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Of the things which are in our power, and not in our power.

OF all the faculties (except that which I shall soon mention), you will find not one which is capable of contemplating itself, and, consequently, not capable either of approving or disapproving.1 How far does the grammatic art possess the contemplating power? As far as forming a judgment about what is written and spoken. And how far music? As far as judging about melody. Does either of them then contemplate itself? By no means. But when you must write something to your friend, grammar will tell you what words you should write; but whether you should write or not, grammar will not tell you. And so it is with music as to musical sounds; but whether you should sing at the present time and play on the lute, or do neither, music will not tell you. What faculty then will tell you? That which contemplates both itself and all other things. And what is this faculty? The rational faculty;2 for this is the only faculty that we have received which examines itself, what it is, and what power it has, and what is the value of this gift, and examines all other faculties: for what else is there which tells us that golden things are beautiful, for they do not say so themselves? Evidently it is the faculty which is capable of judging of appearances.3 What else judges of music, grammar, and the other faculties, proves their uses, and points out the occasions for using them? Nothing else.

As then it was fit to be so, that which is best of all and supreme over all is the only thing which the gods have placed in our power, the right use of appearances; but all other things they have not placed in our power. Was it because they did not choose? I indeed think that, if they had been able, they would have put these other things also in our power, but they certainly could not.4 For as we exist on the earth, and are bound to such a body and to such companions, how was it possible for us not to be hindered as to these things by externals?

But what says Zeus? Epictetus, if it were possible, I would have made both your little body and your little property free and not exposed to hindrance. But now be not ignorant of this: this body is not yours, but it is clay finely tempered. And since I was not able to do for you what I have mentioned, I have given you a small portion of us,5 this faculty of pursuing an object and avoiding it, and the faculty of desire and aversion, and, in a word, the faculty of using the appearances of things; and if you will take care of this faculty and consider it your only possession, you will never be hindered, never meet with impediments; you will not lament, you will not blame, you will not flatter any person.

Well, do these seem to you small matters? I hope not. Be content with them then and pray to the gods. But now when it is in our power to look after one thing, and to attach ourselves to it, we prefer to look after many things, and to be bound to many things, to the body and to property, and to brother and to friend, and to child and to slave. Since then we are bound to many things, we are depressed by them and dragged down. For this reason, when the weather is not fit for sailing, we sit down and torment ourselves, and continually look out to see what wind is blowing. It is north. What is that to us? When will the west wind blow? When it shall choose, my good man, or when it shall please Aeolus; for God has not made you the manager of the winds, but Aeolus.6 What then? We must make the best use that we can of the things which are in our power, and use the rest according to their nature. What is their nature then? As God may please.

Must I then alone have my head cut off? What, would you have all men lose their heads that you may be consoled? Will you not stretch out your neck as Lateranus7 did at Rome when Nero ordered him to be beheaded? For when he had stretched out his neck, and received a feeble blow, which made him draw it in for a moment, he stretched it out again. And a little before, when he was visited by Epaphroditus,8 Nero's freedman, who asked him about the cause of offence which he had given, he said, “If I choose to tell anything, I will tell your master.”

What then should a man have in readiness in such circumstances? What else than this? What is mine, and what is not mine; and what is permitted to me, and what is not permitted to me. I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment? Tell me the secret which you possess. I will not, for this is in my power. But I will put you in chains.9 Man, what are you talking about? Me in chains? You may fetter my leg, but my will10 not even Zeus himself can overpower. I will throw you into prison. My poor body, you mean. I will cut your head off. When then have I told you that my head alone cannot be cut off? These are the things which philosophers should meditate on, which they should write daily, in which they should exercise themselves.

Thrasea11 used to say, I would rather be killed to-day than banished to-morrow. What then did Rufus12 say to him? If you choose death as the heavier misfortune, how great is the folly of your choice? But if, as the lighter, who has given you the choice? Will you not study to be content with that which has been given to you?

What then did Agrippinus13 say? He said, “I am not a hindrance to myself.” When it was reported to him that his trial was going on in the Senate, he said, “I hope it may turn out well; but it is the fifth hour of the day” —this was the time when he was used to exercise himself and then take the cold bath—“let us go and take our exercise.” After he had taken his exercise, one comes and tells him, You have been condemned. To banishment, he replies, or to death? To banishment. What about my property? It is not taken from you. Let us go to Aricia then,14 he said, and dine.

This it is to have studied what a man ought to study; to have made desire, aversion, free from hindrance, and free from all that a man would avoid. I must die. If now, I am ready to die. If, after a short time, I now dine because it is the dinner-hour; after this I will then die. How? Like a man who gives up15 what belongs to another.

1 “This moral approving and disapproving faculty” is Bp. Butler's translation of the δοκιμαστική and ἀποδοκιμαστική of Epictetus (i. 1, 1) in his dissertation, Of the Nature of Virtue. See his note.

2 The rational faculty is the λογικὴ ψυχή of Epictetus and Antoninus, of which Antoninus says (xi. 1): “These are the properties of the rational soul: it sees itself, analyses itself, and makes itself such as it chooses; the fruit which it bears, itself enjoys.”

3 This is what he has just named the rational faculty. The Stoics gave the name of appearances (φαντασίαι) to all impressions received by the senses, and to all emotions caused by external things. Chrysippus said: “φαντασία ἐστὶ πάθος ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ γινόμενον, ἐνδεικνύμενον ἑαυτό τε καὶ τὸ πεποιηκός” (Plutarch, iv. c. 12, De Placit. Philosoph.).

4 Compare Antoninus, ii. 3. Epictetus does not intend to limit the power of the gods, but he means that the constitution of things being what it is, they cannot do contradictories. They have so constituted things that man is hindered by externals. How then could they give to man a power of not being hindered by externals? Seneca (De Providentia, c. 6) says: “But it may be said, many things happen which cause sadness, fear, and are hard to bear. Because (God says) I could not save you from them, I have armed your minds against all.” This is the answer to those who imagine that they have disproved the common assertion of the omnipotence of God, when they ask whether He can combine inherent contradictions, whether He can cause two and two to make five. This is indeed a very absurd way of talking.

5 Schweighaeuser observes that these faculties of pursuit and avoidance, and of desire and aversion, and even the faculty of using appearances, belong to animals as well as to man: but animals in using appearances are moved by passion only, and do not understand what they are doing, while in man these passions are under his control. Salmasius proposed to change ἡμέτερον into ὑμέτερον, to remove the difficulty about these animal passions being called “a small portion of us (the gods).” Schweighaeuser, however, though he sees the difficulty, does not accept the emendation. Perhaps Arrian has here imperfectly represented what his master said, and perhaps he did not.

6 He alludes to the

κεῖνον γὰρ ταμίην ἀνέμων ποίησε Κρονίων.

7 Plautius Lateranus, consul-elect, was charged with being engaged in Piso's conspiracy against Nero. He was hurried to execution without being allowed to see his children; and though the tribune who executed him was privy to the plot, Lateranus said nothing. (Tacit. Ann. xv. 49, 60.)

8 Epaphroditus was a freedman of Nero, and once the master of Epictetus. He was Nero's secretary. One good act is recorded of him: he helped Nero to kill himself, and for this act he was killed by Domitian (Suetonius, Domitian, c. 14).

9 This is an imitation of a passage in the Bacchae of Euripides (v. 492, &c.), which is also imitated by Horace (Epp, i, 16).

10 προαίρεσίς. It is sometimes rendered by the Latin propositum or by voluntas, the will.

11 Thrasea Paetus, a Stoic philosopher, who was ordered in Nero's time to put himself to death (Tacit. Ann. xvi. 21–35). He was the husband of Arria, whose mother Arria, the wife of Caecina Paetus, in the time of the Emperor Claudius, heroically showed her husband the way to die (Plinius, Letters, iii. 16.) Martial has immortalised the elder Arria in a famous epigram (i. 14):— “ When Arria to her Paetus gave the sword,
Which her own hand from her chaste bosom drew,
'This wound,' she said, 'believe me, gives no pain,
But that will pain me which thy hand will do.'

12 C. Musonius Rufus, a Tuscan by birth, of equestrian rank, a philosopher and Stoic (Tacit. Hist. iii. 81).

13 Paconius Agrippinus was condemned in Nero's time. The charge against him was that he inherited his father's hatred of the head of the Roman state (Tacit. Ann. xvi. 28). The father of Agrippinus had been put to death under Tiberius (Suetonius, Tib. c. 61).

14 Aricia, about twenty Roman miles from Rome, on the Via Appia

Egressum magna me excepit Aricia Roma.

15 Epictetus, Encheiridion, c. 11: “Never say on the occasion of anything, 'I have lost it' but say, 'I have returned it.'”

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load focus Greek (1916)
load focus English (Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1890)
hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (13):
    • Euripides, Bacchae, 492
    • Homer, Odyssey, 10.21
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 14
    • Horace, Satires, 1.5.1
    • Tacitus, Annales, 15.49
    • Tacitus, Annales, 15.60
    • Tacitus, Annales, 16.21
    • Tacitus, Annales, 16.28
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 3.81
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 61
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 3.16
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.14
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.16
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