previous next

That confidence (courage) is not inconsistent with caution.

THE opinion of the philosophers perhaps seems to some to be a paradox; but still let us examine as well as we can, if it is true that it is possible to do every thing both with caution and with confidence. For caution seems to be in a manner contrary to confidence, and contraries are in no way consistent. That which seems to many to be a paradox in the matter under consideration in my opinion is of this kind: if we asserted that we ought to employ caution and confidence in the same things, men might justly accuse us of bringing together things which cannot be united. But now where is the difficulty in what is said? for if these things are true, which have been often said and often proved, that the nature of good is in the use of appearances, and the nature of evil likewise, and that things independent of our will do not admit either the nature of evil nor of good, what paradox do the philosophers assert if they say that where things are not dependent on the will, there you should employ confidence, but where they are dependent on the will, there you should employ caution? For if the bad consists in a bad exercise of the will, caution ought only to be used where things are dependent on the will. But if things independent of the will and not in our power are nothing to us, with respect to these we must employ confidence; and thus we shall both be cautious and confident, and indeed confident because of our caution. For by employing caution towards things which are really bad, it will result that we shall have confidence with respect to things which are not so.

We are then in the condition of deer;1 when they flee from the huntsmen's feathers in fright, whither do they turn and in what do they seek refuge as safe? They turn to the nets, and thus they perish by confounding things which are objects of fear with things that they ought not to fear. Thus we also act: in what cases do we fear? In things which are independent of the will. In what cases on the contrary do we behave with confidence, as if there were no danger? In things dependent on the will. To be deceived then, or to act rashly, or shamelessly or with base desire to seek something, does not concern us at all, if we only hit the mark in things which are independent of our will. But where there is death, or exile or pain or infamy, there we attempt to run away, there we are struck with terror. Therefore as we may expect it to happen with those who err in the greatest matters, we convert natural confidence (that is, according to nature) into audacity, desperation, rashness, shamelessness; and we convert natural caution and modesty into cowardice and meanness, which are full of fear and confusion. For if a man should transfer caution to those things in which the will may be exercised and the acts of the will, he will immediately by willing to be cautious have also the power of avoiding what he chooses: but if he transfer it to the things which are not in his power and will, and attempt to avoid the things which are in the power of others, he will of necessity fear, he will be unstable, he will be dis- turbed. For death or pain is not formidable, but the fear of pain or death. For this reason we commend the poet2 who said

Not death is evil, but a shameful death.

Confidence (courage) then ought to be employed against death, and caution against the fear of death. But now we do the contrary, and employ against death the attempt to escape; and to our opinion about it we employ carelessness, rashness and indifference. These things Socrates3 properly used to call tragic masks; for as to children masks appear terrible and fearful from inexperience, we also are affected in like manner by events (the things which happen in life) for no other reason than children are by masks. For what is a child? Ignorance. What is a child? Want of knowledge. For when a child knows these things, he is in no way inferior to us. What is death? A tragic mask. Turn it and examine it. See, it does not bite. The poor body must be separated4 from the spirit either now or later as it was separated from it before. Why then are you troubled, if it be separated now? for if it is not separated now, it will he separated afterwards. Why? That the period of the universe may be completed,5 for it has need of the pre- sent, and of the future, and of the past. What is pain? A mask. Turn it and examine it. The poor flesh is moved roughly, then on the contrary smoothly. If this does not satisfy (please) you, the door is open:6 if it does, bear (with things). For the door ought to be open for all occasions; and so we have no trouble.

What then is the fruit of these opinions? It is that which ought to be the most noble and the most becoming to those who are really educated, release from perturbation, release from fear, freedom. For in these matters we must not believe the many, who say that free persons only ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that the educated only are free. How is this? In this manner. Is freedom any thing else than the power of living as we choose? Nothing else. Tell me then, ye men, do you wish to live in error? We do not. No one then who lives in error is free. Do you wish to live in fear? Do you wish to live in sorrow? Do you wish to live in perturbation? By no means. No one then who is in a state of fear or sorrow or perturbation is free; but whoever is delivered from sorrows and fears and perturbations, he is at the same time also delivered from servitude. How then can we continue to believe you, most dear legislators, when you say, We only allow free persons to be educated? For philosophers say we allow none to be free except the educated; that is, God does not allow it. When then a man has turned7 round before the praetor his own slave, has he done nothing? He has done something. What? He has turned round his own slave before the praetor. Has he done nothing more? Yes: he is also bound to pay for him the tax called the twentieth. Well then, is not the man who has gone through this ceremony become free? No more than he is become free from perturbations. Have you who are able to turn round (free) others no master? is not money your master, or a girl or a boy, or some tyrant, or some friend of the tyrant? why do you tremble then when you are going off to any trial (danger) of this kind? It is for this reason that I often say, study and hold in readiness these principles by which you may determine what those things are with reference to which you ought to have confidence (courage), and those things with reference to which you ought to be cautious: courageous in that which does not depend on your will; cautious in that which does depend on it.

Well have I not read to you,8 and do you not know what I was doing? In what? In my little dissertations. —Show me how you are with respect to desire and aver- sion (ἔκκλισιν); and show me if you do not fail in getting what you wish, and if you do not fall into the things which you would avoid: but as to these long and labored sentences9 you will take them and blot them out.

What then did not Socrates write? And who wrote so much?10—But how? As he could not always have at hand one to argue against his principles or to be argued against in turn, he used to argue with and examine himself, and he was always treating at least some one subject in a practical way. These are the things which a philosopher writes. But little dissertations and that method, which I speak of, he leaves to others, to the stupid, or to those happy men who being free from perturbations11 have leisure, or to such as are too foolish to reckon con. sequences.

And will you now, when the opportunity invites, go and display those things which you possess, and recite them, and make an idle show,12 and say, See how I make dialogues? Do not so, my man; but rather say; See how I am not disappointed of that which I desire: See how I do not fall into that which I would avoid. Set death before me, and you will see. Set before me pain, prison, disgrace and condemnation. This is the proper display of a young man who is come out of the schools. But leave the rest to others, and let no one ever hear you say a word about these things; and if any man commends you for them, do not allow it; but think that you are nobody and know nothing. Only show that you know this, how never to be disappointed in your desire and how never to fall into that which you would avoid. Let others labour at forensic causes, problems and syllogisms: do you labour at thinking about death,13 chains, the rack, exile;14 and do all this with confidence and reliance on him who has called you to these sufferings, who has judged you worthy of the place in which being stationed you will show what things the rational governing power can do when it takes its stand against the forces which are not within the power of our will. And thus this paradox will no longer appear either impossible or a paradox, that a man ought to be at the same time cautious and courageous: courageous towards the things which do not depend on the will, and cautious in things which are within the power of the will.

1 It was the fashion of hunters to frighten deer by displaying fathers of various colours on ropes or strings and thus frightening them towards the nets. Virgil, Georg. iii. 372— Puniceaeve agitant pavidos formidine pennae,

2 Euripides, fragments.

3 In the Phaedon, c. 24, or p. 78.

4 It was the opinion of some philosophers that the soul was a portion of the divinity sent down into human bodies.

5 This was a doctrine of Heraclitus and of Zeno. Zeno (Diog. Laert. vii. 137) speaks of God as “in certain periods or revolutions of time exhausting into himself the universal substance (οὐσία) and again generating it out of himself.” Antoninus (xi. 1) speaks of the periodical renovation of all things. For man, whose existence is so short, the doctrine of all existing things perishing in the course of time and then being renewed, is of no practical value. The present is enough for most men. But for the few who are able to embrace in thought the past, the present and the future, the contemplation of the perishable nature, of all existing things may have a certain value by elevating their minds above the paltry things which others prize above their worth.

6 Sec. i. 9, note 7. Schweighaeuser says that he does not quite see what is the meaning of 'ought to be open'; and he suggests that Epictetus intended to say 'we ought to consider that the door is open for all occasions'; but the occasions, he says, ought to be when things are such that a man can in no way bear them or cannot honourably endure them, and such occasions the wise man considers to be the voice of God giving to him the sign' to retire.

7 This is an allusion to one of the Roman modes of manumitting a slave before the praetor. Compare, Persius, Sat. V. 75— —Heu steriles veri, qulbus una Quiritem
Vertigo facit;

and again Verterit hunc dominus, momento turbinis exit
Marcus Dama.

The sum paid on manumission was a tax of five per cent., established In B. C. 356 (Livy, vii. 16), and paid by the slave. Epictetus here speaks of the tax being paid by the master; but in iii. 26, he speaks of it as paid by the enfranchised slave. See Dureau de la Malle, Economie Politique des Romains i. 290, ii 169.

8 These are the words of some pupil who is boasting of what he has written.

9 The word is περιόδια. I am not sure about the exact meaning of περιόδια: see the notes of Wolf and Schweig.

10 No other author speaks of Socrates having written any thing. It is therefore very difficult to explain this passage in which Arrian, who took down the words of Epictetus, represents him as saying that Socrates wrote so much. Socrates talked much, and Epictetus may have spoken of talking as if it were writing; for he must have known that Socrates was not a writer. See Schweig.'s note.

11 The word is ὑπὸ ἀταραξίας. Mrs. Carter thinks that the true reading is ὑπὸ ἀπραξίας, 'through idleness' or 'having nothing to do'; and she remarks that 'freedom from perturbations' is the very thing that Epictetus had been recommending through the whole chapter and is the subject of the next chapter, and therefore cannot be well supposed to be the true reading in a place where it is mentioned with contempt. It is probable that Mrs. Carter is right. Upton thinks that Epictetus is alluding to the Sophists, and that we should understand him as speaking ironically: and this may also be right. Schweighaeuser attempts to explain the passage by taking 'free from perturbations' in the ordinary simple sense; but I doubt if he has succeeded.

12 ἐμπερπερεύσῃ. Epictetus (iii. 2. 14) uses the adjective πέρπερος to signify a vain man. Antoninus (v. 5) uses the verb περπέρευεσθαι: and Paul (Corinthians i. c. 13, 4), where our version is, 'charity (love) vaunteth not itself.' Cicero (ad Attic. i. 14, 4) uses ἐνεπερπερευσάμην, to express a rhetorical display.

13 The whole life of philosophers,' says Cicero (Tusc. i. 30), following Plato, 'is a reflection upon death.'

14 “Some English readers, too happy to comprehend how chains, torture, exile and sudden executions, can be ranked among the common accidents of life, may be surprised to find Epictetus so frequently endeavouring to prepare his hearers for them. But it must be recollected that he addressed himself to persons who lived under the Roman emperors, from whose tyranny the very best of men were perpetually liable to such kind of dangers.”—Mrs. Carter. All men even now are exposed to accidents and misfortunes against which there is no security, and even the most fortunate of men must die at last. The lessons of Epictetus may be as useful now as they were in his time. See i. 30.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (1916)
load focus English (Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1890)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Socrates (Georgia, United States) (6)
Zeno (Ohio, United States) (2)
Cicero (Indiana, United States) (2)
Virgil (Canada) (1)
Upton (Canada) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
356 BC (1)
hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 1.14.4
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: