The Enchiridion Part Three

Man is not the master of man; but death is, and life and pleasure and pain.

INTRODUCTION
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 Three…

BODY

With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind, or contribute to use, or are tenderly loved, remind yourself of what nature they are, beginning with the merest trifles; if you have a favorite cup, that it is but a cup of which you are fond – for thus, if it is broken, you can bear it; if you embrace your child, or your wife, that you embrace a mortal – and thus, if either of them dies, you can bear it.

COMMENTARY
That is what Epictetus said. Here is what I say.

To the Stoics, what is evil is rightly to be fought and avoided, but what is necessary is to be accepted when met in its natural place. The Stoics held that Nature would not put to man any evil thing that was not in his control, and it is man’s confusion to over-extend his sense of what he can and must control. That we will at some point die, this we cannot control, but our fear of death or our lust for death, these we can control. The Stoics did not say that all suffering must be endured, but that if we cannot endure suffering then we should go away by the door that is open to us rather than stay and complain about that which can neither be endured nor changed.

What deaths cause you no disturbance?

In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about death.

When death appears an evil, we ought to have this rule in readiness, that it is fit to avoid evil things, and that death is a necessary thing. For what will I do, and where will I escape it? […] Tell me where I can escape death: discover for me the country, show me the men to whom I must go, whom death does not visit. Present to me a charm against death. If I do not have one, what do you wish me to do? I cannot escape from death. I can escape from the fear of death – or should I die lamenting and trembling? For the origin of trouble is this: to wish for something, and that it should not happen. Therefore if I am able to change externals according to my wish, I change them; but if I cannot, I am ready to tear out the eyes of him who hinders me.

Man is not the master of man; but death is, and life and pleasure and pain; for if he comes without these things, bring Caesar to me and you will see how firm I am. But when he will come with these things, thundering and lightning, and when I am afraid of them, what do I do then except to recognize my master like the runaway slave? […] But if I will release myself from my masters, that is from those things by means of which masters are formidable, what further trouble have I, what master have I still?

We are then in the condition of deer, when they flee from the huntsmen’s arrows [correction: feathers] in fright, where do they turn and in what do they seek refuge as safe? They turn to the nets, and thus they perish by confounding things which are objects of fear with things that they ought not to fear. Thus we also act. In what cases do we fear? In things which are independent of the will. In what cases, on the contrary, do we behave with confidence, as if there were no danger? In things dependent on the will. [Where] there is death, or exile or pain or infamy, there we attempt to run away, there we are struck with terror. Therefore, as we may expect it to happen with those who err in the greatest matters, we convert natural confidence into audacity, desperation, rashness, shamelessness; and we convert natural caution and modesty into cowardice and meanness, which are full of fear and confusion. For if a man should transfer caution to those things in which the will may be exercised and the acts of the will, he will immediately, by willing to be cautious, have also the power of avoiding what he chooses: but if he transfer it to the things which are not in his power and will, and attempt to avoid the things which are in the power of others, he will of necessity fear, he will be unstable, he will be disturbed. For death or pain is not formidable, but the fear of pain or death. For this reason we commend the poet who said ‘Not death is evil, but a shameful death.’ Confidence then ought to be employed against death, and caution against the fear of death.

What is death? A “tragic mask.” Turn it and examine it. See, it does not bite. The poor body must be separated from the spirit either now or later, as it was separated from it before. Why, then, are you troubled, if it be separated now? For if it is not separated now, it will be separated later. Why? That the period of the universe may be completed, for it has need of the present, and of the future, and of the past. What is pain? A mask. Turn it and examine it. The poor flesh is moved roughly, then, on the contrary, smoothly. If this does not satisfy you, the door is open: if it does, bear. For the door ought to be open for all occasions; and so we have no trouble.

For if a man can quit the banquet when he chooses, and no longer amuse himself, does he still stay and complain, and does he not stay, as at any amusement, only so long as he is pleased? Such a man, I suppose, would endure perpetual exile or to be condemned to death. Will you not be weaned now, like children, and take more solid food, and not cry after mothers and nurses, which are the lamentations of old women? “But if I go away, I will cause them sorrow.” You cause them sorrow? By no means; but that will cause them sorrow which also causes you sorrow: opinion. What have you to do then? Take away your own opinion, and if these women are wise, they will take away their own: if they do not, they will lament through their own fault.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Three of The Enchiridion.

With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind, or contribute to use, or are tenderly loved, remind yourself of what nature they are, beginning with the merest trifles; if you have a favorite cup, that it is but a cup of which you are fond – for thus, if it is broken, you can bear it; if you embrace your child, or your wife, that you embrace a mortal – and thus, if either of them dies, you can bear it.

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 – I’m Crying ’cause I Know I’m Losing You

Episode 1603