame me? What is the cause of this perturbation? Nothing else than because in this matter I am not disciplined. For all knowledge despises ignorance and the ignorant; and not only the sciences, but even the arts. Produce any shoemaker that you please, and he ridicules the many in respect to his own work. Produce any carpenter.

First, then, we ought to have these in readiness, and to do nothing without them, and we ought to keep the soul directed to this mark, to pursue nothing external, and nothing which belongs to others, but to do as He has appointed Who has the power; we ought to pursue altogether the things which are in the power of the will, and all other things as it is permitted. Next to this we ought to remember who we are, and what is our name, and to endeavour to direct our duties toward the character of our several relations in this manner: what is the season for singing, what is the season for play, and in whose presence; what will be the consequence of the act; whether our associates will despise us, whether we shall despise them; when to jeer, and whom to ridicule; and on what occasion to comply and with whom; and finally, in complying how to maintain our own character. But wherever you have deviated from any of these rules, there is damage immediately, not from anything external, but from the action itself.

What then? is it possible to be free from faults? It is not possible; but tills is possible, to direct your efforts incessantly to being faultless. For we must be content if by never remitting this attention we shall escape at least a few errors. But now when you have said, "To-morrow I will begin to attend," you must be told that you are saying this, "To-day I will be shameless, disregardful of time and place, mean; it will be in the power of others to give me pain; to-day I will be passionate and envious." See how many evil things you are permitting yourself to do. If it is good to use attention to-morrow, how much better is it to do so to-day? if to-morrow it is in your interest to attend, much more is it to-day, that you may be able to do so to-morrow also, and may not defer it again to the third day.




1. Epictetus, Discourses I.27, trans. George Long

2. II.18

3. III.12

4. III.16

5. III.25

6. IV.4

7. IV.9

8. IV.12



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