Epictetus, the Discourses as reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments/Book 4/Chapter 9


To the man who had become shameless

Whenever you see another person holding office, set over against this the fact that you possess the ability to get along without office; whenever you see another person wealthy, see what you have instead. For if you have nothing instead, you are wretched; but if you are capable of feeling no need of wealth, know that you are better off, and have something worth far more than wealth. Another has a comely wife, you the ability not to yearn for a comely wife. Is all this small in your eyes? Yet how much would these men give, who are rich and hold office, and live with beautiful women, to be able to despise wealth and offices, and these very same women whom they passionately love and win? Do you not know what kind of thing the thirst of a man in fever is? It is quite unlike that of a man in health. The latter drinks and his thirst is gone, but the other gets a momentary satisfaction, and then becomes nauseated, turns the water into bile, throws up, has a pain in his bowels, and suffers more violent thirst than before. 5A similar thing it is to be rich and have strong desire, to hold office and have strong desire, to sleep by the side of a beautiful woman and have strong desire; jealousy is added to one's lot, fear of loss, disgraceful words, disgraceful thoughts, unseemly deeds.

And what do I lose? says somebody.—Man, you used to be modest, and are no longer so; have you lost nothing? Instead of Chrysippus and Zeno you now read Aristeides and Evenus;[1] have you lost nothing? Instead of Socrates and Diogenes you have come to admire the man who is able to corrupt and seduce the largest number of women. You wish to be handsome and make yourself up, though you are not handsome, and you wish to make a show of gay attire, so as to attract the women, and you think yourself blessed if perchance you light upon some trivial perfume. But formerly you used never even to think of any of these things, but only where you might find decent speech, a worthy man, a noble thought. Therefore you used to sleep as a man, to go forth as a man, to wear the clothes of a man, to utter the discourse that was suitable for a good man; and after all that do you still say, "I have lost nothing"? And is it nothing but small change that men lose in this way? Is not self-respect lost, is not decency lost? Or is it impossible that the loss of these things counts for anything? 10To you, indeed, the loss of none of these things, perhaps, seems any longer serious; but there once was a time when you thought it the only serious loss and harm, when you were in great anxiety lest anyone should dislodge you from these good words and deeds.

Behold, you have been dislodged, though by no one else but yourself. Fight against yourself, vindicate yourself for decency, for respect, for freedom. If anyone ever told you about me that someone was forcing me to commit adultery, to wear clothes like yours, or to perfume myself, would you not have gone and murdered the man who was so maltreating me? And now, therefore, are you not willing to come to your own rescue? Yet how much easier is the work of rescue in the latter case! It is not necessary to kill somebody, put him in bonds, or assault him; you do not have to come out into the market-place, but only to talk to yourself, the man most likely to be persuaded, to whom no one is more persuasive than yourself. And first of all condemn what you are doing; then, when you have passed your condemnation, do not despair of yourself, nor act like the spiritless people who, when once they have given in, surrender themselves completely, and are swept off by the current, as it were, 15but learn how the gymnastic trainer of boys acts. The boy he is training is thrown; "get up," he says, "and wrestle again, till you get strong." React in some such way yourself, for I would have you know that there is nothing more easily prevailed upon than a human soul. You have but to will a thing and it has happened, the reform has been made; as, on the other hand, you have but to drop into a doze and all is lost. For it is within you that both destruction and deliverance lie.—But what good do I get after all that?—And what greater good than this are you looking for? Instead of shameless, you will be self-respecting; instead of faithless, faithful; instead of dissolute, self-controlled. If you are looking for anything else greater than these things, go ahead and do what you are doing; not even a god can any longer save you.

Footnotes edit

  1. Typical erotic writers, the former the author of the celebrated Milesian Tales, the latter of an erotic work admired by Menander. Yet compare, on the Evenus of this passage, von Wilamowitz, Hermes, 11 (1876), 800, who conjectures Eubius (Εὔβιον), whom Ovid, Tristia, 2. 416, calls impurae conditor historiae, and mentions together with Aristeides, as here. On the question see Crusius, Real-Encyclopädie², 6, 850-51.