The Enchiridion: Chapter Twenty-One 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-One…

Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible, be daily before your eyes, but chiefly death; and you will never entertain any low thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.

In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about where we should place our attention.

There are three things in which a man ought to exercise himself who would be wise and good. The first concerns desires and aversions. A man should not fail to get what he desires, and should not fall into that which he does not desire. The second concerns movements toward and away from an object, and generally in doing what a man ought to do, that he may act according to order, to reason, and not act carelessly. The third thing concerns freedom from deception and rashness in judgement, and being influenced. Of these topics the chief and the most urgent is that which relates to being influenced; for an influence is produced in no other way than by a failing to obtain that which a man desires or a falling into that which a man would wish to avoid. This is that which brings in perturbations, disorders, bad fortune, misfortunes, sorrows, lamentations and envy. This is that which makes men envious and jealous. By these causes we are unable even to listen to the precepts of reason. The second thing concerns the duties of a man. I ought not to be free from influence like a statue, but I ought to maintain relations which are natural and acquired, as a pious man, as a son, as a father, as a citizen. The third thing is that which immediately concerns those who are acquiring mastery, who are insuring the security of the other two, so that not even in sleep any unexamined appearance may surprise us, nor in drunkenness, nor in melancholy.

Life is indifferent. The use of life is not indifferent. [When] a man invites you to be careful, do not become low and struck with admiration of material things. It is good for you to know your own preparation and power, that in those matters where you have not been prepared, you may keep quiet, and not be vexed, if others have the advantage over you.

For the pilot of a ship to upset it, he ignores means he has for saving it. If he deliberately turns the ship only a little to the wind, it is lost. If he does not do this deliberately, but neglects his duty, the ship is lost. Something like this happens in men’s lives also. If you fall to nodding only a little, all that you have collected so far will be gone. Attend therefore to the appearances of things and watch over them, for that which you have to preserve is no small matter. It is modesty and fidelity and constancy, freedom from influence, a state of mind undisturbed, courage, tranquillity, and in a word, freedom. For what will you sell your freedom?

Everything may be done acceptably to the gods. When some one asked how may a man eat acceptably to the gods, Epictetus answered: If he can eat justly and contentedly, and with equanimity, and temperately and orderly, it will be acceptable to the gods. But if you have asked for warm water and the slave has not heard, or if he did hear and has brought only tepid water, or if he is not even found to be in the house – if then you are not vexed and you do not burst with passion, this is also acceptable to the gods. Some one asked how can a man endure such persons as this slave? Epictetus answered: slave yourself. Bear with your own brother, who has Zeus for his progenitor, and is like a son from the same seeds and of the same descent from above. If you have been put in any higher place, will you immediately make yourself a tyrant? Will you not remember who you are, and whom you rule? Remember that they are kinsmen, that they are brothers by nature, that they are the offspring of Zeus. Some one said: “But I have purchased them, and they have not purchased me.” Epictetus answered, do you see in what direction you are looking, that it is toward the earth, toward the pit, that it is toward these wretched laws of dead men? Toward the laws of Nature you are not looking.

When a man holds his proper station in life, he does not grasp after things beyond it. Man, what do you wish to happen to you? I am satisfied if I desire and avoid conformably to Nature, if I employ movements toward and from an object as by purpose and design and assent I am formed by Nature to do. Why then do you strut before us as if you had swallowed a stick? “My wish has always been that those who meet me should admire me, and those who follow me should exclaim, ‘Oh, what a great philosopher.’” Who are they by whom you wish to be admired? They are those you used to say are mad. Well then, do you wish to be admired by madmen?

I go to the interpreter and the sacrificer, and I say, “Inspect the viscera for me, and tell me what signs they give.” The man takes the viscera, opens them, and interprets them. He says, “Man, you have a will free by nature from hindrance and compulsion; this is written here in the viscera. I will show you this. Can any man hinder you from assenting to the truth? No man can. Can any man compel you to receive what is false? No man can. You see that in this matter you have the faculty of a will free from hindrance, free from compulsion, unimpeded.” Well, then, in the matter of desire and pursuit of an object, is it otherwise? What can overcome pursuit except another pursuit? What can overcome desire and aversion except another desire and aversion? But, you object, saying: “If you place before me the fear of death, you do compel me.” No, it is not what is placed before you that compels, but your opinion that it is better to be compelled than to die. In this matter it is your opinion that compelled you. Your will compelled your will. […] The interpreter and the sacrificer says: “I find in the viscera the things which are signified to you. If you choose, you are free. If you choose, you will blame no one and you will charge no one. All will be at the same time according to your mind and the mind of Nature.”

Here again is Part Twenty-One of The Enchiridion

Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible, be daily before your eyes, but chiefly death; and you will never entertain any low thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.

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 – One O’Clock Baby (Pathe 25206 1927)

Episode 1621