The Golden Sayings
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The Golden Sayings
Are these the only works of Providence within us? What words suffice to
praise or set them forth? Had we but understanding, should we ever cease
hymning and blessing the Divine Power, both openly and in secret, and telling
of His gracious gifts? Whether digging or ploughing or eating, should we
not sing the hymn to God:-- Great is God, for that He hath given us such
instruments to till the ground withal: Great is God, for that He hath given
us hands and the power of swallowing and digesting; of unconsciously growing
and breathing while we sleep! Thus should we ever have sung; yea and this,
the grandest and divinest hymn of all:-- Great is God, for that He hath
given us a mind to apprehend these things, and duly to use them! What then!
seeing that most of you are blinded, should there not be some one to fill
this place, and sing the hymn to God on behalf of all men? What else can
I that am old and lame do but sing to God? Were I a nightingale, I should
do after the manner of a nightingale. Were I a swan, I should do after
the manner of a swan. But now, since I am a reasonable being, I must sing
to God: that is my work: I do it, nor will I desert this my post, as long
as it is granted me to hold it; and upon you too I call to join in this
How then do men act? As though one returning to his country who
had sojourned for the night in a fair inn, should be so captivated thereby
as to take up his abode there. "Friend, thou hast forgotten thine intention!
This was not thy destination, but only lay on the way thither." "Nay, but
it is a proper place." "And how many more of the sort there may be; only
to pass through upon thy way! Thy purpose was to return to thy country;
to relieve thy kinsmen's fears for thee; thyself to discharge the duties
of a citizen; to marry a wife, to beget offspring, and to fill the appointed
round of office. Thou didst not come to choose out what places are most
pleasant; but rather to return to that wherein thou wast born and where
wert appointed to ba a citizen."
Try to enjoy the great festival of life with other
But I have one whom I must please, to whom I must be subject, whom
I must obey:-- God, and those who come next to Him. He hath entrusted me
with myself: He hath made my will subject to myself alone and given me
rules for the right use thereof.
Rufus used to say, If you have leisure to praise me, what I say
is naught. In truth he spoke in such wise, that each of us who sat there,
though that some one had accused him to Rufus:-- so surely did he lay his
finger on the very deeds we did: so surely display the faults of each before
his very eyes.
But what saith God?-- "Had it been possible, Epictetus, I would
have made both that body of thine and thy possessions free and unimpeded,
but as it is, be not deceived:-- it is not thine own; it is but finely
tempered clay. Since then this I could not do, I have given thee a portion
of Myself, in the power of desiring and declining and of pursuing and avoiding,
and is a word the power of dealing with the things of sense. And if thou
neglect not this, but place all that thou hast therein, thou shalt never
be let or hindered; thou shalt never lament; thou shalt not blame or flatter
any. What then? Seemth this to thee a little thing?"--God forbid!--"Be
content then therewith!" And so I pray the Gods.
What saith Antisthenes? Hast thou never heard?-- It is a kingly
thing, O Cyrus, to do well and to be evil spoken of.
"Aye, but to debase myself thus were unworthy of me." "That," said
Epictetus, "is for you to consider, not for me. You know yourself what
you are worth in your own eyes; and at what price you will sell yourself.
For men sell themselves at various prices. This was why, when Florus was
deliberating whether he should appear at Nero's shows, taking part in the
performance himself, Agrippinus replied, 'But why do not you appear?' he
answered, 'Because I do not even consider the question.' For the man who
has once stooped to consider such questions, and to reckon up the value
of external things, is not far from forgetting what manner of man he is.
Why, what is it that you ask me? Is death preferable, or life? I reply,
Life. Pain or pleasure? I reply, Pleasure." "Well, but if I do not act,
I shall lose my head." "Then go and act! But for my part I will not act."
"Why?" "Because you think yourself but one among the many threads which
make up the texture of the doublet. You should aim at being like men in
general--just as your thread has no ambition either to be anything distinguished
compared with the other threads. But I desire to be the purple--that small
and shining part which makes the rest seem fair and beautiful. Why then
do you bid me become even as the multitude? Then were I no longer the
If a man could be throughly penetrated, as he ought, with this
thought, that we are all in an especial manner sprung from God, and that
God is the Father of men as well as of Gods, full surely he would never
conceive aught ignoble or base of himself. Whereas if Caesar were to adopt
you, your haughty looks would be intolerable; will you not be elated at
knowing that you are the son of God? Now however it is not so with us:
but seeing that in our birth these two things are commingled--the body
which we share with the animals, and the Reason and Thought which we share
with the Gods, many decline towards this unhappy kinship with the dead,
few rise to the blessed kinship with the Divine. Since then every one must
deal with each thing according to the view which he forms about it, those
few who hold that they are born for fidelity, modesty, and unerring sureness
in dealing with the things of sense, never conceive aught base or ignoble
of themselves: but the multitude the contrary. Why, what am I?--A wretched
human creature; with this miserable flesh of mine. Miserable indeed! but
you have something better than that paltry flesh of yours. Why then cling
to the one, and neglect the other?
Thou art but a poor soul laden with a lifeless
The other day I had an iron lamp placed beside my household gods.
I heard a noise at the door and on hastening down found my lamp carried
off. I reflected that the culprit was in no very strange case. "Tomorrow,
my friend," I said, "you will find an earthenware lamp; for a man can only
lose what he has."
The reason why I lost my lamp was that the thief was superior to
me in vigilance. He paid however this price for the lamp, that in exchange
for it he consented to become a thief: in exchange for it, to become
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.
You journey to Olympia to see the work of Phidias; and each of
you holds it a misfortune not to have beheld these things before you die.
Whereas when there is no need even to take a journey, but you are on the
spot, with the works before you, have you no care to contemplate and study
these? Will you not then perceive either who you are or unto what end you
were born: or for what purpose the power of contemplation has been bestowed
on you? "Well, but in life there are some things disagreeable and hard
to bear." And are there none at Olympia? Are you not scorched by the heat?
Are you not cramped for room? Have you not to bathe with discomfort? Are
you not drenched when it rains? Have you not to endure the clamor and shouting
and such annoyances as these? Well, I suppose you set all this over against
the splendour of the spectacle and bear it patiently. What then? have you
not received greatness of heart, received courage, received fortitude?
What care I, if I am great of heart, for aught that can come to pass? What
shall cast me down or disturb me? What shall seem painful? Shall I not
use the power to the end for which I received it, instead of moaning and
wailing over what comes to pass?
If what philosophers say of the kinship of God and Man 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."
He that hath grasped the administration of the World, who hath
learned that this Community, which consists of God and men, is the foremost
and mightiest and most comprehensive of all:-- that from God have descended
the germs of life, not to my father only and father's father, but to all
things that are born and grow upon the earth, and in an especial manner
to those endowed with Reason (for those only are by their nature fitted
to hold communion with God, being by means of Reason conjoined with Him)
--why should not such an one call himself a citizen of the world? Why not
a son of God? Why should he fear aught that comes to pass among men? Shall
kinship with Caesar, or any other of the great at Rome, be enough to hedge
men around with safety and consideration, without a thought of apprehension:
while to have God for our Maker, and Father, and Kinsman, shall not this
set us free from sorrows and fears?
I do not think that an old fellow like me need have been sitting
here to try and prevent your entertaining abject notions of yourselves,
and talking of yourselves in an abject and ignoble way: but to prevent
there being by chance among you any such young men as, after recognising
their kindred to the Gods, and their bondage in these chains of the body
and its manifold necessities, should desire to cast them off as burdens
too grievous to be borne, and depart their true kindred. This is the struggle
in which your Master and Teacher, were he worthy of the name, should be
engaged. You would come to me and say: "Epictetus, we can no longer endure
being chained to this wretched body, giving food and drink and rest and
purification: aye, and for its sake forced to be subservient to this man
and that. Are these not things indifferent and nothing to us? Is it not
true that death is no evil? Are we not in a manner kinsmen of the Gods,
and have we not come from them? Let us depart thither, whence we came:
let us be freed from these chains that confine and press us down. Here
are thieves and robbers and tribunals: and they that are called tyrants,
who deem that they have after a fashion power over us, because of the miserable
body and what appertains to it. Let us show them that they have power over
And to this I reply:-- "Friends, wait for God. When He gives the
signal, and releases you from this service, then depart to Him. But for
the present, endure to dwell in the place wherein He hath assigned you
your post. Short indeed is the time of your habitation therein, and easy
to those that are minded. What tyrant, what robber, what tribunals have
any terrors for those who thus esteem the body and all that belong to it
as of no account? Stay; depart not rashly hence!"
Something like that is what should pass between a teacher and ingenuous
youths. As it is, what does pass? The teacher is a lifeless body, and you
are lifeless bodies yourselves. When you have had enough to eat today,
you sit down and weep about tomorrow's food. Slave! if you have it, well
and good; if not, you will depart: the door is open--why lament? What further
room is there for tears? What further occasion for flattery? Why should
one envy another? Why should you stand in awe of them that have much or
are placed in power, especially if they be also strong and passionate?
Why, what should they do to us? What they can do, we will not regard: what
does concern us, that they cannot do. Who then shall rule one that is thus
Seeing this then, and noting well the faculties which you have,
you should say,--"Send now, O God, any trial that Thou wilt; lo, I have
means and powers given me by Thee to acquit myself with honour through
whatever comes to pass!"-- No; but there you sit, trembling for fear certain
things should come to pass, and moaning and groaning and lamenting over
what does come to pass. And then you upbraid the Gods. Such meanness of
spirit can have but one result--impiety. Yet God has not only given us
these faculties by means of which we may bear everything that comes to
pass without being curshed or depressed thereby; but like a good King and
Father, He has given us this without let or hindrance, placed wholly at
our own disposition, without reserving to Himself any power of impediment
or restraint. Though possessing all these things free and all you own,
you do not use them! you do not perceive what it is you have received nor
whence it comes, but sit moaning and groaning; some of you blind to the
Giver, making no acknowledgment to your Benefactor; others basely giving
themselves to complaints and accusations against God. Yet what faculties
and powers you possess for attaining courage and greatness of heart, I
can easily show you; what you have for upbraiding and accusation, it is
for you to show me!
How did Socrates bear himself in this regard? How else than as
became one who was fully assured that he was the kinsman of
If God had made that part of His own nature which He severed from
Himself and gave to us, liable to be hindered or constrained either by
Himself or any other, He would not have been God, nor would He have been
taking care of us as He ought . . . . If you choose, you are free; if you
choose, you need blame no man-- accuse no man. All things will be at once
according to your mind and according to the Mind of
Petrifaction is of two sorts. There is petrifaction of the understanding;
and also of the sense of shame. This happens when a man obstinately refuses
to acknowledge plain truths, and persists in maintaining what is self-contradictory.
Most of us dread mortification of the body, and would spare no pains to
escape anything of that kind. But of mortification of the soul we are utterly
heedless. With regard, indeed, to the soul, if a man is in such a state
as to be incapable of following or understanding anything, I grant you
we do think him in a bad way. But mortification of the sense of shame and
modesty we go so far as to dub strength of mind!
If we were as intent upon our business as the old fellows at Rome
are upon what interests them, we too might perhaps accomplish something.
I know a man older than I am, now Superintendent of the Corn-market at
Rome, and I remember when he passed through this place on his way back
from exile, what an account he gave me of his former life, declaring that
for the future, once home again, his only care should be to pass his remaining
years in quiet and tranquility. "For how few years have I left!" he cried.
"That," I said, "you will not do; but the moment the scent of Rome is in
your nostrils, you will forget it all; and if you can but gain admission
to Court, you will be glad enough to elbow your way in, and thank God for
it." "Epictetus," he replied, "if ever you find me setting as much as one
foot within the Court, think what you will of me." Well, as it was, what
did he do? Ere ever he entered the city, he was met by a despatch from
the Emperor. He took it, and forgot the whole of his resolutions. From
that moment, he has been piling one thing upon another. I should like to
be beside him to remind him of what he said when passing this way, and
to add, How much better a prophet I am than you! What then? do I say man
is not made for an active life? Far from it! . . . But there is a great
difference between other men's occupations and ours. . . . A glance at
theirs will make it clear to you. All day long they do nothing but calculate,
contrive, consult how to wring their profit out of food-stuffs, farm-plots
and the like. . . . Whereas, I entreat you to learn what the administration
of the World is, and what place a Being endowed with reason holds therein:
to consider what you are yourself, and wherein your Good and Evil
A man asked me to write to Rome on his behalf who, as most people
thought, had met with misfortune; for having been before wealthy and distinguished,
he had afterwards lost all and was living here. So I wrote about him in
a humble style. He however on reading the letter returned it to me, with
the words: "I asked for your help, not for your pity. No evil has happened
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.
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.
Concerning the Gods, there are who deny the very existence of the
Godhead; others say that it exists, but neither bestirs nor concerns itself
norhas 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
Considering all these things, the good and true man submits his
judgement to Him that administers the Universe, even as good citizens to
the law of the State. And he that is being instructed should come thus
minded:--How may I in all things follow the Gods; and, How may I rest satisfied
with the Divine Administration; and, How may I become free? For he is free
for whom all things come to pass according to his will, and whom none can
hinder. What then, is freedom madness? God forbid. For madness and freedom
exist not together. "But I wish all that I desire to come to pass and in
the manner that I desire." --You are mad, you are beside yourself. Know
you not that Freedom is a glorious thing and of great worth? But that what
I desired at random I should wish at random to come to pass, so far from
being noble, may well be exceeding base.
You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to become
a man's own, unless each day he maintain it and hear it maintained, as
well as work it out in life.
You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to become
a man's own, unless each day he maintain it and hear it maintained, as
well as work it out in life.
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 prision!"--What prision?-- Where he is already: for he is there
against his will; and wherever a man is against his will, that to him is
a prision. Thus Socrates was not in prision, since he was there with his
Knowest thou what a speck thou art in comparison with the Universe?---That
is, with respect to the body; since with respect to Reason, thou art not
inferior to the Gods, nor less than they. For the greatness of Reason is
not measured by length or height, but by the resolves of the mind. Place
then thy happiness in that wherein thou art equal to the
Asked how a man might eat acceptably to the Gods, Epictetus replied:--If
when he eats, he can be just, cheerful, equable, temperate, and orderly,
can he not thus eat acceptably to the Gods? But when you call for warm
water, and your slave does not answer, or when he answers brings it lukewarm,
or is not even found to be in the house at all, then not to be vexed nor
burst with anger, is not that acceptable to the Gods? "But how can one
endure such people?" Slave, will you not endure your own brother, that
has God to his forefather, even as a son sprung from the same stock, and
of the same high descent as yourself? And if you are stationed in a high
position, are you therefor forthwith set up for a tyrant? Remember who
you are, and whom you rule, that they are by nature your kinsmen, your
brothers, the offspring of God. "But I paid a price for them, not they
for me." Do you see whither you are looking--down to the earth, to the
pit, to those despicable laws of the dead? But to the laws of the Gods
you do not look.
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
Asked how a man might convince himself that every single act of
his was under the eye of God, Epictetus answered:-- "Do you not hold that
things on earth and things in heaven are continuous and in unison with
each other?" "I do," was the reply. "Else how should the trees so regularly,
as though by God's command, at His bidding flower; at His bidding send
forth shoots, bear fruit and ripen it; at His bidding let it fall and shed
their leaves, and folded up upon themselves lie in quietness and rest?
How else, as the Moon waxes and wanes, as the Sun approaches and recedes,
can it be that such vicissitude and alternation is seen in earthly things?
"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?"
"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 wach 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 soliders unto Caesar. They,
when their service is hired, swear to hold the life of Caesar 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. "Is this oath like theirs?"
They swear to hold no other dearer than Caesar: you, to hold our true selves
dearer than all else beside.
"How shall my brother cease to be wroth with me?" Bring him to
me, and I will tell him. But to thee I have nothing to say about his
When one took counsel of Epictetus, saying, "What I seek is this,
how even though my brother be not reconciled to me, I may still remain
as Nature would have me to be," he replied: "All great things are slow
of growth; nay, this is true even of a grape or of a fig. If then you say
to me now, I desire a fig, I shall answer, It needs time: wait till it
first flower, then cast its blossom, then ripen. Whereas then the fruit
of the fig-tree reaches not maturity suddenly nor yet in a single hour,
do you nevertheless desire so quickly, and easily to reap the fruit of
the mind of man?-- Nay, expect it not, even though I bade
Epaphroditus had a shoemaker whom he sold as being good-for-nothing.
This fellow, by some accident, was afterwards purchased by one of Caesar's
men, and became a shoemaker to Caesar. You should have seen what respect
Epaphroditus paid him then. "How does the good Felicion? Kindly let me
know!" And if any of us inquired, "What is Epaphroditus doing?" the answer
was, "He is consulting about so and so with Felicion."-- Had he not sold
him as good-for-nothing? Who had in a trice converted him into a wiseacre?
This is what comes of holding of importance anything but the things that
depend on the Will.
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 thing you had been once upon a time a slave yourself. For
Vice has nothing in common with virtue, nor Freedom with
Has a man been raised to tribuneship? Every one that he meets congratulates
him. One kisses him on the eyes, another on the neck, while the slaves
kiss his hands. He goes home to find torches burning; he ascends to the
Capitol to sacrifice.-- Who ever sacrificed for having had right desires;
for having conceived such inclinations as Nature would have him? In truth
we thank the Gods for that wherein we place our happiness.
A man was talking to me to-day about the priesthood of Augustus. I said
to him, "Let the thing go, my good Sir; you will spend a good deal to no
purpose." "Well, but my name will be inserted in all documents and contracts."
"Will you be standing there to tell those that read them, That is my name
written there? And even if you could now be there in every case, what will
you do when you are dead?" "At all events my name will remain." "Inscribe
it on a stone and it will remain just as well. And think, beyond Nicopolis
what memory of you will there be?"
"But I shall have a golden wreath to wear."
"If you must have a wreath, get a wreath of roses and put it on;
you will look more elegant!"
Above all, remember that the door stands open. Be not more fearful
than children; but as they, when they weary of the game, cry, "I will play
no more," even so, when thou art in the like case, cry, "I will play no
more" and depart. But if thou stayest, make no lamentation.
Is there smoke in the room? If it be slight, I remain; if grievous,
I quit it. For you must remember this and hold it fast, that the door stands
"You shall not dwell at Nicopolis!"
Well and good.
"Nor at Athens."
Then I will not dwell at Athens either.
"Nor at Rome."
Nor at Rome either.
"You shall dwell in Gyara!"
Well: but to dwell in Gyara seems to me like a grievous smoke;
I depart to a place where none can forbid me to dwell: that habitation
is open unto all! As for the last garment of all, that is the poor body;
beyond that, none can do aught unto me. This why Demetrius said to Nero:
"You threaten me with death; it is Nature who threatens
The beginning of philosophy is to know the condition of one's own
mind. If a man recognises that this is in a weakly state, he will not then
want to apply it to questions of the greatest moment. As it is, men who
are not fit to swallow even a morsel, buy whole treatises and try to devour
them. Accordingly they either vomit them up again, or suffer from indigestion,
whence come gripings, fluxions, and fevers. Whereas they should have stopped
to consider their capacity.
In theory it is easy to convince an ignorant person: in actual
life, men not only object to offer themselves to be convinced, but hate
the man who has convinced them. Whereas Socrates used to say that we should
never lead a life not subjected to examination.
This is the reason why Socrates, when reminded that he should prepare
for his trial, answered: "Thinkest thou not that I have been preparing
for it all my life?"
"In what way?"
"I have maintained that which in me lay/"
"I have never, secretly or openly, done a wrong unto
In what character dost thou now come forward?
As a witness summoned by God. "Come thou," saith God, "and testify
for me, for thou art worthy of being brought forward as a witness by Me.
Is aught that is outside thy will either good or bad? Do I hurt any man?
Have I placed the good of each in the power of any other than himself?
What witness dost thou bear to God?"
"I am in evil state, Master, I am undone! None careth for me, none
giveth me aught: all men blame, all speak evil of me."
Is this the witness thou wilt bear, and do dishonour to the calling
wherewith He hath called thee, because He hath done thee so great honour,
and deemed thee worthy of being summoned to bear witness in so great a
Wouldst thou have men speak good of thee? speak good of them. And
when thou hast learned to speak good of them, try to do good unto them,
and thus thou wilt reap in return their speaking good of
When thou goest in to any of the great, remember that Another from
above sees what is passing, and that thou shouldst please Him rather than
man. He therefore asks thee:--
"In the Schools, what didst thou call exile, imprisionment, bonds,
death and shame?"
"I called them things indifferent."
"What then dost thou call them now? Are they at all
"Is it then thou that art changed?"
"Say then, what are things indifferent?"
"Things that are not in our power."
"Say then, what follows?"
"That things which are not in our power are nothing to
"Say also what things you hold to be good."
"A will such as it ought to be, and a right use of the things of
"And what is the end?"
"To follow Thee!"
"That Socrates should ever have been so treated by the
Slave! why say "Socrates"? Speak of the thing as it is: That ever
then the poor body of Socrates should have been dragged away and haled
by main force to prision! That ever hemlock should have been given to the
body of Socrates; that that should have breathed its life away!-- Do you
marvel at this? Do you hold this unjust? Is it for this that you accuse
God? Had Socrates no compensation for this? Where then for him was the
ideal Good? Whom shall we hearken to, you or him? And what says
"Anytus and Melitus may put me to death: to injure me is beyond
"If such be the will of God, so let it be."
Nay, young man, for heaven's sake; but once thou hast heard these
words, go home and say to thyself:--"It is not Epictetus that has told
me these things: how indeed should he? No, it is some gracious God through
him. Else it would never have entered his head to tell me them--he that
is not used to speak to any one thus. Well, then, let us not lie under
the wrath of God, but be obedient unto Him."---Nay, indeed; but if a raven
by its croaking bears thee any sign, it is not the raven but God that sends
the sign through the raven; and if He signifies anything to thee through
human voice, will He not cause the man to say these words to thee, that
thou mayest know the power of the Divine-- how He sends a sign to some
in one way and to others in another, and on the greatest and highest matters
of all signifies His will through the noblest messenger?
What else does the poet mean:--
I spake unto him erst Myself, and sent
Hermes the shining One, to check and warn him,
The husband not to slay, nor woo the wife!
In the same way my friend Heraclitus, who had a trifling suit about
a petty farm at Rhodes, first showed the judges that his cause was just,
and then at the finish cried, "I will not entreat you: nor do I care what
sentence you pass. It is you who are on your trial, not I!"--And so he
ended the case.
As for us, we behave like a herd of deer. When they flee from the
huntsman's feathers in affright, which way do they turn? What haven of
safety do they make for? Why, they rush upon the nets! And thus they perish
by confounding what they should fear with that wherein no danger lies.
. . . Not death or pain is to be feared, but the fear of death or pain.
Well said the poet therefore:--
Death has no terror; only a Death of shame!
How is it then that certain external things are said to be natural,
and other contrary to Nature?
Why, just as it might be said if we stood alone and apart from
others. A foot, for instance, I will allow it is natural should be clean.
But if you take it as a foot, and as a thing which does not stand by itself,
it will beseem it (if need be) to walk in the mud, to tread on thorns,
and sometimes even to be cut off, for the benefit of the whole body; else
it is no longer a foot. In some such way we should conceive of ourselves
also. What art thou?--A man.--Looked at as standing by thyself and separate,
it is natural for thee in health and wealth long to live. But looked at
as a Man, and only as a part of a Whole, it is for that Whole's sake that
thou shouldest at one time fall sick, at another brave the perils of the
sea, again, know the meaning of want and perhaps die an early death. Why
then repine? Knowest thou not that as the foot is no more a foot if detached
from the body, so thou in like case art no longer a Man? For what is a
Man? A part of a City:--first of the City of Gods and Men; next, of that
which ranks nearest it, a minature of the universal City. . . . In such
a body, in such a world enveloping us, among lives like these, such things
must happen to one or another. Thy part, then, being here, is to speak
of these things as is meet, and to order them as befits the
That was a good reply which Diogenes made to a man who asked him
for letters of recommendation.--"That you are a man, he will know when
he sees you;--whether a good or bad one, he will know if he has any skill
in discerning the good or bad. But if he has none, he will never know,
though I write him a thousand times."-- It is as though a piece of silver
money desired to be recommended to some one to be tested. If the man be
a good judge of silver, he will know: the coin will tell its own
Even as the traveller asks his way of him that he meets, inclined
in no wise to bear to the right rather than to the left (for he desires
only the way leading whither he would go), so should we come unto God as
to a guide; even as we use our eyes without admonishing them to show us
some things rather than others, but content to receive the images of such
things as they present to us. But as it is we stand anxiously watching
the victim, and with the voice of supplication call upon the augur:-- "Master,
have mercy on me: vouchsafe unto me a way of escape!" Slave, would you
then have aught else then what is best? is there anything better than what
is God's good pleasure? Why, as far as in you lies, would you corrupt your
Judge, and lead your Counsellor astray?
God is beneficent. But the Good also is beneficent. It should seem
then that where the real nature of God is, there too is to be found the
real nature of the Good. What then is the real nature of God?--Intelligence,
Knowledge, Right Reason. Here then without more ado seek the real nature
of the Good. For surely thou dost not seek it in a plant or in an animal
that reasoneth not.
Seek then the real nature of the Good in that without whose presence
thou wilt not admit the Good to exist in aught else.-- What then? Are not
these other things also works of God?--They are; but not preferred to honour,
nor are they portions of God. But thou art a thing preferred to honour:
thou art thyself a fragment torn from God:--thou hast a portion of Him
within thyself. How is it then that thou dost not know thy high descent
--dost not know whence thou comest? When thou eatest, wilt thou not remember
who thou art that eatest and whom thou feedest? In intercourse, in exercise,
in discussion knowest thou not that it is a God whom thou feedest, a God
whom thou exercisest, a God whom thou bearest about with thee, O miserable!
and thou perceivest it not. Thinkest thou that I speak of a God of silver
or gold, that is without thee? Nay, thou bearest Him within thee! all unconcious
of polluting Him with thoughts impure and unclean deeds. Were an image
of God present, thou wouldest not dare to act as thou dost, yet, when God
Himself is present within thee, beholding and hearing all, thou dost not
blush to think such thoughts and do such deeds, O thou that art insensible
of thine own nature and liest under the wrath of God!
Why then are we afraid when we send a young man from the Schools
into active life, lest he should indulge his appetites intemperately, lest
he should debase himself by ragged clothing, or be puffed up by fine raiment?
Knows he not the God within him; knows he not with whom he is starting
on his way? Have we patience to hear him say to us, Would I had thee with
me!--Hast thou not God where thou art, and having Him dost thou still seek
for any other! Would He tell thee aught else than these things? Why, wert
thou a statue of Phidias, an Athena or a Zeus, thou wouldst bethink thee
both of thyself and thine artificer; and hadst thou any sense, thou wouldst
strive to do no dishonour to thyself or him that fashioned thee, nor appear
to beholders in unbefitting guise. But now, because God is thy Maker, is
that why thou carest not of what sort thou shalt show thyself to be? Yet
how different the artists and their workmanship! What human artist's work,
for example, has in it the faculties that are displayed in fashioning it?
Is it aught but marble, bronze, gold, or ivory? Nay, when the Athena of
Phidias has put forth her hand and received therein a Victory, in that
attitude she stands for evermore. But God's works move and breathe; they
use and judge the things of sense. The workmanship of such an Artist, wilt
thou dishonor Him? Ay, when he not only fashioned thee, but placed thee,
like a ward, in the care and guardianship of thyself alone, wilt thou not
only forget this, but also do dishonour to what is committed to thy care!
If God had entrusted thee with an orphan, wouldst thou have thus neglected
him? He hath delivered thee to thine own care, saying, I had none more
faithful than myself: keep this man for me such as Nature hath made him--modest,
faithful, high-minded, a stranger to fear, to passion, to perturbation.
. . .
Such will I show myself to you all.--"What, exempt from sickness
also: from age, from death?"--Nay, but accepting sickness, accepting death
as becomes a God!
No labour, according to Diogenes, is good but that which aims at
producing courage and strength of soul rather than of
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.
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. If you care to know the extent of his power in
this direction, read Xenophon's Banquet, and you will see how many quarrels
he put an end to. This is why the Poets are right in so highly commending
Quickly and wisely withal even bitter feuds would he
Nevertheless the practice is not very safe at present, especially
in Rome. One who adopts it, I need not say, ought not to carry it out in
an obscure corner, but boldly accost, if occasion serve, some personage
of rank or wealth.
"Can you tell me, sir, to whose care you entrust your
"Is it to the first corner, who knows nothing about
"Well, what of the man who takes care of your gold, your silver
or your raiment?"
"He must be experienced also."
"And your body--have you ever considered about entrusting it to
any one's care?"
"Of course I have."
"And no doubt to a person of experience as a trainer, a
"And these things the best you possess, or have you anything more
"What can you mean?"
"I mean that which employs these; which weights all things; which
takes counsel and resolve."
"Oh, you mean the soul."
"You take me rightly; I do mean the soul. By Heaven, I hold that
far more precious than all else I possess. Can you show me then what care
you bestow on a soul? For it can scarcely be thought that a man of your
wisdom and consideration in the city would suffer your most precious possession
to go to ruin through carelessness and neglect."
"Well, do you take care of it yourself? Did any one teach you the
right method, or did you discover it yourself?"
Now here comes in the danger: first, that the great man may answer,
"Why, what is that to you, my good fellow? are you my master?" And then,
if you persist in troubling him, may raise his hand to strike you. It is
a practice of which I was myself a warm admirer until such experiences
as these befell me.
When a youth was giving himself airs in the Theatre and saying,
"I am wise, for I have conversed with many wise men," Epictetus replied,
"I too have conversed with many rich men, yet I am not
We see that a carpenter becomes a carpenter by learning certain
things: that a pilot, by learning certain things, becomes a pilot. Possibly
also in the present case the mere desire to be wise and good is not enough.
It is necessary to learn certain things. This is then the object of our
search. The Philosophers would have us first learn that there is a God,
and that His Providence directs the Universe; further, that to hide from
Him not only one's acts but even one's thoughts and intentions is impossible;
secondly, what the nature of God is. Whatever that nature is discovered
to be, the man who would please and obey Him must strive with all his might
to be made like unto him. If the Divine is faithful, he also must be faithful;
if free, he also must be free; if beneficent, he also must be beneficent;
if magnanimous, he also must be magnanimous. Thus as an imitator of God
must he follow Him in every deed and word.
If I show you, that you lack just what is most important and necessary
to happiness, that hitherto your attention has been bestowed on everything
rather than that which claims it most; and, to crown all, that you know
neither what God nor Man is-- neither what Good or Evil is: why, that you
are ignorant of everything else, perhaps you may bear to be told; but to
hear that you know nothing of yourself, how could you submit to that? How
could you stand your ground and suffer that to be proved? Clearly not at
all. You instantly turn away in wrath. Yet what harm have I done to you?
Unless indeed the mirror harms the ill-favoured man by showing him to himself
just as he is; unless the physician can be thought to insult his patient,
when he tells him:--"Friend, do you suppose there is nothing wrong with
you? why, you have a fever. Eat nothing to-day, and drink only water."
Yet no one says, "What an insufferable insult!" Whereas if you say to a
man, "Your desires are inflamed, your instincts of rejection are weak and
low, your aims are inconsistent, your impulses are not in harmony with
Nature, your opinions are rash and false," he forthwith goes away and complains
that you have insulted him.
Our way of life resembles a fair. The flocks and herds are passing
along to be sold, and the greater part of the crowd to buy and sell. But
there are some few who come only to look at the fair, to inquire how and
why it is being held, upon what authority and with what object. So too,
in this great Fair of life, some, like the cattle, trouble themselves about
nothing but the fodder. Know all of you, who are busied about land, slaves
and public posts, that these are nothing but fodder! Some few there are
attending the Fair, who love to contemplate what the world is, what He
that administers it. Can there be no Administrator? is it possible, that
while neither city nor household could endure even a moment without one
to administer and see to its welfare, this Fabric, so fair, so vast, should
be administered in order so harmonious, without a purpose and by blind
chance? There is therefore an Administrator. What is His nature and how
does He administer? And who are we that are His children and what work
were we born to perform? Have we any close connection or relation with
Him or not?
Such are the impressions of the few of whom I speak. And further,
they apply themselves solely to considering and examining the great assembly
before they depart. Well, they are derided by the multitude. So are the
lookers-on by the traders: aye, and if the beasts had any sense, they would
deride those who thought much of anything but fodder!
I think I know now what I never knew before--the meaning of the
common saying, A fool you can neither bend nor break. Pray heaven I may
never have a wise fool for my friend! There is nothing more intractable.--"My
resolve is fixed!"--Why so madman say too; but the more firmly they believe
in their delusions, the more they stand in need of treatment.
--"O! when shall I see Athens and its Acropolis again?"-- Miserable
man! art thou not contented with the daily sights that meet thine eyes?
canst thou behold aught greater or nobler than the Sun, Moon, and Stars;
than the outspread Earth and Sea? If indeed thous apprehendest Him who
administers the universe, if thou bearest Him about within thee, canst
thou still hanker after mere fragments of stone and fine rock? When thou
art about to bid farewell to the Sun and Moon itself, wilt thou sit down
and cry like a child? Why, what didst thou hear, what didst thou learn?
why didst thou write thyself down a philosopher, when thou mightest have
written what was the fact, namely, "I have made one or two Conpendiums,
I have read some works of Chrysippus, and I have not even touched the hem
of Philosophy's robe"!
Friend, lay hold with a desperate grasp, ere it is too late, on
Freedom, on Tranquility, on Greatness of soul! Lift up thy head, as one
escaped from slavery; dare to look up to God, and say:--"Deal with me henceforth
as Thou wilt; Thou and I are of one mind. I am Thine: I refuse nothing
that seeeth good to Thee; lead on whither Thou wilt; clothe me in what
garb Thou pleasest; wilt Thou have me a ruler or a subject--at home or
in exile-- poor or rich? All these things will I justify unto men for Thee.
I will show the true nature of each. . . ."
Who would Hercules have been had he loitered at home? no Hercules,
but Eurystheus. And in his wanderings through the world how many friends
and comrades did he find? but nothing dearer to him than God. Wherefore
he was believed to be God's son, as indeed he was. So then in obedience
to Him, he went about delivering the earth from injustice and
But thou art not Hercules, thou sayest, and canst not deliver others
from their iniquity--not even Theseus, to deliver the soil of Attica from
its monsters? Purge away thine own, cast forth thence--from thine own mind,
not robbers and monsters, but Fear, Desire, Envy, Malignity, Avarice, Effeminacy,
Intemperance. And these may not be cast out, except by looking to God alone,
by fixing thy affections on Him only, and by consecrating thyself to His
commands. If thou choosest aught else, with sighs and groans thou wilt
be forced to follow a Might greater than thine own, ever seeking Tranquillity
without, and never able to attain unto her. For thou seekest her where
she is not to be found; and where she is, there thou seekest her
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.
Give me but one young man, that has come to the School with this
intention, who stands forth a champion of this cause, and says, "All else
I renounce, content if I am but able to pass my life free from hindrance
and trouble; to raise my head aloft and face all things as a free man;
to look up to heaven as a friend of God, fearing nothing that may come
to pass!" Point out such a one to me, that I may say, "Enter, young man,
into possession of that which is thine own. For thy lot is to adorn Philosophy.
Thine are these possessions; thine these books, these
And when our champion has duly exercised himself in this part of
the subject, I hope he will come back to me and say:-- "What I desire is
to be free from passion and from perturbation; as one who grudges no pains
in the pursuit of piety and philosophy, what I desire is to know my duty
to the Gods, my duty to my parents, to my brothers, to my country, to
"Enter then on the second part of the subject; it is thine
"But I have already mastered the second part; only I wished to
stand firm and unshaken--as firm when asleep as when awake, as firm when
elated with wine as in despondency and dejection."
"Friend, you are verily a God! you cherish great
"The question at stake," said Epictetus, "is no common one; it
is this:--Are we in our senses, or are we not?"
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.
Those that were not there before, spring up: the rest gain in strength
and extent. This is the account which Philosophers give of the origin of
diseases of the mind:--Suppose you have once lusted after money: if reason
sufficient to produce a sense of evil be applied, then the lust is checked,
and the mind at once regains its original authority; whereas if you have
recourse to no remedy, you can no longer look for this return--on the contrary,
the next time it is excited by the corresponding object, the flame of desire
leaps up more quickly than before. By frequent repetition, the mind in
the long run becomes callous; and thus this mental disease produces confirmed
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 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 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.
How then may this be attained?--Resolve, now if never before, to
approve thyself to thyself; resolve to show thyself fair in God's sight;
long to be pure with thine own pure self and God!
That is the true athlete, that trains himself to resist such outward
impressions as these.
"Stay, wretched man! suffer not thyself to be carried away!" Great
is the combat, divine the task! you are fighting for Kingship, for Liberty,
for Happiness, for Tranquillity. Remember God: call upon Him to aid thee,
like a comrade that stands beside thee in the fight.
Who then is a Stoic--in the sense that we call a statue of Phidias
which is modelled after that master's art? Show me a man in this sense
modelled after the doctrines that are ever upon his lips. Show me a man
that is sick--and happy; an exile--and happy; in evil report--and happy!
Show me him, I ask again. So help me Heaven, I long to see one Stoic! Nay,
if you cannot show me one fully modelled, let me at least see one in whom
the process is at work--one whose bent is in that direction. Do me that
favour! Grudge it not to an old man, to behold a sight he has never yet
beheld. Think you I wish to see the Zeus or Athena of Phidias, bedecked
with gold and ivory?--Nay, show me, one of you, a human soul, desiring
to be of one mind with God, no more to lay blame on God or man, to suffer
nothing to disappoint, nothing to cross him, to yield neither to anger,
envy, nor jealousy--in a word, why disguise the matter? one that from a
man would fan become a God; one that while still imprisioned in this dead
body makes fellowship with God his aim. Show me him!--Ah, you cannot! Then
why mock yourselves and delude others? why stalk about tricked out in other
men's attrire, thieves and robbers that you are of names and things to
which you can show no title!
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
Fellow, you have come to blows at home with a slave: you have turned
the household upside down, and thrown the neighbourhood into confusion;
and do you come to me then with airs of assumed modesty--do you sit down
like a sage and criticise my explanantion of the readings, and whatever
idle babble you say has come into my head? Have you come full of envy,
and dejected because nothing is sent you from home; and while the discussion
is going on, do you sit brooding on nothing but how your father or your
brother are disposed towards you:--"What are they saying about me there?
at this moment they imagine I am making progress and saying, He will return
perfectly omniscient! I wish I could become omniscient before I return;
but that would be very troublesome. No one sends me anything--the baths
at Nicopolis are dirty; things are wretched at home and wretched here."
And then they say, "Nobody is any the better for the School."--Who comes
to the School with a sincere wish to learn: to submit his principles to
correction and himself to treatment? Who, to gain a sense of his wants?
Why then be surprised if you carry home from the School exactly what you
bring into it?
"Epictetus, I have often come desiring to hear you speak, and you
have never given me any answer; now if possible, I entreat you, say something
"Is there, do you think," replied Epictetus, "an art of speaking
as of other things, if it is to be done skilfully and with profit to the
"And are all profited by what they hear, or only some among them?
So that it seems there is an art of hearing as well as of speaking. . .
. To make a statue needs skill: to view a statue aright needs skill
"And I think all will allow that one who proposes to hear philosophers
speak needs a considerable training in hearing. Is that not so? The tell
me on what subject your are able to hear me."
"Why, on good and evil."
"The good and evil of what? a horse, an ox?"
"No; of a man."
"Do we know then what Man is? what his nature is? what is th idea
we have of him? And are our ears practised in any degree on the subject?
Nay, do you understand what Nature is? can you follow me in any degree
when I say that I shall have to use demonstration? Do you understand what
Demonstration is? what True or False is? . . .must I drive you to Philosophy?
. . .Show me what good I am to do by discoursing with you. Rouse my desire
to do so. The sight of a pasture it loves stirs in a sheep the desire to
feed: show it a stone or a bit of bread and it remains unmoved. Thus we
also have certain natural desires, aye, and one that moves us to speak
when we find a listener that is worth his salt: one that hhimself stirs
the spirit. But if he sits by like a stone or a tuft of grass, how can
he rouse a man's desire?"
"Then you will say nothing to me?"
"I can only tell you this: that one who knows not who he is and
to what end he was born; what kind of world this is and with whom he is
associated therein; one who cannot distinguish Good and Evil, Beauty and
Foulness, . . . Truth and Falsehood, will never follow Reason in shaping
his desires and impulses and repulsions, nor yet in assent, denial, or
suspension of judgement; but will in one word go about deaf and blind,
thinking himself to be somewhat, when he is in truth of no account. Is
there anything new in all this? Is not this ignorance the cause of all
the mistakes and mischances of men since the human race began? . .
"This is all I have to say to you, and even this against the grain.
Why? Because you have not stirred my spirit. For what can I see in you
to stir me, as a spirited horse will stir a judge of horses? Your body?
That you maltreat. Your dress? That is luxurious. You behavior, your look?--Nothing
whatever. When you want to hear a philosopher, do not say, You say nothing
to me'; only show yourself worthy or fit to hear, and then you will see
how you will move the speaker."
And now, when you see brothers apparently good friends and living
in accord, do not immediately pronounce anything upon their friendship,
though they should affirm it with an oath, though they should declare,
"For us to live apart in a thing impossible!" For the heart of a bad man
is faithless, unprincipled, inconstant: now overpowered by one impression,
now by another. Ask not the usual questions, Were they born of the same
parents, reared together, and under the same tutor; but ask this only,
in what they place their real interest--whether in outward things or in
the Will. If in outward things, call them not friends, any more than faithful,
constant, brave or free: call them not even human beings, if you have any
sense. . . . But should you hear that these men hold the Good to lie only
in the Will, only in rightly dealing with the things of sense, take no
more trouble to inquire whether they are father and son or brothers, or
comrades of long standing; but, sure of this one thing, pronounce as boldly
that they are friends as that they are faithful and just: for where else
can Friendship be found than where Modesty is, where there is an interchange
of things fair and honest, and of such only?
No man can rob us of our Will--no man can lord it over