Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 3/Chapter 9


To a certain rhetorician who was going to Rome for a lawsuit

There came in to visit Epictetus one day a man who was on his way to Rome, where he was engaged in a lawsuit involving an honour to be bestowed on him.[1] Epictetus asked what the reason was for the trip to the Capital, and the man proceeded to ask what opinion he had about the matter. If you ask me what you are going to do in Rome, says Epictetus, whether you will succeed or fail, I have no precept to offer. If, however, you ask how you are going to fare, I have this to say: If you have sound judgements, you will fare well; if unsound judgements, ill; since in every case the way a man fares is determined by his judgement.[2][† 1] For what is it that made you eager to be elected patron of the people of Cnossos?[3] Your judgement. What is it that impels you now to go up to Rome? Your judgement. And that in stormy weather, in danger, and at expense?—Yes, but I have to.—Who tells you that? Your judgement. Very well, then, if a man's judgements determine everything, and if a man has unsound judgements, whatever be the cause such also will be the consequence. 5Do we all, then, have sound judgements, both you and your opponent? If so, then how do you come to disagree? But do you have sound judgements rather than he? Why? You think so. So does he, and so do madmen. This is a poor criterion. But show me that you have made any study of your own judgements and have paid attention to them. And as now you are sailing to Rome so as to become patron of the men of Cnossos, and you are not satisfied to stay at home and keep the honours which you had, but you have set your heart upon something greater and more conspicuous, so did you ever make a voyage for the purpose of studying your own judgements, and of rejecting one, if it is unsound? Whom have you ever visited for this purpose? What time have you set yourself, what period of your life? Review the periods of your life, all to yourself, if you are ashamed to do so before me. When you were a boy were you in the habit of examining your judgements? Did you not habitually do what you then did just as you do everything now? And when you grew to be a youth and were attending the lectures of the rhetoricians, and were yourself practising, what did you fancy that you yet lacked? And when you were a young man and began to take part in politics, and to plead cases yourself, and to have a good reputation, who any longer seemed in your eyes to be your equal? Would you under any circumstances have submitted to be put through an examination on the charge that you had wretched judgements? 10Very well then, what do you wish me to say to you?—Help me in this affair.—I have no precepts to offer for this; and you too, if you came to me for this purpose, have not come to me as to a philosopher, but as to a vegetable-dealer, as to a cobbler.—To what end, then, do philosophers have precepts to offer?—To this end, that whatever happen, our governing principle shall be, and abide to the end, in accord with nature. Do you regard that as a trifle?—No; it is of the utmost moment.—What then? Does this require only a little time, and is it possible to acquire it on a passing visit? Acquire it, then, if you can!

Then you will say, "When I met Epictetus it was like meeting a stone, a statue." Yes, for you took a look at me, and nothing more. The person who meets a man as a man is one who learns to understand the other's judgements, and in his turn exhibits his own. Learn to know my judgements; show me your own, and then say you have met me. Let us put one another to the test; if I cherish any evil judgement, take it away; if you cherish one, bring it forward. That is what it means to meet a philosopher. Oh no; but your way is: "We are passing, and while we are hiring our ship, we have a chance to take a look at Epictetus; let's see what in the world he has to say." Then you leave with the remark: "Epictetus was nothing at all, his language was full of solecisms and barbarisms." What else were you capable of judging, when you came in like that?

15"But," says someone, "if I devote myself to these things, I shall not own a farm any more than you do, I shall not have silver goblets any more than you, or fine cattle any more than you." To all this it is perhaps enough to answer: "I do not need them; but you, even if you acquire many possessions, need still others, and whether you will or not, are more poverty-stricken than I am."—What, then, do I need?—What you do not have; steadfastness, your mind in a state of conformity with nature, freedom from vexation of spirit. Patron or not patron, what do I care? But you care. I am richer than you are; I am not worried about what Caesar is going to think of me; I flatter no man for that purpose. All this is what I have as an offset to your silver plate, and your gold plate. You have furnishings of gold, but your reason, your judgements, your assent, your choice, your desire—of earthenware. But when I have these in a state of conformity with nature, why should I not take up logic also as a sort of hobby? For, I have plenty of leisure; my mind is not being dragged this way and that. What shall I do, seeing there is nothing that disturbs me? What have I which more becomes a man than this? You and your kind when you have nothing to do are restless, 20go to the theatre, or wander up and down aimlessly. Why should not the philosopher develop his own reason? You turn to vessels of crystal, I to the syllogism called "The Liar";[4] you to myrrhine ware,[5] I to the syllogism called "The Denyer."[6] Everything that you already have seems small in your sight, but everything that I have seems important to me. Your strong desire is insatiate, mine is already satisfied. The same thing happens to the children who put their hand down into a narrow-necked jar and try to take out figs and nuts: if they get their hand full, they can't get it out, and then they cry. Drop a few and you will get it out. And so do you too drop your desire; do not set your heart upon many things and you will obtain.[7][† 2]


  1. The situation seems a bit strange to us, but the famous lawsuit between Aeschines and Ctesiphon, in which Demosthenes delivered the oration De Corona, technically, indeed, in behalf of Ctesiphon, but actually in his own cause, offers a close parallel.
  2. See critical note.
  3. The principal city of Crete.
  4. See note in II. 17, 34.
  5. Highly coloured and very expensive glass.
  6. The exact nature of this argument is unknown, although Chrysippus wrote two works on the subject (Diog. Laert. 7, 197), and it is casually mentioned also by Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 5, 11.
  7. See critical note.

Select critical notes

  1. πως τό Oldfather: πράσσειν τι δόγμα S. The sharp contrast between τί πράξεις and πῶς πράξεις above, which is the whole point in the present passage, is completely falsified by the reading in S.
  2. οἴσεις. Wolf plausibly suggested εὐροήσεις, "you will prosper," for this extremely abrupt and obscure locution.