The Enchiridion Part Forty-Seven

Consider how much more frugal the poor are than we, and how much more patient of their hardships.

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-Seven…

BODY

When you have learned to nourish your body frugally, do not compliment yourself for it. Nor, if you drink water, to say upon every occasion, “I drink water.” But first consider how much more frugal the poor are than we, and how much more patient of their hardships. If at any time you would strengthen yourself by exercise and privation, do it for your own sake, and not to be seen doing it. Do not show off but, when you are violently thirsty, rinse your mouth with a little cold water and tell nobody.

COMMENTARY
In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about boasts and brags.

First say to yourself who you wish to be, and then act accordingly. In nearly all things we see this it the way. An athlete will first determine what he wishes to be, and then act accordingly. If a man is a marathon runner, he will have a certain kind of diet, of walking, stretching and of exercise. If a man is a sprinter in the stadium, all these things are different. If he is a Pentathlete, all these things are still more different. So you will find it also in the arts. If you are a carpenter, you will act accordingly. If a worker in metal, you will act accordingly. For everything that we do, if we refer it to no end we shall do it to no purpose, and if we refer it to the wrong end we shall miss the mark.

Further, there is a general purpose, and a particular purpose. First of all, we must act as a man. What does this mean? We must not be like a sheep, though gentle, nor mischievous, like a wild beast. Nature has reference to each person’s mode of life and his will. The lute-player acts as a lute-player, the carpenter as a carpenter, the philosopher as a philosopher, the rhetorician as a rhetorician. When then you say, “Come and hear me read to you” take care first of all that you are not doing this without a purpose. Then, if you have discovered that you are reading with a purpose, consider if it is the right purpose. Do you wish to do good or to be praised? If you say there is no value of praise from the many, you says well. Praise does not improve music nor mathematics. Do you then wish to be useful? in what? tell us that we may run to your audience-room. How can a man do anything useful to others, who has not done something useful himself? No. For neither can a man do anything useful in the carpenter’s art unless he is a carpenter, nor in the shoemaker’s art unless he is a shoemaker.

Do you wish to know if you have done something useful to yourself? Produce your opinions, philosopher. What is the thing which desire promises? Attainment of desire. What does aversion promise? Avoiding that which we would avoid. Well then: do we fulfill our promise? Tell me the truth. If you lie, I will catch you.

Lately when your audience responded coldly and did not give you applause, you went away humbled. Lately again when you had been praised, you went about and said to all, “What did you think of me?”

“Wonderful, master, I swear by all that is dear to me.”

“But how did I treat of that particular matter?”

“Which?”

“The passage in which I described Pan and the nymphs?”

“Excellently.”

And then do you tell me that in desire and in aversion you are acting according to nature? Begone! Try to trick somebody else. Did you not praise a certain person contrary to your opinion? and did you not flatter a certain person who was the son of a senator? Would you wish your own children to be such persons?

“I hope not.”

Why then did you praise and flatter him?

“He is an ingenuous youth and listens well to discourses.”

How do you know this?

“He admires me.”

There: you have stated your proof. But you must know these very people secretly despise you.

When a man who is conscious that he has neither done any good nor even thinks of doing good finds a philosopher who says, “You have a great natural talent, and you have a candid and good disposition,” what else do you think that he says except this: “This man has some need of me?” Tell me what act he has shown that indicates a great mind. Ah. He has been in your company a long time, he has listened to your discourses, he has heard you reading. But has he become more modest? Has he been turned to reflect on himself? has he perceived in what a bad state he is? Has he cast away self-conceit? Does he look for a person to teach him?

“He does.”

A man who will teach him to live well? No, fool, but how to talk well. It is for this that he admires you. Listen and hear what he says about you: “This man writes with perfect art, much better than Dion.” This is altogether another thing. Does he say, “This man is modest, faithful, free from perturbations?” Even if he did say it, I should say to him, “Since this man is faithful, tell me what this faithful man is faithful to.” And if he could not tell me, I should add this, “First understand what you say, then speak.”

Tell the truth slave, and do not run away from your masters, nor deny, nor venture to produce any one to assert your freedom, when you are so clearly still a slave. When a man is compelled by love to do something contrary to his opinion, and at the same time sees the better but has not the strength to follow it, one might consider him still more worthy of excuse as being held by a certain violent and, in a manner, a divine power. But who could endure you who are in love with old women and old men, and wipe the old women’s noses, and wash them and give them presents, and also wait on them like a slave when they are sick, and at the same time wish them dead, and question the physicians whether they are dying soon. In order to obtain great and much admired magistracies and honors, you kiss the hands of these slaves of others, and so you are not the slave even of free men. Then you walk about before me in stately fashion, praetor or a consul. I know how you became a praetor, and by what means you got your consulship, and who gave it to you. I would not even choose to live, if I must live by help of Felicion and endure his arrogance and servile insolence. I know what a slave who thinks he is fortunate, and puffs up with pride.

Do not fear sending a young man from the school into active life. Do not fear lest he should do anything improperly, eat improperly, have improper intercourse with women. Do not fear lest the rags in which he is wrapped should debase him, or lest fine garments should make him proud. This youth may not know his own God. He may not know with whom he sets out. When he says, “I wish I had you with me,” say to him you have Zeus with you, and you do not need to seek for any other when you have Him.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Forty-Seven of The Enchiridion

When you have learned to nourish your body frugally, do not compliment yourself for it. Nor, if you drink water, to say upon every occasion, “I drink water.” But first consider how much more frugal the poor are than we, and how much more patient of their hardships. If at any time you would strengthen yourself by exercise and privation, do it for your own sake, and not to be seen doing it. Do not show off but, when you are violently thirsty, rinse your mouth with a little cold water and tell nobody.

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 – Ladybug

Episode 1647