The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
The good and noble man does not contend with any one, and to the best of his power does not suffer others to contend. We have an illustration of this, as of other qualities, set out for us in the life of Socrates, who not only avoided contention himself on all occasions, but tried to prevent the contentions of others. Look at the Symposium of Xenophon and see how many contentions he has reconciled, and again how patient he was with Thrasymachus, with Polus, with Callicles, and how patient always with his wife, and with his son, when his son tried to convict him of fallacious
arguments. For he remembered to hold fast the truth that no man is master of another's Governing Principle. Therefore he wished to do nothing that was not his own. What does that mean? Not to move other people to act naturally, for that is not his to do: but to let others act for themselves, as they think fit, and himself none the less to live and spend his days in accord with nature, only doing his own business in such a way that they, too, should follow nature. For this is the conduct which the good and noble man always has set before him.
Is it his will to become praetor?
No, but if this is given him, to keep his own Governing Principle in these circumstances.
No, but if marriage is given him, to keep himself in a natural state in those circumstances. But if he wills that his son or his wife should not go wrong, then he wills to make his own what is not his own. In fact education is this, to learn what is one's own and what is not.
Where, then, is there any room for contention if a man bears himself thus? Is he amazed at anything that happens? Does anything take him by surprise? Does he not expect the wicked to deal worse and more severely with him than the event turns out? Does he not count everything gain in which they fall short of the worst?
'Such a one reviled you.'
Many thanks to him for not striking.
'But he did strike too.'
Many thanks to him for not wounding.
'But he did wound.'
Many thanks to him for not killing. For when, or in whose school, did he learn 'that man is a gentle and sociable creature and that wrongdoing in itself does great harm to the wrongdoer'?
If, then, he has not learnt this or been convinced of it, why should he not follow what appears to be his interest?
'My neighbour has thrown stones.'
Is that any offence on your part?
'But my crockery is broken.'
You are no piece of crockery: you are a rational will. You ask what is given you to meet this attack? If you want to act the wolf, you may bite back, and throw more stones at him than he threw: but if you seek to act as a man, then examine your store and see what faculties you have brought into the world with you. Have you brought the faculty of a brute, the faculty of revenging wrongs? When is a horse miserable? When it is deprived of its natural faculties, not when it is unable to crow like a cock, but when it is unable to run. And the dog? Not when it cannot fly, but when it cannot follow a trail. On the same principle a man is
wretched, not when he cannot throttle lions or embrace statues (for he has not been endowed by nature with faculties for this), but when he has lost his rational and trustworthy faculty. This is he for whom men
not, by Zeus, the man who is born or dies, but he whose lot it is to lose while he lives what is his own—not his patrimony, his paltry field or house or inn or slaves (for none of these is man's own, but all are alien to him, all are subject and subservient to their Masters, who give them now to one now to another)—to lose the qualities that make him man, the distinctive stamp impressed upon his mind: like the stamp we look for on coins, which if we find we pass them, and if we do not, fling them away.
Whose imprint does this sesterce bear?
Here with it.
Fling it away, it will not pass, it is good for nothing.
So, too, it is with man. What stamp have his judgements? 'Gentle, sociable, patient, affectionate.' Good, I accept him, I make him a citizen, I accept him as a neighbour and fellow voyager. Only beware that he has not the stamp of Nero. Is he hot-tempered, is he wrathful, is he querulous? 'If it takes his fancy, he cuffs the heads of those he meets.' Why, then, did you say that he is a man? Is everything judged by its outward form alone? On that principle you must call your waxen apple an apple. No, it must smell and taste like an apple: the outward semblance is not enough. So, when you judge man, nose and eyes are not sufficient, you must see if he has the judgements of a man. Here is one who does not listen to reason, does not understand when his fallacies are exposed; he is an ass. Here is one whose self-respect is deadened: he is useless, anything rather than a man. Here is one looking to find some one he can kick or bite; it follows he is not even a sheep or an ass, but some savage beast or other.
'What then? Do you want me to be despised?'
By whom? By those who know? Nay, how will those who know despise one who is gentle and self-respecting? By those who do not know? What do you care for them? No craftsman cares for those who have no skill!
'Yes, but they will attack me much more.'
What do you mean by 'me'? Can any one injure your will or hinder you from dealing with the impressions you meet with in a natural way? 'No.'
Why, then, do you persist in being troubled and want to show yourself a man of fears? Why do you not come forward and openly proclaim that you are at peace with all men, whatever they do, and that you laugh above all at those who think that they are harming you? saying, 'These slaves do not know who I am, nor where to find what is good or bad for me, for they have no way of getting at my position.' In the same way those who inhabit a strong city laugh at those who besiege it. 'Why are these men troubling themselves for nothing? Our wall is secure, we have food for a long time, and all other supplies.' These are the things that make a city secure against capture; the soul of man is made secure by judgements alone. For what wall is so strong, or what substance so impenetrable, or what property so secure against robbery, or what reputation so unassailable? When the objects that a man sets his mind on are bound to bring him trouble of mind, sick hopes, fear, mourning, disappointment of the will to get, failure of the will to avoid, they are always subject to death and to capture.
If this be so, are we not willing to make the one means of safety which is given us secure, and, abandoning what is mortal and slavish, to spend our efforts on what is immortal and free by nature? Do we not remember that one man does not harm nor benefit another? It is man's judgement on each situation that harms him. It is this which overthrows him, this is contention, this is faction, this is war. The conflict of Eteocles and Polynices was caused by nothing else but this judgement, the judgement on kingship, the judgement on exile—that exile is the worst of evils, kingship the greatest good: and the nature of every man is this—to pursue the good, to avoid the evil, to consider him who takes away from one's good and who involves one in evil as an enemy and aggressor, even though he be a brother, a son, a father, for no kinship is closer than that of the good. Wherefore, if these outward things are reckoned good and evil, there is no love between father and sons or between brother and brother, but the whole world is full of enemies, aggressors, malicious persons. But if a right will is the only good thing, and a wrong will the only evil, what becomes of conflict and reviling? How can it arise? Over things that do not concern us? With whom should we contend? With the ignorant, the miserable, with those who are deluded in regard to the highest matters?
Socrates remembered this when he lived in his own house and bore with a most shrewish wife and an unfeeling son. For what did her shrewishness mean? Pouring water at will over his head, and trampling on his cake. What is that to me, if I make up my mind that it is nothing to me? This is what I have to do, and no king nor master shall hinder me against my will, the many shall not prevail against the one, nor the stronger against the weaker: for God has given each man his reason to
use unhindered. These judgements make affection in a household, concord in a city, peace among nations; they make a man grateful towards God, confident in all places, for he looks on outward things as alien to him and as worth nothing. But though we are capable of writing and reading these sentiments, though we can praise them as we read, yet they do not bring conviction to us, nor anything like it. Wherefore the proverb about the Lacedaemonians,
will fit us too. In the lecture-room we are lions, and foxes in the world outside!