The Enchiridion Part Thirty-Three

 

 

Do not be eager to attend public readings.

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-Three…

BODY

Begin by prescribing yourself some character and form of conduct which you may keep both alone and in company.

Be silent for the most part. Speak merely what is necessary, and in few words. We may, however, enter sparingly into discourse sometimes, when occasion calls for it. But let discourse never be on the vulgar subjects: gladiators, horse races, athletic champions, feasts. Let discourse never be on men to blame, or to praise, or to make comparisons. If you are able, bring over conversations to proper subjects. But if you happen to be among strangers, keep silent.

Let not your laughter be loud, nor frequent, nor exaggerated.

Avoid taking oaths altogether, if possible. If not possible to avoid, avoid oaths as much as you are able.

Avoid vulgar entertainment. If you are summoned to a vulgar entertainment, attend to the long view of things so that you may not slide into vulgar manners. Be assured that if a man is sound yet his companion is weak, he who converses with the weak man will be weakened.

Provide things useful to the body and no further, regarging meat, drink, clothing, house and family. Cut away and reject everything relating to show and delicacy and luxury.

Before marriage keep yourself from familiarities with women. If you indulge them, let it be lawfully. But don’t be full of blame and comparison, scolding other men who are familiar with women, and do not boast of yourself.

If anyone tells you that someone speaks ill of you, do not explain or excuse what is said. Instead, say: “He does not know all my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only these.”

It is not necessary for you to appear often at public spectacles. If there is a proper occasion for you to be there, do not appear more solicitous for anyone than for yourself. That is, be glad for things to be just as they are. Wish only that he who conquerors be the conqueror, for thus you will meet with no hindrance. Abstain entirely from praise and blame and violent emotions. When you leave, do not talk what happened into the ground. Talk about what contributes to your improvement. If you speak otherwise, it will appear that you were made stupid by the spectacle.

Do not be eager to attend public readings. If you do attend public readings, preserve your gravity and your dignity. But don’t put on airs of being disagreeable and morose.

When you are going to talk with anyone, and particularly of those in a superior station, represent to yourself how Socrates or Zeno would behave in such a case. You will not be at a loss to make a proper use of whatever may occur.

When you are going to any man of a superior station, tell to yourself that you will not find him at home, that you will not be admitted, that the doors will not be opened to you, and that he will take no notice of you. If, with all this, it is your duty to go, accept what happens. Never say to yourself, “It was not important anyway.” To say this is vulgar, and like a man made stupid by the spectacle.

Avoid a frequent and excessive mention of your own actions and dangers. For however agreeable it may be to yourself to mention the risks you have run, it is not equally agreeable to others to hear your adventures. Avoid likewise fishing for laughter. For this may throw you into vulgar manners and may lessen you in the esteem of your acquaintance. Descending to obscene discourse is likewise dangerous. Whenever anything of this sort happens, if there is a proper opportunity, rebuke him who makes advances that way. Or, at least, by silence and blushing and a look, show yourself to be displeased by such talk.

COMMENTARY
That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say. Stoicism has a reputation for being without laughter. But in ‘The Discourses’ Epictetus said we should ‘proclaim that you are at peace with all men whatever they may do, and laugh at those chiefly who think that they can harm you.’ He also said that he laughed at those who pitied him. It is not laughter itself, but nervous or vulgar laughter that is based on circumstances outside of our power, that Epictetus speaks against.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Thirty-Three of The Enchiridion

Begin by prescribing yourself some character and form of conduct which you may keep both alone and in company.

Be silent for the most part. Speak merely what is necessary, and in few words. We may, however, enter sparingly into discourse sometimes, when occasion calls for it. But let discourse never be on the vulgar subjects: gladiators, horse races, athletic champions, feasts. Let discourse never be on men to blame, or to praise, or to make comparisons. If you are able, bring over conversations to proper subjects. But if you happen to be among strangers, keep silent.

Let not your laughter be loud, nor frequent, nor exaggerated.

Avoid taking oaths altogether, if possible. If not possible to avoid, avoid oaths as much as you are able.

Avoid vulgar entertainment. If you are summoned to a vulgar entertainment, attend to the long view of things so that you may not slide into vulgar manners. Be assured that if a man is sound yet his companion is weak, he who converses with the weak man will be weakened.

Provide things useful to the body and no further, regarging meat, drink, clothing, house and family. Cut away and reject everything relating to show and delicacy and luxury.

Before marriage keep yourself from familiarities with women. If you indulge them, let it be lawfully. But don’t be full of blame and comparison, scolding other men who are familiar with women, and do not boast of yourself.

If anyone tells you that someone speaks ill of you, do not explain or excuse what is said. Instead, say: “He does not know all my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only these.”

It is not necessary for you to appear often at public spectacles. If there is a proper occasion for you to be there, do not appear more solicitous for anyone than for yourself. That is, be glad for things to be just as they are. Wish only that he who conquerors be the conqueror, for thus you will meet with no hindrance. Abstain entirely from praise and blame and violent emotions. When you leave, do not talk what happened into the ground. Talk about what contributes to your improvement. If you speak otherwise, it will appear that you were made stupid by the spectacle.

Do not be eager to attend public readings. If you do attend public readings, preserve your gravity and your dignity. But don’t put on airs of being disagreeable and morose.

When you are going to talk with anyone, and particularly of those in a superior station, represent to yourself how Socrates or Zeno would behave in such a case. You will not be at a loss to make a proper use of whatever may occur.

When you are going to any man of a superior station, tell to yourself that you will not find him at home, that you will not be admitted, that the doors will not be opened to you, and that he will take no notice of you. If, with all this, it is your duty to go, accept what happens. Never say to yourself, “It was not important anyway.” To say this is vulgar, and like a man made stupid by the spectacle.

Avoid a frequent and excessive mention of your own actions and dangers. For however agreeable it may be to yourself to mention the risks you have run, it is not equally agreeable to others to hear your adventures. Avoid likewise fishing for laughter. For this may throw you into vulgar manners and may lessen you in the esteem of your acquaintance. Descending to obscene discourse is likewise dangerous. Whenever anything of this sort happens, if there is a proper opportunity, rebuke him who makes advances that way. Or, at least, by silence and blushing and a look, show yourself to be displeased by such talk.

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 – If You Can’t Land Her on the Old Veranda (Pathé Actuelle 25198 B 1926)

Episode 1633