The Enchiridion: Chapter Forty-Five 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-Five…

Does a man bathe hastily? Don’t say that he does ill, but that he bathes hastily. Does a man drink too much wine? Don’t say that he does ill, but that he drinks too much wine. For unless you perfectly understand his motives, how can you know if he does ill? If you consider this, you will not risk yielding to appearances you do not fully comprehend.

That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say. Stoicism was one of several schools of philosophy alive in the ancient world. Epicureanism was another. Epictetus, the Stoic, did not have kind words for Epicurus and the Epicureans. Epictetus claimed he did perfectly understand their motives, and he did say that they drank too much wine.

In The Discourses, Epictetus had this to say about the Epicureans…

The Epicureans say that the good must be in the body […] But you yourself, Epicurus, possess something better than this. It is that in you which deliberates, which examines everything, which forms a judgement about the body itself, and which is the principle part.

Epicurus perceives that we are by nature social, but having placed our good in the body he is not able to say anything else. Now, he does maintain that we ought not to admire nor to accept anything which is detached from the nature of good, and he is right in maintaining this. But then he says we have no natural affection for our children, and he advises the wise man not to bring up children. […] Epicurus knows that once a child is born, it is no longer in our power not to love the child nor care about the child. Epicurus also says that a man who has any sense does not engage in political matters, for he knows what a man must do who is engaged in such things. […] Epicurus says that we should not bring up children. But a sheep does not desert its own offspring, and neither does a wolf. Shall a man desert his child? What do you mean, that we should be more foolish than sheep? Sheep do not desert their offspring. Savage wolves do not desert their young. Well, who would follow your advice, Epicurus, if he saw his child weeping after falling on the ground? For my part I think that, even if your mother and your father had been told by an oracle that you would say what you have said, they would not have deserted you.

Now, sit down and explain yourself according to the opinions of Epicurus, and perhaps you will explain his opinions in a more useful manner than Epicurus himself. Why do you call yourself a Stoic? Why do you deceive so many? […] Observe yourselves in your actions, and you will find to what sect you belong. You will find that most of you are Epicureans, a few Peripatetics, and all of you weak. None of you can show me you consider virtue equal to everything else, much less superior. Show me just one Stoic, if you can. I don’t know where or how. Please don’t show me an endless number who utter small arguments of the Stoics. That’s just as bad as the Epicureans.

Epicurus, when he designs to destroy the natural fellowship of mankind, at the same time makes use of that which he destroys. He says: “Be not deceived, nor be led astray, nor be mistaken: there is no natural fellowship among rational animals, believe me. Those who say otherwise deceive you and seduce you by false reasons.” […] Man, why do you trouble yourself about us? Why do you keep awake for us? Why do you light your lamp? Why do you rise early? Why do you write so many books, that we may not be deceived that the gods take care of men. You say the nature of good is pleasure. If this is so, lie down and sleep, and lead the life of a worm, of which you judge yourself worthy. Eat and drink, and enjoy women, and take a nap, and snore. […]

Why did Epicurus wake from his sleepiness and what compelled him to write what he did write? Nothing else than that which is the strongest thing in men: Nature. Nature, which draws a man to Her own will though he be unwilling and complains. Nature said: “Since you think that there is no community among mankind, write this opinion and leave it for others, and stay awake to do this, and so by your own practice condemn your own opinions.” […]

Epicurus says: “There are no Gods, and, if there are, they do not take care of men, nor is there any fellowship between us and Them. All talk of piety and sanctity are the lies of braggarts and sophists and legislators for the purpose of terrifying and controlling wrong-doers.” Well done, philosopher, you have done something for our citizens: you have taught young men contempt of things divine. Epicurus says: “Justice is nothing, modesty is folly, a father is nothing, a son is nothing.” Well done, philosopher, go on, persuade the young men, that we may have more with the same opinions as you, who say the same as you. From principles such as yours have grown our well-constituted states. […]

Man, what are you doing? You refute yourself every day, and you need to give up these frigid attempts at philosophy. When you eat, where do you carry your hand to: your mouth or to your eye? When you wash yourself, what do you go into? Do you ever call a pot a dish, or a ladle a spit? If I were a slave of any of these Epicureans, even if it meant I would be flayed by my master daily, I would bedevil him. If he said, “Boy, throw some olive-oil into the bath,” I would take vinegar and pour it down on his head. “What is this?” he would say. Then I’d say ‘an appearance was presented to me, I swear by your soul, which could not be distinguished from oil and was exactly like it.’ If he commanded me to bring him beer, I would bring him hot sauce. “Did I not ask for beer?” Yes, master, this is beer. He would complain: “but smell it, taste it!” Then I’d say, ‘how do you know then if our senses deceive us?’ If I had three or four fellow-slaves to work with I could drive him crazy, until he either hung himself or changed his mind. Epicureans mock us by using all the things which nature gives, and use words to destroy them.

In the name of God, would you want a city full of Epicureans? You’d hear people say “I do not marry, for a man ought not to marry; nor ought we to beget children, nor engage in public matters.” What then will happen? From where will citizens come? Who will bring them up? Who will teach the youth, and what will be taught to them? Go ahead, take a young man, bring him up according to your doctrines. Epicurean doctrines are bad, subversive to the state, pernicious to families, and not attractive to women. Dismiss them, my man.

Here again is Part Forty-Four of The Enchiridion

Does a man bathe hastily? Don’t say that he does ill, but that he bathes hastily. Does a man drink too much wine? Don’t say that he does ill, but that he drinks too much wine. For unless you perfectly understand his motives, how can you know if he does ill? If you consider this, you will not risk yielding to appearances you do not fully comprehend.

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 – Broken Hearted (Pathé Actuelle 25215-A 1927)

Episode 1645