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Arrian's Discourses of Epictetus
That when we cannot fulfil that which the character of a man promises, we assume the character of a philosopher.
What is the matter on which a good man should be employed, and in what we ought chiefly to practise ourselves.
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.
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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