The Enchiridion Part Twenty-Two

If you have persistence, those very persons who at first ridiculed will afterwards admire you.

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-Two…

BODY

If you have an earnest desire toward philosophy, prepare yourself from the very first to have the multitude laugh and sneer, and say “He is returned to us a philosopher all at once”; and “Whence this supercilious look?” Now, for your part, do not have a supercilious look; but keep steadily to those things which appear best to you as one appointed by God to this particular station. For remember that, if you have persistence, those very persons who at first ridiculed will afterwards admire you. But if you are conquered by them, you will incur a double ridicule.

COMMENTARY
In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about being a philosopher.

Man, consider first […] your own nature, what it is able to bear. If you are a wrestler, look at your shoulders, your thighs, your loins, for different men are naturally formed for different things. Do you think that, if you consider your own nature, you can be a philosopher? Do you think that you can eat as you do now, drink as you do now, and in the same way be angry and out of humor? You must watch, labor, conquer certain desires. You must depart from your kinsmen, be despised by your slave, be laughed at by those who meet you. To be a philosopher you must in everything be in an inferior condition as to magisterial office, honors, and courts of justice. When you have considered all these things completely, if you think it proper, approach philosophy – if you would gain in exchange for these things freedom from perturbations, liberty and tranquility. If you have not considered these things, do not approach philosophy. Do not act like children, at one time a philosopher, then a tax collector, then a rhetorician, then a procurator of Caesar. These things are not consistent. You must be one man either good or bad. You must either labor at your own ruling faculty or at external things. You must either occupy the place of a philosopher or that of one of the vulgar.

What things a man must learn in order to be able to apply the art of disputation has been accurately shown by our philosophers. But with respect to the proper use of these things, we are entirely without practice. Give to any of us you please an illiterate man to discuss with […] But when he has moved the man a little, if he answers beside the purpose, he does not know how to treat him, but he then either abuses or ridicules him, and says, “He is an illiterate man; it is not possible to do anything with him.” Now a guide, when he has found a man out of the road leads him into the right way. He does not ridicule or abuse him and then leave him. You should also show this illiterate man the truth, and you will see that he follows. But so long as you do not show him the truth, do not ridicule him, but rather feel your own incapacity.

Philosophers admonish us not to be satisfied with learning only, but also to add study, and then practice. […] For it is one thing to lay up bread and wine as in a storehouse, and another thing to eat. That which has been eaten is digested, distributed, and becomes sinews, flesh, bones, blood, healthy color, healthy breath. Whatever is stored up, when you choose, you can readily take and show it. But you have no other advantage from it except so far as to appear to possess it.

Remember that it is not only the desire of power and of riches makes us mean and subject to others, but also the desire of tranquillity, and of leisure, and of traveling abroad, and of learning. For whatever the external thing may be, the value which we set upon it places us in subjection to others. What, then, is the difference between desiring to be a senator or not desiring to be one? What is the difference between desiring power or being content with a private station? What is the difference between saying, “I am unhappy, I have nothing to do, but I am bound to my books as a corpse” or saying “I am unhappy, I have no leisure for reading?” For as salutations and power are things external and independent of the will, so is a book. For what purpose do you choose to read? Tell me. For if you only direct your purpose to being amused or learning something, you are a silly fellow and incapable of enduring labor. If you refer reading to the proper end, this will be a tranquil and happy life. If reading does not secure for you a tranquil and happy life, what is the use of it?

We should not be vexed in being hindered as to our readings, but we should be satisfied with doing acts which are conformable to nature. We should not think: “Today I have read so many verses, I have written so many.” We should think: “Today I have employed my action as it is taught by the philosophers. I have not employed any desire. I have tried to avoid only those things which are within my power to avoid. I have not been afraid of any person. I have not been prevailed upon by the entreaties of another. I have exercised my patience, my abstinence, and my co-operation with others.” In this way we thank Nature for what we ought to thank Nature.

What should we do then? This is the inquiry of those who have an earnest desire of attaining to philosophy. Now you do not see what the Good is nor the Bad. Yes, you are mad. But suppose that I place the good somewhere among the things which depend on the will: all will laugh at me. There will come some grey-head wearing many gold rings on his fingers. He will shake his head and say, “Hear, my child. It is right that you should philosophize. But you ought to have some brains also. All this that you are doing is silly. You learn the syllogism from philosophers, but you know how to act better than philosophers do.” Man, why then do you blame me, if I know? What shall I say to this slave? If I am silent, he will burst. I must speak in this way: “Excuse me, as you would excuse lovers. I am not yet my own master. I am mad.”

CHORUS
Here again is Part Twenty-Two of The Enchiridion

If you have an earnest desire toward philosophy, prepare yourself from the very first to have the multitude laugh and sneer, and say “He is returned to us a philosopher all at once”; and “Whence this supercilious look?” Now, for your part, do not have a supercilious look; but keep steadily to those things which appear best to you as one appointed by God to this particular station. For remember that, if you have persistence, those very persons who at first ridiculed will afterwards admire you. But if you are conquered by them, you will incur a double ridicule.

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 Was Born Too Late (Melotone 13403 1935)

Episode 1622