The Enchiridion Part Five

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the views which they take of things.

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 Five…

BODY

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus death is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible. When, therefore, we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never blame anyone but ourselves; that is, our own judgements. It is the action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own misfortunes; of one entering instruction, to reproach himself; and of one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others nor himself.

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

The philosopher Socrates reasoned that the one fact he knew best was the depth of his ignorance, while the wise men around him falsely claimed to know all. He sought out those who would disagree with him rather than those who would agree with him. For this impiety Socrates was found guilty of corrupting the minds of youth. The rulers of Athens condemned him to death. Socrates accepted his fate, refusing even opportunities to escape from prison. He was told to drink poison, and he drank the poison. His last words were to ask a friend to make an offering to the god of health in thanks for the cure he had just received.

Socrates sought a simple, honest and moral way for men to live. The philosophers around him sought to understand nature, mathematics, politics, medicine and the gods. Socrates said we should inspect our lives and not be carried away by what is appearance only. This approach was influential on Zeno of Cilium, who founded the philosophy of Stoicism a century after the death of Socrates.

The Stoics held that if we live in agreement with nature, no thing outside ourselves can harm us. What is ours to control is our duty, and the rest is the duty of another: of other men, of nature, of the gods, but definitely not our own. When we lay blame, we pretend to take on a role that is not our own. We exchange what could be a life-long freedom for an afternoon of drama.

Can you go the rest of this day without blaming yourself or others?

In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about Socrates.

When you have been well filled today, you sit down and lament about the morrow, how you shall get something to eat. Wretch, if you have it, you will have it; if you have it not, you will depart from life. The door is open. Why do you grieve? Where does there remain any room for tears? […] “If you say to me now,” said Socrates to his judges, “‘We will acquit you on the condition that you no longer discourse in the way in which you have hitherto discoursed, nor trouble either our young or our old men,’ I shall answer, ‘you make yourselves ridiculous by thinking that, if one of our commanders has appointed me to a certain post, it is my duty to keep and maintain it, and to resolve to die a thousand times rather than desert it.'” […] Socrates speaks like a man who is really a kinsman of the gods. But we think about ourselves as if we were only stomachs, and intestines, and shameful parts; we fear, we desire; we flatter those who are able to help us in these matters, and we fear the matters also.

How then did Socrates act? He used to compel his adversary in disputation to bear testimony to him, and he wanted no other witness. Therefore he could say, “I care not for other witnesses, but I am always satisfied with the evidence of my adversary, and I do not ask the opinion of others, but only the opinion of him who is disputing with me.” […] Now this was the first and chief peculiarity of Socrates, never to be irritated in argument, never to utter anything abusive, anything insulting, but to bear with abusive persons and to put an end to the quarrel.

Socrates said we ought not to live a life without examination, so we ought not to accept an appearance without examination. We should say, “Wait, let me see what you are and whence you come.” Or like the watchman at night, “Show me your pass.”

Remember that division by which your own and not your own are distinguished: never claim anything which belongs to others. A tribunal and a prison are each a place, one high and the other low; but the will can be maintained equally, if you choose to maintain it equally in each. And we shall then be imitators of Socrates, when we are able to write hymns in prison.

Did Socrates persuade all his hearers to take care of themselves? Not the thousandth part. But, however, after he had been placed in this position by the deity, as he himself says, he never left it.

Socrates says: “As one man is pleased with improving his land, another with improving his horse, so I am daily pleased in observing that I am growing better.” “Better in what? in using nice little words?” Man, do not say that. “In little matters of speculation?” What are you saying? “And indeed I do not see what else there is on which philosophers employ their time.” Does it seem nothing to you to have never found fault with any person, neither with God nor man? To have blamed nobody? To carry the same face always in going out and coming in? This is what Socrates knew, and yet he never said that he knew anything or taught anything. But if any man asked for nice little words or little speculations, he would lead him to Protagoras or to Hippias; and if any man came to ask for herbs, he would lead him to the gardener. Who then among you has this purpose? For if indeed you had it, you would be content in sickness, and in hunger, and in death. If any among you has been in love with a charming girl, he knows that I say what is true.

You must root out of men these two things: arrogance and distrust. Arrogance is the opinion that you want nothing: but distrust is the opinion that you cannot be happy when so many circumstances surround you. Arrogance is removed by confutation; and Socrates was the first who practiced this. The removal of arrogance is not impossible: inquire and seek. This search will do you no harm; and in a manner this is philosophy, to seek how it is possible to employ desire and aversion without impediment.

If a man possesses any superiority, or thinks that he does, when he does not, such a man, if he is uninstructed, will of necessity be puffed up through it. For instance, the tyrant says, “I am master of all.” And what can you do for me? Can you give me desire which shall have no hindrance? How can you? Have you the infallible power of avoiding what you would avoid? Have you the power of moving toward an object without error? And how do you possess this power? […] Show me. Who wishes to become like you? Who imitates you, as he imitates Socrates? “But I can cut off your head.” You say right. I had forgotten that I must have regard to you, as I would to a fever and the bile, and raise an altar to you, as there is at Rome an altar to fever.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Five of The Enchiridion

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus death is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible. When, therefore, we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never blame anyone but ourselves; that is, our own judgements. It is the action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own misfortunes; of one entering instruction, to reproach himself; and of one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others nor himself.

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 – Give Me a Night in June (Pathe 25215 1927)

Episode 1605