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[5arg] A discourse of the philosopher Taurus on the manner and method of enduring pain, according to the principles of the Stoics.

WHEN the philosopher Taurus was on his way to Delphi, to see the Pythian games and the throng that gathered there from almost all Greece, I was his companion. And when, in the course of the journey, we had come to Lebadia, which is an ancient town in the land of Boeotia, word was brought to Taurus there that a friend of his, an eminent philosopher of the Stoic sect, had been seized with illness and had taken to his bed. Then interrupting our journey, which otherwise would have called for haste, and leaving the carriages, he hastened to visit his friend, and I followed, as I usually did wherever he went. When we came to the house in which the sick man was, we saw that he was suffering anguish from pains in the stomach, such as the Greeks call κόλος, or “colic,” and at the same time from a high fever. The stifled groans that burst from him, and the heavy sighs that escaped his panting breast, revealed his suffering, and no less his struggle to overcome it.

Later, when Taurus had sent for physicians and discussed with them the means of cure, and had encouraged the patient to keep up his endurance by commending the fortitude which he was showing, [p. 375] we left the house. And as we were returning to the carriages, and our companions, Taurus said: “You were witness of no very pleasant sight, it is true, but one which was, nevertheless, a profitable experience, in beholding the encounter and contest of a philosopher with pain. The violent character of the disorder, for its part, produced anguish and torture of body; reason and the spiritual nature, on the other hand, similarly played their part, supporting and restraining within bounds the violence of well-nigh ungovernable pain. He uttered no shrieks, no complaints, not even any unseemly outcries; yet, as you saw, there were obvious signs of a battle between soul and body for the man's possession.”

Then one of the disciples of Taurus, a young man not untrained in philosophy, said: “If the bitterness of pain is such that it struggles against the will and judgment, forcing a man to groan involuntarily and confess the evil of his violent disorder, why is it said among the Stoics that pain is a thing indifferent and not an evil? Furthermore, why can a Stoic be compelled to do anything, or how can pain compel him, when the Stoics say that pain exerts no compulsion, and that a wise man cannot be forced to anything?” 1

To this Taurus, with a face that was now somewhat more cheerful, for he seemed pleased at being lured into a discussion, replied as follows: “If this friend of ours were now in better health, he would have defended such unavoidable groans against reproach and, I dare say, would have answered your question; but you know that I am no great friend of the Stoics, or rather, of the Stoa; for it is often [p. 377] inconsistent with itself and with us, as is shown in the book which I have written on that subject. But to oblige you, I will say 'unlearnedly and clearly,' as the adage has it, what I imagine that any Stoic now present would have said more intricately and cleverly. For you know, I suppose, that old and familiar proverb: 2

Less eruditely speak and clearer, please.

And with that preamble he discoursed as follows about the pain and groans of the ailing Stoic: 3 “Nature,” said he, "who produced us, implanted in us and incorporated in the very elements from which we sprang a love and affection for ourselves, to such a degree that nothing whatever is dearer or of more importance to us than ourselves. And this, she thought, would be the underlying principle for assuring the perpetuation of the human race, if each one of us, as soon as he saw the light, should have a knowledge and understanding first of all of those things which the philosophers of old have called τὰ πρῶτα κατὰ φύσιν, or 'the first principles of nature'; that is, that he might delight in all that was agreeable to his body and shrink from everything disagreeable. Later, with increasing years, reason developed from its first elements, and reflection in taking counsel, and the consideration of honour and true expediency, and a wiser and more careful choice of advantages as opposed to disadvantages; and in this way the dignity of virtue and honour became so preeminent and so superior, that any disadvantage from without which prevented our holding and retaining this quality was despised. Nothing was considered truly and wholly good unless it was honourable, and [p. 379] nothing evil unless it is dishonourable. All other things which lay between, and were neither honourable nor dishonourable, were decided to be neither good nor evil. 4 But productions and relationes, which the philosophers call προηγμένα, or 'things desirable,' and ἀποπροηγμένα, or 'things undesirable,' are distinguished and set apart each by their own qualities. Therefore pleasure also and pain, so far as the end of living well and happily is concerned, are regarded as indifferent and classed neither with good nor with evil. But since the newly-born child is endowed with these first sensations of pain and pleasure before the appearance of judgment and reason, and is attracted to pleasure by nature, but averted and alienated from pain, as if from some bitter enemy—therefore reason, which is given to him later, is hardly able to uproot and destroy those inclinations which were originally and deeply implanted in him. Yet he constantly struggles with them, checks and tramples them under foot when they are excessive, and compels them to obey and submit to him. Hence you saw the philosopher, relying upon the efficacy of his system, wrestling with the insolent violence of disease and pain, yielding nothing, admitting nothing; not, as sufferers commonly do, shrieking, lamenting and calling himself wretched and unhappy, but giving vent only to panting breathing and deep sighs, which are signs and indications, not that he is overcome or subdued by pain, but that he is struggling to overcome and subdue it.

“But very likely,” said he, “because of the mere fact that he struggles and groans, someone may ask, if pain is not an evil, why it is necessary to groan and struggle? It is because all things which are not [p. 381] evil are not also wholly lacking in annoyance, but there are very many things which, though free from any great harm or baneful effect, as not being base, 5 are none the less opposed to the gentleness and mercy of nature through a certain inexplicable and inevitable law of nature herself. These, then, a wise man can endure and put up with, but he cannot exclude them altogether from his consciousness; for ἀναλγησία, or 'insensibility,' and ἀπάθεια, or 'lack of feeling,' not only in my judgment,” said he, "but also in that of some of the wise men of that same school (such as Panaetius, 6 a serious and learned man) are disapproved and rejected.

"But why is a Stoic philosopher, upon whom they say no compulsion can be exerted, compelled to utter groans against his will? It is true that no compulsion can be exerted upon a wise man when he has the opportunity of using his reason; but when nature compels, then reason also, the gift of nature, is compelled. Inquire also, if you please, why a man involuntarily winks when someone's hand is suddenly directed against his eyes, why when the sky is lit up by a flash of lightning he involuntarily drops his head and closes his eyes, why as the thunder grows louder he gradually becomes terrified, why he is shaken by sneezing, why he sweats in the heat of the sun or grows cold amid severe frosts. For these and many other things are not under the control of the will, the judgment, or the reason, but are decrees of nature and of necessity.

“Moreover, that is not fortitude which, like a giant, struggles against nature and goes beyond her bounds, either through insensibility of spirit, or [p. 383] savage pride, or some unhappy and compulsory practice in bearing pain—such as we heard of in a certain savage gladiator of Caesar's school, who used to laugh when his wounds were probed by the doctors—but that is true and noble fortitude which our forefathers called a knowledge of what is endurable and unendurable. From this it is evident that there are some insupportable trials, from the undergoing or endurance of which brave men may shrink.”

When Taurus had said this and seemed to intend to say even more, we reached our carriages and entered them.

1 iii. 168, Arn.

2 Aristophanes, Frogs, 1445.

3 iii. 181, Arn.

4 Cf. i. 2. 9.

5 That is, they do not involve any guilt.

6 Fr. 14, Fowler.

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