The Enchiridion Part Sixteen

Take heed not to groan inwardly.

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 Sixteen…

BODY

When you see anyone weeping in sorrow, either that his son has gone abroad, or that he has suffered in his affairs, take care not to be overcome by the apparent evil; but discriminate, and be ready to say, “what hurts this man is not the occurrence itself – for another man might not be hurt by it – but the view which he choses to take of it.” As far as conversation goes, do not hesitate to sympathize with him, and if need be, to groan with him. Take heed, however, not to groan inwardly too.

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

Stoicism is a way to free men from pain, from fear and from want. Stoicism is to be offered to men freely and taught by example, but never forced upon anyone. Stoicism teaches us to stay with those who suffer and to not return cruelty when it is given to us. These are ways in which Stoicism is warm and compassionate.

To be warm and compassionate as a Stoic is never to imitate or to expand upon suffering. What has been misunderstood as a coldness and distance in Stoicism is a strength, a holding open of a way out of suffering for anyone who wishes to take it up. What suffering nature and men put upon us is not within our control, but our attitude to that suffering is within our control.

Can you, this day, refrain from groaning inwardly?

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

A man asked me to write to Rome about him. Most people thought this man had been unfortunate, for formerly he was a man of rank and rich, but had been stripped of all, and was living here. I wrote on his behalf in a submissive manner. When he had read the letter, he gave it back to me and said, “I wished for your help, not your pity: no evil has happened to me.”

Wretched man, will you not see what you are saying about yourself? What do you appear to yourself to be? [Why] do you trouble yourself about whether others pity you? “Yes, but I am pitied not as I ought to be.” Are you then pained at this? Is he who is pained an object of pity? “Yes.” How, then, are you pitied not as you ought to be? For by the very act that you feel about being pitied, you make yourself deserving of pity. […] I am poor, but I have a right opinion about poverty. Why, then, do I care if they pity me for my poverty? I am not in power, but others are. I have the opinion which I ought to have about having and not having power. Let them care to who pity me. I am neither hungry nor thirsty nor do I suffer cold, but because they are hungry or thirsty they think that I am too. What, then, shall I do for them? Shall I go about and proclaim and say: “Be not mistaken, men, I am very well?” I do not trouble myself about poverty, nor want of power, nor in a word about anything other than right opinions. These I have free from restraint. I care for nothing at all.

When he was visited by a magistrates, Epictetus asked if he had children and a wife. The man replied that he had; and Epictetus inquired how he felt under the circumstances. “Miserable,” the man said. Then Epictetus asked, “In what respect,” for men do not marry and beget children in order to be wretched, but rather to be happy. “But I,” the man replied, “am so wretched about my children that lately, when my little daughter was sick and was supposed to be in danger, I could not endure to stay with her, but I left home till a person sent me news that she had recovered.” Well then, said Epictetus, do you think that you acted right? “I acted naturally,” the man replied. “This is the case with all or at least most fathers.” I do not deny that, but is such behavior is right? […]

Does affection to those of your family appear to you to be according to nature and to be good? “Certainly.” […] You are right […] Whatever we discover to be at the same time affectionate and also consistent with reason, this we confidently declare to be right and good. “Agreed.” Well then to leave your sick child and to go away is not reasonable […] Did you, then, since you had an affectionate disposition to your child, do right when you ran off and left her? Has the mother no affection for the child? “Certainly, she has.” Ought, then, the mother also to have left her, or ought she not? “She ought not.” And the nurse, does she love her? “She does.” Ought, then, the nurse also to have left her? “By no means.” And the pedagogue, does he not love her? “He does love her.” Ought, then, the pedagogue also to have deserted her? Should the child have been left alone and without help on account of the great affection of you, the parents, and of those about her, or should she have died in the hands of those who neither loved her nor cared for her? “Certainly not.” No. This is unfair and unreasonable, not to allow those who have equal affection with yourself to do what you think to be proper for yourself to do because you have affection. It is absurd. Come then, if you were sick, would you wish your relations to be so affectionate, and children and wife and the rest, to leave you alone and deserted? “By no means.” […]

This, then, was the cause of Achilles’ lamentation, not the death of Patroclus; for another man does not behave thus on the death of his companion; but it was because he chose to do so. And to you this was the very cause of your then running away, that you chose to do so; and on the other side, if you should stay with your daughter, the reason will be the same. And now you are going to Rome because you choose; and if you should change your mind, you will not go thither. And in a word, neither death nor exile nor pain nor anything of the kind is the cause of our doing anything or not doing; but our own opinions and our wills.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Sixteen of The Enchiridion.

When you see anyone weeping in sorrow, either that his son has gone abroad, or that he has suffered in his affairs, take care not to be overcome by the apparent evil; but discriminate, and be ready to say, “what hurts this man is not the occurrence itself – for another man might not be hurt by it – but the view which he choses to take of it.” As far as conversation goes, do not hesitate to sympathize with him, and if need be, to groan with him. Take heed, however, not to groan inwardly too.

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’ll Take My Troubles Down to the River
Cliff Edwards – Ingle Go Jang Go Jay
Cliff Edwards – Ragtime Cowboy Joe

Episode 1616