The Enchiridion Part Thirty-One

For where our interest is, there too is piety directed.

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-One…

BODY

Be assured that the essence of piety towards the gods is in this, to form right opinions concerning them, as existing, and as governing the universe justly and well. Fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them amidst all events, as being ruled by the most perfect wisdom. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them of neglecting you. This result cannot be secured in any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things which are not within your own power, and by making good or evil to consist only in those which are. It is inevitable that, when you are disappointed of what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you should reproach and blame their authors. For every creature is naturally formed to flee and abhor things that appear hurtful, and that which causes them; and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial, and that which causes them. It is impracticable, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should rejoice in the person who, as he thinks, hurt him; just as it is impossible to rejoice in the hurt itself.

Hence, also, a father is reviled by his son when he does not impart the things which seem to be good; and this made Polynices and Eteocles mutual enemies, for empire seemed good to both. On this account the farmer reviles the gods; the sailor, the merchant, or those who have lost wife or child. For where our interest is, there too is piety directed. So that whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought is thus made careful of piety likewise. But it also becomes incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first-fruits, according to the customs of his country, purely, and not heedlessly nor negligently; not in a niggardly way, nor yet extravagantly.

COMMENTARY
In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about right opinion and about piety.

When are ten men weaker than one? When the one possess right opinions and the ten do not.

One winter, Epictetus met a man who was going up to Rome. Epictetus asked the man why he was going to Rome. The man said he was summoned, and then he asked what Epictetus thought about the matter. Epictetus replied: If you ask me what you will do in Rome, whether you will succeed or fall, I have no idea. But if you ask me how you will fare, I can tell you. If you have right opinions, you will fare well. If they are false, you will fare ill. For to every man the cause of his conduct is his opinion. What is the reason you desire to be elected governor? Your opinion. What is the reason that you are now going up to Rome? Your opinion. You go now in winter, with danger and expense. The man replied: “I must go.” What tells you this? Your opinion. If opinions are the causes of all actions, and a man has bad opinions, the effect will follow the cause. Ask yourself if we all have sound opinions, both you and your adversaries? How do you differ? Why do you think you have more sound opinions than your adversaries? The reason is that it is your opinion that this is so. Your adversaries think that their own opinions are better. So do madmen. Opinions alone are a bad criterion. Instead, show to me that you have made some inquiry into right opinions and have taken some pains about them.

The nature of man is not to endure being deprived of the good, and not to endure the falling into the evil. When I am neither able to change circumstances nor to tear out the eyes of him who hinders me, I sit down and groan, and abuse whom I can, Zeus and the rest of the gods. For if they do not care for me, what are they to me? “Yes, but you will be an impious man.” In what respect then will it be worse for me than it is now? No. Remember: unless piety and your interest are one thing, piety cannot be maintained in any man.

As soon as you go out in the morning, examine every man whom you see, every man whom you hear. Then ask yourself what have you seen. A handsome man or a beautiful woman? Ask yourself what you have seen, if is this independent of the will, or dependent? Independent. Take it away. Ask yourself what you have seen: a man lamenting over the death of a child. Apply the rule. Death is a thing independent of the will. Take it away. Ask yourself what you have seen: the proconsul has met you. Apply the rule. What kind of thing is a proconsul’s office? Independent of the will, or dependent on it? Independent. Take this away also. It does not stand examination. Cast it away. It is nothing to you.

If we practiced this and exercised ourselves in it daily from morning to night, something indeed would be done. But now we are caught half-asleep by every appearance, and it is only, if ever, in the school we are half-awake. Outside of school if we see a man lamenting we say “He is undone.” If we see a proconsul we say “He is happy.” If we see an exiled man we say, “He is miserable.” If we see a poor man we say “He is wretched, he has nothing to eat.”

We ought to eradicate these bad opinions, and to this end we should direct all our efforts. For what is weeping and lamenting? Opinion. What is bad fortune? Opinion. What is civil war, what is divided opinion, what is blame, what is accusation, what is impiety, what is trifling? All these things are opinions and nothing more; opinions about things independent of the will, as if they were good and bad. Let a man transfer his opinions to things dependent on the will, and I tell you he will be firm and constant whatever may be the state of things around him. The soul is as a dish of water. Appearances are as when light falls on the water. When the water is moved, the light also seems to be moved. But it is not moved. When a man is agitated and excited, it is not the arts and the virtues which are confounded, but the spirit on which they are impressed. If the spirit is restored to its settled state, those things also are restored.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Thirty-One of The Enchiridion

Be assured that the essence of piety towards the gods is in this, to form right opinions concerning them, as existing, and as governing the universe justly and well. Fix yourself in this resolution, to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them amidst all events, as being ruled by the most perfect wisdom. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them of neglecting you. This result cannot be secured in any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things which are not within your own power, and by making good or evil to consist only in those which are. It is inevitable that, when you are disappointed of what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you should reproach and blame their authors. For every creature is naturally formed to flee and abhor things that appear hurtful, and that which causes them; and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial, and that which causes them. It is impracticable, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should rejoice in the person who, as he thinks, hurt him; just as it is impossible to rejoice in the hurt itself.

Hence, also, a father is reviled by his son when he does not impart the things which seem to be good; and this made Polynices and Eteocles mutual enemies, for empire seemed good to both. On this account the farmer reviles the gods; the sailor, the merchant, or those who have lost wife or child. For where our interest is, there too is piety directed. So that whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought is thus made careful of piety likewise. But it also becomes incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first-fruits, according to the customs of his country, purely, and not heedlessly nor negligently; not in a niggardly way, nor yet extravagantly.

CLOSING
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.

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

Episode 1631