Ancient Roman philosophy: Discourses by Epictetus


HAVE I ever been restrained from what I willed? Or compelled against my will? How is this possible? I have arranged my pursuits under the direction of God. Is it His will that I should have a fever? It is my will too. Is it His will that I should pursue anything? It is my will too. Is it His will that I should desire? It is my will too. Is it His will that I should obtain anything? It is mine too. Is it not His will? It is not mine. Is it His will that I should be tortured? Then it is my will to be tortured. Is it His will that I should die? Then it is my will to die.

He has given me whatever depends upon choice. The things in my power He has made incapable of hindrance or restraint. But how could He make a body of clay incapable of hindrance? Therefore He hath subjected my body, possessions, furniture, house, children, wife, to the revolution of the universe. He who gave takes away. For whence had I these things when I came into the world?

'But I would enjoy the feast still longer.' So perhaps would the spectators at Olympia see more combatants. But the solemnity is over. Go away. Depart like a grateful and modest person; make room for others.

Do not you know that sickness and death must overtake us? At what employment? The husbandman at his plough; the sailor on his voyage. At what employment would you be taken? At what employment ought you to be taken? If there is any better employment at which you can be taken, follow that.

For my own part, I would be engaged in nothing but the care of my own faculty of choice, how to render it undisturbed, unrestrained, uncompelled, free. I would be found studying this, that I may be able to say to God, 'Have I transgressed Thy commands? Have I perverted the powers, the senses, the preconceptions which Thou hast given me? Have I ever accused Thee or censured Thy dispensations? I have been sick because it was Thy pleasure. I have been poor, with joy. I have not been in power, because it was not Thy will, and power I have never desired. Have I not always approached Thee cheerfully, prepared to execute Thy commands? Is it Thy pleasure that I depart from this assembly? I depart. I give Thee thanks that Thou hast thought me worthy to have a share in it with Thee; to behold Thy works, and to join with Thee in comprehending Thy administration.'

Let death overtake me while I am thinking, writing, reading such things as these. Of things, some are in our power, others not. In our power are opinion, pursuit, desire, accession; in a word, whatever are our own actions. Not in our power are body, property, reputation, command; in a word, whatever are not our own actions.

Now, the things in our power are free, unrestrained, unhindered, while those not in our power are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose these latter things free, and what belongs to others you own, you will be hindered; you will lament; you will be disturbed; you will find fault with both gods and men. But if you regard that only as your own which is your own, and what is others as theirs, no one will ever compel you; no one will restrain you; you will find fault with no one; you will accuse no one; you will do nothing against your will; you will have no enemy and will suffer no harm.

Aiming, therefore, at great things, remember that you must not allow yourself to be carried out of your course, however slightly.

Study to be able to say to every hostile appearance, 'You are but an appearance, and not the thing you appear to be.' Then examine it by your rules, and first and chiefly by this: whether it concerns the things in your own power or those which are not. And if it concerns anything not in your own power, be prepared to say it is nothing to you.

With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind, or contribute to use, or are loved with fondness, remember to tell yourself of what nature they are, beginning from the most trifling things. If you are fond of an earthen cup, remind yourself it is an earthen cup of which you are fond; thus, if it be broken, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, remember you kiss a being subject to the accidents of humanity; thus you will not be disturbed if either die.

MEN are disturbed, not by things, but by their own notions regarding them.

Be not elated over excellences not your own. If a horse should be elated and say, 'I am handsome,' it would be supportable. But when you are elated and say, 'I have a handsome horse,' you are elated on what is, in fact, only the good of the horse.

Require not things to happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen. Then all will go well.

In every happening, inquire of your mind how to turn it to proper account.

Never say of anything, 'I have lost it,' but 'I have restored it.' Is your child dead? It is restored. Is your wife dead? She is restored. Is your estate taken away from you? Well, and is not that likewise restored? But he who took it away is a bad man.' What is it to you by whose hands He who gave it hath demanded it again? While He gives you to possess it, take care of it, but as of something not your own, like a passenger in an inn.

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