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Discourses (excerpts)

Book I, Chapter 1: Of the Things Which Are In Our Power, and Not In Our Power

Of all the faculties, you will find not one which is capable of contemplating itself; and, consequently, not capable either of approving or disapproving. How far does the grammatic art possess the contemplating power? As far as forming a judgement about what is written and spoken. And how far music? As far as judging about melody. Does either of them then contemplate itself? By no means. But when you must write something to your friend, grammar will tell you what words you must write; but whether you should write or not, grammar will not tell you. And so it is with music as to musical sounds; but whether you should sing at the present time and play on the lute, or do neither, music will not tell you. What faculty then will tell you? That which contemplates both itself and all other things. And what is this faculty? The rational faculty; for this is the only faculty that we have received which examines itself, what it is, and what power it has, and what is the value of this gift, and examines all other faculties: for what else is there which tells us that golden things are beautiful, for they do not say so themselves? Evidently it is the faculty which is capable of judging of appearances. What else judges of music, grammar, and other faculties, proves their uses and points out the occasions for using them? Nothing else.

As then it was fit to be so, that which is best of all and supreme over all is the only thing which the gods have placed in our power, the right use of appearances; but all other things they have not placed in our power. Was it because they did not choose? I indeed think that, if they had been able, they would have put these other things also in our power, but they certainly could not. For as we exist on the earth, and are bound to such a body and to such companions, how was it possible for us not to be hindered as to these things by externals?

But what says Zeus? "Epictetus, if it were possible, I would have made both your little body and your little property free and not exposed to hindrance. But now be not ignorant of this: this body is not yours, but it is clay finely tempered. And since I was not able to do for you what I have mentioned, I have given you a small portion of us, this faculty of pursuing an object and avoiding it, and the faculty of desire and aversion, and, in a word, the faculty of using the appearances of things; and if you will take care of this faculty and consider it your only possession, you will never be hindered, never meet with impediments; you will not lament, you will not blame, you will not flatter any person."

"Well, do these seem to you small matters?" I hope not. "Be content with them then and pray to the gods." But now when it is in our power to look after one thing, and to attach ourselves to it, we prefer to look after many things, and to be bound to many things, to the body and to property, and to brother and to friend, and to child and to slave. Since, then, we are bound to many things, we are depressed by them and dragged down. For this reason, when the weather is not fit for sailing, we sit down and torment ourselves, and continually look out to see what wind is blowing. "It is north." What is that to us? "When will the west wind blow?" When it shall choose, my good man, or when it shall please AEolus; for God has not made you the manager of the winds, but AEolus. What then? We must make the best use that we can of the things which are in our power, and use the rest according to their nature. What is their nature then? As God may please.

"Must I, then, alone have my head cut off?" What, would you have all men lose their heads that you may be consoled? Will you not stretch out your neck as Lateranus did at Rome when Nero ordered him to be beheaded? For when he had stretched out his neck, and received a feeble blow, which made him draw it in for a moment, he stretched it out again. And a little before, when he was visited by Epaphroditus, Nero's freedman, who asked him about the cause of offense which he had given, he said, "If I choose to tell anything, I will tell your master."

What then should a man have in readiness in such circumstances? What else than "What is mine, and what is not mine; and permitted to me, and what is not permitted to me." I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment? "Tell me the secret which you possess." I will not, for this is in my power. "But I will put you in chains." Man, what are you talking about? Me in chains? You may fetter my leg, but my will not even Zeus himself can overpower. "I will throw you into prison." My poor body, you mean. "I will cut your head off." When, then, have I told you that my head alone cannot be cut off? These are the things which philosophers should meditate on, which they should write daily, in which they should exercise themselves.

Thrasea used to say, "I would rather be killed to-day than banished to-morrow." What, then, did Rufus say to him? "If you choose death as the heavier misfortune, how great is the folly of your choice? But if, as the lighter, who has given you the choice? Will you not study to be content with that which has been given to you?"

What, then, did Agrippinus say? He said, "I am not a hindrance to myself." When it was reported to him that his trial was going on in the Senate, he said, "I hope it may turn out well; but it is the fifth hour of the day"- this was the time when he was used to exercise himself and then take the cold bath- "let us go and take our exercise." After he had taken his exercise, one comes and tells him, "You have been condemned." "To banishment," he replies, "or to death?" "To banishment." "What about my property?" "It is not taken from you." "Let us go to Aricia then," he said, "and dine."

This it is to have studied what a man ought to study; to have made desire, aversion, free from hindrance, and free from all that a man would avoid. I must die. If now, I am ready to die. If, after a short time, I now dine because it is the dinner-hour; after this I will then die. How? Like a man who gives up what belongs to another.

Book I, Chapter 29: On Constancy

The being of the Good is a certain Will; the being of the Bad is a certain kind of Will. What then are externals? Materials for the Will, about which the will being conversant shall obtain its own good or evil. How shall it obtain the good? If it does not admire the materials; for the opinions about the materials, if the opinions are right, make the will good: but perverse and distorted opinions make the will bad. God has fixed this law, and says, "If you would have anything good, receive it from yourself." You say, "No, but I have it from another." Do not so: but receive it from yourself. Therefore when the tyrant threatens and calls me, I say, "Whom do you threaten If he says, "I will put you in chains," I say, "You threaten my hands and my feet." If he says, "I will cut off your head," I reply, "You threaten my head." If he says, "I will throw you into prison," I say, "You threaten the whole of this poor body." If he threatens me with banishment, I say the same. "Does he, then, not threaten you at all?" If I feel that all these things do not concern me, he does not threaten me at all; but if I fear any of them, it is I whom he threatens. Whom then do I fear? the master of what? The master of things which are in my own power? There is no such master. Do I fear the master of things which are not in my power? And what are these things to me?

"Do you philosophers then teach us to despise kings?" I hope not. Who among us teaches to claim against them the power over things which they possess? Take my poor body, take my property, take my reputation, take those who are about me. If I advise any persons to claim these things, they may truly accuse me. "Yes, but I intend to command your opinions also." And who has given you this power? How can you conquer the opinion of another man? "By applying terror to it," he replies, "I will conquer it." Do you not know that opinion conquers itself, and is not conquered by another? But nothing else can conquer Will except the Will itself. For this reason, too, the law of God is most powerful and most just, which is this: "Let the stronger always be superior to the weaker." "Ten are stronger than one." For what? For putting in chains, for killing, for dragging whither they choose, for taking away what a man has. The ten therefore conquer the one in this in which they are stronger. "In what then are the ten weaker," If the one possess right opinions and the others do not. "Well then, can the ten conquer in this matter?" How is it possible? If we were placed in the scales, must not the heavier draw down the scale in which it is?

"How strange, then, that Socrates should have been so treated by the Athenians." Slave, why do you say Socrates? Speak of the thing as it is: how strange that the poor body of Socrates should have been carried off and dragged to prison by stronger men, and that any one should have given hemlock to the poor body of Socrates, and that it should breathe out the life. Do these things seem strange. do they seem unjust, do you on account of these things blame God? Had Socrates then no equivalent for these things? Where, then, for him was the nature of good? Whom shall we listen to, you or him? And what does Socrates say? "Anytus and Meletus can kill me, but they cannot hurt me”: and further, he says, "If it so pleases God, so let it be."

But show me that he who has the inferior principles overpowers him who is superior in principles. You will never show this, nor come near showing it; for this is the law of nature and of God that the superior shall always overpower the inferior. In what? In that in which it is superior. One body is stronger than another: many are stronger than one: the thief is stronger than he who is not a thief. This is the reason why I also lost my lamp, because in wakefulness the thief was superior to me. But the man bought the lamp at this price: for a lamp he became a thief, a faithless fellow, and like a wild beast. This seemed to him a good bargain. Be it so. But a man has seized me by the cloak, and is drawing me to the public place: then others bawl out, "Philosopher, what has been the use of your opinions? see you are dragged to prison, you are going to be beheaded." And what system of philosophy could f have made so that, if a stronger man should have laid hold of my cloak, I should not be dragged off; that if ten men should have laid hold of me and cast me into prison, I should not be cast in? Have I learned nothing else then? I have learned to see that everything which happens, if it be independent of my will, is nothing to me. I may ask if you have not gained by this. Why then do you seek advantage in anything else than in that in which you have learned that advantage is?

Then sitting in prison I say: "The man who cries out in this way neither hears what words mean, nor understands what is said, nor does he care at all to know what philosophers say or what they do. Let him alone."

But now he says to the prisoner, "Come out from your prison." If you have no further need of me in prison, I come out: if you should have need of me again, I will enter the prison. "How long will you act thus?" So long as reason requires me to be with the body: but when reason does not require this, take away the body, and fare you well. Only we must not do it inconsiderately, nor weakly, nor for any slight reason; for, on the other hand, God does not wish it to be done, and he has need of such a world and such inhabitants in it. But if he sounds the signal for retreat, as he did to Socrates, we must obey him who gives the signal, as if he were a general.

"Well, then, ought we to say such things to the many?" Why should we? Is it not enough for a man to be persuaded himself? When children come clapping their hands and crying out, "To-day is the good Saturnalia," do we say, "The Saturnalia are not good?" By no means, but we clap our hands also. Do you also then, when you are not able to make a man change his mind, be assured that he is a child, and clap your hands with him, and if you do not choose to do this, keep silent.

A man must keep this in mind; and when he is called to any such difficulty, he should know that the time is come for showing if he has been instructed. For he who is come into a difficulty is like a young man from a school who has practiced the resolution of syllogisms; and if any person proposes to him an easy syllogism, he says, "Rather propose to me a syllogism which is skillfully complicated that I may exercise myself on it." Even athletes are dissatisfied with slight young men, and say "He cannot lift me." "This is a youth of noble disposition." But when the time of trial is come, one of you must weep and say, "I wish that I had learned more." A little more of what? If you did not learn these things in order to show them in practice, why did you learn them? I think that there is some one among you who are sitting here, who is suffering like a woman in labour, and saying, "Oh, that such a difficulty does not present itself to me as that which has come to this man; oh, that I should be wasting my life in a corner, when I might be crowned at Olympia. When will any one announce to me such a contest?" Such ought to be the disposition of all of you. Even among the gladiators of Caesar there are some who complain grievously that they are not brought forward and matched, and they offer up prayers to God and address themselves to their superintendents entreating that they might fight. And will no one among you show himself such? I would willingly take a voyage for this purpose and see what my athlete is doing, how he is studying his subject. "I do not choose such a subject," he says. Why, is it in your power to take what subject you choose? There has been given to you such a body as you have, such parents, such brethren, such a country, such a place in your country: then you come to me and say, "Change my subject." Have you not abilities which enable you to manage the subject which has been given to you? "It is your business to propose; it is mine to exercise myself well." However, you do not say so, but you say, "Do not propose to me such a tropic, but such: do not urge against me such an objection, but such." There will be a time, perhaps, when tragic actors will suppose that they are masks and buskins and the long cloak. I say, these things, man, are your material and subject. Utter something that we may know whether you are a tragic actor or a buffoon; for both of you have all the rest in common. If any one then should take away the tragic actor's buskins and his mask, and introduce him on the stage as a phantom, is the tragic actor lost, or does he still remain? If he has voice, he still remains.

An example of another kind. "Assume the governorship of a province." I assume it, and when I have assumed it, I show how an instructed man behaves. "Lay aside the laticlave and, clothing yourself in rags, come forward in this character." What then have I not the power of displaying a good voice? How, then, do you now appear? As a witness summoned by God. "Come forward, you, and bear testimony for me, for you are worthy to be brought forward as a witness by me: is anything external to the will good or bad? do I hurt any man? have I made every man's interest dependent on any man except himself?" What testimony do you give for God? "I am in a wretched condition, Master, and I am unfortunate; no man cares for me, no man gives me anything; all blame me, all speak ill of me." Is this the evidence that you are going to give, and disgrace his summons, who has conferred so much honour on you, and thought you worthy of being called to bear such testimony?

But suppose that he who has the power has declared, "I judge you to be impious and profane." What has happened to you? "I have been judged to be impious and profane?" Nothing else? "Nothing else." But if the same person had passed judgment on an hypothetical syllogism, and had made a declaration, "the conclusion that, if it is day, it is light, I declare to be false," what has happened to the hypothetical syllogism? who is judged in this case? who has been condemned? the hypothetical syllogism, or the man who has been deceived by it? Does he, then, who has the power of making any declaration about you know what is pious or impious? Has he studied it, and has he learned it? Where? From whom? Then is it the fact that a musician pays no regard to him who declares that the lowest chord in the lyre is the highest; nor yet a geometrician, if he declares that the lines from the centre of a circle to the circumference are not equal; and shall he who is really instructed pay any regard to the uninstructed man when he pronounces judgment on what is pious and what is impious, on what is just and unjust? Oh, the signal wrong done by the instructed. Did they learn this here?

Will you not leave the small arguments about these matters to others, to lazy fellows, that they may sit in a corner and receive their sorry pay, or grumble that no one gives them anything; and will you not come forward and make use of what you have learned? For it is not these small arguments that are wanted now: the writings of the Stoics are full of them. What then is the thing which is wanted? A man who shall apply them, one who by his acts shall bear testimony to his words. Assume, I, entreat you, this character, that we may no longer use in the schools the examples of the ancients but may have some example of our own.

To whom then does the contemplation of these matters belong? To him who has leisure, for man is an animal that loves contemplation. But it is shameful to contemplate these things as runaway slaves do; we should sit, as in a theatre, free from distraction, and listen at one time to the tragic actor, at another time to the lute-player; and not do as slaves do. As soon as the slave has taken his station he praises the actor and at the same time looks round: then if any one calls out his master's name, the slave is immediately frightened and disturbed. It is shameful for philosophers thus to contemplate the works of nature. For what is a master? 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 shall 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 so long as I have any respite from these terrors, as a runaway slave stands in the theatre, so do I: I bathe, I drink, I sing; but all this I do with terror and uneasiness. But if I shall 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?

"What then, ought we to publish these things to all men?" No, but we ought to accommodate ourselves to the ignorant and to say: "This man recommends to me that which he thinks good for himself: I excuse him." For Socrates also excused the gaoler, who had the charge of him in prison and was weeping when Socrates was going to drink the poison, and said, "How generously he laments over us." Does he then say to the gaoler that for this reason we have sent away the women? No, but he says it to his friends who were able to hear it; and he treats the gaoler as a child.

Book II, Chapter 10: How We May Discover the Duties of Life From Names

Consider who you are. In the first place, you are a man; and this is one who has nothing superior to the faculty of the will, but all other things subjected to it; and the faculty itself he possesses unenslaved and free from subjection. Consider then from what things you have been separated by reason. You have been separated from wild beasts: you have been separated from domestic animals. Further, you are a citizen of the world, and a part of it, not one of the subservient, but one of the principal parts, for you are capable of comprehending the divine administration and of considering the connection of things. What then does the character of a citizen promise? To hold nothing as profitable to himself; to deliberate about nothing as if he were detached from the community, but to act as the hand or foot would do, if they had reason and understood the constitution of nature, for they would never put themselves in motion nor desire anything, otherwise than with reference to the whole. Therefore the philosophers say well, that if the good man had foreknowledge of what would happen, he would cooperate toward his own sickness and death and mutilation, since he knows that these things are assigned to him according to the universal arrangement, and that the whole is superior to the part and the state to the citizen. But now, because we do not know the future, it is our duty to stick to the things which are in their nature more suitable for our choice, for we were made among other things for this.

After this, remember that you are a son. What does this character promise? To consider that everything which is the son's belongs to the father, to obey him in all things, never to blame him to another, nor to say or do anything which does him injury, to yield to him in all things and give way, cooperating with him as far as you can. After this know that you are a brother also, and that to this character it is due to make concessions; to be easily persuaded, to speak good of your brother, never to claim in opposition to him any of the things which are independent of the will, but readily to give them up, that you may have the larger share in what is dependent on the will. For see what a thing it is, in place of a lettuce, if it should so happen, or a seat, to gain for yourself goodness of disposition. How great is the advantage.

Next to this, if you are senator of any state, remember that you are a senator: if a youth, that you are a youth: if an old man, that you are an old man; for each of such names, if it comes to be examined, marks out the proper duties. But if you go and blame your brother, I say to you, "You have forgotten who you are and what is your name." In the next place, if you were a smith and made a wrong use of the hammer, you would have forgotten the smith; and if you have forgotten the brother and instead of a brother have become an enemy, would you appear not to have changed one thing for another in that case? And if instead of a man, who is a tame animal and social, you are become a mischievous wild beast, treacherous, and biting, have you lost nothing? But, you must lose a bit of money that you may suffer damage? And does the loss of nothing else do a man damage? If you had lost the art of grammar or music, would you think the loss of it a damage? and if you shall lose modesty, moderation and gentleness, do you think the loss nothing? And yet the things first mentioned are lost by some cause external and independent of the will, and the second by our own fault; and as to the first neither to have them nor to lose them is shameful; but as to the second, not to have them and to lose them is shameful and matter of reproach and a misfortune. What does the pathic lose? He loses the man. What does he lose who makes the pathic what he is? Many other things; and he also loses the man no less than the other. What does he lose who commits adultery? He loses the modest, the temperate, the decent, the citizen, the neighbour. What does he lose who is angry? Something else. What does the coward lose? Something else. No man is bad without suffering some loss and damage. If then you look for the damage in the loss of money only, all these men receive no harm or damage; it may be, they have even profit and gain, when they acquire a bit of money by any of these deeds. But consider that if you refer everything to a small coin, not even he who loses his nose is in your opinion damaged. "Yes," you say, "for he is mutilated in his body." Well; but does he who has lost his smell only lose nothing? Is there, then, no energy of the soul which is an advantage to him who possesses it, and a damage to him who has lost it? "Tell me what sort you mean." Have we not a natural modesty? "We have." Does he who loses this sustain no damage? is he deprived of nothing, does he part with nothing of the things which belong to him? Have we not naturally fidelity? natural affection, a natural disposition to help others, a natural disposition to forbearance? The man then who allows himself to be damaged in these matters, can he be free from harm and uninjured? "What then? shall I not hurt him, who has hurt me?" In the first place consider what hurt is, and remember what you have heard from the philosophers. For if the good consists in the will, and the evil also in the will, see if what you say is not this: "What then, since that man has hurt himself by doing an unjust act to me, shall I not hurt myself by doing some unjust act to him?" Why do we not imagine to something of this kind? But where there is any detriment to the body or to our possession, there is harm there; and where the same thing happens to the faculty of the will, there is no harm; for he who has been deceived or he who has done an unjust act neither suffers in the head nor in the eye nor in the hip, nor does he lose his estate; and we wish for nothing else than these things. But whether we shall have the will modest and faithful or shameless and faithless, we care not the least, except only in the school so far as a few words are concerned. Therefore our proficiency is limited to these few words; but beyond them it does not exist even in the slightest degree.

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