The Enchiridion: Chapter Forty 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 Forty…

Fourteen-year-old girls love to be called names by men. They think that they are ready to give men pleasure, and so they begin to adorn themselves, and so they ruin their lives. We should, therefore, fix our attention on making them sensible that they are valued instead for appearing decent, being modest and practicing discreet behavior.

That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say. Do not concentrate on whether you are or are not a Stoic. I say that the words of Epictetus are strong, true and beautiful, but sometimes only one of these three. I will read to you what the Stoics believed, but it is not always what I believe. These are the words of Epictetus as recorded in The Enchiridion and The Discourses, and you may not decide that these words are not there, or that they do not mean what they plainly mean. It would be a lie of omission if I did not say that these words, too, are what Epictetus said. In The Discourses, Epictetus had this to say…

Women are common property by nature, as the suckling pig is the common property of every man who goes to the banquet.

A young rhetorician came to Epictetus with his hair too elaborately ornamented, and his dress very fine. […] Epictetus asked: are you a man or a woman? A man? Then adorn yourself as a man, not as a woman. A woman is naturally smooth and delicate, and if hairy, she is a monster, and shown among the monsters at Rome. It is the same thing in a man not to be hairy, and if he is by nature not so, he is a monster. But if a man plucks out the hairs of his body, what shall we do with him? Where shall we show him, and how shall we advertise him? Come see the man who would rather be a woman! What a scandalous show! Who would not wonder at such an advertisement? Sir, Nature has made you a man. Why, were all people born to be women? In that case what would have been the use of your finery? For whom would you have made yourself fine, if all people were women? But the whole affair displeases you. Go to work upon the whole, then. Remove your manhood itself and make yourself a woman entirely, that we may be no longer deceived, nor you be half man, half woman. To whom would you be agreeable, to women? Be agreeable to them as a man.

The young rhetorician said: “yes, but women are pleased with effeminate men.”

Epictetus replied: Go hang yourself. If women took delight in effeminate men, would you become one? Is that your business? Were you born for this purpose, that degenerate women should delight in you? Shall we make one such as you a citizen of Corinth and a prefect of the city, or youth leader, or superintendent of the games? And when you have taken a wife, do you intend to have your hairs plucked out? To please whom and for what purpose? And when you have children, will you introduce them also to the habit of plucking their hairs?

Nature has used the hair of the chin in the most suitable manner possible. Nature has used it to distinguished the male and the female. The nature of every man proclaims from a distance, “I am a man; approach me as a man, speak to me as a man. Look for nothing else.” […] In the case of women, Nature has mingled something softer in her voice, and Nature has also deprived women of hair on the chin. You say no, the human animal ought to have been left without marks of distinction, and each of us should be obliged to proclaim who we are. But the marks of distinction are beautiful and becoming and venerable. More beautiful than the rooster’s comb and more becoming than the lion’s mane. For this reason we ought to preserve the signs which Nature has given, we ought not to throw them away. As much as we can, we ought not to confound the distinctions of the sexes.

Like women who are good for nothing, some men have enjoyed places and men and conversation in which they took pleasure, as if they would always enjoy them. Now they sit and weep because they do not see the same persons and do not live in the same places. Such men deserve to be more wretched than crows and ravens who have the power of flying where they please, and changing their nests for others, and crossing the seas without lamenting or regretting their former condition. You say this happens to crows and ravens because they are irrational creatures. Was reason, then, given to us by Nature for the purpose of unhappiness and misery, that we may pass our lives in wretchedness and lamentation? Must all persons be immortal and must no man go abroad, and must we ourselves not go abroad, but remain rooted like plants? If any of our friends go abroad, must we sit and weep? And when he returns, must we dance and clap our hands like children? […] You still want nurses and a mamma. Foolish women, by their weeping, move you and make you effeminate. Will you never cease to be a foolish child? He who acts like a child, the older he is, the more ridiculous he is.

A man who sees contradiction but is not moved and makes no improvement is worse than dead. His modesty and his sense of shame is gone, and while his rational faculty has not been cut off from him it is brutalized. Shall I name this strength of mind? Certainly not, unless we also name it strength of mind in homosexuals, who do and say in public whatever comes into their head.

You cannot, when you do not drink with those with whom you used to drink, be agreeable to them as you were before. Choose, then, whether you will be a hard drinker and pleasant to your former associates, or a sober man and disagreeable to them. You cannot, when you no longer sing with those with whom you used to sing, be equally loved by them. Choose, then, in this matter also which of the two you will have. For if it is better to be modest and orderly than for a man to say, “He is a jolly fellow.” Give up that behavior, renounce them, turn away from them, have nothing to do with such men. But if being a jolly fellow pleases you, turn altogether to the opposite. Become a homosexual, an adulterer, and act accordingly, jump up in the theatre and bawl out in praise of the dancer, and you will get what you wish.

If you lost the art of grammar or music, you would think the loss a damage. If you lose modesty, moderation and gentleness, you would think the loss a damage. Grammar or music are lost by some cause external and independent of the will, while the others are by our own fault. To neither have nor lose grammar or music is not shameful, but as to the second, not to have them and to lose them is shameful and a matter of reproach and a misfortune. What does the homosexual lose? He loses his manhood. […] No man is bad without suffering some loss and damage. If you look for the damage only in the loss of money, such men receive no harm or damage. It may be they have even acquire a bit of money by what they do. But if you refer everything to a small coin, not even he who loses his nose is in your opinion damaged.

“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 the most women. You wish to appear handsome and try to make yourself so, though you are not. You like to display splendid clothes to attract women. You wear perfume and imagine that you are happy. 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 men’s clothes, and talked in a way becoming a good man. Now you ask me, “what do I lose?” So do men lose nothing more than coin? You have lost your modesty. You have lost your descent behavior. This is what you have lost. Perhaps you think that these things are no loss. But there was a time when you said these were your only possessions, and you were anxious that no man should take from you right words and right actions.

I remind you, you may blame the loss of right words and right actions on nobody but yourself. Fight with yourself, restore yourself to decency, to modesty, to liberty. If any man ever told you lies about me, that I was forced 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 lied about me? Now go and help yourself.

Do not speak the language of Epicureans and homosexuals. Do not do what they do and while holding their opinions, speak the words of Zeno and of Socrates. You must throw away as far as you can the things belonging to others with which you now decorate yourself, although they do not fit you at all. All they desire is to sleep without hindrance and free from compulsion, and when they have risen to yawn at their leisure, and to wash their face, then write and read what they choose, and then talk about some trifling matter while being praised by their friends whatever they may say, then to go forth for a walk, and having walked about a little to bathe, and then eat and sleep such sleep as is the fashion of such men. […] If you live like this, do not call yourself a Stoic.

Here again is Part Forty of The Enchiridion

Fourteen-year-old girls love to be called names by men. They think that they are ready to give men pleasure, and so they begin to adorn themselves, and so they ruin their lives. We should, therefore, fix our attention on making them sensible that they are valued instead for appearing decent, being modest and practicing discreet behavior.

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

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

Episode 1640