Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 3/Chapter 23


To those who read and discuss for the purpose of display

Tell yourself, first of all, what kind of man you want to be; and then go ahead with what you are doing. For in practically every other pursuit we see this done. The athletes first decide what kind of athletes they want to be, and then they act accordingly. If a man wants to be a distance-runner, he adopts a suitable diet, walking, rubbing, and exercise; if he wants to be a sprinter, all these details are different; if he wants to contend in the pentathlon, they are still more different. You will find the same thing in the arts. If you want to be a carpenter, you will have such and such exercises; if a blacksmith, such and such other. For in everything that we do, if we do not refer it to some standard, we shall be acting at random; but if we refer it to the wrong standard, we shall make an utter failure. Furthermore, there are two standards to go by, the one general, the other individual. First of all, I must act as a man. What is included in this? Not to act as a sheep, gently but without fixed purpose; nor destructively, like a wild beast. 5The individual standard applies to each man's occupation and moral purpose. The citharoede is to act as a citharoede,[1] the carpenter as a carpenter, the philosopher as a philosopher, the rhetor as a rhetor. When, therefore, you say, "Come and listen to me as I read you a lecture," see to it first that you are not acting without fixed purpose. And then, if you find that you are using a standard of judgement, see if it is the right one. Do you wish to do good or to be praised? you ask. Immediately you get the answer, "What do I care for praise from the mob?" And that is an excellent answer. Neither does the musician, in so far as he is a musician, nor the geometrician. Do you wish to do good, then? To what end? men reply. Tell us, also, that we too may run to your lecture-room. Now can anybody do good to others unless he has received good himself? No more than the non-carpenter can help others in carpentry, or the non-cobbler in cobbling.

Do you wish, then, to know whether you have received any good? Produce your judgements, philosopher. What does desire promise? Not to fail in getting. What does aversion? Not to fall into what we are avoiding. 10Well, do we fulfil their promise? Tell me the truth; but if you lie, I will say to you: "The other day, when your audience gathered rather coolly, and did not shout applause, you walked out of the hall in low spirits. And again the other day, when you were received with applause, you walked around and asked everybody, 'What did you think of me?' 'It was marvellous, sir, I swear by my life.' 'How did I render that particular passage?' 'Which one?' 'Where I drew a picture of Pan and the Nymphs?' 'It was superb.'" And after all this you tell me that you follow nature in desire and aversion? Go to; try to get somebody else to believe you! Didn't you, just the other day, praise So-and-so contrary to your honest opinion? And didn't you flatter So-and-so, the senator? Did you want your children to be like that?—Far from it!—Why then did you praise him and palaver over him?—He is a gifted young man and fond of listening to discourses.—How do you know that?—He is an admirer of mine.—There you gave your proof!

After all, what do you think? Don't these very same persons secretly despise you? 15When, therefore, a person who is conscious of never having either thought or done a good thing finds a philosopher who tells him, "You are a genius, straightforward and unspoiled," what else do you suppose the man says to himself but, "This man wants to use me for something or other"? Or else tell me; what work of genius has he displayed? Look, he has been with you all this time, he has listened to your discourse, he has heard you lecture. Has he settled down? Has he come to himself? Has he realized the evil plight in which he is? Has he cast aside his self-conceit? Is he looking for the man who will teach him?—He is looking, the man says.—The man who will teach him how he ought to live? No, fool, but only how he ought to deliver a speech; for that is why he admires even you. Listen to him, and hear what he says. "This fellow has a most artistic style; it is much finer than Dio's."[2] That's altogether different. He doesn't say, does he, "The man is respectful, he is faithful and unperturbed"? And even if he had said this, I would have replied: "Since this man is faithful, what is your definition of the faithful man?" And if he had no answer to give, I would have added: "First find out what you are talking about, and then do your talking."

When you are in such a sorry state as this, then, gaping for men to praise you, and counting the number of your audience, is it your wish to do good to others? "To-day I had a much larger audience." "Yes, indeed, there were great numbers." "Five hundred, I fancy." "Nonsense, make it a thousand." "Dio never had so large an audience." "How could you expect him to?" "Yes, and they are clever at catching the points." "Beauty, sir, can move even a stone."[3] 20There are the words of a philosopher for you! That's the feeling of one who is on his way to do good to men! There you have a man who has listened to reason, who has read the accounts of Socrates as coming from Socrates, not as though they were from Lysias, or Isocrates! "'I have often wondered by what arguments ever'—no, but 'by what argument ever'—this form is smoother than the other!"[4] You have been reading this literature just as you would music-hall songs, haven't you? Because, if you had read them in the right way, you would not have lingered on these points, but this is the sort of thing rather that would have caught your eye: "Anytus and Meletus can kill me, but they cannot hurt me";[5] and: "I have always been the kind of man to pay attention to none of my own affairs, but only to the argument which strikes me as best upon reflection."[6] And for that reason who ever heard Socrates saying, "I know something and teach it"? But he used to send one person here and another there.[7] Therefore men used to go to him to have him introduce them to philosophers,[8] and he used to take them around and introduce them. But no, your idea of him, no doubt, is that, as he was taking them along, he used to say, "Come around to-day and hear me deliver a discourse in the house of Quadratus"![9]

Why should I listen to you? Do you want to exhibit to me the clever way in which you put words together? You do compose them cleverly, man; and what good is it to you? "But praise me." What do you mean by "praise"? "Cry out to me, 'Bravo!' or 'Marvellous!'" All right, I'll say it. But if praise is some one of those things which the philosophers put in the category of the good, what praise can I give you? If it is a good thing to speak correctly, teach me and I will praise you. 25What then? Ought one to take no pleasure in listening to such efforts? Far from it. I do not fail to take pleasure in listening to a citharoede; surely I am not bound for that reason to stand and sing to my own accompaniment on the harp, am I? Listen, what does Socrates say? "Nor would it be seemly for me, O men of Athens, at my time of life to appear before you like some lad, and weave a cunning discourse."[10] "Like some lad," he says. For it is indeed a dainty thing, this small art of selecting trivial phrases and putting them together, and of coming forward and reading or reciting them gracefully, and then in the midst of the delivery shouting out, "There are not many people who can follow this, by your lives, I swear it!"

Does a philosopher invite people to a lecture?—Is it not rather the case that, as the sun draws its own sustenance to itself,[11] so he also draws to himself those to whom he is to do good? What physician ever invites a patient to come and be healed by him? Although I am told that in these days the physicians in Rome do advertise; however, in my time they were called in[12] by their patients. "I invite you to come and hear that you are in a bad way, and that you are concerned with anything rather than what you should be concerned with, and that you are ignorant of the good and the evil, and are wretched and miserable." That's a fine invitation! And yet if the philosopher's discourse does not produce this effect, it is lifeless and so is the speaker himself Rufus used to say, "If you have nothing better to do than to praise me, then I am speaking to no purpose."[13] Wherefore he spoke in such a way that each of us as we sat there fancied someone had gone to Rufus and told him of our faults; so effective was his grasp of what men actually do, so vividly did he set before each man's eyes his particular weaknesses.

30Men, the lecture-room of the philosopher is a hospital;[14] you ought not to walk out of it in pleasure, but in pain. For you are not well when you come; one man has a dislocated shoulder, another an abscess, another a fistula, another a headache. And then am I to sit down and recite to you dainty little notions and clever little mottoes, so that you will go out with words of praise on your lips, one man carrying away his shoulder just as it was when he came in, another his head in the same state, another his fistula, another his abscess? And so it's for this, is it, that young men are to travel from home, and leave their parents, their friends, their relatives, and their bit of property, merely to cry "Bravo!" as you recite your clever little mottoes? Was this what Socrates used to do, or Zeno, or Cleanthes?

Well! but isn't there such a thing as the right style for exhortation?—Why yes, who denies that? Just as there is the style for refutation, and the style for instruction. Who, then, has ever mentioned a fourth style along with these, the style of display?[15] Why, what is the style for exhortation? The ability to show to the individual, as well as to the crowd, the warring inconsistency in which they are floundering about, and how they are paying attention to anything rather than what they truly want. For they want the things that conduce to happiness, but they are looking for them in the wrong place. 35To achieve that must a thousand benches be placed, and the prospective audience be invited, and you put on a fancy cloak, or dainty mantle, and mount the speaker's stand, and paint a word-picture of—how Achilles died? By the gods, I beseech you, have done with discrediting, as far as it is in your power to discredit, words and actions that are noble! There is nothing more effective in the style for exhortation than when the speaker makes clear to his audience that he has need of them.[16] Or tell me, who that ever heard you reading a lecture or conducting a discourse felt greatly disturbed about himself, or came to a realization of the state he was in, or on going out said, "The philosopher brought it home to me in fine style; I must not act like this any longer"? But doesn't he say to a companion, if you make an unusually fine impression, "That was beautiful diction in the passage about Xerxes"; and doesn't the other answer, "No, I preferred the one about the battle of Thermopylae"?[17] Is this what listening to a philosopher amounts to?


  1. See on I. 20, 59, in Vol. I.
  2. Probably the famous lecturer of the day, Dio Chrysostom, of Prusa.
  3. To be taken as intended for a serious compliment, and probably a popular saying (as Upton suggested) like our "Music hath charms," or, "The very stones would cry out." The idea behind it would be familiar from the story of how the trees followed Orpheus, in order to hear his beautiful music, or the stones arranged themselves in the walls of Thebes, to the strains of Amphion. Capps, however, thinks that "τὸ καλόν means 'honour'" here, and that the remark is "cynical." He would translate: "Talk of honour, sir," etc., adding the explanatory note: "That is, the speaker would have had no success with his audience if he had preached honour and virtue (as the true philosopher should)."
  4. The rhetors must have disputed whether the opening words of Xenophon's Memorabilia might not have been improved upon by using the singular λόγῳ instead of the plural λόγοις.
  5. Plato, Apol. 30 C.
  6. Slightly modified from Plato, Crito, 46 B.
  7. i.e. to different authorities on special subjects.
  8. Actual instances of such introductions are recorded in the Protagoras, 310 E, and the Theaetetus, 151 B. Compare also Maximus Tyrius, 38, 4, b. The personal relations between Socrates and the Sophists in general were clearly not strained.
  9. The practice of letting a popular or distinguished scholar lecture in one's house was particularly common in Greek and Roman times. Several distinguished persons by the name of Quadratus were contemporaries of Epictetus (Prosopographia Imperii Romani, Vol. III, nos. 600 ff.), but it is not certain that any one of them is meant, because they resided regularly at Rome, and this discourse was held at Nicopolis.
  10. Plato, Apology, 17 C.
  11. According to Stoic doctrine the so-called "rays" of the sun were thought to be lines of vapour drawn to the sun in order to feed its fires. Zeno, frag. 35; Cleanthes, frag. 501; Chrysippus, frags. 579, 652, 658-663, all in Von Arnim's Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta.
  12. The three slightly varying translations for παρακαλεῖν, "invite," "advertize," and "call in," seem to be required by our idiom.
  13. At greater length in Gellius, 5, 1, 1.
  14. So it had, indeed, become in his time. Compare Introd. p. xxiv. Thus also one of the great libraries at Alexandria is said to have had over its portal: ἰατρεῖον τῆς ψυχῆς. If the story is true (which I very much doubt), the inscription surely belongs to the decadence, for such was clearly not the conception of science which prevailed in the great days of Alexandria.
  15. That is, as a style appropriate to philosophers, for the epideictic, or style of display was a well-recognized branch of oratory in general—and not entirely unknown, perhaps, among certain popular preachers even to-day.
  16. As God needs the universe in which to exercise and display His power, so the teacher needs pupils, the speaker an audience. There is a mutual need, therefore, each of the other.
  17. A typical rhetorum campus, as Cicero calls it (De Officiis, 1, 61).