The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, , at sacred-texts.com
Never bestow praise or blame on any one for qualities which are indifferent, nor credit them with skill or want of skill; then you will escape at once from recklessness and malice. 'This man washes hastily.' Does he do evil then? Not at all. What is it he does then? He washes hastily. Do you mean that everything is well done? By no means: but acts based on right judgements are done well and those based on bad judgements are done badly. Until you have learnt from what judgement each of a man's acts proceeds, do not praise or blame him. But a judgement is not easily determined by externals. 'This man is a carpenter.' Why? 'He uses an adze.' What has that to do with it? 'This man is a musician, for he sings.' What does that matter? 'This man is a philosopher.' Why? 'He wears a cloak and long hair.' But what do mountebanks wear? Therefore, if a man sees one of them misbehaving, he says at once, 'Look what the philosopher is doing.' But his misconduct should rather have led him to say that he was no philosopher. For, if this is the
primary conception and profession of a philosopher, to wear a cloak and long hair, they would be right: but if it is rather this—to be free from error—why do they not deprive him of the name 'philosopher' because he does not fulfil the philosopher's profession? For this is what happens in other arts. When one sees a man planing badly, one does not say, 'What is the good of the carpenter's art, see what bad work carpenters do', but one says quite the contrary, 'This man is not a carpenter, for he planes badly.' In like manner if one hears a man singing badly, one does not say, 'See how badly musicians sing', but rather, 'This man is no musician.' It is only in regard to philosophy that men behave so: when they see any one acting contrary to the philosopher's profession, instead of refusing him the name, they assume that he is a philosopher, and then finding from the facts that he is misbehaving, they infer that there is no use in being a philosopher. What is the reason for this? The reason is that we pay regard to the primary notion of the carpenter, and to that of the musician, and to that of other craftsmen in like manner, but pay no regard to the notion of the philosopher, but as it is indistinct and inarticulate in our minds we judge it by externals only. Can you name any other art that is acquired by dress and hair, and is destitute of principles and subject-matter and end?
What then is the subject-matter of the philosopher? Is it a cloak? No, it is reason.
What is his end? Is it to wear a cloak?
No, but to keep his reason right.
What are his principles? Are they concerned with how to grow a long beard or thick hair?
No, but rather, as Zeno says, to understand the elements of reason, the true nature of each, and how they are duly related to one another, and all that is consequential on this. Will you not, then, first see whether he fulfils his profession by behaving unseemly, and only then, if it be so, accuse his calling? As it is, when you think that he is behaving ill, when your own conduct is discreet, you say, 'Look at the philosopher', as though it were fitting to call the man who acts so a philosopher, and again, 'There's your philosopher!' But you do not say, 'Look at the carpenter', or 'Look at the musician', when you discover one of that class in adultery or see him eating greedily. So true it is that you realize the philosopher's profession to a certain extent, but you fall away from it and are confounded by sheer want of practice.
But even those who are called philosophers use vulgar means to pursue their calling: they just put on a cloak and let their beard grow and say, 'I am a philosopher.' But no one if he merely buys a harp and a plectrum will say, 'I am a musician', nor if he puts on a smith's cap and apron will say, 'I am a smith': no doubt they fit the dress to the art,
but they take their name from the art and not from the dress. For this reason Euphrates was right in saying, 'For a long time I tried not to be known for a philosopher and this was useful to me. For, in the first place, I knew that what I did rightly was done for my own sake and not for the spectators: it was for myself that I ate rightly and was modest in my aspect and my gait: all was for myself and God. Secondly, as the performance was mine only, so also was the risk: if I did anything shameful or unseemly the cause of philosophy was not endangered, nor did I injure the public by going wrong as a philosopher. For this reason those who did not know my design wondered how it was that, though I was familiar and conversant with all philosophers, I was not a philosopher myself. What harm is there in the philosopher being discovered by my acts, and not by outward signs?'
See how I eat, how I drink, how I sleep, how I bear and forbear, how I work for others, how I exercise the will to get and the will to avoid, how I observe my relationships, natural and acquired, without confusion and without hindrance. Judge me by this, if you can. But if you are so deaf and blind, that you do not consider Hephaestus a good smith unless you see him with his smith's cap on his head, what harm is there in being unrecognized by so foolish a judge?
So it was that most men did not recognize Socrates for a philosopher, and they came to him and asked him to introduce them to philosophers. Well, was he annoyed with them, as we should be? Did he say, 'Do not you think me a philosopher?' No, he took them and introduced them, and was content with this one thing, that he was a philosopher, and was glad that he was not vexed at being not taken for one: for he remembered his proper business.
What is the business of a good and true man? To have many pupils? Certainly not: those who have set their heart on that shall look to that. Is it then to take difficult principles and define them precisely? Others there will be who will look to this.
Where then was it that Socrates asserted himself and wished to assert himself?
In the region of injury and benefit. 'If any one', said he, 'can injure me, I am of no good; if I wait for some one to benefit me, I am naught. If I will, and my will is not done, I am miserable.' This was the great field of conflict to which he challenged every man, and in which I think he would have given way to none. But how, think you? Was it by proclaiming aloud, 'This is the man I am'? Never! but by being the man he was. For, again, it is a fool's and a braggart's part to say, 'I am free from passion and tumult. Men, I would have you know, that, while you are in turmoil and disturbance about worthless matters, I alone am relieved from all perturbation.' What, are you not content to be free
from pain, without proclaiming, 'Come, all ye who suffer from gout, headache, fever, come ye lame and blind and behold how I am untouched by any sickness'? That is a vain and vulgar boast, unless, like Asclepius, you can at once show them by what treatment they too can be relieved of disease, and for this purpose produce your own good health as an example.
Such is the character of the Cynic whom Zeus has deemed worthy of crown and sceptre. He says, 'Men, you are looking for happiness and peace not where it is but where it is not, and, that you may see this, behold I have been sent to you by God as an example, having neither property nor house nor wife nor children—no, not even a bed or a tunic or a piece of furniture. See how healthy I am. Try me, and if you see that I am at peace in my mind, hear my remedies and the treatment which cured me.' This indeed is a humane and noble saying. But notice whose work it is: the work of Zeus or whomsoever He thinks worthy of this service—never to lay bare before the multitude any weakness whereby he should make of none effect the witness which he bears to virtue, and bears against outward things.
Not only so, he must not long for anything or hanker after anything—human being or place or way of life—as children hanker after sweet grapes or holidays: he must be adorned with self-respect on every side, as others find their adornment in walls and doors and door-keepers.
Instead of that your would-be philosophers just take a start towards philosophy, and, like dyspeptics rushing to some dainty food, of which they are bound soon to grow sick, they claim at once the sceptre and the kingdom. He lets his hair grow, assumes a cloak, bares his shoulder for all to see, fights with those that meet him, and, if he sees any one in a fine cloak, quarrels with him. Man, discipline yourself first: watch your own impulse, to see that it is not like the sickly craving of a woman with child. Study first not to let men know what you are: keep your philosophy to yourself for a little. That is how fruit is produced. The seed must needs be buried first, and be hidden, and increase by slow degrees, that it may come to fullness. But if it bear the ear before it grows the stalk, it is like a plant from the garden of Adonis and comes to no good. That is the sort of plant you are: you have blossomed sooner than you ought, and will wither away when the storm comes.
Look what farmers say about seeds, when the hot weather comes before its time. They are all anxiety for fear that the seeds should grow
insolent and then a single frost seize them and expose their weakness. You, too, man, must beware: you have grown insolent and have leapt to an opinion before the time: you think yourself a somebody, fool that you are among fools; you will be frost-bitten, nay you are frost-bitten already down at the root, though above you still blossom for a little and therefore think you are still alive and flourishing. Leave us at least to ripen in the natural course. Why do you expose us to the air, why do you force us? We cannot bear the air yet. Let the root grow, and then produce the stem, first one joint, then the second, then the third: then in that way the fruit will force its way naturally, whether I will or no.
For who that has conceived and travailed with such great judgements does not become aware of his own gifts and hasten to act in accordance with them? Why, a bull is not ignorant of his own nature and endowment when he catches sight of a wild beast, nor does he wait for some one to encourage him; and so with a dog, when he sees a wild animal. If then I have the equipment of a good man, am I to wait for you to equip me to do my proper work? But as yet I have not the equipment, believe me. Why then would you make me wither away before the time, just as you have withered away yourself?