The Enchiridion Part Nineteen

When you see anyone eminent in honors or power, or in high esteem on any other account, take heed not to be bewildered with appearances and to pronounce him happy.

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 Nineteen…

BODY

You can be unconquerable, if you enter into no combat in which it is not in your own power to conquer. When, therefore, you see anyone eminent in honors or power, or in high esteem on any other account, take heed not to be bewildered with appearances and to pronounce him happy; for if the essence of good consists in things within our own power, there will be no room for envy or jealousy. But, for your part, do not desire to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free; and the only way to this is a disregard of things which lie not within our own power.

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

To let go of things not in our own control is to also let go of what we might otherwise prefer. We may expect to be a general, or to conquer in combat, but no matter our best efforts and intention these may be outside of our control to achieve. To refrain from the expectation, then, is to let go of the disappointment that will come when our expectations are not met as well as when our expectations are met. Those who seem to be in a higher station in life have their disappointments too.

What words would you say to a friend to relieve him of his expectations and instead give him his freedom?

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

If you say to me that you want a fig, I will answer to you that it requires time. Let it flower first, then put forth fruit, and then ripen. The fruit of a fig-tree is not perfected suddenly and in one hour. Would you possess the fruit of a man’s mind in so short a time and so easily?

Imagine that you have fine clothes and a thief has not, and that you have a window through which you wish to air the clothes. The thief does not know wherein man’s good consists, but he thinks that it consists in having fine clothes, the very thing which you also think. He will come and take them away. When you show a cake to greedy people and swallow it all yourself, expect them to snatch it from you. I say do not provoke them. Do not have a window, do not air your clothes. Recently I placed an iron lamp by the side of my household gods. Hearing a noise at the door I ran down, and found that the lamp had been carried off. I thought that he who had taken the lamp had done nothing strange. And what then? “Tomorrow,” I said, “you will find an earthen lamp.” A man only loses that which he has. If you say “I have lost my garment,” I say the reason is that you had a garment. If you say “I have pain in my head,” I ask if you have you any pain in your horns – no, because you do not possess horns. Why then are you troubled? We only lose and have pains about those things which we possess.

Those who have first taken up philosophy immediately wish to vomit it up, as persons whose stomach is diseased do with food. First digest the thing, then do not vomit it up. If you do not digest it, the thing becomes a crude food and unfit to eat. But after digestion show us some change in your ruling faculty, as athletes show in their shoulders by what they have been exercised and what they have eaten; as those who have taken up art show by what they have learned. The carpenter does not say, “Hear me talk about the carpenter’s art.” But having undertaken to build a house, he builds it, and proves that he knows the art. You also ought to do something of the kind. Eat like a man, drink like a man, dress, marry, beget children, carry out the office of a citizen, endure abuse, bear with your unreasonable brother, bear with your father, bear with your son, give your neighbor your compassion. Show us these things that we may see that you have in truth learned something from the philosophers. You say, “No, instead come and hear me read commentaries.” I tell you to go away, and seek somebody else to vomit them on.

If you would know how careless you are with respect to good and evil, and how active you are with respect to things which are indifferent, think how you would feel being deprived of sight, and how you feel upon being deceived, and you will discover you are far from feeling as you ought to in relation to good and evil. “But this is a matter which requires much preparation, and much labor and study.” Well then do you expect to acquire the greatest of arts with small labor? And yet the chief doctrine of philosophers is brief. […] For few words are required to say man’s way is to follow the god’s way, and that the nature of good is a proper use of appearances.

And now I am your teacher, and you are my student. I am here to make you free from restraint, compulsion, hindrance, to make you free, prosperous, happy, looking to Nature in everything small and great. And you are here to learn and practice these things. Why, then, do you not finish the work? You are willing to learn and I am qualified to teach. What is left wanting? When I see an artist and material by him, I expect the work. Here, then, is the artist, here the material. What is left wanting? Can what I teach be taught? It can. Is it in our power to learn? Learning is the only thing that is in our power. Wealth is not in our power, nor health, nor reputation, nor anything else except the right use of appearances. This is by nature free from restraint, this alone is free from impediment. Why then do you not finish the work? Tell me the reason. For it is either through my fault that you do not finish it, or through your own fault, or through the nature of the thing. Finishing it is possible, and the only thing in our power. It remains then that the fault is either in me or in you (or, what is nearer the truth, in both). Well then, let us begin at last to bring purpose into this school, and to take no notice of the past. Let us begin.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Nineteen of The Enchiridion.

You can be unconquerable, if you enter into no combat in which it is not in your own power to conquer. When, therefore, you see anyone eminent in honors or power, or in high esteem on any other account, take heed not to be bewildered with appearances and to pronounce him happy; for if the essence of good consists in things within our own power, there will be no room for envy or jealousy. But, for your part, do not desire to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free; and the only way to this is a disregard of things which lie not within our own power.

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 – Roses Of Yesterday (Columbia 1578D 1928)

Episode 1619