The Enchiridion Part Seven

If the captain calls, run to the ship, leave all these things, and never look behind.

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 Seven…

BODY

As in a voyage, when your ship is at anchor, if you go on shore to get water, you may amuse yourself with picking up a shellfish or a mushroom in your path, but your thoughts ought to be bent towards the ship, and perpetually attentive, lest the captain should call, and then you must leave all these things, that you may not have to be carried on board the vessel, tied up like a sheep; thus likewise in life, if, instead of a mushroom or a shellfish, such a thing as a wife or child be granted you, there is no objection; but if the captain calls, run to the ship, leave all these things, and never look behind. But if you are old, never go far from the ship, lest you should be missing when called for.

COMMENTARY
In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about duty.

It is [our] duty to be able to say with a loud voice: “Men, whither are you hurrying, what are you doing, you wretches? Like blind people you are wandering up and down: you are going by another road, and have left the true road: you seek for prosperity and happiness where they are not, and if another shows you where they are, you do not believe him.” Why do you seek it outside of you? Is it in the body? It is not there. […] In possessions? It is not there. […] In power? It is not there. […] Is it in royal power? It is not.

Because we do not know the future, it is our duty to stick to the things which are in their nature more suitable for our choice, for we were made (among other things) for this. In this way, remember that you are a son. What does this character promise? To consider that everything which is the son’s belongs to the father, to obey him in all things, never to blame him to another, nor to say or do anything which does him injury, to yield to him in all things and give way, cooperating with him as far as you can. After this know that you are a brother also, and that to this character it is due to make concessions; to be easily persuaded, to speak good of your brother, never to claim in opposition to him any of the things which are independent of the will, but readily to give them up, that you may have the larger share in what is dependent on the will. […] Next to this, if you are senator of any state, remember that you are a senator: if a youth, that you are a youth: if an old man, that you are an old man; for each of such names, if it comes to be examined, marks out the proper duties. But if you go and blame your brother, I say to you, “You have forgotten who you are and what is your name.” [If] you were a smith and made a wrong use of the hammer, you would have forgotten the smith; and if you have forgotten the brother and instead of a brother have become an enemy, would you appear not to have changed one thing for another in that case?

You live in a capital city: it is your duty to be a magistrate, to judge justly, to abstain from that which belongs to others. No woman ought to seem beautiful to you except your own wife, and no youth, no vessel of silver, no vessel of gold. Seek for doctrines which are consistent with what I say, and, by making them your guide, you will with pleasure abstain from things which have such persuasive power to lead us and overpower us. But if to the persuasive power of these things, we also devise such a philosophy as this which helps to push us on toward them and strengthens us to this end, what will be the consequence? In a piece of jewelry which is the best part – the silver or the workmanship? The substance of the hand is the flesh; but the work of the hand is the principal part. The duties then are also three: those which are directed toward the existence of a thing; those which are directed toward its existence in a particular kind; and the leading things themselves. So also in man we ought not to value the material, the poor flesh, but the principal. What are these? Engaging in public business, marrying, begetting children, venerating nature, taking care of parents, and, generally, having desires, aversions, pursuits of things and avoidances, in the way in which we ought to do these things, and according to our nature. And how are we constituted by nature? Free, noble, modest: for what other animal blushes? What other is capable of receiving the appearance of shame? And we are so constituted by nature as to subject pleasure to these things, as a minister, a servant, in order that it may call forth our activity, in order that it may keep us constant in acts which are conformable to nature. […] Govern us as rational animals. Show us what is profitable to us, and we will follow it. Show us what is unprofitable, and we will turn away from it. Make us imitators of yourself, as Socrates made men imitators of himself.

Every man’s life is a kind of warfare, and it is long and diversified. You must observe the duty of a soldier and do everything at the nod of the general, if possible divining what his wishes are. For there is no resemblance between that general and this, neither in strength nor in superiority of character. You are placed in a great office of command and not in any mean place; but you are always a senator. Do you not know that such a man must give little time to the affairs of his household, but be often away from home, either as a governor or one who is governed, or discharging some office, or serving in war or acting as a judge? Do you tell me that you wish, as a plant, to be fixed to the same places and to be rooted? “Yes, for it is pleasant.” Who says that it is not? But a soup is pleasant, and a beautiful woman is pleasant. What else do those say who make pleasure their end? Do you not see of what men have uttered those words? They desire to sleep without hindrance and free from compulsion, and when they have risen to yawn at their leisure, and to wash the face, then write and read what they choose, and then talk about some trifling matter, being praised by their friends whatever they may say, then to go forth for a walk, and having walked about a little to bathe, and then eat and sleep, such sleep as is the fashion of such men.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Seven of The Enchiridion

As in a voyage, when your ship is at anchor, if you go on shore to get water, you may amuse yourself with picking up a shellfish or a mushroom in your path, but your thoughts ought to be bent towards the ship, and perpetually attentive, lest the captain should call, and then you must leave all these things, that you may not have to be carried on board the vessel, tied up like a sheep; thus likewise in life, if, instead of a mushroom or a shellfish, such a thing as a wife or child be granted you, there is no objection; but if the captain calls, run to the ship, leave all these things, and never look behind. But if you are old, never go far from the ship, lest you should be missing when called for.

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 – It’s Only a Paper Moon (Take 1) (Vocalion 2587-A 1933)

Episode 1607