Epictetus: Discourses (excerpt, part 3)

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Book IV, Chapter 1: About Freedom (continued)

Whether, then, have you nothing which is in your own power, which depends on yourself only and cannot be taken from you, or have you anything of the kind? "I know not." Look at the thing, then, thus, examine it. Is any man able to make you assent to that which is false? "No man." In the matter of assent, then, you are free from hindrance and obstruction. "Granted." Well; and can a man force you to desire to move toward that to which you do not choose? "He can, for when he threatens me with death or bonds, he compels me to desire to move toward it." If, then, you despise death and bonds, do you still pay any regard to him? "No." Is, then, the despising of death an act of your own, or is it not yours? "It is my act." It is your own act, then, also to desire to move toward a thing: or is it not so? "It is my own act." But to desire to move away from a thing, whose act is that? This also is your act. "What, then, if I have attempted to walk, suppose another should hinder me." What part of you does he hinder? does he hinder the faculty of assent? "No: but my poor body." Yes, as he would do with a stone. "Granted; but I no longer walk." And who told you that walking is your act free from hindrance? for I said that this only was free from hindrance, to desire to move: but where there is need of body and its co-operation, you have heard long ago that nothing is your own. "Granted also." And who can compel you to desire what you do not wish? "No man." And to propose, or intend, or in short to make use of the appearances which present themselves, can any man compel you? "He cannot do this: but he will hinder me when I desire from obtaining what I desire." If you desire anything which is your own, and one of the things which cannot be hindered, how will he hinder you? "He cannot in any way." Who, then, tells you that he who desires the things that belong to another is free from hindrance?

"Must I, then, not desire health?" By no means, nor anything else that belongs to another: for what is not in your power to acquire or to keep when you please, this belongs to another. Keep, then, far from it not only your hands but, more than that, even your desires. If you do not, you have surrendered yourself as a slave; you have subjected your neck, if you admire anything not your own, to everything that is dependent on the power of others and perishable, to which you have conceived a liking. "Is not my hand my own?" It is a part of your own body; but it is by nature earth, subject to hindrance, compulsion, and the slave of everything which is stronger. And why do I say your hand? You ought to possess your whole body as a poor ass loaded, as long as it is possible, as long as you are allowed. But if there be a press, and a soldier should lay hold of it, let it go, do not resist, nor murmur; if you do, you will receive blows, and nevertheless you will also lose the ass. But when you ought to feel thus with respect to the body, consider what remains to be done about all the rest, which is provided for the sake of the body. When the body is an ass, all the other things are bits belonging to the ass, pack-saddles, shoes, barley, fodder. Let these also go: get rid of them quicker and more readily than of the ass.

When you have made this preparation, and have practiced this discipline, to distinguish that which belongs to another from that which is your own, the things which are subject to hindrance from those which are not, to consider the things free from hindrance to concern yourself, and those which are not free not to concern yourself, to keep your desire steadily fixed to the things which do concern yourself, and turned from the things which do not concern yourself; do you still fear any man? "No one." For about what will you be afraid? about the things which are your own, in which consists the nature of good and evil? and who has power over these things? who can take them away? who can impede them? No man can, no more than he can impede God. But will you be afraid about your body and your possessions, about things which are not yours, about things which in no way concern you? and what else have you been studying from the beginning than to distinguish between your own and not your own, the things which are in your power and not in your power, the things subject to hindrance and not subject? and why have you come to the philosophers? was it that you may nevertheless be unfortunate and unhappy? You will then in this way, as I have supposed you to have done, be without fear and disturbance. And what is grief to you? for fear comes from what you expect, but grief from that which is present. But what further will you desire? For of the things which are within the power of the will, as being good and present, you have a proper and regulated desire: but of the things which are not in the power of the will you do not desire any one, and so you do not allow any place to that which is irrational, and impatient, and above measure hasty.

When, then, you are thus affected toward things, what man can any longer be formidable to you? For what has a man which is formidable to another, either when you see him or speak to him or, finally, are conversant with him? Not more than one horse has with respect to another, or one dog to another, or one bee to another bee. Things, indeed, are formidable to every man; and when any man is able to confer these things on another or to take them away, then he too becomes formidable. How then is an acropolis demolished? Not by the sword, not by fire, but by opinion. For if we abolish the acropolis which is in the city, can we abolish also that of fever, and that of beautiful women? Can we, in a word, abolish the acropolis which is in us and cast out the tyrants within us, whom we have dally over us, sometimes the same tyrants, at other times different tyrants? But with this we must begin, and with this we must demolish the acropolis and eject the tyrants, by giving up the body, the parts of it, the faculties of it, the possessions, the reputation, magisterial offices, honours, children, brothers, friends, by considering all these things as belonging to others. And if tyrants have been ejected from us, why do I still shut in the acropolis by a wall of circumvallation, at least on my account; for if it still stands, what does it do to me? why do I still eject guards? For where do I perceive them? against others they have their fasces, and their spears, and their swords. But I have never been hindered in my will, nor compelled when I did not will. And how is this possible? I have placed my movements toward action in obedience to God. Is it His will that I shall have fever? It is my will also. Is it His will that I should move toward anything? It is my will also. Is it His will that I should obtain anything? It is my wish also. Does He not will? I do not wish. Is it His will that I be put to the rack? It is my will then to die; it is my will then to be put to the rack. Who, then, is still able to hinder me contrary to my own judgement, or to compel me? No more than he can hinder or compel Zeus.

Thus the more cautious of travelers also act. A traveler has heard that the road is infested by robbers; he does not venture to enter on it alone, but he waits for the companionship on the road either of an ambassador, or of a quaestor, or of a proconsul, and when he has attached himself to such persons he goes along the road safely. So in the world the wise man acts. There are many companies of robbers, tyrants, storms, difficulties, losses of that which is dearest. "Where is there any place of refuge? how shall he pass along without being attacked by robbers? what company shall he wait for that he may pass along in safety? to whom shall he attach himself? To what person generally? to the rich man, to the man of consular rank? and what is the use of that to me? Such a man is stripped himself, groans and laments. But what if the fellow-companion himself turns against me and becomes my robber, what shall I do? I will be 'a friend of Caesar': when I am Caesar's companion no man will wrong me. In the first place, that I may become illustrious, what things must I endure and suffer? how often and by how many must I he robbed? Then, if I become Caesar's friend, he also is mortal. And if Caesar from any circumstance becomes my enemy, where is it best for me to retire? Into a desert? Well, does fever not come there? What shall be done then? Is it not possible to find a safe fellow traveler, a faithful one, strong, secure against all surprises?" Thus he considers and perceives that if he attaches himself to God, he will make his journey in safety.

"How do you understand 'attaching yourself to God'?" In this sense, that whatever God wills, a man also shall will; and what God does not will, a man shall not will. How, then, shall this he done? In what other way than by examining the movements of God and his administration What has He given to me as my own and in my own power? what has He reserved to Himself? He has given to me the things which are in the power of the will: He has put them in my power free from impediment and hindrance. How was He able to make the earthly body free from hindrance? And accordingly He has subjected to the revolution of the whole, possessions, household things, house, children, wife. Why, then, do I fight against God? why do I will what does not depend on the will? why do I will to have absolutely what is not granted to ma? But how ought I to will to have things? In the way in which they are given and as long as they are given. But He who has given takes away. Why then do I resist? I do not say that I shall be fool if I use force to one who is stronger, but I shall first be unjust. For whence had I things when I came into the world? My father gave them to me. And who gave them to him? and who made the sun? and who made the fruits of the earth? and who the seasons? and who made the connection of men with one another and their fellowship?

Then after receiving everything from another and even yourself, are you angry and do you blame the Giver if he takes anything from you? Who are you, and for what purpose did you come into the world? Did not He introduce you here, did He not show you the light, did he not give you fellow-workers, and perception, and reason? and as whom did He introduce you here? did He not introduce you as a subject to death, and as one to live on the earth with a little flesh, and to observe His administration, and to join with Him in the spectacle and the festival for a short time? Will you not, then, as long as you have been permitted, after seeing the spectacle and the solemnity, when he leads you out, go with adoration of Him and thanks for what you have seen, and heard? "No; but I would, still enjoy the feast." The initiated, too, would wish to be longer in the initiation: and perhaps also those, at Olympia to see other athletes; but the solemnity is ended: go away like a grateful and modest man; make room for others: others also must be born, as you were, and being born they must have a place, and houses and necessary things. And if the first do not retire, what remains? Why ire you insatiable? Why are you not content? why do you contract the world? "Yes, but I would have my little children with me and my wife." What, are they yours? do they not belong to the Giver, and to Him who made you? then will you not give up what belongs to others? will you not give way to Him who is superior? "Why, then, did He introduce me into the world on these conditions," And if the conditions do not suit you depart. He has no need of a spectator who is not satisfied. He wants those who join in the festival, those who take part in the chorus, that they may rather applaud, admire, and celebrate with hymns the solemnity. But those who can bear no trouble, and the cowardly He will not willingly see absent from the great assembly; for they did not when they were present behave as they ought to do at a festival nor fill up their place properly, but they lamented, found fault with the deity, fortune, their companions; not seeing both what they had. and their own powers, which they received for contrary purposes, the powers of magnanimity, of a generous mind, manly spirit, and what we are now inquiring about, freedom. "For what purpose, then, have I received these things? To use them. "How long;" So long as He who his lent them chooses. "What if they are necessary to me?" Do not attach yourself to them and they will not be necessary: do not say to yourself that they are necessary, and then they are not necessary.

This study you ought to practice from morning to evening, beginning, with the smallest things and those most liable to damage, with an earthen pot, with a cup. Then proceed in this way to a tunic to a little dog, to a horse, to a small estate in land: then to yourself, to your body, to the parts of your body, to your brothers. Look all round and throw these things from you. Purge your opinions so that nothing cleave to you of the things which are not your own, that nothing grow to you, that nothing give you pain when it is torn from you; and say, while you are daily exercising yourself as you do there, not that you are philosophizing, for this is an arrogant expression, but that you are presenting an asserter of freedom: for this is really freedom. To this freedom Diogenes was called by Antisthenes, and he said that he could no longer be enslaved by any man. For this reason when he was taken prisoner, how did he behave to the pirates? Did he call any of them master? and I do not speak of the name, for I am not afraid of the word, but of the state of mind by which the word is produced. How did he reprove them for feeding badly their captives? How was he sold? Did he seek a master? no; but a slave, And, when he was sold, how did he behave to his master? Immediately he disputed with him and said to his master that he ought not to be dressed as he was, nor shaved in such a manner; and about the children he told them how he ought to bring them up. And what was strange in this? for if his master had bought an exercise master, would he have employed him in the exercises of the palaestra as a servant or as a master? and so if he had bought a physician or an architect. And so, in every matter, it is absolutely necessary that he who has skill must be the superior of him who has not. Whoever, then, generally possesses the science of life, what else must he be than master? For who is master of a ship? "The man who governs the helm." Why? Because he who will not obey him suffers for it. "But a master can give me stripes." Can he do it, then, without suffering for it?' "So I also used to think." But because he can not do it without suffering for it, for this reason it is not in his power: and no man can do what is unjust without suffering for it. "And what is the penalty for him who puts his own slave in chains, what do you think that is?" The fact of putting the slave in chains: and you also will admit this, if you choose to maintain the truth, that man is not a wild beast, but a tame animal. For when is a a vine doing badly? When it is in a condition contrary to its nature. When is a cock? Just the same. Therefore a man also is so. What then is a man's nature? To bite, to kick, and to throw into prison and to behead? No; but to do good, to co-operate with others, to wish them well. At that time, then, he is in a bad condition, whether you choose to admit it or not, when he is acting foolishly.

"Socrates, then, did not fare badly?" No; but his judges aid his accusers did. "Nor did Helvidius at Rome fare badly?" No; but his murderer did. "How do you mean?" The same as you do when you say that a cock has not fared badly when he has gained the victory and been severely wounded; but that the cock has fared badly when he has been defeated and is unhurt: nor do you call a dog fortunate who neither pursues game nor labors, but when you see him sweating, when you see him in pain and panting violently after running. What paradox do we utter if we say that the evil in everything's that which is contrary to the nature of the thing? Is that a paradox? for do you not say this in the case of all other things? Why then in the case of man only do you think differently, But because we say that the nature of man is tame and social and faithful, you will not say that this is a paradox? "It is not." What then is it a paradox to say that a man is not hurt when he is whipped, or put in chains, or beheaded? does he not, if he suffers nobly, come off even with increased advantage and profit? But is he not hurt, who suffers in a most pitiful and disgraceful way, who in place of a man becomes a wolf, or viper or wasp?

Well then let us recapitulate the things which have been agreed on. The man who is not under restraint is free, to whom things are exactly in that state in which he wishes them to be; but he who can be restrained or compelled or hindered, or thrown into any circumstances against his will, is a slave. But who is free from restraint? He who desires nothing that belongs to others. And what are the things which belong to others? Those which are not in our power either to have or not to have, or to have of a certain kind or in a certain manner. Therefore the body belongs to another, the parts of the body belong to another, possession belongs to another. If, then, you are attached to any of these things as your own, you will pay the penalty which it is proper for him to pay who desires what belongs to another. This road leads to freedom, that is the only way of escaping from slavery, to be able to say at last with all your soul

Lead me, O Zeus, and thou O destiny,
The way that I am bid by you to go.

But what do you say, philosopher? The tyrant summons you to say something which does not become you. Do you say it or do you not? Answer me. "Let me consider." Will you consider now? But when you were in the school, what was it which you used to consider? Did you not study what are the things that are good and what are bad, and what things are neither one nor the other? "I did." What then was our opinion? "That just and honourable acts were good; and that unjust and disgraceful acts were bad." Is life a good thing? "No." Is death a bad thing? "No." Is prison? "No." But what did we think about mean and faithless words and betrayal of a friend and flattery of a tyrant? "That they are bad." Well then, you are not considering, nor have you considered nor deliberated. For what is the matter for consideration: is it whether it is becoming for me, when I have it in my power, to secure for myself the greatest of good things, and not to secure for myself the greatest evils? A fine inquiry indeed, and necessary, and one that demands much deliberation. Man, why do you mock us? Such an inquiry is never made. If you really imagined that base things were bad and honourable things were good, and that all other things were neither good nor bad, you would not even have approached this inquiry, nor have come near it; but immediately you would have been able to distinguish them by the understanding as you would do by the vision. For when do you inquire if black things are white, if heavy things are light, and do not comprehend the manifest evidence of the senses? How, then, do you now say that you are considering whether things which are neither good nor bad ought to be avoided more than things which are bad? But you do not possess these opinions; and neither do these things seem to you to he neither good nor bad, but you think that they are the greatest evils; nor do you think those other things to be evils, but matters which do not concern us at all. For thus from the beginning you have accustomed yourself. "Where am I? In the schools: and are any listening to me? I am discoursing among philosophers. But I have gone out of the school. Away with this talk of scholars and fools." Thus a friend is overpowered by the testimony of a philosopher: thus a philosopher becomes a parasite; thus he lets himself for hire for money: thus in the senate a man does not say what he thinks; in private he proclaims his opinions. You are a cold and miserable little opinion, suspended from idle words as from a hair. But keep yourself strong and fit for the uses of life and initiated by being exercised in action. How do you hear? I do not say that your child is dead- for how could you bear that?- but that your oil is spilled, your wine drunk up. Do you act in such a way that one standing by you while you are making a great noise, may say this only, "Philosopher, you say something different in the school. Why do you deceive us? Why, when you are only a worm, do you say that you are a man?" I should like to be present when one of the philosophers is lying with a woman, that I might see how he is exerting himself, and what words he is uttering, and whether he remembers his title of philosopher, and the words which he hears or says or reads.

"And what is this to liberty?" Nothing else than this, whether you who are rich choose or not. "And who is your evidence for this?" who else than yourselves? who have a powerful master, and who live in obedience to his nod and motion, and who faint if he only looks at you with a scowling countenance; you who court old women and old men, and say, "I cannot do this: it is not in my power." Why is it not in your power? Did you not lately contend with me and say that you are free "But Aprulla has hindered me." Tell the truth, then, slave, and do not run away from your masters, nor deny, nor venture to produce any one to assert your freedom, when you have so many evidences of your slavery. And indeed when a man is compelled by love to do something contrary to his opinion, and at the same time sees the better but has not the strength to follow it, one might consider him still more worthy of excuse as being held by a certain violent and, in a manner, a divine power. But who could endure you who are in love with old women and old men, and wipe the old women's noses, and wash them and give them presents, and also wait on them like a slave when they are sick, and at the same time wish them dead, and question the physicians whether they are sick unto death? And again, when in order to obtain these great and much admired magistracies and honours, you kiss the hands of these slaves of others, and so you are not the slave even of free men. Then you walk about before me in stately fashion, praetor or a consul. Do I not know how you became a praetor, by what means you got your consulship, who gave it to you? I would not even choose to live, if I must live by help of Felicion and endure his arrogance and servile insolence: for I know what a slave is, who is fortunate, as he thinks, and puffed up by pride.

"You then," a man may say, "are you free?" I wish, by the Gods, and pray to be free; but I am not yet able to face my masters, I still value my poor body, I value greatly the preservation of it entire, though I do not possess it entire. But I can point out to you a free man, that you may no longer seek an example. Diogenes was free. How was he free?- not because he was born of free parents, but because he was himself free, because he had cast off all the handles of slavery, and it was not possible for any man to approach him, nor had any man the means of laying hold of him to enslave him. He had everything easily loosed, everything only hanging to him. If you laid hold of his property, he would rather have let it go and be yours than he would have followed you for it: if you had laid hold of his leg, he would have let go his leg; if of all his body, all his poor body; his intimates, friends, country, just the same. For he knew from whence he had them, and from whom, and on what conditions. His true parents indeed, the Gods, and his real country he would never have deserted, nor would he have yielded to any man in obedience to them or to their orders, nor would any man have died for his country more readily. For he was not used to inquire when he should be considered to have done anything on behalf of the whole of things, but he remembered that everything which is done comes from thence and is done on behalf of that country and is commanded by him who administers it. Therefore see what Diogenes himself says and writes: "For this reason," he says, "Diogenes, it is in your power to speak both with the King of the Persians and with Archidamus the king of the Lacedaemonians, as you please." Was it because he was born of free parents? I suppose all the Athenians and all the Lacedaemonians, because they were born of slaves, could not talk with them as they wished, but feared and paid court to them. Why then does he say that it is in his power? "Because I do not consider the poor body to be my own, because I want nothing, because law is everything to me, and nothing else is." These were the things which permitted him to be free.

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