Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 1/Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI

Of providence

Marvel not that the animals other than man have furnished them, ready prepared by nature, what pertains to their bodily needs—not merely food and drink, but also a bed to lie on,—and that they have no need of shoes, or bedding, or clothing, while we are in need of all these things. For in the case of animals, born not for their own sake, but for service, to have created them in need of other things was not beneficial. Why, consider what it would be for us to have to take thought not for merely ourselves, but also for our sheep and our asses, how they are to be clothed and shod, how they are to find food and drink. But just as soldiers appear before their general, all ready for service, shod, clothed and armed, and it would be shocking if the colonel had to go around and equip his regiment with shoes or uniforms; so also nature has made animals, which are born for service, ready for use, equipped, and in need of no further attention. 5Consequently one small child with a rod can drive a flock of sheep.

But as it is, we first forbear to give thanks for these beasts, because we do not have to bestow upon them the same care as we require for ourselves, and then proceed to complain against God on our own account! Yet, by Zeus and the gods, one single gift of nature would suffice to make a man who is reverent and grateful perceive the providence of God. Do not talk to me now of great matters: take the mere fact that milk is produced from grass, and cheese from milk, and that wool grows from skin—who is it that has created or devised these things? "No one," somebody says. Oh, the depth of man's stupidity and shamelessness!

Come, let us leave the chief works of nature, and consider merely what she does in passing. 10Can anything be more useless than the hairs on a chin? Well, what then? Has not nature used even these in the most suitable way possible? Has she not by these means distinguished between the male and the female? Does not the nature of each one among us cry aloud forthwith from afar, "I am a man; on this understanding approach me, on this understanding talk with me; ask for nothing further; behold the signs"? Again, in the case of women, just as nature has mingled in their voice a certain softer note, so likewise she has taken the hair from their chins. Not so, you say; on the contrary the human animal ought to have been left without distinguishing features, and each of us ought to proclaim by word of mouth, "I am a man." Nay, but how fair and becoming and dignified the sign is! How much more fair than the cock's comb, how much more magnificent than the lion's mane! Wherefore, we ought to preserve the signs which God has given; we ought not to throw them away; we ought not, so far as in us lies, to confuse the sexes which have been distinguished in this fashion.

15Are these the only works of Providence in us? Nay, what language is adequate to praise them all or bring them home to our minds as they deserve? Why, if we had sense, ought we to be doing anything else, publicly and privately, than hymning and praising the Deity, and rehearsing His benefits? Ought we not, as we dig and plough and eat, to sing the hymn of praise to God? "Great is God, that He hath furnished us these instruments wherewith we shall till the earth. Great is God, that He hath given us hands, and power to swallow, and a belly, and power to grow unconsciously, and to breathe while asleep." This is what we ought to sing on every occasion, and above all to sing the greatest and divinest hymn, that God has given us the faculty to comprehend these things and to follow the path of reason. What then? Since most of you have become blind, ought there not to be someone to fulfil this office for you, and in behalf of all sing the hymn of praise to God? 20Why, what else can I, a lame old man, do but sing hymns to God? If, indeed, I were a nightingale, I should be singing as a nightingale; if a swan, as a swan. But as it is, I am a rational being, therefore I must be singing hymns of praise to God. This is my task; I do it, and will not desert this post, as long as it may be given me to fill it; and I exhort you to join me in this same song.