The Enchiridion: Chapter Twenty-Three 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-Three…

If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, for the pleasure of anyone, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Always be contented with being a philosopher. And, if you wish to be taken for one, appear so to yourself, and you will succeed.

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

A man who acts according to his role will not be swayed by the opinions of others, and since the opinions of others are forever outside of one’s ability to control, they are forever a source of disappointment.

In the role that life given to you, what must you not pay attention to so that you may not disappoint yourself and others and life itself?

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

Now, when it is in our power to look after one thing, and to attach ourselves to it, we prefer to look after many things, and to be bound to many things. We are bound to the body and to property, and to brother and to friend, and to child and to slave. Since, then, we are bound to many things, we are depressed by them and dragged down. For this reason, when the weather is not fit for sailing, we sit down and torment ourselves, and continually look out to see what wind is blowing. “It is blowing north.” What is that to us? “When will the wind blow west?” When it shall choose, my good man. For Nature has not made you the manager of the winds. What then are we to do? We must make the best use that we can of the things which are in our power, and use the rest according to their nature. What is their nature? As Nature may please.

Choose to place your good in that in which you are equal to the gods. You say, “woe is me that I have my father and my mother.” What, do you think it was in your power to choose, and to say: “Let this man at this moment unite with this woman that I may be produced” ? It was not your choice, but it was natural for your parents to exist first, and then for you to be begotten. What kind of parents? Of such kind as they were. Well then, since they are as they are, is there no remedy given to you? If you did not know for what purpose you can see, you would be unfortunate and wretched if you closed your eyes when colors were brought before them. But you possess greatness of soul and nobility of spirit for every event that may happen. You know that you possess them – yet close your eyes, and therefore you are even more more unfortunate and wretched.

Look to the faculties which you have, and when you have looked at them, say: “Bring now, O Zeus, any difficulty that you please. For I have means and powers given to me by You for honoring myself through the difficult things which happen.” But you, you do not so. You sit still, trembling for fear that some things will happen, and weeping, and lamenting and groaning for what does happen. Then you blame the gods. The consequence of such weakness of spirit is impiety. And yet Zeus has given us faculties by which we are able to bear everything that happens without being depressed or broken by it. Like a good king and a true father, He has given us these faculties free from hindrance, subject to no compulsion, unimpeded, and has put them entirely in our own power, without even having reserved to Himself any power of hindering or impeding. You, who have received these powers for free and as your own, do not use them. You do not even see what you have received, and from whom. Some of you are blind to the Giver and do not acknowledge your Benefactor. Others, through meanness of spirit, set yourselves to find fault and blame Zeus. I show to you that you have means and powers for greatness of soul and manliness. What you show me are the powers you have for finding fault and making accusations.

You say, “Yes, but my nose runs.” Slave, why do you have you hands if not that you may wipe your nose? Is it therefore consistent with reason that there should be runny noses in this world. How much better it is to wipe your own nose than to find fault. What would Hercules have been if there had not been a lion, and a hydra, and a stag, and a boar, and unjust and bestial men, whom Hercules had to drive away and clear out? And what would he have been doing if there had been nothing of the kind? It is plain that he would have wrapped himself up and have slept. He would not then have been Hercules, by dreaming away all his life in such luxury and ease. He would have been of no use. He would have no use of his strong arms, and strong body, and his endurance and his noble spirit, if circumstances had not roused and exercised him. “Well, then, must a man provide for himself such means of exercise, and to introduce a lion from some place into his country, and a boar and a hydra?” To bring about such circumstances would be folly and madness. But as they did exist, and they were found, they were useful for showing what Hercules was and for exercising him.

Show me your improvement in these things. If I were talking to an athlete, I would say “Show me your shoulders.” He might reply “Here are my weights.” I would reply “I wish to see the effect of the weights.” So when you say “Test me on the treatise on the active powers, and see how I have studied it,” I reply: “Slave, I am not inquiring about this, but how you exercise pursuit and avoidance, desire and aversion, how you design and purpose and prepare yourself, whether conformably to Nature or not. If conformably, give me evidence of it, and I will say that you are making progress. But if not conformably, be gone. Instead, expound your books, and write such books yourself. What will you gain by books? Do you not know that the treatise on the active powers, the whole book, costs only five denarii? Are you worth more than five denarii?

Here again is Part Twenty-Three of The Enchiridion

If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, for the pleasure of anyone, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Always be contented with being a philosopher. And, if you wish to be taken for one, appear so to yourself, and you will succeed.

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 – When You and I Were Young Maggie Blues (1934)
Cliff Edwards – My Bundle of Love (1925)

Episode 1623