The Enchiridion – Part Forty Four

You, after all, are neither property nor style.

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-Four…

BODY

These reasonings are unconnected: “I am richer than you, therefore I am better;” and; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better.” The connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;” or; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours.” But you, after all, are neither property nor style.

COMMENTARY
That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say. If Epictetus had a name at birth, his name is unknown. The name Epictetus means ‘property,’ or ‘the thing that was bought.’ He lived as a Roman slave and earned his freedom only as an adult. In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about property.

Thrasea used to say, “I would rather be killed today than banished tomorrow.” Hearing this, Rufus replied, “If you choose death as the heavier misfortune, your choice is a great folly. But if you choose death as the lighter, who has given you the choice? Instead, apply yourself to be content with whatever has been given to you.”

Agrippinus used to say, “I am not a hindrance to myself.” When it was reported to him that his trial was going on in the Senate, he said, “I hope it will turn out well; but it is now the fifth hour of the day” (this was the time when he was used to exercise himself and then take the cold bath) “and so let us go and take our exercise.” After he had taken his exercise, someone said to him, “You have been condemned.” Agrippinus asked, “To banishment or to death?” “To banishment.” “What about my property?” “It is not taken from you.” “Let us go to Aricia then,” he said, “and dine.”

This is to have applied yourself to what you ought to apply yourself: to be free from hindrance, and free from all that a man would avoid. I must die. If now, I am ready to die. If after a short time, I will now dine because it is the dinner-hour, and then I will die. How? Like a man who gives up the property that belongs to another.

Think about those who play ball skillfully. No one cares about the ball being good or bad, but about throwing and catching it. In this is the skill, this the art, the quickness, the judgement. If I spread out I may not be able to catch the ball, and if I throw it another may catch it. But if with perturbation and fear we receive or throw the ball, what kind of play is it then, and wherein shall a man be steady, and how shall a man see the order in the game? Men yell “throw it!” or “hold it!” Men yell “You already threw it once!” This is quarreling, not play.

Socrates knew how to play ball. […] And what was the ball in his case? Life, chains, banishment, poison, separation from his wife and leaving his children as orphans. These were the things with which he was playing, and he did play and throw the ball skillfully. So we should do. We must employ all the care of the players, but show the same indifference about the ball. For we ought by all means to apply our art to some external material, not as valuing the material, but, whatever it may be, showing our art in it. The weaver does not make wool, but exercises his art upon the material he receives. When a man gives you food and property, he is able to take them away – and take away your poor body also. When then you have received the material, work on it. If you finish the game without having suffered, all who meet you will congratulate you on your escape.

I am not superior to Socrates; but if I am not inferior, this is enough for me. I shall never be a Milo, and yet I do not neglect my body. Nor shall I be a Croesus, and yet I do not neglect my property. Nor, in a word, do we neglect looking after anything because we despair of reaching the highest degree.

When we write, is anything we write equally writing? No. And is it the same with respect to music? It is the same. And is it the same with every art or science? It is just the same. If it were not the same, if knowledge were adapted to every man’s whim, then it would be of no value to know anything. Now, regarding the greatest and the chief thing there is, and by this I mean freedom, do all means lead only to this? By no means. The only way to freedom is to learn to wish that everything may happen as it does. Things happen as the Giver has given them. He has given us summer and winter, abundance and scarcity, virtue and vice, and all such opposites for the harmony of the whole. To each of us He has given a body, and the parts of the body, and possessions, and companions.

I wish, by the Gods, and pray to be free. But I am not yet able to face my masters. I still value my poor body, I value greatly the preservation of it, though I do not possess it. But I can tell you about a free man, that you need no longer seek an example. Diogenes was free. He was not free because he was born of free parents, but because he was himself free, because he had cast off all the handles of slavery. It was not possible for any man to approach him, nor had any man the means of laying hold of him to enslave him. He had everything loosened, everything only hanging to him. If you laid hold of his property, he would rather have let it go than followed you for it. If you had laid hold of his leg, he would have let go his leg. If you had laid hold of his body, he would have let it go. He would have let go of his intimates, friends and country just the same. For he knew from Whom he had these things, and on what conditions. His parents were the Gods, and his country was the world. These he would never have deserted, nor would he have yielded to any man in obedience to them or to their orders, nor would any man have died for his country more readily.

Where another man possesses money, I possess decency. Where another man possesses power, I possess modesty. But I do not praise myself where it is not becoming. I will not stand up where I ought not to stand. I am free, and I am a friend of Zeus, and so I obey Him willingly. I must not claim anything else, neither body nor possession, nor power, nor a good reputation, nor in fact anything. For Zeus does not allow me to claim them. If He had chosen to do so He would have made them good for me, but He has not done so. For this reason I cannot transgress His commands. Preserve that which is your own good in everything. As to every other thing, as it is permitted, and consistently with reason, be content. If you do not, you will be unlucky, you will fail, you will be hindered, you will be stopped. These are the laws of the world. These are the orders.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Forty-Four of The Enchiridion

These reasonings are unconnected: “I am richer than you, therefore I am better;” and; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better.” The connection is rather this: “I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;” or; “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours.” But you, after all, are neither property nor style.

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 – My Melancholy Baby

Episode 1644