The Enchiridion Part Twenty

When anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes 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…

BODY

Remember, that not he who gives abuse or blows who insults; but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try, therefore, not to be bewildered by appearances. For if you once take time and reflect, you will more easily command yourself.

COMMENTARY
In “The Discourses,” Epictetus has this to say about insults.

You now come to me as if you were in want of nothing. What could you even imagine to be wanting? You are rich, you have children, and a wife, perhaps and many slaves. Caesar knows you, in Rome you have many friends, you render their dues to all, you know how to repay him who does you a favor, and to repay in the same kind him who does you a wrong. What do you lack? I will show you that you lack the things most necessary and the chief things for happiness, and that hitherto you have looked after everything rather than what you ought, and, to crown all, that you neither know what Nature is nor what man is, nor what is good nor what is bad. As to what I have said about your ignorance of other matters, that may perhaps be endured, but if I say that you know nothing about yourself, how is it possible that you should endure me and bear the proof and stay here? It is not possible, and you immediately go off in bad humor. Yet what harm have I done you? Unless the mirror injures the ugly man because it shows him to himself such as he is; unless the physician insults the sick man when he says to him, “Man, you are sick, you have a fever: go without food today and drink water.” No one says of these: “What an insult!” But if you say to a man, “Your desires are inflamed, your aversions are low, your intentions are inconsistent, your pursuits are not comfortable to Nature, your opinions are rash and false,” the man immediately goes away and says, “he has insulted me.”

When a man was consulting Epictetus how he should persuade his brother to cease being angry with him, Epictetus replied: Philosophy does not propose to secure for a man any external thing. If it did, philosophy would be claiming something which is not within its power. For as the carpenter’s material is wood, and that of the statuary is copper, so the matter of the art of living is each man’s life. The man asked: “what then is my brother’s material?” That again belongs to his own art. But with respect to yours, it is one of the external things, like a piece of land, like health, like reputation.

When a man has spoken with simplicity about his own affairs, why is it that afterwards we are ourselves induced to divulge to him our own secrets? Why do we think this is candid behavior? First, because it seems unfair for a man to have listened to the affairs of his neighbor and not to communicate to him also in turn our own affairs. Second, because we think that we will not present to them the appearance of candid men when we are silent about our own affairs. Indeed men are often accustomed to say, “I have told you all my affairs, will you tell me nothing of your own? Why not?” We also have an opinion that we can safely trust him who has already told us his own affairs. The notion rises in our mind that this man would never divulge our affairs because he is cautious that we would not divulge his. In this way the incautious are caught by the soldiers at Rome. A soldier sits by you in a common dress and begins to speak ill of Caesar. Then you, as if you had received a pledge of his fidelity by his having begun the abuse, utter yourself also what you think. And you are carried off in chains.

Something of this kind happens to us often. Now if one man has confidently entrusted his affairs to me, will I also do so to any man whom I meet? What I have heard, I keep silent, if I am of such a disposition. But he goes out and tells all men what he has heard. When I hear what has been done, if I am a man like him, I resolve to be revenged and I divulge what he has told me. By this I both disturb others and am disturbed myself. But if I remember that one man does not injure another, and that every man’s acts injure and profit only himself, I make sure that I do not do anything like him. I suffer what I suffer only through my own foolish talk.

If a man should assent that we are all sprung from Nature in a special manner, and that Nature is the best both of men and of gods, I suppose that he would never have any ignoble or mean thoughts about himself. But if Caesar should adopt you no one could endure your arrogance, and if you knew that you are the son of Zeus you would be elated. Yet we do not so. Two things are mingled in the generation of man, body in common with the animals, and reason and intelligence in common with the gods. Many incline to what is mortal and miserable, and few to what is divine and happy. Since every man uses everything according to the opinion which he has about it, those few who think that they are formed for fidelity and modesty and a sure use of appearances have no mean or ignoble thoughts about themselves. But with the many it is quite the contrary. For they say, “What am I? A poor, miserable man, with my wretched bit of flesh.” Wretched, indeed. But you possess something better than your “bit of flesh.” Why then do you neglect that which is better, and why do you attach yourself to that which is lesser?

Through this bonding with the flesh, some of us become like wolves, faithless and treacherous and mischievous, some become like lions, savage and untamed. But the greater part of us become foxes and other worse animals. For what else is a slanderer and a malignant man than a fox, or some other more wretched and meaner animal? See, then, and take care that you do not become some one of these miserable things.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Twenty of The Enchiridion

Remember, that not he who gives abuse or blows who insults; but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try, therefore, not to be bewildered by appearances. For if you once take time and reflect, you will more easily command yourself.

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 – A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody

Episode 1620