Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 3/Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

How ought we to bear our illnesses?

When the need arises for each separate judgement, we ought to have it ready; at lunch our judgements about lunch, at the bath our judgements about a bath, in bed our judgements about a bed.

"Also allow not sleep to draw nigh to your languorous eyelids,
Ere you have reckoned up each several deed of the daytime:
'Where went I wrong? Did what? And what to be done was left undone?'
Starting from this point review, then, your acts, and thereafter remember:
Censure yourself for the acts that are base, but rejoice in the goodly."[1]

And keep these verses on hand to use, not by way of exclamations, as we cry, "Paean Apollo!" 5Again, in a fever have ready the judgements which apply to that. Let us not, if we fall into a fever, abandon and forget all our principles, saying: "If I ever study philosophy again, let anything happen that will! I'll have to go away somewhere and take care of my poor body." Yes indeed, if fever does not go there too![2] But what is philosophy? Does it not mean making preparation to meet the things that come upon us? Do you not understand, then, that what you are saying amounts to something like this: "If I ever again prepare to bear quietly the things that come upon me, let anything happen that will"? It is just as if a man should give up the pancratium[3] because he has received blows. The only difference is that in the pancratium a man may stop, and so avoid a severe beating, but in life, if we stop the pursuit of philosophy, what good does it do? What, then, ought a man to say to himself at each hardship that befalls him? "It was for this that I kept training, it was to meet this that I used to practise." God says to you, "Give Me proof, whether you have striven lawfully,[4] eaten what is prescribed,[5] taken exercise, heeded your trainer." After that, do you flinch when the time for action arrives? Now it is time for your fever, let it come upon you in the right way; for thirst, bear your thirst in the right way; to go hungry, bear hunger in the right way. It is not in your power, you say? Who is there to prevent you? Nay, your physician will prevent you from drinking, but he cannot prevent you from thirsting in the right way; and he will prevent you from eating, but he cannot prevent you from bearing hunger in the right way.

10But am I not a scholar?—And for what purpose do you devote yourself to scholarship? Slave, is it not that you may be happy? Is it not that you may be secure? Is it not that you may conform to nature and live your life in that way. What prevents you, when you have a fever, from having your governing principle conform with nature? Here is the proof of the matter, the test of the philosopher. For this too is a part of life; like a stroll, a voyage, a journey, such is also a fever. I presume you do not read while taking a stroll, do you?—No.—No more than when you have a fever. But if you stroll in the right way, you perform what is expected of a stroller; if you have fever in the right way, you perform the things expected of the man who has a fever. What does it mean to have fever in the right way? Not to blame God, or man, not to be overwhelmed by what happens to you, to await death bravely and in the right way, to do what is enjoined upon you; when your physician comes to see you, not to be afraid of what he will say, and at the same time not to be carried away with joy, if he says, "You are doing splendidly"; for what good to you lay in that remark? Why, when you were well, what good was it to you? It means not to be downhearted, too, if he says, "You are in a bad way." For what does it mean to be in a bad way? That you are close to a separation of the soul from the body. What, then, is terrifying about that? If you do not draw near now, will you not draw near later? And is the universe going to be upset when you die? 15Why, then, do you wheedle your physician? Why do you say, "If you wish, Master, I shall get well"? Why do you give him occasion to put on airs? Why not give him just what is his due? As I give the shoemaker his due about my foot, the builder his due about my house, so also the physician his due about my paltry body, something that is not mine, something that is by nature dead.[6] These are the things that the moment demands for a man who is in a fever; if he meets these demands, he has what properly belongs to him. For it is not the business of the philosopher to guard these external matters—neither his paltry wine, nor his paltry oil, nor his paltry body—but what? His own governing principle. And how treat externals? Only so far as not to act thoughtlessly about them. What proper occasion is there, then, any longer for fear? What proper occasion, then, any longer for anger? Or for fear about things that are not his own concern, worthless things? For here are the two principles that you ought to have ready at hand: Outside the sphere of the moral purpose there is nothing either good or bad; and, We ought not to lead events, but to follow them. "My brother ought not to have treated me so." No; but it is for him to look to that. As for me, no matter how he behaves, I shall observe all my relations to him as I ought. For this is my part, the other does not belong to me; in this nobody can hinder me, the other is subject to hindrance.

FootnotesEdit

  1. The Golden Verses, vulgarly ascribed to Pythagoras, 40-44, with several variations in detail.
  2. The sense of this difficult and corrupt passage seems to be that Epictetus sarcastically approves the plan, with, however, the proviso, that there be no fever where his interlocutor plans to go; which was impossible, because there was no such place. In other words, one cannot avoid hardships by changing one's residence; therefore, prepare to meet them wherever you are.
  3. See note on III. 1, 5.
  4. The same phrase appears in 2 Timothy ii. 5.
  5. At Olympia, for example, men had to practise under supervision and observe a strict diet for one whole month before the games.
  6. That is, matter which is only temporarily endowed with life by virtue of union for a short while with the soul.