Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 4/Chapter 13


To those who lightly talk about their own affairs

When someone gives us the impression of having talked to us frankly about his personal affairs, somehow or other we are likewise led to tell him our own secrets, and to think that is frankness! The first reason for this is because it seems unfair for a man to have heard his neighbour's affairs, and yet not to let him too have, in his turn, a share in ours. Another reason, after that, is because we feel that we shall not give the impression to these men of being frank, if we keep our own private affairs concealed. Indeed, men are frequently in the habit of saying, "I have told you everything about myself, aren't you willing: to tell me anything about yourself? Where do people act like that?" Furthermore, there is also the thought that we can safely trust the man who has already entrusted knowledge of his own affairs; for the idea occurs to us that this man would never spread abroad knowledge of our affairs, because he would be careful to guard against our too spreading abroad knowledge of his affairs. 5In this fashion the rash are ensnared by the soldiers in Rome. A soldier, dressed like a civilian, sits down by your side, and begins to speak ill of Caesar, and then you too, just as though you had received from him some guarantee of good faith in the fact that he began the abuse, tell likewise everything you think, and the next thing is—you are led off to prison in chains.[1] We experience something of the same sort also in the general course of our life. For even though this particular man has safely entrusted knowledge of his own affairs to me, I do not myself in like manner tell my affairs to any chance comer; no, I listen and keep still, if, to be sure, I happen to be that kind of a person, but he goes out and tells everybody. And then, when I find out what has happened, if I myself resemble the other person, because I want to get even with him I tell about his affairs, and confound him and am myself confounded. If, however, I remember that one person does not harm another, but that it is a man's own actions which both harm and help him, this much I achieve, namely, that I do not act like the other person, but despite that I get into the state in which I am because of my own foolish talking.

Yes, but it isn't fair to hear your neigbour's secrets and then give him no share of your own in return.10—Man, I did not invite your confidences, did I? You did not tell about your affairs on certain conditions, that you were to hear about mine in return, did you? If you are a babbler, and think that every person you meet is a friend, do you also want me to be like yourself? And why, if you did well to entrust your affairs to me, but it is impossible for me to do well in trusting you, do you wish me to be rash? It is just as though I had a jar that was sound, and you one with a hole in it, and you came to me and deposited your wine with me, for me to store it in my jar; and then you complained because I do not entrust to you my wine also; why, your jar has a hole in it! How, then, is equality any longer to be found? You made your deposit with a faithful man, with a respectful man, with a man who regards only his own activities as either harmful or helpful, and nothing that is external. Do you wish me to make a deposit with you—a man who has dishonoured his own moral purpose, and wants to get paltry cash, or some office, or advancement at court, even if you are going to cut the throats of your children, as Medea did? 15Where is there equality in that? Nay, show yourself to me as a faithful, respectful, dependable man; show that your judgements are those of a friend, show that your vessel has no hole in it, and you shall see how I will not wait for you to entrust the knowledge of your affairs to me, but I will go of myself and ask you to hear about mine. For who does not wish to use a good vessel, who despises a friendly and faithful counsellor, who would not gladly accept the man who is ready to share his difficulties, as he would share a burden with him, and to make them light for him by the very fact of his sharing in them?

Yes, but I trust you, while you do not trust me.—First, you do not trust me, either, but you are a babbler, and that is the reason why you cannot keep anything back. Why, look you, if that statement of yours is true, entrust these matters to me alone; but the fact is that whenever you see anybody at leisure you sit down beside him and say, "Brother, I have no one more kindly disposed or dearer to me than you, I ask you to listen to my affairs"; and you act this way to people whom you have not known for even a short time. And even if you do trust me, it is clear you trust me as a faithful and respectful person, not because I have already told you about my affairs. 20Allow me also, then, to have the same thought about you. Show me that, if a man unbosoms himself to somebody about his own affairs, he is faithful and respectful. For if that were so, I should have gone about and told my own affairs to all men, that is, if that was going to make me faithful and respectful. But that is not the case; to be faithful and respectful a man needs judgements of no casual sort. If, therefore, you see someone very much in earnest about the things that lie outside the province of his moral purpose, and subordinating his own moral purpose to them, rest assured that this man has tens of thousands of persons who subject him to compulsion and hinder him. He has no need of pitch or the wheel[2] to get him to speak out what he knows, but a little nod from a wench, if it so happen, will upset him, a kindness from one of those who frequent Caesar's court, desire for office, or an inheritance, and thirty thousand other things of the sort. Remember, therefore, in general, that confidences require faithfulness and faithful judgements; and where can one readily find these things nowadays?[3] Or, let someone show me the man who is so minded that he can say, "I care only for what is my own, what is not subject to hindrance, what is by nature free. This, which is the true nature of the good, I have; but let everything else be as God has granted, it makes no difference to me."


  1. It may possibly be, as Upton suggests, that this abuse led John the Baptist to warn soldiers specifically, "Neither accuse any falsely" (Luke iii. 14).
  2. Means of torture among the ancients. See also II. 6, 18.
  3. Cf. "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke xviii. 8).