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How a man on every occasion can maintain his proper character.

To the rational animal only is the irrational intolerable; but that which is rational is tolerable. Blows are not naturally intolerable. How is that? See how the Lacedaemonians1 endure whipping when they have learned that whipping is consistent with reason. To hang yourself is not intolerable. When then you have the opinion that it is rational, you go and hang yourself. In short, if we observe, we shall find that the animal man is pained by nothing so much as by that which is irrational; and, on the contrary, attracted to nothing so much as to that which is rational.

But the rational and the irrational appear such in a different way to different persons, just as the good and the bad, the profitable and the unprofitable. For this reason, particularly, we need discipline, in order to learn how to adapt the preconception2 of the rational and the irrational to the several things conformably to nature. But in order to determine the rational and the irrational, we use not only the estimates of external things, but we consider also what is appropriate to each person. For to one man it is consistent with reason to hold a chamber pot for another, and to look to this only, that if he does not hold it, he will receive stripes, and he will not receive his food: but if he shall hold the pot, he will not suffer anything hard or disagreeable. But to another man not only does the holding of a chamber pot appear intolerable for himself, but intolerable also for him to allow another to do this office for him. If then you ask me whether you should hold the chamber pot or not, I shall say to you that the receiving of food is worth more than the not receiving of it, and the being scourged is a greater indignity than not being scourged; so that if you measure your interests by these things, go and hold the chamber pot. “But this,” you say, “would not be worthy of me.” Well then, it is you who must introduce this consideration into the inquiry, not I; for it is you who know yourself, how much you are worth to yourself, and at what price you sell yourself; for men sell themselves at various prices.

For this reason, when Florus was deliberating whether he should go down to Nero's3 spectacles, and also perform in them himself, Agrippinus said to him, Go down: and when Florus asked Agrippinus, Why do not you go down? Agrippinus replied, Because I do not even deliberate about the matter. For he who has once brought himself to deliberate about such matters, and to calculate the value of external things, comes very near to those who have forgotten their own character. For why do you ask me the question, whether death is preferable or life? I say life. Pain or pleasure? I say pleasure. But if I do not take a part in the tragic acting, I shall have my head struck off. Go then and take a part, but I will not. Why? Because you consider yourself to be only one thread of those which are in the tunic. Well then it was fitting for you to take care how you should be like the rest of men, just as the thread has no design to be anything superior to the other threads. But I wish to be purple,4 that small part which is bright, and makes all the rest appear graceful and beautiful. Why then do you tell me to make myself like the many? and if I do, how shall I still be purple?

Priscus Helvidius5 also saw this, and acted conformably. For when Vespasian sent and commanded him not to go into the senate, he replied, “It is in your power not to allow me to be a member of the senate, but so long as I am, I must go in.” Well, go in then, says the emperor, but say nothing. Do not ask my opinion, and I will be silent. But I must ask your opinion. And I must say what I think right. But if you do, I shall put you to death. When then did I tell you that I am immortal? You will do your part, and I will do mine: it is your part to kill; it is mine to die, but not in fear: yours to banish me; mine to depart without sorrow.

What good then did Priscus do, who was only a single person? And what good does the purple do for the toga? Why, what else than this, that it is conspicuous in the toga as purple, and is displayed also as a fine example to all other things? But in such circumstances another would have replied to Caesar who forbade him to enter the senate, I thank you for sparing me. But such a man Vespasian would not even have forbidden to enter the senate, for he knew that he would either sit there like an earthen vessel, or, if he spoke, he would say what Caesar wished, and add even more.

In this way an athlete also acted who was in danger of dying unless his private parts were amputated. His brother came to the athlete, who was a philosopher, and said, Come, brother, what are you going to do? Shall we amputate this member and return to the gymnasium? But the athlete persisted in his resolution and died. When some one asked Epictetus, How he did this, as an athlete or a philosopher? As a man, Epictetus replied, and a man who had been proclaimed among the athletes at the Olympic games and had contended in them, a man who had been familiar with such a place, and not merely anointed in Baton's school.6 Another would have allowed even his head to be cut off, if he could have lived without it. Such is that regard to character which is so strong in those who have been accustomed to introduce it of themselves and conjoined with other things into their deliberations.

Come then, Epictetus, shave7 yourself. If I am a philosopher, I answer, I will not shave myself. But I will take off your head? If that will do you any good, take it off.

Some person asked, how then shall every man among us perceive what is suitable to his character? How, he replied, does the bull alone, when the lion has attacked, discover his own powers and put himself forward in defence of the whole herd? It is plain that with the powers the perception of having them is immediately conjoined: and, therefore, whoever of us has such powers will not be ignorant of them. Now a bull is not made suddenly, nor a brave man; but we must discipline ourselves in the winter for the summer campaign, and not rashly run upon that which does not concern us.

Only consider at what price you sell your own will: if for no other reason, at least for this, that you sell it not for a small sum. But that which is great and superior perhaps belongs to Socrates and such as are like him. Why then, if we are naturally such, are not a very great number of us like him? Is it true then that all horses become swift, that all dogs are skilled in tracking footprints? What then, since I am naturally dull, shall I, for this reason, take no pains? I hope not. Epictetus is not superior to Socrates; but if he is not inferior,8 this is enough for me; for I shall never be a Milo,9 and yet I do not neglect my body; nor shall I be a Croesus, and yet I do not neglect my property; nor, in a word, do we neglect looking after anything because we despair of reaching the highest degree.

1 The Spartan boys used to be whipped at the altar of Artemis Orthia till blood flowed abundantly, and sometimes till death; but they never uttered even a groan (Cicero, Tuscul. ii. 14; v. 27).

2 The preconception πρόληψις is thus defined by the Stoics: ἐστι δὴ πρόληψις ἔννοια φυσικὴ τῶν καθ᾽ ὅλου (Diogenes Laert. vii.). “We name Anticipation all knowledge, by which I can à priori know and determine that which belongs to empirical knowledge, and without doubt this is the sense in which Epicurus used his expression πρόληψις”(Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, p. 152, 7th ed.). He adds: “But since there is something in appearances which never can be known à priori, and which consequently constitutes the difference between empirical knowledge and knowledge à priori, that is, sensation (as the material of observation), it follows that this sensation is specially that which cannot be anticipated (it cannot be a πρόληψις). On the other hand, we could name the pure determinations in space and time, both in respect to form and magnitude, anticipations of the appearances, because these determinations represent à priori whatever may be presented to us à posteriori in experience.” see also p. 8, &c.

3 Nero was passionately fond of scenic representations, and used to induce the descendants of noble families, whose poverty made them consent, to appear on the stage (Tacitus, Annals, xiv. 14; Suetonius, Nero, c. 21).

4 The “purple” is the broad purple border on the toga named the toga praetexta, worn by certain Roman magistrates and some others, and by senators, it is said, on certain days (Cic. Phil. ii. 43).

5 Helvidius Priscus, a Roman senator and a philosopher, is commended by Tacitus (Hist. iv. 4, 5) as an honest man: “He followed the philosophers who considered those things only to be good which are virtuous, those only to be bad which are foul; and he reckoned power, rank, and all other things which are external to the mind as neither good nor bad.” Vespasian, probably in a fit of passion, being provoked by Helvidius, ordered him to be put to death, and then revoked the order when it was too late (Suetonius Vespasianus, c. 15).

6 Baton was elected for two years gymnasiarch or superintendent of a gymnasium in or about the time of M. Aurelius Antoninus. See Schweighaeuser's note.

7 This is supposed, as Casaubon says, to refer to Domitian's order to the philosophers to go into exile; and some of them, in order to conceal their profession of philosophy, shaved their beards. Epictetus would not take off his beard.

8 The text is: εἰ δὲ μὴ οὐ χείρων. The sense seems to be: Epictetus is not superior to Socrates, but if he is not worse, that is enough for me. On the different readings of the passage and on the sense, see the notes in Schweig.'s edition. The difficulty, if there is any, is in the negative μή.

9 Milo of Croton, a great athlete. The conclusion is the same as in Horace, Epp. i. 1, 28, &c.:Est quodam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (5):
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.43
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.14
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 4.4
    • Suetonius, Nero, 21
    • Suetonius, Divus Vespasianus, 15
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