The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
'I am vexed', he says, 'at being pitied.'
Is it your doing that you are pitied, or the doing of those who pity you? Or again, does it rest with you to stop their pity?
'Yes, if I show them that I do not deserve their pity.'
But is it in your power, or is it not, not to deserve pity? 'I think that it is in my power.'
But these men do not pity you for what would deserve pity, if anything did—I mean for your errors—but for poverty and lack of office and diseases and death and other things of this sort. Are you, then, prepared to persuade the multitude that none of these things, after all, is evil, but that it is possible for a man who is poor, and without office or honour, to be happy, or do you try to show off to them as a man of wealth and office? The second course stamps you as a braggart without taste or worth. And consider by what means you would achieve your pretence: you will have to borrow some wretched slaves and possess a few pieces of plate, and show them many times over, if you can, and try not to let men know that they are the same; and you must display gay apparel and other splendours and show yourself off as one who is honoured by eminent persons and must try to dine at their table, or at least be thought to do so; and you must use base arts on your person, to make yourself seem handsomer and better made than you really are: these are the contrivances you must adopt, if you wish to take the second way of avoiding pity.
But the first way is a long, nay an endless, one—to attempt the very task which Zeus could not accomplish—to convince all men of what is
good and what is evil. Is this given to you? No! This only is given you —to convince yourself: you have not yet done that: and yet you are already attempting—are you?—to convince others. Why! Who has been your companion so long as you have been yourself, and who can exercise such persuasion on you as you can on yourself, and who is more kindly and friendly disposed to you than you are? How is it, then, that you have not yet persuaded yourself to learn? Are not your thoughts turned upside down? Have you set your mind on this, and not on learning how to be quit of pain and trouble and humiliation, and so to be free? Have you not heard, then, that there is but one way which leads to this—to give up all that lies beyond the will, to abandon it and confess that it is not yours?
To what class of things does another man's opinion about you belong? 'To what is outside the will.'
Then it concerns you not at all?
'Not at all.'
While, then, you still allow yourself to be vexed and troubled at men's opinion, do you imagine that you have attained conviction as to what is good and evil?
Will you not, then, let other men alone and become your own master and pupil? 'Other men shall see for themselves whether it is to their advantage to be in an unnatural state and live their lives so, but no man is nearer me than I am myself. Why is it, then, that though I have heard the arguments of philosophers and assent to them, they have not lightened my burden? Am I so wanting in ability? Why, in all the other things I chose to undertake, I was not found to be duller than most. I was quick at learning letters and wrestling and geometry and the analysis of syllogisms. Is it, then, that reason has failed to convince me? Why, there is nothing which I have so stamped with my approval and choice from the first—and even now these principles are the subject of my reading, I hear and write of nothing else: up till to-day we have found no argument to prevail against this. What then do I lack? Is it that the contrary judgements have not been removed from my mind? Is it that my own convictions are untrained and unaccustomed to confront facts, like arms put away in a cupboard and grown rusty, that cannot be fitted to my body? Yes, of course! In wrestling or writing or reading I am not content with merely learning; I twist the arguments put before me to and fro and construct new ones, and I deal with variable premisses in like manner. But when I have to deal with those necessary principles, which enable a man, if he grounds himself on them, to escape pain, fear, passion, hindrance—to be free, I do not exercise myself in them nor devote to them the practice that is proper for them. And then, am I concerned by what the multitude will say of me,
and whether in their eyes I shall appear a happy or important personage?'
Miserable man, will you not see what opinion you pronounce on yourself? How do you appear to yourself? What manner of man in thought, in will to get and will to avoid: what manner of man in impulse, preparation, design, and the other activities of man? Yet you are concerned whether other men pity you?
'Yes, but they pity me when I do not deserve it.'
Is this what pains you? and is the man who is pained to be pitied?
Then you are not pitied without deserving it after all. By the very feelings you entertain in regard to pity you make yourself worthy of pity. What does Antisthenes say? Did you never hear? 'It is the part of a king, Cyrus, to do well and be ill-spoken of.' My head is sound and all think that I have a headache. What do I care? I am free from fever, and men sympathize with me as though I had fever: 'Unhappy man, this long time you have had fever without ceasing.' I put on a gloomy face and assent: 'It is quite true I have been ill for a long time.' 'What is to happen then?' 'What God wills': and as I say it I laugh in my sleeve at those who pity me.
What prevents me, then, from doing the same here too? I am poor, but I hold a right judgement on poverty: what do I care then, whether they pity me for poverty? I am not in office and others are; but I hold the right opinion as to being in office and out of it. Those who pity me shall take their own views: I have neither hunger nor thirst nor cold, but their own hunger or thirst makes them imagine the same of me. What am I to do for them then? I go about proclaiming and saying, 'Sirs, be not deluded, all is well with me, I take no heed of poverty, or want of office, or, in a word, of anything at all except right judgements: these I hold free from hindrance, I have paid regard to nothing besides.' Yet what nonsense am I talking? How do I hold right judgements any longer if I am not content with being what I am, and am excited over other men's opinion of me?
'But others will get more than I do, and will be preferred to me.'
Well, what is more reasonable than that those who have spent their pains on any object should have the advantage in that on which they have spent their pains? They have spent their pains on office, you on judgements, they on wealth, you on the way to deal with impressions. See whether they have the advantage of you in that on which you have spent pains and which they neglect: whether in assent they keep more to natural standards, whether they are more successful in getting what they will to get, and in avoiding what they will to avoid, whether in design, in purpose, in impulse they aim better than you, whether they
do what is fitting for them as men, as sons, and as parents, and in each relation that you name in turn. But if they hold office and you do not, will you not tell yourself the truth—that you do nothing to gain office, and they do everything, and it is most unreasonable that one who pays attention to a thing should have less success in it than one who does not?
'Nay, but I pay regard to right judgements and therefore it is more reasonable that I should rule.'
Yes, in judgements, for you have devoted yourself to them: but you must give place to others in that to which they have devoted themselves. You might as well claim to be a better shot with the bow than regular bowmen because you have right judgements, or to be better at smith's work than the professional smith. Give up your devotion to judgements then and busy yourself with the objects you wish to obtain, and then complain if you do not succeed, for you have a right to complain. But, as it is, you say you are bent on other things, and attending to other things, and the proverb of the people is a good one: 'One business has nothing in common with another.' One man rises at dawn and tries to find whom he can salute as he leaves home, or to whom he can make a pleasant speech, or send a gift, how he can please the dancer, how he can deal maliciously with one man to gratify another. When he prays, his prayers are for this object; when he sacrifices, his sacrifice is for this; the prayer of Pythagoras
he has turned to this end. 'How went I wrong?' Was it in matters of flattery? 'What wrought I?' Have I acted as a free man and a gentleman? And if he finds himself acting so he blames and accuses himself and says, 'Whatever should you say this for? Might you not have told a lie? Even philosophers say, "There is nothing to hinder one's telling a lie."'
But if you have really given your mind to nothing but how to deal properly with impressions, then as soon as you get up in the morning you must consider, 'What do I lack to secure freedom from passion? What do I lack to be unperturbed? What am I? Am I a mere body, or property, or reputation?'
None of these.
A rational creature.
What then are the demands upon me?
Reflect upon your actions. 'Where have I gone wrong' in regard to peace of mind? 'What have I done' unfriendly, or unsociable, or heartless?
[paragraph continues] What did I fail to accomplish in this regard that I ought to have done?
Seeing then that there is this great difference in men's desires and acts and prayers, do you still wish to be equal with them in matters to which they have given their minds and you have not? And, that being so, are you surprised and annoyed if they pity you? They are not annoyed if you pity them. Why? Because they are convinced that their lot is a good one, and you are not convinced. That is why you are not content with your portion, but hanker after theirs, and they are content with their portion and do not hanker after yours. For, if you were really convinced that you are right in regard to what is good and that they are far away from the truth, you would never have taken any account of what they say of you.