Epictetus: Discourses (excerpt, part 4)

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Book IV, Chapter 1: About Freedom (further continued)

And that you may not think that I show you the example of a man who is a solitary person, who has neither wife nor children, nor country, nor friends nor kinsmen, by whom he could be bent and drawn in various directions, take Socrates and observe that he had a wife and children, but he did not consider them as his own; that he had a country, so long as it was fit to have one, and in such a manner as was fit; friends and kinsmen also, but he held all in subjection to law and to the obedience due to it. For this reason he was the first to go out as a soldier, when it was necessary; and in war he exposed himself to danger most unsparingly, and when he was sent by the tyrants to seize Leon, he did not even deliberate about the matter, because he thought that it was a base action, and he knew that he must die, if it so happened. And what difference did that make to him? for he intended to preserve something else, not his poor flesh, but his fidelity, his honourable character. These are things which could not be assailed nor brought into subjection. Then, when he was obliged to speak in defense of his life, did he behave like a man who had children, who had a wife? No, but he behaved like a man who has neither. And what did he do when he was to drink the poison, and when he had the power of escaping from prison, and when Crito said to him, "Escape for the sake of your children," what did Socrates say? Did he consider the power of escape as an unexpected gain? By no means: he considered what was fit and proper; but the rest he did not even look at or take into the reckoning. For he did not choose, he said, to save his poor body, but to save that which is increased and saved by doing what is just, and is impaired and destroyed by doing what is unjust. Socrates will not save his life by a base act; he who would not put the Athenians to the vote when they clamoured that he should do so, he who refused to obey the tyrants, he who discoursed in such a manner about virtue and right behavior. It is not possible to save such a man's life by base acts, but he is saved by dying, not by running away. For the good actor also preserves his character by stopping when he ought to stop, better than when he goes on acting beyond the proper time. What then shall the children of Socrates do? "If," said Socrates, "I had gone off to Thessaly, would you have taken care of them; and if I depart to the world below, will there be no man to take care of them?" See how he gives to death a gentle name and mocks it. But if you and I had been in his place, we should have immediately answered as philosophers that those who act unjustly must be repaid in the same way, and we should have added, "I shall be useful to many, if my life is saved, and if I die, I shall be useful to no man." For, if it had been necessary, we should have made our escape by slipping through a small hole. And how in that case should we have been useful to any man? for where would they have been then staying? or if we were useful to men while we were alive, should we not have been much more useful to them by dying when we ought to die, and as we ought? And now, Socrates being dead, no less useful to men, and even more useful, is the remembrance of that which he did or said when he was alive.

Think of these things, these opinions, these words: look to these examples, if you would be free, if you desire the thing according to its worth. And what is the wonder if you buy so great a thing at the price of things so many and so great? For the sake of this which is called "liberty," some hang themselves, others throw themselves down precipices, and sometimes even whole cities have perished: and will you not for the sake of the true and unassailable and secure liberty give back to God when He demands them the things which He has given? Will you not, as Plato says, study not to die only, but also to endure torture, and exile, and scourging, and, in a word, to give up all which is not your own? If you will not, you will be a slave among slaves, even you be ten thousand times a consul; and if you make your way up to the Palace, you will no less be a slave; and you will feel, that perhaps philosophers utter words which are contrary to common opinion, as Cleanthes also said, but not words contrary to reason. For you will know by experience that the words are true, and that there is no profit from the things which are valued and eagerly sought to those who have obtained them; and to those who have not yet obtained them there is an imagination that when these things are come, all that is good will come with them; then, when they are come, the feverish feeling is the same, the tossing to and fro is the same, the satiety, the desire of things which are not present; for freedom is acquired not by the full possession of the things which are desired, but by removing the desire. And that you may know that this is true, as you have laboured for those things, so transfer your labour to these; be vigilant for the purpose of acquiring an opinion which will make you free; pay court to a philosopher instead of to a rich old man: be seen about a philosopher's doors: you will not disgrace yourself by being seen; you will not go away empty nor without profit, if you go to the philosopher as you ought, and if not, try at least: the trial is not disgraceful.

Book IV, Chapter 10: What Things We Ought to Despise, and What Things We Ought to Value

The difficulties of all men are about external things, their helplessness is about externals. "What shall I do, how will it be, how will it turn out, will this happen, will that?" All these are the words of those who are turning themselves to things which are not within the power of the will. For who says, "How shall I not assent to that which is false? how shall I not turn away from the truth?" If a man be of such a good disposition as to be anxious about these things, I will remind him of this: "Why are you anxious? The thing is in your own power: be assured: do not be precipitate in assenting before you apply the natural rule." On the other side, if a man is anxious about desire, lest it fail in its purpose and miss its end, and with respect to the avoidance of things, lest he should fall into that which he would avoid, I will first kiss him, because he throws away the things about which others are in a flutter, and their fears, and employs his thoughts about his own affairs and his own condition. Then I shall say to him: "If you do not choose to desire that which you will fall to obtain nor to attempt to avoid that into which you will fall, desire nothing which belongs to others, nor try to avoid any of the things which are not in your power. If you do not observe this rule, you must of necessity fall in your desires and fall into that which you would avoid. What is the difficulty here? where is there room for the words, 'How will it be?' and 'How will it turn out?' and, 'Will this happen or that?'

Now is not that which will happen independent of the will? "Yes." And the nature of good and of evil, is it not in the things which are within the power of the will? "Yes." Is it in your power, then, to treat according to nature everything which happens? Can any person hinder you? "No man." No longer then say to me, "How will it be?" For however it may be, you will dispose of it well, and the result to you will be a fortunate one. What would Hercules have been if he had said, "How shall a great lion not appear to me, or a great boar, or savage men?" And what do you care for that? If a great boar appear, you will fight a greater fight: if bad men appear, you relieve the earth of the bad. "Suppose, then, that I may lose my life in this way." You will die a good man, doing a noble act. For since we must certainly die, of necessity a man must be found doing something, either following the employment of a husbandman, or digging, or trading, or serving in a consulship or suffering from indigestion or from diarrhea. What then do you wish to be doing, when you are found by death? I for my part would wish to be found doing something which belongs to a man, beneficent, suitable to the general interest, noble. But if I cannot be found doing things so great, I would be found doing at least that which I cannot be hindered from doing, that which is permitted me to do, correcting, myself, cultivating the faculty which makes use of appearances, labouring at freedom from the affects, rendering to the relations of life their due; if I succeed so far, also touching on the third topic, safety in the forming judgements about things. If death surprises me when I am busy about these things, it is enough for me if I can stretch out my hands to God and say:

"The means which I have received from Thee for seeing Thy administration and following it, I have not neglected: I have not dishonoured Thee by my acts: see how I have used my perceptions, see how I have used my preconceptions: have I ever blamed Thee? have I been discontented with anything that happens, or wished it to be otherwise? have I wished to transgress the relations? That Thou hast given me life, I thank Thee for what Thou has given me: so long as I have used the things which are Thine, I am content; take them back and place them wherever Thou mayest choose; for Thine were all things, Thou gavest them to me." Is it not enough to depart in this state of mind, and what life is better and more becoming than that of a man who is in this state of mind? and what end is more happy?

But that this may be done, a man must receive no small things, nor are the things small which he must lose. You cannot both wish to be a consul and to have these things, and to be eager to have lands and these things also; and to be solicitous about slaves and about yourself. But if you wish for anything which belongs to another, that which is your own is lost. This is the nature of the thing: nothing is given or had for nothing. And where is the wonder? If you wish to be a consul, you must keep awake, run about, kiss hands, waste yourself with exhaustion at other men's doors, say and do many things unworthy of a free man, send gifts to many, daily presents to some. And what is the thing that is got? Twelve bundles of rods, to sit three or four times on the tribunal, to exhibit the games in the Circus and to give suppers in small baskets. Or, if you do not agree about this, let some one show me what there is besides these things. In order, then, to secure freedom from passions, tranquillity, to sleep well when you do sleep, to be really awake when you are awake, to fear nothing, to be anxious about nothing, will you spend nothing and give no labour? But if anything belonging to you be lost while you are thus busied, or be wasted badly, or another obtains what you ought to have obtained, will you immediately be vexed at what has happened? Will you not take into the account on the other side what you receive and for what, how much for how much? Do you expect to have for nothing things so great? And how can you? One work has no community with another. You cannot have both external things after bestowing care on them and your own ruling faculty: but if you would have those, give up this. If you do not, you will have neither this nor that, while you are drawn in different ways to both. The oil will be spilled, the household vessels will perish: but I shall be free from passions. There will be a fire when I am not present, and the books will be destroyed: but I shall treat appearances according to nature. "Well; but I shall have nothing to eat." If I am so unlucky, death is a harbour; and death is the harbour for all; this is the place of refuge; and for this reason not one of the things in life is difficult: as soon as you choose, you are out of the house, and are smoked no more. Why, then, are you anxious, why do you lose your sleep, why do you not straightway, after considering wherein your good is and your evil, say, "Both of them are in my power? Neither can any man deprive me of the good, nor involve me in the bad against my will. Why do I not throw myself down and snore? for all that I have is safe. As to the things which belong to others, he will look to them who gets them, as they may be given by Him who has the power. Who am I who wish to have them in this way or in that? is a power ofselecting them given to me? has any person made me the dispenser of them? Those things are enough for me over which I have power: I ought to manage them as well as I can: and all the rest, as the Master of them may choose."

When a man has these things before his eyes, does he keep awake and turn hither and thither? What would he have, or what does he regret, Patroclus or Antilochus or Menelaus? For when did he suppose that any of his friends was immortal, and when had he not before his eyes that on the morrow or the day after he or his friend must die? "Yes," he says, "but I thought that he would survive me and bring up my son." You were a fool for that reason, and you were thinking of what was uncertain. Why, then, do you not blame yourself, and sit crying like girls? "But he used to set my food before me." Because he was alive, you fool, but now he cannot: but Automedon will set it before you, and if Automedon also dies, you will find another. But if the pot, in which your meat was cooked, should be broken, must you die of hunger, because you have not the pot which you are accustomed to? Do you not send and buy a new pot? He says:

No greater ill could fall on me.

Why is this your ill? Do you, then, instead of removing it, blame your mother for not foretelling it to you that you might continue grieving from that time? What do you think? Do you not suppose that Homer wrote this that we may learn that those of noblest birth, the strongest and the richest, the most handsome, when they have not the opinions which they ought to have, are not prevented from being most wretched and unfortunate?

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