The Enchiridion Part Twenty-Nine

Do you think that you can act as you do and be a philosopher?

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 Twenty-Nine…

BODY

In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit indeed, careless of the consequences, and when these are developed, you will shamefully desist.

“I would conquer at the Olympic games.” But consider what precedes and what follows, and then, if it be to your advantage, engage in the affair. You must conform to rules, submit to a diet, refrain from dainties. You must exercise your body, whether you choose it or not, at a stated hour, in heat and cold. You must drink no cold water, and sometimes no wine. In a word, you must give your self up to your trainer as to a physician. Then, in the combat, you may be covered with sand, dislocate your arm, turn your ankle, eat dust, be whipped for committing a foul, and, after all of this, still lose the victory. When you have reckoned up all this, if your inclination still holds, set about the combat.

Otherwise, take notice, you will behave like children who sometimes play wrestlers, sometimes gladiators, sometimes blow trumpets, and sometimes act a tragedy, all based on what they have recently seen and admired. You too will be at one time a wrestler, at another a gladiator, now a philosopher, now an orator, but nothing in earnest. Like an ape you mimic all you see, and one thing after another is sure to please you, but is out of favor as soon as it becomes familiar. For you have never entered upon anything considerately, nor after having surveyed and tested the whole matter; but carelessly and halfheartedly. Thus some, when they have seen a philosopher, and heard a man speaking like Euphrates (though indeed who can speak like him) have a mind to be philosophers too.

Consider first, man, what the matter is, and what your own nature is able to bear. If you would be a wrestler, consider your shoulders, your back, your thighs, because different persons are made for different things. Do you think that you can act as you do and be a philosopher? Do you think you can eat, drink, be angry, be discontented, as you are now? You must watch, you must labor, you must get the better of certain appetites. You must lose your friends, be despised by your slave, be laughed at by those you meet. You must come off worse than others in everything, in offices, in honors, before tribunals. When you have fully considered these drawbacks, approach philosophy, if you think best; that is, if at that price, you would purchase serenity, freedom, and tranquility.

If not, do not come back here. Do not, like children, be now a philosopher, then a publician, then an orator, and then one of Caesar’s officers. These things are not consistent. You must be one man either good or bad. You must cultivate either your own reason or else externals. You must apply yourself either to the inner man or to things outside; that is, be either a philosopher, or one of the mob.

COMMENTARY
In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about the effort and courage that is required to be a philosopher.

What did you learn in school? Philosophical formulas and sophisticated phrases? For what purpose? Was it not for the purpose of skillful discourse? Skillful discourse is well-timed and cautious and intelligent, it is without mistakes and without hesitation, and most of all skillful discourse is confident. Compare it to when you are mounted on a horse and go war. Are you then anxious at fighting a man who is on foot, are you anxious if you are skilled, and he is not? “Yes, but he may still kill me.” Speak the truth then, unhappy man, and do not brag, nor claim to be a philosopher, nor refuse to acknowledge your masters. Instead for as long as you nurture your weaknesses, follow every man who is stronger than yourself. Socrates used to practice skillful discourse. He spoke courageously to tyrants, to judges, and to prison guards. Diogenes used to practice skillful discourse. He spoke courageously to Alexander, to pirates, to the slave-owner who bought him. These men were confident in the things which they practiced. But you choose to tend to trivial affairs. Please go and sit in a corner, and practice your philosophical formulas and sophisticated phrases with each other. There is not in you the man who can rule a State.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Twenty-Nine of The Enchiridion

In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit indeed, careless of the consequences, and when these are developed, you will shamefully desist.

“I would conquer at the Olympic games.” But consider what precedes and what follows, and then, if it be to your advantage, engage in the affair. You must conform to rules, submit to a diet, refrain from dainties. You must exercise your body, whether you choose it or not, at a stated hour, in heat and cold. You must drink no cold water, and sometimes no wine. In a word, you must give your self up to your trainer as to a physician. Then, in the combat, you may be covered with sand, dislocate your arm, turn your ankle, eat dust, be whipped for committing a foul, and, after all of this, still lose the victory. When you have reckoned up all this, if your inclination still holds, set about the combat.

Otherwise, take notice, you will behave like children who sometimes play wrestlers, sometimes gladiators, sometimes blow trumpets, and sometimes act a tragedy, all based on what they have recently seen and admired. You too will be at one time a wrestler, at another a gladiator, now a philosopher, now an orator, but nothing in earnest. Like an ape you mimic all you see, and one thing after another is sure to please you, but is out of favor as soon as it becomes familiar. For you have never entered upon anything considerately, nor after having surveyed and tested the whole matter; but carelessly and halfheartedly. Thus some, when they have seen a philosopher, and heard a man speaking like Euphrates (though indeed who can speak like him) have a mind to be philosophers too.

Consider first, man, what the matter is, and what your own nature is able to bear. If you would be a wrestler, consider your shoulders, your back, your thighs, because different persons are made for different things. Do you think that you can act as you do and be a philosopher? Do you think you can eat, drink, be angry, be discontented, as you are now? You must watch, you must labor, you must get the better of certain appetites. You must lose your friends, be despised by your slave, be laughed at by those you meet. You must come off worse than others in everything, in offices, in honors, before tribunals. When you have fully considered these drawbacks, approach philosophy, if you think best; that is, if at that price, you would purchase serenity, freedom, and tranquility.

If not, do not come back here. Do not, like children, be now a philosopher, then a publician, then an orator, and then one of Caesar’s officers. These things are not consistent. You must be one man either good or bad. You must cultivate either your own reason or else externals. You must apply yourself either to the inner man or to things outside; that is, be either a philosopher, or one of the mob.

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 – When I Was a Son of a Bee (High Society 506 B 1936)

Episode 1629