Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, [1916], at



If this is true, and if we are not silly and insincere when we say that for men good and evil lies in the region of the will, and that everything else has no concern for us, why are we disturbed or fearful any more? No one has authority over the things in which we are interested: and we pay no regard to the things over which others have authority. What more have we to trouble about?

'Nay, but give me commands' (says the student).

What command should I give you? Has not Zeus laid commands upon you? Has He not given you what is yours, free from hindrance and constraint, and what is not yours subject to hindrance and constraint? What command then have you brought with you into the world, and what manner of ordinance? Guard what is your own by all means, grasp not at the things of others. Your good faith is your own.... Who can take these qualities from you? Who shall hinder you from using them but yourself? And how will you do so? When you take no interest in what is your own, you lose it and it ceases to be yours.

When you have instructions and commands from Zeus such as these, what commands would you have from me? Am I greater or more trustworthy than He? Do you need any other commands if you keep these of His? Has He not laid these commands upon you? Look at the primary conceptions. Look at the demonstrations of philosophers. Look at the lessons you have often heard, and the words you have spoken yourself—all you have read, all you have studied.

How long, then, is it right to keep these commands and not break up the game?

As long as it is conducted properly.

Here is a king chosen by lot at the Saturnalia: for they decide to play the game of 'Kings'. He gives his orders: 'You drink, you mix the wine, you sing, you go, you come'. I obey, that I may not break up the game.

p. 267

'Now believe that you are in evil case.'

I do not believe it, and who will compel me to believe it?

Again, we agree to play 'Agamemnon and Achilles'. He who is given the part of Agamemnon says to me, 'Go to Achilles and drag away Briseis'. I go. 'Come.' I come.

In fact we must behave in life as we do with hypothetical arguments. 'Let us assume it is night.'


'What follows? Is it day?'

No, for I have already assented to the assumption that it is night.

'Let us assume that you believe that it is night.'


'Now believe that it really is night.'

This does not follow from the hypothesis.

So too it is in life. 'Let us assume that you are unfortunate.'


'Are you then unfortunate?'


'What then, are you in misery?'


'Now, believe that you are in evil case.'

This does not follow from the hypothesis: and Another forbids me.

How far, then, must we submit to such commands? So far as is expedient; that is, so far as I am true to what is becoming and consistent. There are, however, some severe and sour-tempered persons who say, 'I cannot dine with this fellow, and put up with his daily narrative of how he fought in Mysia. "I told you, brother, how I mounted the hill: now I begin again at the siege."' Another says, 'I would rather dine and hear him babble on to his heart's content.' It is for you to compare these estimates: only do nothing in the spirit of one burdened and afflicted, who believes himself in evil case: for no one compels you to this. Suppose some one made the room smoke. If the smoke is moderate I will stay: if excessive, I go out: for one must remember and hold fast to this, that the door is open.

The order comes, 'Do not dwell in Nicopolis.'

I will not.

'Nor in Athens.'

I give up Athens.

'Nor in Rome.'

I give up Rome.

'Dwell in Gyara.'

I dwell in Gyara: but this seems to me a very smoky room indeed, and I depart where no one shall hinder me from dwelling: for that

p. 268

dwelling is open to every man. And beyond the last inner tunic, which is this poor body of mine, no one has any authority over me at all. That is why Demetrius said to Nero, 'You threaten me with death, but nature threatens you.' If I pay regard to my poor body, I have given myself over as a slave: and if I value my wretched property I am a slave, for thereby I show at once what power can master me. Just as when the snake draws in its head I say, 'Strike the part of him which he guards,' so you may be sure that your master will trample on that part of you which you wish to guard. When you remember this, whom will you flatter or fear any more?

'Nay, but I want to sit where the senators sit.'

Do you see that you are making a strait place for yourself and squeezing yourself?

'How else then shall I have a good view in the amphitheatre?'

Man, do not go to the show and you will not be crushed. Why do you trouble yourself? Or wait a little, and when the show is done, sit down in the senators' seats and sun yourself. For remember this (and it is true universally) that it is we who straiten and crush ourselves—that is to say, it is our judgements which straiten and crush us. For instance, what does it mean to be slandered? Stand by a stone and slander it: what effect will you produce? If a man then listens like a stone, what advantage has the slanderer? But if the slanderer has the weakness of him that he slanders to work upon, then he does achieve something.

'Tear his toga off him.'

Why bring him in? Take his toga. Tear that.

'I have done you an outrage.'

May it turn out to your good.

These were the principles that. Socrates practised: that is why his face always wore the same expression. But we are fain to study and practise everything except how to be free men and untrammelled.

'The philosophers talk paradoxes.'

But are there no paradoxes in the other arts? Nay, what is more paradoxical than to lance a man's eye that he may see? If one told this to a person unskilled in the physician's art, would he not laugh at him who said it? Is it surprising then that in philosophy also many truths seem paradoxical to those who are unskilled?

Next: Chapter XXVI. What is the Law of Life