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

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What matters it whether the world is composed of atoms or of infinite parts or of fire and earth? Is it not enough to know the true nature of good and evil, and the limits of the will to get and the will to avoid, and again of impulses for action and against it, and using these as rules so to order our life, and dismiss those things that are beyond us. It may be that the human mind cannot comprehend them, and even if one should assume that it can, of what use is it to comprehend them? Should we not say that those who lay down that these things are necessary for the philosopher trouble themselves in vain? Is then the command at Delphi also superfluous: 'Know thyself'?

'No,' he replies.

What then is its meaning? If one ordered a chorus-singer to know himself, would he not attend to the order by paying heed to his fellows in the chorus so as to sing in harmony with them?


And the same with a sailor and a soldier. Do you think then that man is a creature made to live by himself or for society?

'For society.'

By whom?

'By Nature.'

What Nature is and how it administers the universe and whether it is or no—these are matters it is not necessary to trouble ourselves with. Stob. Flor. 80. 14; Ecl. ii. 1. 18a.



He who is discontented with what he has and with what is given him by fortune is an ignoramus in life, and he who bears it in a noble spirit and makes reasonable use of it deserves to be considered a good man. Flor. 108. 65.



All things obey and serve the Universe f-2—earth and sea and sun and the other stars and the plants and animals of the earth; and our body too

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obeys it, enjoying sickness or health, and passing through youth and old age and other changes when the Universe wills. Is it not reasonable then that what is in our power, that is our judgement, should not be the only thing to strive against it? For the Universe is strong and superior to us and has provided for us better than we can, ordering our goings along with all things. And, besides, to act against it is to side with unreason, and brings nothing with it but vain struggle, involving us in miseries and pains. Flor. 108. 66.



God has divided all things into those that He put in our power, and those that are not in our power. He put in our power that which is noblest and highest, that which in fact constitutes His own happiness, the power to deal with impressions. For this faculty when rightly exercised is freedom, peace, courage, steadfastness, and this too is justice and law and self-control and all virtue. All else He put beyond our power. We ought then to will what God wills and, adopting His division, hold fast by all means to what is in our power and leave what is not in our power to the world's order, and gladly resign to it children, or country, or body, or anything else it may ask of us. Ecl. ii. 7. 30.



Which of us does not admire that saying of Lycurgus the Lacedaemonian? For when one of his young fellow citizens had blinded him in one eye and was handed over to Lycurgus by the people to be punished as he chose, he did not punish him but educated him and made a good man of him, and brought him before the Lacedaemonians in the theatre, and when they wondered he said, 'This man, when you gave him me, was insolent and violent; I give him back to you a free and reasonable citizen'. Flor. 19. 13.



But this above all things is the function of Nature, to associate in close harmony the impulse that springs from the impression of what is fitting and that which springs from the impression of what is serviceable. Flor, 20. 60.

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It is a sure work of folly and want of breeding to think that we shall be contemptible if we do not take every means to injure the first enemies we meet; for we say that a man is perceived to be contemptible by his incapacity of doing harm, whereas really it is much more by his incapacity to do good. Flor. 20. 61.



Such was and is and shall be the nature of the universe, and it is impossible that what happens should be other than it is. And this process of revolution and change is shared not only by mankind and the other living creatures upon earth, but also by things divine; yes, and even by the four elements themselves, which turn and change upwards and downwards, earth turning into water and water into air, and this again into ether; and similarly the elements change from above downwards. If a man endeavours to adjust his mind to this and to persuade himself to accept necessity with a good will, he will live out his life very reasonably and harmoniously. Flor. 108. 60.



A philosopher famous in the Stoic school . . . brought out of his satchel the fifth book of Epictetus the philosopher's Discourses, which were arranged by Arrian, and no doubt are in agreement with the writings of Zeno and Chrysippus. In this book, written of course in Greek, we read this sentence: 'Impressions (which philosophers call φαντασίαι), by which man's mind is struck at first sight of anything that reaches his intellect, are not under his will or control, but thrust themselves on the recognition of men by a certain force of their own; but the assents (which they call συγκαταθέσεις) by which these impressions are recognized are voluntary and depend on man's control. Therefore when some fearful sound of thunder or a falling house or sudden news of some danger or other, or something else of this sort happens, even the wise man is bound to be moved for a while and shrink and grow pale, not from anticipation of any evil, but from rapid and unconsidered movements forestalling the action of the rational mind. Presently, however, the wise man does not assent to such impressions (that is, these appearances which

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terrify his mind), he does not approve or confirm them by his opinion, but rejects and repels them and does not think that there is anything formidable in them; and this they say is the difference between the wise man and the fool, that the fool thinks that the impressions which at first strike him as harsh and cruel are really such, and as they go on approves them with his own assent and confirms them by his opinion as if they were really formidable (προσεπιδοξάζει is the phrase the Stoics use in discussing this), while the wise man, after showing emotion in colour and complexion for a brief moment, does not give his assent, but keeps the opinions which he has always held about such impressions, firm and strong, as of things which do not really deserve to be feared at all, but only inspire an empty and fictitious terror.'

These opinions and words of Epictetus the philosopher, derived from the judgements of the Stoics, we read, in the book I have mentioned, that he held and expressed. Aul. Gell. N. A. 19. I.


I have heard Favorinus say that Epictetus the philosopher said that most of those who seemed to philosophize were philosophers only with their lips and without action. There is a still stronger saying which Arrian in the books that he composed on his lectures has recorded that he constantly used. For, said he, when he noticed a man lost to shame, of misdirected energy and debased morals, bold and confident in speech and devoting attention to all else but his soul, when he saw a man of this sort meddling with the pursuits and studies of philosophy, venturing into Physics and studying Dialectic, and initiating many inquiries of this sort, he would appeal to gods and men, and so appealing would chide the man in these words: 'Man, where are you putting them? Look and see whether your vessel is made clean. For if you put them into the vessel of fancy (οἴησις) they are lost; if they turn bad, they might as well be vinegar or urine or worse.' Nothing surely could be truer or weightier than these words, in which the greatest of philosophers asserted that the written doctrines of philosophy, if poured into the dirty and defiled vessel of a false and debased mind, are altered, changed and spoilt, and (to use his Cynic phrase) turn to urine or anything fouler than that. Moreover Epictetus also, as we heard from the same Favorinus, used to say that there were two faults far more serious and vile than any others, want of endurance and want of self-control, the failure to bear and endure the wrongs we have to bear, and the failure to forbear the pleasures and other things that we ought to forbear. And so, he said, if a man should take to heart these two words, and watch and command himself to keep them, he will be free for the most part from error and will live a most

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peaceful life. And the words he said were these two: 'Bear' and 'Forbear'. Aul. Gell. N. A. 17. 19.


When the safety of our souls and regard for our true selves is in question, one may have to act at times without reason: this is a saying of Epictetus quoted with approval by Arrian. Arnobius, Against the Heathen, 2. 78.



But when Archelaus sent for Socrates and said he would make him rich, he bade the messenger take back word to him, 'At Athens one can buy four quarts of barleymeal for an obol, and there are running springs of water'. For if what I have is not sufficient for me, yet I am sufficient for it, and so it is sufficient for me. Do you not see that Polus did not act Oedipus the king in better voice or with greater pleasure than he acted Oedipus the poor beggar at Colonus? What! is the good man and true to show himself inferior to Polus, instead of playing any part well that Providence puts upon him? Will he not rather make Odysseus his pattern, who was just as remarkable in his rags as in his rich cloak of purple? Flor. 97. 28.



There are certain persons who indulge their anger gently, and who do all that the most passionate do, but in a quiet passionless way. Now we must guard against their error as a much worse fault than passionate anger. For the passionate are soon sated with their revenge, but the colder spirits persist for a long period like men who take a fever lightly. Flor. 20. 48.



'But', one says, 'I see the noble and good perishing of hunger and cold.' Well, and do you not see those who are not noble and good perishing of luxury and ostentation and vulgarity?

'Yes; but it is base to be maintained by another.'

Miserable man, is there any one that maintains himself? Only the Universe does that. The man who accuses Providence because the wicked

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are not punished, but are strong and rich, is acting just as absurdly as if, when they had lost their eyes, he said that they had not been punished, because their nails were sound. For my part I hold that there is a much greater difference between virtue and vice than between eyes and nails. Ecl. i. 3. 50.



... bringing forward the peevish philosophers, who hold that pleasure is not natural, but accompanies things which are natural—justice, self-control, freedom. Why then does the soul take a calm delight, as Epicurus says, in the lesser goods, those of the body, and does not take pleasure in her own good things, which are the greatest? I tell you that nature has given me a sense of self-respect, and I often blush when I think I am saying something shameful. It is this emotion which prevents me from regarding pleasure as a good thing and as the end of life. Flor. 6. 50.



In Rome women make a study of Plato's Republic, because he enacts community of wives; for they only attend to the man's words and not to his spirit, not noticing that he does not first enact the marriage of one man and one woman and then wish wives to be common, but removes the first kind of marriage and introduces another kind in its place. And in general men are fond of finding justifications for their own faults; for philosophy says that one ought not even to hold out one's finger at random. Flor. 6. 58.



You must know that it is not easy for a man to arrive at a judgement, unless he should state and hear the same principles every day and apply them all the time to his life. Flor. 29. 84.



When we are invited to a drinking-party we enjoy what is before us, and if one should bid his entertainer to serve him fish or cakes one would be thought eccentric. Yet in the world we ask the gods for what they do

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not give us, and that although there are many gifts which they have given us. Flor. 4. 92.



Fine fellows, he said, are they who pride themselves on those things which are beyond our control. 'I am better than you,' says one, 'for I have abundance of lands, and you are prostrate with hunger.' Another says, 'I am a consular'; another, 'I am a procurator'; another, 'I have curly hair'. A horse does not say to a horse, 'I am better than you, for I have plenty of fodder and plenty of barley, and I have bridles of gold and saddles of inlaid work', but 'for I am swifter than you'. And every creature is better or worse according as its own virtue or vice makes it so. Is man then the only creature that has no virtue of his own, that we should have to look at his hair and his clothes and his ancestors? Flor. 4. 93.


Sick men are angry with their physician when he gives them no advice, and think that he has given them up. Why should one not adopt the same attitude to the philosopher and conclude that he has given up hope of one's wisdom, if he tells one nothing that is of use? Flor. 4. 94.



Those whose bodies are in good condition can endure heat and cold; so those whose souls are in good condition can bear anger and pain and exultation and other emotions. Flor. 4. 95.



It is right to praise Agrippinus for this reason, that having shown himself a man of the highest worth, he never praised himself, but blushed if any one else praised him. His character was such that when any distress befell him he wrote a eulogy of it; if fever was his portion he praised fever; if disrepute, he praised disrepute; and if exile, he praised exile. And one day, when he was about to breakfast, a messenger interrupted him to say that Nero ordered him into exile. 'Well then,' said he, 'we will breakfast at Aricia.' Flor. 7. 17.

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Agrippinus, when governor, tried to convince those whom he sentenced that it was proper for them to be sentenced. 'It is not as their enemy', he said, 'or as a robber that I give sentence against them, but as their guardian and kinsman, just as the physician encourages the man on whom he is operating and persuades him to submit his body.' Flor. 48. 44.



Wondrous is Nature, and 'fond of her creatures', as Xenophon says. At any rate, we love and tend the body, the least agreeable and most vile of all things! For if we had to tend our neighbour's body for ten days only we could not bear it. Consider what it would be to get up in the morning and clean some one else's teeth, and then to perform some other necessary office for him. Truly it is wondrous that we should love that for which we do such mean services day by day. I stuff this bag; then I empty it; what could be more tiresome? But I am bound to serve God. That is why I stay here and put up with washing this miserable body of mine, and giving it fodder and shelter; and when I was younger, it laid other commands on me as well, and yet I bore with it. Why then, when Nature, who gave you your body, takes it away, can you not bear it? 'I love it,' he says. Well, but is it not Nature, as I said just now, that has given you this very love of it? And yet Nature too says, 'Let it go now, and trouble no more'. Flor. 121. 29.



If a man dies young he accuses the gods, and an old man sometimes accuses them because he still is put to trouble when the time for rest has fully come, and yet, when death comes near, he is fain to live and sends to his doctor and bids him spare no pains or effort. Wondrous, he said, are men, for they are unwilling to live or to die. Flor. 121. 30.



When you attack a man with threats and show of violence, remember to warn yourself that you are not a wild beast; then you will do nothing

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savage, and will live your life through without having to repent or be called to account. Flor. 20. 67.


You are a little soul, carrying a corpse, as Epictetus used to say. M. Aurelius, iv. 41.


Epictetus said that we must discover the art of assent, and use careful attention in the sphere of the will; our impulses must be 'with qualification', and social and according to desert: we must abstain altogether from the will to get, and not attempt to avoid any of those things that are not in our power. M. Aurelius, xi. 37.


It is no ordinary matter that is at stake, he said; the question is between sanity and madness. M. Aurelius, xi. 38.

29 f-3

Always take thought for nothing so much as what is safe; silence is safer than speech; refrain from saying what shall be void of sense and open to blame. Flor. 35. 10.


We must not fasten our ship to one small anchor nor our life to one hope. Flor. 110. 22.


We must not stretch our hopes too wide, any more than our stride. Flor. 110. 23.


It is more needful to heal soul than body; for death is better than living ill. Flor. 121. 27.


The rarest pleasures give most delight. Flor. 6. 59


If a man should go beyond the mean, the most joyous things would turn to utter joylessness. Flor. 6. 60.

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No one is free that is not his own master. Flor. 6. 59.


Truth is a thing immortal and eternal; it gives us not a beauty that fades with time; nor does it take away the confident speech that is based on justice, but confirms things just and lawful, distinguishing things unjust from them and showing their falsehood. Antonius, i. 21.

f-1 'Most of these fragments come from two selections from Greek writers, made by Stobaeus, John of Stobi in Macedonia (sixth century A.D.). Those marked Ecl. are from his Eclogues, and those marked Flor. from his Anthology. Fragments 9 and 10 are from the Noctes Atticae of Aulus Gellius, a Latin grammarian of the second century A.D.; 26, 27, 28 from the Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus; 10a from the Against the Heathen of Arnobius, an African Latin writer (ca. A.D. 300); 36 from Antonius Melissa ('The Bee'), a Greek monk of uncertain date. The reference to Musonius Rufus in the headings of 4-8 is not clear; the natural meaning would be that they are sayings of Rufus, incorporated by Epictetus in his discourses on Friendship.' (Matheson)

f-2 'The ordered universe, which is sometimes identified with its Creator, God.' (Matheson)

f-3 The genuineness of the remaining fragments has been suspected.

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