The Enchiridion: Chapter Eight by Epictetus

I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, The Enchiridion by Epictetus. Part Eight…

Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and your life will be serene.

That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say.

The Stoics said that we are never given difficulties that are both greater than our capacity to resolve them and that are inescapable. Either nature would provide a way for us to resolve the problem at hand, or nature would provide a way for us to leave all of our problems at once. Self-inflicted problems, they said, were more common and entirely avoidable. What is ours, we must tend to. What is not ours, we must turn away from.

Is there a harmony between your wishes and your actions, or do you strive mightily to keep them apart?

In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about wishes.

Consider, you who are going into court, what you wish to maintain and what you wish to succeed in. For if you wish to maintain a will conformable to nature, you have every security, every facility, you have no troubles. If you wish to maintain what is in your own power and is naturally free, and if you are content with these, what else do you care for? [..] Therefore Socrates said to one who was reminding him to prepare for his trial, “Do you not think then that I have been preparing for it all my life?” By what kind of preparation? “I have maintained that which was in my own power.”

He who is making progress, having learned from philosophers that desire means the desire of good things, and aversion means aversion from bad things; having learned too that happiness and tranquillity are not attainable for men other than by not failing to obtain what he desires, and not falling into that which he would avoid; such a man takes from himself desire altogether and defers it. He employs his aversion only to things which are dependent on his will. For if he attempts to avoid anything independent of his will, he knows that sometimes he will fall in with something which he wishes to avoid, and he will be unhappy. Now if virtue promises good fortune and tranquility and happiness, certainly also the progress toward virtue is progress toward each of these things. For it is always true that to whatever point the perfecting of anything leads us, progress is an approach toward this point.

Where then is progress? If any of you, withdrawing yourself from externals, turns to your own will to exercise it and to improve it by labor so as to make it conformable to nature, elevated, free, unrestrained, unimpeded, faithful, modest; and if you have learned that if you desire or avoid the things which are not in your power you can neither be faithful nor free, but instead you must change with them and be tossed about as in a tempest, and of necessity must subject yourself to others who have the power to procure or prevent what you desire or would avoid; finally, when you rise in the morning, if you observe and keep these rules, bathe as a man of fidelity, eat as a modest man; in like manner, if in every matter that occurs you work out your chief principles as the runner does with reference to running, and the trainer of the voice with reference to the voice – you are the man who truly makes progress, and you are the man who has not traveled in vain. But if you have strained your efforts with the practice of reading books, and labor only at this, and have traveled for this, I tell you to return home immediately, and do not to neglect your affairs there. For this for which you have traveled is nothing.

Man, your purpose was to make yourself capable of conforming to nature the appearances presented to you, in your desires not to be frustrated, in your aversion from things not to fall into that which you would avoid. Never to have no luck, nor ever to have bad luck, to be free, not hindered, not compelled. Conforming yourself to the administration of Zeus, obeying it, well satisfied with this, blaming no one, charging no one with fault, able from your whole soul to utter “Lead me, O Zeus, and thou, too, Destiny.”

There are certain penalties fixed as by law for those who disobey the divine administration. Whoever thinks any other thing to be good except those things which depend on the will, let him envy, let him desire, let him flatter, let him be perturbed. Whoever thinks anything else to be evil except those things which do not depend on the will, let him grieve, let him lament, let him weep, let him be unhappy. And yet, though so severely punished, we cannot desist. […] This, then, may be applied even to a father: “I must not, even if a worse man than you should come, treat a father unworthily, for all are from paternal Zeus.” And of a brother: “For all are from the Zeus who presides over kindred.”

[In] the things which relate to yourself, you must not be in any respect like what you do now. You must not blame God or man. You must take away desire altogether. You must transfer avoidance only to the things which are within the power of the will. You must not feel anger nor resentment nor envy nor pity. A girl must not appear beautiful to you, nor must you love a little reputation, nor be pleased with a boy or a cake. For you ought to know that the rest of men throw walls and houses and darkness around themselves when they do any such things, and they have many means of concealment.

Let not that which in another is contrary to nature be an evil to you. For you are not formed by nature to be depressed with others nor to be unhappy with others, but to be happy with them. If a man is unhappy, remember that his unhappiness is his own fault. For Nature has made all men to be happy, to be free from perturbations. For this purpose Nature has given means to them: some things to each person as his own, and other things not as his own; some things subject to hindrance and compulsion and deprivation.

Here again is Part Eight of The Enchiridion

Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and your life will be serene.

Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters.

Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.

Cliff Edwards – The Moon is Low (Columbia 2169D 1930)

Episode 1608