Enchiridion Part Fifteen

Remember that you must behave as at a banquet.

OPENING
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 Fifteen…

BODY

Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand, and take a moderate share. Does it pass by you? Do not stop it. Is it not yet come? Do not yearn in desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. So with regard to children, wife, office, riches; and you will some time or another be worthy to feasts with the gods. And if you do not so much as take the things which are set before you, but are able even to forego them, then you will not only be worthy to feast with the gods, but to rule with them also. For, by thus doing, Diogenes, Heraclitus, and others like them, deservedly became divine, and were so recognized.

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

It is always a good time to be reasonable, but being reasonable does not always lead to a good time. Teach by your own example at all times, but do not expect that at all times what you teach will be learned by others. Be impatient with all excuses and external forces you let prevent you from improving your life, and be patient with the pace of your own improvement. Be patient also when no improvement happens.

Is any moment well spent yearning for what is not under your control?

In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about taking the time to improve.

Every great power is dangerous to beginners. You must then bear such things as you are able, but conformably to nature. Practice, sometimes, a way of living like a man in health. Abstain from food, drink water, abstain sometimes altogether from desire, in order that you may some time desire consistently with reason. For when consistently with reason, when you have anything good in you, you will desire well. “But we wish to live like wise men immediately, and to be useful to men.” Useful how? What are you doing? Have you been useful to yourself? “But, I suppose, you wish to be useful to men.” If you wish to be useful to them, show to them in your own example what kind of men philosophy makes, and don’t trifle. When you are eating, do good to those who eat with you. When you are drinking, to those who are drinking with you. By yielding to all, giving way, bearing with them, in this way do them good. Do not spit on them.

Every art, when it is taught, causes labor to him who is unacquainted with it and is unskilled in it. Indeed the things which proceed from the arts immediately show their use in the purpose for which they were made. Most of them contain something attractive and pleasing. To be present and to observe how a shoemaker learns is not a pleasant thing, but the shoe is useful and not disagreeable to look at. The discipline of a smith when he is learning is very disagreeable to one who chances to be present and is a stranger to the art. But the work shows the use of the art. You will know this much more in music if you are present while a person is learning. The discipline will appear most disagreeable, and yet the results of music are pleasing and delightful to those who know nothing of music. We conceive the work of a philosopher to be something of this kind. He must adapt his wish to what is going on, so that neither any of the things which are taking place shall take place contrary to his wish, nor any of the things which do not take place shall not take place when he wishes that they should. To those who have taken up the work of philosophy do not fall in desires, nor fall in with that which they would avoid. They are without uneasiness, without fear, without perturbation to pass through life, alone and together with their associates maintaining relations both natural and acquired, as the relation of son, of course, of brother, of citizen, of man, of wife, of neighbor, of companion, of ruler, of ruled. The work of a philosopher we conceive to be something like this.

Caesar appears to furnish us with great peace. There are no longer enemies nor battles nor great associations of robbers nor of pirates. We can travel at every hour and sail from east to west. But can Caesar give us security from fever also, can he from shipwreck, from fire, from earthquake or from lightning? Well, can he give us security against love? He cannot. From sorrow? He cannot. From envy? He cannot. In a word then he cannot protect us from any of these things. But the doctrine of philosophers promises to give us security even against these things. And what does it say? “Men, if you will attend to me, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you will not feel sorrow, nor anger, nor compulsion, nor hindrance, but you will pass your time without perturbations and free from everything.” When a man has this peace, not proclaimed by Caesar (for how should he be able to proclaim it?), but by Nature through reason, he not content when he is alone. He reflects: “Now no evil can happen to me. There is no robber, no earthquake, everything is full of peace, full of tranquillity. Every way, every city, every meeting, neighbor, companion is harmless. One person whose business it is, supplies me with food, another with raiment, another with perceptions, and preconceptions. And if Nature does not supply what is necessary, Nature gives the signal for retreat, opens the door, and says ‘Go.’ Go where? To nothing terrible, but to the place from which you came, to your friends and kinsmen, to the elements. What there was in you of fire goes to fire; of earth, to earth; of air, to air; of water to water.” When a man has such things to think on, and sees the sun, the moon and stars, and enjoys earth and sea, he is not solitary and not helpless.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Fifteen of The Enchiridion.

Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand, and take a moderate share. Does it pass by you? Do not stop it. Is it not yet come? Do not yearn in desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. So with regard to children, wife, office, riches; and you will some time or another be worthy to feasts with the gods. And if you do not so much as take the things which are set before you, but are able even to forego them, then you will not only be worthy to feast with the gods, but to rule with them also. For, by thus doing, Diogenes, Heraclitus, and others like them, deservedly became divine, and were so recognized.

CLOSING
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.

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

MUSIC
Cliff Edwards – Whisper Song (Pathe 25206 1827)

Episode 1615