Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 1/Chapter 25
Upon the same theme
If all this is true and we are not silly nor merely playing a part when we say, "Man's good and man's evil lies in moral choice, and all other things are nothing to us," why are we still distressed and afraid? Over the things that we seriously care for no one has authority; and the things over which other men have authority do not concern us. What kind of thing have we left to discuss?—"Nay, give me directions."—What directions shall I give you? Has not Zeus given you directions? Has he not given you that which is your own, unhindered and unrestrained, while that which is not your own is subject to hindrance and restraint? What directions, then, did you bring with you when you came from him into this world, what kind of an order? Guard by every means that which is your own, but do not grasp at that which is another's. Your faithfulness is your own, your self-respect is your own; who, then, can take these things from you? Who but yourself will prevent you from using them? But you, how do you act? When you seek earnestly that which is not your own, you lose that which is your own. 5Since you have such promptings and directions from Zeus, what kind do you still want from me? Am I greater than he, or more trustworthy? But if you keep these commands of his, do you need any others besides? But has he not given you these directions? Produce your preconceptions, produce the demonstrations of the philosophers, produce what you have often heard, and produce what you have said yourself, produce what you have read, produce what you have practised.
How long, then, is it well to keep these precepts and not to break up the game? As long as it is played pleasantly. At the Saturnalia a king is chosen by lot; for it has been decided to play this game. The king gives his commands: "You drink, you mix wine, you sing, you go, you come." I obey, so as not to be the one to break up the game. "Come, suppose that you are in an evil plight." I do not so suppose; and who is there to compel me so to suppose? 10Again, we have agreed to play the story of Agamemnon and Achilles. The one who has been appointed to play the part of Agamemnon says to me, "Go to Achilles, and drag away Briseis." I go. He says, "Come," and I come. For as we behave in the matter of hypothetical proposals, so we ought to behave in life also. "Let it be night." So be it. "What then? Is it day?" No, for I have accepted the assumption that it is night. "Let us suppose that you assume it to be night" So be it. "But go on and assume that it is night," That is not consistent with the hypothesis. So also in the present case. "Let us suppose that you are unhappy." So be it, "Are you, then, unfortunate?" Yes. "What then? Are you troubled with ill-fortune?" Yes. "But go on and assume that you are in a wretched plight." That is not consistent with the hypothesis; moreover, there is Another who forbids me so to think.
How long, then, should we obey such commands? As long as it is beneficial, and that means, as long as I preserve what is becoming and consistent. 15Further, some men are unduly crabbed and have too sharp tongues and say, "I cannot dine at this fellow's house, where I have to put up with his telling every day how he fought in Moesia: 'I have told you, brother, how I climbed up to the crest of the hill; well now, I begin to be besieged again.'" But another says, "I would rather dine and hear him babble all he pleases." And it is for you to compare these estimates; only do nothing as one burdened, or afflicted, or thinking that he is in a wretched plight; for no one forces you to this. Has some one made a smoke in the house? If he has made a moderate amount of smoke I shall stay; if too much, I go outside. For one ought to remember and hold fast to this, that the door stands open. But some one says, "Do not dwell in Nicopolis." I agree not to dwell there. "Nor in Athens." I agree not to dwell in Athens, either. "Nor in Rome." I agree not to dwell in Rome, either. 20"Dwell in Gyara." I agree to dwell there. But to dwell in Gyara seems to me to be like a great quantity of smoke in the house. I leave for a place where no one will prevent me from dwelling; for that dwelling-place stands open to every man. And as for the last inner tunic, that is, my paltry body, beyond that no one has any authority over me. That is why Demetrius said to Nero, "You threaten me with death, but nature threatens you." If I admire my paltry body, I have given myself away as a slave; if I admire my paltry property, I have given myself away as a slave; for at once I show thereby to my own hurt what I can be caught with. Just as when the snake draws in his head, I say, "Strike that part of him which he is protecting"; so do you be assured that your master will attack you at that point which you particularly wish to protect. 25If you remember all this, whom will you flatter or fear any more?
But I wish to sit where the senators do.—Do you realize that you are making close quarters for yourself, that you are crowding yourself?—How else, then, shall I have a good view in the amphitheatre?—Man, do not become spectator and you will not be crowded. Why do you make trouble for yourself? Or else wait a little while, and when the show is over sit down among the seats of the senators and sun yourself. For in general remember this—that we crowd ourselves, we make close quarters for ourselves, that is to say, the decisions of our will crowd us and make us close quarters. Why, what is this matter of being reviled? Take your stand by a stone and revile it; and what effect will you produce? If, then, a man listens like a stone, what profit is there to the reviler? But if the reviler has the weakness of the reviled as a point of vantage, then he does accomplish something. 30"Strip him." Why do you say 'him'? Take his cloak and strip that off. "I have outraged you." Much good may it do you! This is what Socrates practised, and that is why he always wore the same expression on his face. But we prefer to practise and rehearse anything rather than how to be untrammelled and free. "The philosophers talk paradoxes," you say. But are there not paradoxes in the other arts? And what is more paradoxical than to lance a man in the eye in order that he may see? If anyone said this to a man who was inexperienced in the art of surgery, would he not laugh at the speaker? What is there to be surprised at, then, if in philosophy also many things which are true appear paradoxical to the inexperienced?
- That is, rules of conduct which will guide the inquirer in dealing with these two classes of things.
- The idea seems to be that all these preconceptions, demonstrations, etc., will be found to be based upon the "promptings and directions" of Zeus.
- That is, we accept our hypothesis as long as we can do so in reason; so in life we must be guided by reason.
- A reverent form of reference to Zeus. See also I. 30, 1.
- The course of argument seems to be: I can assume that it is night and reason in a manner consistent with that assumption; but if it really is day, I cannot assume that it really is night, for that is no longer a mere hypothesis, but the statement of a falsehood. I simply "play the game" as long as we are dealing with hypotheses, but must "break up the game" if required to make a false statement about actual facts.
- A small island off Attica in the Aegean, used as a place of exile during the Empire. The ordinary form is Γύαρος.
- He refers to the grave.