Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 3/Chapter 14


Some scattered sayings

As the good[† 1] chorus-singers in tragedy cannot render solos, but can sing perfectly well with a number of other voices, so some men cannot walk around by themselves. Man, if you are anybody, both walk around by yourself, and talk to yourself, and don't hide yourself in the chorus. Let yourself be laughed at sometimes, look about you, shake yourself up, so as to find out who you actually are.

Whenever a man drinks water only, or has some ascetic practice, he takes every opportunity to talk about it to everybody: "I drink water only." 5Why, do you drink water just for the sake of drinking water? Man, if it is good for you to drink water, drink it! Otherwise your conduct is absurd. But if it does you good and you drink water only, don't say a word about it to the people who are annoyed by such persons. Why, what's your object? Are these just the ones you wish to please?[1]

Among actions some are performed primarily on their own account, others on occasion, or as a matter of good management, or as required by tact, or as part of a formal plan.

Here are two things of which one must rid men, conceit and diffidence. Now conceit is to fancy that one needs nothing further. And diffidence is to assume that one cannot enjoy a life of serenity under so many adverse circumstances. Now conceit is removed by cross-examination, and this is what Socrates starts with. . . .[2] But that the matter is not impossible, consider and search—this kind of search will do you no harm; 10and, indeed, to philosophize practically amounts to this, that is, to search how it is possible to employ desire and aversion without hindrance.

"I am superior to you, for my father has consular rank."[3] Another says, "I have been a tribune, and you have not." And if we were horses, you would be saying: "My sire was swifter than yours," or, "I have quantities of barley and fodder," or, "I have pretty neck-trappings." What then, if, when you were talking like this, I said, "Granted all that, let's run a race, then"? Come now, is there, then, nothing in man like running in the case of a horse, whereby the worse and the better will be recognized? Isn't there such a thing as reverence, faith, justice? Prove yourself superior in these points, in order to be superior as a human being. If you tell me, "I can deliver a mighty kick,"[4] I shall say to you in my turn, "You are proud over what is the act of an ass."

Footnotes edit

  1. That is: If you drink water only, do it to please yourself, and not for the sake of impressing others; above all, not for the sake of trying to impress those who dislike teetotalers.
  2. There is no clear connection here with the preceding, and the topic of the removal of diffidence could scarcely have been passed over.
  3. The subject-matter of this is closely paralleled in frag. 18, Encheiridion 44, and in the florilegia. It was clearly a commonplace.
  4. Much practised by the pancratiasts, who struck both with the heel and with the knee.

Select critical notes edit

  1. καλοὶ. This has been read uniformly κακοί ever since the time of Wolf. But it is clear from Aristotle, Pol. 3. 13. 21 that superior solo voices were not used in the chorus, and it is a notorious fact that excellent choral effects are secured with voices which are not suitable for solo performance.