The Enchiridion Part Forty-Eight

You are making progress if you censure no one, praise no one, blame no one, accuse no one, and say nothing concerning yourself as being anybody or knowing anything.

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 Forty-Eight…

BODY

Most men never expect they will benefit or hurt themselves, but that externals will benefit and hurt them. A philosopher expects all hurt and benefit from himself. You are making progress if you censure no one, praise no one, blame no one, accuse no one, and say nothing concerning yourself as being anybody or knowing anything. If you are hindered or restrained, you accuse only yourself; and if you are praised, you secretly laugh at the person who praises you. If you are attacked, you makes no defense. You are making progress if you go about with the caution of an injured man, careful not to fix things that are not broken as you progress. You suppress all desire in yourself, you transfer aversion to those things only which thwart the proper use of your will. You exert your power modestly. If you appear stupid or ignorant, you do not care, and, in a word, you watch yourself as you would watch for an enemy lying in ambush.

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

Someone asked Epictetus how it happened that since reason has been more cultivated by the men of the present age, the progress made in former times was greater. Epictetus replied in this way:

In what respect has it been more cultivated now, and in what respect was the progress greater then? In that in which it has now been more cultivated, in that also the progress will now be found. At present it has been cultivated for the purpose of resolving syllogisms, and progress is made. But in former times it was cultivated for the purpose of maintaining the governing faculty in a condition conformable to nature, and progress was made. Do not, then, mix things which are different. Do not expect when you are laboring at one thing to make progress in another. But see if any man among us, when he is intent on keeping himself in a state conformable to nature and living so always, does not make progress. For you will not find such a man.

The difference between most men and a philosopher is this: most men say “woe to me for my little child, for my brother, for my father.” The philosopher, if he is compelled to say, “Woe to me,” stops and says, “but for myself.” For nothing which is independent of the will can hinder or damage the will, and the will can only hinder or damage itself. If we ourselves incline in this direction, so as to blame ourselves when we are unlucky, and to remember that nothing else is the cause of perturbation or loss of tranquillity except our own opinion, I swear to you by all the gods that we have made progress.

But in the present state of affairs we have gone another way from the beginning. For example, when we were children, the nurse, if we ever stumbled through want of her care, did not chide us but would beat the stone we stumbled on. But what did the stone do? Ought the stone to have moved on account of your child’s folly? Again, if we find nothing to eat on coming out of the bath, a common teacher never checks his appetite, but instead flogs the cook. Man, when did we make you the teacher of the cook and not of the child? Teach the child, improve him.

Because of the present state of affairs, even when we are grown up we are like children. He who is unmusical is a child in music. He who is without letters is a child in learning. He who is untaught, is a child in life.

To this matter before all you must attend: that you be never so closely connected with any of your former intimates or friends as to come down to the same acts as they do. If you do not observe this rule, you will ruin yourself. If the thought arises in your mind that you will seem disobliging to your former friends and they will not have the same feeling toward you, remember that nothing is done without cost, nor is it possible for a man if he does not do the same to be the same man that he was. Choose, then, which of the two you will have: to be equally loved by those by whom you were formerly loved, being the same with your former self, or, being superior, not to obtain from your friends the same praise that you did before. If their praise is better, run to it, and let not other considerations draw you in a different direction.

No man is able to make progress when he is wavering between opposite things. Find what you prefer to all other things, attend to this only, work out this only, and give up everything else. If you will not do this, your wavering will produce two things. First, you will not improve as you ought, and second, you will not have again what you had before. In the past you plainly desired the things which were worth nothing, and by this you pleased your associates.

You cannot progress in two opposite directions. If you decide on the one, you must fall short in the other.

When you see a great man, remember that another from above sees what is going on, and remember that you ought to please Him rather than the great man. He who sees from above will ask you what they used to teach you in school about exile and bonds and death and disgrace. The answer is, to say that they are things indifferent. He who sees from above will ask what you say of these things now, if they have changed at all? The answer is no. He will asked if you changed, and the answer is no. He will ask what things are indifferent, and those are the things independent of the will, and they are nothing to you. He will ask you what is the Good. The Good, you can say, is a will such as we ought to have and also such a use of appearances. He who sees from above will ask you what is a will such as we ought to have, and the answer is to follow Him. That is what you should say.

Then go see the great man boldly and remember these things. You will see what a youth is who has studied these things when he is among men who have not studied them.

I indeed imagine that you will have such thoughts as these: “Why do we make so great and make so many preparations for nothing? Is this the thing which men call greatness? Is this wealth? […] Is it for this that I listened to so many discourses? All this I see is nothing: for I have been preparing myself for something great.”

CHORUS
Here again is Part Forty-Seven of The Enchiridion

Most men never expect they will benefit or hurt themselves, but that externals will benefit and hurt them. A philosopher expects all hurt and benefit from himself. You are making progress if you censure no one, praise no one, blame no one, accuse no one, and say nothing concerning yourself as being anybody or knowing anything. If you are hindered or restrained, you accuse only yourself; and if you are praised, you secretly laugh at the person who praises you. If you are attacked, you makes no defense. You are making progress if you go about with the caution of an injured man, careful not to fix things that are not broken as you progress. You suppress all desire in yourself, you transfer aversion to those things only which thwart the proper use of your will. You exert your power modestly. If you appear stupid or ignorant, you do not care, and, in a word, you watch yourself as you would watch for an enemy lying in ambush.

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 – Someone’s Stolen My Sweet Sweet Baby (Pathe Actualle N106384 1925)

Episode 1648