previous next

To those who are desirous of passing life in tranquillity.

REMEMBER that not only the desire of power and of riches makes us mean and subject to others, but even the desire of tranquillity, and of leisure, and of travelling abroad, and of learning. For to speak plainly, whatever the external thing may be, the value which we set upon it places us in subjection to others. What then is the difference between desiring to be a senator or not desiring to be one; what is the difference between desiring power or being content with a private station; what is the difference between saying, I am unhappy, I have nothing to do, but I am bound to my books as a corpse; or saying, I am unhappy, I have no leisure for reading? For as salutations1 and power are things external and independent of the will, so is a book. For what purpose do you choose to read? Tell me. For if you only direct your purpose to being amused or learning something, you are a silly fellow and incapable of enduring labour.2 But if you refer reading to the proper end, what else is this than a tranquil and happy life (εὔσοια)? But if reading does not secure for you a happy and tranquil life, what is the use of it? But it does secure this, the man replies, and for this reason I am vexed that I am deprived of it.—And what is this tranquil and happy life, which any man can impede, I do not say Caesar or Caesar's friend, but a crow, a piper, a fever, and thirty thousand other things? But a tranquil and happy life contains nothing so sure as continuity and freedom from obstacle. Now I am called to do something: I will go then with the purpose of observing the measures (rules) which I must keep,3 of acting with modesty, steadiness, without desire and aversion to things external;4 and then that I may attend to men, what they say, how they are moved;5 and this not with any bad disposition, or that I may have something to blame or to ridicule; but I turn to myself, and ask if I also commit the same faults. How then shall I cease to commit them? Formerly I also acted wrong, but now I do not: thanks to God.

Come, when you have done these things and have attended to them, have you done a worse act than when you have read a thousand verses or written as many? For when you eat, are you grieved because you are not reading? are you not satisfied with eating according to what you have learned by reading, and so with bathing and with exercise? Why then do you not act consistently in all things, both when you approach Caesar, and when you approach any person? If you maintain yourself free from perturbation, free from alarm, and steady; if you look rather at the things which are done and happen than are looked at yourself; if you do not envy those who are I referred before you; if surrounding circumstances (ὕλαι) do not strike you with fear or admiration, what do you want? Books? How or for what purpose? for is not this (the reading of books) a preparation for life? and is not life itself (living) made up of certain other things than this? This is just as if an athlete should weep when he enters the stadium, because he is not being exercised outside of it. It was for this purpose that you used to practise exercise; for this purpose were used the halteres (weights),6 the dust, the young men as antagonists; and do you seek for those things now when it is the time of action? This is just as if in the topic (matter) of assent when appearances present themselves, some of which can be comprehended, and some cannot be comprehended, we should not choose to distinguish them but should choose to read what has been written about comprehension (κατάληψις).

What then is the reason of this? The reason is that we have never read for this purpose, we have never written for this purpose, so that we may in our actions use in away conformable to nature the appearances presented to us; but we terminate in this, in learning what is said, and in being able to expound it to another, in resolving a syllogism,7 and in handling the hypothetical syllogism. For this reason where our study (purpose) is, there alone is the impediment. Would you have by all means the things which are not in your power? Be prevented then, be hindered, fail in your purpose. But if we read what is written about action (efforts, ὁρμή),8 not that we may see what is said about action, but that we may act well: if we read what is said about desire and aversion (avoiding things), in order that we may neither fail in our desires, nor fall into that which we try to avoid; if we read what is said about duty (officium), in order that remembering the relations (of things to one another) we may do nothing irrationally nor contrary to these relations; we should not be vexed in being hindered as to our readings, but we should be satisfied with doing the acts which are conformable (to the relations), and we should be reckoning not what so far we have been accustomed to reckon: To-day I have read so many verses, I have written so many; but (we should say), To-day I have employed my action as it is taught by the philosophers; I have not employed my desire; I have used avoidance (ἐκκλίσει) only with respect to things which are within the power of my will; I have not been afraid of such a person, I have not been prevailed upon by the entreaties of another; I have exercised my patience,9 my abstinence, my co-operation with others; and so we should thank God for what we ought to thank him.

But now we do not know that we also in another way are like the many. Another man is afraid that he shall not have power: you are afraid that you will. Do not do so, my man; but as you ridicule him who is afraid that he shall not have power, so ridicule yourself also. For it makes no difference whether you are thirsty like a man who has a fever, or have a dread of water like a man who is mad. Or how will you still be able to say as Socrates did, If so it pleases God, so let it be? Do you think that Socrates if he had been eager to pass his leisure in the Lyceum or in the Academy and to discourse daily with the young men, would have readily served in military expeditions so often as he did; and would he not have lamented and groaned, Wretch that I am; I must now be miserable here, when I might be sunning myself in the Lyceum? Why, was this your business, to sun yourself? And is it not your business to be happy, to be free from hindrance, free from impediment? And could he still have been Socrates, if he had lamented in this way: how would he still have been able to write Paeans in his prison?10

In short remember this, that what you shall prize which is beyond your will, so far you have destroyed your will. But these things are out of the power of the will, not only power (authority), but also a private condition: not only occupation (business), but also leisure.—Now then must I live in this tumult?—Why do you say tumult?—I mean among many men.—Well what is the hardship? Suppose that you are at Olympia: imagine it to be a panegyris (public assembly), where one is calling out one thing, another is doing another thing, and a third is pushing another person: in the baths there is a crowd: and who of us is not pleased with this assembly, and leaves it unwillingly? Be not difficult to please nor fastidious about what happens.—Vinegar is disagreeable, for it is sharp; honey is disagreeable, for it disturbs my habit of body. I do not like vegetables. So also I do not like leisure it is a desert: I do not like a crowd; it is confusion.— But if circumstances make it necessary for you to live alone or with a few, call it quiet, and use the thing as you ought: talk with yourself, exercise the appearances (presented to you), work up your preconceptions.11 If you fall into a crowd, call it a celebration of games, a panegyris, a festival: try to enjoy the festival with other men. For what is a more pleasant sight to him who loves mankind than a number of men? We see with pleasure herds of horses or oxen: we are delighted when we see many ships: who is pained when he sees many men?—But they deafen me with their cries.—Then your hearing is impeded. What then is this to you? Is then the power of making use of appearances hindered? And who prevents you from using according to nature inclination to a thing and aversion from it; and movement towards a thing and movement from it? What tumult (confusion) is able to do this?

Do you only bear in mind the general rules: what is mine, what is not mine; what is given (permitted) to me; what does God will that I should do now? what does he not will? A little before he willed you to be at leisure, to talk with yourself, to write about these things, to read, to hear, to prepare yourself. You had sufficient time for this. Now he says to you: Come now to the contest, show us what you have learned, how you have practised the athletic art. How long will you be exercised alone? Now is the opportunity for you to learn whether you are an athlete worthy of victory, or one of those who go about the world and are defeated. Why then are you vexed? No contest is without confusion. There must be many who exercise themselves for the contest, many who call out to those who exercise themselves, many masters, many spectators.—But my wish is to live quietly.—Lament then and groan as you deserve to do. For what other is a greater punishment than this to the untaught man and to him who disobeys the divine commands, to be grieved, to lament, to envy, in a word to be disappointed and to be unhappy? Would you not release yourself from these things?—And how shall I release myself?—Have you not often heard, that you ought to remove entirely desire, apply aversion (turning away) to those things only which are within your power, that you ought to give up every thing, body, property, fame, books, tumult, power, private station? for whatever way you turn, you are a slave, you are subjected, you are hindered, you are compelled, you are entirely in the power of others. But keep the words of Cleanthes in readiness.

Lead me, O Zeus, and thou necessity.

Is it your will that I should go to Rome? I will go to Rome. To Gyara? I will go to Gyara. To Athens? I will go to Athens. To prison? I will go to prison. If you should once say, When shall a man go to Athens? you are undone. It is a necessary consequence that this desire, if it is not accomplished, must make you unhappy; and if it is accomplished, it must make you vain, since you are elated at things at which you ought not to be elated; and on the other hand, if you are impeded, it must make you wretched because you fall into that which you would not fall into. Give up then all these things.— Athens is a good place.—But happiness is much better; and to be free from passions, free from disturbance, for your affairs not to depend on any man. There is tumult at Rome and visits of salutation.13 But happiness is an equivalent for all troublesome things. If then the time comes for these things, why do you not take away the wish to avoid them? what necessity is there to carry a burden like an ass, and to be beaten with a stick? But if you do not so, consider that you must always be a slave to him who has it in his power to effect your release, and also to impede you, and you must serve him as an evil genius.14

There is only one way to happiness, and let this rule be ready both in the morning and during the day and by night: the rule is not to look towards things which are out of the power of our will, to think that nothing is our own, to give up all things to the Divinity, to Fortune; to make them the superintendents of these things, whom Zeus also has made so; for a man to observe that only which is his own, that which cannot be hindered; and when we read, to refer our reading to this only, and our writing and our listening. For this reason I cannot call the man industrious, if I hear this only, that he reads and writes; and even if a man adds that he reads all night, I cannot say so, if he knows not to what he should refer his reading. For neither do you say that a man is industrious if he keeps awake for a girl;15 nor do I. But if he does it (reads and writes) for reputation, I say that he is a lover of reputation. And if he does it for money, I say that he is a lover of money, not a lover of labour; and if he does it through love of learning, I say that he is a lover of learning, But if he refers his labour to his own ruling power (ἡγεμονικόν), that he may keep it in a state con- formable to nature and pass his life in that state, then only do I say that he is industrious. For never commend a man on account of these things which are common to all, but on account of his opinions (principles); fur these are the things which belong to each man, which make his actions bad or good. Remembering these rules, rejoice in that which is present, and be content with the things which come in season.16 If you see any thing which you have learned and inquired about occurring to you in your course of life (or opportunely applied by you to the acts of life), be delighted at it. If you have laid aside or have lessened bad disposition and a habit of reviling; if you have done so with rash temper, obscene words, hastiness, sluggishness; if you are not moved by what you formerly were, and not in the same way as you once were, you can celebrate a festival daily, to-day because you have behaved well in one act, and to-morrow because you have behaved well in another. How much greater is this a reason for making sacrifices than a consulship or the government of a province? These things come to you from yourself and from the gods. Remember this, who gives these things and to whom, and for what purpose. If you cherish yourself in these thoughts, do you still think that it makes any difference where you shall be happy, where you shall please God? Are not the gods equally distant from all places?17 Do they not see from all places alike that which is going on?

1 ἀσπασμοί. See this chapter further on.

2 See Bishop Butler's remarks in the Preface to his Sermons vol. ii. He speaks of the 'idle way of reading and considering things: by this means, time even in solitude is happily got rid of without the pain of attention: neither is any part of it more put to the account of idleness, one can scarce forbear saying, is spent with less thought than great part of that which is spent in reading.'

3Sed verae numerosque modosque ediscere vitae.Hor. Epp. ii. 2. 144. M. Antoninus, iii. 1.

4 ' The readers perhaps may grow tired with being so often told what they will find it very difficult to believe, That because externals are not in our power, they are nothing to us. But in excuse for this frequent repetition, it must be considered that the Stoics had reduced themselves to a necessity of dwelling on this consequence, extravagant as it is, by rejecting stronger aids. One cannot indeed avoid highly admiring the very few. who attempted to amend and exalt themselves on this foundation. No one perhaps ever carried the attempt so far in practice, and no one ever spoke so well in support of the argument as Epictetus. Yet, notwithstanding his great abilities and the force of his example, one finds him strongly complaining of the want of success; and one sees from this circumstance as well as from others in the Stoic writings, That virtue can not be maintained in the world without the hope of a future reward.' Mrs. Carter.

5 Compare Horace, Sat. i. 4. 133:Neque enim cum lectulus” etc.

6 See i. 4. note 5, iii. 15. 4; and i. 24. 1, i. 29. 34. The athletes were oiled, but they used to rub themselves with dust to be enabled to lay hold of one another.

7 M. Antoninus, i. 17, thanks the Gods that he did not waste his time in the resolution of syllogisms.

8 See iii. c. 2.

9 See Aulus Gellius xvii. 19, where he quotes Epictetus on what Gellius expresses by 'intolerantia' and 'incontinentia.' Compare M. Antoninus (v. 33) on the precept Ἀνέχου and Ἀπέχου.

10 Plato in the Phaedon (c. 4) says that Socrates in his prison wrote a hymn to Apollo.

11 i 22.

12 Compare Encheiridion, 52. Cleanthes was a Stoic philosopher, who also wrote some poetry. See p. 292, note.

13 He alludes to the practice of dependents paying formal visits in the morning at the houses of the great and powerful at Rome. Upton refers to Virgil, Georgics, ii. 461.

14 Compare i. 19. 6.

15 Compare Horace Sat. i. 5. 83.

16 See Antoninus, vi. 2; and ix. 6 'Thy present opinion founded on understanding, and thy present conduct directed to social good, and thy present disposition of contentment with everything which happens —that is enough.'

17 Compare Upton's note on ἀπέχουσι, and Schweig.'s version, and the Index Graecitatis. These commentators do not appeal to be quite certain about the meaning of the text.

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

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

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (3):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: