The Enchiridion Part One

If it concerns anything beyond our power, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

INTRODUCTION
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 One…

BODY

There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.

Now, the things within our power are by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are weak, dependent, restricted, alien. Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent, and take what belongs to others for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you take for your own only that which is your own, and view what belongs to others just as it really is, then no one will ever compel you, no one will restrict you, you will find fault with no one, you will accuse no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm.

Aiming therefore at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself any inclination, however slight, towards the attainment of the others; but that you must entirely quit some of them, and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would have these, and possess power and wealth likewise, you may miss the latter in seeking the former; and you will certainly fail of that by which alone happiness and freedom are procured.

Seek at once, therefore, to be able to say to every unpleasing appearance, “You are but a appearance and by no means the real thing.” And then examine it by those rules which you have; and first and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are within our own power, or those which are not; and if it concerns anything beyond our power, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

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

Epictetus was born circa 55 AD in what is today the nation of Turkey. If he had a name at birth it 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. Epictetus was lame in one leg. He may have been born lame, or been made lame by his master. When he was a slave and when he was a free man, students sought him out for his mastery of the Stoic philosophy. When all philosophers were banned from Rome by the Emperor Domitian, Epictetus was exiled to Greece. There he taught until his death in 135 AD.

Epictetus wrote nothing. His student Arrian transcribed his words. Arrian wrote eight books of the words of Epictetus, four of which were later lost or destroyed. Those books are called The Discourses. Arrian compiled the Enchiridion from the Discourses.

The word ‘enchiridion’ can be translated two ways. The word can mean a book small enough to be held in one hand, and sometimes it is called The Handbook or The Manual. Enchiridion can also mean a sword small enough to be held in one hand, and by this translation we may call it The Dagger.

Epictetus speaks of being a slave, of physical problems, of exile and of death. He also speaks of happiness, love, family and peace. In all things, he said that we must attend to those things which are in our power, we must not be swayed by those things which are not in our power, and never should we confuse what we can and cannot control. That we age, that we become infirm, that we must eat and we must sleep, this is what Epictetus means when he says the body is not in our control. That we can guide how we age, we can attend to our health, that we can nourish and enjoy our bodies without being a slave to physical passion, this is what Epictetus means when he says desires are in our control.

Epictetus the slave was an influence on Marcus Aurelius the Emperor. Aurelius was the last of the classical Stoic authors. After his reign, Stoicism was declared a pagan philosophy and largely suppressed. Pagan philosophy is the claim that while there may or may not be gods and a life after death, it is the natural and living world that is a guide for how a man should live. Look at what you allow to distract you, and look at where you are applying your strength.

Do not concentrate on whether you are or are not a Stoic. I say that the words of Epictetus are strong, true and beautiful, but sometimes only one of these three. I will read to you what the Stoics believed, but it is not always what I believe.

What is it you believe that remains when you stop believing it?

CHORUS
Here again is Part One of The Enchiridion.

There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.

Now, the things within our power are by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are weak, dependent, restricted, alien. Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent, and take what belongs to others for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you take for your own only that which is your own, and view what belongs to others just as it really is, then no one will ever compel you, no one will restrict you, you will find fault with no one, you will accuse no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm.

Aiming therefore at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself any inclination, however slight, towards the attainment of the others; but that you must entirely quit some of them, and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would have these, and possess power and wealth likewise, you may miss the latter in seeking the former; and you will certainly fail of that by which alone happiness and freedom are procured.

Seek at once, therefore, to be able to say to every unpleasing appearance, “You are but a appearance and by no means the real thing.” And then examine it by those rules which you have; and first and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are within our own power, or those which are not; and if it concerns anything beyond our power, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

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 – Sing A Happy Little Thing (1930).

Episode 1601