Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 1/Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII

In answer to Epicurus

Even Epicurus understands that we are by nature social beings, but having once set our good in the husk which we wear, he cannot go on and say anything inconsistent with this. For, he next insists emphatically upon the principle that we ought neither to admire nor to accept anything that is detached from the nature of the good; and he is right in so doing. But how, then, can we still be social beings, if affection for our own children is not a natural sentiment? Why do you dissuade the wise man from bringing up children? Why are you afraid that sorrow will come to him on their account? What, does sorrow come to him on account of his house-slave Mouse?[1] Well, what does it matter to him if his little Mouse in his home begins to cry? 5Nay he knows, that if once a child is born, it is no longer in our power not to love it or to care for it. For the same reason Epicurus says that a man of sense does not engage in politics either; for he knows what the man who engages in politics has to do—since, of course, if you are going to live among men as though you were a fly among flies,[2] what is to hinder you? Yet, despite the fact that he knows this, he still has the audacity to say, "Let us not bring up children." But a sheep does not abandon its own offspring, nor a wolf; and yet does a man abandon his? What do you wish us to do? Would you have us be foolish as sheep? But even they do not desert their offspring. Would you have us be fierce as wolves? But even they do not desert their offspring. Come now, who follows your advice when he sees his child fallen on the ground and crying? 10Why, in my opinion, your mother and your father, even if they had divined that you were going to say such things, would not have exposed you!

FootnotesEdit

  1. The reference here is clearly to Mys ("Mouse"), a favourite slave of Epicurus, who was brought up in his house, and took an active part in his philosophical studies, as Bentley saw (cf. Trans. Amer. Philol. Assoc., LII., 451). There is no evidence to support the common explanation that Epicurus had compared children to mice.
  2. Since flies have no social organization or relationships, and there is nothing to compel one to live like a man, and not like an unsocial animal, except one's own sense of fitness of things.