The Enchiridion Part Thirty-Five

If what you are doing is not right, do not do it.

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 Thirty-Five…


When you do something which you have decided ought to be done, never avoid being seen doing it, even though the world should misunderstand what you do. If what you are doing is not right, do not do it. If what you are doing is right, do not be afraid of those who wrongly censure you.

That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say. Being seen and judged is not important. It is not in our control how others will judge us, and what is not in our control can never be right or wrong for us. Do what is right and do not do what is wrong, the rest leave to others. Let your actions speak for you. In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about being seen doing right and doing wrong.

The governor of Epirus showed favor to an actor in an unseemly way, and was publicly blamed on this account. He said to Epictetus he was blamed and that he was vexed at those who blamed him. Epictetus said: ‘What harm have they been doing? These men also were acting, as partisans, as you were doing.’ The governor replied: ‘Do all people show their own partisanship in this way?’ Epictetus said: ‘When they see you, their governor, a friend of Caesar and his deputy, showing partisanship in this way, it is to be expected that they also should show their partisanship in the same way. For if it is not right to show partisanship in this way, do not do so yourself. And if it is right, why are you angry if they followed your example? […] In public do not claim more than your due, nor attempt to appropriate to yourself what belongs to all. If you do not consent to this you must bear being abused, for when you do the same as the many, you put yourself on the same level with them.

Suppose he who has the power to do so has judged you, saying: “I judge you to be impious and profane.” What has happened to you? You have been judged to be impious and profane. And nothing else. […] Leave the petty arguments about these matters to others, to
lazy fellows. Let them sit in a corner and receive their sorry pay, or grumble that no one gives them anything. You must come forward and make use of what you have learned. It is not petty arguments that are wanted now. The writings of the Stoics are full of petty arguments. What is needed is a man who will by his acts bear testimony to his words. I entreat you to assume this character, that we may no longer refer in the schools to the examples of the ancients, but may have some example of our own.

The contemplation of these matters belong to him who has leisure, for man is an animal that loves contemplation. But it is shameful to contemplate these things as runaway slaves do. We should sit, as in a theatre, free from distraction, and listen at one time to the tragic actor, at another time to the lute-player. Do not listen as slaves do. As soon as the slave has taken his seat he praises the actor and at the same time looks round. If any one calls out his master’s name, the slave is immediately frightened and disturbed. It is shameful for philosophers to contemplate the works of nature in this way. […] You bathe, you drink, you sing. But as with a runaway slave in the theatre, you do with terror and uneasiness.

Do you wish to live in fear? Do you wish to live in sorrow? Do you wish to live in perturbation? No. No one who is in a state of fear or sorrow or perturbation is free. Whoever is delivered from sorrows and fears and perturbations, he is at the same time also delivered from servitude.

Leave petty dissertations to others. Leave them to the stupid, or to those happy men who
being free from perturbations have leisure, or to such as are too foolish to reckon consequences.

When the opportunity invites, do not display those things which you possess, and recite them, and make an idle show, and say, “See how clever I am?” Do not do so, my man. Rather say: “See how I am not disappointed in what I desire. See how I do not fall into that which I would avoid. Set death before me, and you will see. Set before me pain, prison, disgrace and condemnation. This is the proper display of a young man who is come out of the schools. But leave the rest to others, and let no one ever hear you say a word about these things. If any man commends you for being clever, do not allow it. Remember that you are nobody and know nothing. Demonstrate that you know how never to be disappointed in your desire and how never to fall into that which you would avoid. Let others labor at forensic causes, problems and syllogisms. You must labor at thinking about death, chains, the rack, and exile. Do all this with confidence and reliance on Him who has called you to these sufferings, who has judged you worthy of your station. You will show what things the will can do when it takes its stand against the forces which are not within its power.

Some must be brought to trial. Some must have a fever, some must sail on the sea, some must die, and some must be condemned. It is impossible in such a body, in such a universe of things, among so many living together, that such events should not happen. Some of these will happen to you, and some will happen to others.

You say “I am in danger of my life from Caesar.” Well, I in danger who dwell in Nicopolis, where there are so many earthquakes. When I cross the Hadriatic, I am in danger. You say “I am in danger as to opinion.” Do you mean your own opinions? How are you in danger? No one can compel you to have any opinion which you do not choose. If you say the danger is another man’s opinion, that too is not a danger to you even if he has false opinions.

It is not common for a man to fulfill the promise of his nature. For what is a man? The answer is: “A rational and mortal being.” By the rational faculty, we separated from wild beasts, and from domestic animals. Take care then to do nothing like a wild beast. If you do, you have lost the character of a man and you have not fulfilled your promise. See that you do nothing like a domestic animal. If you do, you are lost. We act like an animal when we are gluttons, when we are lewd, when we are rash, when we are filthy, when we are inconsiderate. In these we regress to domestic animals. In these we have lost our rational faculty. When we act contentiously and harmfully and passionately and violently, we regress to wild beasts. Some of us are great wild beasts, and others little tame beasts.

Here again is Part Thirty-Five of The Enchiridion

When you do something which you have decided ought to be done, never avoid being seen doing it, even though the world should misunderstand what you do. If what you are doing is not right, do not do it. If what you are doing is right, do not be afraid of those who wrongly censure you.

Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters.

Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.

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