The Enchiridion Part Two

It is you who know yourself, how much you are worth to yourself, and at what price you sell yourself; for men sell themselves at various prices.

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 Two…

BODY

Remember that desire demands the attainment of that of which you are desirous; and aversion demands the avoidance of that to which you are averse; that he who fails of the object of his desires is disappointed; and he who incurs the object of his aversion is wretched. If, then, you avoid only those undesirable things which you can control, you will never incur anything which you avoid; but if you avoid sickness, or death, or poverty, you will run the risk of wretchedness. Withdraw aversion, then, from all things that are not within our power, and apply it to things undesirable, which are within our power. But for the present altogether restrain desire; for if you desire any of the things not within our own power, you must necessarily be disappointed; and you are not yet secure of those which are within our power, and so are legitimate objects of desire. Where it is practically necessary for you to pursue or avoid anything, do even this with discretion, and gentleness, and moderation.

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

If we desire only what we have by nature, and never desire what we cannot have, we will not know disappointment. Disappointment comes from wanting something contrary to our nature, or wanting something that is impossible. If we do not push away that which cannot be avoided, we will never be pushed back when it arrives. Begin today by suppression of all desire. As you grow strong add back your natural desires and natural aversions with caution, ready to remove them again.

How do you determine when your nature is in harmony with nature itself?

In The Discourses, Epictetus has this to say about man’s nature, and what actions are appropriate to live in harmony with that nature.

The rational and the irrational appear such in a different way to different persons, just as the good and the bad, the profitable and the unprofitable. For this reason, particularly, we need discipline, in order to learn how to adapt the preconception of the rational and the irrational to the several things conformably to nature. But in order to determine the rational and the irrational, we use not only the appearance of external things, but we consider also what is appropriate to each person. For to one man it is consistent with reason to hold a chamber pot for another, and to look to this only, that if he does not hold it, he will receive stripes, and he will not receive his food: but if he will hold the pot, he will not suffer anything hard or disagreeable. But to another man not only does the holding of a chamber pot appear intolerable for himself, but intolerable also for him to allow another to do this office for him. If, then, you ask me whether you should hold the chamber pot or not, I shall say to you that the receiving of food is worth more than the not receiving of it, and the being scourged is a greater indignity than not being scourged; so that if you measure your interests by these things, go and hold the chamber pot. “But this,” you say, “would not be worthy of me.” Well, then, it is you who must introduce this consideration into the inquiry, not I; for it is you who know yourself, how much you are worth to yourself, and at what price you sell yourself; for men sell themselves at various prices.

How then is it said that some external things are according to nature and others contrary to nature? It is said as it might be said if we were separated from union: for to the foot I shall say that it is according to nature for it to be clean; but if you take it as a foot and as a thing not detached, it will befit it both to step into the mud and tread on thorns, and sometimes to be cut off for the benefit of the whole body; otherwise it is no longer a foot. We should think in the same way about ourselves also. What are you? A man. If you consider yourself as detached from other men, it is according to nature to live to old age, to be rich, to be healthy. But if you consider yourself as a man and a part of a certain whole, it is for the sake of that whole that at one time you should be sick, at another time take a voyage and run into danger, and at another time be in want, and, in some cases, die prematurely. Why then are you troubled? Do you not know, that as a foot is no longer a foot if it is detached from the body, so you are no longer a man if you are separated from other men. For what is a man? A part of a state, of that first which consists of Gods and of men; then of that which is called next to it, which is a small image of the universal state.

When, then, we are doing anything not rightly, from this day we shall impute it to nothing else than to the will from which we have done it: and it is that which we shall endeavor to take away and to extirpate more than the tumors and abscesses out of the body. And in like manner we shall give the same account of the cause of the things which we do right; and we shall no longer allege as causes of any evil to us, either slave or neighbor, or wife or children, being persuaded that, if we do not think things to be what we do think them to be, we do not the acts which follow from such opinions; and as to thinking or not thinking, that is in our power and not in externals. […] From this day, then, we shall inquire into and examine nothing else in neither land nor slaves nor horses nor dogs, that that its quality, or its state, are nothing other than opinions. […] You see, then, that you must become a Scholasticus, an animal whom all ridicule, if you really intend to make an examination of your own opinions: and that this is not the work of one hour or day, you know yourself.

CHORUS
Here again is Part Two of The Enchiridion.

Remember that desire demands the attainment of that of which you are desirous; and aversion demands the avoidance of that to which you are averse; that he who fails of the object of his desires is disappointed; and he who incurs the object of his aversion is wretched. If, then, you avoid only those undesirable things which you can control, you will never incur anything which you avoid; but if you avoid sickness, or death, or poverty, you will run the risk of wretchedness. Withdraw aversion, then, from all things that are not within our power, and apply it to things undesirable, which are within our power. But for the present altogether restrain desire; for if you desire any of the things not within our own power, you must necessarily be disappointed; and you are not yet secure of those which are within our power, and so are legitimate objects of desire. Where it is practically necessary for you to pursue or avoid anything, do even this with discretion, and gentleness, and moderation.

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 – Singing a Song to the Stars (1930)

Episode 1602