The Enchiridion Part Thirty-Four

Let the affair await your leisure, and procure yourself some delay.

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 Thirty-Four…

BODY

If you are struck by the appearance of any promised pleasure, guard yourself against being hurried away by it. Let the affair await your leisure, and procure yourself some delay. Then bring to your mind two points in time – that in which you will enjoy the pleasure, and that in which you will repent and reproach yourself after you have enjoyed it. In opposition to these, set before yourself how you will be glad and applaud yourself if you abstain. Even if it should appear to you to be an appropriate pleasure, take heed that its enticing and agreeable and attractive force may not subdue you. In opposition to this set before yourself how much better it is to be conscious of having gained so great a victory.

COMMENTARY
That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say. Some beliefs require a man to never drink wine, and other beliefs compel a man to sometimes drink wine. Stoicism urges us to avoid what overpowers our will, but to exercise our will until we are not overpowered. In ‘The Discourses,’ Epictetus has this to say about avoidance and desire.

You say: “The sight of a beautiful young girl overpowers me, as I have been been overpowered before.” Or, “An inclination arises in me to find fault with a person, as I have been been so inclined before.” You speak to us as if you had come off in these free from harm, as if a man should say to his physician who has forbidden him to bathe, “But, I have bathed before!” The physician in turn will say to him: “Well, and what happened to you after the bath? You had a fever, you had a headache!” When you found fault with a person lately, you did the act of a malignant person, of a trifling babbler. You cherish this habit in you by adding to it the acts that feed it. […] I think you ought to remember what you did and what happened after, as slaves remember the blows which they have received. I think you ought to abstain from feeding your habits. But my comparison is false. In the case of slaves the pain causes the remembrance: but in the case of your faults, you think you have no pain and no punishment. Your acts do not seem evil and so you do not fly from them. Suffering, when it tries our character, is useful to us. And this is true whether we choose the trial or not.

I am inclined to pleasure. I will incline to the contrary side above measure for the sake of exercise. I am averse to pain, and so I will exercise against withdrawing my aversion from every such appearance. To exercise is to practice desiring and avoiding only things which are within the power of my will, and to practice most in the things which are the most difficult. For this reason one man must practice against one thing and another man against another thing. What is the purpose for planting up a tree, or carrying a tent of skins, or using a mortar and a pestle? Practice, man, if you are irritable. Practice to endure if you are abused, not to be vexed if you are treated with dishonor. Then you will make so much progress that, even if a man attacks you, you will say to yourself, “it is as if he attacked a statue.” Exercise yourself to use wine properly, so as not to drink much. In this there are men who practice foolishly. At first you should abstain from wine, and abstain from young girls and from dainty cakes. Then, if the occasion presents itself for the purpose of trying yourself at a proper time, you will descend into the arena to know if appearances overpower you as they did before. But at first fly far from that which is stronger than yourself. The contest is unequal between a charming young girl and a beginner in philosophy. As the saying goes, “The earthen pitcher and the rock do not agree.”

What will you do if a man speaks about gladiators, about horses, about athletes, or, what is worse, about men? “He is bad; he is good; this was well done; this was done badly.” What will you do if he scoffs, or ridicules, or shows an ill-natured disposition? Be prepared, like a lute-player when he takes a lute, so that as soon as you have touched the string you discover which are discordant, and you tune the instrument. Socrates had such a power. In all his social intercourse he could lead his companions to his own purpose. You can have this power.

So far, you are carried about by the common kind of people. Why are they more powerful than you? Because they utter these useless words from their real opinions while you utter your elegant words only from your lips. For this reason your words are without strength and dead, and it is nauseous to listen to your admonishments and your miserable virtue, no matter how much you talk about them. That is why the vulgar have the advantage over you; it is because every opinion is strong and invincible. Until the good opinions are fixed in you, and you have acquired power to keep the good opinions in you, I advise you to be careful in who you associate with. Like wax in the sun, what you inscribe on your minds here in school will melt away. Withdraw yourself far from the sun as long as you have these opinions of wax. For this reason also philosophers advise men to leave their native country, because ancient habits distract them and do not allow different habits to begin. And when we have opinions of wax we cannot tolerate those who meet us and say: “See, he is now a philosopher, who was once one of us.” Thus also physicians send those who have lingering diseases to a different country to breathe different air. In this they do right. You should also replace your habits. Fix your opinions and exercise yourself in them.

But you do not do so. You go hence to a spectacle, you go to see the gladiators, you go to exercise, you go to a circus, and then you come back, and again you go out again to those places, and thus you are still the same man. That is why you have no pleasing habits, why you have no ability to pay attention, why you do not care for yourself. […] If you are in this state, fly from your former habits, fly from the common sort, if you intend ever to begin to be someone.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Thirty-Four of The Enchiridion

If you are struck by the appearance of any promised pleasure, guard yourself against being hurried away by it. Let the affair await your leisure, and procure yourself some delay. Then bring to your mind two points in time – that in which you will enjoy the pleasure, and that in which you will repent and reproach yourself after you have enjoyed it. In opposition to these, set before yourself how you will be glad and applaud yourself if you abstain. Even if it should appear to you to be an appropriate pleasure, take heed that its enticing and agreeable and attractive force may not subdue you. In opposition to this set before yourself how much better it is to be conscious of having gained so great a victory.

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 – Mary Ann (Columbia 1295D 1928)

Episode 1634