The Enchiridion Part Six

When you are in harmony with nature in this respect, you will be elated with some reason; for you will be elated at some good of your own.

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 Six…

BODY

Be not elated at any excellence not your own. If a horse should be elated, and say, “I am handsome,” it might be endurable. But when you are elated, and say, “I have a handsome horse,” know that you are elated only on the merit of the horse. What then is your own? The use of the phenomena of existence. So that when you are in harmony with nature in this respect, you will be elated with some reason; for you will be elated at some good of your own.

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

Pride was not a vice to the Stoics. Pride of one’s accomplishments when those accomplishments were in harmony with nature was a Stoic virtue. To boast is pride misplaced, but to be glad of one’s good actions is a virtuous pride. This is because boasting brings peace only when other men approve and applaud. The peace and pride of one’s own good actions do not depend on those good actions being noticed by anyone.

To be concerned that other men will not see you as deserving of pride and pity you is confusion. Do good because it is good to do good, not to be seen doing good. If the good you do is unseen and you are put down, know that the good deed was done and be content. It is as unworthy to insist on being seen to do good as it is to have not done good.

A Stoic would not suppress his pride or happiness, nor would he make a great show of it. His acts would demonstrate his peace and strength, and he would not shout about them.

What would you say to a man who has pride but has not earned that pride?

In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about pride.

It is not shameful to be without something to eat, but it is shameful not to have reason sufficient for keeping away fear and sorrow. Once you have gained exemption from fear and sorrow, will they any longer be a tyrant for you, or a tyrant’s guard, or attendants on Caesar? Or shall any appointment to offices at court cause you pain, or shall those who sacrifice in the Capitol, on the occasion of being named to certain functions, cause pain to you who have received so great authority from Zeus? Only do not make a proud display of it, nor boast of it; but show it by your acts; and if no man perceives it, be satisfied that you are yourself in a healthy state and happy.

“I am grieved,” a man says, “at being pitied.” Is the fact of your being pitied a thing which concerns you or those who pity you? Is it in your power to stop this pity? “It is in my power, if I show them that I do not require pity.” […] Are you prepared to convince the many that to be pitied is not an evil, but that it is possible for a man who is poor and has no office and enjoys no honor to be happy; or must you show yourself to them as rich and in power? For the second of these things belong to a man who is boastful, silly and good for nothing. And consider by what means the pretense must be supported. It will be necessary for you to buy slaves and to possess a few silver vessels, and to exhibit them in public, if it is possible […], and to have splendid garments, and all other things for display, and to show that you are a man honored by the great, and to try to sup at their houses, or to be supposed to sup there, and as to your person to employ some mean arts, that you may appear to be more handsome and nobler than you are. These things you must contrive, if you choose to go by the boastful path in order not to be pitied. But the first way is both impracticable and long, to attempt the very thing which Zeus has not been able to do, to convince all men what things are good and bad. Is this power given to you? This only is given to you, to convince yourself; and you have not convinced yourself.

When some persons have heard these words, that a man ought to be constant, and that the will is naturally free and not subject to compulsion, but that all other things are subject to hindrance, to slavery, and are in the power of others, they suppose that they ought without deviation to abide by everything which they have determined. But in the first place that which has been determined ought to be sound. I require strength in the body, but such as exists in a healthy body, in an athletic body; but if it is plain to me that you have the strength of a frenzied man and you boast of it, I will say to you, “Man, seek the physician.” This is not strength, but frenzy.

A fool and a boaster will say, “I am free from passions and disturbance: do not be ignorant, my friends, that while you are uneasy and disturbed about things of no value, I alone am free from all perturbation.” It not enough for you to feel no pain, unless you make this proclamation: “Come together all who are suffering gout, pains in the head, fever, you who are lame, blind, and observe that I am sound from every ailment.” This is empty and disagreeable to hear, unless like Aesculapius you are able to show immediately by what kind of treatment they also shall be immediately free from disease, and unless you show your own health as an example. […] Let him who pretends to things which do not belong to him be a boaster, a vainglorious man: let him who disobeys the natural administration be base, and a slave; let him suffer grief, let him be envious, let him pity; and in a word let him be unhappy and lament.

“I am superior to you, for my father is a man of consular rank.” Another says, “I have been a tribune, but you have not.” If we were horses, would you say, “My father was swifter?” “I have much barley and fodder, or elegant neck ornaments.” If you were to say these things, I would say “Be it so: let us run then.” Well, is there nothing in a man such as running in a horse, by which it will be known which is superior and inferior? Yes: modesty, fidelity and justice. Show yourself superior in these, that you may be superior as a man. If you tell me that you can kick violently, I will say to you that you are proud of that which is the act of an ass.

Freedom is acquired not by the full possession of the things which are desired, but by removing the desire. And that you may know that this is true, as you have labored for those things, so transfer your labor to these. Be vigilant for the purpose of acquiring an opinion which will make you free. Pay court to a philosopher instead of to a rich old man. Be seen about a philosopher’s doors; you will not disgrace yourself by being seen, you will not go away empty nor without profit, if you go to the philosopher as you ought, and if not, try at least. The trial is not disgraceful.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Six of The Enchiridion

Be not elated at any excellence not your own. If a horse should be elated, and say, “I am handsome,” it might be endurable. But when you are elated, and say, “I have a handsome horse,” know that you are elated only on the merit of the horse. What then is your own? The use of the phenomena of existence. So that when you are in harmony with nature in this respect, you will be elated with some reason; for you will be elated at some good of your own.

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 – I Can’t Make Her Happy (Columbia 1639D 1928)

Episode 1606