previous next


Concerning a person whom he treated with disregard.

When a certain person said to him, "I have often come to you with a desire of hearing you, and you have never given me any answer; but now, if possible, I entreat you to say something to me," - Do you think, replied Epictetus, that as in other things, so in speaking, there is an art by which he who understands it speaks skilfully, and he who does not unskilfully?

" I do think so."

He, then, who by speaking both benefits himself, and is able to benefit others, must speak skilfully; but he who injures and is injured, must be unskilful in this art. For you may find some speakers injured, and others benefited. And are all hearers benefited by what they hear? Or will you find some benefited, and some hurt?

" Both."

Then those who hear skilfully are benefited, and those who hear unskilfully, hurt.

" Granted."

Is there any art of hearing, then, as well as of speaking? [p. 1215]

" It seems so."

If you please, consider it thus. To whom think you that the practice of music belongs?

" To a musician."

To whom the proper formation of a statue?

"To a sculptor."

And do you not imagine some art necessary even to view a statue skilfully?

"I do."

If, therefore, to speak properly belongs to one who is skilful, do you not see that to hear profitably belongs likewise to one who is skilful? For the present, however, if you please, let us say no more of doing things perfectly and profitably, since we are both far enough from anything of that kind; but this seems to be universally confessed, that he who would hear philosophers needs some kind of exercise in hearing. Is it not so? Tell me, then, on what I shall speak to you. On what subject are you able to hear me?

" On good and evil."

The good and evil of what, - of a horse?

" No."

Of an ox?

" No."

What, then; of a man?

" Yes."

Do we know, then, what man is; what is his nature, what our idea of him, and how far our ears are [p. 1216] open in this respect to him? Nay, do you understand what Nature is; or are you able in any degree to comprehend me when I come to say, " But I must use demonstration to you "? How should you? Do you comprehend what demonstration is, or how a thing is demonstrated, or by what methods; or what resembles a demonstration, and yet is not a demonstration? Do you know what true or false is; what is consequent upon anything, and what contradictory; suitable, or dissonant? But I must excite you to study philosophy. How shall I show you that contradiction among the generality of mankind, by which they differ concerning good and evil, profitable and unprofitable, when you know not what contradiction means? Show me, then, what I shall gain by discoursing with you? Excite an inclination in me, as a proper pasture excites an inclination to eating, in a sheep; for if you offer him a stone or a piece of bread, he will not be excited. Thus we too have certain natural inclinations to speaking, when the hearer appears to be somebody, when he gives us encouragement; but if he sits by like a stone or a tuft of grass, how can he excite any desire in a man? Does a vine say to an husbandman, "Take care of me"? No; but invites him to take care of it, by showing him that, if he does, it will reward him for his care. Who is there, whom bright and agreeable children do not attract to play, and creep, and prattle with them? But who was ever taken with an inclination to divert [p. 1217] himself or bray with an ass; for be the creature ever so little, it is still a little ass.

"Why then do you say nothing to me?"

I have only this to say to you; that whoever is utterly ignorant what he is and wherefore he was born, and in what kind of a universe and in what society; what things are good and what evil, what fair and what base; who understands neither discourse nor demonstration, nor what is true nor what is false, nor is able to distinguish between them; such a one will neither exert his desires, nor aversions, nor pursuits conformably to Nature; he will neither aim, nor assent, nor deny, nor suspend his judgment conformably to Nature; but will wander up and down, entirely deaf and blind, supposing himself to be somebody, while he is nobody. Is there anything new in all this? Is not this ignorance the cause of all the errors that have happened, from the very origin of mankind? Why did Agamemnon and Achilles differ? Was it not for want of knowing what is advantageous, what disadvantageous? Does not one of them say it is advantageous to restore Chryseis to her father; the other, that it is not? Does not one say that he ought to take away the prize of the other; the other, that he ought not? Did they not by these means forget who they were, and for what purpose they had come there? Why, what did you come for, man, - to win mistresses, or to fight? "To fight." With whom, - Trojans or Greeks? [p. 1218] "With the Trojans." Leaving Hector, then, do you draw your sword upon your own king? And do you, good sir, forgetting the duties of a king, -

“Intrusted with a nation and its cares,

go to squabbling about a girl with the bravest of your allies, whom you ought by every method to conciliate and preserve? And will you be inferior to a subtle priest who pays his court anxiously to you fine gladiators? You see the effects produced by ignorance of what is truly advantageous.

" But I am rich, as well as other people." What, richer than Agamemnon? "But I am handsome too." What, handsomer than Achilles? "But I have fine hair too." Had not Achilles finer and brighter? Yet he never combed it exquisitely, nor curled it. "But I am strong too." Can you lift such a stone, then, as Hector or Ajax? "But I am of a noble family too." Is your mother a goddess, or your father descended from Zeus? And what good did all this do Achilles, when he sat crying for a girl? "But I am an orator." And was not he? Do you not see how he treated the most eloquent of the Greeks, - Odysseus and Phoenix, - how he struck them dumb? This is all I have to say to you; and even this against my inclination.

"Why so?" Because you have not excited me to it. For what [p. 1219] can I see in you to excite me, as spirited horses their riders? Your person? That you disfigure. Your dress? That is effeminate. Your behavior. Your look? Absolutely nothing. When you would hear a philosopher, do not say to him, "You tell me nothing;" but only show yourself fit and worthy to hear; and you will find how you will move him to speak.


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 (George Long, 1890)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

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

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (1):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: