Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 4/Chapter 8


To those who hastily assume the guise of the philosophers

Never bestow either praise or blame upon a man for the things which may be either good or bad,[1] nor credit him with either skill or want of skill; and by so doing you will escape from both rashness and malice. "This man is hasty about bathing." Does he, therefore, do wrong? Not at all. But what is he doing? He is hasty about bathing.—Is all well, then?—That by no means follows;[2] but only the act which proceeds from correct judgements is well done, and that which proceeds from bad judgements is badly done. Yet until you learn the judgement from which a man performs each separate act, neither praise his action nor blame it. But a judgement is not readily determined by externals. "This man is a carpenter." Why? "He uses an adze." What, then, has that to do with the case? "This man is a musician, for he sings." And what has that to do with the case? "This man is a philosopher." Why? "Because he wears a rough cloak and long hair." 5And what do hedge-priests wear? That is why, when a man sees some one of them misbehaving, he immediately says, "See what the philosopher is doing." But he ought rather to have said, judging from the misbehaviour, that the person in question was not a philosopher. For if the prime conception and profession of the philosopher is to wear a rough cloak and long hair, their statement would be correct; but if it is rather this, to be free from error, why do they not take away from him the designation of philosopher, because he does not fulfil the profession of one? For that is the way men do in the case of the other arts. When someone sees a fellow hewing clumsily with an axe, he does not say, "What's the use of carpentry? See the bad work the carpenters do!" but quite the contrary, he says, "This fellow is no carpenter, for he hews clumsily with the axe." And, similarly, if a man hears somebody singing badly, he does not say, "See how the musicians sing!" but rather, "This fellow is no musician." But it is only in the case of philosophy that men behave like this; when they see somebody acting contrary to the profession of the philosopher, they do not take away from him the designation of philosopher, but, assuming that he is a philosopher, and then taking[3] from what goes on that he is misbehaving, they conclude that there is no good in being a philosopher.

10What, then, is the reason for this? It is because we respect the prime conception of the carpenter, and the musician, and so also of all the other artisans and artists, while we do not respect that of the philosopher, but as if it were confused and inarticulate in our minds we judge of it only from externals. And what other art is there that is acquired by guise and hair-dress, and does not have also principles, and subject-matter, and end? What, then, is subject-matter for the philosopher? It is not a rough cloak, is it? No, but reason. what is end for the philosopher? It is not to wear a rough cloak, is it? No, but to keep his reason right. What is the nature of his principles? They do not have to do with the question how to grow a long beard, or a thick head of hair, do they? Nay, rather, as Zeno says, to understand the elements of reason, what the nature of each one is, and how they are fitted one to another, and all the consequences of these facts. Will you not, therefore, observe first of all whether the philosopher fulfils his profession by misbehaving, and then, if that be the case, blame his way of acting? But as it is, when you yourself are behaving decently, you say, on the basis of the evil that he seems to you to be doing, "Look at the philosopher," just as though it were proper to call a man who acts like that a philosopher; and again, "Is that what a philosopher is?" But you do not say, "Look at the carpenter," when you know that a man is an adulterer, or see a man eating greedily, nor do you say, under similar circumstances, "Look at the musician." Thus to a certain degree you too realize what the philosopher's profession is, but you backslide and get confused through carelessness.

15But even those who are styled philosophers pursue their calling with means which are sometimes good and sometimes bad. For example, when they have taken a rough cloak and let their beards grow, they say, "I am a philosopher." But nobody will say, "I am a musician," if he buys a plectrum and a cithara; nor, "I am a smith," if he puts on a felt cap and an apron; but the guise is fitted to the art, and they get their name from the art, but not from the guise. That is why Euphrates[4] was right when he used to say: "For a long time I tried not to let people know that I was a philosopher, and this," he says, "was useful to me. For, in the first place, I knew that whatever I did well, I did so, not on account of the spectators, but on my own account; it was for my own sake that I ate well, and kept my countenance and gait composed; it was all for myself and for God. And, secondly, as the contest was mine alone, so also I alone ran the risks; in no respect through me, if I did what was disgraceful or unseemly, did the cause of philosophy come into danger, nor did I do harm to the multitude by going wrong as a philosopher. For that reason those who were ignorant of my purpose wondered how it was that, although I was familiar with all the philosophers and lived with them, I was myself not acting in the role of a philosopher. 20And what harm was there in having the philosopher that I was, recognized by what I did, rather than by the outward signs?"

See how I eat, how drink, how sleep, how endure, how refrain, how help, how employ desire and how aversion, how I observe my relationships, whether they be natural or acquired, without confusion and without hindrance; judge me on the basis of all this, if you know how. But if you are so deaf and blind as not to regard even Hephaestus as a good smith unless you see the felt cap resting on his head, what harm can come from passing unrecognized by a judge so foolish?

In this way the great majority of men failed to recognize Socrates, and so they used to come to him and ask to be introduced to philosophers![5] Was he, then, irritated as we are, and would he say, "And don't I look like a philosopher to you?" No, but he used to take them and introduce them, and was satisfied with one thing, that is, being a philosopher, and glad that he was not annoyed at not being taken for one; for he habitually bore in mind his own proper function. What is the function of a good and excellent man? To have many pupils? Not at all. Those who have set their hearts on it shall see to that.[6] Well, is it to set forth difficult principles with great precision? Other men shall see to these things also. 25In what field was he, then, somebody, and wished so to be? In the field where there was hurt and help. "If," says he, "a man can hurt me, what I am engaged in amounts to nothing; if I wait for somebody else to help me, I am myself nothing. If I want something and it does not happen, it follows that I am miserable." This was the mighty ring[7] to which he challenged every man whomsoever, and therein he would not, I believe, have given way before anyone in—what do you suppose?—in proclaiming and asserting "I am such and such a man"? Far from it! but in being such and such a man. For, again, it is the part of a fool and blowhard to say, "I am tranquil and serene; be not ignorant, O men, that while you are tossed about and are in turmoil over worthless things, I alone am free from every perturbation." So is it not enough for you yourself to feel no pain without proclaiming, "Come together, all you who are suffering from gout, headaches, and fever, the halt, and the blind, and see how sound I am, and free from every disorder"? That is a vain and vulgar thing to say, unless, like Asclepius, you are able at once to show by what treatment those others will also become well again, and for this end are producing your own good health as an example.

30Such is the way of the Cynic who is deemed worthy of the sceptre and diadem of Zeus, and says, "That you may see yourselves, O men, to be looking for happiness and serenity, not where it is, but where it is not, behold, God has sent me to you as an example; I have neither property, nor house, nor wife, nor children, no, not even so much as a bed, or a shirt, or a piece of furniture, and yet you see how healthy I am. Make trial of me, and if you see that I am free from turmoil, hear my remedies and the treatment which cured me." For this, at length, is an attitude both humane and noble. But see whose work it is; the work of Zeus, or of him whom Zeus deems worthy of this service, to the end that he shall never lay bare to the multitudes anything whereby he shall himself invalidate the testimony which it is his to give in behalf of virtue, and against externals.

"Never there fell o'er his beauteous features a pallor, nor ever
Wiped he the tears from his cheeks."[8]

And not merely that, but he must neither yearn for anything, nor seek after it—be it human being, or place, or manner of life—like children seeking after the season of vintage, or holidays; he must be adorned on every side with self-respect, as all other men are with walls, and doors, and keepers of doors.

But, as it is, being merely moved towards philosophy, like dyspeptics who are moved to some paltry foods, which they are bound in a short while to loathe, immediately these men are off to the sceptre, to the kingdom. One of them lets his hair grow long, he takes up a rough cloak, he shows his bare shoulder, he quarrels with the people he meets, and if he sees somebody in an overcoat he quarrels with him. 35Man, take a winter's training first;[9] look at your own choice, for fear it is like that of a dyspeptic, or a woman with the strange cravings of pregnancy. Practise first not to let men know who you are; keep your philosophy to yourself a little while. That is the way fruit is produced: the seed has to be buried and hidden for a season, and be grown by slow degrees, in order that it may come to perfection. But if it heads out before it produces the jointed stock, it never matures, it is from a garden of Adonis.[10] That is the kind of plant you are too; you have blossomed prematurely, and the winter will blight you utterly. See what the farmers say about their seeds, when the hot weather comes before its proper time. They are in utmost anxiety lest the seeds should grow insolently lush, and then but a single frost should lay hold of them and expose their weakness. Man, do you also beware; you have grown insolently lush, you have leaped forward to occupy some petty reputation before its due time; you think yourself somebody, fool that you are among fools; you will be bitten by the frost, or rather, you have already been bitten by the frost, down at the root, while your upper part still blooms a little, and for that reason you seem to be still alive and flourishing.[11] 40Allow us at least to ripen as nature wishes. Why do you expose us to the elements, why force us? We are not yet able to stand the open air. Let the root grow, next let it acquire the first joint, and then the second, and then the third; and so finally the fruit will forcibly put forth its true nature, even against my will.

For who that has conceived and is big with such great judgements is not aware of his own equipment, and does not hasten to act in accordance with them? Why, a bull is not ignorant of his own nature and equipment, when some wild beast appears, nor does he hang back for someone to encourage him; neither does a dog, when he sees some wild animal; and shall I, if I have the equipment of a good man, hang back, so that you may encourage me to do what is my own proper work? But as yet I do not have the equipment, believe me. Why, then, do you wish to have me wither away before my time, as you yourself have withered?

Footnotes edit

  1. See IV. 4, 44.
  2. That is, no conclusion about right or wrong can be drawn from an action, in itself indifferent, the moral purpose of which one does not know.
  3. The technical terminology of syllogistic reasoning is employed. Men "assume" or "lay down" (θέντες) the general principle in the major premiss; "take" (λαβόντες) from observation or experience a fact as a minor premiss; and then "induce" or "conclude" (ἐπάγουσι).
  4. See on III. 15, 8, and compare for the uncertainty in men's minds how to classify Euphrates, Apollonius of Tyana, Epistles, 1.
  5. See note on III. 23, 21.
  6. See note on IV. 6, 23.
  7. Strictly speaking, the loosened and smoothed earth on which wrestling matches were held, the ancient equivalent of our ring.
  8. Homer, Odyssey, XI. 529 f.
  9. Suggesting a very serious effort. See note on I. 2, 32.
  10. Early spring house-gardens in honour of Adonis, where seeds were thickly planted in porous earthenware, sponges, and the like, sprouting luxuriantly, and of course quickly fading (cf. the reference to them in Isaiah, 1. 29: "Ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.") The expression became proverbial for incompleteness and early fading.
  11. This metaphor is so preposterous, for it is always the extremities of plants which are the first to be frostbitten, and not the protected roots, that one is inclined to ask if the text be sound. Clearly it is, since a whole series of corrections would have to be made in order to avoid the difficulty. Epictetus, a city dweller, probably knew little directly about the effects of frost on garden plants. The words "flower," "tree," and "herb" do not occur in his conversations at all. and even "plant" but rarely.—See note on IV. 11, 1.