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Epictetus

An artistic impression of Epictetus
Full name Epictetus
Born AD 55
Hierapolis, Phrygia
Died AD 135
Nicopolis, Greece
Region Western Philosophy
School Stoicism
Main interests Ethics

Epictetus (Greek: Ἐπίκτητος; AD 55–AD 135) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was probably born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey), and lived in Rome until his exile to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece, where he lived most of his life and died. His teachings were noted down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses. Philosophy, he taught, is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As part of the universal city that is the universe, human beings have a duty of care to all fellow humans. The person who followed these precepts would achieve happiness.

Contents

Life

Epictetus was born c. 55 AD,[1] at Hierapolis, Phrygia.[2] The name given by his parents, if one was given, is not known—the word epiktetos in Greek simply means "acquired." He spent his youth as a slave in Rome to Epaphroditus, a very wealthy freedman of Nero. Epictetus studied Stoic philosophy under Musonius Rufus,[3] as a slave.[4] It is known that he became crippled, and although one source tells that his leg was deliberately broken by Epaphroditus,[5] more reliable is the testimony of Simplicius who tells us that he had been lame from childhood.[6]

Roman-era ruins at Nicopolis

It is not known how Epictetus obtained his freedom, but eventually he began to teach philosophy at Rome. Around 93 AD Domitian banished all philosophers from Rome, and ultimately, from Italy,[7] and Epictetus traveled to Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece, where he founded a philosophical school.[8]

His most famous pupil Arrian studied under him as a young man (c. 108 AD) and claims to have written the famous Discourses based on his lecture notes, although some scholars argue that they should rather be considered an original literary composition by Arrian comparable to the Socratic literature.[9] Arrian describes Epictetus as being a powerful speaker who could "induce his listener to feel just what Epictetus wanted him to feel."[10] Many eminent figures sought conversations with him,[11] and the Emperor Hadrian was friendly with him[12] and may have listened to him speak at his school in Nicopolis.[13][14]

He lived a life of great simplicity, with few possessions.[6] He lived alone for a long time,[15] but in his old age he adopted a friend's child who would otherwise have been left to die, and raised it with the aid of a woman to help him.[16] He died sometime around 135 AD.[17] After his death his lamp was purchased by an admirer for 3000 drachmae.[18]

Thought

Of all existing things some are in our power, and others are not in our power. In our power are thought, impulse, will to get and will to avoid, and, in a word, everything which is our own doing. Things not in our power include the body, property, reputation, office, and, in a word, everything which is not our own doing. Things in our power are by nature free, unhindered, untrammeled; things not in our power are weak, servile, subject to hindrance, dependent on others. Remember then that if you imagine that what is naturally slavish is free, and what is naturally another’s is your own, you will be hampered, you will mourn, you will be put to confusion, you will blame gods and men; but if you think that only your own belongs to you, and that what is another’s is indeed another’s, no one will ever put compulsion or hindrance on you, you will blame none, you will accuse none, you will do nothing against your will, no one will harm you, you will have no enemy, for no harm can touch you. Enchiridion,1. Matheson translation

So far as is known, Epictetus himself wrote nothing. All that remains of his work was transcribed by his pupil Arrian (author of the Anabasis Alexandri).[10] The main work is The Discourses, four books of which have been preserved (out of an original eight).[19] Arrian also compiled a popular digest, entitled the Enchiridion, or Handbook. In a preface to the Discourses, addressed to Lucius Gellius, Arrian states that "whatever I heard him say I used to write down, word for word, as best I could, endeavouring to preserve it as a memorial, for my own future use, of his way of thinking and the frankness of his speech."[10]

Epictetus focused more on ethics than the early Stoics. Repeatedly attributing his ideas to Socrates, he held that our aim was to be masters of our own lives. The role of the Stoic teacher, according to Epictetus, was to encourage his students to learn, first of all, the true nature of things, which is invariable, inviolable and valid for all human beings without exceptions.

The nature of things is further partitioned into two categories: those things that are subject to our exclusive power (prohairetic things) and those things that are not subject to our exclusive power (aprohairetic things). The first category of things includes judgment, impulse, desire, aversion, etc. The second category of things, which can also be called adiaphora, includes health, material wealth, fame, etc. Epictetus then introduced his students to two cardinal concepts: the concept of Prohairesis and the concept of Dihairesis. Prohairesis is what distinguishes humans from all other creatures. It is the faculty that, according to our own judgments, makes us desire or avert, feel impelled or repel, assent to or dissent about something. Epictetus repeatedly says that "we are our prohairesis." Dihairesis is the judgement that is performed by our Prohairesis, and that enables us to distinguish what is subject to our exclusive power from what is not subject to our exclusive power. Finally, Epictetus taught his students that good and evil exist only in our Prohairesis and never in external or aprohairetic things. The good student who thoroughly grasped these concepts and employed them in everyday life was prepared to live the philosophic life, whose objective was ataraxia (an undisturbed and serene state of mind). This meant fully understanding that we should not be affected by the external objects of our lives, because they are exclusively not up to us. This reasoning is in accordance with the knowledge of the true "nature of things," that is, the predetermined and complexly fixed order of the universe and the cosmos. Ataraxia was Epictetus', and the Stoics', ideal model of eudamonia, or "happiness and fulfillment."

The essence of Epictetus's psychology is revealed by two of his most frequently quoted statements:

We are disturbed not by events, but by the views which we take of them.

I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?

The final entry of the Enchiridion, or Handbook, which is Arrian's anthology of quotes by Epictetus, begins "Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand":

Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever thy decree has fixed my lot.
I follow willingly; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched would I follow still.
(Diogenes Laertius quoting Cleanthes; quoted also by Seneca, Epistle 107.)"

Whoe'er yields properly to Fate is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of Heaven.
(From Euripides' Fragments, 965)

O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be.
(From Plato's Crito)

Anytus and Meletus may indeed kill me, but they cannot harm me.
(From Plato's Apology)

Influence

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Military

Marcus Aurelius

The philosophy of Epictetus was an influence on the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180 A.D.) whose reign was marked by wars with the resurgent Parthians in southern Asia and against the Germanic tribes in Europe. Aurelius quotes from Epictetus repeatedly in his own work, Meditations, written during his campaigns in central Europe.

James Stockdale

The philosophy of Epictetus is well known in the American military through the writings and example of James Stockdale, an American fighter pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam, became a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, and later a vice presidential candidate. In Courage under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior (1993), Stockdale credits Epictetus with helping him endure seven and a half years in a North Vietnamese military prison - including torture - and four years in solitary confinement.[20] In his conclusion, Stockdale quoted Epictetus as saying, "The emotions of grief, pity, and even affection are well-known disturbers of the soul. Grief is the most offensive; Epictetus considered the suffering of grief an act of evil. It is a willful act, going against the will of God to have all men share happiness" (p. 235).

Philosophy

Bernard Stiegler

When Bernard Stiegler was imprisoned for five years for armed robbery in France, he assembled an "ensemble of disciplines" which he called (in reference to Epictetus) his melete. This ensemble amounted to a practice of reading and writing which Stiegler derived from the writings of Epictetus. This led to his transformation, and upon being released from incarceration he became a professional philosopher. Stiegler tells the story of this transformation in his book, Acting Out.[21]

Literature

Laurence Sterne

A quotation from the Enchiridion is used as a title quotation in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman which can be translated as, "That the relish of goods and evils does in great measure depend upon the opinion we have of them". [22] This indicates that the quotation plays a key role in the title of the novel one of whose persistent themes is that the suffering of many of its characters (above all Walter Shandy) is the result of the opinions and assumptions they make about reality.

James Joyce

Epictetus is mentioned in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. In the fifth chapter of the novel the protagonist Stephen Daedalus discusses Epictetus's famous lamp with a Dean of his college: "-Epictetus also had a lamp, said the dean, which was sold for a fancy price after his death. It was the lamp he wrote his philosophical dissertations by. You know Epictetus? / -An old gentleman, said Stephen coarsely, who said that the soul is very like a bucketful of water. / -He tells us in his homely way, the dean went on, that he put an iron lamp before a statue of one of the gods and that a thief stole the lamp. What did the philosopher do? He reflected that it was in the character of a thief to steal and determined to buy an earthen lamp next day instead of the iron lamp" (pgs. 202-203 of the Penguin Edition). Epictetus recurs several times throughout this chapter.

J. D. Salinger

Epictetus is mentioned briefly in Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger. At one point Franny says: "I sat and I sat, and finally I got up and started writing things from Epictetus all over the blackboard. I filled the whole front blackboard--I didn't even know I'd remembered so much of him. I erased it--thank God!--before people started coming in. But it was a childish thing to do anyway--Epictetus would have absolutely hated me for doing it--but..."

Matthew Arnold

Epictetus is referred to, but not mentioned by name, in Arnold's sonnet To a Friend. Arnold provides three historical personalities as his inspiration and support in difficult times (Epictetus is preceded by Homer and succeeded by Sophocles):

Much he, whose friendship I not long since won,
That halting slave, who in Nicopolis
Taught Arrian, when Vespasian's brutal son
Cleared Rome of what most shamed him.[23]

Tom Wolfe

The philosophy of Epictetus plays a key role in the 1998 novel by Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full. This was in part the outcome of discussions Wolfe had with James Stockdale (see above). The importance of Epictetus' Stoicism for Stockdale, its role in A Man in Full, and its significance in Gladiator (2000 film) is discussed by William O. Stephens[24] in The Rebirth of Stoicism?[25]


Theodore Dreiser

Dreiser refers to Epictetus in his novel Sister Carrie. "It is the unintellectual miser who sweats blood at the loss of a hundred dollars. It is the Epictetus who smiles when the last vestige of physical welfare is removed."


John Berryman

Both the longevity of Epictetus's life and his philosophy are alluded to in Berryman's poem, "Of Suicide."

Psychology

Albert Ellis

Psychologist Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, credited Epictetus with providing a foundation for his system of psychotherapy.[26][27][28]

Religion

Kiyozawa Manshi

Kiyozawa Manshi, a controversial reformer within the Higashi Honganji branch of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism cited Epictetus as one of the three major influences on his spiritual development and thought.

Acting

Practical Aesthetics

Epictetus' philosophy is one of the influences which shaped the acting method introduced by David Mamet and William H. Macy, known as Practical Aesthetics. The main book describing the method, The Practical Handbook for the Actor, lists the Enchiridion in the bibliography.

Notes

  1. ^ His year of birth is uncertain. He must have been old enough to teach philosophy by the time Domitian banished all philosophers from Rome c. 93 AD. He also describes himself as an old man to Arrian c. 108 AD. cf. Discourses, i.9.10; i.16.20; ii.6.23; etc.
  2. ^ Suda, Epictetus.
  3. ^ Epictetus, Discourses, i.7.32.
  4. ^ Epictetus, Discourses, i.9.29.
  5. ^ Origen, Contra Celcus. vii.
  6. ^ a b Simplicius, Commentary on the Enchiridion, 13.
  7. ^ Suetonius, Domitian, x.
  8. ^ Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, xv. 11.
  9. ^ Hendrik Selle: Dichtung oder Wahrheit – Der Autor der Epiktetischen Predigten. Philologus 145 [2001] 269-290
  10. ^ a b c Epictetus, Discourses, prologue.
  11. ^ Epictetus, Discourses, i.11; ii.14; iii.4; iii. 7; etc.
  12. ^ Historia Augusta, Hadrian, 16.
  13. ^ Fox, Robin The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian Basic Books. 2006 pg 578
  14. ^ A surviving 2nd or 3rd century Altercatio Hadriani Et Epicteti gives a fictitious account of a conversation between Hadrian and Epictetus.
  15. ^ Simplicius, Commentary on the Enchiridion, 46. There is also a joke at Epictetus' expense in Lucian's Life of Demonax about the fact that he had no family.
  16. ^ Simplicius, Commentary on the Enchiridion, 46. He may have married her, but Simplicius' language is ambiguous.
  17. ^ He was apparently alive in the reign of Hadrian (117-138). Marcus Aurelius (born 121 AD) was an admirer of him but never met him, and Aulus Gellius (ii.18.10) writing mid century, speaks of him as if belonging to the recent past.
  18. ^ Lucian, Remarks to an illiterate book-lover.
  19. ^ Photius, Bibliotheca, states that there were eight books.
  20. ^ Stockdale, James Bond. 1993. Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior. Stanford: Hoover Institution/Stanford University.
  21. ^ Bernard Stiegler, Acting Out (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009).
  22. ^ Melvyn New, R.A. Davies, and W.G. Day, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Volume III: The Notes, p. 37 (The Florida Edition).
  23. ^ Matthew Arnold, To A Friend
  24. ^ William O. Stephens, Ph.D
  25. ^ The Rebirth of Stoicism
  26. ^ Ageless, Guiltless, by Adam Green.
  27. ^ Obituary by Morton Schatzman in The Independent.
  28. ^ Obituary by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian.

References

  • Epictetus, Robert Dobbin (trans.), Discourses and Selected Writings, Penguin Classics, ISBN 9780-140-44946-4, 2008.
  • Epictetus, Nicholas P. White (trans.), The Handbook, ISBN 0-915145-69-3, 1983.
  • Epictetus, George Long (trans.), Enchiridion, ISBN 0-87975-703-5, 1955.
  • Adolf Friedrich Bonhoffer, William O. Stephens trans., The Ethics of the Stoic Epictetus, ISBN 0-8204-5139-8, 2000.
  • A. A. Long, Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, ISBN 0-19-924556-8, 2002.
  • William O. Stephens, Stoic Ethics: Epictetus and Happiness as Freedom, ISBN 0-8264-9608-3, 2007.
  • Epictetus, The Discourses (The Handbook, Fragments), Everyman Edition, Edited by Christopher Gill, ISBN 0-460-87312-1, 2003.
  • Robert Dobbin, Epictetus Discourses: Book 1 (Clarendon Later Ancient Philosophers), Oxford: Clarendon Press, ISBN 0-19-823664-6, 1998.
  • Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981–1982, New York: Picador, 2005, ISBN 0-312-42570-8.
  • Epictetus: The Discourses, trans. W. A. Oldfather. 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library edition.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925 & 1928. ISBN 0-674-99145-1 and ISBN 0-674-99240-7.
  • Theodore Scaltsas, Andrew S. Mason (ed.), The Philosophy of Epictetus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

If a man would pursue Philosophy, his first task is to throw away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit that he already knows.

Epictetus (c. 55 - c. 135 AD) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. The name given by his parents, if one was given, is not known -the word epiktetos in Greek simply means "acquired."

Contents

Sourced

Discourses

  • To the rational being only the irrational is unendurable, but the rational is endurable.
    • Book I, ch. 2
  • "But to be hanged—is that not unendurable?" Even so, when a man feels that it is reasonable, he goes off and hangs himself.
    • Book I, ch. 2
  • When you close your doors, and make darkness within, remember never to say that you are alone, for you are not alone; nay, God is within, and your genius is within. And what need have they of light to see what you are doing?
    • Book I, ch. 14
  • No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.
    • Book I, ch. 15
  • Practice yourself, for heaven's sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater.
    • Book I, ch. 18
  • It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • It is difficulties that show what men are.
    • Book I, ch. 24
  • The good or ill of man lies within his own will.
    • Book I, ch. 25
  • In theory there is nothing to hinder our following what we are taught; but in life there are many things to draw us aside.
    • Book I, ch. 26
  • Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man's task.
    • Book I, ch. 27
  • Only the educated are free.
    • Book II, ch. 1
  • For it is not death or pain that is to be feared, but the fear of pain or death.
    • Book II, ch. 1
  • Shall I show you the sinews of a philosopher? "What sinews are those?" - A will undisappointed; evils avoided; powers daily exercised, careful resolutions; unerring decisions.
    • Book II, ch. 8
  • What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.
    • Book II, ch. 17
  • Whatever you would make habitual, practice it; and if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practice it, but accustom yourself to something else.
    • Book II, ch. 18
  • Be not swept off your feet by the vividness of the impression, but say, "Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are and what you represent. Let me try you."
    • Book II, ch. 18
  • Two principles we should always have ready - that there is nothing good or evil save in the will; and that we are not to lead events, but to follow them.
    • Book III, ch. 10
  • First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
    • Book III, ch. 23

The Enchiridion (c. 135)

as translated by Elizabeth Carter

  • Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. (1)
  • Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. (5)
  • With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them. (10)
  • Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth. (15)
  • 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 don't act right, shun the action itself; but, if you do, why are you afraid of those who censure you wrongly? (35)
  • Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don't lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried; but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried. (43)
  • These reasonings are unconnected: "I am richer than you, therefore I am better"; "I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better." The connection is rather this: "I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours." But you, after all, are neither property nor style.(44)
  • Does anyone bathe in a mighty little time? Don't say that he does it ill, but in a mighty little time. Does anyone drink a great quantity of wine? Don't say that he does ill, but that he drinks a great quantity. For, unless you perfectly understand the principle from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill? Thus you will not run the hazard of assenting to any appearances but such as you fully comprehend. (45)
  • Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them. Thus, at an entertainment, don't talk how persons ought to eat, but eat as you ought. For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked. So that if ever any talk should happen among the unlearned concerning philosophic theorems, be you, for the most part, silent. For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don't throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested. (46)
  • Whatever moral rules you have deliberately proposed to yourself. abide by them as they were laws, and as if you would be guilty of impiety by violating any of them. Don't regard what anyone says of you, for this, after all, is no concern of yours. How long, then, will you put off thinking yourself worthy of the highest improvements and follow the distinctions of reason? You have received the philosophical theorems, with which you ought to be familiar, and you have been familiar with them. What other master, then, do you wait for, to throw upon that the delay of reforming yourself?... Let whatever appears to be the best be to you an inviolable law.(50)
  • The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is that of the use of moral theorems, such as, "We ought not to lie;" the second is that of demonstrations, such as, "What is the origin of our obligation not to lie;" the third gives strength and articulation to the other two, such as, "What is the origin of this is a demonstration." For what is demonstration? What is consequence? What contradiction? What truth? What falsehood? The third topic, then, is necessary on the account of the second, and the second on the account of the first. But the most necessary, and that whereon we ought to rest, is the first. But we act just on the contrary. For we spend all our time on the third topic, and employ all our diligence about that, and entirely neglect the first. (51)
  • Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:
Conduct me, Jove, and you, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my station.
~ Cleanthes
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still
Whoever yields properly to Fate, is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of heaven.
~ Euripides, Frag. 965
And this third: O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot. ~ Socrates in Plato's Crito and Apology

Golden Sayings of Epictetus

as translated by Hastings Crossley

  • Try to enjoy the great festival of life with other men. (3)
  • Thou shalt not blame or flatter any. (6)
  • But God hath introduced Man to be a spectator of Himself and of His works; and not a spectator only, but also an interpreter of them. Wherefore it is a shame for man to begin and to leave off where the brutes do. Rather he should begin there, and leave off where Nature leaves off in us: and that is at contemplation, and understanding, and a manner of life that is in harmony with herself. See then that ye die not without being spectators of these things. (13)
  • If what philosophers say of the kinship of God and Men be true, what remains for men to do but as Socrates did:—never, when asked one’s country, to answer, 'I am an Athenian or a Corinthian,' but 'I am a citizen of the world.' (15)
  • True instruction is this: —to learn to wish that each thing should come to pass as it does. And how does it come to pass? As the Disposer has disposed it. Now He has disposed that there should be summer and winter, and plenty and dearth, and vice and virtue, and all such opposites, for the harmony of the whole. (26)
  • Have this thought ever present with thee, when thou losest any outward thing, what thou gainest in its stead; and if this be the more precious, say not, I have suffered loss. (27)
  • Concerning the Gods, there are who deny the very existence of the Godhead; others say that it exists, but neither bestirs nor concerns itself nor has forethought for anything. A third party attribute to it existence and forethought, but only for great and heavenly matters, not for anything that is on earth. A fourth party admit things on earth as well as in heaven, but only in general, and not with respect to each individual. A fifth, of whom were Ulysses and Socrates, are those that cry:— I move not without Thy knowledge! (28)
  • You are impatient and hard to please. If alone, you call it solitude: if in the company of men, you dub them conspirators and thieves, and find fault with your very parents, children, brothers and neighbours. Whereas when by yourself you should have called it Tranquillity and Freedom: and herein deemed yourself like unto the Gods. And when in the company of the many, you should not have called it a wearisome crowd and tumult, but an assembly and a tribunal; and thus accepted all with contentment. What then is the chastisement of those who accept it not? To be as they are. Is any discontented with being alone? let him be in solitude. Is any discontented with his parents? let him be a bad son, and lament. Is any discontented with his children? let him be a bad father.—"Throw him into prison!"—What prison?—Where he is already: for he is there against his will; and wherever a man is against his will, that to him is a prison. Thus Socrates was not in prison since he was there with his own consent. (31 & 32)
  • When we are invited to a banquet, we take what is set before us; and were one to call upon his host to set fish upon the table or sweet things, he would be deemed absurd. Yet in a word, we ask the Gods for what they do not give; and that, although they have given us so many things! (35)
  • If then all things that grow, nay, our own bodies, are thus bound up with the whole, is not this still truer of our souls? And if our souls are bound up and in contact with God, as being very parts and fragments plucked from Himself, shall He not feel every movement of theirs as though it were His own, and belonging to His own nature? (36)
  • 'But' you say, 'I cannot comprehend all this at once.' —Why, who told you that your powers were equal to God's? Yet God hath placed by the side of each a man’s own Guardian Spirit, who is charged to watch over him—a Guardian who sleeps not nor is deceived. For to what better or more watchful Guardian could He have committed each of us? So when you have shut the doors and made a darkness within, remember never to say that you are alone; for you are not alone, but God is within, and your Guardian Spirit, and what light do they need to behold what you do? To this God you also should have sworn allegiance, even as soldiers unto Cæsar. They, when their service is hired, swear to hold the life of Cæsar dearer than all else: and will you not swear your oath, that are deemed worthy of so many and great gifts? And will you not keep your oath when you have sworn it? And what oath will you swear? Never to disobey, never to arraign or murmur at aught that comes to you from His hand: never unwillingly to do or suffer aught that necessity lays upon you... They swear to hold no other dearer than Cæsar: you, to hold our true selves dearer than all else beside. (37)
  • What you shun enduring yourself, attempt not to impose on others. You shun slavery—beware of enslaving others! If you can endure to do that, one would think you had been once upon a time a slave yourself. For Vice has nothing in common with virtue, nor Freedom with slavery. (41)
  • A guide, on finding a man who has lost his way, brings him back to the right path—he does not mock and jeer at him and then take himself off. You also must show the unlearned man the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as you do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel your own incapacity. (63)
  • It was the first and most striking characteristic of Socrates never to become heated in discourse, never to utter an injurious or insulting word—on the contrary, he persistently bore insult from others and thus put an end to the fray. (64)
  • If a man would pursue Philosophy, his first task is to throw away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit that he already knows. (72)
    • Variant: It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.
  • If you have given way to anger, be sure that over and above the evil involved therein, you have strengthened the habit, and added fuel to the fire. If overcome by a temptation of the flesh, do not reckon it a single defeat, but that you have also strengthened your dissolute habits. Habits and faculties are necessarily affected by the corresponding acts... One who has had fever, even when it has left him, is not in the same condition of health as before, unless indeed his cure is complete. Something of the same sort is true also of diseases of the mind. Behind, there remains a legacy of traces and of blisters: and unless these are effectually erased, subsequent blows on the same spot will produce no longer mere blisters, but sores. If you do not wish to be prone to anger, do not feed the habit; give it nothing which may tend to its increase. At first, keep quiet and count the days when you were not angry: 'I used to be angry every day, then every other day: next every two, next every three days!' and if you succeed in passing thirty days, sacrifice to the Gods in thanksgiving. (75)
  • If you have assumed a character beyond your strength, you have both played a poor figure in that, and neglected one that is within your powers. (79)
  • Canst thou judge men?... then make us imitators of thyself, as Socrates did. Do this, do not do that, else will I cast thee into prison; this is not governing men like reasonable creatures. Say rather, As God hath ordained, so do; else thou wilt suffer chastisement and loss. Askest thou what loss? None other than this: To have left undone what thou shouldst have done: to have lost the faithfulness, the reverence, the modesty that is in thee! Greater loss than this seek not to find! (91)
  • To you, all you have seems small: to me, all I have seems great. Your desire is insatiable, mine is satisfied. See children thrusting their hands into a narrow-necked jar, and striving to pull out the nuts and figs it contains: if they fill the hand, they cannot pull it out again, and then they fall to tears.—'Let go a few of them, and then you can draw out the rest!'—You, too, let your desire go! covet not many things, and you will obtain (95)
  • 'My brother ought not to have treated me thus.' True: but he must see to that. However he may treat me, I must deal rightly by him. This is what lies with me, what none can hinder. (97)
  • Till then these sound opinions have taken firm root in you, and you have gained a measure of strength for your security, I counsel you to be cautious in associating with the uninstructed. Else whatever impressions you receive upon the tablets of your mind in the School will day by day melt and disappear, like wax in the sun. Withdraw then somewhere far from the sun, while you have these waxen sentiments. (107)
  • If you seek Truth, you will not seek to gain a victory by every possible means; and when you have found Truth, you need not fear being defeated. (149)
  • If thou wouldst make progress, be content to seem foolish and void of understanding with respect to outward things. Care not to be thought to know anything. If any should make account of thee, distrust thyself. (158)
  • Keep death and exile daily before thine eyes, with all else that men deem terrible, but more especially Death. Then wilt thou never think a mean thought, nor covet anything beyond measure. (161)
  • Piety towards the Gods, be sure, consists chiefly in thinking rightly concerning them—that they are, and that they govern the Universe with goodness and justice; and that thou thyself art appointed to obey them, and to submit under all circumstances that arise; acquiescing cheerfully in whatever may happen, sure that it is brought to pass and accomplished by the most Perfect Understanding. Thus thou wilt never find fault with the Gods, nor charge them with neglecting thee. (163)
  • Let silence be your general rule; or say only what is necessary and in few words. We shall, however, when occasion demands, enter into discourse sparingly, avoiding such common topics as gladiators, horse-races, athletes; and the perpetual talk about food and drink. Above all avoid speaking of persons, either in the way of praise or blame, or comparison. If you can, win over the conversation of your company to what it should be by your own. But if you should find yourself cut off without escape among strangers and aliens, be silent. (164)
  • Refuse altogether to take an oath if you can, if not, as far as may be. (166)
  • When you have decided that a thing ought to be done, and are doing it, never shun being seen doing it, even though the multitude should be likely to judge the matter amiss. For if you are not acting rightly, shun the act itself; if rightly, however, why fear misplaced censure? (172)
  • Everything has two handles, one by which it may be borne, the other by which it may not. If your brother sin against you lay not hold of it by the handle of his injustice, for by that it may not be borne: but rather by this, that he is your brother, the comrade of your youth; and thus you will lay hold on it so that it may be borne. (174)
  • It is hard to combine and unite these two qualities, the carefulness of one who is affected by circumstances, and the intrepidity of one who heeds them not. But it is not impossible: else were happiness also impossible. We should act as we do in seafaring: “What can I do?”—Choose the master, the crew, the day, the opportunity. Then comes a sudden storm. What matters it to me? my part has been fully done. The matter is in the hands of another—the Master of the ship. The ship is foundering. What then have I to do? I do the only thing that remains to me—to be drowned without fear, without a cry, without upbraiding God, but knowing that what has been born must likewise perish. For I am not Eternity, but a human being—a part of the whole, as an hour is part of the day. I must come like the hour, and like the hour must pass! (186)
  • What wouldst thou be found doing when overtaken by Death? If I might choose, I would be found doing some deed of true humanity, of wide import, beneficent and noble. But if I may not be found engaged in aught so lofty, let me hope at least for this—what none may hinder, what is surely in my power—that I may be found raising up in myself that which had fallen; learning to deal more wisely with the things of sense; working out my own tranquillity, and thus rendering that which is its due to every relation of life…. If death surprise me thus employed, it is enough if I can stretch forth my hands to God and say, “The faculties which I received at Thy hands for apprehending this thine Administration, I have not neglected. As far as in me lay, I have done Thee no dishonour. Behold how I have used the senses, the primary conceptions which Thou gavest me. Have I ever laid anything to Thy charge? Have I ever murmured at aught that came to pass, or wished it otherwise? Have I in anything transgressed the relations of life? For that Thou didst beget me, I thank Thee for that Thou hast given: for the time during which I have used the things that were Thine, it suffices me. Take them back and place them wherever Thou wilt! They were all Thine, and Thou gavest them me.”—If a man depart thus minded, is it not enough? What life is fairer or more noble, what end happier than his? (189)

Fragments

  • The soul that companies with Virtue is like an ever-flowing source. It is a pure, clear, and wholesome draught; sweet, rich, and generous of its store; that injures not, neither destroys.
    • Fragment ii
  • Crows pick out the eyes of the dead, when the dead have no longer need of them; but flatterers mar the soul of the living, and her eyes they blind.
    • Fragment iv
  • Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.
    • Fragment vi
  • Do not give sentence in another tribunal till you have been yourself judged in the tribunal of Justice.
    • Fragment vii
  • Give me by all means the shorter and nobler life, instead of one that is longer but of less account!
    • Fragment ix
  • Freedom is the name of virtue: Slavery, of vice…. None is a slave whose acts are free.
    • Fragment x
  • Of pleasures, those which occur most rarely give the most delight.
    • Fragment xi
  • Exceed due measure, and the most delightful things become the least delightful.
    • Fragment xii
  • The anger of an ape—the threat of a flatterer:—these deserve equal regard.
    • Fragment xiii
  • A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope.
    • Fragment xvi
  • Fortify thyself with contentment: that is an impregnable stronghold.
    • Fragment xvii
  • Think of God more often than thou breathest.
    • Fragment xix
  • Choose the life that is noblest, for custom can make it sweet to thee.
    • Fragment xx
  • Let thy speech of God be renewed day by day, aye, rather than thy meat and drink.
    • Fragment xxi
  • Even as the Sun doth not wait for prayers and incantations to rise, but shines forth and is welcomed by all: so thou also wait not for clapping of hands and shouts and praise to do thy duty; nay, do good of thine own accord, and thou wilt be loved like the Sun.
    • Fragment xxii
  • Let no man think that he is loved by any who loveth none.
    • Fragment xxiii
  • If thou rememberest that God standeth by to behold and visit all that thou doest; whether in the body or in the soul, thou surely wilt not err in any prayer or deed; and thou shalt have God to dwell with thee.
    • Fragment xxiv
  • You are a little soul, carrying a corpse.
    • Fragment xxvi
  • It is more necessary for the soul to be cured than the body; for it is better to die than to live badly.
    • Fragment xxxii

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From LoveToKnow 1911

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