Epictetus: Encheiridion


IF you would improve, lay aside such reasonings as prevent tranquility. It is better to die with hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation. It is better your servant should be bad than you unhappy. Is a little oil spilt? A little wine stolen? Say to yourself, 'This is the purchase paid for peace, for tranquility, and nothing is to be had for nothing.' When you call your servant, consider it possible he may not come at your call; or if he doth, that he may not do what you would have him do. He is not of such importance that it should be in his power to disturb you.

Be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to externals and unessentials. Do not wish to be thought to know. And though you appear to others to be somebody, distrust yourself. For be assured it is not easy at once to preserve your faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature and to secure externals, since while you are careful of the one you will neglect the other.

Behave in life as at an entertainment. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand and take your share, with moderation. Doth it pass by you? Do not stop it. Is it not yet come? Do not stretch forth your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. Thus do with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will be, some time or other, a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you do not so much as take the things set before you, but are able even to despise them, then you will not only be a partner of the gods' feasts, but of their empire.

Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the Author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it be His pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another's.

To me all the portents are lucky, if I will. For whatever happens, it is in my power to derive advantage from it.

Remember that not he who gives ill language or a blow affronts, but the principle which represents these things as affronting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try first not to be hurried away with the appearance. For if you once gain time and respite you will more easily command yourself.

BE assured that the essential property of piety towards the gods is to form right opinions concerning them as existing and as governing the universe with goodness and justice. Fix yourself in the resolution to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them in all events, as produced by the most perfect understanding. Thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them of neglecting you.

And it is not possible for this to be effected any other way than, by withdrawing yourself from things not in your own power and placing good or evil in those only which are. For if you suppose any of the things not in your own power to be either good or evil, when you are disappointed at what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you must necessarily find fault with and blame the authors.

Be for the most part silent, or speak merely what is necessary. We may sparingly enter into discourse when occasion calls for it, but not on vulgar topics of gladiators, horse-races, feasts and so on; above all, not of men, so as either to blame, praise, or make comparisons.

If anyone tells you such a person speaks ill of you, make no excuses, but answer, 'He does not know my other faults, or he would not have mentioned only these.'

When you do anything from a clear judgment that it ought to be done, never shun the being seen to do it, even though the world should make a wrong supposition about it. For if you do not act right, shun the action itself, and if you do, why be afraid of mistaken censure?

When any person does ill by you, or speaks ill of you, remember that he acts or speaks from a supposition of its being his duty. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he misjudges, he is the person hurt, for he is the one deceived. Meekly bear, then, a person who reviles you, for you will say upon every occasion. 'It seemed so to him.'

The condition and characteristic of a vulgar person is that he never expects either benefit or hurt from himself, but from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is that he expects all hurt and benefit from himself. The marks of a proficient are that he censures no one, praises no one, blames no one, accuses no one, says nothing concerning himself as being anybody or knowing anything; when he is hindered or restrained, he accuses himself; when praised, he secretly laughs; if censured, he makes no defense. He suppresses all desire; transfers his aversion to things only which thwart the proper use of his own will; is gentle in all exercise of his powers; and does not care if he appears stupid or ignorant, but watches himself as an enemy.

WHATEVER rules of life you have deliberately proposed to yourself, abide by them as laws; and let whatever appears to you to be the best be to you an inviolable law. Socrates became perfect, improving himself in everything by attending to reason only. And though you be not yet a Socrates, live as one who would become a Socrates.

Upon all occasions we ought to have ready at hand these three maxims:

Conduct me, God, and thou, O Destiny, Wherever your decrees have fixed my station. I follow cheerfully. And did I not, Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.

Whoe'er yields properly to Fate is deemed Wise among men and knows the law of heaven.

'O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt my soul they cannot.'

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