The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
First say to yourself, what manner of man you want to be; when you have settled this, act upon it in all you do; for in pretty nearly all pursuits we see that done. Athletes first decide what they want to be, and then they act accordingly. If a man is to be a long-distance runner, he takes the diet, the walking, the rubbing, and the gymnastic suited to that; if he is going in for the short course, he alters all this to suit his aim, if for the pentathlon he alters his training still more. You will find the same done in the arts. If you are a carpenter you will have this kind of work; if a smith, you will have that kind. For in everything we do, if we have no standard to go by, we shall do it ineffectively; if we use the wrong standard, we shall fail completely.
Now we have two standards to go by, one general and one special. The first is that we must act as human beings. What does this include? We must not act like a sheep, at random, nor like a brute, destructively. The special standard is relative to each man's occupation and purpose. The lyre-player must act as a lyre-player, the carpenter as a carpenter, the philosopher as a philosopher, the orator as an orator. When therefore you say, 'Come and hear me lecturing to you', see to it first that you are not acting without aim. Then if you find you have a standard, see to it that it is the right one.
Do you wish to do men good or to receive compliments?
At once you have the answer, 'What account do I take of the praise of the multitude?'
An excellent answer. Nor does the musician heed the multitude, so far as he is a true musician, nor the geometrician. Do you wish then to do good? What are you aiming at? Tell us, that we too may run to your lecture-room. Now can any one do good to others unless he has received good himself? No, no more than the man who is no carpenter can help others in carpentry, or he who is no shoemaker in shoemaking.
Would you really know then whether you have received any good? Produce your judgements, my philosopher. What does the will to get profess? Success in getting. And the will to avoid? Escape from what it avoids. Well, do we fulfil their profession? Tell me the truth, and if you lie, I will tell you myself. When lately your audience were slack in their attendance, and did not applaud you, you went away in low spirits. Again when you were lately praised you went round and said to every one, 'What did you think of me?'
'I thought you wonderful, master, as I live.'
'How did I give that passage?'
'Which do you mean?'
'Where I described Pan and the Nymphs.'
And yet you tell me that in respect to that will to get and will to avoid you behave in a natural way. Go to, get some one else to believe you! Did you not lately praise So-and-so against your real opinion? Did you not flatter So-and-so, the senator's son? Did you want your children to be like that?
Why then did you praise him and pay him attention?
'He is a young man of parts, and ready to listen to arguments.'
How do you know that?
'He admires me.'
Now you have stated the true reason. After all, what do you think? Do not these very admirers secretly despise you? When a man who is conscious of no good action or good thought meets a philosopher who says, 'Here is a genius, frank and unspoilt', do not you think he is bound to say to himself, 'This man wants something from me'? Tell me, what sign of genius has he displayed? Why, he has been with you all this long time, he has heard you discoursing, he has heard you lecturing. Has he grown modest? Has he returned to himself? Has he realized what misery he is in? Has he cast away his vanity? Is he looking for some one to teach him?
Some one to teach him how he should live? No, you fool, but how he should speak, for that is what he admires you for. Listen and hear what he says: 'This man is a perfect artist in style, his style is much
finer than Dio's.' That's a different thing altogether. Does he say, 'This man has self-respect, he is trustworthy and tranquil-minded'? If he did say so, I should say, 'Since he is trustworthy, tell me what you mean by this "trustworthy" man', and if he could not answer I should add, 'First learn what your words mean, and then speak.'
If you are in this sorry state, gaping for men to praise you, and counting your audience, do you really want to do others good?
'To-day I had a much larger audience.'
'Yes, it was a large one.'
'I suppose five hundred.'
'Nonsense! put them at a thousand.'
'Dio never had so large an audience.'
'How is that?'
'Why, they have a fine turn for understanding arguments.'
'Noble teaching, master, can move even a stone.'
There you have the words of a philosopher! These are the feelings of one who is to benefit mankind, there you have a man who has listened to reason, who has read the teaching of Socrates in the spirit of Socrates, and not as so much Lysias or Isocrates! '"I have often wondered by what arguments"—no, "by what argument"—the singular is smoother than the plural.' 3-16 Did you ever read the words except as one reads paltry songs? If you had read them properly you would not have dwelt on these points of language, but would rather have studied the passage, 'Anytus and Meletus can kill me, but they cannot harm me', and this, 'My nature is such that I cannot attend to my affairs, but only to the argument which appears best to me when I reflect.' That was why no one ever heard Socrates say, 'I know and teach'; no, he sent one man here, another there; and therefore they used to come to him, asking to be introduced by him to philosophers, and he took and introduced them. No, of course, as he went with them he would say, 'Come and hear me discourse to-day in the house of Quadratus'!
What am I to hear from you? Do you want to display to me your fine composition? Man, you compose well enough, and what good does it do you?
'Do praise me, I beg.'
What do you mean by praise?
'Say "Bravo!" to me, or "Marvellous!"'
Very well, I say it; but if praise is what philosophers put in the category of the good, what praise can I give you? If correct speaking is a good thing, teach me that, and I will praise you.
'What? are you bound to dislike listening to fine oratory?'
Heaven forbid! I do not dislike listening to a harp-player, but am I therefore bound to stand and play the harp? Hear what Socrates says,
'It would not be seemly for me, sir, at this time of life, to come before you like a youth framing fine phrases.' [Plato, Apology, 17c] 'Like a youth', he says. Yes, it is indeed a pretty art, to select fine phrases and put them together, and then come forward and read them or recite them with ability, and as one reads to add, 'There are not many that can understand what I say, as sure as you hope to live.'
Does the philosopher invite men to a lecture? Does he not draw to him those who are going to get good from him, as the sun draws sustenance to itself? No physician worth the name invites men to come and be healed by him, though I hear that in Rome to-day physicians do invite them; in my day physicians were called in by their patients.
'I bid you to come and hear that you are in a bad way, that you attend to everything rather than what you should attend to, and that you do not know what is good and what is evil, and are unhappy and miserable.'
A fine invitation!
Surely, unless the philosopher's words force home this lesson, they are dead and so is he. Rufus was wont to say, 'If you find leisure to praise me, my words are spoken in vain.' Wherefore he spoke in such fashion that each of us as he sat there thought he was himself accused: such was his grip of men's doings, so vividly did he set each man's ills before his eyes. The philosopher's school, sirs, is a physician's consulting-room. You must leave it in pain, not in pleasure; for you come to it in disorder, one with a shoulder put out, another with an ulcer, another with fistula, another with headache. And then you would have me sit there and utter fine little thoughts and phrases, that you may leave me with praise on your lips, and carrying away, one his shoulder, one his head, one his ulcer, one his fistula, exactly in the state he brought them to me. Is it for this you say that young men are to go abroad and leave their parents and friends and kinsmen and property, that they may say, 'Ye gods!' to you when you deliver your phrases? Was this what Socrates did, or Zeno, or Cleanthes?
You ask, 'Is there not the hortatory style?'
Yes—no one denies it—just as there is the style for proof and the style for teaching. Who has ever named a fourth style along with them, the ostentatious? What is the hortatory style? The power of showing to one and to many what a sordid struggle they are plunged in, and how they pay regard to everything rather than to what they want. For they want what tends to happiness, but they seek it in the wrong place. Is it for this that you must set up a thousand benches and invite men to come and hear you, and then mount the rostrum in a fine robe or an elegant cloak and describe the death of Achilles? Cease, by all your gods, to dishonour noble words and subjects, so far as in you lies.
Nothing is more effective in exhortation than when the speaker makes plain to his hearers that he has need of them. Tell me, in all your readings or discourses, did you ever make one of your audience anxious about himself or rouse him to a sense of his position? Did you ever send one away saying, 'The philosopher has got a good grip of me: I must act so no more'? Why, even if your fame is at its height, he only says to some one, 'A pretty description that about Xerxes!' while another puts in, 'No, the battle of Thermopylae.' Is this what a philosopher's lecture comes to?