The Enchiridion Part Eleven

Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.”

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 Eleven…

BODY

Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Has your child died? Your child is returned. Has your wife died? Your wife is returned. Has your estate been taken away? Well, that likewise is returned. “But it was a bad man who took it.” What is it to you by whose hands He who gave it has demanded it again? While He permits you to possess it, consider it as something not your own, as travelers do an inn.

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

Stoicism is a way to distinguish what endures and what changes. Man’s nature endures. Man’s circumstance will always change. By relying on what is in man’s nature, man can endure all changes. One aspect of man’s enduring nature is the ability to reason, to distinguish what is within a man’s power to control and what is not. What is not in a man’s power to control can be observed without passion. We are not born to live forever or to be eternally happy, and to wish for either is to invite sure sorrow. We can enjoy what is enjoyable, and not complain overly about what is not painful, and this knowledge that we pass through and do not stay in life is a source of peace. Reason is unchanging and always with us, and reason can break the spine of the worst of bad habits.

What must you do now to let go of what has been returned?

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

We should act as we do in the case of a voyage. What can I do? I can choose the master of the ship, the sailors, the day, the opportunity. If a storm comes, what do I care? For my part is done. The storm belongs to another. If the ship is sinking, what do I care? I do the only things that I can. I must not drown full of fear, nor screaming, nor blaming God, but knowing that what has been produced must also perish. I am not an immortal being, but a man. A part of the whole, as an hour is a part of the day. I must be present like the hour, and pass like the hour. What difference, then, does it make to me how I pass away, whether by being suffocated or by a fever? I must pass through some such means.

If you withdraw from externals, exercise and improve your will by labor so as to make it conformable to nature, elevated, free, unrestrained, unimpeded, faithful and modest… [And] when you rise in the morning, if you observe and keeps these rules, bathe as a man of fidelity, eat as a modest man… [If] in every matter you work out your principles as the runner does with reference to running, and the trainer of the voice with reference to the voice… then you truly make progress. You are a man who has not traveled in vain. But if you have strained your efforts to the practice of reading books, and labor only at reading books, and have traveled for reading books, I tell you to return home immediately, and not to neglect your affairs there. For only reading books is nothing.

The works of God have power of motion: they breathe, they have the faculty of using the appearances of things, and the power of examining them. Being the work of such an artist, do you dishonor Him? He that not only made you, but also entrusted you to yourself. Do you dishonor your guardianship? If God had entrusted an orphan to you, would you neglect the orphan? God has delivered yourself to your care, and says, “I had no one fitter to entrust you to than yourself. Keep yourself for me as you are by nature: modest, faithful, standing tall, unterrified, free from passion and perturbation.”

When you have been angry, you must know that not only has this evil befallen you, but that you have also increased the habit, and in a manner thrown fuel upon fire. [He] who has had a fever and has been relieved from it is not in the same state that he was before, unless he has been completely cured. Something of the kind happens also in diseases of the soul. Certain traces and scars are left in it, and unless a man shall completely efface them, when he is again lashed on the same places, the lash will produce not scars but sores. If then you wish not to be of an angry temper, do not feed the habit. Throw nothing on it which will increase it. At first keep quiet, and count the days on which you have not been angry. I used to be in passion every day, then every second day, then every third, then every fourth. But if you have gone thirty days, make a sacrifice to the gods. For the habit at first begins to be weakened, and then is completely destroyed.

Men generally act as a traveler would do on his way to his own country when he enters a good inn: being pleased with it, he remains there. Man, you have forgotten your purpose: you were not traveling to this inn, but you were pass through it. “But this is a pleasant inn.” And how many other inns are pleasant? And how many meadows are pleasant? Yet only pleasant by passing through. Your purpose is this: return to your country, relieve your kinsmen of anxiety, discharge the duties of a citizen, marry, beget children, fill the usual magistracies. For you are not come to select more pleasant places, but to live in these where you were born and of which you were made a citizen.

What do you do when you land from a ship? Do you take away with you the rudder, or the oars? What do you take, then? Your own, your bundle and your flask. If you will but remember what is your own, you will not covet what belongs to others. […] It is as with a bed in an inn. If the landlord, when he dies, leaves you the bed, well and good. But if to another it will be his, and you will seek one elsewhere. If you do not find one, you will sleep upon the ground. But sleep fearlessly and profoundly.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Eleven of The Enchiridion

Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; but, “I have returned it.” Has your child died? Your child is returned. Has your wife died? Your wife is returned. Has your estate been taken away? Well, that likewise is returned. “But it was a bad man who took it.” What is it to you by whose hands He who gave it has demanded it again? While He permits you to possess it, consider it as something not your own, as travelers do an inn.

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 – Crazy People (Brunswick Records 6319 1932)

Episode 1611