The Enchiridion Part Forty-Three

Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot.

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-Three…

BODY

Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, do not lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried. Pick it up by the opposite handle, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you. This way you will carry it as it ought to be carried.

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

Lead me, O Zeus, and lead me also, O Fate. Is it Your will that I should go to Rome? I will go to Rome. To Gyara? I will go to Gyara. I will go to Athens? I will go to Athens. To prison? I will go to prison. If you instead say “but when shall I go to Athens?” you are undone. It is a necessary consequence that this desire if it is not accomplished must make you unhappy, and if it is accomplished it must make you vain since you are elated at things at which you ought not to be elated. Give up all these things. You might say Athens is a good place. But happiness is much better. To be free from passions, free from disturbance, these are much better because then your affairs do not to depend on any other man. You might say “there is unrest at Rome.” But happiness is a match for all troublesome things. The time may come for these things, and so you must take away the wish to avoid them. It is not necessary to carry the wish to avoid these things. They are a burden like that carried by an an ass, and like an ass you will be beaten with a stick. If you do not put down this burden you must always be a slave to him who has it in his power to impede you, and you must serve him as an evil genius. There is only one way to happiness, and let this rule be ready both in the morning and during the day and by night. The rule is not to look toward things which are out of the power of your will, to think that nothing is your own, to give up all things to the Divinity and to Fate. Make them the superintendents of these things, whom Zeus also has made so. Zeus has made man to observe that only which is his own, that which cannot be hindered. We should read and hear and speak nothing else. I cannot call the man industrious if I hear only that he reads and writes. Even if a man adds that he reads all night, I cannot say he is industrious if he knows not to what he should apply his reading. You would not say that a man is industrious if he keeps awake all night for a girl; nor would I.

Show me you are faithful, modest, and steady. Show me you have friendly opinions. Show me your cask has no hole in it. Do these things, and you will see how I shall not wait for you to trust me with your affairs, but I myself shall come to you and ask you to hear mine. For who does not choose to make use of a good vessel? Who does not value a benevolent and faithful adviser? Who will not willingly receive a man who is ready to pick up his share of the difficulty, and by this very act to ease the burden.

Say to yourself, I am he whose duty it is to take care of men. A calf will not challenge a lion, but if the bull comes up to a lion and would fight him, we do not ask the bull ‘who are you, and what business have you here?’ Man, in every kind there is produced something which excels; in oxen, in dogs, in bees, in horses. Do not then say to that which excels, ‘who are you, and what business have you here?’ If you do, that which excels will find a voice in some way and say, “I am such a thing as the purple in a garment: do not expect me to be like the others, or blame my nature that it has made me different from the rest of men.”

Take care that there be not among us any young men of such a mind that, having recognized their kinship to God, and that we are fettered by the body and its possessions, intend to throw off these things as if they were burdens painful and intolerable and to depart to their kinsmen. A worthy teacher would council against this. These sorts of young men will say things like this… “Epictetus, I can no longer endure being bound to this poor body, feeding it and giving it drink, and rest, and cleaning it, and all the rest. These things are indifferent and nothing to me, and death is no evil. I am in a manner a kinsmen of Zeus, and He is my father. Allow me to depart to the place from which I came. Allow me to be released at last from these bonds by which I am bound and weighed down. In this world there are robbers and thieves and courts and tyrants, and many others who think that they have some power over me by means of the body and its possessions. Permit me to show them that they have no power over any man.” When I hear this, this is what I say… “Friend, wait for Zeus. When He gives the signal and release you from this service, then go to Him. But today you should stay in this place where He has put you. Your time here is short enough, and easy to bear for those who are so disposed. No tyrant and no thief, and none of the rest are a problem to those who have no attachment to their body. Wait then, do not depart without a reason.”

See how tragedy is made when common things happen to silly men. I am asked, “when then shall I again see Athens and the Acropolis?” Wretch, are you not content with what you see daily? have you anything better or greater to see than the sun, the moon, the stars, the whole earth, the sea? If you comprehend Him who administers the Whole, and carried Him about in yourself, you would not still be distracted by small things. If you can’t have the sun and the moon, what will you do? Will you sit and weep like children? I don’t know what have you been doing in the school. I don’t know what you heard or what you learned. You called yourself a philosopher, when you might have said the truth. You should have said “I introduced myself, and I read books, but I did not even approach the door of a philosopher.”

Seek the nature of good in the rational animal. If it is not there, you cannot choose to say that it exists in any other thing. “What then? are not plants and animals also the works of God?” They are, but they are not superior things, nor yet parts of the Gods. But you are a superior thing. You are a portion separated from the deity. You have in yourself a certain portion of Him. Why then are you ignorant of your own noble descent? Why do you not know whence you came? Remember this when you are eating, who you are that is eating and Whom you feed. When you are in conjunction with a woman, remember who you are who do this thing. When you are in social circumstances, when you are exercising yourself, when you are engaged in discussion, remember that you are nourishing a God, that you are exercising a God. Wretch, you are carrying about a God with you, and you know it not. And I do not mean some external God of silver or of gold.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Forty-Three of The Enchiridion

Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, do not lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried. Pick it up by the opposite handle, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you. This way you will carry it as it ought to be carried.

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 – Nobody But You (1929)

Episode 1643