Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 4/Chapter 3


What things should be exchanged for what things?

Here is a thought to keep ready at hand whenever you lose some external thing: What are you acquiring in its place? and if this be more valuable than the other, never say, "I have suffered a loss." You have lost nothing if you get a horse for an ass, an ox for a sheep, a noble action for a small piece of money, the proper kind of peace for futile discourse, and self-respect for smutty talk. If you bear this in mind you will everywhere maintain your character as it ought to be. If not, I would have you observe that your time is being spent to no purpose, and all the pains you are now taking with yourself you are sure to spill out utterly and upset. Little is needed to ruin and upset everything, only a slight aberration from reason. 5For the helmsman to upset his ship he does not need the same amount of preparation that he does to keep it safe; but if he heads it a little too much into the wind, he is lost; yes, even if he does nothing by his own deliberate choice, but merely falls to thinking about something else for a moment, he is lost. In life also it is very much the same; if you doze but for a moment, all that you have amassed hitherto is gone. Pay attention, therefore, to your sense-impressions, and watch over them sleeplessly. For it is no small matter that you are guarding, but self-respect, and fidelity, and constancy, a state of mind undisturbed by passion, pain, fear, or confusion—in a word, freedom. What are the things for which you are about to sell these things? Look, how valuable are they?—But, you say, I shall not get anything of that kind in return for what I am giving up.—Observe also, when you do get something in the exchange, just what it is you are getting for what you give up.[1] "I have a modest behaviour, he has a tribuneship; he has a praetorship, I have self-respect. But I do not shout where it is unseemly; I shall not stand up where I ought not; for I am a free man and a friend of God,[2] so as to obey Him of my own free will. 10No other thing ought I to claim, not body, or property, or office, or reputation—nothing, in short; nor does He wish me to claim them. Had He so desired He would have made them good for me. But as it is, He has not so made them; therefore I cannot transgress any of His commands." Guard your own good in everything you do; and for the rest be content to take simply what has been given you, in so far as you can make a rational use of it. If you do not, you will have bad luck and no good luck, you will be hampered and hindered. These are the laws that have been sent you from God, these are His ordinances; it is of these you ought to become an interpreter, to these you ought to subject yourself, not the laws of Masurius and Cassius.[3]

Footnotes edit

  1. This sense may conceivably be contained in the MS. reading, but it seems more probable that the text is corrupt, although no convincing correction has yet been made.—Capps regards ἐκείνου and ἐκεῖνος (§ 9) as referring to the same person.—The quotation following is what Epictetus suggests as appropriate comment for the man who has made a wise choice.
  2. Probably this was the phrase which suggested the point of the famous epigram: ". . . I, Epictetus, was the friend of God" (quoted Vol. I, Introd. p. vii).
  3. Two distinguished jurists of the first half of the first century after Christ.