The Enchiridion Part Fifty-Two

Conduct me, Zeus, and you, O Destiny, wherever your decrees have fixed my lot.

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 Fifty-Two…

BODY

Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:

Conduct me, Zeus, and you, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my lot.
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.
Whoever yields properly to Fate, is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of heaven.
O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be.
Anytus and Melitus may indeed kill me, but hurt me they cannot.

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

A tranquil and happy life contains nothing more than steadiness and freedom from obstacle. Now suppose I am compelled to do something. Then I will do it, with the purpose of observing the measures which I must keep, of acting with modesty, steadiness, without desire or aversion to things external. I will do it that I may attend to men, what they say, how they are moved. I will not do it with any bad disposition, or that I may have something to blame or to ridicule. Instead I will turn to myself, and ask if I also commit the same faults as other men, and how I shall cease to commit them. Formerly I also acted wrong, but now I do not thanks to Zeus.

We ought not even by the appearance of the body to deter the multitude from philosophy. As in other things, a philosopher should show himself cheerful and tranquil. In the things that relate to the body, he should say: “See, you men, that I have nothing and that I want nothing. See how I am without a house, and without a city, and I live in exile. I am without a hearth. And I live more free from trouble and more happily than all of rich and noble birth. Merely look at my poor body and observe that it is not injured by my hard way of living.”

The tyrant will chain the leg, and he will cut away the head. But what then will he not chain and not cut away? The will. This is why the ancients taught the maxim, “Know thyself.” We ought to exercise ourselves in small things and, beginning with them, to proceed to the greater. You can say that you have pain in your head, but do not say, “Alas!” I do not say that you are not allowed to groan, but do not groan inwardly. If your slave is slow in serving you, do not cry out and torment yourself and say, “Everybody hates me!” For who would not hate such a man? Beginning today, relying on these opinions, walk about upright and free.

Because the gods have given us the vine and the wheat, we sacrifice to them. And because they have produced in the human mind that harvest by which they designed to show us the truth which relates to happiness, let us also thank the gods for this.

Show me how you would be free. Imagine some person has caught you and leads you away from your home and says: “You are my slave, for it is in my power to hinder you from living as you please, it is in my power to treat you gently or with cruelty, to tell you where to go.” What do you say to him who treats you as a slave? What means have you of finding one who will rescue you from slavery? Or cannot you even silently look him in the face, with your expression begging to be set free? If that is the case, man, you ought to go gladly to prison, you ought to run there ahead those who lead you.

And when you must die, will you then also fill us with your lamentations, because of all the things you will not see? Is this why you have gone abroad? Was it for this reason you have sought to find some person from whom you might receive benefit? What benefit? Apparently to speak as if you were clever. For this reason you left your brother, your country, your friends and your family so that you might return and speaks as if you were clever. You did not go abroad to obtain steadiness in your mind, nor freedom from troubles, nor being secure from harm, nor to never complain or to blame, nor so that no man may wrong you, nor so that you may maintain your life without impediment. Well. This is a fine business for you that you have gone abroad for. Please now take your place in the public square and proclaim them for sale.

What you have learned brings a bad name to philosophy as something useless. And what harm has philosophy done to you? […] Why do you live to surround yourself with sorrows upon sorrows and make yourself unhappy? I ask you, do you call this affection? What affection, man? If what you do is a good thing, it is the cause of no evil: if it is bad, I have nothing to do with it. I am formed by nature for my own good. I am not formed for my own evil.

This is my business. Neither tyrant nor master shall conquer my will. Nor shall the many conquer me, although I am only one. Nor shall the stronger conquer me, although I am weaker. This business, this power of being free from being conquered is given by Zeus to every man. This power brings love to a house, concord to a state, peace to nations, and gratitude to Zeus. This power makes a man in all things cheerful regarding externals – they are things which belong to others, they are things which are of no value.

Those who can say “if so it pleases the gods, so let it be” should have confidence to speak freely to his own brothers, to his children, in a word to his kinsmen. He is neither overcurious nor a busybody when he is in this state of mind. He is not a meddler with the affairs of others when he is superintending human affairs, but he is looking after his own affairs.

Wretch, will you not dismiss all things that do not concern you at all? Only then will you be able to say: “I am not subject to anger, to grief or to envy. I am not hindered, I am not restrained. I have leisure, I am tranquil. I am not confused by sophistry. When a man has accepted my view, he will not be led away by anything that is absurd.” You will be able to say these things. To those who are happy it is appropriate to light a fire, to dine, if they so choose to both sing and dance. Do not wait until the vessel is sinking to hoist the sails.

O Zeus, I have not in any respect transgressed what you command. I have not wrongly used the powers which You gave me. I have not misused my perceptions or my preconceptions. I have never blamed You. I have never found fault with Your administration. I have been sick, because it was Your will, and so have others; but I was content to be sick. I have been poor because it was Your will, but I was content to be poor. I have not filled a magisterial office, because it was not Your pleasure that I should. I have never desired it. You have never seen me discontent. I have always approached You with a cheerful countenance, ready to do Your commands and to obey Your signals. Is it now Your will that I should depart from the assemblage of men? I depart. I give You all thanks that You have allowed me to join in this Your assemblage of men and to see Your works, and to comprehend this, Your administration. May death surprise me while I am thinking of these things, while I am thus writing and reading.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Fifty-Two of The Enchiridion

Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:

Conduct me, Zeus, and you, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my lot.
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.
Whoever yields properly to Fate, is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of heaven.
O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be.
Anytus and Melitus may indeed kill me, but hurt me they cannot.

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

Episode 1652