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The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, [1916], at



When you see another man in office, set against his office the fact that you have no need of office: when you see another rich, look what you have instead. If you have nothing instead, you are miserable, but if you have this—that you have no need of wealth—know that you are better off and have something much more valuable. Another has a beautiful wife, you have freedom from desire for a beautiful wife. Do these seem to you small matters? Nay, what a price the rich themselves, and those who hold office, and who live with beautiful wives, would give to despise wealth and office and the very women whom they love and win! Do you not know what the thirst of a man in a fever is like, how different from the thirst of a man in health? The healthy man drinks and his thirst is gone: the other is delighted for a moment and then grows giddy, the water turns to gall, and he vomits and has colic, and is more exceeding thirsty. Such is the condition of the man who is haunted by desire in wealth or in office, and in wedlock with a lovely woman: jealousy clings to him, fear of loss, shameful words, shameful thoughts, unseemly deeds.

'Nay, but what do I lose?' he says.

p. 446

Man, you were self-respecting and are so no more; have you lost nothing? Instead of Chrysippus and Zeno you read Aristides and Evenus; have you lost nothing? Instead of Socrates and Diogenes you admire the man who can cajole and corrupt most women. You want to be handsome and you make yourself up as what you are not; you want to show off glittering clothes, that you may attract women's eyes, and you count yourself lucky if you light on some precious cosmetic. Before, you thought of none of these things; your only concern was to find seemly discourse, a man of worth, a noble thought; and therefore you slept like a man, you walked like a man, you dressed like a man, your conversation was what a good man's should be. Can you say then, 'I have lost nothing'? Do you mean that men lose nothing but mere money? Is there no loss of self-respect, no loss of decency? Does the loss of these count for nothing? To you perhaps the loss of these qualities seems as nothing: there was a time when you counted this the only loss and the only harm, and when your one anxiety was that no one should dislodge you from these views and these acts.

And lo! you have been dislodged from them, but by none other than yourself. Fight against yourself, deliver yourself, that you may be modest, self-respecting, free. If any one ever told you that some one was compelling me to be a profligate, to dress like a profligate, to scent myself, would you not go and murder the man who so abused me? Will you not help yourself then? And how much easier this help is to give! There is no need to kill or to imprison or to assault any one, no need to come out into the market-place: you have only to talk to yourself, to the man who is most likely to be persuaded, and whom no one can persuade better than yourself. Therefore, first realize what is happening to you, and having done so, do not be faint-hearted or behave as men of a mean spirit do, who when once they have given in surrender completely and are swept away, so to speak, by the stream: no, learn a lesson from the trainers. The boy has fallen, suppose. 'Get up', says the trainer, 'and wrestle again, until you are made strong.' Let this be your attitude; for know that nothing is more amenable than the mind of man. You have but to will a thing and it is done, and all is right; on the other hand you have but to relax your effort and all is lost. For destruction and deliverance lie within you.

'What good do I get then?'

What greater good do you look for than this? You were shameless and shall be self-respecting, you were undisciplined and shall be disciplined, untrustworthy and you shall be trusted, dissolute and you shall be self-controlled. If you look for greater things than these, go on doing as you do now: not even a god can save you.

Next: Chapter X. What Things We Should Despise, and What We Should Deem Important