The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
When a man, who was going to Rome for an action regarding his official position, came in to see him, he inquired the reason for his journey, and when the man went on to ask him his opinion on the matter, 'If you ask me', he said, 'what you will do in Rome, whether you will succeed or fail, I have no precept to offer: but if you ask me how you will do, I can say this, that if your judgements are right you will do well, if wrong, you will do ill. For every man's action is determined by a judgement. What is it that made you desire to be elected patron 3-7 of the Cnossians?' Judgement.
What is the reason you now go to Rome? Judgement. Yes, and in stormy weather and at your own risk and charges?
'Necessity compels me.'
Who tells you this? Your judgement. If then judgements are the cause of everything and a man has bad judgements, the result resembles the cause, whatever this be. Have we all then sound judgements? Have you and your opponent? Then how are you at variance? Have you sound judgements any more than he? Why? You think so. So does he, and so do madmen. Opinion is a bad criterion. No! Show me that you have examined your judgements and paid attention to them. You are now sailing to Rome to be patron of the Cnossians and are not content to stay at home with the honours you had before, but desire some greater and more distinguished honour. When did you ever take the trouble to sail like this in order to examine your judgements and reject any that are bad? Whom have you ever consulted for this purpose? What time or what part of your life have you charged with this duty? Review the seasons of your life in your own mind, if you respect me. Did you examine your judgements when you were a boy? Did not you do what you did then as you do everything now? And when you grew to be a youth and listened to the teachers of rhetoric and wrote declamations of your own, what did you imagine that you lacked? And when in early manhood you began to enter public life and to plead in cases and to have a reputation, did you ever think any one your equal? Would you ever have let any one examine you and show that your judgements were bad? What then would you have me tell you?
'Give me some help in the matter.'
I have no precepts to offer for your purpose: and if you have come
to me for this, you have come to me as you would come to a greengrocer or a shoemaker and not as to a philosopher.
'For what purpose then have philosophers precepts to offer?'
For this: that, whatever the issue may be, we should keep our Governing Principle in accord with Nature to our life's end. Do you think this a small matter?
'No, the greatest of all.'
Well then: will a little time suffice for this, and can it be acquired in a passing visit? Acquire it if you can!
Then you will go away and say, 'I met Epictetus, it was like meeting a stone, or a statue.'
Yes, for you just saw me and no more. Man can only meet man properly when he gets to understand his convictions and shows him his own in turn. Get to know my judgements, and show me yours, and then say that you have met me. Let us question one another: if one of my judgements is bad, remove it: if you have anything to say, put it forward. That is how to meet a philosopher. That's not your way, but 'We are passing through: while we wait to charter our ship, we can see Epictetus; let us see what he is saying.' Then when you leave you say, 'Epictetus was nothing: he talked bad Greek, outlandish stuff.' Of course, of what else are you competent to judge, coming in like that?
'But', he goes on, 'if I let myself be absorbed in these things, I shall be like you without land, like you without silver cups, like you without fine cattle.'
To this perhaps it is sufficient to answer, I have no need of them: but if you get a large property, you still need something else, and willy-nilly you are poorer than I.
'What do you mean that I need?'
You need what you have not got—tranquillity, a mind in accord with Nature, and free from perturbation. Whether I am Patron or not, what does it matter? It does matter to you. I am richer than you: I am not in an agony as to what Caesar will think of me: I do not flatter any one for that. This is what I have instead of your silver and gold plate. You have vessels of gold, but your reason—judgements, assent, impulse, will —is of common clay. But mine are in accord with Nature, and that being so, why should I not make a special study of reasoning? I have leisure, and my mind is not distracted. How can I occupy my mind that is thus free? I cannot find an occupation more worthy of man than that. When you have nothing to do, you are troubled in spirit, and enter a theatre, or wander aimlessly. Why should not the philosopher devote his efforts to developing his own reason? You devote yourself to crystal vases, I to the syllogism called 'the Liar': you to murrhine 3-8 vessels, I to the syllogism of 'Denial'. To you all that you have appears
small: to me all I have appears great. Your desire can never be fulfilled, mine is fulfilled already. Your case is like that of children putting their hand into a narrow-necked jar and pulling out raisins and almonds. If a child fills his hand full, he cannot pull it out and then he cries. Let a few go, child, and you will get it out. So I say to you, 'Let your desire go.' Do not crave much, and you will obtain.