Enchiridion Part Twelve

It were better to die of hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence, but troubled.

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 Twelve…

BODY

If you would improve, lay aside such reasonings as these: “If I neglect my affairs, I shall have no income; if I do not punish my servant, he will be good for nothing.” For it were better to die of hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence, but troubled; and it is better that your servant should be bad than you unhappy.

Begin therefore with little things. Is a little oil spilt or a little wine stolen? Say to yourself, “This is the price paid for peace and tranquility; and nothing is to be had for nothing.” And when you call your servant, consider that it is possible he may not come at your call; or, if he does, that he may not do what you wish. But it is not at all desirable for him, and very undesirable for you, that it should be in his power to cause you any disturbance.

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

Nature provides that those who are physically strong do not have their bodies harmed by those who are physically weak, and nature provides that those who have strong wills do not have their will harmed by those whose wills are weak. When you find yourself punished, deserving or not, remember that no one can take from you what is your own, and that is your reason and your will.

To avoid being punished, do you strengthen your fear or do you strengthen your will?

In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about punishment.

You say: “Ought not then the robber and the adulterer be destroyed?” By no means say so, but speak rather in this way: “This man has been mistaken and deceived about the most important things. He is blind not in vision which distinguishes white and black, but in distinguishing good and bad. Should we not destroy him?” If you speak in this way, you will see how inhuman this is which you say. It is just as if you would say, “Ought we not to destroy the blind man and the deaf man?” […] Man, you ought not to be affected contrary to nature by the bad things of another. Pity him rather. Drop this readiness to be offended and to hate, and to utter “These accursed and odious fellows.” How have you been made so wise all at once? […] Why then are we angry? Is it because we value the things of which these men rob us? Do not admire your clothes, and then you will not be angry with the thief. Do not admire the beauty of your wife, and you will not be angry with the adulterer. Learn that a thief and an adulterer have no place in the things which are yours, but in those which belong to others which are not in your power. If you dismiss these things and consider them as nothing, with whom are you still angry? But so long as you value these things, be angry with yourself rather than with the thief and the adulterer.

The measure of every act is the appearance, whether the thing appears good or bad. If good, a man is free from blame. If bad, he himself suffers the penalty, for it is impossible that he who is deceived can be one person, and he who suffers another person. Whoever remembers this will not be angry with any man, will not be vexed at any man, will not revile or blame any man, nor hate nor quarrel with any man. “So then all these great and dreadful deeds have this origin, in the appearance?” Yes, this origin and no other.

I am told I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I am told I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I am told I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment? I am told: “Tell me the secret which you possess.” I will not, for this is in my power. I am told: “But I will put you in chains.” Man, what are you talking about? Me in chains? You may fetter my leg, but my will not even Zeus himself can overpower. I am told: “I will throw you into prison.” My poor body, you mean. I am told: “I will cut your head off.” When, then, have I told you that my head cannot be cut off? These are the things which philosophers should meditate on, which they should write daily, in which they should exercise themselves.

“Do you philosophers then teach us to despise kings?” I hope not. Who among us teaches to claim against kings the power over things which they possess? Take my poor body, take my property, take my reputation, take those who are about me. […] “Yes, but I intend to command your opinions also.” Who has given you this power? How can you conquer the opinion of another man? “By applying terror to it I will conquer it.” Opinion conquers itself, and is not conquered by another. But nothing else can conquer will except the will itself. For this reason the law of Nature is most powerful and most just, and it is this: “Let the stronger always be superior to the weaker.” Ten are stronger than one. Stronger in what way? For putting in chains, for killing, for dragging where they choose, for taking away what a man has. The ten conquer the one because they are stronger.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Twelve of The Enchiridion

If you would improve, lay aside such reasonings as these: “If I neglect my affairs, I shall have no income; if I do not punish my servant, he will be good for nothing.” For it were better to die of hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence, but troubled; and it is better that your servant should be bad than you unhappy.

Begin therefore with little things. Is a little oil spilt or a little wine stolen? Say to yourself, “This is the price paid for peace and tranquility; and nothing is to be had for nothing.” And when you call your servant, consider that it is possible he may not come at your call; or, if he does, that he may not do what you wish. But it is not at all desirable for him, and very undesirable for you, that it should be in his power to cause you any disturbance.

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 – Hush My Mouth (Vocalion 2576 1933)
Cliff Edwards – Paddlin’ Madelin Home

Episode 1612