The Enchiridion Part Fourteen

Whoever then would be free, let him wish nothing, let him avoid nothing, which depends on others.

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 Fourteen…

BODY
If you wish your children and your wife and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid. For you wish things to be in your power which are not so; and what belongs to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are foolish. For you wish vice not to be vice, but something else. But, if you wish to be without disappointment, this is in your own control. Exercise, therefore, what is in your power. A man’s master is he who is able to confer or remove whatever that man seeks or shuns. Whoever then would be free, let him wish nothing, let him avoid nothing, which depends on others; else he must necessarily be a slave.

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

If your happiness depends on other people, you will be unhappy. Nature can be our teacher, and men can teach us, and even fiction can teach us, but if we will not learn then no one will teach us. Some teachers Nature has made better than others, and if we heed the better teachers we will ourselves do better. It may be common sense, but often we heed who is nearby and easy to listen to rather than who is best. We know who is the better teacher by our own better nature, by our will and our reason. The actions of others are never our responsibility, but our own actions are always our responsibility.

If you have been freed from a master, do you still hold your slave chains?

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

Who is invincible? It is he who is not disturbed by things which are independent of the will. I observe one circumstance after another. For example, an athlete. He has come off victorious in the first contest, but what about the second? What if there should be great heat? What if it should be at Olympia? If you should throw money in his way, he will despise it. Well, suppose you put a young girl in his way, what then? And what if it is in the dark? What if you test him with a little reputation, or abuse, or praise? What if you test him with death? He is able to overcome all. In heat, in rain, and in a melancholy mood, and in sleep, he will still conquer. This is my invincible athlete.

If a man opposes evident truths, it is not easy to find arguments by which we shall make him change his opinion. But this does not arise either from the man’s strength or the teacher’s weakness. When a man, though he has been confuted, is hardened like a stone, how shall we then be able to deal with him by argument?

When absurd notions about things independent of our will lie at the bottom of our opinions, we must of necessity pay regard to tyrants. I wish that men would pay regard to tyrants only, and not also to the bedchamber men. How is it that a man becomes all at once wise, as when Caesar has made Felicia superintendent of the close stool? I wish he were ejected from the bedchamber, that he might again appear to you to be a fool. Epaphroditus had a shoemaker whom he sold because he was good for nothing. This fellow by some good luck was bought by one of Caesar’s men, and became Caesar’s shoemaker. You should have seen the respect Epaphroditus paid to him. “How does the good Felicion do, I pray?” If anyone asked, “What is Caesar doing?” the answer was ”He is consulting about something with Felicion.” Had Epaphroditus not sold the man as good for nothing? Who then made him wise all at once? This is an instance of valuing something else than the things which depend on the will.

For the power of seeing and hearing, and for life itself and for the things which support it, for the fruits which are dry and for wine and oil, give thanks to Nature. But remember that Nature has given you something else better than all these: the power of using them, proving them and estimating the value of each. For what is that which gives information about each of these powers, what each of them is worth? Is it each faculty itself? Did you ever hear the faculty of vision saying anything about itself, or the faculty of hearing? Or wheat, or barley, or a horse or a dog? No. They are appointed as ministers and slaves to serve the faculty which has the power of making use of the appearances of things. And if you inquire what is the value of each thing, of whom do you inquire? Who answers you? No other faculty be more powerful than this which uses the rest as ministers and itself proves each and pronounces about them. Reason knows what itself is, and what is its own value.

It is not the business of a philosopher to look after externals, neither his wine nor his oil nor his poor body, but only his own ruling power. As to externals he must not be careless about them. Where then is there reason for fear? Where is there, then, still reason for anger, or fear about what belongs to others, or about things which are of no value? We ought to have these two principles in readiness. First, that except the will nothing is good nor bad. Second that we ought not to lead events, but to follow them. “My brother ought not to have behaved thus to me.” No, but he will see to that. And however he may behave, I will conduct myself toward him as I ought. For this is my own business and his belongs to him. No man can prevent my will, but other things can be hindered.

A man may learn by fiction that no things independent of the will concern us. I like this fiction, by the aid of which I live happily and undisturbed. But you must consider for yourselves what you wish.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Fourteen of The Enchiridion.

If you wish your children and your wife and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid. For you wish things to be in your power which are not so; and what belongs to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are foolish. For you wish vice not to be vice, but something else. But, if you wish to be without disappointment, this is in your own control. Exercise, therefore, what is in your power. A man’s master is he who is able to confer or remove whatever that man seeks or shuns. Whoever then would be free, let him wish nothing, let him avoid nothing, which depends on others; else he must necessarily be a slave.

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 – Halfway to Heaven (Columbia 1523d 1928)

Episode 1614