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What is the law of life.

WHEN a person was reading hypothetical arguments, Epictetus said, This also is an hypothetical law that we must accept what follows from the hypothesis. But much before this law is the law of life, that we must act conformably to nature. For if in every matter and circumstance we wish to observe what is natural, it is plain that in every thing we ought to make it our aim that neither that which is consequent shall escape us, and that we do not admit the contradictory. First then philosophers exercise us in theory1(contemplation of things), which is easier; and then next they lead us to the more difficult things; for in theory, there is nothing which draws us away from following what is taught; but in the matters of life, many are the things which distract us. He is ridiculous then who says that he wishes to begin with the matters of real life, for it is not easy to begin with the more difficult things; and we ought to employ this fact as an argument to those parents who are vexed at their children learning philosophy: Am I doing wrong then my father, and do I not know what is suitable to me and becoming? If indeed this can neither be learned nor taught, why do you blame me? but if it can be taught, teach me; and if you can not, allow me to learn from those who say that they know how to teach. For what do you think? do you suppose that I voluntarily fall into evil and miss the good? I hope that it may not be so. What is then the cause of my doing wrong? Ignorance. Do you not choose then that I should get rid of my ignorance? Who was ever taught by anger the art of a pilot or music? Do you think then that by means of your anger I shall learn the art of life? He only is allowed to speak in this way who has shown such an intention.2 But if a mar. only intending to make a display at a banquet and to show that he is acquainted with hypothetical arguments reads them and attends the philosophers, what other object has he than that some man of senatorian rank who sits by him may admire? For there (at Rome) are the really great materials (opportunities), and the riches here (at Nicopolis) appear to be trifles there. This is the reason why it is difficult for a man to be master of the appearances, where the things which disturb the judgment are great.3 I know a certain person who complained, as he embraced the knees of Epaphroditus, that he had only one hundred and fifty times ten thousand denarii4 remaining. What then did Epaphroditus do? Did he laugh at him, as we slaves of Epaphroditus did? No, but he cried out with amazement, “Poor man, how then did you keep silence, how did you endure it?”

When Epictetus had reproved5(called) the person who was reading the hypothetical arguments, and the teacher who had suggested the reading was laughing at the reader, Epictetus said to the teacher, “You are laughing at yourself: you did not prepare the young man nor did you ascertain whether he was able to understand these matters; but perhaps, you are only employing him as a reader.” Well then said Epictetus, if a man has not ability enough to understand a complex (syllogism), do we trust him in giving praise, do we trust him in giving blame, do we allow that he is able to form a judgment about good or bad? and if such a man blames any one, does the man care for the blame? and if he praises any one, is the man elated, when in such small matters as an hypothetical syllogism he who praises cannot see what is consequent on the hypothesis?

This then is the beginning of philosophy,6 a man's perception of the state of his ruling faculty; for when a man knows that it is weak, then he will not employ it on things of the greatest difficulty. But at present, if men cannot swallow even a morsel, they buy whole volumes and attempt to devour them; and this is the reason why they vomit them up or suffer indigestion: and then come gripings, defluxes, and fevers.7 Such men ought to consider what their ability is. In theory it is easy to convince an ignorant person; but in the affairs of real life no one offers himself to be convinced, and we hate the man who has convinced us. But Socrates advised us not to live a life which is not subjected to examination.8

1 ἐπὶ τῆς θεωρίας. “Intelligere quid verum rectumque sit, prius est et facilius. Id vero exsequi et observare, posterius et difficilius.” —Wolf. This is a profound and useful remark of Epictetus. General principles are most easily understood and accepted. The difficulty is in the application of them. What is more easy, for example, than to understand general principles of law which are true and good? But in practice cases are presented to us which as Bacon says, are “immersed in matter;” and it is this matter which makes the difficulty of applying the principles, and requires the ability and study of an experienced man. It is easy, and it is right, to teach the young the general principles of the rules of life; but the difficulty of applying them is that in which the young and the old too often fail. So if you ask whether virtue can be taught, the answer is that the rules for a virtuous life can be delivered; but the application of the rules is the difficulty, as teachers of religion and morality know well, if they are fit to teach. If they do not know this truth, they are neither fit to teach the rules, nor to lead the way to the practice of them by the only method which is possible; and this method is by their own example, assisted by the example of those who direct the education of youth, and of those with whom young persons live.

2 “Such an intention” appears to mean “the intention of learning.” “The son alone can say this to his father, when the son studies philosophy for the purpose of living a good life, and not for the purpose of display.”—Wolf.

3 I have followed Schweihaeuser's explanation of this difficult passage, and I have accepted his emendation ἐκσείοντα, in place of the MSS, reading ἐκεῖ ὄντα.

4 This was a large sum. He is speaking of drachmae, or of the Roman equivalents denarii. In Roman language the amount would be briefly expressed by “sexagies centena millia H. S.,” or simply by “sexagies.”

5 See Schweighaeuser's note; and all his notes on this chapter, which is rather difficult.

6 See ii. c 11.

7 Seneca, De Tranquillitate animi, c. 9, says: “What is the use of countless books and libraries, when the owner scarcely reads in his whole life the tables of contents? The number only confuses a learner, does not instruct him. It is much better to give yourself up to a few authors than to wander through many.”

8 See Plato's Apology, c. 28; and Antoninus, iii. 5.

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