The Golden Sayings
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The Golden Sayings
When disease and death overtake me, I would fain be found engaged in the
task of liberating mine oew Will from the assaults of passion, from hindrance,
from resentment, from slavery.
Thus would I fain to be found employed, so that I may say to God,
"Have I in aught transgressed Thy commands? Have I in aught perverted the
faculties, the senses, the natural principles that Thou didst give me?
Have I ever blamed Thee or found fault with Thine administration? When
it was Thy good pleasure, I fell sick-- and so did other men: by my will
consented. Because it was Thy pleasure, I became poor: but my heart rejoiced.
No power in the State was mine, because Thou wouldst not: such power I
never desired! Hast Thou ever seen me of more doleful countenance on that
account? Have I not ever drawn nigh unto Thee with cheerful look, waiting
upon Thy commands, attentive to Thy signals? Wilt Thou that I now depart
from the great Assembly of men? I go: I give Thee all thanks, that Thou
hast deemed me worthy to take part with Thee in this Assembly: to behold
Thy works, to comprehend this Thine administration."
Such I would were the subject of my thoughts, my pen, my study,
when death overtakes me.
Seemeth it nothing to you, never to accuse, never to blame either
God or Man? to wear ever the same countenance in going forth as in coming
in? This was the secret of Socrates: yet he never said that he knew or
taught anything. . . . Who amongst you makes this his aim? Were it indeed
so, you would gladly endure sickness, hunger, aye, death
How are we constituted by Nature? To be free, to be noble, to be
modest (for what other living thing is capable of blushing, or of feeling
the impression of shame?) and to subordinate pleasure to the ends for which
Nature designed us, as a handmaid and a minister, in order to call forth
our activity; in order to keep us constant to the path prescribed by
The husbandman deals with land; physicians and trainers with the
body; the wise man with his own Mind.
Which of us does not admire what Lycurgus the Spartan did? A young
citizen had put out his eye, and been handed over to him by the people
to be punished at his own discretion. Lycurgus abstained from all vengeance,
but on the contrary instructed and made a good man of him. Producing him
in public in the theatre, he said to the astonished Spartans:--"I received
this young man at your hands full of violence and wanton insolence; I restore
him to you in his right mind and fit to serve his country."
A money-changer may not reject Caesar's coin, nor may the seller
of herbs, but must when once the coin is shown, deliver what is sold for
it, whether he will or no. So is it also with the Soul. Once the Good appears,
it attracts towards itself; evil repels. But a clear and certain impression
of the Good the Soul will never reject, any more than men do Caesar's coin.
On this hangs every impulse alike of Man and God.
Asked what Common Sense was, Epictetus replied:--
As that may be called a Common Ear which distinguishes only sounds,
while that which distinguishes musical notes is not common but produced
by training; so there are certain things which men not entirely perverted
see by the natural principles common to all. Such a constitution of the
Mind is called Common Sense.
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 prision;
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!
"His son is dead."
What has happened?
"His son is dead."
"His ship is lost."
"He has been haled to prision."
What has happened?
"He has been haled to prision."
But that any of these things are misfortunes to him, is an addition
which every one makes of his own. But (you say) God is unjust is this.--Why?
For having given thee endurance and greatness of soul? For having made
such things to be no evils? For placing happiness within thy reach, even
when enduring them? For open unto thee a door, when things make not for
thy good?-- Depart, my friend and find fault no more!
You are sailing to Rome (you tell me) to obtain the post of Governor
of Cnossus. You are not content to stay at home with the honours you had
before; you want something on a larger scale, and more conspicuous. But
when did you ever undertake a voyage for the purpose of reviewing your
own principles and getting rid of any of them that proved unsound? Whom
did you ever visit for that object? What time did you ever set yourself
for that? What age? Run over the times of your life--by yourself, if you
are ashamed before me. Did you examine your principles when a boy? Did
you not do everything just as you do now? Or when you were a stripling,
attending the school of oratory and practising the art yourself, what did
you ever imagine you lacked? And when you were a young man, entered upon
public life, and were pleading causes and making a name, who any longer
seemed equal to you? And at what moment would you have endured another
examining your principles and proving that they were unsound? What then
am I to say to you? "Help me in this matter!" you cry. Ah, for that I have
no rule! And neither did you, if that was your object, come to me as a
philosopher, but as you might have gone to a herb-seller or a cobbler.--"What
do philosophers have rules for, then?"--Why, that whatever may betide,
our ruling faculty may be as Nature would have it, and so remain. Think
you this a small matter? Not so! but the greatest thing there is. Well,
does it need but a short time? Can it be grasped by a passer-by?--grasp
it, if you can!
Then you will say, "Yes, I met Epictetus!"
Aye, just as you might a statue or a monument. You saw me! and
that is all. But a man who meets a man is one who learns the other's mind,
and lets him see is in turn. Learn my mind--show me yours; and then go
and say that you met me. Let us try each other; if I have any wrong principle,
rid me of it; if you have, out with it. That is what meeting a philosopher
means. Not so, you think; this is only a flying visit; while we are hiring
the ship, we can see Epictetus too! Let us see what he has to say. Then
on leaving you cry, "Out on Epictetus for a worthless fellow, provincial
and barbarous of speech!" What else indeed did you come to judge
Whether you will or no, you are poorer than
"What then do I lack?"
What you have not: Constancy of mind, such as Nature would have
it be: Tranquillity. Patron or no patron, what care I? but you do care.
I am richer than you: I am not racked with anxiety as to what Caesar may
think of me; I flatter none on that account. This is what I have, instead
of vessels of gold and silver! your vessels may be of gold, but your reason,
your principles, your accepted views, your inclinations, your desires are
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.
Pittacus wronged by one whom he had it in his power to punish,
let him go free, saying, Forgiveness is better than revenge. The one shows
native gentleness, the other savagery.
"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
Nevertheless a man should also be prepared to be sufficient unto
himself--to dwell with himself alone, even as God dwells with Himself alone,
shares His repose with none, and considers the nature of His own administration,
intent upon such thoughts as are meet unto Himself. So should we also be
able to converse with ourselves, to need none else beside, to sigh for
no distraction, to bend our thoughts upon the Divine Administration, and
how we stand related to all else; to observe how human accidents touched
us of old, and how they touch us now; what things they are that still have
power to hurt us, and how they may be cured or removed; to perfect what
needs perfecting as Reason would direct.
If a man has frequent intercourse with others, either in the way
of conversation, entertainment, or simple familiarity, he must either become
like them, or change them to his own fashion. A live coal placed next a
dead one will either kindle that or be quenched by it. Such being the risk,
it is well to be cautious in admitting intimacies of this sort, remembering
that one cannot rub shoulders with a soot-stained man without sharing the
soot oneself. What will you do, supposing the talk turns on gladiators,
or horses, or prize-fighters, or (what is worse) on persons, condemning
this and that, approving the other? Or suppose a man sneers and jeers or
shows a malignant temper? Has any among us the skill of the lute-player,
who knows at the first touch which strings are out of tune and sets the
instrument right: has any of you such power as Socrates had, in all his
intercourse with men, of winning them over to his own convictions? Nay,
but you must needs be swayed hither and thither by the uninstructed. How
comes it then that they prove so much stronger than you? Because they speak
from the fulness of the heart--their low, corrupt views are their real
convictions: whereas your fine sentiments are but from the lips, outwards;
that is why they are so nerveless and dead. It turns one's stomach to listen
to your exhortations, and hear of your miserable Virtue, that you prate
of up and down. Thus it is that the Vulgar prove too strong for you. Everywhere
strength, everywhere victory waits your conviction!
In general, any methods of discipline applied to the body which
tend to modify its desires or repulsions, are good--for ascetic ends. But
if done for display, they betray at once a man who keeps an eye on outward
show; who has an ulterior purpose, and is looking for spectators to shout,
"Oh what a great man!" This is why Apollonius so well said: "If you are
bent upon a little private discipline, wait till you are choking with heat
some day--then take a mouthful of cold water, and spit it out again, and
tell no man!"
Study how to give as one that is sick: that thou mayest hereafter
give as one that is whole. Fast; drink water only; abstain altogether from
desire, that thou mayest hereafter conform thy desire to
Thou wouldst do good unto men? then show them by thine own example
what kind of men philosophy can make, and cease from foolish trifling.
Eating, do good to them that eat with thee; drinking, to them that drink
with thee; yield unto all, give way, and bear with them. Thus shalt thou
do them good: but vent not upon them thine own evil
Even as bad actors cannot sing alone, but only in chorus: so some
cannot walk alone.
Man, if thou art aught, strive to walk alone and hold converse
with thyself, instead of skulking in the chorus! at length think; look
aroung thee; bestir thyself, that thou mayest know who thou
You would fain be victor at the Olympic games, you say. Yes, but
weigh the conditions, weigh the consequences; then and then only, lay to
your hand--if it be for your profit. You must live by rule, submit to diet,
abstain from dainty meats, exercise your body perforce at stated hours,
in heat or in cold; drink no cold water, nor, it may be, wine. In a word,
you must surrender yourself wholly to your trainer, as though to a
Then in the hour of contest, you will have to delve the ground,
it may chance dislocate an arm, sprain an ankle, gulp down abundance of
yellow sand, be scourge with the whip--and with all this sometimes lose
the victory. Count the cost--and then, if your desire still holds, try
the wrestler's life. Else let me tell you that you will be behaving like
a pack of children playing now at wrestlers, now at gladiators; presently
falling to trumpeting and anon to stageplaying, when the fancy takes them
for what they have seen. And you are even the same: wrestler, gladiator,
philosopher, orator all by turns and none of them with your whole soul.
Like an ape, you mimic what you see, to one thing constant never; the thing
that is familiar charms no more. This is because you never undertook aught
with due consideration, nor after strictly testing and viewing it from
every side; no, your choice was thoughtless; the glow of your desire had
waxed cold . . . .
Friend, bethink you first what it is you would do, and then what
your own nature is able to bear. Would you be a wrestler, consider your
shoulders, your thighs, your lions--not all men are formed to the same
end. Think you to be a philosopher while acting as you do? think you go
on thus eating, thus drinking, giving way in like manner to wrath and to
displeasure? Nay, you must watch, you must labour; overcome certain desires;
quit your familiar friends, submit to be despised by your slave, to be
held in derision by them that meet you, to take the lower place in all
things, in office, in positions of authority, in courts of
Weigh these things fully, and then, if you will, lay to your hand;
if as the price of these things you would gain Freedom, Tranquillity, and
He that hath no musical instruction is a child in Music; he that
hath no letters is a child in Learning; he that is untaught is a child
Can any profit be derived from these men? Aye, from
"What, even from a reviler?"
"Why, tell me what profit a wrestler gains from him you exercises
him beforehand? The very greatest: he trains me in the practice of endurance,
of controlling my temper, of gentle ways. You deny it. What, the man who
lays hold of my neck, and disciplines loins and shoulders, does me good,
. . . while he that trains me to keep my temper does me none? This is what
it means, not knowing how to gain advantage from men! Is my neighbour bad?
Bad to himself, but good to me: he brings my good temper, my gentleness
into play. Is my father bad? Bad to himself, but good to me. This is the
rod of Hermes; touch what you will with it, they say, and it becomes gold.
Nay, but bring what you will and I will transmute it into Good. Bring sickness,
bring death, bring poverty and reproach, bring trial for life-- all these
things through the rod of Hermes shall be turned to
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
tge sun, while you have these waxen sentiments.
We must approach this matter in a different way; it is great and
mystical: it is no common thing; nor given to every man. Wisdom alone,
it may be, will not suffice for the care of youth: a man needs also a certain
measure of readiness--an aptitude for the office; aye, and certain bodily
qualities; and above all, to be counselled of God Himself to undertake
this post; even as He counselled Socrates to fill the post of one who confutes
error, assigning to Diogenes the royal office of high reproof, and to Zeno
that of positive instruction. Whereas you would fain set up for a physician
provided with nothing but drugs! Where and how they should be applied you
neither know nor care.
If what charms you is nothing but abstract principles, sit down
and turm them over quietly in your mind: but never dub yourself a Philosopher,
nor suffer others to call you so. Say rather: He is in error; for my desires,
my impulses are unaltered. I give in my adhesion to what I did before;
nor has my mode of dealing with the things of sense undergone any
When a friend inclined to Cynic views asked Epictetus, what sort
of person a true Cynic should be, requesting a general sketch of the system,
he answered:--"We will consider that at leisure. At present I content myself
with saying this much: If a man put his hand to so weighty a matter without
God, the wrath of God abides upon him. That which he covets will but bring
upon him public shame. Not even on finding himself in a well-ordered house
does a man step forward and say to himself, I must be master here! Else
the lord of that house takes notice of it, and, seeing him insolently giving
orders, drags him forth and chastises him. So it is also in this great
City, the World. Here also is there a Lord of the House, who orders all
"Thou are the Sun! in thine orbit thou hast power to make the year
and the seasons;
to bid the fruits of the earth to grow and increase, the winds
arise and fall; thou canst in due measure cherish with thy warmth the frames
of men; go make thy circuit, and thus minister unto all from the greatest
to the least! . . .
"Thou canst lead a host against Troy; be Agamemnon!" "Thou canst
meet Hector in single combat; be Achilles!"
But had Thersites stepped forward and claimed the chief command,
he had been met with a refusal, or obtained it only to his own shame and
confusion of face, before a cloud of witnesses."
Others may fence themselves with walls and houses, when they do
such deeds as these, and wrap themselves in darkness--aye, they have many
a device to hide themselves. Another may shut his door and station one
before his chamber to say, if any comes, He has gone forth! he is not at
leisure! But the true Cynic will have none of these things; instead of
them, he must wrap himself in Modesty: else he will but bring himself to
shame, naked and under the open sky. That is his house; that is his door;
that is the slave that guards his chamber; that is his
Death? let it come when it will, whether it smite but a part of
the whole: Fly, you tell me--fly! But whither shall I fly? Can any man
cast me beyond the limits of the World? It may not be! And whithersoever
I go, there shall I still find Sun, Moon, and Stars; there I shall find
dreams, and omens, and converse with the Gods!
Furthermore the true Cynic must know that he is sent as a Messenger
from God to men, to show unto them that as touching good and evil they
are in error; looking for these where they are not to be found, nor ever
bethinking themselves where they are. And like Diogenes when brought before
Philip after the battle of Chaeronea, the Cynic must remember that he is
a Spy. For a Spy he really is--to bring back word what things are on Man's
side, and what against him. And when he had diligently observed all, he
must come back with a true report, not terrified into announcing them to
be foes that are no foes, nor otherwise perturbed or confounded by the
things of sense.
How can it be that one who hath nothing, neither raimant, nor house,
nor home, nor bodily tendance, nor servant, nor city, should yet live tranquil
and contented? Behold God hath sent you a man to show you in act and deed
that it may be so. Behold me! I have neither house nor possessions nor
servants: the ground is my couch; I have no wife, no children, no shelter--nothing
but earth and sky, and one poor cloak. And what lack I yet? am I not untouched
by sorrow, by fear? am I not free? . . . when have I laid anything to the
charge of God or Man? when have I accussed any? hath any of you seen me
with a sorrowful countenance? And in what wise treat I those of whom you
stand in fear and awe? Is it not as slaves? Who when he seeth me doth not
think that he beholdeth his Master and his King?
Give thyself more diligently to reflection: know thyself: take
counsel with the Godhead: without God put thine hand unto
"But to marry and to rear offspring," said the young man, "will
the Cynic hold himself bound to undertake this as a chief
Grant me a republic of wise men, answered Epictetus, and perhaps
none will lightly take the Cynic life upon him. For on whose account should
he embrace that method of life? Suppose however that he does, there will
then be nothing to hinder his marrying and rearing offspring. For his wife
will be even such another as himself, and likewise her father; and in like
manner will his children be brought up.
But in the present condition of things, which resembles an Army
in battle array, ought not the Cynic to be free from all distraction and
given wholly to the service of God, so that he can go in and out among
men, neither fettered by the duties nor entangled by the relations of common
life? For if he transgress them, he will forfeit the character of a good
man and true; whereas if he observe them, there is an end to him as the
Messenger, the Spy, the Herald of the Gods!
Ask me if you choose if a Cynic shall engage in the administration
of the State. O fool, seek you a nobler administration that that in which
he is engaged? Ask you if a man shall come forward in the Athenian assembly
and talk about revenue and supplies, when his business is to converse with
all men, Athenians, Corinthians, and Romans alike, not about supplies,
not about revenue, nor yet peace and war, but about Happiness and Misery,
Prosperity and Adversity, Slavery and Freedom?
Ask you whether a man shall engage in the administration of the
State who has engaged in such an Administration as this? Ask me too if
he shall govern; and again I will answer, Fool, what greater government
shall he hold than he holds already?
Such a man needs also to have a certain habit of body. If he appears
consumptive, thin and pale, his testimony has no longer the same authority.
He must not only prove to the unlearned by showing them what his Soul is
that it is possible to be a good man apart from all that they admire; but
he must also show them, by his body, that a plain and simple manner of
life under the open sky does no harm to the body either. "See, I am proof
of this! and my body also." As Diogenes used to do, who went about fresh
of look and by the very appearance of his body drew men's eyes. But if
a Cynic is an object of pity, he seems a mere beggar; all turn away, all
are offended at him. Nor should he be slovenly of look, so as not to scare
men from him in this way either; on the contrary, his very roughness should
be clean and attractive.
Kings and tyrants have armed guards wherewith to chastise certain
persons, though they themselves be evil. But to the Cynic conscience gives
this power--not arms and guards. When he knows that he has watched and
laboured on behalf of mankind: that sleep hath found him pure, and left
him purer still: that his thoughts have been the thought of a Friend of
the Gods--of a servant, yet one that hath a part in the government of the
Supreme God: that the words are ever on his lips:--
Lead me, O God, and thou, O Destiny!
as well as these:--
If this be God's will, so let it be!
why should he not speak boldly unto his own brethren, unto his
children--in a word, unto all that are akin to him!
Does a Philosopher apply to people to come and hear him? does he
not rather, of his own nature, attract those that will be benefited by
him--like the sun that warms, the food that sustains them? What Physician
applies to men to come and be healed? (Though indeed I hear that the Physicians
at Rome do nowadays apply for patients--in my time they were applied to.)
I apply to you to come and hear that you are in evil case; that what deserves
your attention most in the last thing to gain it; that you know not good
from evil, and are in short a hapless wretch; a fine way to apply! though
unless the words of the Philosopher affect you thus, speaker and speech
are alike dead.
A Philosopher's school is a Surgery: pain, not pleasure, you should
have felt therein. For on entering none of you is whole. One has a shoulder
out of joint, another an abscess: a third suffers from an issue, a fourth
from pains in the head. And am I then to sit down and treat you to pretty
sentiments and empty flourishes, so that you may applaud me and depart,
with neither shoulder, nor head, nor issue, nor abscess a whit the better
for your visit? Is it then for this that young men are to quit their homes,
and leave parents, friends, kinsmen and substance to mouth out Bravo to
your empty phrases!
If any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason
of himself alone. For God hath made all men to enjoy felicity and constancy
Shall we never wean ourselves--shall we never heed the teachings
of Philosophy (unless perchance they have been sounding in our ears like
and enchanter's drone):--
This World is one great City, and one if the substance whereof
it is fashioned: a certain period indeed there needs must be, while these
give place to those; some must perish for others to succeed; some move
and some abide: yet all is full of friends-- first God, then Men, whom
Nature hath bound by ties of kindred each to each.
Nor did the hero weep and lament at leaving his children orphans.
For he knew that no man is an orphan, but it is the Father that careth
for all continually and for evermore. Not by mere report had he heard that
the Supreme God is the Father of men: seeing that he called Him Father
believing Him so to be, and in all that he did had ever his eyes fixed
upon Him. Wherefore in whatsoever place he was, there is was given him
to live happily.
Know you not that the thing is a warfare? one man's duty is to
mount guard, another must go out to reconnoitre, a third to battle; all
cannot be in one place, nor would it even be expedient. But you, instead
of executing you Commander's orders, complain if aught harsher than usual
is enjoined; not understanding to what condition you are bringing the army,
so far as in you lies. If all were to follow your example, none would dig
a trench, none would cast a rampart around the camp, none would keep watch,
or expose himself to danger; but all turn out useless for the service of
war. . . . Thus it is here also. Every life is a warfare, and that long
and various. You must fulfil a solider's duty, and obey each order at your
commander's nod: aye, if it be possible, divine what he would have done;
for between that Command and this, there is no comparison, either in might
or in excellence.
Have you again forgotten? Know you not that a good man does nothing
for appearance' sake, but for the sake of having done right? . .
"Is there no reward then?"
Reward! do you seek any greater reward for a good man than doing
what is right and just? Yet at the Great Games you look for nothing else;
there the victor's crown you deem enough. Seems it to you so small a thing
and worthless, to be a good man, and happy therein?
It befits thee not to be unhappy by reason of any, but rather to
be happy by reason of all men, and especially by reason of God, who formed
us to this end.
What, did Diogenes love no man, he that was so gentle, so true
a friend to men as cheerfully to endure such bodily hardships for the common
weal of all mankind? But how loved he them? As behoved a minister of the
Supreme God, alike caring for men and subject unto God.
I am by Nature made for my own good; not for my own
Remind thyself that he whom thou lovest is mortal--that what thou
lovest is not thine own; it is given thee for the present, not irrevocably
nor for ever, but even as a fig or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season
of the year. . . .
"But these are words of evil omen.". . .
What, callest thou aught of evil omen save that which signifies
some evil thing? Cowardice is a word of evil omen, if thou wilt, and meanness
of spirit, and lamentation and mourning, and shamelessness. . .
But do not, I pray thee, call of evil omen a word that is significant
of any natural thing:--as well call of evil omen the reaping of the corn;
for that means the destruction of the ears, though not of the World!--as
well say that the fall of the leaf is of evil omen; that the dried fig
should take the place of the green; that raisins should be made from grapes.
All these are changes from a former state into another; not destruction,
but an ordered economy, a fixed administration. Such is leaving home, a
change of small account; such is Death, a greater change, from what now
is, not to what is not, but to ehat is not now.
"Shall I then no longer be?"
Not so; thou wilt be; but something different, of which the World
now hath need. For thou too wert born not when thou chosest, but when the
World had need of thee.
Wherefore a good man and true, bearing in mind who he is and whence
he came and from whom he sprang, cares only how he may fill his post with
due discipline and obedience to God.
Wilt thou that I continue to live? Then will I live, as one that
is free and noble, as Thou wouldst have me. For Thow hast made me free
from hindrance in what appertaineth unto me. But hast Thou no further need
of me? I thank Thee! Up to this hour have I stayed for Thy sake and none
other's: and now in obedience to Thee I depart.
"How dost thou depart?"
Again I say, as Thoun wouldst have me; as one that is free, as
Thy servant, as one whose ear is open unto what Thou dost enjoin, what
Thou dost forbid.
Whatsoever place or post Thou assignest me, sooner will I die a
thousand deaths, as Socrates said, then depart it. And where wilt Thou
have be me? At Rome of Athens? At Thebes or on a desert island? Only remember
me there! Shouldst Thou send me where man cannot live as Nature would have
him, I will depart, not in disobedience to Thee, but as though Thou wert
sounding the signal for my retreat: I am not deserting Thee--far be that
from me! I only perceive that thou needest me no longer.
If you are in Gyaros, do not let your mind dwell upon life at Rome,
and all the pleasures it offered to you when living there, and all that
would attend your return. Rather be intent on this--how he that lives in
Gyaros may live in Gyaros like a man of spirit. And if you are at Rome,
do not let your mind dwell upon the life at Athens, but study only how
to live at Rome.
Finally, in the room of all other pleasures put this--the pleasure
which springs from concious obedience to God.
To a good man there is no evil, either in life or death. And if
God supply not food, has He not, as a wise Commander, sounded the signal
for retreat and nothing more? I obey, I follow-- speaking good of my Commander,
and praising His acts. For at His good pleasure I came; and I depart when
it pleases Him; and while I was yet alive that was my work, to sing praises
Reflect that the chief source of all evils to Man, and of baseness
and cowardice, is not death, but the fear of death.
Against this fear then, I pray you, harden yourself; to this let
all your reasonings, your exercises, your reading tend. Then shall you
know that thus alone are men set free.
He is free who lives as he wishes to live; to whom none can do
violence, none hinder or compel; whose impulses are unimpeded, whose desires
are attain their purpose, who falls not into what he would avoid. Whe then
would live in error?--None. Who would live deceived and prone to fall,
unjust, intemperate, in abject whining at his lot?--None. Then doth no
wicked man live as he would, and therefore neither is he
Thus do the more cautious of travellers act. The road is said to
be beset by robbers. The traveller will not venture alone, but awaits the
companionship on the road of an ambassador, a quaestor or a proconsul.
To him he attaches himself and thus passes by in safety. So doth the wise
man in the world. Many are the companies of robbers and tyrants, many the
storms, the straits, the losses of all a man holds dearest. Whither shall
he fall for refuge--how shall he pass by unassailed? What companion on
the road shall he await for protection? Such and such a wealthy man, of
consular rank? And how shall I be profited, if he is stripped and falls
to lamentation and weeping? And how if my fellow-traveller himself turns
upon me and robs me? What am I to do? I will become a friend of Caesar's!
in his train none will do me wrong! In the first place--O the indignities
I must endure to win distinction! O the multitude of hands there will be
to rob me! And if I succeed, Caesar too is but a mortal. While should it
come to pass that I offend him, whither shall I flee from his presence?
To the wilderness? And may not fever await me there? What then is to be
done? Cannot a fellow-traveller be found that is honest and loyal, stong
and secure against surprise? Thus doth the wise man reason, considering
that if he would pass through in safety, he must attach himself unto
"How understandest thou attach himself to God?"
That what God wills, he should will also; that what God wills not,
neither should he will.
"How then may this come to pass?"
By considering the movements of God, and His
And dost thou that hast received all from another's hands, repine
and blame the Giver, if He takes anything from thee? Why, who art thou,
and to what end comest thou here? was it not He that made the Light manifest
unto thee, that gave thee fellow-workers, and senses, and the power to
reason? And how brought He thee into the world? Was it not as one born
to die; as one bound to live out his earthly life in some small tabernacle
of flesh; to behold His administration, and for a little while share with
Him in the mighty march of this great Festival Procession? Now therefore
that thou hast beheld, while it was permitted thee, the Solemn Feast and
Assembly, wilt thou not cheerfully depart, whem He summons thee forth,
with adoration and thanksgiving for what thou hast seen and heard?--"Nay,
but I would fain have stayed longer at the Festival."--Ah, so would the
mystics fain have the rites prolonged; so perchance would the crowd at
the Great Games fain behold more wrestlers still. But the Solemn Assembly
is over! Come forth, depart with thanksgiving and modesty--give place to
others that must come into being even as thyself.
Why art thou thus insatiable? why thus unreasonable? why encumber
the world?--"Aye, but I fain would have my wife and children with me too."--What,
are they then thine, and not His that gave them--His that made thee? Give
up then that which is not thine own: yield it to One who is better than
thou. "Nay, but why did He bring one into the world on these conditions?"--If
it suits thee not, depart! He hath no need of a spectator who finds fault
with his lot! Them that will take part in the Feast he needeth--that will
lift their voices with the restm that men may applaud the more, and exalt
the Great Assembly in hymns and songs of praise. But the wretched and the
fearful He will not be displeased to see absent from it: for when they
were present, they did not behave as at a Feast, nor fulfil their proper
office; but moaned as though in pain, and found fault with their fate,
their fortune and their companions; insensible to what had fallen to their
lot, insensible to the powers they had received for a very different purpose--the
powers of Magnanimity, Nobility of Heart, of Fortitude, or
Art thou then free? a man may say. So help me heaven, I long and
pray for freedom! But I cannot look my masters boldly in the face; I still
value the poor body; I still set much store on its preservation whole and
But I can point thee out a free man, that thou mayest be no more
in search of an example. Diogenes was free. How so? Not because he was
of free parentage (for that, indeed, was not the case), but because he
was himself free. He had cast away every handle whereby slavery might lay
hold of him to enslave him, nor was it possible for any to approach and
take hold of him to enslave him. All things sat loose upon him--all things
were to him attached by but slender ties. Hadst thou siezed upon his possessions,
he would rather have let them go than have followed thee for them--aye,
had it been even a limb, or mayhap his whole body; and in like manner,
relatives, friends, and country. For he knew whence they came--from whose
hands and on what terms he had received them. His true forefathers, the
Gods, his true Country, he never would have abandoned; nor would he have
yielded to any man in obedience and submission to the one nor in cheerfully
dying for the other. For he was ever mindful that everything that comes
to pass has its source and origin there; being indeed brought about for
the weal of that his true Country, and directed by Him in whose governance
Ponder on this--on these convictions, on these words: fix thine
eyes on these examples, if thou wouldst be free, if thou hast thine heart
set upon the matter according to its worth. And what marvel if thou purchase
so great a thing at so great and high a price? For the sake of this that
men deem liberty, some hang themselves, others cast themselves down from
the rock; aye, time has been when whole cities came utterly to an end:
while for the sake of Freedom that is true, and sure, and unassailable,
dost thou grudge to God what He gave, when He claims it? Wilt thou not
study, as Plato saith, to endure, not death alone, but torture, exile,
stripes--in a word, to render up all that is not thine own? Else thou wilt
be a slave amid slaves, wert thou ten thousand times a consul; aye, not
a whit the less, though thou climb the Palace steps. And thou shalt know
how true the saying of Cleanthes, that though the words of philosophers
may run counter to the opinions of the world, yet have they reason on their
Asked how a man should best grieve his enemy, Epictetus replied,
"By setting himself to live the noblest life himself."
I am free, I am a friend of God, ready to render Him willing obedience.
Of all else I may set store by nothing--neither by mine own body, nor possessions,
nor office, nor good report, nor, in a word, aught else beside. For it
is not His Will, that I should so set store by these things. Had it been
His pleasure, He would have placed my Good therein. But now He hath not
done so: therefore I cannot transgress one jot of His commands. In everything
hold fast to that which is thy Good--but to all else (as far as is given
thee) within the measure of Reason only, contented with this alone. Else
thou wilt meet with failure, ill success, let and hindrance. These are
the Laws ordained of God-- these are His Edicts; these a man should expound
and interpret; to these submit himself, not to the laws of Masurius and
Remember that not the love of power and wealth sets us under the
heel of others, but even the love of tranquillity, of leisure, of change
of scene--of learning in general, it matters not what the outward thing
may be--to set store by it is to place thyself in subjection to another.
Where is the difference then between desiring to be a Senator, and desiring
not to be one: between thirsting for office and thirsting to be quit of
it? Where is the difference between crying, Woe is me, I know not what
to do, bound hand and foot as I am to my books so that I cannot stir! and
crying, Woe is me, I have not time to read! As though a book were not as
much an outward thing and independent of the will, as office and power
and the receptions of the great.
Or what reason hast thou (tell me) for desiring to read? For if
thou aim at nothing beyond the mere delight of it, or gaining some scrap
of knowledge, thou art but a poor, spiritless knave. But if thou desirest
to study to its proper end, what else is this than a life that flows on
tranquil and serene? And if thy reading secures thee not serenity, what
profits it?--"Nay, but it doth secure it," quoth he, "and that is why I
repine at being deprived of it."--And what serenity is this that lies at
the mercy of every passer-by? I say not at the mercy of the Emperor or
Emperor's favorite, but such as trembles at a raven's croak and piper's
din, a fever's touch or a thousand things of like sort! Whereas the life
serene has no more certain mark than this, that it ever moves with constant
If thou hast put malice and evil speaking from thee, altogether,
or in some degree: if thou hast put away from thee rashness, foulness of
tongue, intemperance, sluggishness: if thou art not moved by what once
moved thee, or in like manner as thou once wert moved--then thou mayest
celebrate a daily festival, to-day because thou hast done well in this
manner, to-morrow in that. How much greater cause is here for offering
sacrifice, than if a man should become Consul or Prefect?
These things hast thou from thyself and from the Gods: only remember
who it is that giveth them--to whom and for what purpose they were given.
Feeding thy soul on thoughts like these, dost thou debate in what place
happiness awaits thee? in what place thou shalt do God's pleasure? Are
not the Gods nigh unto all places alike; see they not alike what everywhere
comes to pass?
To each man God hath granted this inward freedom. These are the
principles that in a house create love, in a city concord, among nations
peace, teaching a man gratitude towards God and cheerful confidence, wherever
he may be, in dealing with outward things that he knows are neither his
nor worth striving after.
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
What foolish talk is this? how can I any longer lay claim to right
principles, if I am not content with being what I am, but am all aflutter
about what I am supposed to be?
God hath made all things in the world, nay, the world itself, free
from hindrance and perfect, and its parts for the use of the whole. Not
other creature is capable of comprehending His administration thereof;
but the reasonable being Man possesses faculties for the consideration
of all these things-- not only that he is himself a part, but what part
he is, and how it is meet that the parts should give place to the whole.
Nor is this all. Being naturally constituted noble, magnanimous, and free,
he sees that the things which surround him are of two kinds. Some are free
from hindrance and in the power of the will. Other are subject to hindrance,
and depend on the will of other men. If then he place his own good, his
own best interest, only in that which is free from hindrance and in his
power, he will be free, tranquil, happy, unharmed, noble-hearted, and pious;
giving thanks to all things unto God, finding fault with nothing that comes
to pass, laying no charge against anything. Whereas if he place his good
in outward things, depending not on the will, he must perforce be subject
to hindrance and restraint, the slave of those that have power over the
things he desires and fears; he must perforce be impious, as deeming himself
injured at the hands of God; he must be unjust, as ever prone to claim
more than his due; he must perforce be of a mean and abject
Whom then shall I fear? the lords of the Bedchamber, lest they
should shut me out? If they find me desirous of entering in, let them shut
me out, if they will.
"Then why comest thou to the door?"
Beacause I think it meet and right, so long as the Play lasts,
to take part therein.
"In what sense art thou then shut out?"
Because, unless I am admitted, it is not my will to enter: on the
contrary, my will is simply that which comes to pass. For I esteem what
God wills better than what I will. To Him will I cleave as His minister
and attendant; having the same movements, the same desires, in a word the
same Will as He. There is no such thing as being shut out for me, but only
for them that would force their way in.
But what says Socrates?--"One man finds pleasure in improving his
land, another his horses. My pleasure lies in seeing that I myself grow
better day by day."
The dress is suited to the craft; the craftsman takes his name
from the craft, not from the dress. For this reason Euphrates was right
in saying, "I long endeavoured to conceal my following the philosophic
life; and this profited me much. In the first place, I knew that what I
did aright, I did not for the sake of lookers-on, but for my own. I ate
aright--unto myself; I kept the even tenor of my walk, my glance composed
and serene-- all unto myself and unto God. Then as I fought alone, I was
alone in peril. If I did anything amiss or shameful, the cause of Philosophy
was not in me endangered; nor did I wrong the multitude by transgressing
as a professed philosopher. Wherefore those that knew not my purpose marvelled
how it came about, that whilst all my life and conversation was passed
with philosophers without exception, I was yet none myself. And what harm
that the philosopher should be known by his acts, instead of mere outward
signs and symbols?"
First study to conceal what thou art; seek wisdom a little while
unto thyself. Thus grows the fruit; first, the seed must be buried in the
earth for a little space; there it must be hid and slowly grow, that it
may reach maturity. But if it produce the ear before the jointed stalk,
it is imperfect--a thing from the garden of Adonis. Such a sorry growth
art thou; thou hast blossomed too soon: the winter cold will wither thee
First of all, condemn the life thou art now leading: but when thou
hast condemned it, do not despair of thyself--be not like them of mean
spirit, who once they have yielded, abandon themselves entirely and as
it were allow the torrent to sweep them away. No; learn what the wrestling
masters do. Has the boy fallen? "Rise," they say, "wrestle again, till
thy strength come to thee." Even thus should it be with thee. For know
that there is nothing more tractable than the human soul. It needs but
to will, and the thing is done; the soul is set upon the right path: as
on the contrary it needs but to nod over the task, and all is lost. For
ruin and recovery alike are from within.
It is the critical moment that shows the man. So when the crisis
is upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched
you with a rough and stalwart antagonist.--" To what end?" you ask. That
you may prove the victor at the Great Games. Yet without toil and sweat
this may not be!
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
Remember that in life thou shouldst order thy conduct as at a banquet.
Has any dish that is being served reached thee? Stretch forth thy hand
and help thyself modestly. Doth it pass thee by? Seek not to detain it.
Has it not yet come? Send not forth thy desire to meet it, but wait until
it reaches thee. Deal thus with children, thus with wife; thus with office,
thus with wealth--and one day thou wilt be meet to share the Banquets of
the Gods. But if thou dost not so much as touch that which is placed before
thee, but despisest it, then shalt thou not only share the Banquets of
the Gods, but their Empire also.
Remember that thou art an actor in a play, and of such sort as
the Author chooses, whether long or short. If it be his good pleasure to
assign thee the part of a beggar, a ruler, or a simple citizen, thine it
is to play it fitly. For thy business is to act the part assigned thee,
well: to choose it, is another's.
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 though, nor covet anything beyond measure.
As a mark is not set up in order to be missed, so neither is such
a thing as natural evil produced in the World.
Piety toward the Gods, to 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 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.
Lose no time in setting before you a certain stamp of character
and behaviour both when by yourself and in company with others. Let silence
be your general rule; or say only what is necessary and in few words. We
shall, however, when occassion demands, enter into discourse sparingly.
avoiding common topics as gladiators, horse-races, athletes; and the perpetual
talk about food and drink. Above all avoid speaking of persons, either
in 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 find yourself cut off without escape
among strangers and aliens, be silent.
Laughter should not be much, nor frequent, nor
Refuse altogether to take an oath if you can, if not, as far as
Banquets of the unlearned and of them that are without, avoid.
But if you have occasion to take part in them, let not your attention be
relaxed for a moment, lest you slip after all into evil ways. For you may
rest assured that be a man ever so pure himself, he cannot escape defilement
if his associates are impure.
Take what relates to the body as far as the bare use warrants--as
meat, drink, raiment, house and servants. But all that makes for show and
If you are told that such an one speaks ill of you, make no defence
against what was said, but answer, He surely knew not my other faults,
else he would not have mentioned these only!
When you visit any of those in power, bethink yourself that you
will not find him in: that you may not be admitted: that the door may be
shut in your face: that he may not concern himself about you. If with all
this, it is your duty to go, bear what happens, and never say to yourself,
It was not worth the trouble! For that would smack of the foolish and unlearned
who suffer outward things to touch them.
In company avoid frequent and undue talk about your own actions
and dangers. However pleasant it may be to you to enlarge upon the risks
you have run, others may not find such pleasure in listening to your adventures.
Avoid provoking laughter also: it is a habit from which one easily slides
into the ways of the foolish, and apt to diminish the respect which your
neighbors feel for you. To border on coarse talk is also dangerous. On
such occasions, if a convenient opportunity offer, rebuke the speaker.
If not, at least by relapsing into silence, colouring, and looking annoyed,
show that you are displeased with the subject.
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
It stamps a man of mean capacity to spend much time on the things
of the body, as to be long over bodily exercises, long over eating, long
over drinking, long over other bodily functions. Rather should these things
take the second place, while all your care is directed to the
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 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.
Never call yourself a Philosopher nor talk much among the unlearned
about Principles, but do that which follows from them. Thus at a banquet,
do not discuss how people ought to eat; but eat as you ought. Remember
that Socrates thus entirely avoided ostentation. Men would come to him
desiring to be recommended to philosophers, and he would conduct them thither
himself--so well did he bear being overlooked. Accordingly if any talk
concerning principles should arise among the unlearned, be you for the
most part silent. For you run great risk of spewing up what you have ill
digested. And when a man tells you that you know nothing and you are not
nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun the
When you have brought yourself to supply the needs of the body
at small cost, do not pique yourself on that, nor if you drink only water,
keep saying on each occasion, I drink water! And if you ever want to practise
endurance and toil, do so unto yourself and not unto others--do not embrace
When a man prides himself on being able to understand and interpret
the writings of Chrysippus, say to yourself:--
If Chrysippus had not written obscurely, this fellow would have
had nothing to be proud of. But what is it that I desire? To understand
Nature, and to follow her! Accordingly I ask who is the Interpreter. On
hearing that it is Chrysippus, I go to him. But it seems I do not understand
what he wrote. So I seek one to interpret that. So far there is nothing
to pride myself on. But when I have found my interpreter, what remains
is to put in practice his instructions. This itself is the only thing to
be proud of. But if I admire the interpretation and that alone, what else
have I turned out but a mere commentator instead of a lover of wisdom?--except
indeed that I happen to be interpreting Chrysippus instead of Homer. So
when any one says to me, Prithee, read me Chrysippus, I am more inclined
to blush, when I cannot show my deeds to be in harmony and accordance with
At feasts, remember that you are entertaining two guests, body
and soul. What you give to the body, you presently lose; what you give
to the soul, you keep for ever.
At meals, see to it that those who serve be not more in number
than those who are served. It is absurd for a crowd of persons to be dancing
attendance on half a dozen chairs.
It is best to share with your attendants what is going forward,
both in the labour of preparation and in the enjoyment of the feast itself.
If such a thing be difficult at the time, recollect that you who are not
weary are being served by those that are; you who are eating and drinking
by those who do neither; you who are talking by those who are silent; you
who are at ease by those who are under constraint. Thus no sudden wrath
will betray you into unreasonable conduct, nor will you behave harshly
by irritating another.
When Xanthippe was chiding Socrates for making scanty preparation
for entertaining his friends, he answered:--"If they are friends of our,
they will not care for that; if they are not, we shall care nothing for
Asked, Who is the rich man? Epictetus replied, "He who is
Favorinus tells us how Epictetus would also say that there were
two faults far graver and fouler than any others--inability to bear, and
inability to forbear, when we neither patiently bear the blows that must
be borne, nor abstain from the things and the pleasures we ought to abstain
from. "So," he went on, "if a man will only have these two words at heart,
and heed them carefully by ruling and watching over himself, he will for
the most part fall into no sin, and his life will be tranquil and serene."
He meant the words --"Bear and Forbear."
On all occasions these thoughts should be at
Lead me, O God, and Thou, O Destiny Be what it may the goal appointed
me, Bravely I'll follow; nay, and if I would not, I'd prove a coward, yet
must follow still!
Who to Necessity doth bow aright, Is learn'd in wisdom and the
things of God.
Crito, if this be God's will, so let it be. As for me, Anytus and
Meletus can indeed put me to death, but injure me, never!
We shall then be like Socrates, when we can indite hymns of praise
to the Gods in prison.
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
And now we are sending you to Rome to spy out the land; but none
send a coward as such a spy, that, if he hear but a noise and see a shadow
moving anywhere, loses his wits and comes flying to say, The enemy are
So if you go now, and come and tell us: "Everything at Rome is
terrible: Death is terrible, Exile is terrible, Slander is terrible, Want
is terrible; fly, comrades! the enemy are upon us!" we shall reply, Get
you gone, and prophesy to yourself! we have but erred in sending such a
spy as you. Diogenes, who was sent as a spy long before you, brought us
back another report than this. He says that Death is no evil; for it need
not even bring shame with it. He says that Fame is but the empty noise
of madmen. And what report did this spy bring us of Pain, what of Pleasure,
what of Want? That to be clothed in sackcloth is better than any purple
robe; that sleeping on the bare ground is the softest couch; and in proof
of each assertion he points to his own courage, constancy, and freedom;
to his own healthy and muscular frame. "There is no enemy near," he cries,
"all is perfect peace!"
If a man has this peace--not the peace proclaimed by Caesar (how
indeed should he have it to proclaim?), nay, but the peace proclaimed by
God through reason, will not that suffice him when alone, when he beholds
and reflects:--Now can no evil happen unto me; for me there is no robber,
for me no earthquake; all things are full of peace, full of tranquillity;
neither highway nor city nor gathering of men, neither neighbor nor comrade
can do me hurt. Another supplies my food, whose care it is; another my
raiment; another hath given me perceptions of sense and primary conceptions.
And when He supplies my necessities no more, it is that He is sounding
the retreat, that He hath opened the door, and is saying to thee, Come!--Wither?
To nought that thou needest fear, but to the friendly kindred elements
whence thou didst spring. Whatsoever of fire is in thee, unto fire shall
return; whatsoever of earth, unto earth; of spirit, unto spirit; of water,
unto water. There is no Hades, no fabled rivers of Sighs, of Lamentation,
or of Fire: but all things are full of Beings spiritual and divine. With
thoughts like these, beholding the Sun, Moon, and Stars, enjoying earth
and sea, a man is neither helpless nor alone!
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 Thous 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 and more noble, what end happier than