The Enchiridion Part Fifty

Now is the combat, now the Olympiad comes on, nor can it be put off.

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…

BODY

Whatever moral rules you have adopted, abide by them as laws, and as if you would be guilty of impiety to transgress them. Pay no attention to what anyone says of you, for their words, after all, are no concern of yours. How long will you put off thinking yourself worthy of the most noble improvements and how long will you put off following the judgements of reason? You have received the philosophical principles with which you ought to be familiar, and what you have received you are familiar with. What other master are you waiting for, to lay your blame for your delay in reforming yourself? You are no longer a boy, but a grown man. If you will be negligent and slothful, and always add procrastination to procrastination, excuse to excuse, and postpone day after day attending to yourself, you will without realizing it continue to accomplish nothing, and, living and dying, remain one of the vulgar. This instant, then, think yourself worthy of living as a man, grown up, and one who is making progress.

Let whatever appears to be the best be to you an inviolable law. If any instance of pain or pleasure, or glory or disgrace, is set before you, remember that now is the combat, now the Olympiad comes on, nor can it be put off. By giving up, by one single defeat, your honor is lost – or won. Thus Socrates became perfect, improving himself in every way, by attending to nothing but reason. And though you are not yet a Socrates, you ought to live as one who would become a Socrates.

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

You say it is strange that Socrates should have been so treated by the Athenians. Slave, listen to yourself. Speak of things as they are. It is not strange that the poor body of Socrates should have been carried off and dragged to prison by stronger men. It is not strange that when given hemlock, the poor body of Socrates should breathe out its life. Do these things seem strange? Do they seem unjust, do you on account of these things blame God? Socrates was the equal for these things. He knew the nature of good. So whom shall we listen to, Socrates or you? And what does Socrates say? He says: “Anytus and Meletus may kill me, but they cannot hurt me.” He says” “If it so pleases God, so let it be.”

I do not know what to tell you. If I tell you what I think, I will offend you, and you will perhaps leave the school and not return to it. If I do not tell you what I think, watch how I act if you come to me to be improved and I do not improve you at all; watch how I act if you come to me as to a philosopher and I say nothing to you as a philosopher. How cruel it is to you if you leave here as you arrived. If at any time afterward you acquire sense, you will with good reason blame me and say, ‘What did Epictetus observe in me that, when he saw me coming to him in such a dangerous condition, he neglected me and never said a word? Did he so much despair of me? I was young and able to listen to reason. I pity other men who go to such a poor teacher.’

Someone asked Epictetus: “How is it possible that a man who has nothing, who is naked, houseless, without a hearth, squalid, without a slave, without a city, how can such a man have a life that flows easily?”

Epictetus replied: “See, Zeus has sent to you a man to show you that it is possible. Look at me, who am without a city, without a house, without possessions, without a slave. I sleep on the ground. I have no wife, no children. I have no office but the earth and heavens, and one poor cloak. And what more do I want? I am without sorrow. I am without fear. I am free. When did any of you ever see me failing in the object of my desire, or ever falling into that which I would avoid? I never blame God or man, I never accuse any man. None of you has ever seen me with a so much as a sad face. When I meet with those whom you are afraid of and admire, I treat them like slaves. Who, when he sees me, does not think that he sees his king and his master?”

You say you have a fever and cannot attend to my philosophical studies. For what purpose do you attend them, slave? It is that you may be happy, that you may be constant, that you may be in a state conformable to nature all your life. What hinders you when you have a fever from having your ruling faculty conformable to nature? Here is the proof of the thing, here is the test of the philosopher.

Fever is a part of life, like walking, like sailing, like journeying by land. Do you read when you are walking? No. Nor do you when you have a fever. If you walk about well, you have all that belongs to a man who walks. If you bear fever well, you have all that belongs to a man with a fever.

What is it to bear a fever well? Not to blame God or man; not to bemoan and complain; to expect death well and nobly; to do what must be done. When the physician comes in do not to be frightened at what he says. And if he says, “You are doing well,” do not be overjoyed. For what he has told you neither gives you your good nor takes it away. When you were in health, what good was that to you? If the physician says, “You are in a bad way,” do not despond.

For what is it to be ill? Is it that you are near the severance of the soul from the body? There is no harm in this. You are either near the severance now, or you will be near the severance later. Is the world going to be turned upside down when you are dead? Do not flatter the physician. Do not beg him for you to be well. Do not give him an opportunity of raising his eyebrows.

Value a physician as you do a shoemaker when he is measuring your foot, or a carpenter when he is building your house. Treat the physician as to the body which is not yours, but by nature fated to live and then to die.

He who has a fever has an opportunity of doing this. If he does these things, he has what belongs to him. It is not the business of a philosopher to look after these externals, neither his wine nor his reputation nor his poor body, but his own ruling power. As to externals he must act so far as not to be careless about them, and that is all.

Where then is there reason for fear? Where then is there reason for anger? Where then is there fear about what belongs to others, where then is there fear about things which are of no value?

We ought to have these two principles in readiness. First, except the will nothing is good nor bad, and second, that we ought not to lead events, but to follow them.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Fifty of The Enchiridion

Whatever moral rules you have adopted, abide by them as laws, and as if you would be guilty of impiety to transgress them. Pay no attention to what anyone says of you, for their words, after all, are no concern of yours. How long will you put off thinking yourself worthy of the most noble improvements and how long will you put off following the judgements of reason? You have received the philosophical principles with which you ought to be familiar, and what you have received you are familiar with. What other master are you waiting for, to lay your blame for your delay in reforming yourself? You are no longer a boy, but a grown man. If you will be negligent and slothful, and always add procrastination to procrastination, excuse to excuse, and postpone day after day attending to yourself, you will without realizing it continue to accomplish nothing, and, living and dying, remain one of the vulgar. This instant, then, think yourself worthy of living as a man, grown up, and one who is making progress.

Let whatever appears to be the best be to you an inviolable law. If any instance of pain or pleasure, or glory or disgrace, is set before you, remember that now is the combat, now the Olympiad comes on, nor can it be put off. By giving up, by one single defeat, your honor is lost – or won. Thus Socrates became perfect, improving himself in every way, by attending to nothing but reason. And though you are not yet a Socrates, you ought to live as one who would become a Socrates.

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

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

Episode 1650