The Enchiridion: Chapter Twenty-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 Twenty-Eight…

If a person had delivered up your body to some passer-by, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to revile you?

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

Other people can make you upset, but if you stay upset, that’s probably on you. If you stay upset you have confused something you cannot control with something that is your responsibility. You thought that it was up to you to keep all the bad things from happening in the world, when it was only your job to have the right opinion about them. When insult and injury come your way, consider whether it was you who was hurt, or just your idea of who you are. Nature has provided you with the way to be free and enjoy life. The way is to avoid confusing what is outside your power with what is in your power. And what is in your power is your opinion about insult and injury and freedom and enjoyment.

In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about insult and injury.

“Someone has insulted me!” Great thanks to him for not having struck you. “But he has struck me also!” Great thanks that he did not wound you. “But he wounded me also!” Great thanks that he did not kill you. […] “My neighbor has thrown stones!” Have you then done anything wrong? “But things in my house have been broken!” Are you then a utensil? No – you are a free power of will. What answer is given to you to give to him? If you are like a wolf, you must bite in return, and throw more stones. But if you consider what is proper for a man, examine your store-house and see with what faculties you came into the world.

Nothing hinders a man from living with a light heart and bearing easily the reins, quietly expecting everything which can happen, and enduring that which has already happened. “Would you have me bear poverty?” Come and you will know what poverty is when it has found one who can act well the part of a poor man. “Would you have me possess power?” Let me have power, and also the trouble of it. “Would you have me be banished?” Wherever I go, it is well with me for that is where I am. It is not because of the place that it was well with me, but because of my opinions which I carry with me; no man can deprive me of them. My opinions are mine and they cannot he taken from me, and I am satisfied while I have them, wherever I may be and whatever I am doing. “Would you have me die?” Why do you ask? Make no dramatic and sad show of life, but speak of it as it is. Some day it will be time to be resolved back into that of which it was composed. It is not complex or terrible. What is going to perish of the things which are in the universe? What new or wondrous thing is going to happen? Is it because of death that a tyrant and his guards are formidable? You may say this to others, but I have considered all these things. No man has power over me. I have been made free. I know the commands of Nature and no man can now lead me as a slave. I am a proper person to assert my freedom. I am a proper judge. If another will be the master of my body, that is nothing to me. If another will be the master of my property, that is nothing to me. If another will put me in chains and exile me, that is nothing to me. From all these things and from my poor body itself I will depart at your bidding, when you please. Make trial of your power, and you will know how far it reaches.

Being Good is of a certain kind of Will, and being Bad is of a certain kind of Will. What then are externals? Materials for the Will, about which the will being conversant can obtain its own good or evil. How shall it obtain the good? If it does not admire the materials; for the opinions about the materials, if the opinions are right, make the will good: but perverse and distorted opinions make the will bad. Nature has established this law, and says, “If you would have anything good, receive it from yourself.” You say, “No, but I must have the good from another.” Do not say this, but instead receive it from yourself. When the tyrant threatens and calls me, I say, “Whom do you threaten?” If he says “I will put you in chains,” I say, “You threaten my hands and my feet.” If he says “I will cut off your head,” I reply, “You threaten my head.” If he says “I will throw you into prison,” I say “You threaten the whole of this poor body.” If he threatens me with banishment, I say the same. “Does he, then, not threaten you at all?” If I feel that all of these things do not concern me, then he does not threaten me at all. But if I fear any of them, then yes it is I whom he threatens.

But if you wish to maintain externals also: your poor body; your little property; and your little estimation; I advise you to make from this moment all possible preparation, and then consider both the nature of your judge and your adversary. If it is necessary to embrace his knees, embrace his knees; if to weep, weep; if to groan, groan. For when you have subjected to externals what is your own, then be a slave and do not resist. Do not sometimes choose to be a slave, and sometimes not choose, but with all your mind be one or the other, either free or a slave, either instructed or uninstructed, either a well-bred fighter or a weak one, either endure to be beaten until you die or yield at once; and let it not happen to you to receive many stripes and then to yield. But if slavery to you is base, ask yourself immediately what is good. Good is where truth is. Truth is where nature is. Courage is where truth is.

All things which are independent of the will are neither good nor bad. All things which do depend on the will are within our power, and no man can either take them from us or give them to us if we do not choose. Where is room left for anxiety?

Here again is Part Twenty-Eight of The Enchiridion

If a person had delivered up your body to some passer-by, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to revile you?

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 – Together (Columbia 1295D 1928)

Episode 1628