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How we should struggle with circumstances.

IT is circumstances (difficulties) which show what men are.1 Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, re- member that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. For what purpose? you may say. Why that you may become an Olympic con- queror; but it is not accomplished without sweat. In my opinion no man has had a more profitable difficulty than you have had, if you choose to make use of it as an athlete would deal with a young antagonist. We are now sending a scout to Rome;2 but no man sends a cowardly scout, who, if he only hears a noise and sees a shadow any where, comes running back in terror and reports that the enemy is close at hand. So now if you should come and tell us, Fearful is the state of affairs at Rome, terrible is death, terrible is exile; terrible is calumny; terrible is poverty; fly, my friends; the enemy is near—we shall answer, Be gone, prophesy for yourself; we have committed only one fault, that we sent such a scout.

Diogenes,3 who was sent as a scout before you, made a different report to us. He says that death is no evil, for neither is it base: he says that fame (reputation) is the noise of madmen. And what has this spy said about pain, about pleasure, and about poverty? He says that to be naked is better than any purple robe, and to sleep on the bare ground is the softest bed; and he gives as a proof of each thing that he affirms his own courage, his tranquillity, his freedom, and the healthy appearance and compactness of his body. There is no enemy near, he says; all is peace. How so, Diogenes? See, he replies, if I am struck, if I have been wounded, if I have fled from any man. This is what a scout ought to be. But you come to us and tell us one thing after another. Will you not go back, and you will see clearer when you have laid aside fear?

What then shall I do? What do you do when you leave a ship? Do you take away the helm or the oars? What then do you take away? You take what is your own, your bottle and your wallet; and now if you think of what is your own, you will never claim what belongs to others. The emperor (Domitian) says, Lay aside your lati- clave.4 See, I put on the angusticlave. Lay aside this also. See, I have only my toga. Lay aside your toga. See, I am now naked. But you still raise my envy. Take then all my poor body; when, at a man's command, I can throw away my poor body, do I still fear him?

But a certain person will not leave to me the succession to his estate. What then? had I forgotten that not one of these things was mine. How then do we call them mine? Just as we call the bed in the inn. If then the innkeeper at his death leaves you the beds; all well; but if he leaves them to another, he will have them, and you will seek another bed. If then you shall not find one, you will sleep on the ground: only sleep with a good will and snore, and remember that tragedies have their place among the rich and kings and tyrants, but no poor man fills a part in a tragedy, except as one of the Chorus. Kings indeed commence with prosperity: “ornament the palace with garlands”: then about the third or fourth act they call out, “Oh Cithaeron,5 why didst thou receive me”? Slave, where are the crowns, where the diadem? The guards help thee not at all. When then you approach any of these persons, remember this that you are approaching a tragedian, not the actor, but Oedipus himself. But you say, such a man is happy; for he walks about with many, and I also place myself with the many and walk about with many. In sum remember this: the door is open;6 be not more timid than little children, but as they say, when the thing does not please them, “I will play no longer,” so do you, when things seem to you of such a kind, say I will no longer play, and be gone: but if you stay, do not complain.

1 So Ovid says,

Quae latet inque bonis cessat non cognita rebus,
Apparet virtus argniturque malis.

2 In the time of Domitian philosophers were banished from Rome and Italy by a Senatusconsultum (Sueton. Domitian, c. 10; Dion, 67, c. 13), and at that time Epictetus, as Gellius says (xv. 11), went from Rome to Nicopolis in Epirus, where he opened a school. We may suppose that Epictetus is here speaking of some person who had gone from Nicopolis to Rome to inquire about the state of affairs there under the cruel tyrant Domitian. (Schweighaeuser.)

3 Diogenes was brought to king Philip after the battle of Chaeronea as a spy (iii. 22, 24). Plutarch in the treatise, Quomodo assentator ab amico dignoscatur, c. 30, states that when Philip asked Diogenes if he was a spy, he replied, Certainly I am a spy, Philip, of your want of judgment and of your folly, which lead you without any necessity to put to the hazard your kingdom and your life in one single hour.

4 The garment with the broad border, the laticlave, was the dress of a senator; the garment with the narrow border, the angusticlave, was the dress of a man of the equestrian order.

5 The exclamation of Oedipus in the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles, v. 1390.

6 This means “you can die when you please.” Comp. i. c. 9. The power of dying when you please is named by Plinius (N. H. ii. c. 7) the best thing that God has given to man amidst all the sufferings of life.

Vivere si recte nescis, decede peritis:
Lusisti satis, edisti satis atque bibisti;
Tempus abire tibi.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (3):
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 10
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 15.11
    • Ovid, Tristia, 4.3
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