Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 3/Chapter 6


Some scattered sayings

When someone asked how it was that, despite the greater amount of work which was done nowadays in logic, there was more progress made in former times, Epictetus replied. On what has labour been expended in our time, and in what was the progress greater in those days? For in that upon which labour has been expended in our time, progress also will be found in our time. The fact is that in our time labour has been expended upon the solution of syllogisms, and there is progress along that line; but in the early days not only had labour been expended upon maintaining the governing principle in a state of accord with nature, but there was also progress along that line. Do not, therefore, substitute one thing for the other, and do not expect, when you devote labour to one thing, to be making progress in another. But see whether any one of us who is devoting himself to keeping in a state of conformity with nature, and to spending his life so, fails to make progress. For you will find that there is none of whom that is true.

5The good man is invincible; naturally, for he enters no contest where he is not superior. "If you want my property in the country," says he, "take it; take my servants, take my office, take my paltry body. But you will not make my desire fail to get what I will, nor my aversion fall into what I would avoid." This is the only contest into which the good man enters, one, namely, that is concerned with the things which belong in the province of the moral purpose; how, then, can he help but be invincible?

When someone asked him what "general perception"[1] was, he replied. Just as a sense of hearing which distinguishes merely between sounds would be called "general," but that which distinguishes between tones is no longer "general," but "technical," so there are certain things which those men who are not altogether perverted see by virtue of their general faculties. Such a mental constitution is called "general perception."

It is not an easy thing to prevail upon soft young men; no, and you can't catch soft cheese on a fishhook[2] either—but the gifted young men, even if you try to turn them away, take hold of reason all the more firmly. And so also Rufus for the most part tried to dissuade men, using such efforts to dissuade as a means of discriminating between those who were gifted and those who were not. For he used to say, "Just as a stone, even if you throw it upwards, will fall downwards to earth by virtue of its very constitution, so is also the gifted man; the more one beats him back, the more he inclines toward his natural object."


  1. On the use of the term κοινὸς νοῦς in Epictetus one may compare Bonhöffer, Epiktet und die Stoa, 121 and 224. It means simply the intellectual faculty that any normal man possesses.
  2. A proverb; see Diog. Laert. 4, 47, where the adjective ἁπαλός ("soft") is used of the cheese, which Wolf and Upton, perhaps with good reason, wanted to add here. At all events that is the kind of cheese which is meant.