The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
That man is free, who lives as he wishes, who is proof against compulsion and hindrance and violence, whose impulses are untrammelled, who gets what he wills to get and avoids what he wills to avoid.
Who then would live in error?
Who would live deceived, reckless, unjust, intemperate, querulous, abject?
No bad man then lives as he would, and so no bad man is free. Who would live in a state of distress, fear, envy, pity, failing in the will to get and in the will to avoid?
Do we then find any bad man without distress or fear, above circumstance, free from failure?
None. Then we find none free.
If a man who has been twice consul hear this, he will forgive you if you add, 'But you are wise, this does not concern you.' But if you tell him the truth, saying, 'You are just as much a slave yourself as those who have been thrice sold', what can you expect but a flogging?
'How can I be a slave?' he says; 'my father is free, my mother is free, no one has bought me; nay, I am a senator, and a friend of Caesar, I have been consul and have many slaves.'
In the first place, most excellent senator, perhaps your father too was a slave of the same kind as you, yes and your mother and your grandfather and the whole line of your ancestors. And if really they were ever so free, how does that affect you? What does it matter if they had a fine spirit, when you have none, if they were fearless and you are a coward, if they were self-controlled and you are intemperate?
'Nay, what has this to do with being a slave?' he replies.
Does it seem to you slavery to act against your will, under compulsion and with groaning?
'I grant you that,' he says, 'but who can compel me except Caesar, who is lord of all?'
Why, then, your own lips confess that you have one master: you must not comfort yourself with the thought that he is, as you say, the common master of all, but realize that you are a slave in a large household. You are just like the people of Nicopolis, who are wont to cry aloud, 'By Caesar's fortune, we are free.'
However, let us leave Caesar for the moment if you please, but tell me this: Did you never fall in love with any one, with a girl, or a boy, or a slave, or a free man?
'What has that to do with slavery or freedom?'
Were you never commanded by her you loved to do anything you did not wish? Did you never flatter your precious slave-boy? Did you never kiss his feet? Yet if any one compel you to kiss Caesar's, you count it an outrage, the very extravagance of tyranny. What is this if not slavery? Did you never go out at night where you did not wish, and spend more than you wished and utter words of lamentation and groaning? Did you put up with being reviled and shut out? If you are ashamed to confess your own story, see what Thrasonides says and does: he had served in as many campaigns or more perhaps than you and yet, first of all, he has gone out at night, at an hour when Getas does not dare to go, nay, if he were forced by his master to go, he would have made a loud outcry and have gone with lamentations over his cruel slavery, and then, what does he say?
[paragraph continues] Poor wretch, to be slave to a paltry girl and a worthless one too! Why do you call yourself free then any more? Why do you boast of your campaigns? Then he asks for a sword, and is angry with the friend who refuses it out of goodwill, and sends gifts to the girl who hates him, and falls to praying and weeping, and then again when he has a little luck he is exultant. How can we call him free when he has not learnt to give up desire and fear?
Now look at the lower animals and see how we apply the notion of freedom to them. Men put lions in cages and rear them as tame creatures and feed them, and sometimes even take them about with them. Yet who will call a lion like that 'free'? The softer he lives, the worse is his slavery. What lion, if he got sense or reason, would wish to be a lion of that sort? Look at the birds yonder and see what lengths they go in striving to escape, when they are caught and reared in cages; why, some of them actually starve themselves rather than endure that sort of life; and even those that do not die, pine away and barely keep alive, and dash out if they find any chance of an opening. So strong
is their desire for natural freedom, an independent and unhindered existence.
Why, what ails you in your cage?
'What a question! I am born to fly where I will, to live in the air, to sing when I will; you take all this away, from me, and say, "What ails you?"'
Therefore we will call only those creatures free, that do not endure captivity, but escape by death as soon as they are caught. So too Diogenes says somewhere, 'A quiet death is the one sure means of freedom', and he writes to the Persian king, 'You cannot enslave the city of the Athenians any more than you can enslave fishes.'
'What! shall I not capture them?'
'If you capture them,' he says, 'they will straightway leave you and be gone, like fishes; for when you take one of them, he dies. So if the Athenians die as soon as you take them, what is the good of your armament?' These are the words of a free man who has seriously examined the question and found the truth, as is reasonable; but if you look for it elsewhere than where it is, what wonder if you never find it?
The slave is anxious to be set free at once. Why? Do you think it is because he is anxious to pay the tax on his manumission? No! the reason is he imagines that up till now he is hampered and ill at ease because he has not got his freedom. 'If I am enfranchised,' he says, 'at once all will be well, I heed nobody, I talk to all men as an equal and one of their quality, I go where I will, I come whence I will and where I will.' Then he is emancipated, and having nothing to eat he straightway looks for some one to flatter and to dine with; then he either has to sell his body to lust and endure the worst, and if he gets a manger to eat at, he has plunged into a slavery much severer than the first; or if perchance he grows rich, being a low-bred fellow he dotes on some paltry girl and gets miserable and bewails himself and longs to be a slave again.
'What ailed me in those days? Another gave me clothes and shoes, another fed me and tended me in sickness, and the service I did him was a small matter. Now, how wretched and miserable I am, with many masters instead of one! Still, if I can get rings 4-1 on my fingers I shall live happily and prosperously enough.'
And so first, to get them, he puts up with what he deserves, and having got them repeats the process. Next he says, 'If I go on a campaign I am quit of all my troubles.' He turns soldier and endures the lot of a criminal, but all the same he begs for a second campaign and a third. 4-2 Lastly, when he gets the crown to his career and is made a senator, once more he becomes a slave again as he goes to the senate; then he enjoys the noblest and the sleekest slavery of all.
Let him not be foolish, let him learn, as Socrates said, what is the true nature of everything, and not apply primary conceptions at random to particular facts. For this is the cause of all the miseries of men, that they are not able to apply their common primary conceptions to particular cases. One of us fancies this, another that. One fancies he is ill. Not at all; it is only that he does not apply his primary conceptions. Another fancies that he is poor, that his father or mother is cruel, another that Caesar is not gracious. But really it is one thing, and one thing only; they do not know how to adjust their primary conceptions. For who has not a primary notion of evil—that it is harmful, to be shunned, by every means to be got rid of? One primary notion does not conflict with another, the conflict is in the application.
What then is this evil which is harmful and to be shunned?
'Not to be Caesar's friend', he says.
He has gone out of his way, he has failed to apply his notions, he is in sore distress, he is seeking for what is nothing to the purpose; for when he has got Caesar's friendship he has equally failed of his object. For what is the object of every man's search? To have a quiet mind, to be happy, to do everything as he will, to be free from hindrance and compulsion. Very well: when he becomes Caesar's friend is he relieved from hindrance and compulsion, is he in peace and happiness? Of whom are we to inquire? Whom can we better trust than the very man who has become Caesar's friend?
Come forward and tell us! when was your sleep more tranquil, now or before you became Caesar's friend?
At once the answer comes, 'Cease, by the gods I beg you, to mock at my fortune; you do not know what a miserable state is mine; no sleep comes near to me, but in comes some one to say, "Now he's awake, now he'll be coming out"; then troubles and cares assail me.'
Tell me, when did you dine more agreeably, now or before?
Hear again what he says about this: if he is not invited, he is distressed, and if he is invited he dines as a slave with his lord, anxious all the while for fear he should say or do something foolish. And what do you think he fears? To be flogged like a slave? How should he come off so well? No, so great a man as he, and Caesar's friend, must fear to lose his neck; nought less were fitting. When did you bathe with more peace of mind, or exercise yourself more at your ease? In a word, which life would you rather live, to-day's or the old life? No one, I can swear, is so wanting in sense or feeling, that he does not lament his lot the louder the more he is Caesar's friend.
Inasmuch then as neither those who bear the name of kings nor kings' friends live as they will, what free men are left? Seek, and you shall find, for nature supplies you with means to find the truth. If, with these
means and no more to guide you, you cannot find the answer for yourself, then listen to those who have made the search. What do they say? Does freedom seem to you a good thing?
'The greatest good.'
Can any one who attains the greatest good be miserable or fare badly?
Whensoever then you see men unhappy, miserable, mourning, you may declare with confidence that they are not free.
'I do declare it.'
Well then, we have got away from buying and selling, and. that kind of disposal of property which they deal with. For if you are right in making these admissions, no one who is miserable can be free, whether he be a great king or a little one, a consular or one who has twice been consul.
Answer me once more. Does freedom seem to you a great and noble and precious thing?
Can then one who possesses so great and precious and noble a thing be of a humble spirit?
Therefore when you see a man cringing to another or flattering him against his true opinion, you may say with confidence that he too is not free, and not only if he does it for a paltry dinner, but even if he does it for a province or a consulship. But those who do it for small objects you may call slaves on a small scale, and the others, as they deserve, slaves on a large scale.
'I grant you this too.'
Again, does freedom seem to you' to be something independent, owning no authority but itself?
Then whenever a man can be hindered or compelled by another at will, assert with confidence that he is not free. Do not look at his grandfathers and great grandfathers and search whether he was bought or sold, but if you hear him say 'Master' from the heart and with feeling, then call him slave, though twelve fasces go before him; 4-3 and if you hear him say, 'Wretched am I, that I am so treated', call him slave; in a word, if you see him bewailing himself, complaining, miserable, call him slave, though he wears the purple hem. If, however, he does not behave like this, call him not free yet, but get to know his judgements and see whether they are liable to compulsion or hindrance or unhappiness, and if you find any such, call him a slave on holiday at the Saturnalia;
say that his master is away; he will presently return and then you will learn his true condition.
'In what form will he return?'
In the form of every one who has authority over the things that a man wishes for, to get them for him or to take them away.
'Have we then so many masters?'
Yes, for even before these personal masters, we have masters in circumstance, and circumstances are many. It must needs follow then that those who have authority over any of these are our masters. For no one really fears Caesar himself; men fear death, exile, deprivation of property, prison, disfranchisement. Nor does any one love Caesar, unless he has great merit; we love wealth, the tribunate, the praetorship, the consulship. When we love and hate and fear these, the men who have authority over them are bound to be our masters, and that is why we worship them like gods; for we consider that that which has authority over the greatest benefit is divine; and then if we make a false minor premiss, 'this man has control over the greatest benefit', our conclusion is bound to be wrong too.
What is it then which makes man his own master and free from hindrance? Wealth does not make him so, nor a consulship, nor a province, nor a kingdom; we must find something else. Now what is it which makes him unhindered and unfettered in writing?
'Knowledge of how to write.'
What makes him so in flute-playing?
'Knowledge of flute-playing.'
So too in living, it is knowledge of how to live. You have heard this as a general principle; consider it in detail. Is it possible for one who aims at an object which lies in the power of others to be unhindered? Is it possible for him to be untrammelled?
It follows that he cannot be free. Consider then: have we nothing which is in our power alone, or have we everything? Or only some things in our power, and some in that of others?
'How do you mean?'
When you wish your body to be whole, is it in your power or not?
'It is not.'
And when you wish it to be healthy?
'That is not in my power.'
And when you wish it to be beautiful?
'That is not in my power.'
And to live or die?
'That is not mine either.'
The body then is something not our own and must give an account to any one who is stronger than ourselves.
Is it in your power to have land when you will, and as long as you will, and of the quality you will?
And your bit of a house?
'None of these things.'
And if you wish your children or your wife or your brother or your friends to live, whatever happens, is that in your power?
'No, that is not either.'
Have you nothing then which owns no other authority, nothing which you alone control, or have you something of that sort?
'I do not know.'
Look at the matter thus and consider it. Can any one make you assent to what is false?
Well, then, in the region of assent you are unhindered and unfettered.
Again, can any one force your impulse towards what you do not wish?
'He can; for when he threatens me with death or bonds, he forces my impulse.'
Well now, if you despise death and bonds, do you heed him any longer?
Is it your doing then to despise death, or is it not yours?
It rests with you then to be impelled to action, does it not?
'I grant it rests with me.'
And impulse not to act, with whom does that rest? It is yours too.
'Supposing that my impulse is to walk, and he hinders me, what then?'
What part of you will he hinder? Your assent?
'No, but my poor body.'
Yes, as a stone is hindered.
'Granted; but I do not walk any more.'
Who told you that it is your business to walk unhindered? The only thing I told you was unhindered was your impulse; as to the service of
the body, and its cooperation, you have heard long ago that it is no affair of yours.
'I grant you this too.'
Can any one compel you to will to get what you do not wish?
Or to purpose or to plan, or in a word to deal with the impressions that you meet with?
'No one can do this either; but if I will to get something a man will hinder me from obtaining it.'
How will he hinder you, if you set your will upon things which are your own and beyond hindrance?
'Not at all.'
But no one tells you that he who wills to get what is not his own is unhindered.
'Am I then not to will to get health?'
Certainly not, nor anything else that is not your own. For nothing is your own, that it does not rest with you to procure or to keep when you will. Keep your hands far away from it; above all, keep your will away, or else you surrender yourself into slavery, you put your neck under the yoke, if you admire what is not your own, and set your heart on anything mortal, whatever it be, or anything that depends upon another.
'Is not my hand my own?'
It is a part of you, but by nature a thing of clay, subject to hindrance and compulsion, slave to everything that is stronger than itself. Nay, why do I name you the hand? You must treat your whole body like a poor ass, with its burden on its back, going with you just so far as it may, and so far as it is given you; but if the king's service calls, and a soldier lays hands on it, let it go, do not resist or murmur; if you do, you will only get a flogging and lose your poor ass all the same.
But when this is your proper attitude to your body, consider what is left for you to do with other things that are procured for the body's sake. As the body is the poor ass, other things become the ass's bridle and pack-saddle, shoes and barley and fodder. Give them up too, let them go quicker and with a lighter heart than the ass itself.
And when you have prepared and trained yourself thus to distinguish what is your own from what is not your own, things subject to hindrance from things unhindered, to regard these latter as your concern, and the former as not, to direct your will to gain the latter and to avoid the former, then have you any one to fear any more?
Of course. What should you fear for? Shall you fear for what is your own, that is, for what makes good and evil for you? Nay, who has authority over what is yours? Who can take it away, who can hinder it,
any more than they can hinder God? Is it your body and your property that you fear for? Are you afraid for what is not your own, for what does not concern you at all?
Why, what have you been studying all along but to distinguish what it yours from what is not yours, what is in your power from what is not in your power, things subject to hindrance from things unhindered? Why did you go to the philosophers? Was it that you might be just as unfortunate and miserable as ever? I say that so trained you will be free from fear and perturbation. What has pain to do with you now, for it is only things that cause fear in expectation which cause pain when they come? What shall you have desire for any longer, for your will is tranquil and harmonious, set on objects within its compass to obtain, objects that are noble and within your reach, and you have no wish to get what is beyond your will, and you give no scope to that jostling element of unreason which breaks all bounds in its impatience?
When once you adopt this attitude towards things, no man can inspire fear in you any longer. For how can man cause fear in man by his aspect or his talk or by his society generally, any more than fear can be roused by horse or dog or bee in another horse or dog or bee? No, it is things which inspire fear in every man; it is the power of winning things for another or of taking them away from him, that makes a man feared.
How then is the citadel destroyed? Not by fire or sword, but by judgements. For if we pull down the citadel in the city, we have not got rid of the citadel which is held by fever or by fair women, in a word the citadel in ourselves and the tyrants who are within us, who threaten each one of us day by day, now in new forms, now in old. This is the point where we must begin, this is where the citadel must be destroyed, and the tyrants cast forth; we must give up our body, and all that belongs to it —faculties, property, reputation, offices, honours, children, brothers, friends—all these we must regard as having no concern for us.
If the tyrants are cast forth from this, what need is there for me to blockade the outward citadel? What harm does it do to me by standing? Why do I try and cast forth the guards? I feel them no longer; their rods and their spears and swords are pointed against others. I was never hindered in my will or compelled against my wish.
Nay, how can this be?
I have submitted my will to God. He wills that I should have a fever; I will it too. He wills that I should have an impulse. I will it too. He wills that I should will to get a thing. I too will it. He wills that I should get something, and I wish it; He wills that I should not, I wish it no more I am willing then (if He wills it) to die or be put on the rack. Who can hinder me any more against my own judgement or put compulsion on me? I am as safe as Zeus.
I act as the more cautious travellers do. A man has heard that the road is infested by robbers; he does not dare to venture on it alone, but waits for company—a legate, or a quaestor, or a proconsul—and joining him he passes safely on the road. The prudent man does the same in the world; in the world are many haunts of robbers, tyrants, storms, distresses, chances of losing what is dearest. 'Where is a man to escape? How is he to go on his way unrobbed? What company is he to wait for that he may pass through in safety? To whom is he to join himself? To this or that rich man, or consular? What is the good of that? Your great man himself is stripped, and utters mourning and lamentation. What if my fellow traveller turns against me himself to rob me? What am I to do? I will be "a friend of Caesar"; if I am his companion no one will do me wrong. But first, how many things must I endure and undergo, to become a distinguished person! How often must I suffer robbery and from how many! And then, if I rise to distinction, even Caesar is mortal. And if some circumstance lead him to become my enemy, where, I ask, is it better for me to retire? To the wilderness? Why, does not fever come there? What is to become of me then? Is it impossible to find a travelling-companion who is safe, trustworthy, strong, proof against attack?' Thus he reflects and comes to understand that if he attaches himself to God, he will pass through the world in safety.
'What do you mean by "attach" himself?'
That what God wills, he may will too, and what God wills not, he may not will either.
How then is this to be done?
How else, but by examining the purposes of God and His governance of the world. What has He given me to be my own, and independent, what has He reserved for Himself? He has given me all that lies within the sphere of my choice, and has put it in my hands, unfettered, unhindered. How could He make my clay body free from hindrance? My property, my chattels, my honour, my children, my wife, He made subject to the revolution of the universe. Why then do I fight against God? Why do I will what is not for me to will, what is not given me to hold under all conditions, but to hold only as it is given and so far as it is given?
Suppose He that gave takes away. Why then do I resist? I shall not merely be silly, if I try to compel Him that is stronger; first of all I shall be doing wrong. For whence did I bring what I have into the world? My father gave them me. And who gave them him? Who is it that has made the sun, and the fruits of the earth, and the seasons, and the union and fellowship of men with one another?
You have received everything, nay your very self, from Another, and yet you complain and blame the Giver, if He takes anything away from
you. Who are you and for what have you come? Did not He bring you into the world? Did not He show you the light? Has He not given you fellow workers? Has He not given you senses too, and reason? And in what character did He bring you into life? Was it not as a mortal, one who should live upon earth with his little portion of flesh and behold God's governance and share for a little while in His pageant and His festival? Will you not then look at the pageant and the festal gathering as long as it is given you, and then, when God leads you forth, go away with an obeisance to Him and thanksgiving for what you have heard and seen?
'No, I wanted to go on feasting.'
Yes, those at the Mysteries too want to go on with the. ceremony, and those at Olympia to see fresh competitors, but the festival is at an end. Leave it and depart, in a thankful and modest spirit; make room for others. Others must come into being, even as you did, and being born must have room and dwellings and necessaries. But if the first corners do not retire, what is left for them? Why will nothing satisfy or content you? Why do you crowd the world's room?
'Yes, but I want my wife and my children to be with me.'
Are they yours? Are they not His who gave them? Are they not His who has made you? Will you not give up what it not yours, and give way to Him who is stronger than you?
'Why then did He bring me into the world on these terms?'
Depart, if it does not suit you. God has no need of a querulous spectator. He needs men who join in the feast and in the dance, ready to applaud and glorify and praise the festival. But the impatient and miserable He will gladly see left outside the festival: for even when they were there they did not behave as at a festival nor fill the place appropriate to them, but were peevish and complained of fate and fortune and their company: insensible to fortune's gifts and to their own faculties, which they have received for just the opposite—a great heart, a noble spirit, and the very freedom we are now in search of.
'For what then have I received these gifts?'
To use them.
'For how long?'
Just so long as He who lent them wills.
'But what if they are necessary for me?'
Do not set your heart on them, and they will not be. Do not tell yourself that they are necessary, and they are not.
This is what you ought to practise from sunrise to sunset, beginning with the meanest things and those most subject to injury—a jug or a cup. From this go on to a tunic, a dog, a horse, a field; and from that to yourself, your body and its members, your children, your wife, your
brothers. Look carefully on all sides and fling them away from you. Purify your judgements, and see that nothing that is not your own is attached to you or clings to you, that nothing shall give you pain if it is torn from you. And as you train yourself day by day, as in the lecture-room, say not that you are a philosopher (I grant you that would be arrogant)., but that you are providing for your enfranchisement; for this is freedom indeed. This was the freedom which Diogenes won from Antisthenes, and said that no one could enslave him any more. That explains his bearing as a captive, and his behaviour to the pirates: did he call any of them master? I do not mean the mere name (I have no fear of that), but the state of mind, of which it is the expression. Think how he rebukes them for feeding their prisoners badly. Think how he was sold: did he look for a master? No, for a slave. 4-4 And when he was sold, think how he bore himself towards his master: he began talking to him at once, telling him that he ought not to dress as he did, or shave as he did, and what life his sons ought to lead. What wonder in that? For if he had bought a slave skilled in gymnastic would he have used him as a servant in the palaestra or as a master? As a master; and in the same way if he had bought a man skilled in medicine or in architecture. And on this principle the man with skill is bound in every subject to be superior to the man without skill. Whoever then possesses knowledge of life in general must be master. For who is master on shipboard?
Why? Is it because any one who disobeys him is punished? No! but because he possesses skill in steering.
'But my master can flog me.'
Can he do it with impunity?
'So I thought.'
But as he cannot do it with impunity, therefore he has no authority to do it. No one can do wrong acts with impunity.
'What penalty falls on the man who imprisons his own slave, if he think fit?'
The very act of imprisoning him is his penalty, and this you will admit yourself, if you will hold fast the principle that man is not a brute but a civilized creature. For when does a vine do badly? When it acts against its nature. When does a cock do badly? In the same conditions. The same is true of a man. What is his nature then? Is it to bite and kick and cast into prison and behead? No, but to do good, to work with others and pray for them. Therefore, whether you will or no, man does badly when he acts without sense.
'Did not Socrates then do badly?'
No, but his judges and accusers did.
'Did not Helvidius in Rome do badly?'
No, but his murderer did.
'What do you mean?'
Just as you do not say the fighting-cock has done badly when it has won and been wounded, but when it has been beaten without a scratch, and you do not count a hound happy when he does not strain in the pursuit, but when you see him sweating, in distress, his flanks bursting with the chase. What is there incredible in the statement that every man's evil is that which contradicts his nature? Is this incredible? Is it not what you say in every other sphere? Why then do you take another line only when man is in question? Is our other statement then incredible—that man's nature is civilized and affectionate and trustworthy?
'No, this is not, either.'
How comes it then, further, that he suffers no harm though he be flogged or imprisoned or beheaded? Is not it true that, if he suffer these things in a noble spirit, he goes away the gainer, and is profited, whereas he who suffers harm is the man who undergoes the most pitiful and shameful fate, the man who changes from a man into a wolf or a serpent or a wasp?
Come now and let us review the conclusions we have agreed to. He is free, whom none can hinder, the man who can deal with things as he wishes. But the man who can be hindered or compelled or fettered or driven into anything against his will, is a slave. And who is he whom none can hinder? The man who fixes his aim on nothing that is not his own. And what does 'not his own' mean? All that it does not lie in our power to have or not to have, or to have of a particular quality or under particular conditions. The body then does not belong to us, its parts do not belong to us, our property does not belong to us. If then you set your heart on one of these as though it were your own, you will pay the penalty deserved by him who desires what does not belong to him. The road that leads to freedom, the only release from slavery is this, to be able to say with your whole soul:
But, what say you, my philosopher, suppose the tyrant call on you to say something unworthy of you? Do you assent or refuse? Tell me. 'Let me think it over.'
You will think it over now, will you? And what, pray, did you think over when you were at lecture? Did you not study what things are good and what are evil, and what are neither?
'Yes, I did.'
What conclusion did you approve then?
'That things right and noble were good, things wrong and shameful bad.'
Is life a good thing?
Is death evil?
And what did you think of ignoble and faithless speech, and treachery to a friend and flattery of a tyrant?
'We thought them evil.'
Why do you ask the question now, then? You should have asked it and made up your mind long ago. It is nonsense to question now whether, when I can win the greatest goods, it is fitting for me not to win the greatest evils? A fine and necessary question forsooth, needing a deal of thought! Man, why do you mock us?
That is not the sort of thing that men 'question'. If you really imagined shameful acts to be bad, and noble acts good, and all else to be indifferent, you would not have proceeded to raise this question: not at all: you would at once have been able to decide the question by intuition, as an act of sight. For when do you question whether black things are white, or heavy things light, instead of following the obvious conclusions of your senses? Why then do you talk now of considering whether things indifferent are more to be shunned than things evil? These are not your judgements: prison and death do not seem to you indifferent, but the greatest evils, nor do base words and acts seem evil, they seem not to matter for us.
This is the habit to which you have trained yourself from the first. 'Where am I? In the lecture-room. And who are listening to me? I am talking to philosophers. But now I have left the lecture-room. Away with those sayings of pedants and fools!' That is how a philosopher gives witness against a friend, that is how a philosopher turns parasite: that is how he hires himself out at a price, and speaks against his real opinion in the Senate, while in his heart his judgement cries aloud, not a flat and miserable apology for an opinion, hanging to idle discussions as by a hair-thread, but a judgement strong and serviceable, trained by actions, which is the true initiation. Watch yourself and see how you take the news, I do not say that your child is dead (how should that befall you? ), but that your oil is spilt, or your wine drunk up: well may one who stands by, as your temper rises high, say just this to you, 'Philosopher, you use different language in the lecture-room: why do you deceive us? Why, worm that you are, do you call yourself a man?' I would fain stand by one of these men when he is indulging his lust, that I might see how
eager he is, and what words he utters, and whether he remembers his own name, or the discourses which he hears or delivers or reads.
'Yes, but what has this to do with freedom?'
Nay! what else but this has to do with it, whether you rich people agree, or not?
'And who is your witness to this?'
Why, it is none other than your very selves. You who own that great master, and live at his nod and motion, and your blood runs cold if he so much as look at one of you with a sour face: you who pay court to old women and old men, and say, 'I cannot do that, I am not allowed.' Why are you not allowed? Did you not just now contend with me and assert you were free?
'Yes, but Aprulla has forbidden me.'
Tell the truth then, slave that you are, and do not run away from your masters, nor disown your slavery, nor dare to claim your enfranchisement, when you have so many proofs of slavery against you. I declare that the man who is compelled by love to act against his opinion, seeing the better course all the time, but wanting the strength to follow it, one might be more inclined to think deserving pardon, as overpowered by an influence violent and in a way divine. But who can bear with you, whose love is all for old women and old men, wiping their faces clean and washing them and giving them presents, and tending them like a slave in their illness, while all the time you are praying for them to die, and questioning the doctors, whether they are sick unto death at last? Or again, when you kiss the hands of other people's slaves in order to get those great and splendid offices and honours, becoming the slave of men who are not even free? Then, if you please, you walk in splendour as praetor or consul. Do I not know how you became praetor, where you got the consulship, who gave it you? For my part I would not wish to live, if I had to owe my life to Felicio, and put up with his contempt and slavish arrogance; for I know what a slave is who is prosperous as the world thinks and puffed up with vanity.
'Are you then free?' says one.
By the gods, I wish to be and pray to be, but I cannot yet look in the face of my masters, I still set store by my poor body, I count it of great moment to keep it sound, yes though I have not a sound body to begin with. But I can show you one who is free, that you may not have to look for your example. Diogenes was free. How came he by this? Not because he was of free parents (he was not), but because he was free himself, had cast away all the weakness that might give slavery a hold on him, and so no one could approach or lay hold on him to enslave him. Everything he had he was ready to let go, it was loosely attached to him. If you had laid hold on his property, he would have let it go rather than have followed
you for it; if you seized his leg, he would have let that go; if his whole poor body, he would have let his whole body go; and the same with kinsfolk, friends, and country. For he knew whence he had them and from whom, and on what conditions he received them. His true ancestors, the gods, and his true Country he would never have deserted, nor have suffered another to yield them more obedience or attention, nor would another have died for his Country more cheerfully. For he never sought to get the reputation of acting for the universe, but he remembered that everything that comes to pass has its source there and is done for that true Country's sake and is entrusted to us by Him that governs it. Wherefore look what he says and writes himself: 'Therefore, Diogenes,' he says, 'you have power to converse as you will with the king of the Persians and with Archidamus, king of the Lacedaemonians.' Was it because he was the son of free parents? When all the men of Athens and Lacedaemon and Corinth were unable to converse with them as they wished, and feared and flattered them instead, was it because they were sons of slaves? 'Why have I the power to do it then?' he says. 'Because I count my poor body not my own, because I need nothing, because law and nothing else is all in all to me.' These were the things which left him free.
And that you may not think that I point you to the example of a man alone in the world, with no wife or children or country or friends or kindred, who might have bent his will and drawn him from his purpose, take Socrates and look at him: he had wife and children, but regarded them as not his own; a country, in such manner and so far as duty allowed: friends, kinsmen, all these things he had made subject to law and obedience to law. For this reason, when duty called him to take the field, he was the first to leave Athens and ran all risks of battle most ungrudgingly, but when he was sent by the Tyrants to fetch Leon, he never entertained the idea, because he thought it shameful, though he knew that he would have to die, if it so chanced. And what did it matter to him? Why, he wanted to preserve something else—not his poor flesh, but his honour and self-respect. These are things which cannot be trusted to another or made subject to another. Afterwards when he had to plead for his life, did he behave as one who had children or as one who had a wife? No, but as one alone in the world. And again, when he had to drink the poison, how did he behave? When he might have saved himself, and when Crito said to him, 'Escape, for the sake of your children', what did he say? Did he think the chance a godsend? No, he looked at what was fitting, and had no eye, no thought for anything besides. For he wished to save not his poor body, but 'that which right increases and preserves, and wrong diminishes and makes to wither'. Socrates refuses to save himself with dishonour: he who would not put the question to the vote, when
the Athenians bade him, who despised the Tyrants, who held such noble discourse on virtue and goodness—it is impossible to save him with dishonour: his safety is secured by death, not by flight. For the good actor too, if he stops when he ought, has more chance of safety than one who acts out of season.
What will your children do then?
'If I had gone away to Thessaly you would have looked after them: and when I have gone away to Hades, will there be no one to look after them?' [Plato, Crito, 54a]
See how he calls death by smooth names and scoffs at it. But if you and I had been in his place, we should at once have argued that we ought to repay injury with injury: and we should have added, 'I shall be useful to many men if I keep alive, but to no one if I die.' Nay, had it been necessary to creep out through a hole in the rock to escape, we should have done so. And yet how could we have been of use to any one? For those we were trying to help would not have stood fast. Or again, if we did good by living, should we not have done much more good to men by dying when and as we ought? Even so now that Socrates is dead, the memory of what he did or said in his lifetime is no less useful to men, or it may be even more useful than before.
Make this your study, study these judgements, and these sayings: fix your eyes on these examples, if you wish to be free, if you set your desires on freedom as it deserves. It is no wonder that you pay this great, this heavy price for so vast an object. Men hang themselves, or cast themselves down headlong, nay sometimes whole cities perish for the sake of what the world calls 'freedom', and will you not repay to God what He has given, when He asks it, for the sake of true freedom, the freedom which stands secure against all attack? Shall you not practise, as Plato says, not death only, but torture and exile and flogging, in a word practise giving back all that is not yours? If not, you will be a slave among slaves, even if you are consul ten thousand times, and no less, if you go up into Caesar's Palace; and you will discover that 'what philosophers say may be contrary to opinion', as Cleanthes said, 'but not contrary to reason'. For you will really get to know that what they say is true, and that none of these objects that men admire and set their hearts on is of any use to those who get them, though those who have never chanced to have them get the impression, that if only these things were theirs their cup of blessings would be full, and then, when they get them, the sun scorches them and the sea tosses them no less, and they feel the same boredom and the same desire for what they have not got. For freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men's desires, but by the removal of desire. To learn the truth of what I say, you must spend your pains on these new studies instead of your studies in the past: sit up late
that you may acquire a judgement that makes you free: pay your attentions not to a rich old man, but to a philosopher, and be seen about his doors: to be so seen will not do you discredit: you will not depart empty or without profit, if you approach in the right spirit. If you doubt my word, do but try: there is no disgrace in trying.