The Enchiridion Part Thirty-Nine

To that which once exceeds the fit there is no limit.

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-Nine…

BODY

The body is to everyone the proper measure of its possessions, as the foot is of the shoe. If, therefore, you stop at this, you will keep the measure; but if you move beyond it, you must necessarily be carried forward, as down a precipice; as in the case of a shoe, if you go beyond its fitness to the foot, it comes first to be gilded, then purple, and then studded with jewels. For to that which once exceeds the fit there is no limit.

COMMENTARY
That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say. There is no limit to how much we can ornament our clothes, our reputation or our physical possessions. The Stoics held that just as ornamentation is without limit, it is without benefit. What does benefit us is to ornament what is always our own, and that is our will. Clothes, shoes and other external things have their place, but we should use them instead of be used by them. A notable exception is that Epictetus said that a philosopher will always have a beard, at the cost of his own life.

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

Some students asked Epictetus to shave his beard. He answered: “If I am a philosopher, I will not shave my beard.” When the students asked if he would shave his beard to prevent his head being cut off, Epictetus said “If that will do you any good, take it off.”

Sometimes those who call themselves philosophers confuse appearances with achivements. They wear a cloak and grow a beard, they they say “I am a philosopher.” But no man will say “I am a musician” if all he has done is buy a lute: nor will he say “I am a smith” if all he has done is put on a cap and apron. Clothing is fitted to the art. Be a philosopher from the art, and not from the clothing.

Does any man require you to ornament yourself? Far from it. Ornament what we really are by nature; our rational faculty, our opinions, our actions. As to the body, ornament it only so far as to be pure, only so far as not to give offense.

There is a certain value in the power of speaking, but it is not so great as the power of the will. When I speak, let no man think that I ask you to neglect the power of speaking. Neither do I ask you to neglect your eyes, nor your ears, nor your hands, nor your feet, nor your clothing, nor your shoes. But if you ask me, “What is the most excellent of all things?” what must I say? I cannot say it is the power of speaking. It is the power of the will, when it is right. For it is the power of the will which uses the power of speaking, and all the other faculties both small and great.

The slave wishes to be set free immediately. Why? Because he wishes he could pay taxes? No, but because he imagines that because he is a slave he is hindered and unfortunate. “If I am set free, immediately it is all happiness. I will serve no man, I will speak to all as an equal. Like them I will come and go where I choose.” Then he is set free. Having no place where he can eat, he looks for some man to flatter, some one who will feed him. Then he will work with his body and endure the most dreadful things, he will fall into a slavery much worse than his former slavery. Even if he becomes rich, being a man without any knowledge of what is good, he loves some little girl, and in his happiness laments and desires to be a slave again. He says, “what evil did I suffer in my state of slavery? Another man clothed me, another man supplied me with shoes, another man fed me, another man looked after me when I was sick. I did only a few services for him. But now I am a wretched man, what things I suffer, being a slave of many instead of to one.” Then he says, “if I can acquire rings, then I shall live most prosperously and happily.” In order to acquire these rings, he works and buys them. When he has bought them, it is again all the same. Then he says, “if I serve in the military, I will be free from all evils.” He joins the military. He suffers as much as a flogged slave, and nevertheless he asks for a second service and a third. After this, when he has put the finishing stroke to his career and becomes a senator, then he becomes a slave to the assembly. As a senator he serves the finer and most splendid slavery. Please, slave, don’t be a fool. Learn what Socrates taught about the nature of each thing that exists, and that a man should not be a slave to appearances. For this is the cause to men of all their evils.

My man, as the proverb says, make a desperate effort on behalf of tranquility of your mind, on behalf of freedom and of magnanimity. Lift up your head at last and be released from slavery. Dare to look up to God and say, “Deal with me for the future as You will. I am of the same mind as You are. I am Yours. I refuse nothing that pleases You. Lead me where You will. Clothe me in any dress You choose. If it is Your will that I should hold the office of a magistrate, or that I should be a private citizen, or stay here, or be an exile, or be poor, or be rich, I will defend Your choice to others in all of these conditions.” But my man, you will not do so. You sit in an ox’s belly, and wait for your mamma to come feed you. Who would Hercules have been, if he had sat at home? He would not have been Hercules.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Thirty-Nine of The Enchiridion

The body is to everyone the proper measure of its possessions, as the foot is of the shoe. If, therefore, you stop at this, you will keep the measure; but if you move beyond it, you must necessarily be carried forward, as down a precipice; as in the case of a shoe, if you go beyond its fitness to the foot, it comes first to be gilded, then purple, and then studded with jewels. For to that which once exceeds the fit there is no limit.

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 – In the Gloaming
Cliff Edwards – I Want Somebody to Cheer Me Up

Episode 1639