Uploaded by Joelrey Quilinging

Aurelius, Marcus Epictetus Seneca - Stoic Six Pack Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Golden Sayings, Fragments and Discourses of Epictetus, Letters From A Stoic and The Enchiridion (2014)

Stoic Six Pack – Meditations, The Golden Sayings and Fragments of Epictetus,
Discourses of Epictetus, Letters From A Stoic, The Enchiridion.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, translated by George Long. First published 1862.
The Golden Sayings and Fragments of Epictetus, translated by Hastings Crossley.
First published in 1909.
Discourses of Epictetus translated by George Long. First published as The
Discourses of Epictetus, with the Encheridion and Fragments translated by George
Long in 1877.
Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales AD Lucilium. All Three Volumes. By Lucius
Annaeus Seneca. Translated by Richard Mott Gummere. Volume 1 first published in
1917; Volume 2 published in 1920; Volume 3 published 1925.
The Enchiridion of Epictetus. Translated by P. E. Matheson. First published in 1916.
Copyright © 2014 Enhanced Media. All rights reserved.
Marcus Aurelius biography by John Lord. From Beacon Lights of History‚ Volume IV:
Imperial Antiquity. First published in 1883.
Stoic Six Pack. Copyright © 2014 Enhanced Media. All rights reserved.
Cover image shows, from left to right, a Baroque marble imaginary portrait bust of
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), by an anonymous sculptor of the
17th century (Museo del Prado); a bust portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius from the
Palazzo Nuovo (Musei Capitolini) and a likeness of Zeno of Citium from the Pushkin
Museum in Moscow.
Table of Contents
Marcus Aurelius
Letter I - On Saving Time
Letter II - On Discursiveness in Reading
Letter III - On True and False Friendship
Letter IV - On the Terrors of Death
Letter V - On the Philosopher's Mean
Letter VI - On Sharing Knowledge
Letter VII - On Crowds
Letter VIII - On the Philosopher's Seclusion
Letter IX - On Philosophy and Friendship
Letter X - On Living to Oneself
Letter XI - On the Blush of Modesty
Letter XII - On Old Age
Letter XIII - On Groundless Fears
Letter XIV - On the Reasons for Withdrawing from the World
Letter XV - On Brawn and Brains
Letter XVI - On Philosophy, the Guide of Life
Letter XVII - On Philosophy and Riches
Letter XVIII - On Festivals and Fasting
Letter XIX - On Worldliness and Retirement
Letter XX - On Practising what you Preach
Letter XXI - On the Renown which my Writings will Bring you
Letter XXII - On the Futility of Half-Way Measures
Letter XXIII - On the True Joy which Comes from Philosophy
Letter XXIV - On Despising Death
Letter XXV - On Reformation
Letter XXVI - On Old Age and Death
Letter XXVII - On the Good which Abides
Letter XXVIII - On Travel as a Cure for Discontent
Letter XXIX - On the Critical Condition of Marcellinus
Letter XXX - On Conquering the Conqueror
Letter XXXI - On Siren Songs
Letter XXXII - On Progress
Letter XXXIII - On the Futility of Learning Maxims
Letter XXXIV - On a Promising Pupil
Letter XXXV - On the Friendship of Kindred Minds
Letter XXXVI - On the Value of Retirement
Letter XXXVII - On Allegiance to Virtue
Letter XXXVIII - On Quiet Conversation
Letter XXXIX - On Noble Aspirations
Letter XL - On the Proper Style for a Philosopher's Discourse
Letter XLI - On the God within Us
Letter XLII - On Values
Letter XLIII - On the Relativity of Fame
Letter XLIV - On Philosophy and Pedigrees
Letter XLV - On Sophistical Argumentation
Letter XLVI - On a New Book by Lucilius
Letter XLVII - On Master and Slave
Letter XLVIII - On Quibbling as Unworthy of the Philosopher
Letter XLIX - On the Shortness of Life
Letter L - On our Blindness and its Cure
Letter LI - On Baiae and Morals
Letter LII - On Choosing our Teachers
Letter LIII - On the Faults of the Spirit
Letter LIV - On Asthma and Death
Letter LV - On Vatia's Villa
Letter LVI - On Quiet and Study
Letter LVII - On the Trials of Travel
Letter LVIII - On Being
Letter LIX - On Pleasure and Joy
Letter LX - On Harmful Prayers
Letter LXI - On Meeting Death Cheerfully
Letter LXII - On Good Company
Letter LXIII - On Grief for Lost Friends
Letter LXIV - On the Philosopher's Task
Letter LXV - On the First Cause
Letter LXVI - On Various Aspects of Virtue
Letter LXVII - On Ill-Health and Endurance of Suffering
Letter LXVIII - On Wisdom and Retirement
Letter LXIX - On Rest and Restlessness
Letter LXX - On the Proper Time to Slip the Cable
Letter LXXI - On the Supreme Good
Letter LXXII - On Business as the Enemy of Philosophy
Letter LXXIII - On Philosophers and Kings
Letter LXXIV - On Virtue as a Refuge from Worldly Distractions
Letter LXXV - On the Diseases of the Soul
Letter LXXVI - On Learning Wisdom in Old Age
Letter LXXVII - On Taking One's Own Life
Letter LXXVIII - On the Healing Power of the Mind
Letter LXXIX - On the Rewards of Scientific Discovery
Letter LXXX - On Worldly Deceptions
Letter LXXXI - On Benefits
Letter LXXXII - On the Natural Fear of Death
Letter LXXXIII - On Drunkenness
Letter LXXXIV - On Gathering Ideas
Letter LXXXV - On Some Vain Syllogisms
Letter LXXXVI - On Scipio's Villa
Letter LXXXVII - Some Arguments in Favour of the Simple Life
Letter LXXXVIII - On Liberal and Vocational Studies
Letter LXXXIX - On the Parts of Philosophy
Letter XC - On the Part Played by Philosophy in the Progress of
Letter XCI - On the Lesson to be Drawn from the Burning of
Letter XCII - On the Happy Life
Letter XCIII - On the Quality, as Contrasted with the Length, of
Letter XCIV - On the Value of Advice
Letter XCV - On the Usefulness of Basic Principles
Letter XCVI - On Facing Hardships
Letter XCVII - On the Degeneracy of the Age
Letter XCVIII - On the Fickleness of Fortune
Letter XCIX - On Consolation to the Bereaved
Letter C - On the Writings of Fabianus
Letter CI - On the Futility of Planning Ahead
Letter CII - On the Intimations of Our Immortality
Letter CIII - On the Dangers of Association with our Fellow-Men
Letter CIV - On Care of Health and Peace of Mind
Letter CV - On Facing the World with Confidence
Letter CVI - On the Corporeality of Virtue
Letter CVII - On Obedience to the Universal Will
Letter CVIII - On the Approaches to Philosophy
Letter CIX - On the Fellowship of Wise Men
Letter CX - On True and False Riches
Letter CXI - On the Vanity of Mental Gymnastics
Letter CXII - On Reforming Hardened Sinners
Letter CXIII - On the Vitality of the Soul and Its Attributes
Letter CXIV - On Style as a Mirror of Character
Letter CXV - On the Superficial Blessings
Letter CXVI - On Self-Control
Letter CXVII - On Real Ethics as Superior to Syllogistic
Letter CXVIII - On the Vanity of Place-Seeking
Letter CXIX - On Nature as our Best Provider
Letter CXX - More about Virtue
Letter CXXI - On Instinct in Animals
Letter CXXII - On Darkness as a Veil for Wickedness
Letter CXXIII - On the Conflict between Pleasure and Virtue
Letter CXXIV - On the True Good as Attained by Reason
Link to free audio recording of Seneca’s Letters
Seneca Image Gallery
Ancient bust of Seneca, part of the Double Herm of Socrates
and Seneca
Baroque marble imaginary portrait bust of Seneca, by an
anonymous sculptor of the 17th century
Luca Giordano’s The Death of Seneca (1684)
Plato, Seneca, and Aristotle in a medieval manuscript
illustration (c. 1325–35)
Errare humanum est (‘To err is human’)
Woodcut illustration of the suicide of Seneca and the
attempted suicide of his wife Pompeia Paulina
Stoicism founder Zeno of Citium, cast in Pushkin Museum in
Moscow from original in Naples
Antisthenes, founder of the Cynic school of philosophy
Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic emperor
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43
44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53
John Lord
An artistic impression of Epictetus, including his crutch
18th century engraving of Epictetus
Plato: copy of portrait bust by Silanion
Plato and Socrates in a medieval depiction
Bust of Pythagoras, Musei Capitolini, Rome
Pythagoreans celebrate sunrise by Fyodor Bronnikov
Bust of Aristotle by Lysippus, c. 330 BCE
An early Islamic portrayal of Aristotle (right) and Alexander the
Marcus Aurelius
Translated by George Long
FROM my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the
government of my temper. From the reputation and
remembrance of my father, modesty and a manly character.
From my mother, piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not
only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further,
simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of
the rich.
From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public
schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know
that on such things a man should spend liberally.
From my governor, to be neither of the green nor of the blue
party at the games in the Circus, nor a partisan either of the
Parmularius or the Scutarius at the gladiators' fights; from him
too I learned endurance of labour, and to want little, and to
work with my own hands, and not to meddle with other
people's affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander.
From Diognetus, not to busy myself about trifling things, and
not to give credit to what was said by miracle-workers and
jugglers about incantations and the driving away of demons
and such things; and not to breed quails for fighting, nor to
give myself up passionately to such things; and to endure
freedom of speech; and to have become intimate with
philosophy; and to have been a hearer, first of Bacchius, then
of Tandasis and Marcianus; and to have written dialogues in
my youth; and to have desired a plank bed and skin, and
whatever else of the kind belongs to the Grecian discipline.
From Rusticus I received the impression that my character
required improvement and discipline; and from him I learned
not to be led astray to sophistic emulation, nor to writing on
speculative matters, nor to delivering little hortatory orations,
nor to showing myself off as a man who practises much
discipline, or does benevolent acts in order to make a display;
and to abstain from rhetoric, and poetry, and fine writing; and
not to walk about in the house in my outdoor dress, nor to do
other things of the kind; and to write my letters with simplicity,
like the letter which Rusticus wrote from Sinuessa to my
mother; and with respect to those who have offended me by
words, or done me wrong, to be easily disposed to be pacified
and reconciled, as soon as they have shown a readiness to be
reconciled; and to read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a
superficial understanding of a book; nor hastily to give my
assent to those who talk overmuch; and I am indebted to him
for being acquainted with the discourses of Epictetus, which he
communicated to me out of his own collection.
From Apollonius I learned freedom of will and undeviating
steadiness of purpose; and to look to nothing else, not even for
a moment, except to reason; and to be always the same, in
sharp pains, on the occasion of the loss of a child, and in long
illness; and to see clearly in a living example that the same
man can be both most resolute and yielding, and not peevish
in giving his instruction; and to have had before my eyes a
man who clearly considered his experience and his skill in
expounding philosophical principles as the smallest of his
merits; and from him I learned how to receive from friends
what are esteemed favours, without being either humbled by
them or letting them pass unnoticed.
From Sextus, a benevolent disposition, and the example of a
family governed in a fatherly manner, and the idea of living
conformably to nature; and gravity without affectation, and to
look carefully after the interests of friends, and to tolerate
ignorant persons, and those who form opinions without
consideration: he had the power of readily accommodating
himself to all, so that intercourse with him was more agreeable
than any flattery; and at the same time he was most highly
venerated by those who associated with him: and he had the
faculty both of discovering and ordering, in an intelligent and
methodical way, the principles necessary for life; and he never
showed anger or any other passion, but was entirely free from
passion, and also most affectionate; and he could express
approbation without noisy display, and he possessed much
knowledge without ostentation.
From Alexander the grammarian, to refrain from faultfinding, and not in a reproachful way to chide those who
uttered any barbarous or solecistic or strange-sounding
expression; but dexterously to introduce the very expression
which ought to have been used, and in the way of answer or
giving confirmation, or joining in an inquiry about the thing
itself, not about the word, or by some other fit suggestion.
From Fronto I learned to observe what envy, and duplicity,
and hypocrisy are in a tyrant, and that generally those among
us who are called Patricians are rather deficient in paternal
From Alexander the Platonic, not frequently nor without
necessity to say to any one, or to write in a letter, that I have
no leisure; nor continually to excuse the neglect of duties
required by our relation to those with whom we live, by
alleging urgent occupations.
From Catulus, not to be indifferent when a friend finds fault,
even if he should find fault without reason, but to try to restore
him to his usual disposition; and to be ready to speak well of
teachers, as it is reported of Domitius and Athenodotus; and to
love my children truly.
From my brother Severus, to love my kin, and to love truth,
and to love justice; and through him I learned to know Thrasea,
Helvidius, Cato, Dion, Brutus; and from him I received the idea
of a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity
administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of
speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects
most of all the freedom of the governed; I learned from him
also consistency and undeviating steadiness in my regard for
philosophy; and a disposition to do good, and to give to others
readily, and to cherish good hopes, and to believe that I am
loved by my friends; and in him I observed no concealment of
his opinions with respect to those whom he condemned, and
that his friends had no need to conjecture what he wished or
did not wish, but it was quite plain.
From Maximus I learned self-government, and not to be led
aside by anything; and cheerfulness in all circumstances, as
well as in illness; and a just admixture in the moral character
of sweetness and dignity, and to do what was set before me
without complaining. I observed that everybody believed that
he thought as he spoke, and that in all that he did he never
had any bad intention; and he never showed amazement and
surprise, and was never in a hurry, and never put off doing a
thing, nor was perplexed nor dejected, nor did he ever laugh to
disguise his vexation, nor, on the other hand, was he ever
passionate or suspicious. He was accustomed to do acts of
beneficence, and was ready to forgive, and was free from all
falsehood; and he presented the appearance of a man who
could not be diverted from right rather than of a man who had
been improved. I observed, too, that no man could ever think
that he was despised by Maximus, or ever venture to think
himself a better man. He had also the art of being humorous in
an agreeable way.
In my father I observed mildness of temper, and
unchangeable resolution in the things which he had
determined after due deliberation; and no vainglory in those
things which men call honours; and a love of labour and
perseverance; and a readiness to listen to those who had
anything to propose for the common weal; and undeviating
firmness in giving to every man according to his deserts; and a
knowledge derived from experience of the occasions for
vigorous action and for remission. And I observed that he had
overcome all passion for boys; and he considered himself no
more than any other citizen; and he released his friends from
all obligation to sup with him or to attend him of necessity
when he went abroad, and those who had failed to accompany
him, by reason of any urgent circumstances, always found him
the same. I observed too his habit of careful inquiry in all
matters of deliberation, and his persistency, and that he never
stopped his investigation through being satisfied with
appearances which first present themselves; and that his
disposition was to keep his friends, and not to be soon tired of
them, nor yet to be extravagant in his affection; and to be
satisfied on all occasions, and cheerful; and to foresee things a
long way off, and to provide for the smallest without display;
and to check immediately popular applause and all flattery;
and to be ever watchful over the things which were necessary
for the administration of the empire, and to be a good
manager of the expenditure, and patiently to endure the blame
which he got for such conduct; and he was neither
superstitious with respect to the gods, nor did he court men by
gifts or by trying to please them, or by flattering the populace;
but he showed sobriety in all things and firmness, and never
any mean thoughts or action, nor love of novelty. And the
things which conduce in any way to the commodity of life, and
of which fortune gives an abundant supply, he used without
arrogance and without excusing himself; so that when he had
them, he enjoyed them without affectation, and when he had
them not, he did not want them. No one could ever say of him
that he was either a sophist or a home-bred flippant slave or a
pedant; but every one acknowledged him to be a man ripe,
perfect, above flattery, able to manage his own and other
men's affairs.
Besides this, he honoured those who were true philosophers,
and he did not reproach those who pretended to be
philosophers, nor yet was he easily led by them. He was also
easy in conversation, and he made himself agreeable without
any offensive affectation. He took a reasonable care of his
body's health, not as one who was greatly attached to life, nor
out of regard to personal appearance, nor yet in a careless
way, but so that, through his own attention, he very seldom
stood in need of the physician's art or of medicine or external
applications. He was most ready to give way without envy to
those who possessed any particular faculty, such as that of
eloquence or knowledge of the law or of morals, or of anything
else; and he gave them his help, that each might enjoy
reputation according to his deserts; and he always acted
conformably to the institutions of his country, without showing
any affectation of doing so.
Further, he was not fond of change nor unsteady, but he
loved to stay in the same places, and to employ himself about
the same things; and after his paroxysms of headache he
came immediately fresh and vigorous to his usual occupations.
His secrets were not but very few and very rare, and these
only about public matters; and he showed prudence and
economy in the exhibition of the public spectacles and the
construction of public buildings, his donations to the people,
and in such things, for he was a man who looked to what ought
to be done, not to the reputation which is got by a man's acts.
He did not take the bath at unseasonable hours; he was not
fond of building houses, nor curious about what he ate, nor
about the texture and colour of his clothes, nor about the
beauty of his slaves. His dress came from Lorium, his villa on
the coast, and from Lanuvium generally. We know how he
behaved to the toll-collector at Tusculum who asked his
pardon; and such was all his behaviour. There was in him
nothing harsh, nor implacable, nor violent, nor, as one may
say, anything carried to the sweating point; but he examined
all things severally, as if he had abundance of time, and
without confusion, in an orderly way, vigorously and
And that might be applied to him which is recorded of
Socrates, that he was able both to abstain from, and to enjoy,
those things which many are too weak to abstain from, and
cannot enjoy without excess. But to be strong enough both to
bear the one and to be sober in the other is the mark of a man
who has a perfect and invincible soul, such as he showed in
the illness of Maximus.
To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers,
good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates,
good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good. Further, I
owe it to the gods that I was not hurried into any offence
against any of them, though I had a disposition which, if
opportunity had offered, might have led me to do something of
this kind; but, through their favour, there never was such a
concurrence of circumstances as put me to the trial. Further, I
am thankful to the gods that I was not longer brought up with
my grandfather's concubine, and that I preserved the flower of
my youth, and that I did not make proof of my virility before
the proper season, but even deferred the time; that I was
subjected to a ruler and a father who was able to take away all
pride from me, and to bring me to the knowledge that it is
possible for a man to live in a palace without wanting either
guards or embroidered dresses, or torches and statues, and
such-like show; but that it is in such a man's power to bring
himself very near to the fashion of a private person, without
being for this reason either meaner in thought, or more remiss
in action, with respect to the things which must be done for
the public interest in a manner that befits a ruler. I thank the
gods for giving me such a brother, who was able by his moral
character to rouse me to vigilance over myself, and who, at
the same time, pleased me by his respect and affection; that
my children have not been stupid nor deformed in body; that I
did not make more proficiency in rhetoric, poetry, and the
other studies, in which I should perhaps have been completely
engaged, if I had seen that I was making progress in them;
that I made haste to place those who brought me up in the
station of honour, which they seemed to desire, without
putting them off with hope of my doing it some time after,
because they were then still young; that I knew Apollonius,
Rusticus, Maximus; that I received clear and frequent
impressions about living according to nature, and what kind of
a life that is, so that, so far as depended on the gods, and their
gifts, and help, and inspirations, nothing hindered me from
forthwith living according to nature, though I still fall short of it
through my own fault, and through not observing the
admonitions of the gods, and, I may almost say, their direct
instructions; that my body has held out so long in such a kind
of life; that I never touched either Benedicta or Theodotus, and
that, after having fallen into amatory passions, I was cured;
and, though I was often out of humour with Rusticus, I never
did anything of which I had occasion to repent; that, though it
was my mother's fate to die young, she spent the last years of
her life with me; that, whenever I wished to help any man in
his need, or on any other occasion, I was never told that I had
not the means of doing it; and that to myself the same
necessity never happened, to receive anything from another;
that I have such a wife, so obedient, and so affectionate, and
so simple; that I had abundance of good masters for my
children; and that remedies have been shown to me by
dreams, both others, and against bloodspitting and
giddiness...; and that, when I had an inclination to philosophy, I
did not fall into the hands of any sophist, and that I did not
waste my time on writers of histories, or in the resolution of
syllogisms, or occupy myself about the investigation of
appearances in the heavens; for all these things require the
help of the gods and fortune. Among the Quadi at the Granua.
BEGIN the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the
busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious,
unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their
ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the
nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is
ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to
me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates
in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I
can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me
what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate
him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands,
like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act
against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting
against one another to be vexed and to turn away.
Whatever this is that I am, it is a little flesh and breath, and
the ruling part. Throw away thy books; no longer distract
thyself: it is not allowed; but as if thou wast now dying, despise
the flesh; it is blood and bones and a network, a contexture of
nerves, veins, and arteries. See the breath also, what kind of a
thing it is, air, and not always the same, but every moment
sent out and again sucked in. The third then is the ruling part:
consider thus: Thou art an old man; no longer let this be a
slave, no longer be pulled by the strings like a puppet to
unsocial movements, no longer either be dissatisfied with thy
present lot, or shrink from the future. All that is from the gods
is full of Providence. That which is from fortune is not
separated from nature or without an interweaving and
involution with the things which are ordered by Providence.
From thence all things flow; and there is besides necessity, and
that which is for the advantage of the whole universe, of which
thou art a part. But that is good for every part of nature which
the nature of the whole brings, and what serves to maintain
this nature. Now the universe is preserved, as by the changes
of the elements so by the changes of things compounded of
the elements. Let these principles be enough for thee, let them
always be fixed opinions. But cast away the thirst after books,
that thou mayest not die murmuring, but cheerfully, truly, and
from thy heart thankful to the gods.
Remember how long thou hast been putting off these things,
and how often thou hast received an opportunity from the
gods, and yet dost not use it. Thou must now at last perceive
of what universe thou art a part, and of what administrator of
the universe thy existence is an efflux, and that a limit of time
is fixed for thee, which if thou dost not use for clearing away
the clouds from thy mind, it will go and thou wilt go, and it will
never return.
Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do
what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and
feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give
thyself relief from all other thoughts. And thou wilt give thyself
relief, if thou doest every act of thy life as if it were the last,
laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the
commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and
discontent with the portion which has been given to thee. Thou
seest how few the things are, the which if a man lays hold of,
he is able to live a life which flows in quiet, and is like the
existence of the gods; for the gods on their part will require
nothing more from him who observes these things. Do wrong
to thyself, do wrong to thyself, my soul; but thou wilt no longer
have the opportunity of honouring thyself. Every man's life is
sufficient. But thine is nearly finished, though thy soul
reverences not itself but places thy felicity in the souls of
Do the things external which fall upon thee distract thee?
Give thyself time to learn something new and good, and cease
to be whirled around. But then thou must also avoid being
carried about the other way. For those too are triflers who have
wearied themselves in life by their activity, and yet have no
object to which to direct every movement, and, in a word, all
their thoughts.
Through not observing what is in the mind of another a man
has seldom been seen to be unhappy; but those who do not
observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity
be unhappy.
This thou must always bear in mind, what is the nature of
the whole, and what is my nature, and how this is related to
that, and what kind of a part it is of what kind of a whole; and
that there is no one who hinders thee from always doing and
saying the things which are according to the nature of which
thou art a part.
Theophrastus, in his comparison of bad acts - such a
comparison as one would make in accordance with the
common notions of mankind - says, like a true philosopher,
that the offences which are committed through desire are
more blameable than those which are committed through
anger. For he who is excited by anger seems to turn away from
reason with a certain pain and unconscious contraction; but he
who offends through desire, being overpowered by pleasure,
seems to be in a manner more intemperate and more
womanish in his offences. Rightly then, and in a way worthy of
philosophy, he said that the offence which is committed with
pleasure is more blameable than that which is committed with
pain; and on the whole the one is more like a person who has
been first wronged and through pain is compelled to be angry;
but the other is moved by his own impulse to do wrong, being
carried towards doing something by desire.
Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from life this
very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly. But
to go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing
to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve thee in evil; but if
indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about
human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of
gods or devoid of Providence? But in truth they do exist, and
they do care for human things, and they have put all the
means in man's power to enable him not to fall into real evils.
And as to the rest, if there was anything evil, they would have
provided for this also, that it should be altogether in a man's
power not to fall into it. Now that which does not make a man
worse, how can it make a man's life worse? But neither
through ignorance, nor having the knowledge, but not the
power to guard against or correct these things, is it possible
that the nature of the universe has overlooked them; nor is it
possible that it has made so great a mistake, either through
want of power or want of skill, that good and evil should
happen indiscriminately to the good and the bad. But death
certainly, and life, honour and dishonour, pain and pleasure, all
these things equally happen to good men and bad, being
things which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore they
are neither good nor evil.
How quickly all things disappear, in the universe the bodies
themselves, but in time the remembrance of them; what is the
nature of all sensible things, and particularly those which
attract with the bait of pleasure or terrify by pain, or are noised
abroad by vapoury fame; how worthless, and contemptible,
and sordid, and perishable, and dead they are- all this it is the
part of the intellectual faculty to observe. To observe too who
these are whose opinions and voices give reputation; what
death is, and the fact that, if a man looks at it in itself, and by
the abstractive power of reflection resolves into their parts all
the things which present themselves to the imagination in it,
he will then consider it to be nothing else than an operation of
nature; and if any one is afraid of an operation of nature, he is
a child. This, however, is not only an operation of nature, but it
is also a thing which conduces to the purposes of nature. To
observe too how man comes near to the deity, and by what
part of him, and when this part of man is so disposed.
Nothing is more wretched than a man who traverses
everything in a round, and pries into the things beneath the
earth, as the poet says, and seeks by conjecture what is in the
minds of his neighbours, without perceiving that it is sufficient
to attend to the daemon within him, and to reverence it
sincerely. And reverence of the daemon consists in keeping it
pure from passion and thoughtlessness, and dissatisfaction
with what comes from gods and men. For the things from the
gods merit veneration for their excellence; and the things from
men should be dear to us by reason of kinship; and sometimes
even, in a manner, they move our pity by reason of men's
ignorance of good and bad; this defect being not less than that
which deprives us of the power of distinguishing things that
are white and black. Though thou shouldst be going to live
three thousand years, and as many times ten thousand years,
still remember that no man loses any other life than this which
he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses.
The longest and shortest are thus brought to the same. For the
present is the same to all, though that which perishes is not
the same; and so that which is lost appears to be a mere
moment. For a man cannot lose either the past or the future:
for what a man has not, how can any one take this from him?
These two things then thou must bear in mind; the one, that all
things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a
circle, and that it makes no difference whether a man shall see
the same things during a hundred years or two hundred, or an
infinite time; and the second, that the longest liver and he who
will die soonest lose just the same. For the present is the only
thing of which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this is
the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose a
thing if he has it not.
Remember that all is opinion. For what was said by the Cynic
Monimus is manifest: and manifest too is the use of what was
said, if a man receives what may be got out of it as far as it is
The soul of man does violence to itself, first of all, when it
becomes an abscess and, as it were, a tumour on the universe,
so far as it can. For to be vexed at anything which happens is a
separation of ourselves from nature, in some part of which the
natures of all other things are contained. In the next place, the
soul does violence to itself when it turns away from any man,
or even moves towards him with the intention of injuring, such
as are the souls of those who are angry. In the third place, the
soul does violence to itself when it is overpowered by pleasure
or by pain. Fourthly, when it plays a part, and does or says
anything insincerely and untruly.
Fifthly, when it allows any act of its own and any movement
to be without an aim, and does anything thoughtlessly and
without considering what it is, it being right that even the
smallest things be done with reference to an end; and the end
of rational animals is to follow the reason and the law of the
most ancient city and polity. Of human life the time is a point,
and the substance is in a flux, and the perception dull, and the
composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the
soul a whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing
devoid of judgement. And, to say all in a word, everything
which belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to
the soul is a dream and vapour, and life is a warfare and a
stranger's sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion. What then is that
which is able to conduct a man? One thing and only one,
philosophy. But this consists in keeping the daemon within a
man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and
pleasures, doing nothing without purpose, nor yet falsely and
with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man's doing or
not doing anything; and besides, accepting all that happens,
and all that is allotted, as coming from thence, wherever it is,
from whence he himself came; and, finally, waiting for death
with a cheerful mind, as being nothing else than a dissolution
of the elements of which every living being is compounded.
But if there is no harm to the elements themselves in each
continually changing into another, why should a man have any
apprehension about the change and dissolution of all the
elements? For it is according to nature, and nothing is evil
which is according to nature. This in Carnuntum.
WE OUGHT to consider not only that our life is daily wasting
away and a smaller part of it is left, but another thing also
must be taken into the account, that if a man should live
longer, it is quite uncertain whether the understanding will still
continue sufficient for the comprehension of things, and retain
the power of contemplation which strives to acquire the
knowledge of the divine and the human.
For if he shall begin to fall into dotage, perspiration and
nutrition and imagination and appetite, and whatever else
there is of the kind, will not fail; but the power of making use
of ourselves, and filling up the measure of our duty, and clearly
separating all appearances, and considering whether a man
should now depart from life, and whatever else of the kind
absolutely requires a disciplined reason, all this is already
extinguished. We must make haste then, not only because we
are daily nearer to death, but also because the conception of
things and the understanding of them cease first.
We ought to observe also that even the things which follow
after the things which are produced according to nature
contain something pleasing and attractive. For instance, when
bread is baked some parts are split at the surface, and these
parts which thus open, and have a certain fashion contrary to
the purpose of the baker's art, are beautiful in a manner, and
in a peculiar way excite a desire for eating. And again, figs,
when they are quite ripe, gape open; and in the ripe olives the
very circumstance of their being near to rottenness adds a
peculiar beauty to the fruit. And the ears of corn bending
down, and the lion's eyebrows, and the foam which flows from
the mouth of wild boars, and many other things- though they
are far from being beautiful, if a man should examine them
severally- still, because they are consequent upon the things
which are formed by nature, help to adorn them, and they
please the mind; so that if a man should have a feeling and
deeper insight with respect to the things which are produced in
the universe, there is hardly one of those which follow by way
of consequence which will not seem to him to be in a manner
disposed so as to give pleasure. And so he will see even the
real gaping jaws of wild beasts with no less pleasure than
those which painters and sculptors show by imitation; and in
an old woman and an old man he will be able to see a certain
maturity and comeliness; and the attractive loveliness of
young persons he will be able to look on with chaste eyes; and
many such things will present themselves, not pleasing to
every man, but to him only who has become truly familiar with
nature and her works.
Hippocrates after curing many diseases himself fell sick and
The Chaldaei foretold the deaths of many, and then fate
caught them too. Alexander, and Pompeius, and Caius Caesar,
after so often completely destroying whole cities, and in battle
cutting to pieces many ten thousands of cavalry and infantry,
themselves too at last departed from life. Heraclitus, after so
many speculations on the conflagration of the universe, was
filled with water internally and died smeared all over with mud.
And lice destroyed Democritus; and other lice killed Socrates.
What means all this? Thou hast embarked, thou hast made the
voyage, thou art come to shore; get out. If indeed to another
life, there is no want of gods, not even there.
But if to a state without sensation, thou wilt cease to be held
by pains and pleasures, and to be a slave to the vessel, which
is as much inferior as that which serves it is superior: for the
one is intelligence and deity; the other is earth and corruption.
Do not waste the remainder of thy life in thoughts about
others, when thou dost not refer thy thoughts to some object
of common utility. For thou losest the opportunity of doing
something else when thou hast such thoughts as these, What
is such a person doing, and why, and what is he saying, and
what is he thinking of, and what is he contriving, and whatever
else of the kind makes us wander away from the observation of
our own ruling power. We ought then to check in the series of
our thoughts everything that is without a purpose and useless,
but most of all the over-curious feeling and the malignant; and
a man should use himself to think of those things only about
which if one should suddenly ask, What hast thou now in thy
thoughts? With perfect openness thou mightest, immediately
answer, This or That; so that from thy words it should be plain
that everything in thee is simple and benevolent, and such as
befits a social animal, and one that cares not for thoughts
about pleasure or sensual enjoyments at all, nor has any
rivalry or envy and suspicion, or anything else for which thou
wouldst blush if thou shouldst say that thou hadst it in thy
mind. For the man who is such and no longer delays being
among the number of the best, is like a priest and minister of
the gods, using too the deity which is planted within him,
which makes the man uncontaminated by pleasure, unharmed
by any pain, untouched by any insult, feeling no wrong, a
fighter in the noblest fight, one who cannot be overpowered by
any passion, dyed deep with justice, accepting with all his soul
everything which happens and is assigned to him as his
portion; and not often, nor yet without great necessity and for
the general interest, imagining what another says, or does, or
thinks. For it is only what belongs to himself that he makes the
matter for his activity; and he constantly thinks of that which is
allotted to himself out of the sum total of things, and he makes
his own acts fair, and he is persuaded that his own portion is
good. For the lot which is assigned to each man is carried
along with him and carries him along with it. And he
remembers also that every rational animal is his kinsman, and
that to care for all men is according to man's nature; and a
man should hold on to the opinion not of all, but of those only
who confessedly live according to nature. But as to those who
live not so, he always bears in mind what kind of men they are
both at home and from home, both by night and by day, and
what they are, and with what men they live an impure life.
Accordingly, he does not value at all the praise which comes
from such men, since they are not even satisfied with
themselves. Labour not unwillingly, nor without regard to the
common interest, nor without due consideration, nor with
distraction; nor let studied ornament set off thy thoughts, and
be not either a man of many words, or busy about too many
things. And further, let the deity which is in thee be the
guardian of a living being, manly and of ripe age, and engaged
in matter political, and a Roman, and a ruler, who has taken his
post like a man waiting for the signal which summons him from
life, and ready to go, having need neither of oath nor of any
man's testimony. Be cheerful also, and seek not external help
nor the tranquility which others give. A man then must stand
erect, not be kept erect by others.
If thou findest in human life anything better than justice,
truth, temperance, fortitude, and, in a word, anything better
than thy own mind's self-satisfaction in the things which it
enables thee to do according to right reason, and in the
condition that is assigned to thee without thy own choice; if, I
say, thou seest anything better than this, turn to it with all thy
soul, and enjoy that which thou hast found to be the best. But
if nothing appears to be better than the deity which is planted
in thee, which has subjected to itself all thy appetites, and
carefully examines all the impressions, and, as Socrates said,
has detached itself from the persuasions of sense, and has
submitted itself to the gods, and cares for mankind; if thou
findest everything else smaller and of less value than this, give
place to nothing else, for if thou dost once diverge and incline
to it, thou wilt no longer without distraction be able to give the
preference to that good thing which is thy proper possession
and thy own; for it is not right that anything of any other kind,
such as praise from the many, or power, or enjoyment of
pleasure, should come into competition with that which is
rationally and politically or practically good. All these things,
even though they may seem to adapt themselves to the better
things in a small degree, obtain the superiority all at once, and
carry us away. But do thou, I say, simply and freely choose the
better, and hold to it.- But that which is useful is the better.-
Well then, if it is useful to thee as a rational being, keep to it;
but if it is only useful to thee as an animal, say so, and
maintain thy judgement without arrogance: only take care that
thou makest the inquiry by a sure method.
Never value anything as profitable to thyself which shall
compel thee to break thy promise, to lose thy self-respect, to
hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to act the hypocrite, to
desire anything which needs walls and curtains: for he who has
preferred to everything intelligence and daemon and the
worship of its excellence, acts no tragic part, does not groan,
will not need either solitude or much company; and, what is
chief of all, he will live without either pursuing or flying from
death; but whether for a longer or a shorter time he shall have
the soul inclosed in the body, he cares not at all: for even if he
must depart immediately, he will go as readily as if he were
going to do anything else which can be done with decency and
order; taking care of this only all through life, that his thoughts
turn not away from anything which belongs to an intelligent
animal and a member of a civil community.
In the mind of one who is chastened and purified thou wilt
find no corrupt matter, nor impurity, nor any sore skinned over.
Nor is his life incomplete when fate overtakes him, as one may
say of an actor who leaves the stage before ending and
finishing the play. Besides, there is in him nothing servile, nor
affected, nor too closely bound to other things, nor yet
detached from other things, nothing worthy of blame, nothing
which seeks a hiding-place.
Reverence the faculty which produces opinion. On this
faculty it entirely depends whether there shall exist in thy
ruling part any opinion inconsistent with nature and the
constitution of the rational animal. And this faculty promises
freedom from hasty judgement, and friendship towards men,
and obedience to the gods.
Throwing away then all things, hold to these only which are
few; and besides bear in mind that every man lives only this
present time, which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest
of his life is either past or it is uncertain. Short then is the time
which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where
he lives; and short too the longest posthumous fame, and even
this only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who
will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much
less him who died long ago.
To the aids which have been mentioned let this one still be
added:Make for thyself a definition or description of the thing which
is presented to thee, so as to see distinctly what kind of a thing
it is in its substance, in its nudity, in its complete entirety, and
tell thyself its proper name, and the names of the things of
which it has been compounded, and into which it will be
resolved. For nothing is so productive of elevation of mind as
to be able to examine methodically and truly every object
which is presented to thee in life, and always to look at things
so as to see at the same time what kind of universe this is, and
what kind of use everything performs in it, and what value
everything has with reference to the whole, and what with
reference to man, who is a citizen of the highest city, of which
all other cities are like families; what each thing is, and of what
it is composed, and how long it is the nature of this thing to
endure which now makes an impression on me, and what
virtue I have need of with respect to it, such as gentleness,
manliness, truth, fidelity, simplicity, contentment, and the rest.
Wherefore, on every occasion a man should say: this comes
from God; and this is according to the apportionment and
spinning of the thread of destiny, and such-like coincidence
and chance; and this is from one of the same stock, and a
kinsman and partner, one who knows not however what is
according to his nature. But I know; for this reason I behave
towards him according to the natural law of fellowship with
benevolence and justice. At the same time however in things
indifferent I attempt to ascertain the value of each.
If thou workest at that which is before thee, following right
reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything
else to distract thee, but keeping thy divine part pure, as if
thou shouldst be bound to give it back immediately; if thou
holdest to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but
satisfied with thy present activity according to nature, and with
heroic truth in every word and sound which thou utterest, thou
wilt live happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.
As physicians have always their instruments and knives
ready for cases which suddenly require their skill, so do thou
have principles ready for the understanding of things divine
and human, and for doing everything, even the smallest, with
a recollection of the bond which unites the divine and human
to one another. For neither wilt thou do anything well which
pertains to man without at the same time having a reference
to things divine; nor the contrary.
No longer wander at hazard; for neither wilt thou read thy
own memoirs, nor the acts of the ancient Romans and
Hellenes, and the selections from books which thou wast
reserving for thy old age.
Hasten then to the end which thou hast before thee, and
throwing away idle hopes, come to thy own aid, if thou carest
at all for thyself, while it is in thy power.
They know not how many things are signified by the words
stealing, sowing, buying, keeping quiet, seeing what ought to
be done; for this is not effected by the eyes, but by another
kind of vision.
Body, soul, intelligence: to the body belong sensations, to
the soul appetites, to the intelligence principles. To receive the
impressions of forms by means of appearances belongs even
to animals; to be pulled by the strings of desire belongs both to
wild beasts and to men who have made themselves into
women, and to a Phalaris and a Nero: and to have the
intelligence that guides to the things which appear suitable
belongs also to those who do not believe in the gods, and who
betray their country, and do their impure deeds when they
have shut the doors. If then everything else is common to all
that I have mentioned, there remains that which is peculiar to
the good man, to be pleased and content with what happens,
and with the thread which is spun for him; and not to defile the
divinity which is planted in his breast, nor disturb it by a crowd
of images, but to preserve it tranquil, following it obediently as
a god, neither saying anything contrary to the truth, nor doing
anything contrary to justice. And if all men refuse to believe
that he lives a simple, modest, and contented life, he is neither
angry with any of them, nor does he deviate from the way
which leads to the end of life, to which a man ought to come
pure, tranquil, ready to depart, and without any compulsion
perfectly reconciled to his lot.
THAT which rules within, when it is according to nature, is so
affected with respect to the events which happen, that it
always easily adapts itself to that which is and is presented to
it. For it requires no definite material, but it moves towards its
purpose, under certain conditions however; and it makes a
material for itself out of that which opposes it, as fire lays hold
of what falls into it, by which a small light would have been
extinguished: but when the fire is strong, it soon appropriates
to itself the matter which is heaped on it, and consumes it, and
rises higher by means of this very material.
Let no act be done without a purpose, nor otherwise than
according to the perfect principles of art.
Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country,
sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire
such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the
most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou
shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with
more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire
than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him
such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in
perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else
than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to
thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles be
brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to
them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to
send thee back free from all discontent with the things to
which thou returnest. For with what art thou discontented?
With the badness of men? Recall to thy mind this conclusion,
that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure
is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily; and
consider how many already, after mutual enmity, suspicion,
hatred, and fighting, have been stretched dead, reduced to
ashes; and be quiet at last.- But perhaps thou art dissatisfied
with that which is assigned to thee out of the universe.- Recall
to thy recollection this alternative; either there is providence or
atoms, fortuitous concurrence of things; or remember the
arguments by which it has been proved that the world is a kind
of political community, and be quiet at last.- But perhaps
corporeal things will still fasten upon thee.- Consider then
further that the mind mingles not with the breath, whether
moving gently or violently, when it has once drawn itself apart
and discovered its own power, and think also of all that thou
hast heard and assented to about pain and pleasure, and be
quiet at last.- But perhaps the desire of the thing called fame
will torment thee.- See how soon everything is forgotten, and
look at the chaos of infinite time on each side of the present,
and the emptiness of applause, and the changeableness and
want of judgement in those who pretend to give praise, and
the narrowness of the space within which it is circumscribed,
and be quiet at last. For the whole earth is a point, and how
small a nook in it is this thy dwelling, and how few are there in
it, and what kind of people are they who will praise thee. This
then remains: Remember to retire into this little territory of thy
own, and above all do not distract or strain thyself, but be free,
and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as
a mortal. But among the things readiest to thy hand to which
thou shalt turn, let there be these, which are two. One is that
things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain
immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion
which is within. The other is that all these things, which thou
seest, change immediately and will no longer be; and
constantly bear in mind how many of these changes thou hast
already witnessed. The universe is transformation: life is
If our intellectual part is common, the reason also, in respect
of which we are rational beings, is common: if this is so,
common also is the reason which commands us what to do,
and what not to do; if this is so, there is a common law also; if
this is so, we are fellow-citizens; if this is so, we are members
of some political community; if this is so, the world is in a
manner a state. For of what other common political community
will any one say that the whole human race are members? And
from thence, from this common political community comes
also our very intellectual faculty and reasoning faculty and our
capacity for law; or whence do they come?
For as my earthly part is a portion given to me from certain
earth, and that which is watery from another element, and that
which is hot and fiery from some peculiar source (for nothing
comes out of that which is nothing, as nothing also returns to
non-existence), so also the intellectual part comes from some
Death is such as generation is, a mystery of nature; a
composition out of the same elements, and a decomposition
into the same; and altogether not a thing of which any man
should be ashamed, for it is not contrary to the nature of a
reasonable animal, and not contrary to the reason of our
It is natural that these things should be done by such
persons, it is a matter of necessity; and if a man will not have
it so, he will not allow the fig-tree to have juice. But by all
means bear this in mind, that within a very short time both
thou and he will be dead; and soon not even your names will
be left behind.
Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the
complaint, "I have been harmed." Take away the complaint, "I
have been harmed," and the harm is taken away. That which
does not make a man worse than he was, also does not make
his life worse, nor does it harm him either from without or from
The nature of that which is universally useful has been
compelled to do this.
Consider that everything which happens, happens justly, and
if thou observest carefully, thou wilt find it to be so. I do not
say only with respect to the continuity of the series of things,
but with respect to what is just, and as if it were done by one
who assigns to each thing its value. Observe then as thou hast
begun; and whatever thou doest, do it in conjunction with this,
the being good, and in the sense in which a man is properly
understood to be good. Keep to this in every action.
Do not have such an opinion of things as he has who does
thee wrong, or such as he wishes thee to have, but look at
them as they are in truth.
A man should always have these two rules in readiness; the
one, to do only whatever the reason of the ruling and
legislating faculty may suggest for the use of men; the other,
to change thy opinion, if there is any one at hand who sets
thee right and moves thee from any opinion. But this change
of opinion must proceed only from a certain persuasion, as of
what is just or of common advantage, and the like, not
because it appears pleasant or brings reputation.
Hast thou reason? I have.- Why then dost not thou use it? For
if this does its own work, what else dost thou wish?
Thou hast existed as a part. Thou shalt disappear in that
which produced thee; but rather thou shalt be received back
into its seminal principle by transmutation.
Many grains of frankincense on the same altar: one falls
before, another falls after; but it makes no difference.
Within ten days thou wilt seem a god to those to whom thou
art now a beast and an ape, if thou wilt return to thy principles
and the worship of reason.
Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years.
Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy
power, be good.
How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what
his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only to what he does
himself, that it may be just and pure; or as Agathon says, look
not round at the depraved morals of others, but run straight
along the line without deviating from it.
He who has a vehement desire for posthumous fame does
not consider that every one of those who remember him will
himself also die very soon; then again also they who have
succeeded them, until the whole remembrance shall have
been extinguished as it is transmitted through men who
foolishly admire and perish. But suppose that those who will
remember are even immortal, and that the remembrance will
be immortal, what then is this to thee? And I say not what is it
to the dead, but what is it to the living? What is praise except
indeed so far as it has a certain utility? For thou now rejectest
unseasonably the gift of nature, clinging to something else...
Everything which is in any way beautiful is beautiful in itself,
and terminates in itself, not having praise as part of itself.
Neither worse then nor better is a thing made by being
praised. I affirm this also of the things which are called
beautiful by the vulgar, for example, material things and works
of art. That which is really beautiful has no need of anything;
not more than law, not more than truth, not more than
benevolence or modesty. Which of these things is beautiful
because it is praised, or spoiled by being blamed? Is such a
thing as an emerald made worse than it was, if it is not
praised? Or gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a little knife, a flower, a
If souls continue to exist, how does the air contain them from
eternity?- But how does the earth contain the bodies of those
who have been buried from time so remote? For as here the
mutation of these bodies after a certain continuance, whatever
it may be, and their dissolution make room for other dead
bodies; so the souls which are removed into the air after
subsisting for some time are transmuted and diffused, and
assume a fiery nature by being received into the seminal
intelligence of the universe, and in this way make room for the
fresh souls which come to dwell there. And this is the answer
which a man might give on the hypothesis of souls continuing
to exist. But we must not only think of the number of bodies
which are thus buried, but also of the number of animals which
are daily eaten by us and the other animals. For what a
number is consumed, and thus in a manner buried in the
bodies of those who feed on them! And nevertheless this earth
receives them by reason of the changes of these bodies into
blood, and the transformations into the aerial or the fiery
What is the investigation into the truth in this matter? The
division into that which is material and that which is the cause
of form, the formal.
Do not be whirled about, but in every movement have
respect to justice, and on the occasion of every impression
maintain the faculty of comprehension or understanding.
Everything harmonizes with me, which is harmonious to
thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too early nor too late,
which is in due time for thee. Everything is fruit to me which
thy seasons bring, O Nature: from thee are all things, in thee
are all things, to thee all things return. The poet says, Dear city
of Cecrops; and wilt not thou say, Dear city of Zeus?
Occupy thyself with few things, says the philosopher, if thou
wouldst be tranquil.- But consider if it would not be better to
say, Do what is necessary, and whatever the reason of the
animal which is naturally social requires, and as it requires. For
this brings not only the tranquility which comes from doing
well, but also that which comes from doing few things. For the
greatest part of what we say and do being unnecessary, if a
man takes this away, he will have more leisure and less
uneasiness. Accordingly on every occasion a man should ask
himself, Is this one of the unnecessary things? Now a man
should take away not only unnecessary acts, but also,
unnecessary thoughts, for thus superfluous acts will not follow
Try how the life of the good man suits thee, the life of him
who is satisfied with his portion out of the whole, and satisfied
with his own just acts and benevolent disposition.
Hast thou seen those things? Look also at these. Do not
disturb thyself. Make thyself all simplicity. Does any one do
wrong? It is to himself that he does the wrong. Has anything
happened to thee?
Well; out of the universe from the beginning everything
which happens has been apportioned and spun out to thee. In
a word, thy life is short. Thou must turn to profit the present by
the aid of reason and justice. Be sober in thy relaxation.
Either it is a well-arranged universe or a chaos huddled
together, but still a universe. But can a certain order subsist in
thee, and disorder in the All? And this too when all things are
so separated and diffused and sympathetic.
A black character, a womanish character, a stubborn
character, bestial, childish, animal, stupid, counterfeit,
scurrilous, fraudulent, tyrannical.
If he is a stranger to the universe who does not know what is
in it, no less is he a stranger who does not know what is going
on in it. He is a runaway, who flies from social reason; he is
blind, who shuts the eyes of the understanding; he is poor,
who has need of another, and has not from himself all things
which are useful for life. He is an abscess on the universe who
withdraws and separates himself from the reason of our
common nature through being displeased with the things
which happen, for the same nature produces this, and has
produced thee too: he is a piece rent asunder from the state,
who tears his own soul from that of reasonable animals, which
is one.
The one is a philosopher without a tunic, and the other
without a book: here is another half naked: Bread I have not,
he says, and I abide by reason.- And I do not get the means of
living out of my learning, and I abide by my reason.
Love the art, poor as it may be, which thou hast learned, and
be content with it; and pass through the rest of life like one
who has intrusted to the gods with his whole soul all that he
has, making thyself neither the tyrant nor the slave of any
Consider, for example, the times of Vespasian. Thou wilt see
all these things, people marrying, bringing up children, sick,
dying, warring, feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground,
flattering, obstinately arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing
for some to die, grumbling about the present, loving, heaping
up treasure, desiring counsulship, kingly power. Well then, that
life of these people no longer exists at all. Again, remove to
the times of Trajan. Again, all is the same. Their life too is
gone. In like manner view also the other epochs of time and of
whole nations, and see how many after great efforts soon fell
and were resolved into the elements. But chiefly thou shouldst
think of those whom thou hast thyself known distracting
themselves about idle things, neglecting to do what was in
accordance with their proper constitution, and to hold firmly to
this and to be content with it. And herein it is necessary to
remember that the attention given to everything has its proper
value and proportion. For thus thou wilt not be dissatisfied, if
thou appliest thyself to smaller matters no further than is fit.
The words which were formerly familiar are now antiquated:
so also the names of those who were famed of old, are now in
a manner antiquated, Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Leonnatus,
and a little after also Scipio and Cato, then Augustus, then also
Hadrian and Antoninus. For all things soon pass away and
become a mere tale, and complete oblivion soon buries them.
And I say this of those who have shone in a wondrous way. For
the rest, as soon as they have breathed out their breath, they
are gone, and no man speaks of them. And, to conclude the
matter, what is even an eternal remembrance? A mere
nothing. What then is that about which we ought to employ our
serious pains? This one thing, thoughts just, and acts social,
and words which never lie, and a disposition which gladly
accepts all that happens, as necessary, as usual, as flowing
from a principle and source of the same kind.
Willingly give thyself up to Clotho, one of the Fates, allowing
her to spin thy thread into whatever things she pleases.
Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and
that which is remembered.
Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and
accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe
loves nothing so much as to change the things which are and
to make new things like them. For everything that exists is in a
manner the seed of that which will be. But thou art thinking
only of seeds which are cast into the earth or into a womb: but
this is a very vulgar notion.
Thou wilt soon die, and thou art not yet simple, not free from
perturbations, nor without suspicion of being hurt by external
things, nor kindly disposed towards all; nor dost thou yet place
wisdom only in acting justly.
Examine men's ruling principles, even those of the wise,
what kind of things they avoid, and what kind they pursue.
What is evil to thee does not subsist in the ruling principle of
another; nor yet in any turning and mutation of thy corporeal
covering. Where is it then? It is in that part of thee in which
subsists the power of forming opinions about evils. Let this
power then not form such opinions, and all is well. And if that
which is nearest to it, the poor body, is burnt, filled with matter
and rottenness, nevertheless let the part which forms opinions
about these things be quiet, that is, let it judge that nothing is
either bad or good which can happen equally to the bad man
and the good. For that which happens equally to him who lives
contrary to nature and to him who lives according to nature, is
neither according to nature nor contrary to nature.
Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having
one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have
reference to one perception, the perception of this one living
being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all
things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist;
observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the
contexture of the web.
Thou art a little soul bearing about a corpse, as Epictetus
used to say.
It is no evil for things to undergo change, and no good for
things to subsist in consequence of change.
Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and
a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is
carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be
carried away too.
Everything which happens is as familiar and well known as
the rose in spring and the fruit in summer; for such is disease,
and death, and calumny, and treachery, and whatever else
delights fools or vexes them.
In the series of things those which follow are always aptly
fitted to those which have gone before; for this series is not
like a mere enumeration of disjointed things, which has only a
necessary sequence, but it is a rational connection: and as all
existing things are arranged together harmoniously, so the
things which come into existence exhibit no mere succession,
but a certain wonderful relationship.
Always remember the saying of Heraclitus, that the death of
earth is to become water, and the death of water is to become
air, and the death of air is to become fire, and reversely. And
think too of him who forgets whither the way leads, and that
men quarrel with that with which they are most constantly in
communion, the reason which governs the universe; and the
things which daily meet with seem to them strange: and
consider that we ought not to act and speak as if we were
asleep, for even in sleep we seem to act and speak; and that
we ought not, like children who learn from their parents, simply
to act and speak as we have been taught.
If any god told thee that thou shalt die to-morrow, or
certainly on the day after to-morrow, thou wouldst not care
much whether it was on the third day or on the morrow, unless
thou wast in the highest degree mean-spirited- for how small is
the difference?- So think it no great thing to die after as many
years as thou canst name rather than to-morrow.
Think continually how many physicians are dead after often
contracting their eyebrows over the sick; and how many
astrologers after predicting with great pretensions the deaths
of others; and how many philosophers after endless discourses
on death or immortality; how many heroes after killing
thousands; and how many tyrants who have used their power
over men's lives with terrible insolence as if they were
immortal; and how many cities are entirely dead, so to speak,
Helice and Pompeii and Herculaneum, and others innumerable.
Add to the reckoning all whom thou hast known, one after
another. One man after burying another has been laid out
dead, and another buries him: and all this in a short time. To
conclude, always observe how ephemeral and worthless
human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus tomorrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little
space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in
content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature
who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.
Be like the promontory against which the waves continually
break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water
around it.
Unhappy am I because this has happened to me.- Not so, but
happy am I, though this has happened to me, because I
continue free from pain, neither crushed by the present nor
fearing the future. For such a thing as this might have
happened to every man; but every man would not have
continued free from pain on such an occasion. Why then is that
rather a misfortune than this a good fortune? And dost thou in
all cases call that a man's misfortune, which is not a deviation
from man's nature? And does a thing seem to thee to be a
deviation from man's nature, when it is not contrary to the will
of man's nature? Well, thou knowest the will of nature. Will
then this which has happened prevent thee from being just,
inconsiderate opinions and falsehood; will it prevent thee from
having modesty, freedom, and everything else, by the
presence of which man's nature obtains all that is its own?
Remember too on every occasion which leads thee to vexation
to apply this principle: not that this is a misfortune, but that to
bear it nobly is good fortune.
It is a vulgar, but still a useful help towards contempt of
death, to pass in review those who have tenaciously stuck to
life. What more then have they gained than those who have
died early? Certainly they lie in their tombs somewhere at last,
Cadicianus, Fabius, Julianus, Lepidus, or any one else like
them, who have carried out many to be buried, and then were
carried out themselves. Altogether the interval is small
between birth and death; and consider with how much trouble,
and in company with what sort of people and in what a feeble
body this interval is laboriously passed. Do not then consider
life a thing of any value. For look to the immensity of time
behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another
boundless space. In this infinity then what is the difference
between him who lives three days and him who lives three
Always run to the short way; and the short way is the
natural: accordingly say and do everything in conformity with
the soundest reason. For such a purpose frees a man from
trouble, and warfare, and all artifice and ostentatious display.
IN THE morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought
be present- I am rising to the work of a human being. Why
then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I
exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I
been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself
warm?- But this is more pleasant.- Dost thou exist then to take
thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou
not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders,
the bees working together to put in order their several parts of
the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human
being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is
according to thy nature?- But it is necessary to take rest also.It is necessary: however nature has fixed bounds to this too:
she has fixed bounds both to eating and drinking, and yet thou
goest beyond these bounds, beyond what is sufficient; yet in
thy acts it is not so, but thou stoppest short of what thou canst
do. So thou lovest not thyself, for if thou didst, thou wouldst
love thy nature and her will. But those who love their several
arts exhaust themselves in working at them unwashed and
without food; but thou valuest thy own own nature less than
the turner values the turning art, or the dancer the dancing
art, or the lover of money values his money, or the
vainglorious man his little glory. And such men, when they
have a violent affection to a thing, choose neither to eat nor to
sleep rather than to perfect the things which they care for. But
are the acts which concern society more vile in thy eyes and
less worthy of thy labour?
How easy it is to repel and to wipe away every impression
which is troublesome or unsuitable, and immediately to be in
all tranquility.
Judge every word and deed which are according to nature to
be fit for thee; and be not diverted by the blame which follows
from any people nor by their words, but if a thing is good to be
done or said, do not consider it unworthy of thee. For those
persons have their peculiar leading principle and follow their
peculiar movement; which things do not thou regard, but go
straight on, following thy own nature and the common nature;
and the way of both is one.
I go through the things which happen according to nature
until I shall fall and rest, breathing out my breath into that
element out of which I daily draw it in, and falling upon that
earth out of which my father collected the seed, and my
mother the blood, and my nurse the milk; out of which during
so many years I have been supplied with food and drink; which
bears me when I tread on it and abuse it for so many purposes.
Thou sayest, Men cannot admire the sharpness of thy wits.Be it so: but there are many other things of which thou canst
not say, I am not formed for them by nature. Show those
qualities then which are altogether in thy power, sincerity,
gravity, endurance of labour, aversion to pleasure,
contentment with thy portion and with few things,
benevolence, frankness, no love of superfluity, freedom from
trifling magnanimity. Dost thou not see how many qualities
thou art immediately able to exhibit, in which there is no
excuse of natural incapacity and unfitness, and yet thou still
remainest voluntarily below the mark? Or art thou compelled
through being defectively furnished by nature to murmur, and
to be stingy, and to flatter, and to find fault with thy poor body,
and to try to please men, and to make great display, and to be
so restless in thy mind? No, by the gods: but thou mightest
have been delivered from these things long ago. Only if in
truth thou canst be charged with being rather slow and dull of
comprehension, thou must exert thyself about this also, not
neglecting it nor yet taking pleasure in thy dulness.
One man, when he has done a service to another, is ready to
set it down to his account as a favour conferred. Another is not
ready to do this, but still in his own mind he thinks of the man
as his debtor, and he knows what he has done. A third in a
manner does not even know what he has done, but he is like a
vine which has produced grapes, and seeks for nothing more
after it has once produced its proper fruit. As a horse when he
has run, a dog when he has tracked the game, a bee when it
has made the honey, so a man when he has done a good act,
does not call out for others to come and see, but he goes on to
another act, as a vine goes on to produce again the grapes in
season.- Must a man then be one of these, who in a manner
act thus without observing it?- Yes.- But this very thing is
necessary, the observation of what a man is doing: for, it may
be said, it is characteristic of the social animal to perceive that
he is working in a social manner, and indeed to wish that his
social partner also should perceive it.- It is true what thou
sayest, but thou dost not rightly understand what is now said:
and for this reason thou wilt become one of those of whom I
spoke before, for even they are misled by a certain show of
reason. But if thou wilt choose to understand the meaning of
what is said, do not fear that for this reason thou wilt omit any
social act.
A prayer of the Athenians: Rain, rain, O dear Zeus, down on
the ploughed fields of the Athenians and on the plains.- In truth
we ought not to pray at all, or we ought to pray in this simple
and noble fashion.
Just as we must understand when it is said, That Aesculapius
prescribed to this man horse-exercise, or bathing in cold water
or going without shoes; so we must understand it when it is
said, That the nature of the universe prescribed to this man
disease or mutilation or loss or anything else of the kind. For in
the first case Prescribed means something like this: he
prescribed this for this man as a thing adapted to procure
health; and in the second case it means: That which happens
to (or, suits) every man is fixed in a manner for him suitably to
his destiny. For this is what we mean when we say that things
are suitable to us, as the workmen say of squared stones in
walls or the pyramids, that they are suitable, when they fit
them to one another in some kind of connexion. For there is
altogether one fitness, harmony. And as the universe is made
up out of all bodies to be such a body as it is, so out of all
existing causes necessity (destiny) is made up to be such a
cause as it is. And even those who are completely ignorant
understand what I mean, for they say, It (necessity, destiny)
brought this to such a person.- This then was brought and this
was precribed to him. Let us then receive these things, as well
as those which Aesculapius prescribes. Many as a matter of
course even among his prescriptions are disagreeable, but we
accept them in the hope of health. Let the perfecting and
accomplishment of the things, which the common nature
judges to be good, be judged by thee to be of the same kind as
thy health. And so accept everything which happens, even if it
seem disagreeable, because it leads to this, to the health of
the universe and to the prosperity and felicity of Zeus (the
For he would not have brought on any man what he has
brought, if it were not useful for the whole. Neither does the
nature of anything, whatever it may be, cause anything which
is not suitable to that which is directed by it. For two reasons
then it is right to be content with that which happens to thee;
the one, because it was done for thee and prescribed for thee,
and in a manner had reference to thee, originally from the
most ancient causes spun with thy destiny; and the other,
because even that which comes severally to every man is to
the power which administers the universe a cause of felicity
and perfection, nay even of its very continuance. For the
integrity of the whole is mutilated, if thou cuttest off anything
whatever from the conjunction and the continuity either of the
parts or of the causes.
And thou dost cut off, as far as it is in thy power, when thou
art dissatisfied, and in a manner triest to put anything out of
the way.
Be not disgusted, nor discouraged, nor dissatisfied, if thou
dost not succeed in doing everything according to right
principles; but when thou bast failed, return back again, and
be content if the greater part of what thou doest is consistent
with man's nature, and love this to which thou returnest; and
do not return to philosophy as if she were a master, but act like
those who have sore eyes and apply a bit of sponge and egg,
or as another applies a plaster, or drenching with water. For
thus thou wilt not fail to obey reason, and thou wilt repose in it.
And remember that philosophy requires only the things which
thy nature requires; but thou wouldst have something else
which is not according to nature.- It may be objected, Why
what is more agreeable than this which I am doing?- But is not
this the very reason why pleasure deceives us? And consider if
magnanimity, freedom, simplicity, equanimity, piety, are not
more agreeable. For what is more agreeable than wisdom
itself, when thou thinkest of the security and the happy course
of all things which depend on the faculty of understanding and
Things are in such a kind of envelopment that they have
seemed to philosophers, not a few nor those common
philosophers, altogether unintelligible; nay even to the Stoics
themselves they seem difficult to understand. And all our
assent is changeable; for where is the man who never
changes? Carry thy thoughts then to the objects themselves,
and consider how short-lived they are and worthless, and that
they may be in the possession of a filthy wretch or a whore or
a robber.
Then turn to the morals of those who live with thee, and it is
hardly possible to endure even the most agreeable of them, to
say nothing of a man being hardly able to endure himself. In
such darkness then and dirt and in so constant a flux both of
substance and of time, and of motion and of things moved,
what there is worth being highly prized or even an object of
serious pursuit, I cannot imagine. But on the contrary it is a
man's duty to comfort himself, and to wait for the natural
dissolution and not to be vexed at the delay, but to rest in
these principles only: the one, that nothing will happen to me
which is not conformable to the nature of the universe; and the
other, that it is in my power never to act contrary to my god
and daemon: for there is no man who will compel me to this.
About what am I now employing my own soul? On every
occasion I must ask myself this question, and inquire, what
have I now in this part of me which they call the ruling
principle? And whose soul have I now? That of a child, or of a
young man, or of a feeble woman, or of a tyrant, or of a
domestic animal, or of a wild beast?
What kind of things those are which appear good to the
many, we may learn even from this. For if any man should
conceive certain things as being really good, such as
prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, he would not after
having first conceived these endure to listen to anything which
should not be in harmony with what is really good. But if a man
has first conceived as good the things which appear to the
many to be good, he will listen and readily receive as very
applicable that which was said by the comic writer. Thus even
the many perceive the difference. For were it not so, this
saying would not offend and would not be rejected in the first
case, while we receive it when it is said of wealth, and of the
means which further luxury and fame, as said fitly and wittily.
Go on then and ask if we should value and think those things
to be good, to which after their first conception in the mind the
words of the comic writer might be aptly applied- that he who
has them, through pure abundance has not a place to ease
himself in.
I am composed of the formal and the material; and neither of
them will perish into non-existence, as neither of them came
into existence out of non-existence. Every part of me then will
be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that
again will change into another part of the universe, and so on
for ever. And by consequence of such a change I too exist, and
those who begot me, and so on for ever in the other direction.
For nothing hinders us from saying so, even if the universe is
administered according to definite periods of revolution.
Reason and the reasoning art (philosophy) are powers which
are sufficient for themselves and for their own works. They
move then from a first principle which is their own, and they
make their way to the end which is proposed to them; and this
is the reason why such acts are named catorthoseis or right
acts, which word signifies that they proceed by the right road.
None of these things ought to be called a man's, which do
not belong to a man, as man. They are not required of a man,
nor does man's nature promise them, nor are they the means
of man's nature attaining its end. Neither then does the end of
man lie in these things, nor yet that which aids to the
accomplishment of this end, and that which aids towards this
end is that which is good. Besides, if any of these things did
belong to man, it would not be right for a man to despise them
and to set himself against them; nor would a man be worthy of
praise who showed that he did not want these things, nor
would he who stinted himself in any of them be good, if indeed
these things were good. But now the more of these things a
man deprives himself of, or of other things like them, or even
when he is deprived of any of them, the more patiently he
endures the loss, just in the same degree he is a better man.
Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the
character of thy mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.
Dye it then with a continuous series of such thoughts as these:
for instance, that where a man can live, there he can also live
well. But he must live in a palace;- well then, he can also live
well in a palace. And again, consider that for whatever purpose
each thing has been constituted, for this it has been
constituted, and towards this it is carried; and its end is in that
towards which it is carried; and where the end is, there also is
the advantage and the good of each thing. Now the good for
the reasonable animal is society; for that we are made for
society has been shown above. Is it not plain that the inferior
exist for the sake of the superior? But the things which have
life are superior to those which have not life, and of those
which have life the superior are those which have reason.
To seek what is impossible is madness: and it is impossible
that the bad should not do something of this kind.
Nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by
nature to bear. The same things happen to another, and either
because he does not see that they have happened or because
he would show a great spirit he is firm and remains unharmed.
It is a shame then that ignorance and conceit should be
stronger than wisdom.
Things themselves touch not the soul, not in the least
degree; nor have they admission to the soul, nor can they turn
or move the soul: but the soul turns and moves itself alone,
and whatever judgements it may think proper to make, such it
makes for itself the things which present themselves to it.
In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I
must do good to men and endure them. But so far as some
men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man
becomes to me one of the things which are indifferent, no less
than the sun or wind or a wild beast. Now it is true that these
may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my
affects and disposition, which have the power of acting
conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes
every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is
a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and that which is
an obstacle on the road helps us on this road.
Reverence that which is best in the universe; and this is that
which makes use of all things and directs all things. And in like
manner also reverence that which is best in thyself; and this is
of the same kind as that. For in thyself also, that which makes
use of everything else, is this, and thy life is directed by this.
That which does no harm to the state, does no harm to the
citizen. In the case of every appearance of harm apply this
rule: if the state is not harmed by this, neither am I harmed.
But if the state is harmed, thou must not be angry with him
who does harm to the state.
Show him where his error is.
Often think of the rapidity with which things pass by and
disappear, both the things which are and the things which are
produced. For substance is like a river in a continual flow, and
the activities of things are in constant change, and the causes
work in infinite varieties; and there is hardly anything which
stands still. And consider this which is near to thee, this
boundless abyss of the past and of the future in which all
things disappear. How then is he not a fool who is puffed up
with such things or plagued about them and makes himself
miserable? for they vex him only for a time, and a short time.
Think of the universal substance, of which thou hast a very
small portion; and of universal time, of which a short and
indivisible interval has been assigned to thee; and of that
which is fixed by destiny, and how small a part of it thou art.
Does another do me wrong? Let him look to it. He has his
own disposition, his own activity. I now have what the universal
nature wills me to have; and I do what my nature now wills me
to do.
Let the part of thy soul which leads and governs be
undisturbed by the movements in the flesh, whether of
pleasure or of pain; and let it not unite with them, but let it
circumscribe itself and limit those affects to their parts. But
when these affects rise up to the mind by virtue of that other
sympathy that naturally exists in a body which is all one, then
thou must not strive to resist the sensation, for it is natural:
but let not the ruling part of itself add to the sensation the
opinion that it is either good or bad.
Live with the gods. And he does live with the gods who
constantly shows to them, his own soul is satisfied with that
which is assigned to him, and that it does all that the daemon
wishes, which Zeus hath given to every man for his guardian
and guide, a portion of himself.
And this is every man's understanding and reason.
Art thou angry with him whose armpits stink? Art thou angry
with him whose mouth smells foul? What good will this danger
do thee? He has such a mouth, he has such arm-pits: it is
necessary that such an emanation must come from such
things- but the man has reason, it will be said, and he is able, if
he takes pain, to discover wherein he offends- I wish thee well
of thy discovery. Well then, and thou hast reason: by thy
rational faculty stir up his rational faculty; show him his error,
admonish him. For if he listens, thou wilt cure him, and there is
no need of anger. Neither tragic actor nor whore...
As thou intendest to live when thou art gone out,...so it is in
thy power to live here. But if men do not permit thee, then get
away out of life, yet so as if thou wert suffering no harm. The
house is smoky, and I quit it. Why dost thou think that this is
any trouble? But so long as nothing of the kind drives me out, I
remain, am free, and no man shall hinder me from doing what I
choose; and I choose to do what is according to the nature of
the rational and social animal.
The intelligence of the universe is social. Accordingly it has
made the inferior things for the sake of the superior, and it has
fitted the superior to one another. Thou seest how it has
subordinated, co-ordinated and assigned to everything its
proper portion, and has brought together into concord with one
another the things which are the best.
How hast thou behaved hitherto to the gods, thy parents,
brethren, children, teachers, to those who looked after thy
infancy, to thy friends, kinsfolk, to thy slaves? Consider if thou
hast hitherto behaved to all in such a way that this may be
said of thee: Never has wronged a man in deed or word.
And call to recollection both how many things thou hast
passed through, and how many things thou hast been able to
endure: and that the history of thy life is now complete and thy
service is ended: and how many beautiful things thou hast
seen: and how many pleasures and pains thou hast despised;
and how many things called honourable thou hast spurned;
and to how many ill-minded folks thou hast shown a kind
Why do unskilled and ignorant souls disturb him who has
skill and knowledge? What soul then has skill and knowledge?
That which knows beginning and end, and knows the reason
which pervades all substance and through all time by fixed
periods (revolutions) administers the universe.
Soon, very soon, thou wilt be ashes, or a skeleton, and either
a name or not even a name; but name is sound and echo. And
the things which are much valued in life are empty and rotten
and trifling, and like little dogs biting one another, and little
children quarrelling, laughing, and then straightway weeping.
But fidelity and modesty and justice and truth are fled
Up to Olympus from the wide-spread earth.
What then is there which still detains thee here? If the
objects of sense are easily changed and never stand still, and
the organs of perception are dull and easily receive false
impressions; and the poor soul itself is an exhalation from
blood. But to have good repute amidst such a world as this is
an empty thing. Why then dost thou not wait in tranquility for
thy end, whether it is extinction or removal to another state?
And until that time comes, what is sufficient? Why, what else
than to venerate the gods and bless them, and to do good to
men, and to practise tolerance and self-restraint; but as to
everything which is beyond the limits of the poor flesh and
breath, to remember that this is neither thine nor in thy power.
Thou canst pass thy life in an equable flow of happiness, if
thou canst go by the right way, and think and act in the right
way. These two things are common both to the soul of God and
to the soul of man, and to the soul of every rational being, not
to be hindered by another; and to hold good to consist in the
disposition to justice and the practice of it, and in this to let thy
desire find its termination.
If this is neither my own badness, nor an effect of my own
badness, and the common weal is not injured, why am I
troubled about it? And what is the harm to the common weal?
Do not be carried along inconsiderately by the appearance of
things, but give help to all according to thy ability and their
fitness; and if they should have sustained loss in matters which
are indifferent, do not imagine this to be a damage. For it is a
bad habit. But as the old man, when he went away, asked back
his foster-child's top, remembering that it was a top, so do
thou in this case also.
When thou art calling out on the Rostra, hast thou forgotten,
man, what these things are?- Yes; but they are objects of great
concern to these people- wilt thou too then be made a fool for
these things?- I was once a fortunate man, but I lost it, I know
not how.- But fortunate means that a man has assigned to
himself a good fortune: and a good fortune is good disposition
of the soul, good emotions, good actions.
THE substance of the universe is obedient and compliant;
and the reason which governs it has in itself no cause for doing
evil, for it has no malice, nor does it do evil to anything, nor is
anything harmed by it. But all things are made and perfected
according to this reason.
Let it make no difference to thee whether thou art cold or
warm, if thou art doing thy duty; and whether thou art drowsy
or satisfied with sleep; and whether ill-spoken of or praised;
and whether dying or doing something else. For it is one of the
acts of life, this act by which we die: it is sufficient then in this
act also to do well what we have in hand.
Look within. Let neither the peculiar quality of anything nor
its value escape thee.
All existing things soon change, and they will either be
reduced to vapour, if indeed all substance is one, or they will
be dispersed.
The reason which governs knows what its own disposition is,
and what it does, and on what material it works.
The best way of avenging thyself is not to become like the
wrong doer.
Take pleasure in one thing and rest in it, in passing from one
social act to another social act, thinking of God.
The ruling principle is that which rouses and turns itself, and
while it makes itself such as it is and such as it wills to be, it
also makes everything which happens appear to itself to be
such as it wills.
In conformity to the nature of the universe every single thing
is accomplished, for certainly it is not in conformity to any
other nature that each thing is accomplished, either a nature
which externally comprehends this, or a nature which is
comprehended within this nature, or a nature external and
independent of this.
The universe is either a confusion, and a mutual involution of
things, and a dispersion; or it is unity and order and
providence. If then it is the former, why do I desire to tarry in a
fortuitous combination of things and such a disorder? And why
do I care about anything else than how I shall at last become
earth? And why am I disturbed, for the dispersion of my
elements will happen whatever I do. But if the other
supposition is true, I venerate, and I am firm, and I trust in him
who governs.
When thou hast been compelled by circumstances to be
disturbed in a manner, quickly return to thyself and do not
continue out of tune longer than the compulsion lasts; for thou
wilt have more mastery over the harmony by continually
recurring to it.
If thou hadst a step-mother and a mother at the same time,
thou wouldst be dutiful to thy step-mother, but still thou
wouldst constantly return to thy mother. Let the court and
philosophy now be to thee step-mother and mother: return to
philosophy frequently and repose in her, through whom what
thou meetest with in the court appears to thee tolerable, and
thou appearest tolerable in the court.
When we have meat before us and such eatables we receive
the impression, that this is the dead body of a fish, and this is
the dead body of a bird or of a pig; and again, that this
Falernian is only a little grape juice, and this purple robe some
sheep's wool dyed with the blood of a shell-fish: such then are
these impressions, and they reach the things themselves and
penetrate them, and so we see what kind of things they are.
Just in the same way ought we to act all through life, and
where there are things which appear most worthy of our
approbation, we ought to lay them bare and look at their
worthlessness and strip them of all the words by which they
are exalted. For outward show is a wonderful perverter of the
reason, and when thou art most sure that thou art employed
about things worth thy pains, it is then that it cheats thee
Consider then what Crates says of Xenocrates himself. Most
of the things which the multitude admire are referred to
objects of the most general kind, those which are held
together by cohesion or natural organization, such as stones,
wood, fig-trees, vines, olives. But those which are admired by
men who are a little more reasonable are referred to the things
which are held together by a living principle, as flocks, herds.
Those which are admired by men who are still more instructed
are the things which are held together by a rational soul, not
however a universal soul, but rational so far as it is a soul
skilled in some art, or expert in some other way, or simply
rational so far as it possesses a number of slaves. But he who
values rational soul, a soul universal and fitted for political life,
regards nothing else except this; and above all things he keeps
his soul in a condition and in an activity conformable to reason
and social life, and he co-operates to this end with those who
are of the same kind as himself.
Some things are hurrying into existence, and others are
hurrying out of it; and of that which is coming into existence
part is already extinguished. Motions and changes are
continually renewing the world, just as the uninterrupted
course of time is always renewing the infinite duration of ages.
In this flowing stream then, on which there is no abiding, what
is there of the things which hurry by on which a man would set
a high price? It would be just as if a man should fall in love with
one of the sparrows which fly by, but it has already passed out
of sight. Something of this kind is the very life of every man,
like the exhalation of the blood and the respiration of the air.
For such as it is to have once drawn in the air and to have
given it back, which we do every moment, just the same is it
with the whole respiratory power, which thou didst receive at
thy birth yesterday and the day before, to give it back to the
element from which thou didst first draw it.
Neither is transpiration, as in plants, a thing to be valued,
nor respiration, as in domesticated animals and wild beasts,
nor the receiving of impressions by the appearances of things,
nor being moved by desires as puppets by strings, nor
assembling in herds, nor being nourished by food; for this is
just like the act of separating and parting with the useless part
of our food. What then is worth being valued? To be received
with clapping of hands? No. Neither must we value the
clapping of tongues, for the praise which comes from the many
is a clapping of tongues. Suppose then that thou hast given up
this worthless thing called fame, what remains that is worth
valuing? This in my opinion, to move thyself and to restrain
thyself in conformity to thy proper constitution, to which end
both all employments and arts lead. For every art aims at this,
that the thing which has been made should be adapted to the
work for which it has been made; and both the vine-planter
who looks after the vine, and the horse-breaker, and he who
trains the dog, seek this end. But the education and the
teaching of youth aim at something. In this then is the value of
the education and the teaching. And if this is well, thou wilt not
seek anything else. Wilt thou not cease to value many other
things too? Then thou wilt be neither free, nor sufficient for thy
own happiness, nor without passion. For of necessity thou
must be envious, jealous, and suspicious of those who can take
away those things, and plot against those who have that which
is valued by thee. Of necessity a man must be altogether in a
state of perturbation who wants any of these things; and
besides, he must often find fault with the gods. But to
reverence and honour thy own mind will make thee content
with thyself, and in harmony with society, and in agreement
with the gods, that is, praising all that they give and have
Above, below, all around are the movements of the
elements. But the motion of virtue is in none of these: it is
something more divine, and advancing by a way hardly
observed it goes happily on its road.
How strangely men act. They will not praise those who are
living at the same time and living with themselves; but to be
themselves praised by posterity, by those whom they have
never seen or ever will see, this they set much value on. But
this is very much the same as if thou shouldst be grieved
because those who have lived before thee did not praise thee.
If a thing is difficult to be accomplished by thyself, do not
think that it is impossible for man: but if anything is possible
for man and conformable to his nature, think that this can be
attained by thyself too.
In the gymnastic exercises suppose that a man has torn thee
with his nails, and by dashing against thy head has inflicted a
wound. Well, we neither show any signs of vexation, nor are
we offended, nor do we suspect him afterwards as a
treacherous fellow; and yet we are on our guard against him,
not however as an enemy, nor yet with suspicion, but we
quietly get out of his way. Something like this let thy behaviour
be in all the other parts of life; let us overlook many things in
those who are like antagonists in the gymnasium. For it is in
our power, as I said, to get out of the way, and to have no
suspicion nor hatred.
If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not
think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth by
which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in
his error and ignorance.
I do my duty: other things trouble me not; for they are either
things without life, or things without reason, or things that
have rambled and know not the way.
As to the animals which have no reason and generally all
things and objects, do thou, since thou hast reason and they
have none, make use of them with a generous and liberal
spirit. But towards human beings, as they have reason, behave
in a social spirit. And on all occasions call on the gods, and do
not perplex thyself about the length of time in which thou shalt
do this; for even three hours so spent are sufficient.
Alexander the Macedonian and his groom by death were
brought to the same state; for either they were received
among the same seminal principles of the universe, or they
were alike dispersed among the atoms.
Consider how many things in the same indivisible time take
place in each of us, things which concern the body and things
which concern the soul: and so thou wilt not wonder if many
more things, or rather all things which come into existence in
that which is the one and all, which we call Cosmos, exist in it
at the same time.
If any man should propose to thee the question, how the
name Antoninus is written, wouldst thou with a straining of the
voice utter each letter? What then if they grow angry, wilt thou
be angry too?
Wilt thou not go on with composure and number every
letter? just so then in this life also remember that every duty is
made up of certain parts. These it is thy duty to observe and
without being disturbed or showing anger towards those who
are angry with thee to go on thy way and finish that which is
set before thee.
How cruel it is not to allow men to strive after the things
which appear to them to be suitable to their nature and
profitable! And yet in a manner thou dost not allow them to do
this, when thou art vexed because they do wrong. For they are
certainly moved towards things because they suppose them to
be suitable to their nature and profitable to them.- But it is not
so.- Teach them then, and show them without being angry.
Death is a cessation of the impressions through the senses,
and of the pulling of the strings which move the appetites, and
of the discursive movements of the thoughts, and of the
service to the flesh.
It is a shame for the soul to be first to give way in this life,
when thy body does not give way.
Take care that thou art not made into a Caesar, that thou art
not dyed with this dye; for such things happen. Keep thyself
then simple, good, pure, serious, free from affectation, a friend
of justice, a worshipper of the gods, kind, affectionate,
strenuous in all proper acts. Strive to continue to be such as
philosophy wished to make thee. Reverence the gods, and help
men. Short is life. There is only one fruit of this terrene life, a
pious disposition and social acts. Do everything as a disciple of
Antoninus. Remember his constancy in every act which was
conformable to reason, and his evenness in all things, and his
piety, and the serenity of his countenance, and his sweetness,
and his disregard of empty fame, and his efforts to understand
things; and how he would never let anything pass without
having first most carefully examined it and clearly understood
it; and how he bore with those who blamed him unjustly
without blaming them in return; how he did nothing in a hurry;
and how he listened not to calumnies, and how exact an
examiner of manners and actions he was; and not given to
reproach people, nor timid, nor suspicious, nor a sophist; and
with how little he was satisfied, such as lodging, bed, dress,
food, servants; and how laborious and patient; and how he was
able on account of his sparing diet to hold out to the evening,
not even requiring to relieve himself by any evacuations
except at the usual hour; and his firmness and uniformity in his
friendships; and how he tolerated freedom of speech in those
who opposed his opinions; and the pleasure that he had when
any man showed him anything better; and how religious he
was without superstition.
Imitate all this that thou mayest have as good a conscience,
when thy last hour comes, as he had. Return to thy sober
senses and call thyself back; and when thou hast roused
thyself from sleep and hast perceived that they were only
dreams which troubled thee, now in thy waking hours look at
these (the things about thee) as thou didst look at those (the
I consist of a little body and a soul. Now to this little body all
things are indifferent, for it is not able to perceive differences.
But to the understanding those things only are indifferent,
which are not the works of its own activity. But whatever things
are the works of its own activity, all these are in its power. And
of these however only those which are done with reference to
the present; for as to the future and the past activities of the
mind, even these are for the present indifferent.
Neither the labour which the hand does nor that of the foot is
contrary to nature, so long as the foot does the foot's work and
the hand the hand's. So then neither to a man as a man is his
labour contrary to nature, so long as it does the things of a
man. But if the labour is not contrary to his nature, neither is it
an evil to him. How many pleasures have been enjoyed by
robbers, patricides, tyrants.
Dost thou not see how the handicraftsmen accommodate
themselves up to a certain point to those who are not skilled in
their craft- nevertheless they cling to the reason (the
principles) of their art and do not endure to depart from it? Is it
not strange if the architect and the physician shall have more
respect to the reason (the principles) of their own arts than
man to his own reason, which is common to him and the gods?
Asia, Europe are corners of the universe: all the sea a drop in
the universe; Athos a little clod of the universe: all the present
time is a point in eternity. All things are little, changeable,
perishable. All things come from thence, from that universal
ruling power either directly proceeding or by way of sequence.
And accordingly the lion's gaping jaws, and that which is
poisonous, and every harmful thing, as a thorn, as mud, are
after-products of the grand and beautiful. Do not then imagine
that they are of another kind from that which thou dost
venerate, but form a just opinion of the source of all.
He who has seen present things has seen all, both
everything which has taken place from all eternity and
everything which will be for time without end; for all things are
of one kin and of one form.
Frequently consider the connexion of all things in the
universe and their relation to one another. For in a manner all
things are implicated with one another, and all in this way are
friendly to one another; for one thing comes in order after
another, and this is by virtue of the active movement and
mutual conspiration and the unity of the substance.
Adapt thyself to the things with which thy lot has been cast:
and the men among whom thou hast received thy portion, love
them, but do it truly, sincerely.
Every instrument, tool, vessel, if it does that for which it has
been made, is well, and yet he who made it is not there. But in
the things which are held together by nature there is within
and there abides in them the power which made them;
wherefore the more is it fit to reverence this power, and to
think, that, if thou dost live and act according to its will,
everything in thee is in conformity to intelligence. And thus
also in the universe the things which belong to it are in
conformity to intelligence.
Whatever of the things which are not within thy power thou
shalt suppose to be good for thee or evil, it must of necessity
be that, if such a bad thing befall thee or the loss of such a
good thing, thou wilt blame the gods, and hate men too, those
who are the cause of the misfortune or the loss, or those who
are suspected of being likely to be the cause; and indeed we
do much injustice, because we make a difference between
these things. But if we judge only those things which are in our
power to be good or bad, there remains no reason either for
finding fault with God or standing in a hostile attitude to man.
We are all working together to one end, some with
knowledge and design, and others without knowing what they
do; as men also when they are asleep, of whom it is Heraclitus,
I think, who says that they are labourers and co-operators in
the things which take place in the universe. But men cooperate after different fashions: and even those co-operate
abundantly, who find fault with what happens and those who
try to oppose it and to hinder it; for the universe had need
even of such men as these. It remains then for thee to
understand among what kind of workmen thou placest thyself;
for he who rules all things will certainly make a right use of
thee, and he will receive thee among some part of the cooperators and of those whose labours conduce to one end. But
be not thou such a part as the mean and ridiculous verse in
the play, which Chrysippus speaks of.
Does the sun undertake to do the work of the rain, or
Aesculapius the work of the Fruit-bearer (the earth)? And how
is it with respect to each of the stars, are they not different and
yet they work together to the same end?
If the gods have determined about me and about the things
which must happen to me, they have determined well, for it is
not easy even to imagine a deity without forethought; and as
to doing me harm, why should they have any desire towards
that? For what advantage would result to them from this or to
the whole, which is the special object of their providence? But
if they have not determined about me individually, they have
certainly determined about the whole at least, and the things
which happen by way of sequence in this general arrangement
I ought to accept with pleasure and to be content with them.
But if they determine about nothing- which it is wicked to
believe, or if we do believe it, let us neither sacrifice nor pray
nor swear by them nor do anything else which we do as if the
gods were present and lived with us- but if however the gods
determine about none of the things which concern us, I am
able to determine about myself, and I can inquire about that
which is useful; and that is useful to every man which is
conformable to his own constitution and nature. But my nature
is rational and social; and my city and country, so far as I am
Antoninus, is Rome, but so far as I am a man, it is the world.
The things then which are useful to these cities are alone
useful to me. Whatever happens to every man, this is for the
interest of the universal: this might be sufficient. But further
thou wilt observe this also as a general truth, if thou dost
observe, that whatever is profitable to any man is profitable
also to other men. But let the word profitable be taken here in
the common sense as said of things of the middle kind, neither
good nor bad.
As it happens to thee in the amphitheatre and such places,
that the continual sight of the same things and the uniformity
make the spectacle wearisome, so it is in the whole of life; for
all things above, below, are the same and from the same. How
long then?
Think continually that all kinds of men and of all kinds of
pursuits and of all nations are dead, so that thy thoughts come
down even to Philistion and Phoebus and Origanion. Now turn
thy thoughts to the other kinds of men. To that place then we
must remove, where there are so many great orators, and so
many noble philosophers, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates; so
many heroes of former days, and so many generals after them,
and tyrants; besides these, Eudoxus,
Hipparchus, Archimedes, and other men of acute natural
talents, great minds, lovers of labour, versatile, confident,
mockers even of the perishable and ephemeral life of man, as
Menippus and such as are like him. As to all these consider
that they have long been in the dust. What harm then is this to
them; and what to those whose names are altogether
unknown? One thing here is worth a great deal, to pass thy life
in truth and justice, with a benevolent disposition even to liars
and unjust men.
When thou wishest to delight thyself, think of the virtues of
those who live with thee; for instance, the activity of one, and
the modesty of another, and the liberality of a third, and some
other good quality of a fourth. For nothing delights so much as
the examples of the virtues, when they are exhibited in the
morals of those who live with us and present themselves in
abundance, as far as is possible.
Wherefore we must keep them before us.
Thou art not dissatisfied, I suppose, because thou weighest
only so many litrae and not three hundred. Be not dissatisfied
then that thou must live only so many years and not more; for
as thou art satisfied with the amount of substance which has
been assigned to thee, so be content with the time.
Let us try to persuade them (men). But act even against
their will, when the principles of justice lead that way. If
however any man by using force stands in thy way, betake
thyself to contentment and tranquility, and at the same time
employ the hindrance towards the exercise of some other
virtue; and remember that thy attempt was with a reservation,
that thou didst not desire to do impossibilities. What then didst
thou desire?- Some such effort as this.- But thou attainest thy
object, if the things to which thou wast moved are
He who loves fame considers another man's activity to be his
own good; and he who loves pleasure, his own sensations; but
he who has understanding, considers his own acts to be his
own good.
It is in our power to have no opinion about a thing, and not
to be disturbed in our soul; for things themselves have no
natural power to form our judgements.
Accustom thyself to attend carefully to what is said by
another, and as much as it is possible, be in the speaker's
That which is not good for the swarm, neither is it good for
the bee.
If sailors abused the helmsman or the sick the doctor, would
they listen to anybody else; or how could the helmsman secure
the safety of those in the ship or the doctor the health of those
whom he attends?
How many together with whom I came into the world are
already gone out of it.
To the jaundiced honey tastes bitter, and to those bitten by
mad dogs water causes fear; and to little children the ball is a
fine thing. Why then am I angry? Dost thou think that a false
opinion has less power than the bile in the jaundiced or the
poison in him who is bitten by a mad dog?
No man will hinder thee from living according to the reason
of thy own nature: nothing will happen to thee contrary to the
reason of the universal nature.
What kind of people are those whom men wish to please,
and for what objects, and by what kind of acts? How soon will
time cover all things, and how many it has covered already.
WHAT is badness? It is that which thou hast often seen. And
on the occasion of everything which happens keep this in
mind, that it is that which thou hast often seen. Everywhere up
and down thou wilt find the same things, with which the old
histories are filled, those of the middle ages and those of our
own day; with which cities and houses are filled now. There is
nothing new: all things are both familiar and short-lived.
How can our principles become dead, unless the impressions
(thoughts) which correspond to them are extinguished? But it
is in thy power continuously to fan these thoughts into a flame.
I can have that opinion about anything, which I ought to have.
If I can, why am I disturbed? The things which are external to
my mind have no relation at all to my mind.- Let this be the
state of thy affects, and thou standest erect. To recover thy life
is in thy power. Look at things again as thou didst use to look
at them; for in this consists the recovery of thy life.
The idle business of show, plays on the stage, flocks of
sheep, herds, exercises with spears, a bone cast to little dogs,
a bit of bread into fish-ponds, labourings of ants and burdencarrying, runnings about of frightened little mice, puppets
pulled by strings- all alike. It is thy duty then in the midst of
such things to show good humour and not a proud air; to
understand however that every man is worth just so much as
the things are worth about which he busies himself.
In discourse thou must attend to what is said, and in every
movement thou must observe what is doing. And in the one
thou shouldst see immediately to what end it refers, but in the
other watch carefully what is the thing signified.
Is my understanding sufficient for this or not? If it is
sufficient, I use it for the work as an instrument given by the
universal nature. But if it is not sufficient, then either I retire
from the work and give way to him who is able to do it better,
unless there be some reason why I ought not to do so; or I do it
as well as I can, taking to help me the man who with the aid of
my ruling principle can do what is now fit and useful for the
general good. For whatsoever either by myself or with another
I can do, ought to be directed to this only, to that which is
useful and well suited to society.
How many after being celebrated by fame have been given
up to oblivion; and how many who have celebrated the fame of
others have long been dead.
Be not ashamed to be helped; for it is thy business to do thy
duty like a soldier in the assault on a town. How then, if being
lame thou canst not mount up on the battlements alone, but
with the help of another it is possible?
Let not future things disturb thee, for thou wilt come to
them, if it shall be necessary, having with thee the same
reason which now thou usest for present things.
All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is
holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other
thing. For things have been co-ordinated, and they combine to
form the same universe (order). For there is one universe
made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things,
and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all
intelligent animals, and one truth; if indeed there is also one
perfection for all animals which are of the same stock and
participate in the same reason.
Everything material soon disappears in the substance of the
whole; and everything formal (causal) is very soon taken back
into the universal reason; and the memory of everything is
very soon overwhelmed in time.
To the rational animal the same act is according to nature
and according to reason.
Be thou erect, or be made erect.
Just as it is with the members in those bodies which are
united in one, so it is with rational beings which exist separate,
for they have been constituted for one co-operation. And the
perception of this will be more apparent to thee, if thou often
sayest to thyself that I am a member (melos) of the system of
rational beings. But if (using the letter r) thou sayest that thou
art a part (meros) thou dost not yet love men from thy heart;
beneficence does not yet delight thee for its own sake; thou
still doest it barely as a thing of propriety, and not yet as doing
good to thyself.
Let there fall externally what will on the parts which can feel
the effects of this fall. For those parts which have felt will
complain, if they choose. But I, unless I think that what has
happened is an evil, am not injured. And it is in my power not
to think so.
Whatever any one does or says, I must be good, just as if the
gold, or the emerald, or the purple were always saying this,
Whatever any one does or says, I must be emerald and keep
my colour.
The ruling faculty does not disturb itself; I mean, does not
frighten itself or cause itself pain. But if any one else can
frighten or pain it, let him do so. For the faculty itself will not
by its own opinion turn itself into such ways. Let the body itself
take care, if it can, that is suffer nothing, and let it speak, if it
But the soul itself, that which is subject to fear, to pain,
which has completely the power of forming an opinion about
these things, will suffer nothing, for it will never deviate into
such a judgement. The leading principle in itself wants nothing,
unless it makes a want for itself; and therefore it is both free
from perturbation and unimpeded, if it does not disturb and
impede itself.
Eudaemonia (happiness) is a good daemon, or a good thing.
What then art thou doing here, O imagination? Go away, I
entreat thee by the gods, as thou didst come, for I want thee
not. But thou art come according to thy old fashion. I am not
angry with thee: only go away.
Is any man afraid of change? Why what can take place
without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable
to the universal nature? And canst thou take a bath unless the
wood undergoes a change? And canst thou be nourished,
unless the food undergoes a change? And can anything else
that is useful be accomplished without change? Dost thou not
see then that for thyself also to change is just the same, and
equally necessary for the universal nature?
Through the universal substance as through a furious torrent
all bodies are carried, being by their nature united with and
cooperating with the whole, as the parts of our body with one
How many a Chrysippus, how many a Socrates, how many
an Epictetus has time already swallowed up? And let the same
thought occur to thee with reference to every man and thing.
One thing only troubles me, lest I should do something which
the constitution of man does not allow, or in the way which it
does not allow, or what it does not allow now.
Near is thy forgetfulness of all things; and near the
forgetfulness of thee by all.
It is peculiar to man to love even those who do wrong. And
this happens, if when they do wrong it occurs to thee that they
are kinsmen, and that they do wrong through ignorance and
unintentionally, and that soon both of you will die; and above
all, that the wrong-doer has done thee no harm, for he has not
made thy ruling faculty worse than it was before.
The universal nature out of the universal substance, as if it
were wax, now moulds a horse, and when it has broken this
up, it uses the material for a tree, then for a man, then for
something else; and each of these things subsists for a very
short time. But it is no hardship for the vessel to be broken up,
just as there was none in its being fastened together.
A scowling look is altogether unnatural; when it is often
assumed, the result is that all comeliness dies away, and at
last is so completely extinguished that it cannot be again
lighted up at all. Try to conclude from this very fact that it is
contrary to reason. For if even the perception of doing wrong
shall depart, what reason is there for living any longer?
Nature which governs the whole will soon change all things
which thou seest, and out of their substance will make other
things, and again other things from the substance of them, in
order that the world may be ever new.
When a man has done thee any wrong, immediately consider
with what opinion about good or evil he has done wrong. For
when thou hast seen this, thou wilt pity him, and wilt neither
wonder nor be angry.
For either thou thyself thinkest the same thing to be good
that he does or another thing of the same kind. It is thy duty
then to pardon him. But if thou dost not think such things to be
good or evil, thou wilt more readily be well disposed to him
who is in error.
Think not so much of what thou hast not as of what thou
hast: but of the things which thou hast select the best, and
then reflect how eagerly they would have been sought, if thou
hadst them not. At the same time however take care that thou
dost not through being so pleased with them accustom thyself
to overvalue them, so as to be disturbed if ever thou shouldst
not have them.
Retire into thyself. The rational principle which rules has this
nature, that it is content with itself when it does what is just,
and so secures tranquility.
Wipe out the imagination. Stop the pulling of the strings.
Confine thyself to the present. Understand well what happens
either to thee or to another. Divide and distribute every object
into the causal (formal) and the material. Think of thy last
hour. Let the wrong which is done by a man stay there where
the wrong was done.
Direct thy attention to what is said. Let thy understanding
enter into the things that are doing and the things which do
Adorn thyself with simplicity and modesty and with
indifference towards the things which lie between virtue and
vice. Love mankind.
Follow God. The poet says that Law rules all.- And it is
enough to remember that Law rules all.
About death: Whether it is a dispersion, or a resolution into
atoms, or annihilation, it is either extinction or change.
About pain: The pain which is intolerable carries us off; but
that which lasts a long time is tolerable; and the mind
maintains its own tranquility by retiring into itself, and the
ruling faculty is not made worse. But the parts which are
harmed by pain, let them, if they can, give their opinion about
About fame: Look at the minds of those who seek fame,
observe what they are, and what kind of things they avoid, and
what kind of things they pursue. And consider that as the
heaps of sand piled on one another hide the former sands, so
in life the events which go before are soon covered by those
which come after.
From Plato: The man who has an elevated mind and takes a
view of all time and of all substance, dost thou suppose it
possible for him to think that human life is anything great? it is
not possible, he said.- Such a man then will think that death
also is no evil.- Certainly not. From Antisthenes: It is royal to do
good and to be abused.
It is a base thing for the countenance to be obedient and to
regulate and compose itself as the mind commands, and for
the mind not to be regulated and composed by itself.
It is not right to vex ourselves at things, For they care nought
about it.To the immortal gods and us give joy. Life must be
reaped like the ripe ears of corn: One man is born; another
dies. If gods care not for me and for my children, There is a
reason for it. For the good is with me, and the just. No joining
others in their wailing, no violent emotion.
From Plato: But I would make this man a sufficient answer,
which is this: Thou sayest not well, if thou thinkest that a man
who is good for anything at all ought to compute the hazard of
life or death, and should not rather look to this only in all that
he does, whether he is doing what is just or unjust, and the
works of a good or a bad man.
For thus it is, men of Athens, in truth: wherever a man has
placed himself thinking it the best place for him, or has been
placed by a commander, there in my opinion he ought to stay
and to abide the hazard, taking nothing into the reckoning,
either death or anything else, before the baseness of deserting
his post.
But, my good friend, reflect whether that which is noble and
good is not something different from saving and being saved;
for as to a man living such or such a time, at least one who is
really a man, consider if this is not a thing to be dismissed
from the thoughts: and there must be no love of life: but as to
these matters a man must intrust them to the deity and
believe what the women say, that no man can escape his
destiny, the next inquiry being how he may best live the time
that he has to live.
Look round at the courses of the stars, as if thou wert going
along with them; and constantly consider the changes of the
elements into one another; for such thoughts purge away the
filth of the terrene life.
This is a fine saying of Plato: That he who is discoursing
about men should look also at earthly things as if he viewed
them from some higher place; should look at them in their
assemblies, armies, agricultural labours, marriages, treaties,
births, deaths, noise of the courts of justice, desert places,
various nations of barbarians, feasts, lamentations, markets, a
mixture of all things and an orderly combination of contraries.
Consider the past; such great changes of political
supremacies. Thou mayest foresee also the things which will
be. For they will certainly be of like form, and it is not possible
that they should deviate from the order of the things which
take place now: accordingly to have contemplated human life
for forty years is the same as to have contemplated it for ten
thousand years. For what more wilt thou see? That which has
grown from the earth to the earth, But that which has sprung
from heavenly seed, Back to the heavenly realms returns.
This is either a dissolution of the mutual involution of the
atoms, or a similar dispersion of the unsentient elements.
With food and drinks and cunning magic arts Turning the
channel's course to 'scape from death.
The breeze which heaven has sent
We must endure, and toil without complaining.
Another may be more expert in casting his opponent; but he
is not more social, nor more modest, nor better disciplined to
meet all that happens, nor more considerate with respect to
the faults of his neighbours.
Where any work can be done conformably to the reason
which is common to gods and men, there we have nothing to
fear: for where we are able to get profit by means of the
activity which is successful and proceeds according to our
constitution, there no harm is to be suspected.
Everywhere and at all times it is in thy power piously to
acquiesce in thy present condition, and to behave justly to
those who are about thee, and to exert thy skill upon thy
present thoughts, that nothing shall steal into them without
being well examined.
Do not look around thee to discover other men's ruling
principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee,
both the universal nature through the things which happen to
thee, and thy own nature through the acts which must be done
by thee. But every being ought to do that which is according to
its constitution; and all other things have been constituted for
the sake of rational beings, just as among irrational things the
inferior for the sake of the superior, but the rational for the
sake of one another.
The prime principle then in man's constitution is the social.
And the second is not to yield to the persuasions of the body,
for it is the peculiar office of the rational and intelligent motion
to circumscribe itself, and never to be overpowered either by
the motion of the senses or of the appetites, for both are
animal; but the intelligent motion claims superiority and does
not permit itself to be overpowered by the others. And with
good reason, for it is formed by nature to use all of them. The
third thing in the rational constitution is freedom from error
and from deception. Let then the ruling principle holding fast
to these things go straight on, and it has what is its own.
Consider thyself to be dead, and to have completed thy life
up to the present time; and live according to nature the
remainder which is allowed thee.
Love that only which happens to thee and is spun with the
thread of thy destiny. For what is more suitable?
In everything which happens keep before thy eyes those to
whom the same things happened, and how they were vexed,
and treated them as strange things, and found fault with them:
and now where are they?
Nowhere. Why then dost thou too choose to act in the same
way? And why dost thou not leave these agitations which are
foreign to nature, to those who cause them and those who are
moved by them? And why art thou not altogether intent upon
the right way of making use of the things which happen to
thee? For then thou wilt use them well, and they will be a
material for thee to work on. Only attend to thyself, and
resolve to be a good man in every act which thou doest: and
Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever
bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig.
The body ought to be compact, and to show no irregularity
either in motion or attitude. For what the mind shows in the
face by maintaining in it the expression of intelligence and
propriety, that ought to be required also in the whole body. But
all of these things should be observed without affectation.
The art of life is more like the wrestler's art than the
dancer's, in respect of this, that it should stand ready and firm
to meet onsets which are sudden and unexpected.
Constantly observe who those are whose approbation thou
wishest to have, and what ruling principles they possess. For
then thou wilt neither blame those who offend involuntarily,
nor wilt thou want their approbation, if thou lookest to the
sources of their opinions and appetites.
Every soul, the philosopher says, is involuntarily deprived of
truth; consequently in the same way it is deprived of justice
and temperance and benevolence and everything of the kind.
It is most necessary to bear this constantly in mind, for thus
thou wilt be more gentle towards all.
In every pain let this thought be present, that there is no
dishonour in it, nor does it make the governing intelligence
worse, for it does not damage the intelligence either so far as
the intelligence is rational or so far as it is social. Indeed in the
case of most pains let this remark of Epicurus aid thee, that
pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting, if thou bearest in
mind that it has its limits, and if thou addest nothing to it in
imagination: and remember this too, that we do not perceive
that many things which are disagreeable to us are the same as
pain, such as excessive drowsiness, and the being scorched by
heat, and the having no appetite. When then thou art
discontented about any of these things, say to thyself, that
thou art yielding to pain.
Take care not to feel towards the inhuman, as they feel
towards men.
How do we know if Telauges was not superior in character to
Socrates? For it is not enough that Socrates died a more noble
death, and disputed more skilfully with the sophists, and
passed the night in the cold with more endurance, and that
when he was bid to arrest Leon of Salamis, he considered it
more noble to refuse, and that he walked in a swaggering way
in the streets- though as to this fact one may have great
doubts if it was true. But we ought to inquire, what kind of a
soul it was that Socrates possessed, and if he was able to be
content with being just towards men and pious towards the
gods, neither idly vexed on account of men's villainy, nor yet
making himself a slave to any man's ignorance, nor receiving
as strange anything that fell to his share out of the universal,
nor enduring it as intolerable, nor allowing his understanding
to sympathize with the affects of the miserable flesh.
Nature has not so mingled the intelligence with the
composition of the body, as not to have allowed thee the
power of circumscribing thyself and of bringing under
subjection to thyself all that is thy own; for it is very possible to
be a divine man and to be recognised as such by no one.
Always bear this in mind; and another thing too, that very little
indeed is necessary for living a happy life. And because thou
hast despaired of becoming a dialectician and skilled in the
knowledge of nature, do not for this reason renounce the hope
of being both free and modest and social and obedient to God.
It is in thy power to live free from all compulsion in the
greatest tranquility of mind, even if all the world cry out
against thee as much as they choose, and even if wild beasts
tear in pieces the members of this kneaded matter which has
grown around thee. For what hinders the mind in the midst of
all this from maintaining itself in tranquility and in a just
judgement of all surrounding things and in a ready use of the
objects which are presented to it, so that the judgement may
say to the thing which falls under its observation: This thou art
in substance (reality), though in men's opinion thou mayest
appear to be of a different kind; and the use shall say to that
which falls under the hand: Thou art the thing that I was
seeking; for to me that which presents itself is always a
material for virtue both rational and political, and in a word, for
the exercise of art, which belongs to man or God. For
everything which happens has a relationship either to God or
man, and is neither new nor difficult to handle, but usual and
apt matter to work on.
The perfection of moral character consists in this, in passing
every day as the last, and in being neither violently excited nor
torpid nor playing the hypocrite.
The gods who are immortal are not vexed because during so
long a time they must tolerate continually men such as they
are and so many of them bad; and besides this, they also take
care of them in all ways. But thou, who art destined to end so
soon, art thou wearied of enduring the bad, and this too when
thou art one of them?
It is a ridiculous thing for a man not to fly from his own
badness, which is indeed possible, but to fly from other men's
badness, which is impossible.
Whatever the rational and political (social) faculty finds to be
neither intelligent nor social, it properly judges to be inferior to
When thou hast done a good act and another has received it,
why dost thou look for a third thing besides these, as fools do,
either to have the reputation of having done a good act or to
obtain a return?
No man is tired of receiving what is useful. But it is useful to
act according to nature. Do not then be tired of receiving what
is useful by doing it to others.
The nature of the An moved to make the universe. But now
either everything that takes place comes by way of
consequence or continuity; or even the chief things towards
which the ruling power of the universe directs its own
movement are governed by no rational principle. If this is
remembered it will make thee more tranquil in many things.
THIS reflection also tends to the removal of the desire of
empty fame, that it is no longer in thy power to have lived the
whole of thy life, or at least thy life from thy youth upwards,
like a philosopher; but both to many others and to thyself it is
plain that thou art far from philosophy. Thou hast fallen into
disorder then, so that it is no longer easy for thee to get the
reputation of a philosopher; and thy plan of life also opposes it.
If then thou hast truly seen where the matter lies, throw away
the thought, How thou shalt seem to others, and be content if
thou shalt live the rest of thy life in such wise as thy nature
wills. Observe then what it wills, and let nothing else distract
thee; for thou hast had experience of many wanderings
without having found happiness anywhere, not in syllogisms,
nor in wealth, nor in reputation, nor in enjoyment, nor
anywhere. Where is it then? In doing what man's nature
requires. How then shall a man do this? If he has principles
from which come his affects and his acts. What principles?
Those which relate to good and bad: the belief that there is
nothing good for man, which does not make him just,
temperate, manly, free; and that there is nothing bad, which
does not do the contrary to what has been mentioned.
On the occasion of every act ask thyself, How is this with
respect to me? Shall I repent of it? A little time and I am dead,
and all is gone. What more do I seek, if what I am now doing is
work of an intelligent living being, and a social being, and one
who is under the same law with God?
Alexander and Gaius and Pompeius, what are they in
comparison with Diogenes and Heraclitus and Socrates? For
they were acquainted with things, and their causes (forms),
and their matter, and the ruling principles of these men were
the same. But as to the others, how many things had they to
care for, and to how many things were they slaves?
Consider that men will do the same things nevertheless,
even though thou shouldst burst.
This is the chief thing: Be not perturbed, for all things are
according to the nature of the universal; and in a little time
thou wilt be nobody and nowhere, like Hadrian and Augustus.
In the next place having fixed thy eyes steadily on thy
business look at it, and at the same time remembering that it
is thy duty to be a good man, and what man's nature
demands, do that without turning aside; and speak as it seems
to thee most just, only let it be with a good disposition and
with modesty and without hypocrisy.
The nature of the universal has this work to do, to remove to
that place the things which are in this, to change them, to take
them away hence, and to carry them there. All things are
change, yet we need not fear anything new. All things are
familiar to us; but the distribution of them still remains the
Every nature is contented with itself when it goes on its way
well; and a rational nature goes on its way well, when in its
thoughts it assents to nothing false or uncertain, and when it
directs its movements to social acts only, and when it confines
its desires and aversions to the things which are in its power,
and when it is satisfied with everything that is assigned to it by
the common nature.
For of this common nature every particular nature is a part,
as the nature of the leaf is a part of the nature of the plant;
except that in the plant the nature of the leaf is part of a
nature which has not perception or reason, and is subject to be
impeded; but the nature of man is part of a nature which is not
subject to impediments, and is intelligent and just, since it
gives to everything in equal portions and according to its
worth, times, substance, cause (form), activity, and incident.
But examine, not to discover that any one thing compared with
any other single thing is equal in all respects, but by taking all
the parts together of one thing and comparing them with all
the parts together of another.
Thou hast not leisure or ability to read. But thou hast leisure
or ability to check arrogance: thou hast leisure to be superior
to pleasure and pain: thou hast leisure to be superior to love of
fame, and not to be vexed at stupid and ungrateful people, nay
even to care for them.
Let no man any longer hear thee finding fault with the court
life or with thy own.
Repentance is a kind of self-reproof for having neglected
something useful; but that which is good must be something
useful, and the perfect good man should look after it. But no
such man would ever repent of having refused any sensual
pleasure. Pleasure then is neither good nor useful.
This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is
its substance and material? And what its causal nature (or
form)? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it
When thou risest from sleep with reluctance, remember that
it is according to thy constitution and according to human
nature to perform social acts, but sleeping is common also to
irrational animals. But that which is according to each
individual's nature is also more peculiarly its own, and more
suitable to its nature, and indeed also more agreeable.
Constantly and, if it be possible, on the occasion of every
impression on the soul, apply to it the principles of Physic, of
Ethic, and of Dialectic.
Whatever man thou meetest with, immediately say to
thyself: What opinions has this man about good and bad? For if
with respect to pleasure and pain and the causes of each, and
with respect to fame and ignominy, death and life, he has such
and such opinions, it will seem nothing wonderful or strange to
me, if he does such and such things; and I shall bear in mind
that he is compelled to do so.
Remember that as it is a shame to be surprised if the fig-tree
produces figs, so it is to be surprised if the world produces
such and such things of which it is productive; and for the
physician and the helmsman it is a shame to be surprised, if a
man has a fever, or if the wind is unfavourable.
Remember that to change thy opinion and to follow him who
corrects thy error is as consistent with freedom as it is to
persist in thy error. For it is thy own, the activity which is
exerted according to thy own movement and judgement, and
indeed according to thy own understanding too.
If a thing is in thy own power, why dost thou do it? But if it is
in the power of another, whom dost thou blame? The atoms
(chance) or the gods? Both are foolish. Thou must blame
nobody. For if thou canst, correct that which is the cause; but if
thou canst not do this, correct at least the thing itself; but if
thou canst not do even this, of what use is it to thee to find
fault? For nothing should be done without a purpose.
That which has died falls not out of the universe. If it stays
here, it also changes here, and is dissolved into its proper
parts, which are elements of the universe and of thyself. And
these too change, and they murmur not.
Everything exists for some end, a horse, a vine. Why dost
thou wonder? Even the sun will say, I am for some purpose,
and the rest of the gods will say the same. For what purpose
then art thou? To enjoy pleasure? See if common sense allows
Nature has had regard in everything no less to the end than
to the beginning and the continuance, just like the man who
throws up a ball. What good is it then for the ball to be thrown
up, or harm for it to come down, or even to have fallen? And
what good is it to the bubble while it holds together, or what
harm when it is burst? The same may be said of a light also.
Turn it (the body) inside out, and see what kind of thing it is;
and when it has grown old, what kind of thing it becomes, and
when it is diseased.
Short-lived are both the praiser and the praised, and the
rememberer and the remembered: and all this in a nook of this
part of the world; and not even here do all agree, no, not any
one with himself: and the whole earth too is a point.
Attend to the matter which is before thee, whether it is an
opinion or an act or a word.
Thou sufferest this justly: for thou choosest rather to become
good to-morrow than to be good to-day.
Am I doing anything? I do it with reference to the good of
mankind. Does anything happen to me? I receive it and refer it
to the gods, and the source of all things, from which all that
happens is derived.
Such as bathing appears to thee- oil, sweat, dirt, filthy water,
all things disgusting- so is every part of life and everything.
Lucilla saw Verus die, and then Lucilla died. Secunda saw
Maximus die, and then Secunda died. Epitynchanus saw
Diotimus die, and
Epitynchanus died. Antoninus saw Faustina die, and then
Antoninus died. Such is everything. Celer saw Hadrian die, and
then Celer died. And those sharp-witted men, either seers or
men inflated with pride, where are they? For instance the
sharp-witted men, Charax and
Demetrius the Platonist and Eudaemon, and any one else
like them. All ephemeral, dead long ago. Some indeed have
not been remembered even for a short time, and others have
become the heroes of fables, and again others have
disappeared even from fables. Remember this then, that this
little compound, thyself, must either be dissolved, or thy poor
breath must be extinguished, or be removed and placed
It is satisfaction to a man to do the proper works of a man.
Now it is a proper work of a man to be benevolent to his own
kind, to despise the movements of the senses, to form a just
judgement of plausible appearances, and to take a survey of
the nature of the universe and of the things which happen in it.
There are three relations between thee and other things: the
one to the body which surrounds thee; the second to the divine
cause from which all things come to all; and the third to those
who live with thee.
Pain is either an evil to the body- then let the body say what
it thinks of it- or to the soul; but it is in the power of the soul to
maintain its own serenity and tranquility, and not to think that
pain is an evil. For every judgement and movement and desire
and aversion is within, and no evil ascends so high.
Wipe out thy imaginations by often saying to thyself: now it
is in my power to let no badness be in this soul, nor desire nor
any perturbation at all; but looking at all things I see what is
their nature, and I use each according to its value.- Remember
this power which thou hast from nature.
Speak both in the senate and to every man, whoever he may
be, appropriately, not with any affectation: use plain discourse.
Augustus' court, wife, daughter, descendants, ancestors,
sister, Agrippa, kinsmen, intimates, friends, Areius, Maecenas,
physicians and sacrificing priests- the whole court is dead.
Then turn to the rest, not considering the death of a single
man, but of a whole race, as of the Pompeii; and that which is
inscribed on the tombs- The last of his race. Then consider
what trouble those before them have had that they might
leave a successor; and then, that of necessity some one must
be the last. Again here consider the death of a whole race.
It is thy duty to order thy life well in every single act; and if
every act does its duty, as far as is possible, be content; and
no one is able to hinder thee so that each act shall not do its
duty.- But something external will stand in the way.- Nothing
will stand in the way of thy acting justly and soberly and
considerately.- But perhaps some other active power will be
hindered.- Well, but by acquiescing in the hindrance and by
being content to transfer thy efforts to that which is allowed,
another opportunity of action is immediately put before thee in
place of that which was hindered, and one which will adapt
itself to this ordering of which we are speaking.
Receive wealth or prosperity without arrogance; and be
ready to let it go.
If thou didst ever see a hand cut off, or a foot, or a head,
lying anywhere apart from the rest of the body, such does a
man make himself, as far as he can, who is not content with
what happens, and separates himself from others, or does
anything unsocial. Suppose that thou hast detached thyself
from the natural unity- for thou wast made by nature a part,
but now thou hast cut thyself off- yet here there is this
beautiful provision, that it is in thy power again to unite thyself.
God has allowed this to no other part, after it has been
separated and cut asunder, to come together again. But
consider the kindness by which he has distinguished man, for
he has put it in his power not to be separated at all from the
universal; and when he has been separated, he has allowed
him to return and to be united and to resume his place as a
As the nature of the universal has given to every rational
being all the other powers that it has, so we have received
from it this power also. For as the universal nature converts
and fixes in its predestined place everything which stands in
the way and opposes it, and makes such things a part of itself,
so also the rational animal is able to make every hindrance its
own material, and to use it for such purposes as it may have
Do not disturb thyself by thinking of the whole of thy life. Let
not thy thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles
which thou mayest expect to befall thee: but on every
occasion ask thyself, What is there in this which is intolerable
and past bearing? For thou wilt be ashamed to confess. In the
next place remember that neither the future nor the past pains
thee, but only the present.
But this is reduced to a very little, if thou only circumscribest
it, and chidest thy mind, if it is unable to hold out against even
Does Panthea or Pergamus now sit by the tomb of Verus?
Does Chaurias or Diotimus sit by the tomb of Hadrian? That
would be ridiculous.
Well, suppose they did sit there, would the dead be
conscious of it? And if the dead were conscious, would they be
pleased? And if they were pleased, would that make them
immortal? Was it not in the order of destiny that these persons
too should first become old women and old men and then die?
What then would those do after these were dead? All this is
foul smell and blood in a bag.
If thou canst see sharp, look and judge wisely, says the
In the constitution of the rational animal I see no virtue
which is opposed to justice; but I see a virtue which is opposed
to love of pleasure, and that is temperance.
If thou takest away thy opinion about that which appears to
give thee pain, thou thyself standest in perfect security.- Who
is this self?- The reason.- But I am not reason.- Be it so. Let
then the reason itself not trouble itself. But if any other part of
thee suffers, let it have its own opinion about itself.
Hindrance to the perceptions of sense is an evil to the animal
nature. Hindrance to the movements (desires) is equally an
evil to the animal nature. And something else also is equally an
impediment and an evil to the constitution of plants. So then
that which is a hindrance to the intelligence is an evil to the
intelligent nature.
Apply all these things then to thyself. Does pain or sensuous
pleasure affect thee? The senses will look to that.- Has any
obstacle opposed thee in thy efforts towards an object? if
(unconditionally, or without any reservation), certainly this
obstacle is an evil to thee considered as a rational animal. But
if thou takest into consideration the usual course of things,
thou hast not yet been injured nor even impeded. The things
however which are proper to the understanding no other man
is used to impede, for neither fire, nor iron, nor tyrant, nor
abuse, touches it in any way. When it has been made a sphere,
it continues a sphere.
It is not fit that I should give myself pain, for I have never
intentionally given pain even to another. Different things
delight different people. But it is my delight to keep the ruling
faculty sound without turning away either from any man or
from any of the things which happen to men, but looking at
and receiving all with welcome eyes and using everything
according to its value.
See that thou secure this present time to thyself: for those
who rather pursue posthumous fame do consider that the men
of after time will be exactly such as these whom they cannot
bear now; and both are mortal. And what is it in any way to
thee if these men of after time utter this or that sound, or have
this or that opinion about thee?
Take me and cast me where thou wilt; for there I shall keep
my divine part tranquil, that is, content, if it can feel and act
conformably to its proper constitution. Is this change of place
sufficient reason why my soul should be unhappy and worse
than it was, depressed, expanded, shrinking, affrighted? And
what wilt thou find which is sufficient reason for this?
Nothing can happen to any man which is not a human
accident, nor to an ox which is not according to the nature of
an ox, nor to a vine which is not according to the nature of a
vine, nor to a stone which is not proper to a stone. If then there
happens to each thing both what is usual and natural, why
shouldst thou complain? For the common nature brings
nothing which may not be borne by thee.
If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this thing
that disturbs thee, but thy own judgement about it. And it is in
thy power to wipe out this judgement now. But if anything in
thy own disposition gives thee pain, who hinders thee from
correcting thy opinion? And even if thou art pained because
thou art not doing some particular thing which seems to thee
to be right, why dost thou not rather act than complain?- But
some insuperable obstacle is in the way?- Do not be grieved
then, for the cause of its not being done depends not on thee.But it is not worth while to live if this cannot be done.- Take thy
departure then from life contentedly, just as he dies who is in
full activity, and well pleased too with the things which are
Remember that the ruling faculty is invincible, when selfcollected it is satisfied with itself, if it does nothing which it
does not choose to do, even if it resist from mere obstinacy.
What then will it be when it forms a judgement about
anything aided by reason and deliberately? Therefore the mind
which is free from passions is a citadel, for man has nothing
more secure to which he can fly for, refuge and for the future
be inexpugnable. He then who has not seen this is an ignorant
man; but he who has seen it and does not fly to this refuge is
Say nothing more to thyself than what the first appearances
report. Suppose that it has been reported to thee that a certain
person speaks ill of thee. This has been reported; but that thou
hast been injured, that has not been reported. I see that my
child is sick. I do see; but that he is in danger, I do not see.
Thus then always abide by the first appearances, and add
nothing thyself from within, and then nothing happens to thee.
Or rather add something, like a man who knows everything
that happens in the world.
A cucumber is bitter.- Throw it away.- There are briars in the
road.- Turn aside from them.- This is enough. Do not add, And
why were such things made in the world? For thou wilt be
ridiculed by a man who is acquainted with nature, as thou
wouldst be ridiculed by a carpenter and shoemaker if thou
didst find fault because thou seest in their workshop shavings
and cuttings from the things which they make. And yet they
have places into which they can throw these shavings and
cuttings, and the universal nature has no external space; but
the wondrous part of her art is that though she has
circumscribed herself, everything within her which appears to
decay and to grow old and to be useless she changes into
herself, and again makes other new things from these very
same, so that she requires neither substance from without nor
wants a place into which she may cast that which decays.
She is content then with her own space, and her own matter
and her own art.
Neither in thy actions be sluggish nor in thy conversation
without method, nor wandering in thy thoughts, nor let there
be in thy soul inward contention nor external effusion, nor in
life be so busy as to have no leisure.
Suppose that men kill thee, cut thee in pieces, curse thee.
What then can these things do to prevent thy mind from
remaining pure, wise, sober, just? For instance, if a man should
stand by a limpid pure spring, and curse it, the spring never
ceases sending up potable water; and if he should cast clay
into it or filth, it will speedily disperse them and wash them
out, and will not be at all polluted. How then shalt thou possess
a perpetual fountain and not a mere well? By forming thyself
hourly to freedom conjoined with contentment, simplicity and
He who does not know what the world is, does not know
where he is. And he who does not know for what purpose the
world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is.
But he who has failed in any one of these things could not
even say for what purpose he exists himself. What then dost
thou think of him who avoids or seeks the praise of those who
applaud, of men who know not either where they are or who
they are?
Dost thou wish to be praised by a man who curses himself
thrice every hour? Wouldst thou wish to please a man who
does not please himself? Does a man please himself who
repents of nearly everything that he does?
No longer let thy breathing only act in concert with the air
which surrounds thee, but let thy intelligence also now be in
harmony with the intelligence which embraces all things. For
the intelligent power is no less diffused in all parts and
pervades all things for him who is willing to draw it to him than
the aerial power for him who is able to respire it.
Generally, wickedness does no harm at all to the universe;
and particularly, the wickedness of one man does no harm to
another. It is only harmful to him who has it in his power to be
released from it, as soon as he shall choose.
To my own free will the free will of my neighbour is just as
indifferent as his poor breath and flesh. For though we are
made especially for the sake of one another, still the ruling
power of each of us has its own office, for otherwise my
neighbour's wickedness would be my harm, which God has not
willed in order that my unhappiness may not depend on
The sun appears to be poured down, and in all directions
indeed it is diffused, yet it is not effused. For this diffusion is
extension: Accordingly its rays are called Extensions [aktines]
because they are extended [apo tou ekteinesthai]. But one
may judge what kind of a thing a ray is, if he looks at the sun's
light passing through a narrow opening into a darkened room,
for it is extended in a right line, and as it were is divided when
it meets with any solid body which stands in the way and
intercepts the air beyond; but there the light remains fixed and
does not glide or fall off. Such then ought to be the out-pouring
and diffusion of the understanding, and it should in no way be
an effusion, but an extension, and it should make no violent or
impetuous collision with the obstacles which are in its way; nor
yet fall down, but be fixed and enlighten that which receives it.
For a body will deprive itself of the illumination, if it does not
admit it.
He who fears death either fears the loss of sensation or a
different kind of sensation. But if thou shalt have no sensation,
neither wilt thou feel any harm; and if thou shalt acquire
another kind of sensation, thou wilt be a different kind of living
being and thou wilt not cease to live.
Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or
bear with them.
In one way an arrow moves, in another way the mind. The
mind indeed, both when it exercises caution and when it is
employed about inquiry, moves straight onward not the less,
and to its object.
Enter into every man's ruling faculty; and also let every
other man enter into thine.
HE WHO acts unjustly acts impiously. For since the universal
nature has made rational animals for the sake of one another
to help one another according to their deserts, but in no way to
injure one another, he who transgresses her will, is clearly
guilty of impiety towards the highest divinity. And he too who
lies is guilty of impiety to the same divinity; for the universal
nature is the nature of things that are; and things that are
have a relation to all things that come into existence. And
further, this universal nature is named truth, and is the prime
cause of all things that are true. He then who lies intentionally
is guilty of impiety inasmuch as he acts unjustly by deceiving;
and he also who lies unintentionally, inasmuch as he is at
variance with the universal nature, and inasmuch as he
disturbs the order by fighting against the nature of the world;
for he fights against it, who is moved of himself to that which
is contrary to truth, for he had received powers from nature
through the neglect of which he is not able now to distinguish
falsehood from truth. And indeed he who pursues pleasure as
good, and avoids pain as evil, is guilty of impiety. For of
necessity such a man must often find fault with the universal
nature, alleging that it assigns things to the bad and the good
contrary to their deserts, because frequently the bad are in the
enjoyment of pleasure and possess the things which procure
pleasure, but the good have pain for their share and the things
which cause pain. And further, he who is afraid of pain will
sometimes also be afraid of some of the things which will
happen in the world, and even this is impiety. And he who
pursues pleasure will not abstain from injustice, and this is
plainly impiety. Now with respect to the things towards which
the universal nature is equally affected- for it would not have
made both, unless it was equally affected towards bothtowards these they who wish to follow nature should be of the
same mind with it, and equally affected. With respect to pain,
then, and pleasure, or death and life, or honour and dishonour,
which the universal nature employs equally, whoever is not
equally affected is manifestly acting impiously. And I say that
the universal nature employs them equally, instead of saying
that they happen alike to those who are produced in
continuous series and to those who come after them by virtue
of a certain original movement of Providence, according to
which it moved from a certain beginning to this ordering of
things, having conceived certain principles of the things which
were to be, and having determined powers productive of
beings and of changes and of such like successions.
It would be a man's happiest lot to depart from mankind
without having had any taste of lying and hypocrisy and luxury
and pride.
However to breathe out one's life when a man has had
enough of these things is the next best voyage, as the saying
is. Hast thou determined to abide with vice, and has not
experience yet induced thee to fly from this pestilence? For the
destruction of the understanding is a pestilence, much more
indeed than any such corruption and change of this
atmosphere which surrounds us. For this corruption is a
pestilence of animals so far as they are animals; but the other
is a pestilence of men so far as they are men.
Do not despise death, but be well content with it, since this
too is one of those things which nature wills. For such as it is to
be young and to grow old, and to increase and to reach
maturity, and to have teeth and beard and grey hairs, and to
beget, and to be pregnant and to bring forth, and all the other
natural operations which the seasons of thy life bring, such
also is dissolution. This, then, is consistent with the character
of a reflecting man, to be neither careless nor impatient nor
contemptuous with respect to death, but to wait for it as one of
the operations of nature. As thou now waitest for the time
when the child shall come out of thy wife's womb, so be ready
for the time when thy soul shall fall out of this envelope. But if
thou requirest also a vulgar kind of comfort which shall reach
thy heart, thou wilt be made best reconciled to death by
observing the objects from which thou art going to be
removed, and the morals of those with whom thy soul will no
longer be mingled. For it is no way right to be offended with
men, but it is thy duty to care for them and to bear with them
gently; and yet to remember that thy departure will be not
from men who have the same principles as thyself. For this is
the only thing, if there be any, which could draw us the
contrary way and attach us to life, to be permitted to live with
those who have the same principles as ourselves. But now
thou seest how great is the trouble arising from the
discordance of those who live together, so that thou mayest
say, Come quick, O death, lest perchance I, too, should forget
He who does wrong does wrong against himself. He who acts
unjustly acts unjustly to himself, because he makes himself
He often acts unjustly who does not do a certain thing; not
only he who does a certain thing.
Thy present opinion founded on understanding, and thy
present conduct directed to social good, and thy present
disposition of contentment with everything which happensthat is enough.
Wipe out imagination: check desire: extinguish appetite:
keep the ruling faculty in its own power.
Among the animals which have not reason one life is
distributed; but among reasonable animals one intelligent soul
is distributed: just as there is one earth of all things which are
of an earthy nature, and we see by one light, and breathe one
air, all of us that have the faculty of vision and all that have
All things which participate in anything which is common to
them all move towards that which is of the same kind with
themselves. Everything which is earthy turns towards the
earth, everything which is liquid flows together, and everything
which is of an aerial kind does the same, so that they require
something to keep them asunder, and the application of force.
Fire indeed moves upwards on account of the elemental fire,
but it is so ready to be kindled together with all the fire which
is here, that even every substance which is somewhat dry, is
easily ignited, because there is less mingled with it of that
which is a hindrance to ignition. Accordingly then everything
also which participates in the common intelligent nature
moves in like manner towards that which is of the same kind
with itself, or moves even more. For so much as it is superior in
comparison with all other things, in the same degree also is it
more ready to mingle with and to be fused with that which is
akin to it.
Accordingly among animals devoid of reason we find swarms
of bees, and herds of cattle, and the nurture of young birds,
and in a manner, loves; for even in animals there are souls,
and that power which brings them together is seen to exert
itself in the superior degree, and in such a way as never has
been observed in plants nor in stones nor in trees. But in
rational animals there are political communities and
friendships, and families and meetings of people; and in wars,
treaties and armistices. But in the things which are still
superior, even though they are separated from one another,
unity in a manner exists, as in the stars. Thus the ascent to the
higher degree is able to produce a sympathy even in things
which are separated. See, then, what now takes place. For only
intelligent animals have now forgotten this mutual desire and
inclination, and in them alone the property of flowing together
is not seen. But still though men strive to avoid this union, they
are caught and held by it, for their nature is too strong for
them; and thou wilt see what I say, if thou only observest.
Sooner, then, will one find anything earthy which comes in
contact with no earthy thing than a man altogether separated
from other men.
Both man and God and the universe produce fruit; at the
proper seasons each produces it. But if usage has especially
fixed these terms to the vine and like things, this is nothing.
Reason produces fruit both for all and for itself, and there are
produced from it other things of the same kind as reason itself.
If thou art able, correct by teaching those who do wrong; but
if thou canst not, remember that indulgence is given to thee
for this purpose. And the gods, too, are indulgent to such
persons; and for some purposes they even help them to get
health, wealth, reputation; so kind they are. And it is in thy
power also; or say, who hinders thee?
Labour not as one who is wretched, nor yet as one who
would be pitied or admired: but direct thy will to one thing
only, to put thyself in motion and to check thyself, as the social
reason requires.
To-day I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out
all trouble, for it was not outside, but within and in my
All things are the same, familiar in experience, and
ephemeral in time, and worthless in the matter. Everything
now is just as it was in the time of those whom we have
Things stand outside of us, themselves by themselves,
neither knowing aught of themselves, nor expressing any
judgement. What is it, then, which does judge about them?
The ruling faculty.
Not in passivity, but in activity lie the evil and the good of
the rational social animal, just as his virtue and his vice lie not
in passivity, but in activity.
For the stone which has been thrown up it is no evil to come
down, nor indeed any good to have been carried up.
Penetrate inwards into men's leading principles, and thou
wilt see what judges thou art afraid of, and what kind of judges
they are of themselves.
All things are changing: and thou thyself art in continuous
mutation and in a manner in continuous destruction, and the
whole universe too.
It is thy duty to leave another man's wrongful act there
where it is.
Termination of activity, cessation from movement and
opinion, and in a sense their death, is no evil. Turn thy
thoughts now to the consideration of thy life, thy life as a child,
as a youth, thy manhood, thy old age, for in these also every
change was a death. Is this anything to fear? Turn thy thoughts
now to thy life under thy grandfather, then to thy life under thy
mother, then to thy life under thy father; and as thou findest
many other differences and changes and terminations, ask
thyself, Is this anything to fear? In like manner, then, neither
are the termination and cessation and change of thy whole life
a thing to be afraid of.
Hasten to examine thy own ruling faculty and that of the
universe and that of thy neighbour: thy own that thou mayest
make it just: and that of the universe, that thou mayest
remember of what thou art a part; and that of thy neighbour,
that thou mayest know whether he has acted ignorantly or
with knowledge, and that thou mayest also consider that his
ruling faculty is akin to thine.
As thou thyself art a component part of a social system, so
let every act of thine be a component part of social life.
Whatever act of thine then has no reference either
immediately or remotely to a social end, this tears asunder thy
life, and does not allow it to be one, and it is of the nature of a
mutiny, just as when in a popular assembly a man acting by
himself stands apart from the general agreement.
Quarrels of little children and their sports, and poor spirits
carrying about dead bodies, such is everything; and so what is
exhibited in the representation of the mansions of the dead
strikes our eyes more clearly.
Examine into the quality of the form of an object, and detach
it altogether from its material part, and then contemplate it;
then determine the time, the longest which a thing of this
peculiar form is naturally made to endure.
Thou hast endured infinite troubles through not being
contented with thy ruling faculty, when it does the things
which it is constituted by nature to do. But enough of this.
When another blames thee or hates thee, or when men say
about thee anything injurious, approach their poor souls,
penetrate within, and see what kind of men they are. Thou wilt
discover that there is no reason to take any trouble that these
men may have this or that opinion about thee. However thou
must be well disposed towards them, for by nature they are
friends. And the gods too aid them in all ways, by dreams, by
signs, towards the attainment of those things on which they
set a value.
The periodic movements of the universe are the same, up
and down from age to age. And either the universal
intelligence puts itself in motion for every separate effect, and
if this is so, be thou content with that which is the result of its
activity; or it puts itself in motion once, and everything else
comes by way of sequence in a manner; or indivisible
elements are the origin of all things.- In a word, if there is a
god, all is well; and if chance rules, do not thou also be
governed by it.
Soon will the earth cover us all: then the earth, too, will
change, and the things also which result from change will
continue to change for ever, and these again for ever. For if a
man reflects on the changes and transformations which follow
one another like wave after wave and their rapidity, he will
despise everything which is perishable.
The universal cause is like a winter torrent: it carries
everything along with it. But how worthless are all these poor
people who are engaged in matters political, and, as they
suppose, are playing the philosopher! All drivellers. Well then,
man: do what nature now requires. Set thyself in motion, if it is
in thy power, and do not look about thee to see if any one will
observe it; nor yet expect Plato's Republic: but be content if
the smallest thing goes on well, and consider such an event to
be no small matter. For who can change men's opinions? And
without a change of opinions what else is there than the
slavery of men who groan while they pretend to obey?
Come now and tell me of Alexander and Philip and Demetrius
of Phalerum. They themselves shall judge whether they
discovered what the common nature required, and trained
themselves accordingly. But if they acted like tragedy heroes,
no one has condemned me to imitate them. Simple and
modest is the work of philosophy. Draw me not aside to
indolence and pride.
Look down from above on the countless herds of men and
their countless solemnities, and the infinitely varied voyagings
in storms and calms, and the differences among those who are
born, who live together, and die. And consider, too, the life
lived by others in olden time, and the life of those who will live
after thee, and the life now lived among barbarous nations,
and how many know not even thy name, and how many will
soon forget it, and how they who perhaps now are praising
thee will very soon blame thee, and that neither a posthumous
name is of any value, nor reputation, nor anything else.
Let there be freedom from perturbations with respect to the
things which come from the external cause; and let there be
justice in the things done by virtue of the internal cause, that
is, let there be movement and action terminating in this, in
social acts, for this is according to thy nature.
Thou canst remove out of the way many useless things
among those which disturb thee, for they lie entirely in thy
opinion; and thou wilt then gain for thyself ample space by
comprehending the whole universe in thy mind, and by
contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid
change of every several thing, how short is the time from birth
to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as
the equally boundless time after dissolution.
All that thou seest will quickly perish, and those who have
been spectators of its dissolution will very soon perish too. And
he who dies at the extremest old age will be brought into the
same condition with him who died prematurely.
What are these men's leading principles, and about what
kind of things are they busy, and for what kind of reasons do
they love and honour? Imagine that thou seest their poor souls
laid bare. When they think that they do harm by their blame or
good by their praise, what an idea!
Loss is nothing else than change. But the universal nature
delights in change, and in obedience to her all things are now
done well, and from eternity have been done in like form, and
will be such to time without end. What, then, dost thou say?
That all things have been and all things always will be bad, and
that no power has ever been found in so many gods to rectify
these things, but the world has been condemned to be found
in never ceasing evil?
The rottenness of the matter which is the foundation of
everything! Water, dust, bones, filth: or again, marble rocks,
the callosities of the earth; and gold and silver, the sediments;
and garments, only bits of hair; and purple dye, blood; and
everything else is of the same kind. And that which is of the
nature of breath is also another thing of the same kind,
changing from this to that.
Enough of this wretched life and murmuring and apish tricks.
Why art thou disturbed? What is there new in this? What
unsettles thee? Is it the form of the thing? Look at it. Or is it
the matter? Look at it. But besides these there is nothing.
Towards the gods, then, now become at last more simple and
better. It is the same whether we examine these things for a
hundred years or three.
If any man has done wrong, the harm is his own. But perhaps
he has not done wrong.
Either all things proceed from one intelligent source and
cometogether as in one body, and the part ought not to find
fault with what is done for the benefit of the whole; or there
are only atoms, and nothing else than mixture and dispersion.
Why, then, art thou disturbed? Say to the ruling faculty, Art
thou dead, art thou corrupted, art thou playing the hypocrite,
art thou become a beast, dost thou herd and feed with the
Either the gods have no power or they have power. If, then,
they have no power, why dost thou pray to them? But if they
have power, why dost thou not pray for them to give thee the
faculty of not fearing any of the things which thou fearest, or
of not desiring any of the things which thou desirest, or not
being pained at anything, rather than pray that any of these
things should not happen or happen? For certainly if they can
co-operate with men, they can co-operate for these purposes.
But perhaps thou wilt say, the gods have placed them in thy
power. Well, then, is it not better to use what is in thy power
like a free man than to desire in a slavish and abject way what
is not in thy power? And who has told thee that the gods do
not aid us even in the things which are in our power? Begin,
then, to pray for such things, and thou wilt see. One man prays
thus: How shall I be able to lie with that woman? Do thou pray
thus: How shall I not desire to lie with her? Another prays thus:
How shall I be released from this? Another prays: How shall I
not desire to be released? Another thus: How shall I not lose
my little son? Thou thus: How shall I not be afraid to lose him?
In fine, turn thy prayers this way, and see what comes.
Epicurus says, In my sickness my conversation was not
about my bodily sufferings, nor, says he, did I talk on such
subjects to those who visited me; but I continued to discourse
on the nature of things as before, keeping to this main point,
how the mind, while participating in such movements as go on
in the poor flesh, shall be free from perturbations and maintain
its proper good. Nor did I, he says, give the physicians an
opportunity of putting on solemn looks, as if they were doing
something great, but my life went on well and happily. Do,
then, the same that he did both in sickness, if thou art sick,
and in any other circumstances; for never to desert philosophy
in any events that may befall us, nor to hold trifling talk either
with an ignorant man or with one unacquainted with nature, is
a principle of all schools of philosophy; but to be intent only on
that which thou art now doing and on the instrument by which
thou doest it.
When thou art offended with any man's shameless conduct,
immediately ask thyself, Is it possible, then, that shameless
men should not be in the world? It is not possible. Do not, then,
require what is impossible. For this man also is one of those
shameless men who must of necessity be in the world. Let the
same considerations be present to thy mind in the case of the
knave, and the faithless man, and of every man who does
wrong in any way. For at the same time that thou dost remind
thyself that it is impossible that such kind of men should not
exist, thou wilt become more kindly disposed towards every
one individually. It is useful to perceive this, too, immediately
when the occasion arises, what virtue nature has given to man
to oppose to every wrongful act. For she has given to man, as
an antidote against the stupid man, mildness, and against
another kind of man some other power. And in all cases it is
possible for thee to correct by teaching the man who is gone
astray; for every man who errs misses his object and is gone
astray. Besides wherein hast thou been injured? For thou wilt
find that no one among those against whom thou art irritated
has done anything by which thy mind could be made worse;
but that which is evil to thee and harmful has its foundation
only in the mind. And what harm is done or what is there
strange, if the man who has not been instructed does the acts
of an uninstructed man? Consider whether thou shouldst not
rather blame thyself, because thou didst not expect such a
man to err in such a way. For thou hadst means given thee by
thy reason to suppose that it was likely that he would commit
this error, and yet thou hast forgotten and art amazed that he
has erred. But most of all when thou blamest a man as
faithless or ungrateful, turn to thyself. For the fault is
manifestly thy own, whether thou didst trust that a man who
had such a disposition would keep his promise, or when
conferring thy kindness thou didst not confer it absolutely, nor
yet in such way as to have received from thy very act all the
profit. For what more dost thou want when thou hast done a
man a service? Art thou not content that thou hast done
something conformable to thy nature, and dost thou seek to be
paid for it? Just as if the eye demanded a recompense for
seeing, or the feet for walking. For as these members are
formed for a particular purpose, and by working according to
their several constitutions obtain what is their own; so also as
man is formed by nature to acts of benevolence, when he has
done anything benevolent or in any other way conducive to
the common interest, he has acted conformably to his
constitution, and he gets what is his own.
WILT thou, then, my soul, never be good and simple and one
and naked, more manifest than the body which surrounds
thee? Wilt thou never enjoy an affectionate and contented
disposition? Wilt thou never be full and without a want of any
kind, longing for nothing more, nor desiring anything, either
animate or inanimate, for the enjoyment of pleasures? Nor yet
desiring time wherein thou shalt have longer enjoyment, or
place, or pleasant climate, or society of men with whom thou
mayest live in harmony? But wilt thou be satisfied with thy
present condition, and pleased with all that is about thee, and
wilt thou convince thyself that thou hast everything and that it
comes from the gods, that everything is well for thee, and will
be well whatever shall please them, and whatever they shall
give for the conservation of the perfect living being, the good
and just and beautiful, which generates and holds together all
things, and contains and embraces all things which are
dissolved for the production of other like things? Wilt thou
never be such that thou shalt so dwell in community with gods
and men as neither to find fault with them at all, nor to be
condemned by them?
Observe what thy nature requires, so far as thou art
governed by nature only: then do it and accept it, if thy nature,
so far as thou art a living being, shall not be made worse by it.
And next thou must observe what thy nature requires so far
as thou art a living being. And all this thou mayest allow
thyself, if thy nature, so far as thou art a rational animal, shall
not be made worse by it. But the rational animal is
consequently also a political (social) animal. Use these rules,
then, and trouble thyself about nothing else.
Everything which happens either happens in such wise as
thou art formed by nature to bear it, or as thou art not formed
by nature to bear it. If, then, it happens to thee in such way as
thou art formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, but bear
it as thou art formed by nature to bear it. But if it happens in
such wise as thou art not formed by nature to bear it, do not
complain, for it will perish after it has consumed thee.
Remember, however, that thou art formed by nature to bear
everything, with respect to which it depends on thy own
opinion to make it endurable and tolerable, by thinking that it
is either thy interest or thy duty to do this.
If a man is mistaken, instruct him kindly and show him his
error. But if thou art not able, blame thyself, or blame not even
thyself. Whatever may happen to thee, it was prepared for
thee from all eternity; and the implication of causes was from
eternity spinning the thread of thy being, and of that which is
incident to it. Whether the universe is a concourse of atoms, or
nature is a system, let this first be established, that I am a part
of the whole which is governed by nature; next, I am in a
manner intimately related to the parts which are of the same
kind with myself. For remembering this, inasmuch as I am a
part, I shall be discontented with none of the things which are
assigned to me out of the whole; for nothing is injurious to the
part, if it is for the advantage of the whole. For the whole
contains nothing which is not for its advantage; and all natures
indeed have this common principle, but the nature of the
universe has this principle besides, that it cannot be compelled
even by any external cause to generate anything harmful to
By remembering, then, that I am a part of such a whole, I
shall be content with everything that happens. And inasmuch
as I am in a manner intimately related to the parts which are of
the same kind with myself, I shall do nothing unsocial, but I
shall rather direct myself to the things which are of the same
kind with myself, and I shall turn an my efforts to the common
interest, and divert them from the contrary. Now, if these
things are done so, life must flow on happily, just as thou
mayest observe that the life of a citizen is happy, who
continues a course of action which is advantageous to his
fellow-citizens, and is content with whatever the state may
assign to him.
The parts of the whole, everything, I mean, which is naturally
comprehended in the universe, must of necessity perish; but
let this be understood in this sense, that they must undergo
change. But if this is naturally both an evil and a necessity for
the parts, the whole would not continue to exist in a good
condition, the parts being subject to change and constituted so
as to perish in various ways. For whether did nature herself
design to do evil to the things which are parts of herself, and
to make them subject to evil and of necessity fall into evil, or
have such results happened without her knowing it? Both
these suppositions, indeed, are incredible. But if a man should
even drop the term Nature (as an efficient power), and should
speak of these things as natural, even then it would be
ridiculous to affirm at the same time that the parts of the
whole are in their nature subject to change, and at the same
time to be surprised or vexed as if something were happening
contrary to nature, particularly as the dissolution of things is
into those things of which each thing is composed. For there is
either a dispersion of the elements out of which everything has
been compounded, or a change from the solid to the earthy
and from the airy to the aerial, so that these parts are taken
back into the universal reason, whether this at certain periods
is consumed by fire or renewed by eternal changes. And do not
imagine that the solid and the airy part belong to thee from
the time of generation. For all this received its accretion only
yesterday and the day before, as one may say, from the food
and the air which is inspired. This, then, which has received
the accretion, changes, not that which thy mother brought
forth. But suppose that this which thy mother brought forth
implicates thee very much with that other part, which has the
peculiar quality of change, this is nothing in fact in the way of
objection to what is said.
When thou hast assumed these names, good, modest, true,
rational, a man of equanimity, and magnanimous, take care
that thou dost not change these names; and if thou shouldst
lose them, quickly return to them. And remember that the
term Rational was intended to signify a discriminating
attention to every several thing and freedom from negligence;
and that Equanimity is the voluntary acceptance of the things
which are assigned to thee by the common nature; and that
Magnanimity is the elevation of the intelligent part above the
pleasurable or painful sensations of the flesh, and above that
poor thing called fame, and death, and all such things. If, then,
thou maintainest thyself in the possession of these names,
without desiring to be called by these names by others, thou
wilt be another person and wilt enter on another life. For to
continue to be such as thou hast hitherto been, and to be tom
in pieces and defiled in such a life, is the character of a very
stupid man and one overfond of his life, and like those halfdevoured fighters with wild beasts, who though covered with
wounds and gore, still intreat to be kept to the following day,
though they will be exposed in the same state to the same
claws and bites. Therefore fix thyself in the possession of these
few names: and if thou art able to abide in them, abide as if
thou wast removed to certain islands of the Happy. But if thou
shalt perceive that thou fallest out of them and dost not
maintain thy hold, go courageously into some nook where thou
shalt maintain them, or even depart at once from life, not in
passion, but with simplicity and freedom and modesty, after
doing this one laudable thing at least in thy life, to have gone
out of it thus. In order, however, to the remembrance of these
names, it will greatly help thee, if thou rememberest the gods,
and that they wish not to be flattered, but wish all reasonable
beings to be made like themselves; and if thou rememberest
that what does the work of a fig-tree is a fig-tree, and that
what does the work of a dog is a dog, and that what does the
work of a bee is a bee, and that what does the work of a man
is a man.
Mimi, war, astonishment, torpor, slavery, will daily wipe out
those holy principles of thine. How many things without
studying nature dost thou imagine, and how many dost thou
neglect? But it is thy duty so to look on and so to do
everything, that at the same time the power of dealing with
circumstances is perfected, and the contemplative faculty is
exercised, and the confidence which comes from the
knowledge of each several thing is maintained without
showing it, but yet not concealed. For when wilt thou enjoy
simplicity, when gravity, and when the knowledge of every
several thing, both what it is in substance, and what place it
has in the universe, and how long it is formed to exist and of
what things it is compounded, and to whom it can belong, and
who are able both to give it and take it away?
A spider is proud when it has caught a fly, and another when
he has caught a poor hare, and another when he has taken a
little fish in a net, and another when he has taken wild boars,
and another when he has taken bears, and another when he
has taken Sarmatians. Are not these robbers, if thou examinest
their opinions?
Acquire the contemplative way of seeing how all things
change into one another, and constantly attend to it, and
exercise thyself about this part of philosophy. For nothing is so
much adapted to produce magnanimity. Such a man has put
off the body, and as he sees that he must, no one knows how
soon, go away from among men and leave everything here, he
gives himself up entirely to just doing in all his actions, and in
everything else that happens he resigns himself to the
universal nature. But as to what any man shall say or think
about him or do against him, he never even thinks of it, being
himself contented with these two things, with acting justly in
what he now does, and being satisfied with what is now
assigned to him; and he lays aside all distracting and busy
pursuits, and desires nothing else than to accomplish the
straight course through the law, and by accomplishing the
straight course to follow God.
What need is there of suspicious fear, since it is in thy power
to inquire what ought to be done? And if thou seest clear, go
by this way content, without turning back: but if thou dost not
see clear, stop and take the best advisers. But if any other
things oppose thee, go on according to thy powers with due
consideration, keeping to that which appears to be just. For it
is best to reach this object, and if thou dost fail, let thy failure
be in attempting this. He who follows reason in all things is
both tranquil and active at the same time, and also cheerful
and collected.
Inquire of thyself as soon as thou wakest from sleep, whether
it will make any difference to thee, if another does what is just
and right. It will make no difference.
Thou hast not forgotten, I suppose, that those who assume
arrogant airs in bestowing their praise or blame on others, are
such as they are at bed and at board, and thou hast not
forgotten what they do, and what they avoid and what they
pursue, and how they steal and how they rob, not with hands
and feet, but with their most valuable part, by means of which
there is produced, when a man chooses, fidelity, modesty,
truth, law, a good daemon (happiness)?
To her who gives and takes back all, to nature, the man who
is instructed and modest says, Give what thou wilt; take back
what thou wilt. And he says this not proudly, but obediently
and well pleased with her.
Short is the little which remains to thee of life. Live as on a
mountain. For it makes no difference whether a man lives
there or here, if he lives everywhere in the world as in a state
(political community). Let men see, let them know a real man
who lives according to nature. If they cannot endure him, let
them kill him. For that is better than to live thus as men do. No
longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought
to be, but be such.
Constantly contemplate the whole of time and the whole of
substance, and consider that all individual things as to
substance are a grain of a fig, and as to time, the turning of a
Look at everything that exists, and observe that it is already
in dissolution and in change, and as it were putrefaction or
dispersion, or that everything is so constituted by nature as to
Consider what men are when they are eating, sleeping,
generating, easing themselves and so forth. Then what kind of
men they are when they are imperious and arrogant, or angry
and scolding from their elevated place. But a short time ago to
how many they were slaves and for what things; and after a
little time consider in what a condition they will be.
That is for the good of each thing, which the universal nature
brings to each. And it is for its good at the time when nature
brings it.
"The earth loves the shower"; and "the solemn aether loves":
and the universe loves to make whatever is about to be. I say
then to the universe, that I love as thou lovest. And is not this
too said, that "this or that loves (is wont) to be produced"?
Either thou livest here and hast already accustomed thyself
to it, or thou art going away, and this was thy own will; or thou
art dying and hast discharged thy duty. But besides these
things there is nothing. Be of good cheer, then.
Let this always be plain to thee, that this piece of land is like
any other; and that all things here are the same with things on
top of a mountain, or on the sea-shore, or wherever thou
choosest to be.
For thou wilt find just what Plato says, Dwelling within the
walls of a city as in a shepherd's fold on a mountain.
What is my ruling faculty now to me? And of what nature am
I now making it? And for what purpose am I now using it? Is it
void of understanding? Is it loosed and rent asunder from
social life? Is it melted into and mixed with the poor flesh so as
to move together with it?
He who flies from his master is a runaway; but the law is
master, and he who breaks the law is a runaway. And he also
who is grieved or angry or afraid, is dissatisfied because
something has been or is or shall be of the things which are
appointed by him who rules all things, and he is Law, and
assigns to every man what is fit. He then who fears or is
grieved or is angry is a runaway.
A man deposits seed in a womb and goes away, and then
another cause takes it, and labours on it and makes a child.
What a thing from such a material! Again, the child passes
food down through the throat, and then another cause takes it
and makes perception and motion, and in fine life and strength
and other things; how many and how strange I Observe then
the things which are produced in such a hidden way, and see
the power just as we see the power which carries things
downwards and upwards, not with the eyes, but still no less
Constantly consider how all things such as they now are, in
time past also were; and consider that they will be the same
again. And place before thy eyes entire dramas and stages of
the same form, whatever thou hast learned from thy
experience or from older history; for example, the whole court
of Hadrian, and the whole court of Antoninus, and the whole
court of Philip, Alexander, Croesus; for all those were such
dramas as we see now, only with different actors.
Imagine every man who is grieved at anything or
discontented to be like a pig which is sacrificed and kicks and
Like this pig also is he who on his bed in silence laments the
bonds in which we are held. And consider that only to the
rational animal is it given to follow voluntarily what happens;
but simply to follow is a necessity imposed on all.
Severally on the occasion of everything that thou doest,
pause and ask thyself, if death is a dreadful thing because it
deprives thee of this.
When thou art offended at any man's fault, forthwith turn to
thyself and reflect in what like manner thou dost err thyself; for
example, in thinking that money is a good thing, or pleasure,
or a bit of reputation, and the like. For by attending to this thou
wilt quickly forget thy anger, if this consideration also is added,
that the man is compelled: for what else could he do? or, if
thou art able, take away from him the compulsion.
When thou hast seen Satyron the Socratic, think of either
Eutyches or Hymen, and when thou hast seen Euphrates, think
of Eutychion or Silvanus, and when thou hast seen Alciphron
think of Tropaeophorus, and when thou hast seen Xenophon
think of Crito or Severus, and when thou hast looked on
thyself, think of any other Caesar, and in the case of every one
do in like manner. Then let this thought be in thy mind, Where
then are those men? Nowhere, or nobody knows where. For
thus continuously thou wilt look at human things as smoke and
nothing at all; especially if thou reflectest at the same time
that what has once changed will never exist again in the
infinite duration of time. But thou, in what a brief space of time
is thy existence? And why art thou not content to pass through
this short time in an orderly way? What matter and opportunity
for thy activity art thou avoiding? For what else are all these
things, except exercises for the reason, when it has viewed
carefully and by examination into their nature the things which
happen in life? Persevere then until thou shalt have made
these things thy own, as the stomach which is strengthened
makes all things its own, as the blazing fire makes flame and
brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.
Let it not be in any man's power to say truly of thee that
thou art not simple or that thou are not good; but let him be a
liar whoever shall think anything of this kind about thee; and
this is altogether in thy power. For who is he that shall hinder
thee from being good and simple? Do thou only determine to
live no longer, unless thou shalt be such. For neither does
reason allow thee to live, if thou art not such.
What is that which as to this material (our life) can be done
or said in the way most conformable to reason. For whatever
this may be, it is in thy power to do it or to say it, and do not
make excuses that thou art hindered. Thou wilt not cease to
lament till thy mind is in such a condition that, what luxury is
to those who enjoy pleasure, such shall be to thee, in the
matter which is subjected and presented to thee, the doing of
the things which are conformable to man's constitution; for a
man ought to consider as an enjoyment everything which it is
in his power to do according to his own nature.
And it is in his power everywhere. Now, it is not given to a
cylinder to move everywhere by its own motion, nor yet to
water nor to fire, nor to anything else which is governed by
nature or an irrational soul, for the things which check them
and stand in the way are many. But intelligence and reason are
able to go through everything that opposes them, and in such
manner as they are formed by nature and as they choose.
Place before thy eyes this facility with which the reason will be
carried through all things, as fire upwards, as a stone
downwards, as a cylinder down an inclined surface, and seek
for nothing further. For all other obstacles either affect the
body only which is a dead thing; or, except through opinion
and the yielding of the reason itself, they do not crush nor do
any harm of any kind; for if they did, he who felt it would
immediately become bad. Now, in the case of all things which
have a certain constitution, whatever harm may happen to any
of them, that which is so affected becomes consequently
worse; but in the like case, a man becomes both better, if one
may say so, and more worthy of praise by making a right use
of these accidents. And finally remember that nothing harms
him who is really a citizen, which does not harm the state; nor
yet does anything harm the state, which does not harm law
(order); and of these things which are called misfortunes not
one harms law. What then does not harm law does not harm
either state or citizen.
To him who is penetrated by true principles even the briefest
precept is sufficient, and any common precept, to remind him
that he should be free from grief and fear. For exampleLeaves, some the wind scatters on the ground- So is the race
of men.
Leaves, also, are thy children; and leaves, too, are they who
cry out as if they were worthy of credit and bestow their
praise, or on the contrary curse, or secretly blame and sneer;
and leaves, in like manner, are those who shall receive and
transmit a man's fame to aftertimes. For all such things as
these "are produced in the season of spring," as the poet says;
then the wind casts them down; then the forest produces other
leaves in their places. But a brief existence is common to all
things, and yet thou avoidest and pursuest all things as if they
would be eternal. A little time, and thou shalt close thy eyes;
and him who has attended thee to thy grave another soon will
lament. The healthy eye ought to see all visible things and not
to say, I wish for green things; for this is the condition of a
diseased eye. And the healthy hearing and smelling ought to
be ready to perceive all that can be heard and smelled. And
the healthy stomach ought to be with respect to all food just as
the mill with respect to all things which it is formed to grind.
And accordingly the healthy understanding ought to be
prepared for everything which happens; but that which says,
Let my dear children live, and let all men praise whatever I
may do, is an eye which seeks for green things, or teeth which
seek for soft things.
There is no man so fortunate that there shall not be by him
when he is dying some who are pleased with what is going to
happen. Suppose that he was a good and wise man, will there
not be at last some one to say to himself, Let us at last breathe
freely being relieved from this schoolmaster? It is true that he
was harsh to none of us, but I perceived that he tacitly
condemns us.- This is what is said of a good man. But in our
own case how many other things are there for which there are
many who wish to get rid of us. Thou wilt consider this then
when thou art dying, and thou wilt depart more contentedly by
reflecting thus: I am going away from such a life, in which even
my associates in behalf of whom I have striven so much,
prayed, and cared, themselves wish me to depart, hoping
perchance to get some little advantage by it. Why then should
a man cling to a longer stay here? Do not however for this
reason go away less kindly disposed to them, but preserving
thy own character, and friendly and benevolent and mild, and
on the other hand not as if thou wast torn away; but as when a
man dies a quiet death, the poor soul is easily separated from
the body, such also ought thy departure from men to be, for
nature united thee to them and associated thee. But does she
now dissolve the union? Well, I am separated as from kinsmen,
not however dragged resisting, but without compulsion; for
this too is one of the things according to nature.
Accustom thyself as much as possible on the occasion of
anything being done by any person to inquire with thyself, For
what object is this man doing this? But begin with thyself, and
examine thyself first.
Remember that this which pulls the strings is the thing which
is hidden within: this is the power of persuasion, this is life,
this, if one may so say, is man. In contemplating thyself never
include the vessel which surrounds thee and these instruments
which are attached about it. For they are like to an axe,
differing only in this that they grow to the body. For indeed
there is no more use in these parts without the cause which
moves and checks them than in the weaver's shuttle, and the
writer's pen and the driver's whip.
THESE are the properties of the rational soul: it sees itself,
analyses itself, and makes itself such as it chooses; the fruit
which it bears itself enjoys- for the fruits of plants and that in
animals which corresponds to fruits others enjoy- it obtains its
own end, wherever the limit of life may be fixed. Not as in a
dance and in a play and in such like things, where the whole
action is incomplete, if anything cuts it short; but in every part
and wherever it may be stopped, it makes what has been set
before it full and complete, so that it can say, I have what is
my own. And further it traverses the whole universe, and the
surrounding vacuum, and surveys its form, and it extends itself
into the infinity of time, and embraces and comprehends the
periodical renovation of all things, and it comprehends that
those who come after us will see nothing new, nor have those
before us seen anything more, but in a manner he who is forty
years old, if he has any understanding at all, has seen by
virtue of the uniformity that prevails all things which have
been and all that will be. This too is a property of the rational
soul, love of one's neighbour, and truth and modesty, and to
value nothing more more than itself, which is also the property
of Law. Thus then right reason differs not at all from the reason
of justice. Thou wilt set little value on pleasing song and
dancing and the pancratium, if thou wilt distribute the melody
of the voice into its several sounds, and ask thyself as to each,
if thou art mastered by this; for thou wilt be prevented by
shame from confessing it: and in the matter of dancing, if at
each movement and attitude thou wilt do the same; and the
like also in the matter of the pancratium. In all things, then,
except virtue and the acts of virtue, remember to apply thyself
to their several parts, and by this division to come to value
them little: and apply this rule also to thy whole life.
What a soul that is which is ready, if at any moment it must
be separated from the body, and ready either to be
extinguished or dispersed or continue to exist; but so that this
readiness comes from a man's own judgement, not from mere
obstinacy, as with the Christians, but considerately and with
dignity and in a way to persuade another, without tragic show.
Have I done something for the general interest? Well then I
have had my reward. Let this always be present to thy mind,
and never stop doing such good.
What is thy art? To be good. And how is this accomplished
well except by general principles, some about the nature of the
universe, and others about the proper constitution of man?
At first tragedies were brought on the stage as means of
reminding men of the things which happen to them, and that it
is according to nature for things to happen so, and that, if you
are delighted with what is shown on the stage, you should not
be troubled with that which takes place on the larger stage. For
you see that these things must be accomplished thus, and that
even they bear them who cry out "O Cithaeron." And, indeed,
some things are said well by the dramatic writers, of which
kind is the following especially:Me and my children if the gods neglect,
This has its reason too.
And againWe must not chale and fret at that which happens.
Life's harvest reap like the wheat's fruitful ear.
And other things of the same kind.
After tragedy the old comedy was introduced, which had a
magisterial freedom of speech, and by its very plainness of
speaking was useful in reminding men to beware of insolence;
and for this purpose too Diogenes used to take from these
But as to the middle comedy which came next, observe what
it was, and again, for what object the new comedy was
introduced, which gradually sunk down into a mere mimic
artifice. That some good things are said even by these writers,
everybody knows: but the whole plan of such poetry and
dramaturgy, to what end does it look! How plain does it appear
that there is not another condition of life so well suited for
philosophising as this in which thou now happenest to be.
A branch cut off from the adjacent branch must of necessity
be cut off from the whole tree also. So too a man when he is
separated from another man has fallen off from the whole
social community. Now as to a branch, another cuts it off, but a
man by his own act separates himself from his neighbour when
he hates him and turns away from him, and he does not know
that he has at the same time cut himself off from the whole
social system. Yet he has this privilege certainly from Zeus who
framed society, for it is in our power to grow again to that
which is near to us, and be to come a part which helps to make
up the whole. However, if it often happens, this kind of
separation, it makes it difficult for that which detaches itself to
be brought to unity and to be restored to its former condition.
Finally, the branch, which from the first grew together with the
tree, and has continued to have one life with it, is not like that
which after being cut off is then ingrafted, for this is something
like what the gardeners mean when they say that it grows with
the rest of the tree, but that it has not the same mind with it.
As those who try to stand in thy way when thou art
proceeding according to right reason, will not be able to turn
thee aside from thy proper action, so neither let them drive
thee from thy benevolent feelings towards them, but be on thy
guard equally in both matters, not only in the matter of steady
judgement and action, but also in the matter of gentleness
towards those who try to hinder or otherwise trouble thee. For
this also is a weakness, to be vexed at them, as well as to be
diverted from thy course of action and to give way through
fear; for both are equally deserters from their post, the man
who does it through fear, and the man who is alienated from
him who is by nature a kinsman and a friend.
There is no nature which is inferior to art, for the arts imitate
the nature of things. But if this is so, that nature which is the
most perfect and the most comprehensive of all natures,
cannot fall short of the skill of art. Now all arts do the inferior
things for the sake of the superior; therefore the universal
nature does so too. And, indeed, hence is the origin of justice,
and in justice the other virtues have their foundation: for
justice will not be observed, if we either care for middle things
(things indifferent), or are easily deceived and careless and
If the things do not come to thee, the pursuits and
avoidances of which disturb thee, still in a manner thou goest
to them. Let then thy judgement about them be at rest, and
they will remain quiet, and thou wilt not be seen either
pursuing or avoiding.
The spherical form of the soul maintains its figure, when it is
neither extended towards any object, nor contracted inwards,
nor dispersed nor sinks down, but is illuminated by light, by
which it sees the truth, the truth of all things and the truth that
is in itself.
Suppose any man shall despise me. Let him look to that
himself. But I will look to this, that I be not discovered doing or
saying anything deserving of contempt. Shall any man hate
me? Let him look to it. But I will be mild and benevolent
towards every man, and ready to show even him his mistake,
not reproachfully, nor yet as making a display of my
endurance, but nobly and honestly, like the great
Phocion, unless indeed he only assumed it. For the interior
parts ought to be such, and a man ought to be seen by the
gods neither dissatisfied with anything nor complaining. For
what evil is it to thee, if thou art now doing what is agreeable
to thy own nature, and art satisfied with that which at this
moment is suitable to the nature of the universe, since thou
art a human being placed at thy post in order that what is for
the common advantage may be done in some way?
Men despise one another and flatter one another; and men
wish to raise themselves above one another, and crouch
before one another. How unsound and insincere is he who
says, I have determined to deal with thee in a fair way.- What
art thou doing, man? There is no occasion to give this notice. It
will soon show itself by acts. The voice ought to be plainly
written on the forehead. Such as a man's character is, he
immediately shows it in his eyes, just as he who is beloved
forthwith reads everything in the eyes of lovers. The man who
is honest and good ought to be exactly like a man who smells
strong, so that the bystander as soon as he comes near him
must smell whether he choose or not. But the affectation of
simplicity is like a crooked stick. Nothing is more disgraceful
than a wolfish friendship (false friendship). Avoid this most of
all. The good and simple and benevolent show all these things
in the eyes, and there is no mistaking.
As to living in the best way, this power is in the soul, if it be
indifferent to things which are indifferent. And it will be
indifferent, if it looks on each of these things separately and all
together, and if it remembers that not one of them produces in
us an opinion about itself, nor comes to us; but these things
remain immovable, and it is we ourselves who produce the
judgements about them, and, as we may say, write them in
ourselves, it beingin our power not to write them, and it being
in our power, if perchance these judgements have
imperceptibly got admission to our minds, to wipe them out;
and if we remember also that such attention will only be for a
short time, and then life will be at an end. Besides, what
trouble is there at all in doing this? For if these things are
according to nature, rejoice in them, and they will be easy to
thee: but if contrary to nature, seek what is conformable to thy
own nature, and strive towards this, even if it bring no
reputation; for every man is allowed to seek his own good.
Consider whence each thing is come, and of what it consists,
and into what it changes, and what kind of a thing it will be
when it has changed, and that it will sustain no harm.
If any have offended against thee, consider first: What is my
relation to men, and that we are made for one another; and in
another respect, I was made to be set over them, as a ram
over the flock or a bull over the herd. But examine the matter
from first principles, from this: If all things are not mere atoms,
it is nature which orders all things: if this is so, the inferior
things exist for the sake of the superior, and these for the sake
of one another.
Second, consider what kind of men they are at table, in bed,
and so forth: and particularly, under what compulsions in
respect of opinions they are; and as to their acts, consider with
what pride they do what they do.
Third, that if men do rightly what they do, we ought not to be
displeased; but if they do not right, it is plain that they do so
involuntarily and in ignorance. For as every soul is unwillingly
deprived of the truth, so also is it unwillingly deprived of the
power of behaving to each man according to his deserts.
Accordingly men are pained when they are called unjust,
ungrateful, and greedy, and in a word wrong-doers to their
Fourth, consider that thou also doest many things wrong,
and that thou art a man like others; and even if thou dost
abstain from certain faults, still thou hast the disposition to
commit them, though either through cowardice, or concern
about reputation, or some such mean motive, thou dost
abstain from such faults.
Fifth, consider that thou dost not even understand whether
men are doing wrong or not, for many things are done with a
certain reference to circumstances. And in short, a man must
learn a great deal to enable him to pass a correct judgement
on another man's acts.
Sixth, consider when thou art much vexed or grieved, that
man's life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all
laid out dead.
Seventh, that it is not men's acts which disturb us, for those
acts have their foundation in men's ruling principles, but it is
our own opinions which disturb us. Take away these opinions
then, and resolve to dismiss thy judgement about an act as if it
were something grievous, and thy anger is gone. How then
shall I take away these opinions? By reflecting that no wrongful
act of another brings shame on thee: for unless that which is
shameful is alone bad, thou also must of necessity do many
things wrong, and become a robber and everything else.
Eighth, consider how much more pain is brought on us by the
anger and vexation caused by such acts than by the acts
themselves, at which we are angry and vexed.
Ninth, consider that a good disposition is invincible, if it be
genuine, and not an affected smile and acting a part. For what
will the most violent man do to thee, if thou continuest to be of
a kind disposition towards him, and if, as opportunity offers,
thou gently admonishest him and calmly correctest his errors
at the very time when he is trying to do thee harm, saying, Not
so, my child: we are constituted by nature for something else: I
shall certainly not be injured, but thou art injuring thyself, my
child.- And show him with gentle tact and by general principles
that this is so, and that even bees do not do as he does, nor
any animals which are formed by nature to be gregarious. And
thou must do this neither with any double meaning nor in the
way of reproach, but affectionately and without any rancour in
thy soul; and not as if thou wert lecturing him, nor yet that any
bystander may admire, but either when he is alone, and if
others are present...
Remember these nine rules, as if thou hadst received them
as a gift from the Muses, and begin at last to be a man while
thou livest. But thou must equally avoid flattering men and
being veied at them, for both are unsocial and lead to harm.
And let this truth be present to thee in the excitement of
anger, that to be moved by passion is not manly, but that
mildness and gentleness, as they are more agreeable to
human nature, so also are they more manly; and he who
possesses these qualities possesses strength, nerves and
courage, and not the man who is subject to fits of passion and
discontent. For in the same degree in which a man's mind is
nearer to freedom from all passion, in the same degree also is
it nearer to strength: and as the sense of pain is a
characteristic of weakness, so also is anger. For he who yields
to pain and he who yields to anger, both are wounded and
both submit.
But if thou wilt, receive also a tenth present from the leader
of the Muses (Apollo), and it is this- that to expect bad men not
to do wrong is madness, for he who expects this desires an
But to allow men to behave so to others, and to expect them
not to do thee any wrong, is irrational and tyrannical.
There are four principal aberrations of the superior faculty
against which thou shouldst be constantly on thy guard, and
when thou hast detected them, thou shouldst wipe them out
and say on each occasion thus: this thought is not necessary:
this tends to destroy social union: this which thou art going to
say comes not from the real thoughts; for thou shouldst
consider it among the most absurd of things for a man not to
speak from his real thoughts. But the fourth is when thou shalt
reproach thyself for anything, for this is an evidence of the
diviner part within thee being overpowered and yielding to the
less honourable and to the perishable part, the body, and to its
gross pleasures.
Thy aerial part and all the fiery parts which are mingled in
thee, though by nature they have an upward tendency, still in
obedience to the disposition of the universe they are
overpowered here in the compound mass (the body). And also
the whole of the earthy part in thee and the watery, though
their tendency is downward, still are raised up and occupy a
position which is not their natural one. In this manner then the
elemental parts obey the universal, for when they have been
fixed in any place perforce they remain there until again the
universal shall sound the signal for dissolution. Is it not then
strange that thy intelligent part only should be disobedient and
discontented with its own place? And yet no force is imposed
on it, but only those things which are conformable to its
nature: still it does not submit, but is carried in the opposite
direction. For the movement towards injustice and
intemperance and to anger and grief and fear is nothing else
than the act of one who deviates from nature. And also when
the ruling faculty is discontented with anything that happens,
then too it deserts its post: for it is constituted for piety and
reverence towards the gods no less than for justice. For these
qualities also are comprehended under the generic term of
contentment with the constitution of things, and indeed they
are prior to acts of justice.
He who has not one and always the same object in life,
cannot be one and the same all through his life. But what I
have said is not enough, unless this also is added, what this
object ought to be. For as there is not the same opinion about
all the things which in some way or other are considered by
the majority to be good, but only about some certain things,
that is, things which concern the common interest; so also
ought we to propose to ourselves an object which shall be of a
common kind (social) and political. For he who directs all his
own efforts to this object, will make all his acts alike, and thus
will always be the same.
Think of the country mouse and of the town mouse, and of
the alarm and trepidation of the town mouse.
Socrates used to call the opinions of the many by the name
of Lamiae, bugbears to frighten children. The Lacedaemonians
at their public spectacles used to set seats in the shade for
strangers, but themselves sat down anywhere. Socrates
excused himself to Perdiccas for not going to him, saying, It is
because I would not perish by the worst of all ends, that is, I
would not receive a favour and then be unable to return it. In
the writings of the Ephesians there was this precept,
constantly to think of some one of the men of former times
who practised virtue.
The Pythagoreans bid us in the morning look to the heavens
that we may be reminded of those bodies which continually do
the same things and in the same manner perform their work,
and also be reminded of their purity and nudity. For there is no
veil over a star.
Consider what a man Socrates was when he dressed himself
in a skin, after Xanthippe had taken his cloak and gone out,
and what Socrates said to his friends who were ashamed of
him and drew back from him when they saw him dressed thus.
Neither in writing nor in reading wilt thou be able to lay down
rules for others before thou shalt have first learned to obey
rules thyself. Much more is this so in life.
A slave thou art: free speech is not for thee.
And my heart laughed within.
And virtue they will curse, speaking harsh words.
To look for the fig in winter is a madman's act: such is he
who looks for his child when it is no longer allowed.
When a man kisses his child, said Epictetus, he should
whisper to himself, "To-morrow perchance thou wilt die."- But
those are words of bad omen.- "No word is a word of bad
omen," said Epictetus, "which expresses any work of nature; or
if it is so, it is also a word of bad omen to speak of the ears of
corn being reaped."
The unripe grape, the ripe bunch, the dried grape, all are
changes, not into nothing, but into something which exists not
No man can rob us of our free will.
Epictetus also said, A man must discover an art (or rules)
with respect to giving his assent; and in respect to his
movements he must be careful that they be made with regard
to circumstances, that they be consistent with social interests,
that they have regard to the value of the object; and as to
sensual desire, he should altogether keep away from it; and as
to avoidance (aversion) he should not show it with respect to
any of the things which are not in our power.
The dispute then, he said, is not about any common matter,
but about being mad or not.
Socrates used to say, What do you want? Souls of rational
men or irrational?- Souls of rational men.- Of what rational
men? Sound or unsound?- Sound.- Why then do you not seek
for them?- Because we have them.- Why then do you fight and
ALL those things at which thou wishest to arrive by a
circuitous road, thou canst have now, if thou dost not refuse
them to thyself.
And this means, if thou wilt take no notice of all the past, and
trust the future to providence, and direct the present only
conformably to piety and justice. Conformably to piety, that
thou mayest be content with the lot which is assigned to thee,
for nature designed it for thee and thee for it. Conformably to
justice, that thou mayest always speak the truth freely and
without disguise, and do the things which are agreeable to law
and according to the worth of each. And let neither another
man's wickedness hinder thee, nor opinion nor voice, nor yet
the sensations of the poor flesh which has grown about thee;
for the passive part will look to this. If then, whatever the time
may be when thou shalt be near to thy departure, neglecting
everything else thou shalt respect only thy ruling faculty and
the divinity within thee, and if thou shalt be afraid not because
thou must some time cease to live, but if thou shalt fear never
to have begun to live according to nature- then thou wilt be a
man worthy of the universe which has produced thee, and thou
wilt cease to be a stranger in thy native land, and to wonder at
things which happen daily as if they were something
unexpected, and to be dependent on this or that.
God sees the minds (ruling principles) of all men bared of the
material vesture and rind and impurities. For with his
intellectual part alone he touches the intelligence only which
has flowed and been derived from himself into these bodies.
And if thou also usest thyself to do this, thou wilt rid thyself of
thy much trouble. For he who regards not the poor flesh which
envelops him, surely will not trouble himself by looking after
raiment and dwelling and fame and such like externals and
The things are three of which thou art composed, a little
body, a little breath (life), intelligence. Of these the first two
are thine, so far as it is thy duty to take care of them; but the
third alone is properly thine. Therefore if thou shalt separate
from thyself, that is, from thy understanding, whatever others
do or say, and whatever thou hast done or said thyself, and
whatever future things trouble thee because they may happen,
and whatever in the body which envelops thee or in the breath
(life), which is by nature associated with the body, is attached
to thee independent of thy will, and whatever the external
circumfluent vortex whirls round, so that the intellectual power
exempt from the things of fate can live pure and free by itself,
doing what is just and accepting what happens and saying the
truth: if thou wilt separate, I say, from this ruling faculty the
things which are attached to it by the impressions of sense,
and the things of time to come and of time that is past, and
wilt make thyself like Empedocles' sphere, All round, and in its
joyous rest reposing; and if thou shalt strive to live only what is
really thy life, that is, the present- then thou wilt be able to
pass that portion of life which remains for thee up to the time
of thy death, free from perturbations, nobly, and obedient to
thy own daemon (to the god that is within thee).
I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself
more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his
own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others. If then a
god or a wise teacher should present himself to a man and bid
him to think of nothing and to design nothing which he would
not express as soon as he conceived it, he could not endure it
even for a single day. So much more respect have we to what
our neighbours shall think of us than to what we shall think of
How can it be that the gods after having arranged all things
well and benevolently for mankind, have overlooked this alone,
that some men and very good men, and men who, as we may
say, have had most communion with the divinity, and through
pious acts and religious observances have been most intimate
with the divinity, when they have once died should never exist
again, but should be completely extinguished?
But if this is so, be assured that if it ought to have been
otherwise, the gods would have done it. For if it were just, it
would also be possible; and if it were according to nature,
nature would have had it so. But because it is not so, if in fact
it is not so, be thou convinced that it ought not to have been
so:- for thou seest even of thyself that in this inquiry thou art
disputing with the diety; and we should not thus dispute with
the gods, unless they were most excellent and most just;- but
if this is so, they would not have allowed anything in the
ordering of the universe to be neglected unjustly and
Practise thyself even in the things which thou despairest of
accomplishing. For even the left hand, which is ineffectual for
all other things for want of practice, holds the bridle more
vigorously than the right hand; for it has been practised in this.
Consider in what condition both in body and soul a man
should be when he is overtaken by death; and consider the
shortness of life, the boundless abyss of time past and future,
the feebleness of all matter.
Contemplate the formative principles (forms) of things bare
of their coverings; the purposes of actions; consider what pain
is, what pleasure is, and death, and fame; who is to himself the
cause of his uneasiness; how no man is hindered by another;
that everything is opinion.
In the application of thy principles thou must be like the
pancratiast, not like the gladiator; for the gladiator lets fall the
sword which he uses and is killed; but the other always has his
hand, and needs to do nothing else than use it.
See what things are in themselves, dividing them into
matter, form and purpose.
What a power man has to do nothing except what God will
approve, and to accept all that God may give him.
With respect to that which happens conformably to nature,
we ought to blame neither gods, for they do nothing wrong
either voluntarily or involuntarily, nor men, for they do nothing
wrong except involuntarily. Consequently we should blame
How ridiculous and what a stranger he is who is surprised at
anything which happens in life.
Either there is a fatal necessity and invincible order, or a kind
Providence, or a confusion without a purpose and without a
director (Book IV). If then there is an invincible necessity, why
dost thou resist? But if there is a Providence which allows itself
to be propitiated, make thyself worthy of the help of the
divinity. But if there is a confusion without governor, be
content that in such a tempest thou hast in thyself a certain
ruling intelligence. And even if the tempest carry thee away,
let it carry away the poor flesh, the poor breath, everything
else; for the intelligence at least it will not carry away.
Does the light of the lamp shine without losing its splendour
until it is extinguished; and shall the truth which is in thee and
justice and temperance be extinguished before thy death?
When a man has presented the appearance of having done
wrong, say, How then do I know if this is a wrongful act? And
even if he has done wrong, how do I know that he has not
condemned himself? and so this is like tearing his own face.
Consider that he, who would not have the bad man do wrong,
is like the man who would not have the fig-tree to bear juice in
the figs and infants to cry and the horse to neigh, and
whatever else must of necessity be. For what must a man do
who has such a character? If then thou art irritable, cure this
man's disposition.
If it is not right, do not do it: if it is not true, do not say it. For
let thy efforts be.
In everything always observe what the thing is which
produces for thee an appearance, and resolve it by dividing it
into the formal, the material, the purpose, and the time within
which it must end.
Perceive at last that thou hast in thee something better and
more divine than the things which cause the various affects,
and as it were pull thee by the strings. What is there now in my
mind? Is it fear, or suspicion, or desire, or anything of the kind?
First, do nothing inconsiderately, nor without a purpose.
Second, make thy acts refer to nothing else than to a social
end. Consider that before long thou wilt be nobody and
nowhere, nor will any of the things exist which thou now seest,
nor any of those who are now living. For all things are formed
by nature to change and be turned and to perish in order that
other things in continuous succession may exist.
Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in thy
power. Take away then, when thou choosest, thy opinion, and
like a mariner, who has doubled the promontory, thou wilt find
calm, everything stable, and a waveless bay.
Any one activity whatever it may be, when it has ceased at
its proper time, suffers no evil because it has ceased; nor he
who has done this act, does he suffer any evil for this reason
that the act has ceased. In like manner then the whole which
consists of all the acts, which is our life, if it cease at its proper
time, suffers no evil for this reason that it has ceased; nor he
who has terminated this series at the proper time, has he been
ill dealt with. But the proper time and the limit nature fixes,
sometimes as in old age the peculiar nature of man, but
always the universal nature, by the change of whose parts the
whole universe continues ever young and perfect.
And everything which is useful to the universal is always
good and in season. Therefore the termination of life for every
man is no evil, because neither is it shameful, since it is both
independent of the will and not opposed to the general
interest, but it is good, since it is seasonable and profitable to
and congruent with the universal. For thus too he is moved by
the deity who is moved in the same manner with the deity and
moved towards the same things in his mind.
These three principles thou must have in readiness. In the
things which thou doest do nothing either inconsiderately or
otherwise than as justice herself would act; but with respect to
what may happen to thee from without, consider that it
happens either by chance or according to Providence, and thou
must neither blame chance nor accuse Providence. Second,
consider what every being is from the seed to the time of its
receiving a soul, and from the reception of a soul to the giving
back of the same, and of what things every being is
compounded and into what things it is resolved. Third, if thou
shouldst suddenly be raised up above the earth, and shouldst
look down on human things, and observe the variety of them
how great it is, and at the same time also shouldst see at a
glance how great is the number of beings who dwell around in
the air and the aether, consider that as often as thou shouldst
be raised up, thou wouldst see the same things, sameness of
form and shortness of duration. Are these things to be proud
Cast away opinion: thou art saved. Who then hinders thee
from casting it away?
When thou art troubled about anything, thou hast forgotten
this, that all things happen according to the universal nature;
and forgotten this, that a man's wrongful act is nothing to
thee; and further thou hast forgotten this, that everything
which happens, always happened so and will happen so, and
now happens so everywhere; forgotten this too, how close is
the kinship between a man and the whole human race, for it is
a community, not of a little blood or seed, but of intelligence.
And thou hast forgotten this too, that every man's intelligence
is a god, and is an efflux of the deity; and forgotten this, that
nothing is a man's own, but that his child and his body and his
very soul came from the deity; forgotten this, that everything
is opinion; and lastly thou hast forgotten that every man lives
the present time only, and loses only this.
Constantly bring to thy recollection those who have
complained greatly about anything, those who have been most
conspicuous by the greatest fame or misfortunes or enmities
or fortunes of any kind: then think where are they all now?
Smoke and ash and a tale, or not even a tale. And let there be
present to thy mind also everything of this sort, how Fabius
Catullinus lived in the country, and Lucius Lupus in his
gardens, and Stertinius at Baiae, and Tiberius at Capreae and
Velius Rufus (or Rufus at Velia); and in fine think of the eager
pursuit of anything conjoined with pride; and how worthless
everything is after which men violently strain; and how much
more philosophical it is for a man in the opportunities
presented to him to show.
Translated by Hastings Crossley
Are these the only works of Providence within us? What
words suffice to praise or set them forth? Had we but
understanding, should we ever cease hymning and blessing
the Divine Power, both openly and in secret, and telling of His
gracious gifts? Whether digging or ploughing or eating, should
we not sing the hymn to God:—
Great is God, for that He hath given us such instruments to
till the ground withal: Great is God, for that He hath given us
hands and the power of swallowing and digesting; of
unconsciously growing and breathing while we sleep!
Thus should we ever have sung; yea and this, the grandest
and divinest hymn of all:—
Great is God, for that He hath given us a mind to apprehend
these things, and duly to use them!
What then! seeing that most of you are blinded, should there
not be some one to fill this place, and sing the hymn to God on
behalf of all men? What else can I that am old and lame do but
sing to God? Were I a nightingale, I should do after the manner
of a nightingale. Were I a swan, I should do after the manner of
a swan. But now, since I am a reasonable being, I must sing to
God: that is my work: I do it, nor will I desert this my post, as
long as it is granted me to hold it; and upon you too I call to
join in this self-same hymn.
How then do men act? As though one returning to his
country who had sojourned for the night in a fair inn, should be
so captivated thereby as to take up his abode there.
"Friend, thou hast forgotten thine intention! This was not thy
destination, but only lay on the way thither."
"Nay, but it is a proper place."
"And how many more of the sort there may be; only to pass
through upon thy way! Thy purpose was to return to thy
country; to relieve thy kinsmen's fears for thee; thyself to
discharge the duties of a citizen; to marry a wife, to beget
offspring, and to fill the appointed round of office. Thou didst
not come to choose out what places are most pleasant; but
rather to return to that wherein thou wast born and where wert
appointed to be a citizen."
Try to enjoy the great festival of life with other men.
But I have one whom I must please, to whom I must be
subject, whom I must obey:—God, and those who come next to
Him. He hath entrusted me with myself: He hath made my will
subject to myself alone and given me rules for the right use
Rufus used to say, If you have leisure to praise me, what I
say is naught. In truth he spoke in such wise, that each of us
who sat there, though that some one had accused him to
Rufus:—so surely did he lay his finger on the very deeds we
did: so surely display the faults of each before his very eyes.
But what saith God?—"Had it been possible, Epictetus, I
would have made both that body of thine and thy possessions
free and unimpeded, but as it is, be not deceived:—it is not
thine own; it is but finely tempered clay. Since then this I could
not do, I have given thee a portion of Myself, in the power of
desiring and declining and of pursuing and avoiding, and in a
word the power of dealing with the things of sense. And if thou
neglect not this, but place all that thou hast therein, thou shalt
never be let or hindered; thou shalt never lament; thou shalt
not blame or flatter any. What then? Seemeth this to thee a
little thing?"—God forbid!—"Be content then therewith!"
And so I pray the Gods.
What saith Antisthenes? Hast thou never heard?— It is a
kingly thing, O Cyrus, to do well and to be evil spoken of.
"Aye, but to debase myself thus were unworthy of me."
"That," said Epictetus, "is for you to consider, not for me. You
know yourself what you are worth in your own eyes; and at
what price you will sell yourself. For men sell themselves at
various prices. This was why, when Florus was deliberating
whether he should appear at Nero's shows, taking part in the
performance himself, Agrippinus replied, 'But why do not you
appear?' he answered, 'Because I do not even consider the
question.' For the man who has once stooped to consider such
questions, and to reckon up the value of external things, is not
far from forgetting what manner of man he is. Why, what is it
that you ask me? Is death preferable, or life? I reply, Life. Pain
or pleasure? I reply, Pleasure."
"Well, but if I do not act, I shall lose my head."
"Then go and act! But for my part I will not act."
"Because you think yourself but one among the many
threads which make up the texture of the doublet. You should
aim at being like men in general—just as your thread has no
ambition either to be anything distinguished compared with
the other threads. But I desire to be the purple—that small and
shining part which makes the rest seem fair and beautiful. Why
then do you bid me become even as the multitude? Then were
I no longer the purple."
If a man could be thoroughly penetrated, as he ought, with
this thought, that we are all in an especial manner sprung from
God, and that God is the Father of men as well as of Gods, full
surely he would never conceive aught ignoble or base of
himself. Whereas if Caesar were to adopt you, your haughty
looks would be intolerable; will you not be elated at knowing
that you are the son of God? Now however it is not so with us:
but seeing that in our birth these two things are commingled—
the body which we share with the animals, and the Reason and
Thought which we share with the Gods, many decline towards
this unhappy kinship with the dead, few rise to the blessed
kinship with the Divine. Since then every one must deal with
each thing according to the view which he forms about it,
those few who hold that they are born for fidelity, modesty,
and unerring sureness in dealing with the things of sense,
never conceive aught base or ignoble of themselves: but the
multitude the contrary. Why, what am I?—A wretched human
creature; with this miserable flesh of mine. Miserable indeed!
but you have something better than that paltry flesh of yours.
Why then cling to the one, and neglect the other?
Thou art but a poor soul laden with a lifeless body.
The other day I had an iron lamp placed beside my
household gods. I heard a noise at the door and on hastening
down found my lamp carried off. I reflected that the culprit was
in no very strange case. "Tomorrow, my friend," I said, "you will
find an earthenware lamp; for a man can only lose what he
The reason why I lost my lamp was that the thief was
superior to me in vigilance. He paid however this price for the
lamp, that in exchange for it he consented to become a thief:
in exchange for it, to become faithless.
But God hath introduced Man to be a spectator of Himself
and of His works; and not a spectator only, but also an
interpreter of them. Wherefore it is a shame for man to begin
and to leave off where the brutes do. Rather he should begin
there, and leave off where Nature leaves off in us: and that is
at contemplation, and understanding, and a manner of life that
is in harmony with herself.
See then that ye die not without being spectators of these
You journey to Olympia to see the work of Phidias; and each
of you holds it a misfortune not to have beheld these things
before you die. Whereas when there is no need even to take a
journey, but you are on the spot, with the works before you,
have you no care to contemplate and study these?
Will you not then perceive either who you are or unto what
end you were born: or for what purpose the power of
contemplation has been bestowed on you?
"Well, but in life there are some things disagreeable and hard
to bear."
And are there none at Olympia? Are you not scorched by the
heat? Are you not cramped for room? Have you not to bathe
with discomfort? Are you not drenched when it rains? Have you
not to endure the clamor and shouting and such annoyances
as these? Well, I suppose you set all this over against the
splendour of the spectacle and bear it patiently. What then?
have you not received greatness of heart, received courage,
received fortitude? What care I, if I am great of heart, for aught
that can come to pass? What shall cast me down or disturb
me? What shall seem painful? Shall I not use the power to the
end for which I received it, instead of moaning and wailing
over what comes to pass?
If what philosophers say of the kinship of God and Man be
true, what remains for men to do but as Socrates did:—never,
when asked one's country, to answer, "I am an Athenian or a
Corinthian," but "I am a citizen of the world."
He that hath grasped the administration of the World, who
hath learned that this Community, which consists of God and
men, is the foremost and mightiest and most comprehensive
of all:—that from God have descended the germs of life, not to
my father only and father's father, but to all things that are
born and grow upon the earth, and in an especial manner to
those endowed with Reason (for those only are by their nature
fitted to hold communion with God, being by means of Reason
conjoined with Him)—why should not such an one call himself
a citizen of the world? Why not a son of God? Why should he
fear aught that comes to pass among men? Shall kinship with
Caesar, or any other of the great at Rome, be enough to hedge
men around with safety and consideration, without a thought
of apprehension: while to have God for our Maker, and Father,
and Kinsman, shall not this set us free from sorrows and fears?
I do not think that an old fellow like me need have been
sitting here to try and prevent your entertaining abject notions
of yourselves, and talking of yourselves in an abject and
ignoble way: but to prevent there being by chance among you
any such young men as, after recognising their kindred to the
Gods, and their bondage in these chains of the body and its
manifold necessities, should desire to cast them off as burdens
too grievous to be borne, and depart their true kindred. This is
the struggle in which your Master and Teacher, were he worthy
of the name, should be engaged. You would come to me and
say: "Epictetus, we can no longer endure being chained to this
wretched body, giving food and drink and rest and purification:
aye, and for its sake forced to be subservient to this man and
that. Are these not things indifferent and nothing to us? Is it
not true that death is no evil? Are we not in a manner kinsmen
of the Gods, and have we not come from them? Let us depart
thither, whence we came: let us be freed from these chains
that confine and press us down. Here are thieves and robbers
and tribunals: and they that are called tyrants, who deem that
they have after a fashion power over us, because of the
miserable body and what appertains to it. Let us show them
that they have power over none."
And to this I reply:—
"Friends, wait for God. When He gives the signal, and
releases you from this service, then depart to Him. But for the
present, endure to dwell in the place wherein He hath assigned
you your post. Short indeed is the time of your habitation
therein, and easy to those that are minded. What tyrant, what
robber, what tribunals have any terrors for those who thus
esteem the body and all that belong to it as of no account?
Stay; depart not rashly hence!"
Something like that is what should pass between a teacher
and ingenuous youths. As it is, what does pass? The teacher is
a lifeless body, and you are lifeless bodies yourselves. When
you have had enough to eat today, you sit down and weep
about tomorrow's food. Slave! if you have it, well and good; if
not, you will depart: the door is open—why lament? What
further room is there for tears? What further occasion for
flattery? Why should one envy another? Why should you stand
in awe of them that have much or are placed in power,
especially if they be also strong and passionate? Why, what
should they do to us? What they can do, we will not regard:
what does concern us, that they cannot do. Who then shall rule
one that is thus minded?
Seeing this then, and noting well the faculties which you
have, you should say,—"Send now, O God, any trial that Thou
wilt; lo, I have means and powers given me by Thee to acquit
myself with honour through whatever comes to pass!"—No;
but there you sit, trembling for fear certain things should come
to pass, and moaning and groaning and lamenting over what
does come to pass. And then you upbraid the Gods. Such
meanness of spirit can have but one result—impiety.
Yet God has not only given us these faculties by means of
which we may bear everything that comes to pass without
being crushed or depressed thereby; but like a good King and
Father, He has given us this without let or hindrance, placed
wholly at our own disposition, without reserving to Himself any
power of impediment or restraint. Though possessing all these
things free and all you own, you do not use them! you do not
perceive what it is you have received nor whence it comes, but
sit moaning and groaning; some of you blind to the Giver,
making no acknowledgment to your Benefactor; others basely
giving themselves to complaints and accusations against God.
Yet what faculties and powers you possess for attaining
courage and greatness of heart, I can easily show you; what
you have for upbraiding and accusation, it is for you to show
How did Socrates bear himself in this regard? How else than
as became one who was fully assured that he was the kinsman
of Gods?
If God had made that part of His own nature which He
severed from Himself and gave to us, liable to be hindered or
constrained either by Himself or any other, He would not have
been God, nor would He have been taking care of us as He
ought . . . . If you choose, you are free; if you choose, you need
blame no man—accuse no man. All things will be at once
according to your mind and according to the Mind of God.
Petrifaction is of two sorts. There is petrifaction of the
understanding; and also of the sense of shame. This happens
when a man obstinately refuses to acknowledge plain truths,
and persists in maintaining what is self-contradictory. Most of
us dread mortification of the body, and would spare no pains to
escape anything of that kind. But of mortification of the soul
we are utterly heedless. With regard, indeed, to the soul, if a
man is in such a state as to be incapable of following or
understanding anything, I grant you we do think him in a bad
way. But mortification of the sense of shame and modesty we
go so far as to dub strength of mind!
If we were as intent upon our business as the old fellows at
Rome are upon what interests them, we too might perhaps
accomplish something. I know a man older than I am, now
Superintendent of the Corn-market at Rome, and I remember
when he passed through this place on his way back from exile,
what an account he gave me of his former life, declaring that
for the future, once home again, his only care should be to
pass his remaining years in quiet and tranquility. "For how few
years have I left!" he cried. "That," I said, "you will not do; but
the moment the scent of Rome is in your nostrils, you will
forget it all; and if you can but gain admission to Court, you
will be glad enough to elbow your way in, and thank God for
it." "Epictetus," he replied, "if ever you find me setting as much
as one foot within the Court, think what you will of me."
Well, as it was, what did he do? Ere ever he entered the city,
he was met by a despatch from the Emperor. He took it, and
forgot the whole of his resolutions. From that moment, he has
been piling one thing upon another. I should like to be beside
him to remind him of what he said when passing this way, and
to add, How much better a prophet I am than you!
What then? do I say man is not made for an active life? Far
from it! . . . But there is a great difference between other
men's occupations and ours. . . . A glance at theirs will make it
clear to you. All day long they do nothing but calculate,
contrive, consult how to wring their profit out of food-stuffs,
farm-plots and the like. . . . Whereas, I entreat you to learn
what the administration of the World is, and what place a
Being endowed with reason holds therein: to consider what
you are yourself, and wherein your Good and Evil consists.
A man asked me to write to Rome on his behalf who, as most
people thought, had met with misfortune; for having been
before wealthy and distinguished, he had afterwards lost all
and was living here. So I wrote about him in a humble style. He
however on reading the letter returned it to me, with the
words: "I asked for your help, not for your pity. No evil has
happened unto me."
True instruction is this:—to learn to wish that each thing
should come to pass as it does. And how does it come to pass?
As the Disposer has disposed it. Now He has disposed that
there should be summer and winter, and plenty and dearth,
and vice and virtue, and all such opposites, for the harmony of
the whole.
Have this thought ever present with thee, when thou losest
any outward thing, what thou gainest in its stead; and if this be
the more precious, say not, I have suffered loss.
Concerning the Gods, there are who deny the very existence
of the Godhead; others say that it exists, but neither bestirs
nor concerns itself nor has forethought for anything. A third
party attributes to it existence and forethought, but only for
great and heavenly matters, not for anything that is on earth.
A fourth party admit things on earth as well as in heaven, but
only in general, and not with respect to each individual. A fifth,
of whom were Ulysses and Socrates are those that cry:—
I move not without Thy knowledge!
Considering all these things, the good and true man submits
his judgment to Him that administers the Universe, even as
good citizens to the law of the State. And he that is being
instructed should come thus minded:—How may I in all things
follow the Gods; and, How may I rest satisfied with the Divine
Administration; and, How may I become free? For he is free for
whom all things come to pass according to his will, and whom
none can hinder. What then, is freedom madness? God forbid.
For madness and freedom exist not together.
"But I wish all that I desire to come to pass and in the
manner that I desire."
—You are mad, you are beside yourself. Know you not that
Freedom is a glorious thing and of great worth? But that what I
desired at random I should wish at random to come to pass, so
far from being noble, may well be exceeding base.
You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to
become a man's own, unless each day he maintain it and hear
it maintained, as well as work it out in life.
You are impatient and hard to please. If alone, you call it
solitude: if in the company of men, you dub them conspirators
and thieves, and find fault with your very parents, children,
brothers, and neighbours. Whereas when by yourself you
should have called it Tranquillity and Freedom: and herein
deemed yourself like unto the Gods. And when in the company
of many, you should not have called it a wearisome crowd and
tumult, but an assembly and a tribunal; and thus accepted all
with contentment.
What then is the chastisement of those who accept it not? To
be as they are. Is any discontented with being alone? let him
be in solitude. Is any discontented with his parents? let him be
a bad son, and lament. Is any discontented with his children?
let him be a bad father.—"Throw him into prison!"—What
prison?—Where he is already: for he is there against his will;
and wherever a man is against his will, that to him is a prison.
Thus Socrates was not in prison, since he was there with his
own consent.
Knowest thou what a speck thou art in comparison with the
Universe?—-That is, with respect to the body; since with
respect to Reason, thou art not inferior to the Gods, nor less
than they. For the greatness of Reason is not measured by
length or height, but by the resolves of the mind. Place then
thy happiness in that wherein thou art equal to the Gods.
Asked how a man might eat acceptably to the Gods,
Epictetus replied:—If when he eats, he can be just, cheerful,
equable, temperate, and orderly, can he not thus eat
acceptably to the Gods? But when you call for warm water, and
your slave does not answer, or when he answers brings it
lukewarm, or is not even found to be in the house at all, then
not to be vexed nor burst with anger, is not that acceptable to
the Gods?
"But how can one endure such people?"
Slave, will you not endure your own brother, that has God to
his forefather, even as a son sprung from the same stock, and
of the same high descent as yourself? And if you are stationed
in a high position, are you therefor forthwith set up for a
tyrant? Remember who you are, and whom you rule, that they
are by nature your kinsmen, your brothers, the offspring of
"But I paid a price for them, not they for me."
Do you see whither you are looking—down to the earth, to
the pit, to those despicable laws of the dead? But to the laws
of the Gods you do not look.
When we are invited to a banquet, we take what is set before
us; and were one to call upon his host to set fish upon the
table or sweet things, he would be deemed absurd. Yet in a
word, we ask the Gods for what they do not give; and that,
although they have given us so many things!
Asked how a man might convince himself that every single
act of his was under the eye of God, Epictetus answered:—
"Do you not hold that things on earth and things in heaven
are continuous and in unison with each other?"
"I do," was the reply.
"Else how should the trees so regularly, as though by God's
command, at His bidding flower; at His bidding send forth
shoots, bear fruit and ripen it; at His bidding let it fall and shed
their leaves, and folded up upon themselves lie in quietness
and rest? How else, as the Moon waxes and wanes, as the Sun
approaches and recedes, can it be that such vicissitude and
alternation is seen in earthly things?
"If then all things that grow, nay, our own bodies, are thus
bound up with the whole, is not this still truer of our souls? And
if our souls are bound up and in contact with God, as being
very parts and fragments plucked from Himself, shall He not
feel every movement of theirs as though it were His own, and
belonging to His own nature?"
"But," you say, "I cannot comprehend all this at once."
"Why, who told you that your powers were equal to God's?"
Yet God hath placed by the side of each a man's own
Guardian Spirit, who is charged to watch over him—a Guardian
who sleeps not nor is deceived. For to what better or more
watchful Guardian could He have committed which of us? So
when you have shut the doors and made a darkness within,
remember never to say that you are alone; for you are not
alone, but God is within, and your Guardian Spirit, and what
light do they need to behold what you do? To this God you also
should have sworn allegiance, even as soldiers unto Caesar.
They, when their service is hired, swear to hold the life of
Caesar dearer than all else: and will you not swear your oath,
that are deemed worthy of so many and great gifts? And will
you not keep your oath when you have sworn it? And what
oath will you swear? Never to disobey, never to arraign or
murmur at aught that comes to you from His hand: never
unwillingly to do or suffer aught that necessity lays upon you.
"Is this oath like theirs?"
They swear to hold no other dearer than Caesar: you, to hold
our true selves dearer than all else beside.
"How shall my brother cease to be wroth with me?"
Bring him to me, and I will tell him. But to thee I have
nothing to say about his anger.
When one took counsel of Epictetus, saying, "What I seek is
this, how even though my brother be not reconciled to me, I
may still remain as Nature would have me to be," he replied:
"All great things are slow of growth; nay, this is true even of a
grape or of a fig. If then you say to me now, I desire a fig, I
shall answer, It needs time: wait till it first flower, then cast its
blossom, then ripen. Whereas then the fruit of the fig-tree
reaches not maturity suddenly nor yet in a single hour, do you
nevertheless desire so quickly, and easily to reap the fruit of
the mind of man?—Nay, expect it not, even though I bade
Epaphroditus had a shoemaker whom he sold as being goodfor-nothing. This fellow, by some accident, was afterwards
purchased by one of Caesar's men, and became a shoemaker
to Caesar. You should have seen what respect Epaphroditus
paid him then. "How does the good Felicion? Kindly let me
know!" And if any of us inquired, "What is Epaphroditus
doing?" the answer was, "He is consulting about so and so with
Felicion."—Had he not sold him as good-for-nothing? Who had
in a trice converted him into a wiseacre?
This is what comes of holding of importance anything but the
things that depend on the Will.
What you shun enduring yourself, attempt not to impose on
others. You shun slavery—beware of enslaving others! If you
can endure to do that, one would think you had been once
upon a time a slave yourself. For Vice has nothing in common
with virtue, nor Freedom with slavery.
Has a man been raised to tribuneship? Every one that he
meets congratulates him. One kisses him on the eyes, another
on the neck, while the slaves kiss his hands. He goes home to
find torches burning; he ascends to the Capitol to sacrifice.—
Who ever sacrificed for having had right desires; for having
conceived such inclinations as Nature would have him? In truth
we thank the Gods for that wherein we place our happiness.
A man was talking to me to-day about the priesthood of
Augustus. I said to him, "Let the thing go, my good Sir; you will
spend a good deal to no purpose."
"Well, but my name will be inserted in all documents and
"Will you be standing there to tell those that read them, That
is my name written there? And even if you could now be there
in every case, what will you do when you are dead?"
"At all events my name will remain."
"Inscribe it on a stone and it will remain just as well. And
think, beyond Nicopolis what memory of you will there be?"
"But I shall have a golden wreath to wear."
"If you must have a wreath, get a wreath of roses and put it
on; you will look more elegant!"
Above all, remember that the door stands open. Be not more
fearful than children; but as they, when they weary of the
game, cry, "I will play no more," even so, when thou art in the
like case, cry, "I will play no more" and depart. But if thou
stayest, make no lamentation.
Is there smoke in the room? If it be slight, I remain; if
grievous, I quit it. For you must remember this and hold it fast,
that the door stands open.
"You shall not dwell at Nicopolis!"
Well and good.
"Nor at Athens."
Then I will not dwell at Athens either.
"Nor at Rome."
Nor at Rome either.
"You shall dwell in Gyara!"
Well: but to dwell in Gyara seems to me like a grievous
smoke; I depart to a place where none can forbid me to dwell:
that habitation is open unto all! As for the last garment of all,
that is the poor body; beyond that, none can do aught unto
me. This why Demetrius said to Nero: "You threaten me with
death; it is Nature who threatens you!"
The beginning of philosophy is to know the condition of one's
own mind. If a man recognises that this is in a weakly state, he
will not then want to apply it to questions of the greatest
moment. As it is, men who are not fit to swallow even a
morsel, buy whole treatises and try to devour them.
Accordingly they either vomit them up again, or suffer from
indigestion, whence come gripings, fluxions, and fevers.
Whereas they should have stopped to consider their capacity.
In theory it is easy to convince an ignorant person: in actual
life, men not only object to offer themselves to be convinced,
but hate the man who has convinced them. Whereas Socrates
used to say that we should never lead a life not subjected to
This is the reason why Socrates, when reminded that he
should prepare for his trial, answered: "Thinkest thou not that I
have been preparing for it all my life?"
"In what way?"
"I have maintained that which in me lay!"
"How so?"
"I have never, secretly or openly, done a wrong unto any."
In what character dost thou now come forward?
As a witness summoned by God. "Come thou," saith God,
"and testify for me, for thou art worthy of being brought
forward as a witness by Me. Is aught that is outside thy will
either good or bad? Do I hurt any man? Have I placed the good
of each in the power of any other than himself? What witness
dost thou bear to God?"
"I am in evil state, Master, I am undone! None careth for me,
none giveth me aught: all men blame, all speak evil of me."
Is this the witness thou wilt bear, and do dishonour to the
calling wherewith He hath called thee, because He hath done
thee so great honour, and deemed thee worthy of being
summoned to bear witness in so great a cause?
Wouldst thou have men speak good of thee? speak good of
them. And when thou hast learned to speak good of them, try
to do good unto them, and thus thou wilt reap in return their
speaking good of thee.
When thou goest in to any of the great, remember that
Another from above sees what is passing, and that thou
shouldst please Him rather than man. He therefore asks thee:
"In the Schools, what didst thou call exile, imprisonment,
bonds, death and shame?"
"I called them things indifferent."
"What then dost thou call them now? Are they at all
"Is it then thou that art changed?"
"Say then, what are things indifferent?"
"Things that are not in our power."
"Say then, what follows?"
"That things which are not in our power are nothing to me."
"Say also what things you hold to be good."
"A will such as it ought to be, and a right use of the things of
"And what is the end?"
"To follow Thee!"
"That Socrates should ever have been so treated by the
Slave! why say "Socrates"? Speak of the thing as it is: That
ever then the poor body of Socrates should have been dragged
away and haled by main force to prison! That ever hemlock
should have been given to the body of Socrates; that that
should have breathed its life away!—Do you marvel at this? Do
you hold this unjust? Is it for this that you accuse God? Had
Socrates no compensation for this? Where then for him was
the ideal Good? Whom shall we hearken to, you or him? And
what says he?
"Anytus and Melitus may put me to death: to injure me is
beyond their power."
And again:—
"If such be the will of God, so let it be."
Nay, young man, for heaven's sake; but once thou hast
heard these words, go home and say to thyself:—"It is not
Epictetus that has told me these things: how indeed should
he? No, it is some gracious God through him. Else it would
never have entered his head to tell me them—he that is not
used to speak to any one thus. Well, then, let us not lie under
the wrath of God, but be obedient unto Him."—-Nay, indeed;
but if a raven by its croaking bears thee any sign, it is not the
raven but God that sends the sign through the raven; and if He
signifies anything to thee through human voice, will He not
cause the man to say these words to thee, that thou mayest
know the power of the Divine—how He sends a sign to some in
one way and to others in another, and on the greatest and
highest matters of all signifies His will through the noblest
What else does the poet mean:—
I spake unto him erst Myself, and sent
Hermes the shining One, to check and warn him,
The husband not to slay, nor woo the wife!
In the same way my friend Heraclitus, who had a trifling suit
about a petty farm at Rhodes, first showed the judges that his
cause was just, and then at the finish cried, "I will not entreat
you: nor do I care what sentence you pass. It is you who are on
your trial, not I!"—And so he ended the case.
As for us, we behave like a herd of deer. When they flee from
the huntsman's feathers in affright, which way do they turn?
What haven of safety do they make for? Why, they rush upon
the nets! And thus they perish by confounding what they
should fear with that wherein no danger lies. . . . Not death or
pain is to be feared, but the fear of death or pain. Well said the
poet therefore:—
Death has no terror; only a Death of shame!
How is it then that certain external things are said to be
natural, and other contrary to Nature?
Why, just as it might be said if we stood alone and apart
from others. A foot, for instance, I will allow it is natural should
be clean. But if you take it as a foot, and as a thing which does
not stand by itself, it will beseem it (if need be) to walk in the
mud, to tread on thorns, and sometimes even to be cut off, for
the benefit of the whole body; else it is no longer a foot. In
some such way we should conceive of ourselves also. What art
thou?—A man.—Looked at as standing by thyself and separate,
it is natural for thee in health and wealth long to live. But
looked at as a Man, and only as a part of a Whole, it is for that
Whole's sake that thou shouldest at one time fall sick, at
another brave the perils of the sea, again, know the meaning
of want and perhaps die an early death. Why then repine?
Knowest thou not that as the foot is no more a foot if detached
from the body, so thou in like case art no longer a Man? For
what is a Man? A part of a City:—first of the City of Gods and
Men; next, of that which ranks nearest it, a miniature of the
universal City. . . . In such a body, in such a world enveloping
us, among lives like these, such things must happen to one or
another. Thy part, then, being here, is to speak of these things
as is meet, and to order them as befits the matter.
That was a good reply which Diogenes made to a man who
asked him for letters of recommendation.—"That you are a
man, he will know when he sees you;—whether a good or bad
one, he will know if he has any skill in discerning the good or
bad. But if he has none, he will never know, though I write him
a thousand times."—It is as though a piece of silver money
desired to be recommended to some one to be tested. If the
man be a good judge of silver, he will know: the coin will tell its
own tale.
Even as the traveller asks his way of him that he meets,
inclined in no wise to bear to the right rather than to the left
(for he desires only the way leading whither he would go), so
should we come unto God as to a guide; even as we use our
eyes without admonishing them to show us some things rather
than others, but content to receive the images of such things
as they present to us. But as it is we stand anxiously watching
the victim, and with the voice of supplication call upon the
augur:—"Master, have mercy on me: vouchsafe unto me a way
of escape!" Slave, would you then have aught else then what
is best? is there anything better than what is God's good
pleasure? Why, as far as in you lies, would you corrupt your
Judge, and lead your Counsellor astray?
God is beneficent. But the Good also is beneficent. It should
seem then that where the real nature of God is, there too is to
be found the real nature of the Good. What then is the real
nature of God?—Intelligence, Knowledge, Right Reason. Here
then without more ado seek the real nature of the Good. For
surely thou dost not seek it in a plant or in an animal that
reasoneth not.
Seek then the real nature of the Good in that without whose
presence thou wilt not admit the Good to exist in aught else.—
What then? Are not these other things also works of God?—
They are; but not preferred to honour, nor are they portions of
God. But thou art a thing preferred to honour: thou art thyself
a fragment torn from God:—thou hast a portion of Him within
thyself. How is it then that thou dost not know thy high descent
—dost not know whence thou comest? When thou eatest, wilt
thou not remember who thou art that eatest and whom thou
feedest? In intercourse, in exercise, in discussion knowest thou
not that it is a God whom thou feedest, a God whom thou
exercisest, a God whom thou bearest about with thee, O
miserable! and thou perceivest it not. Thinkest thou that I
speak of a God of silver or gold, that is without thee? Nay, thou
bearest Him within thee! all unconscious of polluting Him with
thoughts impure and unclean deeds. Were an image of God
present, thou wouldest not dare to act as thou dost, yet, when
God Himself is present within thee, beholding and hearing all,
thou dost not blush to think such thoughts and do such deeds,
O thou that art insensible of thine own nature and liest under
the wrath of God!
Why then are we afraid when we send a young man from the
Schools into active life, lest he should indulge his appetites
intemperately, lest he should debase himself by ragged
clothing, or be puffed up by fine raiment? Knows he not the
God within him; knows he not with whom he is starting on his
way? Have we patience to hear him say to us, Would I had
thee with me!—Hast thou not God where thou art, and having
Him dost thou still seek for any other! Would He tell thee aught
else than these things? Why, wert thou a statue of Phidias, an
Athena or a Zeus, thou wouldst bethink thee both of thyself
and thine artificer; and hadst thou any sense, thou wouldst
strive to do no dishonour to thyself or him that fashioned thee,
nor appear to beholders in unbefitting guise. But now, because
God is thy Maker, is that why thou carest not of what sort thou
shalt show thyself to be? Yet how different the artists and their
workmanship! What human artist's work, for example, has in it
the faculties that are displayed in fashioning it? Is it aught but
marble, bronze, gold, or ivory? Nay, when the Athena of
Phidias has put forth her hand and received therein a Victory,
in that attitude she stands for evermore. But God's works
move and breathe; they use and judge the things of sense. The
workmanship of such an Artist, wilt thou dishonor Him? Ay,
when he not only fashioned thee, but placed thee, like a ward,
in the care and guardianship of thyself alone, wilt thou not only
forget this, but also do dishonour to what is committed to thy
care! If God had entrusted thee with an orphan, wouldst thou
have thus neglected him? He hath delivered thee to thine own
care, saying, I had none more faithful than myself: keep this
man for me such as Nature hath made him—modest, faithful,
high-minded, a stranger to fear, to passion, to perturbation. . .
Such will I show myself to you all.—"What, exempt from
sickness also: from age, from death?"—Nay, but accepting
sickness, accepting death as becomes a God!
No labour, according to Diogenes, is good but that which
aims at producing courage and strength of soul rather than of
A guide, on finding a man who has lost his way, brings him
back to the right path—he does not mock and jeer at him and
then take himself off. You also must show the unlearned man
the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as
you do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel
your own incapacity.
It was the first and most striking characteristic of Socrates
never to become heated in discourse, never to utter an
injurious or insulting word—on the contrary, he persistently
bore insult from others and thus put an end to the fray. If you
care to know the extent of his power in this direction, read
Xenophon's Banquet, and you will see how many quarrels he
put an end to. This is why the Poets are right in so highly
commending this faculty:—
Quickly and wisely withal even bitter feuds would he settle.
Nevertheless the practice is not very safe at present,
especially in Rome. One who adopts it, I need not say, ought
not to carry it out in an obscure corner, but boldly accost, if
occasion serve, some personage of rank or wealth.
"Can you tell me, sir, to whose care you entrust your
"I can."
"Is it to the first comer, who knows nothing about them?"
"Certainly not."
"Well, what of the man who takes care of your gold, your
silver or your raiment?"
"He must be experienced also."
"And your body—have you ever considered about entrusting
it to any one's care?"
"Of course I have."
"And no doubt to a person of experience as a trainer, a
"And these things the best you possess, or have you
anything more precious?"
"What can you mean?"
"I mean that which employs these; which weights all things;
which takes counsel and resolve."
"Oh, you mean the soul."
"You take me rightly; I do mean the soul. By Heaven, I hold
that far more precious than all else I possess. Can you show
me then what care you bestow on a soul? For it can scarcely be
thought that a man of your wisdom and consideration in the
city would suffer your most precious possession to go to ruin
through carelessness and neglect."
"Certainly not."
"Well, do you take care of it yourself? Did any one teach you
the right method, or did you discover it yourself?"
Now here comes in the danger: first, that the great man may
answer, "Why, what is that to you, my good fellow? are you my
master?" And then, if you persist in troubling him, may raise
his hand to strike you. It is a practice of which I was myself a
warm admirer until such experiences as these befell me.
When a youth was giving himself airs in the Theatre and
saying, "I am wise, for I have conversed with many wise men,"
Epictetus replied, "I too have conversed with many rich men,
yet I am not rich!"
We see that a carpenter becomes a carpenter by learning
certain things: that a pilot, by learning certain things, becomes
a pilot. Possibly also in the present case the mere desire to be
wise and good is not enough. It is necessary to learn certain
things. This is then the object of our search. The Philosophers
would have us first learn that there is a God, and that His
Providence directs the Universe; further, that to hide from Him
not only one's acts but even one's thoughts and intentions is
impossible; secondly, what the nature of God is. Whatever that
nature is discovered to be, the man who would please and
obey Him must strive with all his might to be made like unto
him. If the Divine is faithful, he also must be faithful; if free, he
also must be free; if beneficent, he also must be beneficent; if
magnanimous, he also must be magnanimous. Thus as an
imitator of God must he follow Him in every deed and word.
If I show you, that you lack just what is most important and
necessary to happiness, that hitherto your attention has been
bestowed on everything rather than that which claims it most;
and, to crown all, that you know neither what God nor Man is—
neither what Good or Evil is: why, that you are ignorant of
everything else, perhaps you may bear to be told; but to hear
that you know nothing of yourself, how could you submit to
that? How could you stand your ground and suffer that to be
proved? Clearly not at all. You instantly turn away in wrath. Yet
what harm have I done to you? Unless indeed the mirror harms
the ill-favoured man by showing him to himself just as he is;
unless the physician can be thought to insult his patient, when
he tells him:—"Friend, do you suppose there is nothing wrong
with you? why, you have a fever. Eat nothing to-day, and drink
only water." Yet no one says, "What an insufferable insult!"
Whereas if you say to a man, "Your desires are inflamed, your
instincts of rejection are weak and low, your aims are
inconsistent, your impulses are not in harmony with Nature,
your opinions are rash and false," he forthwith goes away and
complains that you have insulted him.
Our way of life resembles a fair. The flocks and herds are
passing along to be sold, and the greater part of the crowd to
buy and sell. But there are some few who come only to look at
the fair, to inquire how and why it is being held, upon what
authority and with what object. So too, in this great Fair of life,
some, like the cattle, trouble themselves about nothing but the
fodder. Know all of you, who are busied about land, slaves and
public posts, that these are nothing but fodder! Some few
there are attending the Fair, who love to contemplate what the
world is, what He that administers it. Can there be no
Administrator? is it possible, that while neither city nor
household could endure even a moment without one to
administer and see to its welfare, this Fabric, so fair, so vast,
should be administered in order so harmonious, without a
purpose and by blind chance? There is therefore an
Administrator. What is His nature and how does He administer?
And who are we that are His children and what work were we
born to perform? Have we any close connection or relation with
Him or not?
Such are the impressions of the few of whom I speak. And
further, they apply themselves solely to considering and
examining the great assembly before they depart. Well, they
are derided by the multitude. So are the lookers-on by the
traders: aye, and if the beasts had any sense, they would
deride those who thought much of anything but fodder!
I think I know now what I never knew before—the meaning of
the common saying, A fool you can neither bend nor break.
Pray heaven I may never have a wise fool for my friend! There
is nothing more intractable.—"My resolve is fixed!"—Why so
madman say too; but the more firmly they believe in their
delusions, the more they stand in need of treatment.
—"O! when shall I see Athens and its Acropolis again?"—
Miserable man! art thou not contented with the daily sights
that meet thine eyes? canst thou behold aught greater or
nobler than the Sun, Moon, and Stars; than the outspread
Earth and Sea? If indeed thou apprehendest Him who
administers the universe, if thou bearest Him about within
thee, canst thou still hanker after mere fragments of stone and
fine rock? When thou art about to bid farewell to the Sun and
Moon itself, wilt thou sit down and cry like a child? Why, what
didst thou hear, what didst thou learn? why didst thou write
thyself down a philosopher, when thou mightest have written
what was the fact, namely, "I have made one or two
Compendiums, I have read some works of Chrysippus, and I
have not even touched the hem of Philosophy's robe!"
Friend, lay hold with a desperate grasp, ere it is too late, on
Freedom, on Tranquility, on Greatness of soul! Lift up thy head,
as one escaped from slavery; dare to look up to God, and say:
—"Deal with me henceforth as Thou wilt; Thou and I are of one
mind. I am Thine: I refuse nothing that seeeth good to Thee;
lead on whither Thou wilt; clothe me in what garb Thou
pleasest; wilt Thou have me a ruler or a subject—at home or in
exile—poor or rich? All these things will I justify unto men for
Thee. I will show the true nature of each. . . ."
Who would Hercules have been had he loitered at home? no
Hercules, but Eurystheus. And in his wanderings through the
world how many friends and comrades did he find? but nothing
dearer to him than God. Wherefore he was believed to be
God's son, as indeed he was. So then in obedience to Him, he
went about delivering the earth from injustice and lawlessness.
But thou art not Hercules, thou sayest, and canst not deliver
others from their iniquity—not even Theseus, to deliver the soil
of Attica from its monsters? Purge away thine own, cast forth
thence—from thine own mind, not robbers and monsters, but
Intemperance. And these may not be cast out, except by
looking to God alone, by fixing thy affections on Him only, and
by consecrating thyself to His commands. If thou choosest
aught else, with sighs and groans thou wilt be forced to follow
a Might greater than thine own, ever seeking Tranquillity
without, and never able to attain unto her. For thou seekest her
where she is not to be found; and where she is, there thou
seekest her not!
If a man would pursue Philosophy, his first task is to throw
away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn
what he has a conceit that he already knows.
Give me but one young man, that has come to the School
with this intention, who stands forth a champion of this cause,
and says, "All else I renounce, content if I am but able to pass
my life free from hindrance and trouble; to raise my head aloft
and face all things as a free man; to look up to heaven as a
friend of God, fearing nothing that may come to pass!" Point
out such a one to me, that I may say, "Enter, young man, into
possession of that which is thine own. For thy lot is to adorn
Philosophy. Thine are these possessions; thine these books,
these discourses!"
And when our champion has duly exercised himself in this
part of the subject, I hope he will come back to me and say:
—"What I desire is to be free from passion and from
perturbation; as one who grudges no pains in the pursuit of
piety and philosophy, what I desire is to know my duty to the
Gods, my duty to my parents, to my brothers, to my country,
to strangers."
"Enter then on the second part of the subject; it is thine
"But I have already mastered the second part; only I wished
to stand firm and unshaken—as firm when asleep as when
awake, as firm when elated with wine as in despondency and
"Friend, you are verily a God! you cherish great designs."
"The question at stake," said Epictetus, "is no common one;
it is this:—Are we in our senses, or are we not?"
If you have given way to anger, be sure that over and above
the evil involved therein, you have strengthened the habit, and
added fuel to the fire. If overcome by a temptation of the flesh,
do not reckon it a single defeat, but that you have also
strengthened your dissolute habits. Habits and faculties are
necessarily affected by the corresponding acts. Those that
were not there before, spring up: the rest gain in strength and
extent. This is the account which Philosophers give of the
origin of diseases of the mind:—Suppose you have once lusted
after money: if reason sufficient to produce a sense of evil be
applied, then the lust is checked, and the mind at once regains
its original authority; whereas if you have recourse to no
remedy, you can no longer look for this return—on the
contrary, the next time it is excited by the corresponding
object, the flame of desire leaps up more quickly than before.
By frequent repetition, the mind in the long run becomes
callous; and thus this mental disease produces confirmed
One who has had fever, even when it has left him, is not in
the same condition of health as before, unless indeed his cure
is complete. Something of the same sort is true also of
diseases of the mind. Behind, there remains a legacy of traces
and blisters: and unless these are effectually erased,
subsequent blows on the same spot will produce no longer
mere blisters, but sores. If you do not wish to be prone to
anger, do not feed the habit; give it nothing which may tend its
increase. At first, keep quiet and count the days when you
were not angry: "I used to be angry every day, then every
other day: next every two, next every three days!" and if you
succeed in passing thirty days, sacrifice to the Gods in
How then may this be attained?—Resolve, now if never
before, to approve thyself to thyself; resolve to show thyself
fair in God's sight; long to be pure with thine own pure self and
That is the true athlete, that trains himself to resist such
outward impressions as these.
"Stay, wretched man! suffer not thyself to be carried away!"
Great is the combat, divine the task! you are fighting for
Kingship, for Liberty, for Happiness, for Tranquillity. Remember
God: call upon Him to aid thee, like a comrade that stands
beside thee in the fight.
Who then is a Stoic—in the sense that we call a statue of
Phidias which is modelled after that master's art? Show me a
man in this sense modelled after the doctrines that are ever
upon his lips. Show me a man that is sick—and happy; an exile
—and happy; in evil report—and happy! Show me him, I ask
again. So help me Heaven, I long to see one Stoic! Nay, if you
cannot show me one fully modelled, let me at least see one in
whom the process is at work—one whose bent is in that
direction. Do me that favour! Grudge it not to an old man, to
behold a sight he has never yet beheld. Think you I wish to see
the Zeus or Athena of Phidias, bedecked with gold and ivory?—
Nay, show me, one of you, a human soul, desiring to be of one
mind with God, no more to lay blame on God or man, to suffer
nothing to disappoint, nothing to cross him, to yield neither to
anger, envy, nor jealousy—in a word, why disguise the matter?
one that from a man would fain become a God; one that while
still imprisoned in this dead body makes fellowship with God
his aim. Show me him!—Ah, you cannot! Then why mock
yourselves and delude others? why stalk about tricked out in
other men's attire, thieves and robbers that you are of names
and things to which you can show no title!
If you have assumed a character beyond your strength, you
have both played a poor figure in that, and neglected one that
is within your powers.
Fellow, you have come to blows at home with a slave: you
have turned the household upside down, and thrown the
neighbourhood into confusion; and do you come to me then
with airs of assumed modesty—do you sit down like a sage and
criticise my explanation of the readings, and whatever idle
babble you say has come into my head? Have you come full of
envy, and dejected because nothing is sent you from home;
and while the discussion is going on, do you sit brooding on
nothing but how your father or your brother are disposed
towards you:—"What are they saying about me there? at this
moment they imagine I am making progress and saying, He
will return perfectly omniscient! I wish I could become
omniscient before I return; but that would be very
troublesome. No one sends me anything—the baths at
Nicopolis are dirty; things are wretched at home and wretched
here." And then they say, "Nobody is any the better for the
School."—Who comes to the School with a sincere wish to
learn: to submit his principles to correction and himself to
treatment? Who, to gain a sense of his wants? Why then be
surprised if you carry home from the School exactly what you
bring into it?
"Epictetus, I have often come desiring to hear you speak,
and you have never given me any answer; now if possible, I
entreat you, say something to me."
"Is there, do you think," replied Epictetus, "an art of speaking
as of other things, if it is to be done skilfully and with profit to
the hearer?"
"And are all profited by what they hear, or only some among
them? So that it seems there is an art of hearing as well as of
speaking. . . . To make a statue needs skill: to view a statue
aright needs skill also."
"And I think all will allow that one who proposes to hear
philosophers speak needs a considerable training in hearing. Is
that not so? The tell me on what subject your are able to hear
"Why, on good and evil."
"The good and evil of what? a horse, an ox?"
"No; of a man."
"Do we know then what Man is? what his nature is? what is
the idea we have of him? And are our ears practised in any
degree on the subject? Nay, do you understand what Nature
is? can you follow me in any degree when I say that I shall
have to use demonstration? Do you understand what
Demonstration is? what True or False is? . . . must I drive you to
Philosophy? . . . Show me what good I am to do by discoursing
with you. Rouse my desire to do so. The sight of a pasture it
loves stirs in a sheep the desire to feed: show it a stone or a
bit of bread and it remains unmoved. Thus we also have
certain natural desires, aye, and one that moves us to speak
when we find a listener that is worth his salt: one that himself
stirs the spirit. But if he sits by like a stone or a tuft of grass,
how can he rouse a man's desire?"
"Then you will say nothing to me?"
"I can only tell you this: that one who knows not who he is
and to what end he was born; what kind of world this is and
with whom he is associated therein; one who cannot
distinguish Good and Evil, Beauty and Foulness, . . . Truth and
Falsehood, will never follow Reason in shaping his desires and
impulses and repulsions, nor yet in assent, denial, or
suspension of judgement; but will in one word go about deaf
and blind, thinking himself to be somewhat, when he is in truth
of no account. Is there anything new in all this? Is not this
ignorance the cause of all the mistakes and mischances of
men since the human race began? . . ."
"This is all I have to say to you, and even this against the
grain. Why? Because you have not stirred my spirit. For what
can I see in you to stir me, as a spirited horse will stir a judge
of horses? Your body? That you maltreat. Your dress? That is
luxurious. You behavior, your look?—Nothing whatever. When
you want to hear a philosopher, do not say, You say nothing to
me'; only show yourself worthy or fit to hear, and then you will
see how you will move the speaker."
And now, when you see brothers apparently good friends
and living in accord, do not immediately pronounce anything
upon their friendship, though they should affirm it with an
oath, though they should declare, "For us to live apart in a
thing impossible!" For the heart of a bad man is faithless,
unprincipled, inconstant: now overpowered by one impression,
now by another. Ask not the usual questions, Were they born of
the same parents, reared together, and under the same tutor;
but ask this only, in what they place their real interest—
whether in outward things or in the Will. If in outward things,
call them not friends, any more than faithful, constant, brave
or free: call them not even human beings, if you have any
sense. . . . But should you hear that these men hold the Good
to lie only in the Will, only in rightly dealing with the things of
sense, take no more trouble to inquire whether they are father
and son or brothers, or comrades of long standing; but, sure of
this one thing, pronounce as boldly that they are friends as
that they are faithful and just: for where else can Friendship be
found than where Modesty is, where there is an interchange of
things fair and honest, and of such only?
No man can rob us of our Will—no man can lord it over that!
When disease and death overtake me, I would fain be found
engaged in the task of liberating mine own Will from the
assaults of passion, from hindrance, from resentment, from
Thus would I fain to be found employed, so that I may say to
God, "Have I in aught transgressed Thy commands? Have I in
aught perverted the faculties, the senses, the natural
principles that Thou didst give me? Have I ever blamed Thee
or found fault with Thine administration? When it was Thy good
pleasure, I fell sick—and so did other men: by my will
consented. Because it was Thy pleasure, I became poor: but
my heart rejoiced. No power in the State was mine, because
Thou wouldst not: such power I never desired! Hast Thou ever
seen me of more doleful countenance on that account? Have I
not ever drawn nigh unto Thee with cheerful look, waiting upon
Thy commands, attentive to Thy signals? Wilt Thou that I now
depart from the great Assembly of men? I go: I give Thee all
thanks, that Thou hast deemed me worthy to take part with
Thee in this Assembly: to behold Thy works, to comprehend
this Thine administration."
Such I would were the subject of my thoughts, my pen, my
study, when death overtakes me.
Seemeth it nothing to you, never to accuse, never to blame
either God or Man? to wear ever the same countenance in
going forth as in coming in? This was the secret of Socrates:
yet he never said that he knew or taught anything. . . . Who
amongst you makes this his aim? Were it indeed so, you would
gladly endure sickness, hunger, aye, death itself.
How are we constituted by Nature? To be free, to be noble, to
be modest (for what other living thing is capable of blushing,
or of feeling the impression of shame?) and to subordinate
pleasure to the ends for which Nature designed us, as a
handmaid and a minister, in order to call forth our activity; in
order to keep us constant to the path prescribed by Nature.
The husbandman deals with land; physicians and trainers
with the body; the wise man with his own Mind.
Which of us does not admire what Lycurgus the Spartan did?
A young citizen had put out his eye, and been handed over to
him by the people to be punished at his own discretion.
Lycurgus abstained from all vengeance, but on the contrary
instructed and made a good man of him. Producing him in
public in the theatre, he said to the astonished Spartans:—"I
received this young man at your hands full of violence and
wanton insolence; I restore him to you in his right mind and fit
to serve his country."
A money-changer may not reject Caesar's coin, nor may the
seller of herbs, but must when once the coin is shown, deliver
what is sold for it, whether he will or no. So is it also with the
Soul. Once the Good appears, it attracts towards itself; evil
repels. But a clear and certain impression of the Good the Soul
will never reject, any more than men do Cæsar's coin. On this
hangs every impulse alike of Man and God.
Asked what Common Sense was, Epictetus replied:—
As that may be called a Common Ear which distinguishes
only sounds, while that which distinguishes musical notes is
not common but produced by training; so there are certain
things which men not entirely perverted see by the natural
principles common to all. Such a constitution of the Mind is
called Common Sense.
Canst thou judge men? . . . then make us imitators of thyself,
as Socrates did. Do this, do not do that, else will I cast thee
into prison; this is not governing men like reasonable
creatures. Say rather, As God hath ordained, so do; else thou
wilt suffer chastisement and loss. Askest thou what loss? None
other than this: To have left undone what thou shouldst have
done: to have lost the faithfulness, the reverence, the modesty
that is in thee! Greater loss than this seek not to find!
"His son is dead."
What has happened?
"His son is dead."
Nothing more?
"His ship is lost."
"He has been haled to prison."
What has happened?
"He has been haled to prison."
But that any of these things are misfortunes to him, is an
addition which every one makes of his own. But (you say) God
is unjust is this.—Why? For having given thee endurance and
greatness of soul? For having made such things to be no evils?
For placing happiness within thy reach, even when enduring
them? For open unto thee a door, when things make not for
thy good?—Depart, my friend and find fault no more!
You are sailing to Rome (you tell me) to obtain the post of
Governor of Cnossus. You are not content to stay at home with
the honours you had before; you want something on a larger
scale, and more conspicuous. But when did you ever undertake
a voyage for the purpose of reviewing your own principles and
getting rid of any of them that proved unsound? Whom did you
ever visit for that object? What time did you ever set yourself
for that? What age? Run over the times of your life—by
yourself, if you are ashamed before me. Did you examine your
principles when a boy? Did you not do everything just as you
do now? Or when you were a stripling, attending the school of
oratory and practising the art yourself, what did you ever
imagine you lacked? And when you were a young man,
entered upon public life, and were pleading causes and making
a name, who any longer seemed equal to you? And at what
moment would you have endured another examining your
principles and proving that they were unsound? What then am
I to say to you? "Help me in this matter!" you cry. Ah, for that I
have no rule! And neither did you, if that was your object,
come to me as a philosopher, but as you might have gone to a
herb-seller or a cobbler.—"What do philosophers have rules for,
then?"—Why, that whatever may betide, our ruling faculty may
be as Nature would have it, and so remain. Think you this a
small matter? Not so! but the greatest thing there is. Well,
does it need but a short time? Can it be grasped by a passerby?—grasp it, if you can!
Then you will say, "Yes, I met Epictetus!"
Aye, just as you might a statue or a monument. You saw me!
and that is all. But a man who meets a man is one who learns
the other's mind, and lets him see his in turn. Learn my mind—
show me yours; and then go and say that you met me. Let us
try each other; if I have any wrong principle, rid me of it; if you
have, out with it. That is what meeting a philosopher means.
Not so, you think; this is only a flying visit; while we are hiring
the ship, we can see Epictetus too! Let us see what he has to
say. Then on leaving you cry, "Out on Epictetus for a worthless
fellow, provincial and barbarous of speech!" What else indeed
did you come to judge of?
Whether you will or no, you are poorer than I!
"What then do I lack?"
What you have not: Constancy of mind, such as Nature
would have it be: Tranquillity. Patron or no patron, what care I?
but you do care. I am richer than you: I am not racked with
anxiety as to what Caesar may think of me; I flatter none on
that account. This is what I have, instead of vessels of gold and
silver! your vessels may be of gold, but your reason, your
principles, your accepted views, your inclinations, your desires
are of earthenware.
To you, all you have seems small: to me, all I have seems
great. Your desire is insatiable, mine is satisfied. See children
thrusting their hands into a narrow-necked jar, and striving to
pull out the nuts and figs it contains: if they fill the hand, they
cannot pull it out again, and then they fall to tears.—"Let go a
few of them, and then you can draw out the rest!"—You, too,
let your desire go! covet not many things, and you will obtain.
Pittacus wronged by one whom he had it in his power to
punish, let him go free, saying, Forgiveness is better than
revenge. The one shows native gentleness, the other savagery.
"My brother ought not to have treated me thus."
True: but he must see to that. However he may treat me, I
must deal rightly by him. This is what lies with me, what none
can hinder.
Nevertheless a man should also be prepared to be sufficient
unto himself—to dwell with himself alone, even as God dwells
with Himself alone, shares His repose with none, and considers
the nature of His own administration, intent upon such
thoughts as are meet unto Himself. So should we also be able
to converse with ourselves, to need none else beside, to sigh
for no distraction, to bend our thoughts upon the Divine
Administration, and how we stand related to all else; to
observe how human accidents touched us of old, and how they
touch us now; what things they are that still have power to
hurt us, and how they may be cured or removed; to perfect
what needs perfecting as Reason would direct.
If a man has frequent intercourse with others, either in the
way of conversation, entertainment, or simple familiarity, he
must either become like them, or change them to his own
fashion. A live coal placed next a dead one will either kindle
that or be quenched by it. Such being the risk, it is well to be
cautious in admitting intimacies of this sort, remembering that
one cannot rub shoulders with a soot-stained man without
sharing the soot oneself. What will you do, supposing the talk
turns on gladiators, or horses, or prize-fighters, or (what is
worse) on persons, condemning this and that, approving the
other? Or suppose a man sneers and jeers or shows a
malignant temper? Has any among us the skill of the luteplayer, who knows at the first touch which strings are out of
tune and sets the instrument right: has any of you such power
as Socrates had, in all his intercourse with men, of winning
them over to his own convictions? Nay, but you must needs be
swayed hither and thither by the uninstructed. How comes it
then that they prove so much stronger than you? Because they
speak from the fulness of the heart—their low, corrupt views
are their real convictions: whereas your fine sentiments are but
from the lips, outwards; that is why they are so nerveless and
dead. It turns one's stomach to listen to your exhortations, and
hear of your miserable Virtue, that you prate of up and down.
Thus it is that the Vulgar prove too strong for you. Everywhere
strength, everywhere victory waits your conviction!
In general, any methods of discipline applied to the body
which tend to modify its desires or repulsions, are good—for
ascetic ends. But if done for display, they betray at once a man
who keeps an eye on outward show; who has an ulterior
purpose, and is looking for spectators to shout, "Oh what a
great man!" This is why Apollonius so well said: "If you are
bent upon a little private discipline, wait till you are choking
with heat some day—then take a mouthful of cold water, and
spit it out again, and tell no man!"
Study how to give as one that is sick: that thou mayest
hereafter give as one that is whole. Fast; drink water only;
abstain altogether from desire, that thou mayest hereafter
conform thy desire to Reason.
Thou wouldst do good unto men? then show them by thine
own example what kind of men philosophy can make, and
cease from foolish trifling. Eating, do good to them that eat
with thee; drinking, to them that drink with thee; yield unto all,
give way, and bear with them. Thus shalt thou do them good:
but vent not upon them thine own evil humour!
Even as bad actors cannot sing alone, but only in chorus: so
some cannot walk alone.
Man, if thou art aught, strive to walk alone and hold
converse with thyself, instead of skulking in the chorus! at
length think; look around thee; bestir thyself, that thou mayest
know who thou art!
You would fain be victor at the Olympic games, you say. Yes,
but weigh the conditions, weigh the consequences; then and
then only, lay to your hand—if it be for your profit. You must
live by rule, submit to diet, abstain from dainty meats, exercise
your body perforce at stated hours, in heat or in cold; drink no
cold water, nor, it may be, wine. In a word, you must surrender
yourself wholly to your trainer, as though to a physician.
Then in the hour of contest, you will have to delve the
ground, it may chance dislocate an arm, sprain an ankle, gulp
down abundance of yellow sand, be scourge with the whip—
and with all this sometimes lose the victory. Count the cost—
and then, if your desire still holds, try the wrestler's life. Else
let me tell you that you will be behaving like a pack of children
playing now at wrestlers, now at gladiators; presently falling to
trumpeting and anon to stage-playing, when the fancy takes
them for what they have seen. And you are even the same:
wrestler, gladiator, philosopher, orator all by turns and none of
them with your whole soul. Like an ape, you mimic what you
see, to one thing constant never; the thing that is familiar
charms no more. This is because you never undertook aught
with due consideration, nor after strictly testing and viewing it
from every side; no, your choice was thoughtless; the glow of
your desire had waxed cold . . . .
Friend, bethink you first what it is you would do, and then
what your own nature is able to bear. Would you be a wrestler,
consider your shoulders, your thighs, your loins—not all men
are formed to the same end. Think you to be a philosopher
while acting as you do? think you go on thus eating, thus
drinking, giving way in like manner to wrath and to
displeasure? Nay, you must watch, you must labour; overcome
certain desires; quit your familiar friends, submit to be
despised by your slave, to be held in derision by them that
meet you, to take the lower place in all things, in office, in
positions of authority, in courts of law.
Weigh these things fully, and then, if you will, lay to your
hand; if as the price of these things you would gain Freedom,
Tranquillity, and passionless Serenity.
He that hath no musical instruction is a child in Music; he
that hath no letters is a child in Learning; he that is untaught is
a child in Life.
Can any profit be derived from these men? Aye, from all.
"What, even from a reviler?"
Why, tell me what profit a wrestler gains from him who
exercises him beforehand? The very greatest: he trains me in
the practice of endurance, of controlling my temper, of gentle
ways. You deny it. What, the man who lays hold of my neck,
and disciplines loins and shoulders, does me good, . . . while
he that trains me to keep my temper does me none? This is
what it means, not knowing how to gain advantage from men!
Is my neighbour bad? Bad to himself, but good to me: he
brings my good temper, my gentleness into play. Is my father
bad? Bad to himself, but good to me. This is the rod of Hermes;
touch what you will with it, they say, and it becomes gold. Nay,
but bring what you will and I will transmute it into Good. Bring
sickness, bring death, bring poverty and reproach, bring trial
for life—all these things through the rod of Hermes shall be
turned to profit.
Till then these sound opinions have taken firm root in you,
and you have gained a measure of strength for your security, I
counsel you to be cautious in associating with the
uninstructed. Else whatever impressions you receive upon the
tablets of your mind in the School will day by day melt and
disappear, like wax in the sun. Withdraw then somewhere far
from the sun, while you have these waxen sentiments.
We must approach this matter in a different way; it is great
and mystical: it is no common thing; nor given to every man.
Wisdom alone, it may be, will not suffice for the care of youth:
a man needs also a certain measure of readiness—an aptitude
for the office; aye, and certain bodily qualities; and above all,
to be counselled of God Himself to undertake this post; even as
He counselled Socrates to fill the post of one who confutes
error, assigning to Diogenes the royal office of high reproof,
and to Zeno that of positive instruction. Whereas you would
fain set up for a physician provided with nothing but drugs!
Where and how they should be applied you neither know nor
If what charms you is nothing but abstract principles, sit
down and turn them over quietly in your mind: but never dub
yourself a Philosopher, nor suffer others to call you so. Say
rather: He is in error; for my desires, my impulses are
unaltered. I give in my adhesion to what I did before; nor has
my mode of dealing with the things of sense undergone any
When a friend inclined to Cynic views asked Epictetus, what
sort of person a true Cynic should be, requesting a general
sketch of the system, he answered:—"We will consider that at
leisure. At present I content myself with saying this much: If a
man put his hand to so weighty a matter without God, the
wrath of God abides upon him. That which he covets will but
bring upon him public shame. Not even on finding himself in a
well-ordered house does a man step forward and say to
himself, I must be master here! Else the lord of that house
takes notice of it, and, seeing him insolently giving orders,
drags him forth and chastises him. So it is also in this great
City, the World. Here also is there a Lord of the House, who
orders all thing:—
"Thou are the Sun! in thine orbit thou hast
power to make the year and the seasons;
to bid the fruits of the earth to grow
and increase, the winds arise and fall;
thou canst in due measure cherish with
thy warmth the frames of men; go make
thy circuit, and thus minister unto all
from the greatest to the least! . . ."
"Thou canst lead a host against Troy; be Agamemnon!"
"Thou canst meet Hector in single combat; be Achilles!"
"But had Thersites stepped forward and claimed the chief
command, he had been met with a refusal, or obtained it only
to his own shame and confusion of face, before a cloud of
Others may fence themselves with walls and houses, when
they do such deeds as these, and wrap themselves in darkness
—aye, they have many a device to hide themselves. Another
may shut his door and station one before his chamber to say, if
any comes, He has gone forth! he is not at leisure! But the true
Cynic will have none of these things; instead of them, he must
wrap himself in Modesty: else he will but bring himself to
shame, naked and under the open sky. That is his house; that
is his door; that is the slave that guards his chamber; that is
his darkness!
Death? let it come when it will, whether it smite but a part of
the whole: Fly, you tell me—fly! But whither shall I fly? Can any
man cast me beyond the limits of the World? It may not be!
And whithersoever I go, there shall I still find Sun, Moon, and
Stars; there I shall find dreams, and omens, and converse with
the Gods!
Furthermore the true Cynic must know that he is sent as a
Messenger from God to men, to show unto them that as
touching good and evil they are in error; looking for these
where they are not to be found, nor ever bethinking
themselves where they are. And like Diogenes when brought
before Philip after the battle of Chaeronea, the Cynic must
remember that he is a Spy. For a Spy he really is—to bring
back word what things are on Man's side, and what against
him. And when he had diligently observed all, he must come
back with a true report, not terrified into announcing them to
be foes that are no foes, nor otherwise perturbed or
confounded by the things of sense.
How can it be that one who hath nothing, neither raiment,
nor house, nor home, nor bodily tendance, nor servant, nor
city, should yet live tranquil and contented? Behold God hath
sent you a man to show you in act and deed that it may be so.
Behold me! I have neither house nor possessions nor servants:
the ground is my couch; I have no wife, no children, no shelter
—nothing but earth and sky, and one poor cloak. And what lack
I yet? am I not untouched by sorrow, by fear? am I not free? . .
. when have I laid anything to the charge of God or Man? when
have I accused any? hath any of you seen me with a sorrowful
countenance? And in what wise treat I those of whom you
stand in fear and awe? Is it not as slaves? Who when he seeth
me doth not think that he beholdeth his Master and his King?
Give thyself more diligently to reflection: know thyself: take
counsel with the Godhead: without God put thine hand unto
"But to marry and to rear offspring," said the young man,
"will the Cynic hold himself bound to undertake this as a chief
Grant me a republic of wise men, answered Epictetus, and
perhaps none will lightly take the Cynic life upon him. For on
whose account should he embrace that method of life?
Suppose however that he does, there will then be nothing to
hinder his marrying and rearing offspring. For his wife will be
even such another as himself, and likewise her father; and in
like manner will his children be brought up.
But in the present condition of things, which resembles an
Army in battle array, ought not the Cynic to be free from all
distraction and given wholly to the service of God, so that he
can go in and out among men, neither fettered by the duties
nor entangled by the relations of common life? For if he
transgress them, he will forfeit the character of a good man
and true; whereas if he observe them, there is an end to him
as the Messenger, the Spy, the Herald of the Gods!
Ask me if you choose if a Cynic shall engage in the
administration of the State. O fool, seek you a nobler
administration that that in which he is engaged? Ask you if a
man shall come forward in the Athenian assembly and talk
about revenue and supplies, when his business is to converse
with all men, Athenians, Corinthians, and Romans alike, not
about supplies, not about revenue, nor yet peace and war, but
about Happiness and Misery, Prosperity and Adversity, Slavery
and Freedom?
Ask you whether a man shall engage in the administration of
the State who has engaged in such an Administration as this?
Ask me too if he shall govern; and again I will answer, Fool,
what greater government shall he hold than he holds already?
Such a man needs also to have a certain habit of body. If he
appears consumptive, thin and pale, his testimony has no
longer the same authority. He must not only prove to the
unlearned by showing them what his Soul is that it is possible
to be a good man apart from all that they admire; but he must
also show them, by his body, that a plain and simple manner
of life under the open sky does no harm to the body either.
"See, I am proof of this! and my body also." As Diogenes used
to do, who went about fresh of look and by the very
appearance of his body drew men's eyes. But if a Cynic is an
object of pity, he seems a mere beggar; all turn away, all are
offended at him. Nor should he be slovenly of look, so as not to
scare men from him in this way either; on the contrary, his
very roughness should be clean and attractive.
Kings and tyrants have armed guards wherewith to chastise
certain persons, though they themselves be evil. But to the
Cynic conscience gives this power—not arms and guards.
When he knows that he has watched and laboured on behalf of
mankind: that sleep hath found him pure, and left him purer
still: that his thoughts have been the thought of a Friend of the
Gods—of a servant, yet one that hath a part in the government
of the Supreme God: that the words are ever on his lips:—
Lead me, O God, and thou, O Destiny!
as well as these:—
If this be God's will, so let it be!
Why should he not speak boldly unto his own brethren, unto
his children—in a word, unto all that are akin to him!
Does a Philosopher apply to people to come and hear him?
does he not rather, of his own nature, attract those that will be
benefited by him—like the sun that warms, the food that
sustains them? What Physician applies to men to come and be
healed? (Though indeed I hear that the Physicians at Rome do
nowadays apply for patients—in my time they were applied
to.) I apply to you to come and hear that you are in evil case;
that what deserves your attention most is the last thing to gain
it; that you know not good from evil, and are in short a hapless
wretch; a fine way to apply! though unless the words of the
Philosopher affect you thus, speaker and speech are alike
A Philosopher's school is a Surgery: pain, not pleasure, you
should have felt therein. For on entering none of you is whole.
One has a shoulder out of joint, another an abscess: a third
suffers from an issue, a fourth from pains in the head. And am I
then to sit down and treat you to pretty sentiments and empty
flourishes, so that you may applaud me and depart, with
neither shoulder, nor head, nor issue, nor abscess a whit the
better for your visit? Is it then for this that young men are to
quit their homes, and leave parents, friends, kinsmen and
substance to mouth out Bravo to your empty phrases!
If any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by
reason of himself alone. For God hath made all men to enjoy
felicity and constancy of good.
Shall we never wean ourselves—shall we never heed the
teachings of Philosophy (unless perchance they have been
sounding in our ears like an enchanter's drone):—
This World is one great City, and one is the substance
whereof it is fashioned: a certain period indeed there needs
must be, while these give place to those; some must perish for
others to succeed; some move and some abide: yet all is full of
friends—first God, then Men, whom Nature hath bound by ties
of kindred each to each.
Nor did the hero weep and lament at leaving his children
orphans. For he knew that no man is an orphan, but it is the
Father that careth for all continually and for evermore. Not by
mere report had he heard that the Supreme God is the Father
of men: seeing that he called Him Father believing Him so to
be, and in all that he did had ever his eyes fixed upon Him.
Wherefore in whatsoever place he was, there is was given him
to live happily.
Know you not that the thing is a warfare? one man's duty is
to mount guard, another must go out to reconnoitre, a third to
battle; all cannot be in one place, nor would it even be
expedient. But you, instead of executing you Commander's
orders, complain if aught harsher than usual is enjoined; not
understanding to what condition you are bringing the army, so
far as in you lies. If all were to follow your example, none
would dig a trench, none would cast a rampart around the
camp, none would keep watch, or expose himself to danger;
but all turn out useless for the service of war. . . . Thus it is
here also. Every life is a warfare, and that long and various.
You must fulfil a soldier's duty, and obey each order at your
commander's nod: aye, if it be possible, divine what he would
have done; for between that Command and this, there is no
comparison, either in might or in excellence.
Have you again forgotten? Know you not that a good man
does nothing for appearance' sake, but for the sake of having
done right? . . .
"Is there no reward then?"
Reward! do you seek any greater reward for a good man
than doing what is right and just? Yet at the Great Games you
look for nothing else; there the victor's crown you deem
enough. Seems it to you so small a thing and worthless, to be
a good man, and happy therein?
It befits thee not to be unhappy by reason of any, but rather
to be happy by reason of all men, and especially by reason of
God, who formed us to this end.
What, did Diogenes love no man, he that was so gentle, so
true a friend to men as cheerfully to endure such bodily
hardships for the common weal of all mankind? But how loved
he them? As behoved a minister of the Supreme God, alike
caring for men and subject unto God.
I am by Nature made for my own good; not for my own evil.
Remind thyself that he whom thou lovest is mortal—that
what thou lovest is not thine own; it is given thee for the
present, not irrevocably nor for ever, but even as a fig or a
bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year. . . .
"But these are words of evil omen.". . .
What, callest thou aught of evil omen save that which
signifies some evil thing? Cowardice is a word of evil omen, if
thou wilt, and meanness of spirit, and lamentation and
mourning, and shamelessness. . . .
But do not, I pray thee, call of evil omen a word that is
significant of any natural thing:—as well call of evil omen the
reaping of the corn; for that means the destruction of the ears,
though not of the World!—as well say that the fall of the leaf is
of evil omen; that the dried fig should take the place of the
green; that raisins should be made from grapes. All these are
changes from a former state into another; not destruction, but
an ordered economy, a fixed administration. Such is leaving
home, a change of small account; such is Death, a greater
change, from what now is, not to what is not, but to what is not
"Shall I then no longer be?"
Not so; thou wilt be; but something different, of which the
World now hath need. For thou too wert born not when thou
chosest, but when the World had need of thee.
Wherefore a good man and true, bearing in mind who he is
and whence he came and from whom he sprang, cares only
how he may fill his post with due discipline and obedience to
Wilt thou that I continue to live? Then will I live, as one that
is free and noble, as Thou wouldst have me. For Thou hast
made me free from hindrance in what appertaineth unto me.
But hast Thou no further need of me? I thank Thee! Up to this
hour have I stayed for Thy sake and none other's: and now in
obedience to Thee I depart.
"How dost thou depart?"
Again I say, as Thou wouldst have me; as one that is free, as
Thy servant, as one whose ear is open unto what Thou dost
enjoin, what Thou dost forbid.
Whatsoever place or post Thou assignest me, sooner will I
die a thousand deaths, as Socrates said, than desert it. And
where wilt Thou have me to be? At Rome or Athens? At Thebes
or on a desert island? Only remember me there! Shouldst Thou
send me where man cannot live as Nature would have him, I
will depart, not in disobedience to Thee, but as though Thou
wert sounding the signal for my retreat: I am not deserting
Thee—far be that from me! I only perceive that thou needest
me no longer.
If you are in Gyaros, do not let your mind dwell upon life at
Rome, and all the pleasures it offered to you when living there,
and all that would attend your return. Rather be intent on this
—how he that lives in Gyaros may live in Gyaros like a man of
spirit. And if you are at Rome, do not let your mind dwell upon
the life at Athens, but study only how to live at Rome.
Finally, in the room of all other pleasures put this—the
pleasure which springs from conscious obedience to God.
To a good man there is no evil, either in life or death. And if
God supply not food, has He not, as a wise Commander,
sounded the signal for retreat and nothing more? I obey, I
follow—speaking good of my Commander, and praising His
acts. For at His good pleasure I came; and I depart when it
pleases Him; and while I was yet alive that was my work, to
sing praises unto God!
Reflect that the chief source of all evils to Man, and of
baseness and cowardice, is not death, but the fear of death.
Against this fear then, I pray you, harden yourself; to this let
all your reasonings, your exercises, your reading tend. Then
shall you know that thus alone are men set free.
He is free who lives as he wishes to live; to whom none can
do violence, none hinder or compel; whose impulses are
unimpeded, whose desires are attain their purpose, who falls
not into what he would avoid. Who then would live in error?—
None. Who would live deceived and prone to fall, unjust,
intemperate, in abject whining at his lot?—None. Then doth no
wicked man live as he would, and therefore neither is he free.
Thus do the more cautious of travellers act. The road is said
to be beset by robbers. The traveller will not venture alone, but
awaits the companionship on the road of an ambassador, a
quaestor or a proconsul. To him he attaches himself and thus
passes by in safety. So doth the wise man in the world. Many
are the companies of robbers and tyrants, many the storms,
the straits, the losses of all a man holds dearest. Whither shall
he fall for refuge—how shall he pass by unassailed? What
companion on the road shall he await for protection? Such and
such a wealthy man, of consular rank? And how shall I be
profited, if he is stripped and falls to lamentation and weeping?
And how if my fellow-traveller himself turns upon me and robs
me? What am I to do? I will become a friend of Caesar's! in his
train none will do me wrong! In the first place—O the
indignities I must endure to win distinction! O the multitude of
hands there will be to rob me! And if I succeed, Caesar too is
but a mortal. While should it come to pass that I offend him,
whither shall I flee from his presence? To the wilderness? And
may not fever await me there? What then is to be done?
Cannot a fellow-traveller be found that is honest and loyal,
strong and secure against surprise? Thus doth the wise man
reason, considering that if he would pass through in safety, he
must attach himself unto God.
"How understandest thou attach himself to God?"
That what God wills, he should will also; that what God wills
not, neither should he will.
"How then may this come to pass?"
By considering the movements of God, and His
And dost thou that hast received all from another's hands,
repine and blame the Giver, if He takes anything from thee?
Why, who art thou, and to what end comest thou here? was it
not He that made the Light manifest unto thee, that gave thee
fellow-workers, and senses, and the power to reason? And how
brought He thee into the world? Was it not as one born to die;
as one bound to live out his earthly life in some small
tabernacle of flesh; to behold His administration, and for a little
while share with Him in the mighty march of this great Festival
Procession? Now therefore that thou hast beheld, while it was
permitted thee, the Solemn Feast and Assembly, wilt thou not
cheerfully depart, when He summons thee forth, with
adoration and thanksgiving for what thou hast seen and
heard?—"Nay, but I would fain have stayed longer at the
Festival."—Ah, so would the mystics fain have the rites
prolonged; so perchance would the crowd at the Great Games
fain behold more wrestlers still. But the Solemn Assembly is
over! Come forth, depart with thanksgiving and modesty—give
place to others that must come into being even as thyself.
Why art thou thus insatiable? why thus unreasonable? why
encumber the world?—"Aye, but I fain would have my wife and
children with me too."—What, are they then thine, and not His
that gave them—His that made thee? Give up then that which
is not thine own: yield it to One who is better than thou. "Nay,
but why did He bring one into the world on these
conditions?"—If it suits thee not, depart! He hath no need of a
spectator who finds fault with his lot! Them that will take part
in the Feast he needeth—that will lift their voices with the rest
that men may applaud the more, and exalt the Great Assembly
in hymns and songs of praise. But the wretched and the fearful
He will not be displeased to see absent from it: for when they
were present, they did not behave as at a Feast, nor fulfil their
proper office; but moaned as though in pain, and found fault
with their fate, their fortune and their companions; insensible
to what had fallen to their lot, insensible to the powers they
had received for a very different purpose—the powers of
Magnanimity, Nobility of Heart, of Fortitude, or Freedom!
Art thou then free? a man may say. So help me heaven, I
long and pray for freedom! But I cannot look my masters
boldly in the face; I still value the poor body; I still set much
store on its preservation whole and sound.
But I can point thee out a free man, that thou mayest be no
more in search of an example. Diogenes was free. How so? Not
because he was of free parentage (for that, indeed, was not
the case), but because he was himself free. He had cast away
every handle whereby slavery might lay hold of him to enslave
him, nor was it possible for any to approach and take hold of
him to enslave him. All things sat loose upon him—all things
were to him attached by but slender ties. Hadst thou seized
upon his possessions, he would rather have let them go than
have followed thee for them—aye, had it been even a limb, or
mayhap his whole body; and in like manner, relatives, friends,
and country. For he knew whence they came—from whose
hands and on what terms he had received them. His true
forefathers, the Gods, his true Country, he never would have
abandoned; nor would he have yielded to any man in
obedience and submission to the one nor in cheerfully dying
for the other. For he was ever mindful that everything that
comes to pass has its source and origin there; being indeed
brought about for the weal of that his true Country, and
directed by Him in whose governance it is.
Ponder on this—on these convictions, on these words: fix
thine eyes on these examples, if thou wouldst be free, if thou
hast thine heart set upon the matter according to its worth.
And what marvel if thou purchase so great a thing at so great
and high a price? For the sake of this that men deem liberty,
some hang themselves, others cast themselves down from the
rock; aye, time has been when whole cities came utterly to an
end: while for the sake of Freedom that is true, and sure, and
unassailable, dost thou grudge to God what He gave, when He
claims it? Wilt thou not study, as Plato saith, to endure, not
death alone, but torture, exile, stripes—in a word, to render up
all that is not thine own? Else thou wilt be a slave amid slaves,
wert thou ten thousand times a consul; aye, not a whit the
less, though thou climb the Palace steps. And thou shalt know
how true the saying of Cleanthes, that though the words of
philosophers may run counter to the opinions of the world, yet
have they reason on their side.
Asked how a man should best grieve his enemy, Epictetus
replied, "By setting himself to live the noblest life himself."
I am free, I am a friend of God, ready to render Him willing
obedience. Of all else I may set store by nothing—neither by
mine own body, nor possessions, nor office, nor good report,
nor, in a word, aught else beside. For it is not His Will, that I
should so set store by these things. Had it been His pleasure,
He would have placed my Good therein. But now He hath not
done so: therefore I cannot transgress one jot of His
commands. In everything hold fast to that which is thy Good—
but to all else (as far as is given thee) within the measure of
Reason only, contented with this alone. Else thou wilt meet
with failure, ill success, let and hindrance. These are the Laws
ordained of God—these are His Edicts; these a man should
expound and interpret; to these submit himself, not to the laws
of Masurius and Cassius.
Remember that not the love of power and wealth sets us
under the heel of others, but even the love of tranquillity, of
leisure, of change of scene—of learning in general, it matters
not what the outward thing may be—to set store by it is to
place thyself in subjection to another. Where is the difference
then between desiring to be a Senator, and desiring not to be
one: between thirsting for office and thirsting to be quit of it?
Where is the difference between crying, Woe is me, I know not
what to do, bound hand and foot as I am to my books so that I
cannot stir! and crying, Woe is me, I have not time to read! As
though a book were not as much an outward thing and
independent of the will, as office and power and the receptions
of the great.
Or what reason hast thou (tell me) for desiring to read? For if
thou aim at nothing beyond the mere delight of it, or gaining
some scrap of knowledge, thou art but a poor, spiritless knave.
But if thou desirest to study to its proper end, what else is this
than a life that flows on tranquil and serene? And if thy reading
secures thee not serenity, what profits it?—"Nay, but it doth
secure it," quoth he, "and that is why I repine at being
deprived of it."—And what serenity is this that lies at the mercy
of every passer-by? I say not at the mercy of the Emperor or
Emperor's favorite, but such as trembles at a raven's croak and
piper's din, a fever's touch or a thousand things of like sort!
Whereas the life serene has no more certain mark than this,
that it ever moves with constant unimpeded flow.
If thou hast put malice and evil speaking from thee,
altogether, or in some degree: if thou hast put away from thee
rashness, foulness of tongue, intemperance, sluggishness: if
thou art not moved by what once moved thee, or in like
manner as thou once wert moved—then thou mayest celebrate
a daily festival, to-day because thou hast done well in this
manner, to-morrow in that. How much greater cause is here for
offering sacrifice, than if a man should become Consul or
These things hast thou from thyself and from the Gods: only
remember who it is that giveth them—to whom and for what
purpose they were given. Feeding thy soul on thoughts like
these, dost thou debate in what place happiness awaits thee?
in what place thou shalt do God's pleasure? Are not the Gods
nigh unto all places alike; see they not alike what everywhere
comes to pass?
To each man God hath granted this inward freedom. These
are the principles that in a house create love, in a city concord,
among nations peace, teaching a man gratitude towards God
and cheerful confidence, wherever he may be, in dealing with
outward things that he knows are neither his nor worth striving
If you seek Truth, you will not seek to gain a victory by every
possible means; and when you have found Truth, you need not
fear being defeated.
What foolish talk is this? how can I any longer lay claim to
right principles, if I am not content with being what I am, but
am all aflutter about what I am supposed to be?
God hath made all things in the world, nay, the world itself,
free from hindrance and perfect, and its parts for the use of
the whole. No other creature is capable of comprehending His
administration thereof; but the reasonable being Man
possesses faculties for the consideration of all these things—
not only that he is himself a part, but what part he is, and how
it is meet that the parts should give place to the whole. Nor is
this all. Being naturally constituted noble, magnanimous, and
free, he sees that the things which surround him are of two
kinds. Some are free from hindrance and in the power of the
will. Other are subject to hindrance, and depend on the will of
other men. If then he place his own good, his own best
interest, only in that which is free from hindrance and in his
power, he will be free, tranquil, happy, unharmed, noblehearted, and pious; giving thanks to all things unto God,
finding fault with nothing that comes to pass, laying no charge
against anything. Whereas if he place his good in outward
things, depending not on the will, he must perforce be subject
to hindrance and restraint, the slave of those that have power
over the things he desires and fears; he must perforce be
impious, as deeming himself injured at the hands of God; he
must be unjust, as ever prone to claim more than his due; he
must perforce be of a mean and abject spirit.
Whom then shall I fear? the lords of the Bedchamber, lest
they should shut me out? If they find me desirous of entering
in, let them shut me out, if they will.
"Then why comest thou to the door?"
Because I think it meet and right, so long as the Play lasts, to
take part therein.
"In what sense art thou then shut out?"
Because, unless I am admitted, it is not my will to enter: on
the contrary, my will is simply that which comes to pass. For I
esteem what God wills better than what I will. To Him will I
cleave as His minister and attendant; having the same
movements, the same desires, in a word the same Will as He.
There is no such thing as being shut out for me, but only for
them that would force their way in.
But what says Socrates?—"One man finds pleasure in
improving his land, another his horses. My pleasure lies in
seeing that I myself grow better day by day."
The dress is suited to the craft; the craftsman takes his name
from the craft, not from the dress. For this reason Euphrates
was right in saying, "I long endeavoured to conceal my
following the philosophic life; and this profited me much. In the
first place, I knew that what I did aright, I did not for the sake
of lookers-on, but for my own. I ate aright—unto myself; I kept
the even tenor of my walk, my glance composed and serene—
all unto myself and unto God. Then as I fought alone, I was
alone in peril. If I did anything amiss or shameful, the cause of
Philosophy was not in me endangered; nor did I wrong the
multitude by transgressing as a professed philosopher.
Wherefore those that knew not my purpose marvelled how it
came about, that whilst all my life and conversation was
passed with philosophers without exception, I was yet none
myself. And what harm that the philosopher should be known
by his acts, instead of mere outward signs and symbols?"
First study to conceal what thou art; seek wisdom a little
while unto thyself. Thus grows the fruit; first, the seed must be
buried in the earth for a little space; there it must be hid and
slowly grow, that it may reach maturity. But if it produce the
ear before the jointed stalk, it is imperfect—a thing from the
garden of Adonis. Such a sorry growth art thou; thou hast
blossomed too soon: the winter cold will wither thee away!
First of all, condemn the life thou art now leading: but when
thou hast condemned it, do not despair of thyself—be not like
them of mean spirit, who once they have yielded, abandon
themselves entirely and as it were allow the torrent to sweep
them away. No; learn what the wrestling masters do. Has the
boy fallen? "Rise," they say, "wrestle again, till thy strength
come to thee." Even thus should it be with thee. For know that
there is nothing more tractable than the human soul. It needs
but to will, and the thing is done; the soul is set upon the right
path: as on the contrary it needs but to nod over the task, and
all is lost. For ruin and recovery alike are from within.
It is the critical moment that shows the man. So when the
crisis is upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of
wrestlers, has matched you with a rough and stalwart
antagonist.—"To what end?" you ask. That you may prove the
victor at the Great Games. Yet without toil and sweat this may
not be!
If thou wouldst make progress, be content to seem foolish
and void of understanding with respect to outward things. Care
not to be thought to know anything. If any should make
account of thee, distrust thyself.
Remember that in life thou shouldst order thy conduct as at
a banquet. Has any dish that is being served reached thee?
Stretch forth thy hand and help thyself modestly. Doth it pass
thee by? Seek not to detain it. Has it not yet come? Send not
forth thy desire to meet it, but wait until it reaches thee. Deal
thus with children, thus with wife; thus with office, thus with
wealth—and one day thou wilt be meet to share the Banquets
of the Gods. But if thou dost not so much as touch that which
is placed before thee, but despisest it, then shalt thou not only
share the Banquets of the Gods, but their Empire also.
Remember that thou art an actor in a play, and of such sort
as the Author chooses, whether long or short. If it be his good
pleasure to assign thee the part of a beggar, a ruler, or a
simple citizen, thine it is to play it fitly. For thy business is to
act the part assigned thee, well: to choose it, is another's.
Keep death and exile daily before thine eyes, with all else
that men deem terrible, but more especially Death. Then wilt
thou never think a mean though, nor covet anything beyond
As a mark is not set up in order to be missed, so neither is
such a thing as natural evil produced in the World.
Piety toward the Gods, to be sure, consists chiefly in thinking
rightly concerning them—that they are, and that they govern
the Universe with goodness and justice; and that thou thyself
art appointed to obey them, and to submit under all
circumstances that arise; acquiescing cheerfully in whatever
may happen, sure it is brought to pass and accomplished by
the most Perfect Understanding. Thus thou wilt never find fault
with the Gods, nor charge them with neglecting thee.
Lose no time in setting before you a certain stamp of
character and behaviour both when by yourself and in
company with others. Let silence be your general rule; or say
only what is necessary and in few words. We shall, however,
when occasion demands, enter into discourse sparingly.
avoiding common topics as gladiators, horse-races, athletes;
and the perpetual talk about food and drink. Above all avoid
speaking of persons, either in way of praise or blame, or
If you can, win over the conversation of your company to
what it should be by your own. But if you find yourself cut off
without escape among strangers and aliens, be silent.
Laughter should
Refuse altogether to take an oath if you can, if not, as far as
may be.
Banquets of the unlearned and of them that are without,
avoid. But if you have occasion to take part in them, let not
your attention be relaxed for a moment, lest you slip after all
into evil ways. For you may rest assured that be a man ever so
pure himself, he cannot escape defilement if his associates are
Take what relates to the body as far as the bare use warrants
—as meat, drink, raiment, house and servants. But all that
makes for show and luxury reject.
If you are told that such an one speaks ill of you, make no
defence against what was said, but answer, He surely knew
not my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these
When you visit any of those in power, bethink yourself that
you will not find him in: that you may not be admitted: that the
door may be shut in your face: that he may not concern
himself about you. If with all this, it is your duty to go, bear
what happens, and never say to yourself, It was not worth the
trouble! For that would smack of the foolish and unlearned who
suffer outward things to touch them.
In company avoid frequent and undue talk about your own
actions and dangers. However pleasant it may be to you to
enlarge upon the risks you have run, others may not find such
pleasure in listening to your adventures. Avoid provoking
laughter also: it is a habit from which one easily slides into the
ways of the foolish, and apt to diminish the respect which your
neighbors feel for you. To border on coarse talk is also
dangerous. On such occasions, if a convenient opportunity
offer, rebuke the speaker. If not, at least by relapsing into
silence, colouring, and looking annoyed, show that you are
displeased with the subject.
When you have decided that a thing ought to be done, and
are doing it, never shun being seen doing it, even though the
multitude should be likely to judge the matter amiss. For if you
are not acting rightly, shun the act itself; if rightly, however,
why fear misplaced censure?
It stamps a man of mean capacity to spend much time on
the things of the body, as to be long over bodily exercises, long
over eating, long over drinking, long over other bodily
functions. Rather should these things take the second place,
while all your care is directed to the understanding.
Everything has two handles, one by which it may be borne,
the other by which it may not. If your brother sin against you
lay not hold of it by the handle of injustice, for by that it may
not be borne: but rather by this, that he is your brother, the
comrade of your youth; and thus you will lay hold on it so that
it may be borne.
Never call yourself a Philosopher nor talk much among the
unlearned about Principles, but do that which follows from
them. Thus at a banquet, do not discuss how people ought to
eat; but eat as you ought. Remember that Socrates thus
entirely avoided ostentation. Men would come to him desiring
to be recommended to philosophers, and he would conduct
them thither himself—so well did he bear being overlooked.
Accordingly if any talk concerning principles should arise
among the unlearned, be you for the most part silent. For you
run great risk of spewing up what you have ill digested. And
when a man tells you that you know nothing and you are not
nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun the
When you have brought yourself to supply the needs of the
body at small cost, do not pique yourself on that, nor if you
drink only water, keep saying on each occasion, I drink water!
And if you ever want to practise endurance and toil, do so unto
yourself and not unto others—do not embrace statues!
When a man prides himself on being able to understand and
interpret the writings of Chrysippus, say to yourself:—
If Chrysippus had not written obscurely, this fellow would
have had nothing to be proud of. But what is it that I desire? To
understand Nature, and to follow her! Accordingly I ask who is
the Interpreter. On hearing that it is Chrysippus, I go to him.
But it seems I do not understand what he wrote. So I seek one
to interpret that. So far there is nothing to pride myself on. But
when I have found my interpreter, what remains is to put in
practice his instructions. This itself is the only thing to be
proud of. But if I admire the interpretation and that alone, what
else have I turned out but a mere commentator instead of a
lover of wisdom?—except indeed that I happen to be
interpreting Chrysippus instead of Homer. So when any one
says to me, Prithee, read me Chrysippus, I am more inclined to
blush, when I cannot show my deeds to be in harmony and
accordance with his sayings.
At feasts, remember that you are entertaining two guests,
body and soul. What you give to the body, you presently lose;
what you give to the soul, you keep for ever.
At meals, see to it that those who serve be not more in
number than those who are served. It is absurd for a crowd of
persons to be dancing attendance on half a dozen chairs.
It is best to share with your attendants what is going
forward, both in the labour of preparation and in the
enjoyment of the feast itself. If such a thing be difficult at the
time, recollect that you who are not weary are being served by
those that are; you who are eating and drinking by those who
do neither; you who are talking by those who are silent; you
who are at ease by those who are under constraint. Thus no
sudden wrath will betray you into unreasonable conduct, nor
will you behave harshly by irritating another.
When Xanthippe was chiding Socrates for making scanty
preparation for entertaining his friends, he answered:—"If they
are friends of ours they will not care for that; if they are not,
we shall care nothing for them!"
Asked, Who is the rich man? Epictetus replied, "He who is
Favorinus tells us how Epictetus would also say that there
were two faults far graver and fouler than any others—inability
to bear, and inability to forbear, when we neither patiently
bear the blows that must be borne, nor abstain from the things
and the pleasures we ought to abstain from. "So," he went on,
"if a man will only have these two words at heart, and heed
them carefully by ruling and watching over himself, he will for
the most part fall into no sin, and his life will be tranquil and
serene." He meant the words [Greek: Anechou kai apechou]
—"Bear and Forbear."
On all occasions these thoughts should be at hand:—
Lead me, O God, and Thou, O Destiny
Be what it may the goal appointed me,
Bravely I'll follow; nay, and if I would not,
I'd prove a coward, yet must follow still!
Who to Necessity doth bow aright,
Is learn'd in wisdom and the things of God.
Once more:—
Crito, if this be God's will, so let it be. As for me,
Anytus and Meletus can indeed put me to death, but injure
me, never!
We shall then be like Socrates, when we can indite hymns of
praise to the Gods in prison.
It is hard to combine and unite these two qualities, the
carefulness of one who is affected by circumstances, and the
intrepidity of one who heeds them not. But it is not impossible:
else were happiness also impossible. We should act as we do in
"What can I do?"—Choose the master, the crew, the day, the
opportunity. Then comes a sudden storm. What matters it to
me? my part has been fully done. The matter is in the hands of
another—the Master of the ship. The ship is foundering. What
then have I to do? I do the only thing that remains to me—to
be drowned without fear, without a cry, without upbraiding
God, but knowing that what has been born must likewise
perish. For I am not Eternity, but a human being—a part of the
whole, as an hour is part of the day. I must come like the hour,
and like the hour must pass!
And now we are sending you to Rome to spy out the land;
but none send a coward as such a spy, that, if he hear but a
noise and see a shadow moving anywhere, loses his wits and
comes flying to say, The enemy are upon us!
So if you go now, and come and tell us: "Everything at Rome
is terrible: Death is terrible, Exile is terrible, Slander is terrible,
Want is terrible; fly, comrades! the enemy are upon us!" we
shall reply, Get you gone, and prophesy to yourself! we have
but erred in sending such a spy as you. Diogenes, who was
sent as a spy long before you, brought us back another report
than this. He says that Death is no evil; for it need not even
bring shame with it. He says that Fame is but the empty noise
of madmen. And what report did this spy bring us of Pain, what
of Pleasure, what of Want? That to be clothed in sackcloth is
better than any purple robe; that sleeping on the bare ground
is the softest couch; and in proof of each assertion he points to
his own courage, constancy, and freedom; to his own healthy
and muscular frame. "There is no enemy near," he cries, "all is
perfect peace!"
If a man has this peace—not the peace proclaimed by Caesar
(how indeed should he have it to proclaim?), nay, but the
peace proclaimed by God through reason, will not that suffice
him when alone, when he beholds and reflects:—Now can no
evil happen unto me; for me there is no robber, for me no
earthquake; all things are full of peace, full of tranquillity;
neither highway nor city nor gathering of men, neither
neighbor nor comrade can do me hurt. Another supplies my
food, whose care it is; another my raiment; another hath given
me perceptions of sense and primary conceptions. And when
He supplies my necessities no more, it is that He is sounding
the retreat, that He hath opened the door, and is saying to
thee, Come!—Wither? To nought that thou needest fear, but to
the friendly kindred elements whence thou didst spring.
Whatsoever of fire is in thee, unto fire shall return; whatsoever
of earth, unto earth; of spirit, unto spirit; of water, unto water.
There is no Hades, no fabled rivers of Sighs, of Lamentation, or
of Fire: but all things are full of Beings spiritual and divine. With
thoughts like these, beholding the Sun, Moon, and Stars,
enjoying earth and sea, a man is neither helpless nor alone!
What wouldst thou be found doing when overtaken by
Death? If I might choose, I would be found doing some deed of
true humanity, of wide import, beneficent and noble. But if I
may not be found engaged in aught so lofty, let me hope at
least for this—what none may hinder, what is surely in my
power—that I may be found raising up in myself that which
had fallen; learning to deal more wisely with the things of
sense; working out my own tranquillity, and thus rendering
that which is its due to every relation of life. . . .
If death surprise me thus employed, it is enough if I can
stretch forth my hands to God and say, "The faculties which I
received at Thy hands for apprehending this thine
Administration, I have not neglected. As far as in me lay, I
have done Thee no dishonour. Behold how I have used the
senses, the primary conceptions which Thou gavest me. Have I
ever laid anything to Thy charge? Have I ever murmured at
aught that came to pass, or wished it otherwise? Have I in
anything transgressed the relations of life? For that Thou didst
beget me, I thank Thee for that Thou hast given: for the time
during which I have used the things that were Thine, it suffices
me. Take them back and place them wherever Thou wilt! They
were all Thine, and Thou gavest them me."—If a man depart
thus minded, is it not enough? What life is fairer and more
noble, what end happier than his?
A life entangled with Fortune is like a torrent. It is turbulent
and muddy; hard to pass and masterful of mood: noisy and of
brief continuance.
The soul that companies with Virtue is like an ever-flowing
source. It is a pure, clear, and wholesome draught; sweet, rich,
and generous of its store; that injures not, neither destroys.
It is a shame that one who sweetens his drink with the gifts
of the bee, should embitter God's gift Reason with vice.
Crows pick out the eyes of the dead, when the dead have no
longer need of them; but flatterers mar the soul of the living,
and her eyes they blind.
Keep neither a blunt knife nor an ill-disciplined looseness of
Nature hath given men one tongue but two ears, that we
may hear from others twice as much as we speak.
Do not give sentence in another tribunal till you have been
yourself judged in the tribunal of Justice.
If is shameful for a Judge to be judged by others.
Give me by all means the shorter and nobler life, instead of
one that is longer but of less account!
Freedom is the name of virtue: Slavery, of vice. . . . None is a
slave whose acts are free.
Of pleasures, those which occur most rarely give the most
Exceed due measure, and the most delightful things become
the least delightful.
The anger of an ape—the threat of a flatterer:—these
deserve equal regard.
Chastise thy passions that they avenge not themselves upon
No man is free who is not master of himself.
A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single
Fortify thyself with contentment: that is an impregnable
No man who is a lover of money, of pleasure, of glory, is
likewise a lover of Men; but only he that is a lover of
whatsoever things are fair and good.
Think of God more often than thou breathest.
Choose the life that is noblest, for custom can make it sweet
to thee.
Let thy speech of God be renewed day by day, aye, rather
than thy meat and drink.
Even as the Sun doth not wait for prayers and incantations to
rise, but shines forth and is welcomed by all: so thou also wait
not for clapping of hands and shouts and praise to do thy duty;
nay, do good of thine own accord, and thou wilt be loved like
the Sun.
Let no man think that he is loved by any who loveth none.
If thou rememberest that God standeth by to behold and
visit all that thou doest; whether in the body or in the soul,
thou surely wilt not err in any prayer or deed; and thou shalt
have God to dwell with thee.
A Selection
Translated by George Long
Of all the faculties (except that which I shall soon mention),
you will find not one which is capable of contemplating itself,
and, consequently, not capable either of approving or
disapproving. How far does the grammatic art possess the
contemplating power? As far as forming a judgment about
what is written and spoken. And how far music? As far as
judging about melody. Does either of them then contemplate
itself? By no means. But when you must write something to
your friend, grammar will tell you what words you should write;
but whether you should write or not, grammar will not tell you.
And so it is with music as to musical sounds; but whether you
should sing at the present time and play on the lute, or do
neither, music will not tell you. What faculty then will tell you?
That which contemplates both itself and all other things. And
what is this faculty? The rational faculty; for this is the only
faculty that we have received which examines itself, what it is,
and what power it has, and what is the value of this gift, and
examines all other faculties: for what else is there which tells
us that golden things are beautiful, for they do not say so
themselves? Evidently it is the faculty which is capable of
judging of appearances. What else judges of music, grammar,
and the other faculties, proves their uses, and points out the
occasions for using them? Nothing else.
What then should a man have in readiness in such
circumstances? What else than this? What is mine, and what is
not mine; and what is permitted to me, and what is not
permitted to me. I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must
be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile.
Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and
cheerfulness and contentment? Tell me the secret which you
possess. I will not, for this is in my power. But I will put you in
chains. Man, what are you talking about? Me, in chains? You
may fetter my leg, but my will not even Zeus himself can
overpower. I will throw you into prison. My poor body, you
mean. I will cut your head off. When then have I told you that
my head alone cannot be cut off? These are the things which
philosophers should meditate on, which they should write
daily, in which they should exercise themselves.
What then did Agrippinus say? He said, "I am not a hindrance
to myself." When it was reported to him that his trial was going
on in the Senate, he said: "I hope it may turn out well; but it is
the fifth hour of the day"—this was the time when he was used
to exercise himself and then take the cold bath,—"let us go
and take our exercise." After he had taken his exercise, one
comes and tells him, "You have been condemned." "To
banishment," he replies, "or to death?" "To banishment." "What
about my property?" "It is not taken from you." "Let us go to
Aricia then," he said, "and dine."
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 Lacedaemonians 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.
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, this is enough
for me; for I shall never be a Milo, 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.
If a man should be able to assent to this doctrine as he
ought, that we are all sprung from God in an especial manner,
and that God is the father both of men and of gods, I suppose
that he would never have any ignoble or mean thoughts about
himself. But if Cæsar (the emperor) should adopt you, no one
could endure your arrogance; and if you know that you are the
son of Zeus, will you not be elated? Yet we do not so; but since
these two things are mingled in the generation of man, body in
common with the animals, and reason and intelligence in
common with the gods, many incline to this kinship, which is
miserable and mortal; and some few to that which is divine
and happy. Since then it is of necessity that every man uses
everything according to the opinion which he has about it,
those, the few, who think that they are formed for fidelity and
modesty and a sure use of appearances have no mean or
ignoble thoughts about themselves; but with the many it is
quite the contrary. For they say, What am I? A poor, miserable
man, with my wretched bit of flesh. Wretched, indeed; but you
possess something better than your bit of flesh. Why then do
you neglect that which is better, and why do you attach
yourself to this?
Through this kinship with the flesh, some of us inclining to it
become like wolves, faithless and treacherous and
mischievous; some become like lions, savage and bestial and
untamed; but the greater part of us become foxes, and other
worse animals. For what else is a slanderer and malignant man
than a fox, or some other more wretched and meaner animal?
See then and take care that you do not become some one of
these miserable things.
He who is making progress, having learned from
philosophers that desire means the desire of good things, and
aversion means aversion from bad things; having learned too
that happiness and tranquillity are not attainable by man
otherwise than by not failing to obtain what he desires, and not
falling into that which he would avoid; such a man takes from
himself desire altogether and confers it, but he employs his
aversion only on things which are dependent on his will. For if
he attempts to avoid anything independent of his will, he
knows that sometimes he will fall in with something which he
wishes to avoid, and he will be unhappy. Now if virtue promises
good fortune and tranquillity and happiness, certainly also the
progress towards virtue is progress towards each of these
things. For it is always true that to whatever point the
perfecting of anything leads us, progress is an approach
towards this point.
How then do we admit that virtue is such as I have said, and
yet seek progress in other things and make a display of it?
What is the product of virtue? Tranquillity. Who then makes
improvement? Is it he who has read many books of
Chrysippus? But does virtue consist in having understood
Chrysippus? If this is so, progress is clearly nothing else than
knowing a great deal of Chrysippus. But now we admit that
virtue produces one thing, and we declare that approaching
near to it is another thing, namely, progress or improvement.
Such a person, says one, is already able to read Chrysippus by
himself. Indeed, sir, you are making great progress. What kind
of progress? But why do you mock the man? Why do you draw
him away from the perception of his own misfortunes? Will you
not show him the effect of virtue that he may learn where to
look for improvement? Seek it there, wretch, where your work
lies. And where is your work? In desire and in aversion, that
you may not be disappointed in your desire, and that you may
not fall into that which you would avoid; in your pursuit and
avoiding, that you commit no error; in assent and suspension
of assent, that you be not deceived. The first things, and the
most necessary are those which I have named. But if with
trembling and lamentation you seek not to fall into that which
you avoid, tell me how you are improving.
Do you then show me your improvement in these things? If I
were talking to an athlete, I should say, Show me your
shoulders; and then he might say, Here are my Halteres. You
and your Halteres look to that. I should reply, I wish to see the
effect of the Halteres. So, when you say: Take the treatise on
the active powers ([Greek: hormea]), and see how I have
studied it, I reply: Slave, I am not inquiring about this, but how
you exercise pursuit and avoidance, desire and aversion, how
you design and purpose and prepare yourself, whether
conformably to nature or not. If conformably, give me evidence
of it, and I will say that you are making progress; but if not
conformably, be gone, and not only expound your books, but
write such books yourself; and what will you gain by it? Do you
not know that the whole book costs only five denarii? Does
then the expounder seem to be worth more than five denarii?
Never then look for the matter itself in one place, and progress
towards it in another. Where then is progress? If any of you,
withdrawing himself from externals, turns to his own will
([Greek: proairesis]) to exercise it and to improve it by labor,
so as to make it conformable to nature, elevated, free,
unrestrained, unimpeded, faithful, modest; and if he has
learned that he who desires or avoids the things which are not
in his power can neither be faithful nor free, but of necessity
he must change with them and be tossed about with them as
in a tempest, and of necessity must subject himself to others
who have the power to procure or prevent what lie desires or
would avoid; finally, when he rises in the morning, if he
observes and keeps these rules, bathes as a man of fidelity,
eats as a modest man; in like manner, if in every matter that
occurs he works out his chief principles ([Greek: ta
proaegoumena]) as the runner does with reference to running,
and the trainer of the voice with reference to the voice—this is
the man who truly makes progress, and this is the man who
has not travelled in vain. But if he has strained his efforts to
the practice of reading books, and labors only at this, and has
travelled for this, I tell him to return home immediately, and
not to neglect his affairs there; for this for which he has
travelled is nothing. But the other thing is something, to study
how a man can rid his life of lamentation and groaning, and
saying, Woe to me, and wretched that I am, and to rid it also of
misfortune and disappointment, and to learn what death is,
and exile, and prison, and poison, that he may be able to say
when he is in fetters, Dear Crito, if it is the will of the gods that
it be so, let it be so; and not to say, Wretched am I, an old
man: have I kept my gray hairs for this? Who is it that speaks
thus? Do you think that I shall name some man of no repute
and of low condition? Does not Priam say this? Does not
Oedipus say this? Nay, all kings say it! For what else is tragedy
than the perturbations ([Greek: pathae]) of men who value
externals exhibited in this kind of poetry? But if a man must
learn by fiction that no external things which are independent
of the will concern us, for my part I should like this fiction, by
the aid of which I should live happily and undisturbed. But you
must consider for yourselves what you wish.
What then does Chrysippus teach us? The reply is, to know
that these things are not false, from which happiness comes
and tranquillity arises. Take my books, and you will learn how
true and conformable to nature are the things which make me
free from perturbations. O great good fortune! O the great
benefactor who points out the way! To Triptolemus all men
have erected temples and altars, because he gave us food by
cultivation; but to him who discovered truth and brought it to
light and communicated it to all, not the truth which shows us
how to live, but how to live well, who of you for this reason has
built an altar, or a temple, or has dedicated a statue, or who
worships God for this? Because the gods have given the vine,
or wheat, we sacrifice to them; but because they have
produced in the human mind that fruit by which they designed
to show us the truth which relates to happiness, shall we not
thank God for this?
If a man, said Epictetus, opposes evident truths, it is not
easy to find arguments by which we shall make him change his
opinion. But this does not arise either from the man's strength
or the teacher's weakness; for when the man, though he has
been confuted, is hardened like a stone, how shall we then be
able to deal with him by argument?
Now there are two kinds of hardening, one of the
understanding, the other of the sense of shame, when a man is
resolved not to assent to what is manifest nor to desist from
contradictions. Most of us are afraid of mortification of the
body, and would contrive all means to avoid such a thing, but
we care not about the soul's mortification. And indeed with
regard to the soul, if a man be in such a state as not to
apprehend anything, or understand at all, we think that he is in
a bad condition; but if the sense of shame and modesty are
deadened, this we call even power (or strength).
From everything, which is or happens in the world, it is easy
to praise Providence, if a man possesses these two qualities:
the faculty of seeing what belongs and happens to all persons
and things, and a grateful disposition. If he does not possess
these two qualities, one man will not see the use of things
which are and which happen: another will not be thankful for
them, even if he does know them. If God had made colors, but
had not made the faculty of seeing them, what would have
been their use? None at all. On the other hand, if he had made
the faculty of vision, but had not made objects such as to fall
under the faculty, what in that case also would have been the
use of it? None at all. Well, suppose that he had made both,
but had not made light? In that case, also, they would have
been of no use. Who is it then who has fitted this to that and
that to this?
What, then, are these things done in us only? Many, indeed,
in us only, of which the rational animal had peculiar need; but
you will find many common to us with irrational animals. Do
they then understand what is done? By no means. For use is
one thing, and understanding is another; God had need of
irrational animals to make use of appearances, but of us to
understand the use of appearances. It is therefore enough for
them to eat and to drink, and to copulate, and to do all the
other things which they severally do. But for us, to whom he
has given also the intellectual faculty, these things are not
sufficient; for unless we act in a proper and orderly manner,
and conformably to the nature and constitution of each thing,
we shall never attain our true end. For where the constitutions
of living beings are different, there also the acts and the ends
are different. In those animals then whose constitution is
adapted only to use, use alone is enough; but in an animal
(man), which has also the power of understanding the use,
unless there be the due exercise of the understanding, he will
never attain his proper end. Well then God constitutes every
animal, one to be eaten, another to serve for agriculture,
another to supply cheese, and another for some like use; for
which purposes what need is there to understand appearances
and to be able to distinguish them? But God has introduced
man to be a spectator of God and of his works; and not only a
spectator of them, but an interpreter. For this reason it is
shameful for man to begin and to end where irrational animals
do; but rather he ought to begin where they begin, and to end
where nature ends in us; and nature ends in contemplation
and understanding, and in a way of life conformable to nature.
Take care then not to die without having been spectators of
these things.
But you take a journey to Olympia to see the work of Phidias,
and all of you think it a misfortune to die without having seen
such things. But when there is no need to take a journey, and
where a man is, there he has the works (of God) before him,
will you not desire to see and understand them? Will you not
perceive either what you are, or what you were born for, or
what this is for which you have received the faculty of sight?
But you may say, There are some things disagreeable and
troublesome in life. And are there none at Olympia? Are you
not scorched? Are you not pressed by a crowd? Are you not
without comfortable means of bathing? Are you not wet when
it rains? Have you not abundance of noise, clamor, and other
disagreeable things? But I suppose that setting all these things
off against the magnificence of the spectacle, you bear and
endure. Well then and have you not received faculties by which
you will be able to bear all that happens? Have you not
received greatness of soul? Have you not received manliness?
Have you not received endurance? And why do I trouble myself
about anything that can happen if I possess greatness of soul?
What shall distract my mind, or disturb me, or appear painful?
Shall I not use the power for the purposes for which I received
it, and shall I grieve and lament over what happens?
Come, then, do you also having observed these things look
to the faculties which you have, and when you have looked at
them, say: Bring now, O Zeus, any difficulty that thou pleasest,
for I have means given to me by thee and powers for honoring
myself through the things which happen. You do not so; but
you sit still, trembling for fear that some things will happen,
and weeping, and lamenting, and groaning for what does
happen; and then you blame the gods. For what is the
consequence of such meanness of spirit but impiety? And yet
God has not only given us these faculties, by which we shall be
able to bear everything that happens without being depressed
or broken by it; but, like a good king and a true father, He has
given us these faculties free from hindrance, subject to no
compulsion, unimpeded, and has put them entirely in our own
power, without even having reserved to Himself any power of
hindering or impeding. You, who have received these powers
free and as your own, use them not; you do not even see what
you have received, and from whom; some of you being blinded
to the giver, and not even acknowledging your benefactor, and
others, through meanness of spirit, betaking yourselves to
fault-finding and making charges against God. Yet I will show to
you that you have powers and means for greatness of soul and
manliness; but what powers you have for finding fault making
accusations, do you show me.
I indeed think that the old man ought to be sitting here, not
to contrive how you may have no mean thoughts nor mean
and ignoble talk about yourselves, but to take care that there
be not among us any young men of such a mind, that when
they have recognized their kinship to God, and that we are
fettered by these bonds, the body, I mean, and its possessions,
and whatever else on account of them is necessary to us for
the economy and commerce of life, they should intend to
throw off these things as if they were burdens painful and
intolerable, and to depart to their kinsmen. But this is the labor
that your teacher and instructor ought to be employed upon, if
he really were what he should be. You should come to him and
say: Epictetus, we can no longer endure being bound to this
poor body, and feeding it, and giving it drink and rest, and
cleaning it, and for the sake of the body complying with the
wishes of these and of those. Are not these things indifferent
and nothing to us; and is not death no evil? And are we not in a
manner kinsmen of God, and did we not come from him? Allow
us to depart to the place from which we came; allow us to be
released at last from these bonds by which we are bound and
weighed down. Here there are robbers and thieves and courts
of justice, and those who are named tyrants, and think that
they have some power over us by means of the body and its
possessions. Permit us to show them that they have no power
over any man. And I on my part would say: Friends, wait for
God: when he shall give the signal and release you from this
service, then go to him; but for the present endure to dwell in
this place where he has put you. Short indeed is this time of
your dwelling here, and easy to bear for those who are so
disposed; for what tyrant, or what thief, or what courts of
justice are formidable to those who have thus considered as
things of no value the body and the possessions of the body?
Wait then, do not depart without a reason.
With respect to gods, there are some who say that a divine
being does not exist; others say that it exists, but is inactive
and careless, and takes no forethought about anything; a third
class say that such a being exists and exercises forethought,
but only about great things and heavenly things, and about
nothing on the earth; a fourth class say that a divine being
exercises forethought both about things on the earth and
heavenly things, but in a general way only, and not about
things severally. There is a fifth class to whom Ulysses and
Socrates belong, who say:
I move not without thy knowledge.—Iliad, x., 278.
Before all other things then it is necessary to inquire about
each of these opinions, whether it is affirmed truly or not truly.
For if there are no gods, how is it our proper end to follow
them? And if they exist, but take no care of anything, in this
case also how will it be right to follow them? But if indeed they
do exist and look after things, still if there is nothing
communicated from them to men, nor in fact to myself, how
even so is it right (to follow them)? The wise and good man
then, after considering all these things, submits his own mind
to him who administers the whole, as good citizens do to the
law of the state. He who is receiving instruction ought to come
to be instructed with this intention, How shall I follow the gods
in all things, how shall I be contented with the divine
administration, and how can I become free? For he is free to
whom everything happens according to his will, and whom no
man can hinder. What then, is freedom madness? Certainly
not; for madness and freedom do not consist. But, you say, I
would have everything result just as I like, and in whatever
way I like. You are mad, you are beside yourself. Do you not
know that freedom is a noble and valuable thing? But for me
inconsiderately to wish for things to happen as I
inconsiderately like, this appears to be not only not noble, but
even most base. For how do we proceed in the matter of
writing? Do I wish to write the name of Dion as I choose? No,
but I am taught to choose to write it as it ought to be written.
And how with respect to music? In the same manner. And what
universally in every art or science? Just the same. If it were not
so, it would be of no value to know anything, if knowledge
were adapted to every man's whim. Is it then in this alone, in
this which is the greatest and the chief thing, I mean freedom,
that I am permitted to will inconsiderately? By no means; but
to be instructed is this, to learn to wish that everything may
happen as it does. And how do things happen? As the disposer
has disposed them? And he has appointed summer and winter,
and abundance and scarcity, and virtue and vice, and all such
opposites for the harmony of the whole; and to each of us he
has given a body, and parts of the body, and possessions, and
What then remains, or what method is discovered of holding
commerce with them? Is there such a method by which they
shall do what seems fit to them, and we not the less shall be in
a mood which is conformable to nature? But you are unwilling
to endure, and are discontented; and if you are alone, you call
it solitude; and if you are with men, you call them knaves and
robbers; and you find fault with your own parents and children,
and brothers and neighbors. But you ought when you are alone
to call this condition by the name of tranquillity and freedom,
and to think yourself like to the gods; and when you are with
many, you ought not to call it crowd, nor trouble, nor
uneasiness, but festival and assembly, and so accept all
What then is the punishment of those who do not accept? It
is to be what they are. Is any person dissatisfied with being
alone? Let him be alone. Is a man dissatisfied with his parents?
Let him be a bad son, and lament. Is he dissatisfied with his
children? Let him be a bad father. Cast him into prison. What
prison? Where he is already, for he is there against his will; and
where a man is against his will, there he is in prison. So
Socrates was not in prison, for he was there willingly. Must my
leg then be lamed? Wretch, do you then on account of one
poor leg find fault with the world? Will you not willingly
surrender it for the whole? Will you not withdraw from it? Will
you not gladly part with it to him who gave it? And will you be
vexed and discontented with the things established by Zeus,
which he, with the Moirae (fates) who were present and
spinning the thread of your generation, defined and put in
order? Know you not how small a part you are compared with
the whole. I mean with respect to the body, for as to
intelligence you are not inferior to the gods nor less; for the
magnitude of intelligence is not measured by length nor yet by
height, but by thoughts.
When some one asked, How may a man eat acceptably to
the gods, he answered: If he can eat justly and contentedly,
and with equanimity, and temperately, and orderly, will it not
be also acceptable to the gods? But when you have asked for
warm water and the slave has not heard, or if he did hear has
brought only tepid water, or he is not even found to be in the
house, then not to be vexed or to burst with passion, is not this
acceptable to the gods? How then shall a man endure such
persons as this slave? Slave yourself, will you not bear with
your own brother, who has Zeus for his progenitor, and is like a
son from the same seeds and of the same descent from
above? But if you have been put in any such higher place, will
you immediately make yourself a tyrant? Will you not
remember who you are, and whom you rule? That they are
kinsmen, that they are brethren by nature, that they are the
offspring of Zeus? But I have purchased them, and they have
not purchased me. Do you see in what direction you are
looking, that it is towards the earth, towards the pit, that it is
towards these wretched laws of dead men? but towards the
laws of the gods you are not looking.
When a man was consulting him how he should persuade his
brother to cease being angry with him, Epictetus replied:
Philosophy does not propose to secure for a man any external
thing. If it did (or if it were not, as I say), philosophy would be
allowing something which is not within its province. For as the
carpenter's material is wood, and that of the statuary is
copper, so the matter of the art of living is each man's life.
When then is my brother's? That again belongs to his own art;
but with respect to yours, it is one of the external things, like a
piece of land, like health, like reputation. But Philosophy
promises none of these. In every circumstance I will maintain,
she says, the governing part conformable to nature. Whose
governing part? His in whom I am, she says.
How then shall my brother cease to be angry with me? Bring
him to me and I will tell him. But I have nothing to say to you
about his anger.
When the man who was consulting him said, I seek to know
this, How, even if my brother is not reconciled to me, shall I
maintain myself in a state conformable to nature? Nothing
great, said Epictetus, is produced suddenly, since not even the
grape or the fig is. If you say to me now that you want a fig, I
will answer to you that it requires time: let it flower first, then
put forth fruit, and then ripen. Is then the fruit of a fig-tree not
perfected suddenly and in one hour, and would you possess
the fruit of a man's mind in so short a time and so easily? Do
not expect it, even if I tell you.
Ought not then this robber and this adulterer to be
destroyed? By no means say so, but speak rather in this way:
This man who has been mistaken and deceived about the most
important things, and blinded, not in the faculty of vision which
distinguishes white and black, but in the faculty which
distinguishes good and bad, should we not destroy him? If you
speak thus you will see how inhuman this is which you say,
and that it is just as if you would say, Ought we not to destroy
this blind and deaf man? But if the greatest harm is the
privation of the greatest things, and the greatest thing in every
man is the will or choice such as it ought to be, and a man is
deprived of this will, why are you also angry with him? Man,
you ought not to be affected contrary to nature by the bad
things of another. Pity him rather; drop this readiness to be
offended and to hate, and these words which the many utter:
"These accursed and odious fellows." How have you been
made so wise at once? and how are you so peevish? Why then
are we angry? Is it because we value so much the things of
which these men rob us? Do not admire your clothes, and then
you will not be angry with the thief. Consider this matter thus:
you have fine clothes; your neighbor has not; you have a
window; you wish to air the clothes. The thief does not know
wherein man's good consists, but he thinks that it consist in
having fine clothes, the very thing which you also think. Must
he not then come and take them away? When you show a cake
to greedy persons, and swallow it all yourself, do you expect
them not to snatch it from you? Do not provoke them; do not
have a window; do not air your clothes. I also lately had an iron
lamp placed by the side of my household gods; hearing a noise
at the door, I ran down, and found that the lamp had been
carried off. I reflected that he who had taken the lamp had
done nothing strange. What then? To-morrow, I said, you will
find an earthen lamp; for a man only loses that which he has. I
have lost my garment. The reason is that you had a garment. I
have a pain in my head. Have you any pain in your horns? Why
then are you troubled? For we only lose those things, we have
only pains about those things, which we possess.
But the tyrant will chain—what? The leg. He will take away—
what? The neck. What then will he not chain and not take
away? The will. This is why the ancients taught the maxim,
Know thyself. Therefore we ought to exercise ourselves in small
things, and beginning with them to proceed to the greater. I
have pain in the head. Do not say, Alas! I have pain in the ear.
Do not say alas! And I do not say that you are not allowed to
groan, but do not groan inwardly; and if your slave is slow in
bringing a bandage, do not cry out and torment yourself, and
say, Every body hates me; for who would not hate such a man?
For the future, relying on these opinions, walk about upright,
free; not trusting to the size of your body, as an athlete, for a
man ought not to be invincible in the way that an ass is.
If a man possesses any superiority, or thinks that he does
when he does not, such a man, if he is uninstructed, will of
necessity be puffed up through it. For instance, the tyrant
says, I am master of all! And what can you do for me? Can you
give me desire which shall have no hindrance? How can you?
Have you the infallible power of avoiding what you would
avoid? Have you the power of moving towards an object
without error? And how do you possess this power? Come,
when you are in a ship, do you trust to yourself or to the
helmsman? And when you are in a chariot, to whom do you
trust but to the driver? And how is it in all other arts? Just the
same. In what, then, lies your power? All men pay respect to
me. Well, I also pay respect to my platter, and I wash it and
wipe it; and for the sake of my oil-flask, I drive a peg into the
wall. Well, then, are these things superior to me? No, but they
supply some of my wants, and for this reason I take care of
them. Well, do I not attend to my ass? Do I not wash his feet?
Do I not clean him? Do you not know that every man has
regard to himself, and to you just the same as he has regard to
his ass? For who has regard to you as a man? Show me. Who
wishes to become like you? Who imitates you, as he imitates
Socrates? But I can cut off your head. You say right. I had
forgotten that I must have regard to you, as I would to a fever
and the bile, and raise an altar to you, as there is at Rome an
altar to fever.
What is it then that disturbs and terrifies the multitude? Is it
the tyrant and his guards? (By no means.) I hope that it is not
so. It is not possible that what is by nature free can be
disturbed by anything else, or hindered by any other thing
than by itself. But it is a man's own opinions which disturb him.
For when the tyrant says to a man, I will chain your leg, he who
values his leg says, Do not; have pity. But he who values his
own will says, If it appears more advantageous to you, chain it.
Do you not care? I do not care. I will show you that I am
master. You cannot do that. Zeus has set me free; do you think
that he intended to allow his own son to be enslaved? But you
are master of my carcase; take it. So when you approach me,
you have no regard to me? No, but I have regard to myself;
and if you wish me to say that I have regard to you also, I tell
you that I have the same regard to you that I have to my
What then? When absurd notions about things independent
of our will, as if they were good and (or) bad, lie at the bottom
of our opinions, we must of necessity pay regard to tyrants: for
I wish that men would pay regard to tyrants only, and not also
to the bedchamber men. How is it that the man becomes all at
once wise, when Cæsar has made him superintendent of the
close stool? How is it that we say immediately, Felicion spoke
sensibly to me? I wish he were ejected from the bedchamber,
that he might again appear to you to be a fool.
Has a man been exalted to the tribuneship? All who meet
him offer their congratulations; one kisses his eyes, another
the neck, and the slaves kiss his hands. He goes to his house,
he finds torches lighted. He ascends the Capitol; he offers a
sacrifice on the occasion. Now who ever sacrificed for having
had good desires? for having acted conformably to nature? For
in fact we thank the gods for those things in which we place
our good.
A person was talking to me to-day about the priesthood of
Augustus. I say to him: Man, let the thing alone; you will spend
much for no purpose. But he replies, Those who draw up
agreements will write my name. Do you then stand by those
who read them, and say to such persons, It is I whose name is
written there? And if you can now be present on ail such
occasions, what will you do when you are dead? My name will
remain. Write it on a stone, and it will remain. But come, what
remembrance of you will there be beyond Nicopolis? But I shall
wear a crown of gold. If you desire a crown at all, take a crown
of roses and put it on, for it will be more elegant in
When a man holds his proper station in life, he does not
gape after things beyond it. Man, what do you wish to happen
to you? I am satisfied if I desire and avoid conformably to
nature, if I employ movements towards and from an object as I
am by nature formed to do, and purpose and design and
assent. Why then do you strut before us as if you had
swallowed a spit? My wish has always been that those who
meet me should admire me, and those who follow me should
exclaim, O the great philosopher! Who are they by whom you
wish to be admired? Are they not those of whom you are used
to say that they are mad? Well, then, do you wish to be
admired by madmen?
Precognitions are common to all men, and precognition is not
contradictory to precognition. For who of us does not assume
that Good is useful and eligible, and in all circumstances that
we ought to follow and pursue it? And who of us does not
assume that Justice is beautiful and becoming? When then
does the contradiction arise? It arises in the adaptation of the
præcognitions to the particular cases. When one man says,
"He has done well; he is a brave man," and another says, "Not
so; but he has acted foolishly," then the disputes arise among
men. This is the dispute among the Jews and the Syrians and
the Egyptians and the Romans; not whether holiness should be
preferred to all things and in all cases should be pursued, but
whether it is holy to eat pig's flesh or not holy. You will find this
dispute also between Agamemnon and Achilles; for call them
forth. What do you say, Agamemnon? ought not that to be
done which is proper and right? "Certainly." Well, what do you
say, Achilles? do you not admit that what is good ought to be
done? "I do most certainly." Adapt your præcognitions then to
the present matter. Here the dispute begins. Agamemnon
says, "I ought not to give up Chryseis to her father." Achilles
says, "You ought." It is certain that one of the two makes a
wrong adaptation of the præcognition of "ought" or "duty."
Further, Agamemnon says, "Then if I ought to restore Chryseis,
it is fit that I take his prize from some of you." Achilles replies,
"Would you then take her whom I love?" "Yes, her whom you
love." "Must I then be the only man who goes without a prize?
and must I be the only man who has no prize?" Thus the
dispute begins.
What then is education? Education is the learning how to
adapt the natural præcognitions to the particular things
conformably to nature; and then to distinguish that of things
some are in our power, but others are not. In our power are will
and all acts which depend on the will; things not in our power
are the body, the parts of the body, possessions, parents,
brothers, children, country, and, generally, all with whom we
live in society. In what then should we place the good? To what
kind of things ([Greek: ousia]) shall we adapt it? To the things
which are in our power? Is not health then a good thing, and
soundness of limb, and life, and are not children and parents
and country? Who will tolerate you if you deny this?
Let us then transfer the notion of good to these things. Is it
possible, then, when a man sustains damage and does not
obtain good things, that he can be happy? It is not possible.
And can he maintain towards society a proper behavior? He
can not. For I am naturally formed to look after my own
interest. If it is my interest to have an estate in land, it is my
interest also to take it from my neighbor. If it is my interest to
have a garment, it is my interest also to steal it from the bath.
This is the origin of wars, civil commotions, tyrannies,
conspiracies. And how shall I be still able to maintain my duty
towards Zeus? For if I sustain damage and am unlucky, he
takes no care of me. And what is he to me if he cannot help
me? And further, what is he to me if he allows me to be in the
condition in which I am? I now begin to hate him. Why then do
we build temples, why setup statues to Zeus, as well as to evil
demons, such as to Fever; and how is Zeus the Saviour, and
how the giver of rain, and the giver of fruits? And in truth if we
place the nature of Good in any such things, all this follows.
What should we do then? This is the inquiry of the true
philosopher who is in labor. Now I do not see what the good is
nor the bad. Am I not mad? Yes. But suppose that I place the
good somewhere among the things which depend on the will;
all will laugh at me. There will come some greyhead wearing
many gold rings on his fingers, and he will shake his head and
say: "Hear, my child. It is right that you should philosophize;
but you ought to have some brains also; all this that you are
doing is silly. You learn the syllogism from philosophers; but
you know how to act better than philosophers do." Man why
then do you blame me, if I know? What shall I say to this slave?
If I am silent, he will burst. I must speak in this way: "Excuse
me, as you would excuse lovers; I am not my own master; I am
It is circumstances (difficulties) which show what men are.
Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember 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 conqueror; 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; but no man sends a cowardly scout,
who, if he only hears a noise and sees a shadow anywhere,
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: "Begone, prophesy for
yourself; we have committed only one fault, that we sent such
a scout."
Diogenes, 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?
If these things are true, and if we are not silly, and are not
acting hypocritically when we say that the good of man is in
the will, and the evil too, and that everything else does not
concern us, why are we still disturbed, why are we still afraid?
The things about which we have been busied are in no man's
power; and the things which are in the power of others, we
care not for. What kind of trouble have we still?
But give me directions. Why should I give you directions?
Has not Zeus given you directions? Has he not given to you
what is your own free from hindrance and free from
impediment, and what is not your own subject to hindrance
and impediment? What directions then, what kind of orders did
you bring when you came from him? Keep by every means
what is your own; do not desire what belongs to others. Fidelity
(integrity) is your own, virtuous shame is your own; who then
can take these things from you? who else than yourself will
hinder you from using them? But how do you act? When you
seek what is not your own, you lose that which is your own.
Having such promptings and commands from Zeus, what kind
do you still ask from me? Am I more powerful than he, am I
more worthy of confidence? But if you observe these, do you
want any others besides? "Well, but he has not given these
orders," you will say. Produce your prcognitions ([Greek:
prolaepseis]), produce these proofs of philosophers, produce
what you have often heard, and produce what you have said
yourself, produce what you have read, produce what you have
meditated on; and you will then see that all these things are
from God.
If I have set my admiration on the poor body, I have given
myself up to be a slave; if on my poor possessions, I also make
myself a slave. For I immediately make it plain with what I may
be caught; as if the snake draws in his head, I tell you to strike
that part of him which he guards; and do you be assured that
whatever part you choose to guard, that part your master will
attack. Remembering this, whom will you still flatter or fear?
But I should like to sit where the Senators sit. Do you see
that you are putting yourself in straits, you are squeezing
yourself? How then shall I see well in any other way in the
amphitheatre? Man, do not be a spectator at all, and you will
not be squeezed. Why do you give yourself trouble? Or wait a
little, and when the spectacle is over, seat yourself in the place
reserved for the Senators and sun yourself. For remember this
general truth, that it is we who squeeze ourselves, who put
ourselves in straits; that is, our opinions squeeze us and put us
in straits. For what is it to be reviled? Stand by a stone and
revile it, and what will you gain? If then a man listens like a
stone, what profit is there to the reviler? But if the reviler has
as a stepping-stone (or ladder) the weakness of him who is
reviled, then he accomplishes something. Strip him. What do
you mean by him? Lay hold of his garment, strip it off. I have
insulted you. Much good may it do you.
This was the practice of Socrates; this was the reason why
he always had one face. But we choose to practise and study
anything rather than the means by which we shall be
unimpeded and free. You say: "Philosophers talk paradoxes."
But are there no paradoxes in the other arts? And what is more
paradoxical than to puncture a man's eye in order that he may
see? If any one said this to a man ignorant of the surgical art,
would he not ridicule the speaker? Where is the wonder, then,
if in philosophy also many things which are true appear
paradoxical to the inexperienced?
Appearances are to us in four ways. For either things appear
as they are; or they are not, and do not even appear to be; or
they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet
appear to be. Further, in all these cases to form a right
judgment (to hit the mark) is the office of an educated man.
But whatever it is that annoys (troubles) us, to that we ought
to apply a remedy. If the sophisms of Pyrrho and of the
Academics are what annoys (troubles), we must apply the
remedy to them. If it is the persuasion of appearances, by
which some things appear to be good, when they are not good,
let us seek a remedy for this. If it is habit which annoys us, we
must try to seek aid against habit. What aid, then, can we find
against habit? The contrary habit. You hear the ignorant say:
"That unfortunate person is dead; his father and mother are
overpowered with sorrow; he was cut off by an untimely death
and in a foreign land." Hear the contrary way of speaking. Tear
yourself from these expressions; oppose to one habit the
contrary habit; to sophistry oppose reason, and the exercise
and discipline of reason; against persuasive (deceitful)
appearances we ought to have manifest præcognitions
([Greek: prolaepseis]), cleared of all impurities and ready to
When death appears an evil, we ought to have this rule in
readiness, that it is fit to avoid evil things, and that death is a
necessary thing. For what shall I do, and where shall I escape
it? Suppose that I am not Sarpedon, the son of Zeus, nor able
to speak in this noble way. I will go and I am resolved either to
behave bravely myself or to give to another the opportunity of
doing so; if I cannot succeed in doing anything myself, I will
not grudge another the doing of something noble. Suppose
that it is above our power to act thus; is it not in our power to
reason thus? Tell me where I can escape death; discover for
me the country, show me the men to whom I must go, whom
death does not visit. Discover to me a charm against death. If I
have not one, what do you wish me to do? I cannot escape
from death. Shall I not escape from the fear of death, but shall
I die lamenting and trembling? For the origin of perturbation is
this, to wish for something, and that this should not happen.
Therefore if I am able to change externals according to my
wish, I change them; but if I cannot, I am ready to tear out the
eyes of him who hinders me. For the nature of man is not to
endure to be deprived of the good, and not to endure the
falling into the evil. Then at last, when I am neither able to
change circumstances nor to tear out the eyes of him who
hinders me, I sit down and groan, and abuse whom I can, Zeus
and the rest of the gods. For if they do not care for me, what
are they to me? Yes, but you will be an impious man. In what
respect, then, will it be worse for me than it is now? To sum up,
remember that unless piety and your interest be in the same
thing, piety cannot be maintained in any man. Do not these
things seem necessary (true)?
What is the cause of assenting to anything? The fact that it
appears to be true. It is not possible then to assent to that
which appears not to be true. Why? Because this is the nature
of the understanding, to incline to the true, to be dissatisfied
with the false, and in matters uncertain to withhold assent.
What is the proof of this? Imagine (persuade yourself), if you
can, that it is now night. It is not possible. Take away your
persuasion that it is day. It is not possible. Persuade yourself or
take away your persuasion that the stars are even in number.
It is impossible. When then any man assents to that which is
false, be assured that he did not intend to assent to it as false,
for every soul is unwillingly deprived of the truth, as Plato
says; but the falsity seemed to him to be true. Well, in acts
what have we of the like kind as we have here truth or
falsehood? We have the fit and the not fit (duty and not duty),
the profitable and the unprofitable, that which is suitable to a
person and that which is not, and whatever is like these. Can
then a man think that a thing is useful to him and not choose
it? He cannot. How says Medea?
"'Tis true I know what evil I shall do,
But passion overpowers the better counsel."
She thought that to indulge her passion and take vengeance
on her husband was more profitable than to spare her children.
It was so; but she was deceived. Show her plainly that she is
deceived, and she will not do it; but so long as you do not
show it, what can she follow except that which appears to
herself (her opinion)? Nothing else. Why then are you angry
with the unhappy woman that she has been bewildered about
the most important things, and is become a viper instead of a
human creature? And why not, if it is possible, rather pity, as
we pity the blind and the lame, so those who are blinded and
maimed in the faculties which are supreme?
Whoever then clearly remembers this, that to man the
measure of every act is the appearance (the opinion), whether
the thing appears good or bad. If good, he is free from blame;
if bad, himself suffers the penalty, for it is impossible that he
who is deceived can be one person, and he who suffers
another person—whoever remembers this will not be angry
with any man, will not be vexed at any man, will not revile or
blame any man, nor hate, nor quarrel with any man.
So then all these great and dreadful deeds have this origin,
in the appearance (opinion)? Yes, this origin and no other. The
Iliad is nothing else than appearance and the use of
appearances. It appeared to Alexander to carry off the wife of
Menelaus. It appeared to Helene to follow him. If then it had
appeared to Menelaus to feel that it was a gain to be deprived
of such a wife, what would have happened? Not only would the
Iliad have been lost, but the Odyssey also. On so small a
matter then did such great things depend? But what do you
mean by such great things? Wars and civil commotions, and
the destruction of many men and cities. And what great matter
is this? Is it nothing? But what great matter is the death of
many oxen, and many sheep, and many nests of swallows or
storks being burnt or destroyed? Are these things then like
those? Very like. Bodies of men are destroyed, and the bodies
of oxen and sheep; the dwellings of men are burnt, and the
nests of storks. What is there in this great or dreadful? Or show
me what is the difference between a man's house and a stork's
nest, as far as each is a dwelling; except that man builds his
little houses of beams and tiles and bricks, and the stork builds
them of sticks and mud. Are a stork and a man then like
things? What say you? In body they are very much alike.
Does a man then differ in no respect from a stork? Don't
suppose that I say so; but there is no difference in these
matters (which I have mentioned). In what then is the
difference? Seek and you will find that there is a difference in
another matter. See whether it is not in a man the
understanding of what he does, see if it is not in social
community, in fidelity, in modesty, in steadfastness, in
intelligence. Where then is the great good and evil in men? It is
where the difference is. If the difference is preserved and
remains fenced round, and neither modesty is destroyed, nor
fidelity, nor intelligence, then the man also is preserved; but if
any of these things is destroyed and stormed like a city, then
the man too perishes: and in this consist the great things.
Alexander, you say, sustained great damage then when the
Hellenes invaded and when they ravaged Troy, and when his
brothers perished. By no means; for no man is damaged by an
action which is not his own; but what happened at that time
was only the destruction of stork's nests. Now the ruin of
Alexander was when he lost the character of modesty, fidelity,
regard to hospitality, and to decency. When was Achilles
ruined? Was it when Patroclus died? Not so. But it happened
when he began to be angry, when he wept for a girl, when he
forgot that he was at Troy not to get mistresses, but to fight.
These things are the ruin of men, this is being besieged, this is
the destruction of cities, when right opinions are destroyed,
when they are corrupted.
The being (nature) of the good is a certain will; the being of
the bad is a certain kind of will. What, then, are externals?
Materials for the will, about which the will being conversant
shall obtain its own good or evil. How shall it obtain the good?
If it does not admire (over-value) the materials; for the
opinions about the materials, if the opinions are right, make
the will good: but perverse and distorted opinions make the
will bad. God has fixed this law, and says, "If you would have
anything good, receive it from yourself." You say, No, but I will
have it from another. Do not so: but receive it from yourself.
Therefore when the tyrant threatens and calls me, I say, Whom
do you threaten? If he says, I will put you in chains, I say, You
threaten my hands and my feet. If he says, I will cut off your
head, I reply, You threaten my head. If he says, I will throw you
into prison, I say, You threaten the whole of this poor body. If
he threatens me with banishment, I say the same. Does he
then not threaten you at all? If I feel that all these things do
not concern me, he does not threaten me at all; but if I fear
any of them, it is I whom he threatens. Whom then do I fear?
the master of what? The master of things which are in my own
power? There is no such master. Do I fear the master of things
which are not in my power? And what are these things to me?
Do you philosophers then teach us to despise kings? I hope
not. Who among us teaches to claim against them the power
over things which they possess? Take my poor body, take my
property, take my reputation, take those who are about me. If I
advise any persons to claim these things, they may truly
accuse me. Yes, but I intend to command your opinions also.
And who has given you this power? How can you conquer the
opinion of another man? By applying terror to it, he replies, I
will conquer it. Do you not know that opinion conquers itself,
and is not conquered by another? But nothing else can
conquer will except the will itself. For this reason too the law of
God is most powerful and most just, which is this: Let the
stronger always be superior to the weaker. Ten are stronger
than one. For what? For putting in chains, for killing, for
dragging whither they choose, for taking away what a man
has. The ten therefore conquer the one in this in which they
are stronger. In what then are the ten weaker? If the one
possesses right opinions and the others do not. Well then, can
the ten conquer in this matter? How is it possible? If we were
placed in the scales, must not the heavier draw down the scale
in which it is.
How strange then that Socrates should have been so treated
by the Athenians. Slave, why do you say Socrates? Speak of
the thing as it is: how strange that the poor body of Socrates
should have been carried off and dragged to prison by stronger
men, and that anyone should have given hemlock to the poor
body of Socrates, and that it should breathe out the life. Do
these things seem strange, do they seem unjust, do you on
account of these things blame God? Had Socrates then no
equivalent for these things? Where then for him was the
nature of good? Whom shall we listen to, you or him? And what
does Socrates say? "Anytus and Melitus can kill me, but they
cannot hurt me." And further, he says, "If it so pleases God, so
let it be."
But show me that he who has the inferior principles
overpowers him who is superior in principles. You will never
show this, nor come near showing it; for this is the law of
nature and of God that the superior shall always overpower the
inferior. In what? In that in which it is superior. One body is
stronger than another: many are stronger than one: the thief is
stronger than he who is not a thief. This is the reason why I
also lost my lamp, because in wakefulness the thief was
superior to me. But the man bought the lamp at this price: for
a lamp he became a thief, a faithless fellow, and like a wild
beast. This seemed to him a good bargain. Be it so. But a man
has seized me by the cloak, and is drawing me to the public
place: then others bawl out, Philosopher, what has been the
use of your opinions? see, you are dragged to prison, you are
going to be beheaded. And what system of philosophy ([Greek:
eisagogaen)] could I have made so that, if a stronger man
should have laid hold of my cloak, I should not be dragged off;
that if ten men should have laid hold of me and cast me into
prison, I should not be cast in? Have I learned nothing else
then? I have learned to see that everything which happens, if it
be independent of my will, is nothing to me. I may ask, if you
have not gained by this. Why then do you seek advantage in
anything else than in that in which you have learned that
advantage is?
Will you not leave the small arguments ([Greek: logaria])
about these matters to others, to lazy fellows, that they may
sit in a corner and receive their sorry pay, or grumble that no
one gives them anything; and will you not come forward and
make use of what you have learned? For it is not these small
arguments that are wanted now; the writings of the Stoics are
full of them. What then is the thing which is wanted? A man
who shall apply them, one who by his acts shall bear testimony
to his words. Assume, I intreat you, this character, that we may
no longer use in the schools the examples of the ancients, but
may have some example of our own.
To whom then does the contemplation of these matters
(philosophical inquiries) belong? To him who has leisure, for
man is an animal that loves contemplation. But it is shameful
to contemplate these things as runaway slaves do; we should
sit, as in a theatre, free from distraction, and listen at one time
to the tragic actor, at another time to the lute-player; and not
do as slaves do. As soon as the slave has taken his station he
praises the actor and at the same time looks round; then if any
one calls out his master's name, the slave is immediately
frightened and disturbed. It is shameful for philosophers thus
to contemplate the works of nature. For what is a master? Man
is not the master of man; but death is, and life and pleasure
and pain; for if he comes without these things, bring Caesar to
me and you will see how firm I am. But when he shall come
with these things, thundering and lightning, and when I am
afraid of them, what do I do then except to recognize my
master like the runaway slave? But so long as I have any
respite from these terrors, as a runaway slave stands in the
theatre, so do I. I bathe, I drink, I sing; but all this I do with
terror and uneasiness. But if I shall release myself from my
masters, that is from those things by means of which masters
are formidable, what further trouble have I, what master have I
What then, ought we to publish these things to all men? No,
but we ought to accommodate ourselves to the ignorant
([Greek: tois idiotais]) and to say: "This man recommends to
me that which he thinks good for himself. I excuse him." For
Socrates also excused the jailer who had the charge of him in
prison and was weeping when Socrates was going to drink the
poison, and said, "How generously he laments over us." Does
he then say to the jailer that for this reason we have sent away
the women? No, but he says it to his friends who were able to
hear (understand) it; and he treats the jailer as a child.
The opinion of the philosophers perhaps seem to some to be
a paradox; but still let us examine as well as we can, if it is
true that it is possible to do everything both with caution and
with confidence. For caution seems to be in a manner contrary
to confidence, and contraries are in no way consistent. That
which seems to many to be a paradox in the matter under
consideration in my opinion is of this kind; if we asserted that
we ought to employ caution and confidence in the same
things, men might justly accuse us of bringing together things
which cannot be united. But now where is the difficulty in what
is said? for if these things are true, which have been often said
and often proved, that the nature of good is in the use of
appearances, and the nature of evil likewise, and that things
independent of our will do not admit either the nature of evil or
of good, what paradox do the philosophers assert if they say
that where things are not dependent on the will, there you
should employ confidence, but where they are dependent on
the will, there you should employ caution? For if the bad
consists in the bad exercise of the will, caution ought only to
be used where things are dependent on the will. But if things
independent of the will and not in our power are nothing to us,
with respect to these we must employ confidence; and thus we
shall both be cautious and confident, and indeed confident
because of our caution. For by employing caution towards
things which are really bad, it will result that we shall have
confidence with respect to things which are not so.
We are then in the condition of deer; when they flee from the
huntsmen's feathers in fright, whither do they turn and in what
do they seek refuge as safe? They turn to the nets, and thus
they perish by confounding things which are objects of fear
with things that they ought not to fear. Thus we also act: in
what cases do we fear? In things which are independent of the
will. In what cases on the contrary do we behave with
confidence, as if there were no danger? In things dependent on
the will. To be deceived then, or to act rashly, or shamelessly,
or with base desire to seek something, does not concern us at
all, if we only hit the mark in things which are independent of
our will. But where there is death or exile or pain or infamy,
there we attempt to run away, there we are struck with terror.
Therefore, as we may expect it to happen with those who err in
the greatest matters, we convert natural confidence (that is,
according to nature) into audacity, desperation, rashness,
shamelessness; and we convert natural caution and modesty
into cowardice and meanness, which are full of fear and
confusion. For if a man should transfer caution to those things
in which the will may be exercised and the acts of the will, he
will immediately by willing to be cautious have also the power
of avoiding what he chooses; but if he transfer it to the things
which are not in his power and will, and attempt to avoid the
things which are in the power of others, he will of necessity
fear, he will be unstable, he will be disturbed; for death or pain
is not formidable, but the fear of pain or death. For this reason
we commend the poet, who said:
"Not death is evil, but a shameful death."
Confidence (courage) then ought to be employed against
death, and caution against the fear of death. But now we do
the contrary, and employ against death the attempt to escape;
and to our opinion about it we employ carelessness, rashness,
and indifference. These things Socrates properly used to call
tragic masks; for as to children masks appear terrible and
fearful from inexperience, we also are affected in like manner
by events (the things which happen in life) for no other reason
than children are by masks. For what is a child? Ignorance.
What is a child? Want of knowledge. For when a child knows
these things, he is in no way inferior to us. What is death? A
tragic mask. Turn it and examine it. See, it does not bite. The
poor body must be separated from the spirit either now or later
as it was separated from it before. Why then are you troubled
if it be separated now? for if it is not separated now, it will be
separated afterwards. Why? That the period of the universe
may be completed, for it has need of the present, and of the
future, and of the past. What is pain? A mask. Turn it and
examine it. The poor flesh is moved roughly, then on the
contrary smoothly. If this does not satisfy (please) you, the
door is open; if it does, bear (with things). For the door ought
to be open for all occasions; and so we have no trouble.
What then is the fruit of these opinions? It is that which
ought to be the most noble and the most becoming to those
who are really educated, release from perturbation, release
from fear. Freedom. For in these matters we must not believe
the many, who say that free persons only ought to be
educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who
say that the educated only are free. How is this? In this
manner: Is freedom anything else than the power of living as
we choose? Nothing else. Tell me then, ye men, do you wish to
live in error? We do not. No one then who lives in error is free.
Do you wish to live in fear? Do you wish to live in sorrow? Do
you wish to live in perturbation? By no means. No one then
who is in a state of fear or sorrow or perturbation is free; but
whoever is delivered from sorrows and fears and perturbations,
he is at the same time also delivered from servitude. How then
can we continue to believe you, most dear legislators, when
you say, We only allow free persons to be educated? For
philosophers say we allow none to be free except the
educated; that is, God does not allow it. When then a man has
turned round before the prætor his own slave, has he done
nothing? He has done something. What? He has turned round
his own slave before the prætor. Has he done nothing more?
Yes: he is also bound to pay for him the tax called the
twentieth. Well then, is not the man who has gone through this
ceremony become free? No more than he is become free from
perturbations. Have you who are able to turn round (free)
others no master? is not money your master, or a girl or a boy,
or some tyrant or some friend of the tyrant? Why do you
trouble then when you are going off to any trial (danger) of this
kind? It is for this reason that I often say, study and hold in
readiness these principles by which you may determine what
those things are with reference to which you ought to be
cautious, courageous in that which does not depend on your
will, cautious in that which does depend on it.
Consider, you who are going into court, what you wish to
maintain and what you wish to succeed in. For if you wish to
maintain a will conformable to nature, you have every security,
every facility, you have no troubles. For if you wish to maintain
what is in your own power and is naturally free, and if you are
content with these, what else do you care for? For who is the
master of such things? Who can take them away? If you
choose to be modest and faithful, who shall not allow you to be
so? If you choose not to be restrained or compelled, who shall
compel you to desire what you think that you ought not to
desire? who shall compel you to avoid what you do not think fit
to avoid? But what do you say? The judge will determine
against you something that appears formidable; but that you
should also suffer in trying to avoid it, how can he do that?
When then the pursuit of objects and the avoiding of them are
in your power, what else do you care for? Let this be your
preface, this your narrative, this your confirmation, this your
victory, this your peroration, this your applause (or the
approbation which you will receive).
Therefore Socrates said to one who was reminding him to
prepare for his trial, Do you not think then that I have been
preparing for it all my life? By what kind of preparation? I have
maintained that which was in my own power. How then? I have
never done anything unjust either in my private or in my public
But if you wish to maintain externals also, your poor body,
your little property, and your little estimation, I advise you to
make from this moment all possible preparation, and then
consider both the nature of your judge and your adversary. If it
is necessary to embrace his knees, embrace his knees; if to
weep, weep; if to groan, groan. For when you have subjected
to externals what is your own, then be a slave and do not
resist, and do not sometimes choose to be a slave, and
sometimes not choose, but with all your mind be one or the
other, either free or a slave, either instructed or uninstructed,
either a well-bred cock or a mean one, either endure to be
beaten until you die or yield at once; and let it not happen to
you to receive many stripes and then to yield. But if these
things are base, determine immediately. Where is the nature of
evil and good? It is where truth is: where truth is and where
nature is, there is caution: where truth is, there is courage
where nature is.
For this reason also it is ridiculous to say, Suggest something
to me (tell me what to do). What should I suggest to you? Well,
form my mind so as to accommodate itself to any event. Why
that is just the same as if a man who is ignorant of letters
should say, Tell me what to write when any name is proposed
to me. For if I should tell him to write Dion, and then another
should come and propose to him not the name of Dion but that
of Theon, what will be done? what will he write? But if you
have practised writing, you are also prepared to write (or to
do) anything that is required. If you are not, what can I now
suggest? For if circumstances require something else, what will
you say, or what will you do? Remember then this general
precept and you will need no suggestion. But if you gape after
externals, you must of necessity ramble up and down in
obedience to the will of your master. And who is the master?
He who has the power over the things which you seek to gain
or try to avoid.
Things themselves (materials) are indifferent; but the use of
them is not indifferent. How then shall a man preserve
firmness and tranquillity, and at the same time be careful and
neither rash nor negligent? If he imitates those who play at
dice. The counters are indifferent; the dice are indifferent. How
do I know what the cast will be? But to use carefully and
dexterously the cast of the dice, this is my business. Thus then
in life also the chief business is this: distinguish and separate
things, and say: Externals are not in my power: will is in my
power. Where shall I seek the good and the bad? Within, in the
things which are my own. But in what does not belong to you
call nothing either good or bad, or profit or damage or
anything of the kind.
What then? Should we use such things carelessly? In no way:
for this on the other hand is bad for the faculty of the will, and
consequently against nature; but we should act carefully
because the use is not indifferent, and we should also act with
firmness and freedom from perturbations because the material
is indifferent. For where the material is not indifferent, there no
man can hinder me or compel me. Where I can be hindered
and compelled, the obtaining of those things is not in my
power, nor is it good or bad; but the use is either bad or good,
and the use is in my power. But it is difficult to mingle and to
bring together these two things—the carefulness of him who is
affected by the matter (or things about him), and the firmness
of him who has no regard for it; but it is not impossible: and if
it is, happiness is impossible. But we should act as we do in the
case of a voyage. What can I do? I can choose the master of
the ship, the sailors, the day, the opportunity. Then comes a
storm. What more have I to care for? for my part is done. The
business belongs to another, the master. But the ship is sinking
—what then have I to do? I do the only thing that I can, not to
be drowned full of fear, nor screaming nor blaming God, but
knowing that what has been produced must also perish: for I
am not an immortal being, but a man, a part of the whole, as
an hour is a part of the day: I must be present like the hour,
and past like the hour. What difference then does it make to
me how I pass away, whether by being suffocated or by a
fever, for I must pass through some such means.
How then is it said that some external things are according
to nature and others contrary to nature? It is said as it might
be said if we were separated from union (or society): for to the
foot I shall say that it is according to nature for it to be clean;
but if you take it as a foot and as a thing not detached
(independent), it will befit it both to step into the mud and
tread on thorns, and sometimes to be cut off for the good of
the whole body; otherwise it is no longer a foot. We should
think in some such way about ourselves also. What are you? A
man. If you consider yourself as detached from other men, it is
according to nature to live to old age, to be rich, to be healthy.
But if you consider yourself as a man and a part of a certain
whole, it is for the sake of that whole that at one time you
should be sick, at another time take a voyage and run into
danger, and at another time be in want, and in some cases die
prematurely. Why then are you troubled? Do you not know,
that as a foot is no longer a foot if it is detached from the body,
so you are no longer a man if you are separated from other
men. For what is a man? A part of a state, of that first which
consists of gods and of men; then of that which is called next
to it, which is a small image of the universal state. What then
must I be brought to trial; must another have a fever, another
sail on the sea, another die, and another be condemned? Yes,
for it is impossible in such a universe of things, among so
many living together, that such things should not happen,
some to one and others to others. It is your duty then since
you are come here, to say what you ought, to arrange these
things as it is fit. Then some one says, "I shall charge you with
doing me wrong." Much good may it do you: I have done my
part; but whether you also have done yours, you must look to
that; for there is some danger of this too, that it may escape
your notice.
The hypothetical proposition is indifferent: the judgment
about it is not indifferent, but it is either knowledge or opinion
or error. Thus life is indifferent: the use is not indifferent. When
any man then tells you that these things also are indifferent,
do not become negligent; and when a man invites you to be
careful (about such things), do not become abject and struck
with admiration of material things. And it is good for you to
know your own preparation and power, that in those matters
where you have not been prepared, you may keep quiet, and
not be vexed, if others have the advantage over you. For you
too in syllogisms will claim to have the advantage over them;
and if others should be vexed at this, you will console them by
saying, "I have learned them, and you have not." Thus also
where there is need of any practice, seek not that which is
acquired from the need (of such practice), but yield in that
matter to those who have had practice, and be yourself
content with firmness of mind.
Go and salute a certain person. How? Not meanly. But I have
been shut out, for I have not learned to make my way through
the window; and when I have found the door shut, I must
either come back or enter through the window. But still speak
to him. In what way? Not meanly. But suppose that you have
not got what you wanted. Was this your business, and not his?
Why then do you claim that which belongs to another? Always
remember what is your own, and what belongs to another; and
you will not be disturbed. Chrysippus therefore said well, So
long as future things are uncertain, I always cling to those
which are more adapted to the conservation of that which is
according to nature; for God himself has given me the faculty
of such choice. But if I knew that it was fated (in the order of
things) for me to be sick, I would even move towards it; for the
foot also, if it had intelligence, would move to go into the mud.
For why are ears of corn produced? Is it not that they may
become dry? And do they not become dry that they may be
reaped? for they are not separated from communion with other
things. If then they had perception, ought they to wish never to
be reaped? But this is a curse upon ears of corn to be never
reaped. So we must know that in the case of men too it is a
curse not to die, just the same as not to be ripened and not to
be reaped. But since we must be reaped, and we also know
that we are reaped, we are vexed at it; for we neither know
what we are nor have we studied what belongs to man, as
those who have studied horses know what belongs to horses.
But Chrysantas when he was going to strike the enemy
checked himself when he heard the trumpet sounding a
retreat: so it seemed better to him to obey the general's
command than to follow his own inclination. But not one of us
chooses, even when necessity summons, readily to obey it, but
weeping and groaning we suffer what we do suffer, and we call
them "circumstances." What kind of circumstances, man? If
you give the name of circumstances to the things which are
around you, all things are circumstances; but if you call
hardships by this name, what hardship is there in the dying of
that which has been produced? But that which destroys is
either a sword, or a wheel, or the sea, or a tile, or a tyrant.
Why do you care about the way of going down to Hades? All
ways are equal. But if you will listen to the truth, the way
which the tyrant sends you is shorter. A tyrant never killed a
man in six months: but a fever is often a year about it. All
these things are only sound and the noise of empty names.
Through an unreasonable regard to divination many of us
omit many duties. For what more can the diviner see than
death or danger or disease, or generally things of that kind? If
then I must expose myself to danger for a friend, and if it is my
duty even to die for him, what need have I then for divination?
Have I not within me a diviner who has told me the nature of
good and of evil, and has explained to me the signs (or marks)
of both? What need have I then to consult the viscera of
victims or the flight of birds, and why do I submit when he
says, It is for your interest? For does he know what is for my
interest, does he know what is good; and as he has learned the
signs of the viscera, has he also learned the signs of good and
evil? For if he knows the signs of these, he knows the signs
both of the beautiful and of the ugly, and of the just and of the
unjust. Do you tell me, man, what is the thing which is signified
for me: is it life or death, poverty or wealth? But whether these
things are for my interest or whether they are not, I do not
intend to ask you. Why don't you give your opinion on matters
of grammar, and why do you give it here about things on
which we are all in error and disputing with one another?
What then leads us to frequent use of divination? Cowardice,
the dread of what will happen. This is the reason why we
flatter the diviners. Pray, master, shall I succeed to the
property of my father? Let us see: let us sacrifice on the
occasion. Yes, master, as fortune chooses. When he has said,
You shall succeed to the inheritance, we thank him as if we
received the inheritance from him. The consequence is that
they play upon us.
Will you not then seek the nature of good in the rational
animal? for if it is not there, you will not choose to say that it
exists in any other thing (plant or animal). What then? are not
plants and animals also the works of God? They are; but they
are not superior things, nor yet parts of the gods. But you are a
superior thing; you are a portion separated from the Deity; you
have in yourself a certain portion of him. Why then are you
ignorant of your own noble descent? Why do you not know
whence you came? will you not remember when you are eating
who you are who eat and whom you feed? When you are in
social intercourse, when you are exercising yourself, when you
are engaged in discussion, know you not that you are
nourishing a god, that you are exercising a god? Wretch, you
are carrying about a god with you, and you know it not. Do you
think that I mean some god of silver or of gold, and external?
You carry him within yourself, and you perceive not that you
are polluting him by impure thoughts and dirty deeds. And if
an image of God were present, you would not dare to do any of
the things which you are doing; but when God himself is
present within and sees all and hears all, you are not ashamed
of thinking such things and doing such things, ignorant as you
are of your own nature and subject to the anger of God. Then
why do we fear when we are sending a young man from the
school into active life, lest he should do anything improperly,
eat improperly, have improper intercourse with women; and
lest the rags in which he is wrapped should debase him, lest
fine garments should make him proud. This youth (if he acts
thus) does not know his own God; he knows not with whom he
sets out (into the world). But can we endure when he says, "I
wish I had you (God) with me." Have you not God with you?
and do you seek for any other when you have him? or will God
tell you anything else than this? If you were a statue of Phidias,
either Athena or Zeus, you would think both of yourself and of
the artist, and if you had any understanding (power of
perception) you would try to do nothing unworthy of him who
made you or of yourself, and try not to appear in an
unbecoming dress (attitude) to those who look upon you. But
now because Zeus has made you, for this reason do you care
not how you shall appear? And yet is the artist (in the one
case) like the artist in the other? or the work in the one case
like the other? And what work of an artist, for instance, has in
itself the faculties, which the artist shows in making it? Is it not
marble or bronze, or gold or ivory? and the Athena of Phidias,
when she has once extended the hand and received in it the
figure of Victory, stands in that attitude for ever. But the works
of God have power of motion, they breathe, they have the
faculty of using the appearances of things and the power of
examining them. Being the work of such an artist do you
dishonor him? And what shall I say, not only that he made you,
but also entrusted you to yourself and made you a deposit to
yourself? Will you not think of this too, but do you also
dishonor your guardianship? But if God had entrusted an
orphan to you, would you thus neglect him? He has delivered
yourself to your own care, and says: "I had no one fitter to
entrust him to than yourself; keep him for me such as he is by
nature, modest, faithful, erect, unterrified, free from passion
and perturbation." And then you do not keep him such.
But some will say, Whence has this fellow got the arrogance
which he displays and these supercilious looks? I have not yet
so much gravity as befits a philosopher; for I do not yet feel
confidence in what I have learned and in what I have assented
to. I still fear my own weakness. Let me get confidence and
then you shall see a countenance such as I ought to have and
an attitude such as I ought to have; then I will show to you the
statue, when it is perfected, when it is polished. What do you
expect? a supercilious countenance? Does the Zeus at Olympia
lift up his brow? No, his look is fixed as becomes him who is
ready to say:
Irrevocable is my word and shall not fail.—Iliad, i., 526.
Such will I show myself to you, faithful, modest, noble, free
from perturbation. What, and immortal, too, except from old
age, and from sickness? No, but dying as becomes a god,
sickening as becomes a god. This power I possess; this I can
do. But the rest I do not possess, nor can I do. I will show the
nerves (strength) of a philosopher. What nerves are these? A
desire never disappointed, an aversion which never falls on
that which it would avoid, a proper pursuit ([Greek: hormaen]),
a diligent purpose, an assent which is not rash. These you shall
It is no common (easy) thing to do this only, to fulfil the
promise of a man's nature. For what is a man? The answer is, A
rational and mortal being. Then by the rational faculty from
whom are we separated? From wild beasts. And from what
others? From sheep and like animals. Take care then to do
nothing like a wild beast; but if you do, you have lost the
character of a man; you have not fulfilled your promise. See
that you do nothing like a sheep; but if you do, in this case also
the man is lost. What then do we do as sheep? When we act
gluttonously, when we act lewdly, when we act rashly, filthily,
inconsiderately, to what have we declined? To sheep. What
have we lost? The rational faculty. When we act contentiously
and harmfully and passionately and violently, to what have we
declined? To wild beasts. Consequently some of us are great
wild beasts, and others little beasts, of a bad disposition and
small, whence we may say, Let me be eaten by a lion. But in
all these ways the promise of a man acting as a man is
destroyed. For when is a conjunctive (complex) proposition
maintained? When it fulfils what its nature promises; so that
the preservation of a complex proposition is when it is a
conjunction of truths. When is a disjunctive maintained? When
it fulfils what it promises. When are flutes, a lyre, a horse, a
dog, preserved? (When they severally keep their promise.)
What is the wonder then if man also in like manner is
preserved, and in like manner is lost? Each man is improved
and preserved by corresponding acts, the carpenter by acts of
carpentry, the grammarian by acts of grammar. But if a man
accustoms himself to write ungrammatically, of necessity his
art will be corrupted and destroyed. Thus modest actions
preserve the modest man, and immodest actions destroy him;
and actions of fidelity preserve the faithful man, and the
contrary actions destroy him. And on the other hand contrary
actions strengthen contrary characters: shamelessness
strengthens the shameless man, faithlessness the faithless
man, abusive words the abusive man, anger the man of an
angry temper, and unequal receiving and giving make the
avaricious man more avaricious.
For this reason philosophers admonish us not to be satisfied
with learning only, but also to add study, and then practice. For
we have long been accustomed to do contrary things, and we
put in practice opinions which are contrary to true opinions. If
then we shall not also put in practice right opinions, we shall
be nothing more than the expositors of the opinions of others.
For now who among us is not able to discourse according to
the rules of art about good and evil things (in this fashion)?
That of things some are good, and some are bad, and some
are indifferent: the good then are virtues, and the things which
participate in virtues; and the bad are the contrary; and the
indifferent are wealth, health, reputation. Then, if in the midst
of our talk there should happen some greater noise than usual,
or some of those who are present should laugh at us, we are
disturbed. Philosopher, where are the things which you were
talking about? Whence did you produce and utter them? From
the lips, and thence only. Why then do you corrupt the aids
provided by others? Why do you treat the weightiest matters
as if you were playing a game of dice? For it is one thing to lay
up bread and wine as in a storehouse, and another thing to
eat. That which has been eaten, is digested, distributed, and is
become sinews, flesh, bones, blood, healthy color, healthy
breath. Whatever is stored up, when you choose you can
readily take and show it; but you have no other advantage
from it except so far as to appear to possess it. For what is the
difference between explaining these doctrines and those of
men who have different opinions? Sit down now and explain
according to the rules of art the opinions of Epicurus, and
perhaps you will explain his opinions in a more useful manner
than Epicurus himself. Why then do you call yourself a Stoic?
Why do you deceive the many? Why do you act the part of a
Jew, when you are a Greek? Do you not see how (why) each is
called a Jew, or a Syrian, or an Egyptian? and when we see a
man inclining to two sides, we are accustomed to say, This
man is not a Jew, but he acts as one. But when he has
assumed the affects of one who has been imbued with Jewish
doctrine and has adopted that sect, then he is in fact and he is
named a Jew.
Consider who you are. In the first place, you are a man; and
this is one who has nothing superior to the faculty of the will,
but all other things subjected to it; and the faculty itself he
possesses unenslaved and free from subjection. Consider then
from what things you have been separated by reason. You
have been separated from wild beasts; you have been
separated from domestic animals ([Greek: probaton]). Further,
you are a citizen of the world, and a part of it, not one of the
subservient (serving), but one of the principal (ruling) parts, for
you are capable of comprehending the divine administration
and of considering the connection of things. What then does
the character of a citizen promise (profess)? To hold nothing as
profitable to himself; to deliberate about nothing as if he were
detached from the community, but to act as the hand or foot
would do, if they had reason and understood the constitution
of nature, for they would never put themselves in motion nor
desire anything otherwise than with reference to the whole.
Therefore, the philosophers say well, that if the good man had
foreknowledge of what would happen, he would co-operate
towards his own sickness and death and mutilation, since he
knows that these things are assigned to him according to the
universal arrangement, and that the whole is superior to the
part, and the state to the citizen. But now because we do not
know the future, it is our duty to stick to the things which are
in their nature more suitable for our choice, for we were made
among other things for this.
After this, remember that you are a son. What does this
character promise? To consider that everything which is the
son's belongs to the father, to obey him in all things, never to
blame him to another, nor to say or do anything which does
him injury, to yield to him in all things and give way, cooperating with him as far as you can. After this know that you
are a brother also, and that to this character it is due to make
concessions; to be easily persuaded, to speak good of your
brother, never to claim in opposition to him any of the things
which are independent of the will, but readily to give them up,
that you may have the larger share in what is dependent on
the will. For see what a thing it is, in place of a lettuce, if it
should so happen, or a seat, to gain for yourself goodness of
disposition. How great is the advantage.
Next to this, if you are a senator of any state, remember that
you are a senator; if a youth, that you are a youth; if an old
man, that you are an old man; for each of such names, if it
comes to be examined, marks out the proper duties. But if you
go and blame your brother, I say to you, You have forgotten
who you are and what is your name. In the next place, if you
were a smith and made a wrong use of the hammer, you would
have forgotten the smith; and if you have forgotten the brother
and instead of a brother have become an enemy, would you
appear not to have changed one thing for another in that
case? And if instead of a man, who is a tame animal and social,
you are become a mischievous wild beast, treacherous, and
biting, have you lost nothing? But (I suppose) you must lose a
bit of money that you may suffer damage? And does the loss
of nothing else do a man damage? If you had lost the art of
grammar or music, would you think the loss of it a damage?
and if you shall lose modesty, moderation ([Greek:
chtastolaen]) and gentleness, do you think the loss nothing?
And yet the things first mentioned are lost by some cause
external and independent of the will, and the second by our
own fault; and as to the first neither to have them nor to lose
them is shameful; but as to the second, not to have them and
to lose them is shameful and matter of reproach and a
What then? shall I not hurt him who has hurt me? In the first
place consider what hurt ([Greek: blabae]) is, and remember
what you have heard from the philosophers. For if the good
consists in the will (purpose, intention, [Greek: proaireeis]),
and the evil also in the will, see if what you say is not this:
What then, since that man has hurt himself by doing an unjust
act to me, shall I not hurt myself by doing some unjust act to
him? Why do we not imagine to ourselves (mentally think of)
something of this kind? But where there is any detriment to
the body or to our possession, there is harm there; and where
the same thing happens to the faculty of the will, there is (you
suppose) no harm; for he who has been deceived or he who
has done an unjust act neither suffers in the head nor in the
eye nor in the hip, nor does he lose his estate; and we wish for
nothing else than (security to) these things. But whether we
shall have the will modest and faithful or shameless and
faithless, we care not the least, except only in the school so far
as a few words are concerned. Therefore our proficiency is
limited to these few words; but beyond them it does not exist
even in the slightest degree.
The beginning of philosophy, to him at least who enters on it
in the right way and by the door is a consciousness of his own
weakness and inability about necessary things; for we come
into the world with no natural notion of a right-angled triangle,
or of a diesis (a quarter tone), or of a half-tone; but we learn
each of these things by a certain transmission according to art;
and for this reason those who do not know them do not think
that they know them. But as to good and evil, and beautiful
and ugly, and becoming and unbecoming, and happiness and
misfortune, and proper and improper, and what we ought to do
and what we ought not to do, who ever came into the world
without having an innate idea of them? Wherefore we all use
these names, and we endeavor to fit the preconceptions to the
several cases (things) thus: he has done well; he has not done
well; he has done as he ought, not as he ought; he has been
unfortunate, he has been fortunate; he is unjust, he is just;
who does not use these names? who among us defers the use
of them till he has learned them, as he defers the use of the
words about lines (geometrical figures) or sounds? And the
cause of this is that we come into the world already taught as
it were by nature some things on this matter ([Greek: topon]),
and proceeding from these we have added to them self-conceit
([Greek: oiaesin]). For why, a man says, do I not know the
beautiful and the ugly? Have I not the notion of it? You have.
Do I not adapt it to particulars? You do. Do I not then adapt it
properly? In that lies the whole question; and conceit is added
here; for beginning from these things which are admitted men
proceed to that which is matter of dispute by means of
unsuitable adaptation; for if they possessed this power of
adaptation in addition to those things, what would hinder them
from being perfect? But now since you think that you properly
adapt the preconceptions to the particulars, tell me whence
you derive this (assume that you do so). Because I think so.
But it does not seem so to another, and he thinks that he also
makes a proper adaptation; or does he not think so? He does
think so. Is it possible then that both of you can properly apply
the preconceptions to things about which you have contrary
opinions? It is not possible. Can you then show us anything
better towards adapting the preconceptions beyond your
thinking that you do? Does the madman do any other things
than the things which seem to him right? Is then this criterion
sufficient for him also? It is not sufficient. Come then to
something which is superior to seeming ([Greek: tou dochein]).
What is this?
Observe, this is the beginning of philosophy, a perception of
the disagreement of men with one another, and an inquiry into
the cause of the disagreement, and a condemnation and
distrust of that which only "seems," and a certain investigation
of that which "seems" whether it "seems" rightly, and a
discovery of some rule ([Greek: chanonos]), as we have
discovered a balance in the determination of weights, and a
carpenter's rule (or square) in the case of straight and crooked
things.—This is the beginning of philosophy. Must we say that
all things are right which seem so to all? And how is it possible
that contradictions can be right?—Not all then, but all which
seem to us to be right.—How more to you than those which
seem right to the Syrians? why more than what seem right to
the Egyptians? why more than what seems right to me or to
any other man? Not at all more. What then "seems" to every
man is not sufficient for determining what "is"; for neither in
the case of weights nor measures are we satisfied with the
bare appearance, but in each case we have discovered a
certain rule. In this matter then is there no rule superior to
what "seems"? And how is it possible that the most necessary
things among men should have no sign (mark), and be
incapable of being discovered? There is then some rule. And
why then do we not seek the rule and discover it, and
afterwards use it without varying from it, not even stretching
out the finger without it? For this, I think, is that which when it
is discovered cures of their madness those who use mere
"seeming" as a measure, and misuse it; so that for the future
proceeding from certain things (principles) known and made
clear we may use in the case of particular things the
preconceptions which are distinctly fixed.
What is the matter presented to us about which we are
inquiring? Pleasure (for example). Subject it to the rule, throw
it into the balance. Ought the good to be such a thing that it is
fit that we have confidence in it? Yes. And in which we ought to
confide? It ought to be. Is it fit to trust to anything which is
insecure? No. Is then pleasure anything secure? No. Take it
then and throw it out of the scale, and drive it far away from
the place of good things. But if you are not sharp-sighted, and
one balance is not enough for you, bring another. Is it fit to be
elated over what is good? Yes. Is it proper then to be elated
over present pleasure? See that you do not say that it is
proper; but if you do, I shall then not think you worthy even of
the balance. Thus things are tested and weighed when the
rules are ready. And to philosophize is this, to examine and
confirm the rules; and then to use them when they are known
is the act of a wise and good man.
What things a man must learn in order to be able to apply
the art of disputation, has been accurately shown by our
philosophers (the Stoics); but with respect to the proper use of
the things, we are entirely without practice. Only give to any of
us, whom you please, an illiterate man to discuss with, and he
cannot discover how to deal with the man. But when he has
moved the man a little, if he answers beside the purpose, he
does not know how to treat him, but he then either abuses or
ridicules him, and says, He is an illiterate man; it is not
possible to do anything with him. Now a guide, when he has
found a man out of the road, leads him into the right way; he
does not ridicule or abuse him and then leave him. Do you also
show the illiterate man the truth, and you will see that he
follows. But so long as you do not show him the truth, do not
ridicule him, but rather feel your own incapacity.
Now this was the first and chief peculiarity of Socrates, never
to be irritated in argument, never to utter anything abusive,
anything insulting, but to bear with abusive persons and to put
an end to the quarrel. If you would know what great power he
had in this way, read the Symposium of Xenophon, and you will
see how many quarrels he put an end to. Hence with good
reason in the poets also this power is most highly praised:
Quickly with skill he settles great disputes.
- Hesiod, Theogony, v. 87.
When I see a man anxious, I say, What does this man want?
If he did not want something which is not in his power, how
could he be anxious? For this reason a lute player when he is
singing by himself has no anxiety, but when he enters the
theatre, he is anxious, even if he has a good voice and plays
well on the lute; for he not only wishes to sing well, but also to
obtain applause: but this is not in his power. Accordingly,
where he has skill, there he has confidence. Bring any single
person who knows nothing of music, and the musician does
not care for him. But in the matter where a man knows nothing
and has not been practised, there he is anxious. What matter
is this? He knows not what a crowd is or what the praise of a
crowd is. However, he has learned to strike the lowest chord
and the highest; but what the praise of the many is, and what
power it has in life, he neither knows nor has he thought about
it. Hence he must of necessity tremble and grow pale. Is any
man then afraid about things which are not evils? No. Is he
afraid about things which are evils, but still so far within his
power that they may not happen? Certainly he is not. If then
the things which are independent of the will are neither good
nor bad, and all things which do depend on the will are within
our power, and no man can either take them from us or give
them to us, if we do not choose, where is room left for anxiety?
But we are anxious about our poor body, our little property,
about the will of Caesar; but not anxious about things internal.
Are we anxious about not forming a false opinion? No, for this
is in my power. About not exerting our movements contrary to
nature? No, not even about this. When then you see a man
pale, as the physician says, judging from the complexion, this
man's spleen is disordered, that man's liver; so also say, this
man's desire and aversion are disordered, he is not in the right
way, he is in a fever. For nothing else changes the color, or
causes trembling or chattering of the teeth, or causes a man to
Sink in his knees and shift from foot to foot.
Iliad, xiii., 281.
For this reason, when Zeno was going to meet Antigonus, he
was not anxious, for Antigonus had no power over any of the
things which Zeno admired; and Zeno did not care for those
things over which Antigonus had power. But Antigonus was
anxious when he was going to meet Zeno, for he wished to
please Zeno; but this was a thing external (out of his power).
But Zeno did not want to please Antigonus; for no man who is
skilled in any art wishes to please one who has no such skill.
Should I try to please you? Why? I suppose, you know the
measure by which one man is estimated by another. Have you
taken pains to learn what is a good man and what is a bad
man, and how a man becomes one or the other? Why then are
you not good yourself? How, he replies, am I not good?
Because no good man laments or groans or weeps, no good
man is pale and trembles, or says, How will he receive me,
how will he listen to me? Slave, just as it pleases him. Why do
you care about what belongs to others? Is it now his fault if he
receives badly what proceeds from you? Certainly. And is it
possible that a fault should be one man's, and the evil in
another? No. Why then are you anxious about that which
belongs to others? Your question is reasonable; but I am
anxious how I shall speak to him. Cannot you then speak to
him as you choose? But I fear that I may be disconcerted? If
you are going to write the name of Dion, are you afraid that
you would be disconcerted? By no means. Why? is it not
because you have practised writing the name? Certainly. Well,
if you were going to read the name, would you not feel the
same? and why? Because every art has a certain strength and
confidence in the things which belong to it. Have you then not
practised speaking? and what else did you learn in the school?
Syllogisms and sophistical propositions? For what purpose?
was it not for the purpose of discoursing skilfully? and is not
discoursing skilfully the same as discoursing seasonably and
cautiously and with intelligence, and also without making
mistakes and without hindrance, and besides all this with
confidence? Yes. When then you are mounted on a horse and
go into a plain, are you anxious at being matched against a
man who is on foot, and anxious in a matter in which you are
practised, and he is not? Yes, but that person (to whom I am
going to speak) has power to kill me. Speak the truth, then,
unhappy man, and do not brag, nor claim to be a philosopher,
nor refuse to acknowledge your masters, but so long as you
present this handle in your body, follow every man who is
stronger than yourself. Socrates used to practice speaking, he
who talked as he did to the tyrants, to the dicasts (judges), he
who talked in his prison. Diogenes had practised speaking, he
who spoke as he did to Alexander, to the pirates, to the person
who bought him. These men were confident in the things
which they practised. But do you walk off to your own affairs
and never leave them: go and sit in a corner, and weave
syllogisms, and propose them to another. There is not in you
the man who can rule a state.
When a certain Roman entered with his son and listened to
one reading, Epictetus said, This is the method of instruction;
and he stopped. When the Roman asked him to go on,
Epictetus said, Every art when it is taught causes labor to him
who is unacquainted with it and is unskilled in it, and indeed
the things which proceed from the arts immediately show their
use in the purpose for which they were made; and most of
them contain something attractive and pleasing. For indeed to
be present and to observe how a shoemaker learns is not a
pleasant thing; but the shoe is useful and also not
disagreeable to look at. And the discipline of a smith when he
is learning is very disagreeable to one who chances to be
present and is a stranger to the art: but the work shows the
use of the art. But you will see this much more in music; for if
you are present while a person is learning, the discipline will
appear most disagreeable; and yet the results of music are
pleasing and delightful to those who know nothing of music.
And here we conceive the work of a philosopher to be
something of this kind: he must adapt his wish ([Greek:
boulaesin]) to what is going on, so that neither any of the
things which are taking place shall take place contrary to our
wish, nor any of the things which do not take place shall not
take place when we wish that they should. From this the result
is to those who have so arranged the work of philosophy, not
to fail in the desire, nor to fall in with that which they would
avoid; without uneasiness, without fear, without perturbation
to pass through life themselves, together with their associates
maintaining the relations both natural and acquired, as the
relation of son, of father, of brother, of citizen, of man, of wife,
of neighbor, of fellow-traveller, of ruler, of ruled. The work of a
philosopher we conceive to be something like this. It remains
next to inquire how this must be accomplished.
We see then that the carpenter ([Greek: techton]) when he
has learned certain things becomes a carpenter; the pilot by
learning certain things becomes a pilot. May it not then in
philosophy also not be sufficient to wish to be wise and good,
and that there is also a necessity to learn certain things? We
inquire then what these things are. The philosophers say that
we ought first to learn that there is a God and that he provides
for all things; also that it is not possible to conceal from him
our acts, or even our intentions and thoughts. The next thing is
to learn what is the nature of the gods; for such as they are
discovered to be, he, who would please and obey them, must
try with all his power to be like them. If the divine is faithful,
man also must be faithful; if it is free, man also must be free; if
beneficent, man also must be beneficent; if magnanimous,
man also must be magnanimous; as being then an imitator of
God he must do and say everything consistently with this fact.
When some persons have heard these words, that a man
ought to be constant (firm), and that the will is naturally free
and not subject to compulsion, but that all other things are
subject to hindrance, to slavery, and are in the power of
others, they suppose that they ought without deviation to
abide by everything which they have determined. But in the
first place that which has been determined ought to be sound
(true). I require tone (sinews) in the body, but such as exists in
a healthy body, in an athletic body; but if it is plain to me that
you have the tone of a frenzied man and you boast of it, I shall
say to you, Man, seek the physician; this is not tone, but atony
(deficiency in right tone). In a different way something of the
same kind is felt by those who listen to these discourses in a
wrong manner; which was the case with one of my
companions, who for no reason resolved to starve himself to
death. I heard of it when it was the third day of his abstinence
from food, and I went to inquire what had happened. "I have
resolved," he said. "But still tell me what it was which induced
you to resolve; for if you have resolved rightly, we shall sit with
you and assist you to depart, but if you have made an
unreasonable resolution, change your mind." "We ought to
keep to our determinations." "What are you doing, man? We
ought to keep not to all our determinations, but to those which
are right; for if you are now persuaded that it is right, do not
change your mind, if you think fit, but persist and say, We
ought to abide by our determinations. Will you not make the
beginning and lay the foundation in an inquiry whether the
determination is sound or not sound, and so then build on it
firmness and security? But if you lay a rotten and ruinous
foundation, will not your miserable little building fall down the
sooner, the more and the stronger are the materials which you
shall lay on it? Without any reason would you withdraw from us
out of life a man who is a friend and a companion, a citizen of
the same city, both the great and the small city? Then while
you are committing murder and destroying a man who has
done no wrong, do you say that you ought to abide by your
determinations? And if it ever in any way came into your head
to kill me, ought you to abide by your determinations?"
Now this man was with difficulty persuaded to change his
mind. But it is impossible to convince some persons at present;
so that I seem now to know what I did not know before, the
meaning of the common saying, that you can neither persuade
nor break a fool. May it never be my lot to have a wise fool for
my friend; nothing is more untractable. "I am determined," the
man says. Madmen are also, but the more firmly they form a
judgment on things which do not exist, the more hellebore
they require. Will you not act like a sick man and call in the
physician?—I am sick, master, help me; consider what I must
do: it is my duty to obey you. So it is here also: I know not
what I ought to do, but I am come to learn.—Not so; but speak
to me about other things: upon this I have determined.—What
other things? for what is greater and more useful than for you
to be persuaded that it is not sufficient to have made your
determination and not to change it. This is the tone (energy) of
madness, not of health.—I will die, if you compel me to this.—
Why, man? What has happened?—I have determined—I have
had a lucky escape that you have not determined to kill me—I
take no money. Why?—I have determined—Be assured that
with the very tone (energy) which you now use in refusing to
take, there is nothing to hinder you at some time from inclining
without reason to take money, and then saying, I have
determined. As in a distempered body, subject to defluxions,
the humor inclines sometimes to these parts, and then to
those, so too a sickly soul knows not which way to incline; but
if to this inclination and movement there is added a tone
(obstinate resolution), then the evil becomes past help and
Where is the good? In the will. Where is the evil? In the will.
Where is neither of them? In those things which are
independent of the will. Well then? Does any one among us
think of these lessons out of the schools? Does any one
meditate (strive) by himself to give an answer to things as in
the case of questions?—Is it day?—Yes.—Is it night?—No.—
Well, is the number of stars even?—I cannot say.—When
money is shown (offered) to you, have you studied to make the
proper answer, that money is not a good thing? Have you
practised yourself in these answers, or only against sophisms?
Why do you wonder then if in the cases which you have
studied, in those you have improved; but in those which you
have not studied, in those you remain the same? When the
rhetorician knows that he has written well, that he has
committed to memory what he has written, and brings an
agreeable voice, why is he still anxious? Because he is not
satisfied with having studied. What then does he want? To be
praised by the audience? For the purpose then of being able to
practise declamation he has been disciplined; but with respect
to praise and blame he has not been disciplined. For when did
he hear from any one what praise is, what blame is, what the
nature of each is, what kind of praise should be sought, or
what kind of blame should be shunned? And when did he
practise this discipline which follows these words (things)? Why
then do you still wonder, if in the matters which a man has
learned, there he surpasses others, and in those in which he
has not been disciplined, there he is the same with the many.
So the lute player knows how to play, sings well, and has a fine
dress, and yet he trembles when he enters on the stage; for
these matters he understands, but he does not know what a
crowd is, nor the shouts of a crowd, nor what ridicule is.
Neither does he know what anxiety is, whether it is our work or
the work of another, whether it is possible to stop it or not. For
this reason if he has been praised, he leaves the theatre puffed
up, but if he has been ridiculed, the swollen bladder has been
punctured and subsides.
This is the case also with ourselves. What do we admire?
Externals. About what things are we busy? Externals. And have
we any doubt then why we fear or why we are anxious? What
then happens when we think the things, which are coming on
us, to be evils? It is not in our power not to be afraid, it is not in
our power not to be anxious. Then we say, Lord God, how shall
I not be anxious? Fool, have you not hands, did not God make
them for you? Sit down now and pray that your nose may not
run. Wipe yourself rather and do not blame him. Well then, has
he given to you nothing in the present case? Has he not given
to you endurance? Has he not given to you magnanimity? Has
he not given to you manliness? When you have such hands do
you still look for one who shall wipe your nose? But we neither
study these things nor care for them. Give me a man who
cares how he shall do anything, not for the obtaining of a
thing, but who cares about his own energy. What man, when
he is walking about, cares for his own energy? Who, when he is
deliberating, cares about his own deliberation, and not about
obtaining that about which he deliberates? And if he succeeds,
he is elated and says, How well we have deliberated; did I not
tell you, brother, that it is impossible, when we have thought
about anything, that it should not turn out thus? But if the
thing should turn out otherwise, the wretched man is humbled;
he knows not even what to say about what has taken place.
Who among us for the sake of this matter has consulted a
seer? Who among us as to his actions has not slept in
indifference? Who? Give (name) to me one that I may see the
man whom I have long been looking for, who is truly noble and
ingenuous, whether young or old; name him.
What then are the things which are heavy on us and disturb
us? What else than opinions? What else than opinions lies
heavy upon him who goes away and leaves his companions
and friends and places and habits of life? Now little children,
for instance, when they cry on the nurse leaving them for a
short time, forget their sorrow if they receive a small cake. Do
you choose then that we should compare you to little children?
No, by Zeus, for I do not wish to be pacified by a small cake,
but by right opinions. And what are these? Such as a man
ought to study all day, and not to be affected by anything that
is not his own, neither by companion nor place nor gymnasia,
and not even by his own body, but to remember the law and to
have it before his eyes. And what is the divine law? To keep a
man's own, not to claim that which belongs to others, but to
use what is given, and when it is not given, not to desire it;
and when a thing is taken away, to give it up readily and
immediately, and to be thankful for the time that a man has
had the use of it, if you would not cry for your nurse and
mamma. For what matter does it make by what thing a man is
subdued, and on what he depends? In what respect are you
better than he who cries for a girl, if you grieve for a little
gymnasium, and little porticos, and young men, and such
places of amusement? Another comes and laments that he
shall no longer drink the water of Dirce. Is the Marcian water
worse than that of Dirce? But I was used to the water of Dirce.
And you in turn will be used to the other. Then if you become
attached to this also, cry for this too, and try to make a verse
like the verse of Euripides,
The hot baths of Nero and the Marcian water.
See how tragedy is made when common things happen to
silly men.
When then shall I see Athens again and the Acropolis?
Wretch, are you not content with what you see daily? Have you
anything better or greater to see than the sun, the moon, the
stars, the whole earth, the sea? But if indeed you comprehend
Him who administers the whole, and carry him about in
yourself, do you still desire small stones and a beautiful rock?
What is the first business of him who philosophizes? To throw
away self-conceit ([Greek: oiaesis]). For it is impossible for a
man to begin to learn that which he thinks that he knows. As
to things then which ought to be done and ought not to be
done, and good and bad, and beautiful and ugly, all of us
talking of them at random go to the philosophers; and on these
matters we praise, we censure, we accuse, we blame, we
judge and determine about principles honorable and
dishonorable. But why do we go to the philosophers? Because
we wish to learn what we do not think that we know. And what
is this? Theorems. For we wish to learn what philosophers say
as being something elegant and acute; and some wish to learn
that they may get profit from what they learn. It is ridiculous
then to think that a person wishes to learn one thing, and will
learn another; or further, that a man will make proficiency in
that which he does not learn. But the many are deceived by
this which deceived also the rhetorician Theopompus, when he
blames even Plato for wishing everything to be defined. For
what does he say? Did none of us before you use the words
good or just, or do we utter the sounds in an unmeaning and
empty way without understanding what they severally signify?
Now who tells you, Theopompus, that we had not natural
notions of each of these things and preconceptions ([Greek:
prolaepseis])? But it is not possible to adapt preconceptions to
their correspondent objects if we have not distinguished
(analyzed) them, and inquired what object must be subjected
to each preconception. You may make the same charge against
physicians also. For who among us did not use the words
healthy and unhealthy before Hippocrates lived, or did we
utter these words as empty sounds? For we have also a certain
preconception of health, but we are not able to adapt it. For
this reason one says, Abstain from food; another says, Give
food; another says, Bleed; and another says, Use cupping.
What is the reason? is it any other than that a man cannot
properly adapt the preconceptions of health to particulars?
Every habit and faculty is maintained and increased by the
corresponding actions: the habit of walking by walking, the
habit of running by running. If you would be a good reader,
read; if a writer, write. But when you shall not have read for
thirty days in succession, but have done something else, you
will know the consequence. In the same way, if you shall have
lain down ten days, get up and attempt to make a long walk,
and you will see how your legs are weakened. Generally then if
you would make anything a habit, do it; if you would not make
it a habit, do not do it, but accustom yourself to do something
else in place of it.
So it is with respect to the affections of the soul: when you
have been angry, you must know that not only has this evil
befallen you, but that you have also increased the habit, and in
a manner thrown fuel upon fire.
In this manner certainly, as philosophers say, also diseases
of the mind grow up. For when you have once desired money,
if reason be applied to lead to a perception of the evil, the
desire is stopped, and the ruling faculty of our mind is restored
to the original authority. But if you apply no means of cure, it
no longer returns to the same state, but being again excited by
the corresponding appearance, it is inflamed to desire quicker
than before: and when this takes place continually, it is
henceforth hardened (made callous), and the disease of the
mind confirms the love of money. For he who has had a fever,
and has been relieved from it, is not in the same state that he
was before, unless he has been completely cured. Something
of the kind happens also in diseases of the soul. Certain traces
and blisters are left in it, and unless a man shall completely
efface them, when he is again lashed on the same places, the
lash will produce not blisters (weals) but sores. If then you wish
not to be of an angry temper, do not feed the habit: throw
nothing on it which will increase it: at first keep quiet, and
count the days on which you have not been angry. I used to be
in passion every day; now every second day; then every third,
then every fourth. But if you have intermitted thirty days,
make a sacrifice to God. For the habit at first begins to be
weakened, and then is completely destroyed. "I have not been
vexed to-day, nor the day after, nor yet on any succeeding day
during two or three months; but I took care when some
exciting things happened." Be assured that you are in a good
How then shall this be done? Be willing at length to be
approved by yourself, be willing to appear beautiful to God,
desire to be in purity with your own pure self and with God.
Then when any such appearance visits you, Plato says, Have
recourse to expiations, go a suppliant to the temples of the
averting deities. It is even sufficient if you resort to the society
of noble and just men, and compare yourself with them,
whether you find one who is living or dead.
But in the first place, be not hurried away by the rapidity of
the appearance, but say, Appearances, wait for me a little; let
me see who you are, and what you are about; let me put you
to the test. And then do not allow the appearance to lead you
on and draw lively pictures of the things which will follow; for if
you do, it will carry you off wherever it pleases. But rather
bring in to oppose it some other beautiful and noble
appearance, and cast out this base appearance. And if you are
accustomed to be exercised in this way, you will see what
shoulders, what sinews, what strength you have. But now it is
only trifling words, and nothing more.
This is the true athlete, the man who exercises himself
against such appearances. Stay, wretch, do not be carried
away. Great is the combat, divine is the work; it is for kingship,
for freedom, for happiness, for freedom from perturbation.
Remember God; call on him as a helper and protector, as men
at sea call on the Dioscuri in a storm. For what is a greater
storm than that which comes from appearances which are
violent and drive away the reason? For the storm itself, what
else is it but an appearance? For take away the fear of death,
and suppose as many thunders and lightnings as you please,
and you will know what calm and serenity there is in the ruling
faculty. But if you have once been defeated and say that you
will conquer hereafter, and then say the same again, be
assured that you will at last be in so wretched a condition and
so weak that you will not even know afterwards that you are
doing wrong, but you will even begin to make apologies
(defences) for your wrong-doing, and then you will confirm the
saying of Hesiod to be true,
With constant ills the dilatory strives.
Some things men readily confess, and other things they do
not. No one then will confess that he is a fool or without
understanding; but quite the contrary you will hear all men
saying, I wish that I had fortune equal to my understanding.
But men readily confess that they are timid, and they say: I am
rather timid, I confess; but as to other respects you will not
find me to be foolish. A man will not readily confess that he is
intemperate; and that he is unjust, he will not confess at all.
He will by no means confess that he is envious or a busybody.
Most men will confess that they are compassionate. What then
is the reason?
The chief thing (the ruling thing) is inconsistency and
confusion in the things which relate to good and evil. But
different men have different reasons; and generally what they
imagine to be base, they do not confess at all. But they
suppose timidity to be a characteristic of a good disposition,
and compassion also; but silliness to be the absolute
characteristic of a slave. And they do not at all admit (confess)
the things which are offences against society. But in the case
of most errors for this reason chiefly they are induced to
confess them, because they imagine that there is something
involuntary in them as in timidity and compassion; and if a
man confess that he is in any respect intemperate, he alleges
love (or passion) as an excuse for what is involuntary. But men
do not imagine injustice to be at all involuntary. There is also in
jealousy, as they suppose, something involuntary; and for this
reason they confess to jealousy also.
Living then among such men, who are so confused, so
ignorant of what they say, and of the evils which they have or
have not, and why they have them, or how they shall be
relieved of them, I think it is worth the trouble for a man to
watch constantly (and to ask) whether I also am one of them,
what imagination I have about myself, how I conduct myself,
whether I conduct myself as a prudent man, whether I conduct
myself as a temperate man, whether I ever say this, that I
have been taught to be prepared for everything that may
happen. Have I the consciousness, which a man who knows
nothing ought to have, that I know nothing? Do I go to my
teacher as men go to oracles, prepared to obey? or do I like a
snivelling boy go to my school to learn history and understand
the books which I did not understand before, and, if it should
happen so, to explain them also to others? Man, you have had
a fight in the house with a poor slave, you have turned the
family upside down, you have frightened the neighbors, and
you come to me as if you were a wise man, and you take your
seat and judge how I have explained some word, and how I
have babbled whatever came into my head. You come full of
envy, and humbled, because you bring nothing from home;
and you sit during the discussion thinking of nothing else than
how your father is disposed towards you and your brother.
What are they saying about me there? now they think that I
am improving, and are saying, He will return with all
knowledge. I wish I could learn everything before I return; but
much labor is necessary, and no one sends me anything, and
the baths at Nicopolis are dirty; everything is bad at home, and
bad here.
What a man applies himself to earnestly, that he naturally
loves. Do men then apply themselves earnestly to the things
which are bad? By no means. Well, do they apply themselves
to things which in no way concern themselves? Not to these
either. It remains then that they employ themselves earnestly
only about things which are good; and if they are earnestly
employed about things, they love such things also. Whoever
then understands what is good can also know how to love; but
he who cannot distinguish good from bad, and things which
are neither good nor bad from both, how can he possess the
power of loving? To love, then, is only in the power of the wise.
For universally, be not deceived, every animal is attached to
nothing so much as to its own interests. Whatever then
appears to it an impediment to this interest, whether this be a
brother, or a father, or a child, or beloved, or lover, it hates,
spurns, curses; for its nature is to love nothing so much as its
own interests: this is father, and brother, and kinsman, and
country, and God. When then the gods appear to us to be an
impediment to this, we abuse them and throw down their
statues and burn their temples, as Alexander ordered the
temples of Aesculapius to be burned when his dear friend died.
For this reason, if a man put in the same place his interest,
sanctity, goodness, and country, and parents, and friends, all
these are secured: but if he puts in one place his interest, in
another his friends, and his country and his kinsmen and
justice itself, all these give way, being borne down by the
weight of interest. For where the I and the Mine are placed, to
that place of necessity the animal inclines; if in the flesh, there
is the ruling power; if in the will, it is there; and if it is in
externals, it is there. If then I am there where my will is, then
only shall I be a friend such as I ought to be, and son, and
father; for this will be my interest, to maintain the character of
fidelity, of modesty, of patience, of abstinence, of active cooperation, of observing my relations (towards all). But if I put
myself in one place, and honesty in another, then the doctrine
of Epicurus becomes strong, which asserts either that there is
no honesty or it is that which opinion holds to be honest
It was through this ignorance that the Athenians and the
Lacedaemonians quarrelled, and the Thebans with both; and
the great king quarrelled with Hellas, and the Macedonians
with both: and the Romans with the Getae. And still earlier the
Trojan war happened for these reasons. Alexander was the
guest of Menelaus, and if any man had seen their friendly
disposition, he would not have believed any one who said that
they were not friends. But there was cast between them (as
between dogs) a bit of meat, a handsome woman, and about
her war arose. And now when you see brothers to be friends
appearing to have one mind, do not conclude from this
anything about their friendship, not even if they swear it and
say that it is impossible for them to be separated from one
another. For the ruling principle of a bad man cannot be
trusted; it is insecure, has no certain rule by which it is
directed, and is overpowered at different times by different
appearances. But examine, not what other men examine, if
they are born of the same parents and brought up together,
and under the same pedagogue; but examine this only,
wherein they place their interest, whether in externals or in the
will. If in externals, do not name them friends, no more than
name them trustworthy or constant, or brave or free; do not
name them even men, if you have any judgment. For that is
not a principle of human nature which makes them bite one
another, and abuse one another, and occupy deserted places
or public places, as if they were mountains, and in the courts
of justice display the acts of robbers; nor yet that which makes
them intemperate and adulterers and corrupters, nor that
which makes them do whatever else men do against one
another through this one opinion only, that of placing
themselves and their interests in the things which are not
within the power of their will. But if you hear that in truth these
men think the good to be only there, where will is, and where
there is a right use of appearances, no longer trouble yourself
whether they are father or son, or brothers, or have associated
a long time and are companions, but when you have
ascertained this only, confidently declare that they are friends,
as you declare that they are faithful, that they are just. For
where else is friendship than where there is fidelity, and
modesty, where there is a communion of honest things and of
nothing else.
But you may say, Such a one treated me with regard so long;
and did he not love me? How do you know, slave, if he did not
regard you in the same way as he wipes his shoes with a
sponge, or as he takes care of his beast? How do you know,
when you have ceased to be useful as a vessel, he will not
throw you away like a broken platter? But this woman is my
wife, and we have lived together so long. And how long did
Eriphyle live with Amphiaraus, and was the mother of children
and of many? But a necklace came between them: and what is
a necklace? It is the opinion about such things. That was the
bestial principle, that was the thing which broke asunder the
friendship between husband and wife, that which did not allow
the woman to be a wife nor the mother to be a mother. And let
every man among you who has seriously resolved either to be
a friend himself or to have another for his friend, cut out these
opinions, hate them, drive them from his soul. And thus first of
all he will not reproach himself, he will not be at variance with
himself, he will not change his mind, he will not torture himself.
In the next place, to another also, who is like himself, he will be
altogether and completely a friend. But he will bear with the
man who is unlike himself, he will be kind to him, gentle, ready
to pardon on account of his ignorance, on account of his being
mistaken in things of the greatest importance; but he will be
harsh to no man, being well convinced of Plato's doctrine that
every mind is deprived of truth unwillingly. If you cannot do
this, yet you can do in all other respects as friends do, drink
together, and lodge together, and sail together, and you may
be born of the same parents, for snakes also are: but neither
will they be friends, nor you, so long as you retain these bestial
and cursed opinions.
Every man will read a book with more pleasure or even with
more ease, if it is written in fairer characters. Therefore every
man will also listen more readily to what is spoken, if it is
signified by appropriate and becoming words. We must not say
then that there is no faculty of expression: for this affirmation
is the characteristic of an impious and also of a timid man. Of
an impious man, because he undervalues the gifts which come
from God, just as if he would take away the commodity of the
power of vision, or hearing, or of seeing. Has then God given
you eyes to no purpose? and to no purpose has he infused into
them a spirit so strong and of such skilful contrivance as to
reach a long way and to fashion the forms of things which are
seen? What messenger is so swift and vigilant? And to no
purpose has he made the interjacent atmosphere so
efficacious and elastic that the vision penetrates through the
atmosphere which is in a manner moved? And to no purpose
has he made light, without the presence of which there would
be no use in any other thing?
Man, be neither ungrateful for these gifts nor yet forget the
things which are superior to them. But indeed for the power of
seeing and hearing, and indeed for life itself, and for the things
which contribute to support it, for the fruits which are dry, and
for wine and oil give thanks to God: but remember that he has
given you something else better than all these, I mean the
power of using them, proving them, and estimating the value
of each. For what is that which gives information about each of
these powers, what each of them is worth? Is it each faculty
itself? Did you ever hear the faculty of vision saying anything
about itself? or the faculty of hearing? or wheat, or barley, or a
horse, or a dog? No; but they are appointed as ministers and
slaves to serve the faculty which has the power of making use
of the appearances of things. And if you inquire what is the
value of each thing, of whom do you inquire? who answers
you? How then can any other faculty be more powerful than
this, which uses the rest as ministers and itself proves each
and pronounces about them? for which of them knows what
itself is, and what is its own value? which of them knows when
it ought to employ itself and when not? what faculty is it which
opens and closes the eyes, and turns them away from objects
to which it ought not to apply them and does apply them to
other objects? Is it the faculty of vision? No, but it is the faculty
of the will. What is that faculty which closes and opens the
ears? what is that by which they are curious and inquisitive, or
on the contrary unmoved by what is said? is it the faculty of
hearing? It is no other than the faculty of the will. Will this
faculty then, seeing that it is amidst all the other faculties
which are blind and dumb and unable to see anything else
except the very acts for which they are appointed in order to
minister to this (faculty) and serve it, but this faculty alone
sees sharp and sees what is the value of each of the rest; will
this faculty declare to us that anything else is the best, or that
itself is? And what else does the eye do when it is opened than
see? But whether we ought to look on the wife of a certain
person, and in what manner, who tells us? The faculty of the
will. And whether we ought to believe what is said or not to
believe it, and if we do believe, whether we ought to be moved
by it or not, who tells us? Is it not the faculty of the will?
But if you ask me what then is the most excellent of all
things, what must I say? I cannot say the power of speaking,
but the power of the will, when it is right ([Greek: orthae]). For
it is this which uses the other (the power of speaking), and all
the other faculties both small and great. For when this faculty
of the will is set right, a man who is not good becomes good:
but when it fails, a man becomes bad. It is through this that we
are unfortunate, that we are fortunate, that we blame one
another, are pleased with one another. In a word, it is this
which if we neglect it makes unhappiness, and if we carefully
look after it, makes happiness.
What then is usually done? Men generally act as a traveller
would do on his way to his own country, when he enters a
good inn, and being pleased with it should remain there. Man,
you have forgotten your purpose: you were not travelling to
this inn, but you were passing through it. But this is a pleasant
inn. And how many other inns are pleasant? and how many
meadows are pleasant? yet only for passing through. But your
purpose is this, to return to your country, to relieve your
kinsmen of anxiety, to discharge the duties of a citizen, to
marry, to beget children, to fill the usual magistracies. For you
are not come to select more pleasant places, but to live in
these where you were born and of which you were made a
citizen. Something of the kind takes place in the matter which
we are considering. Since by the aid of speech and such
communication as you receive here you must advance to
perfection, and purge your will and correct the faculty which
makes use of the appearances of things; and since it is
necessary also for the teaching (delivery) of theorems to be
effected by a certain mode of expression and with a certain
variety and sharpness, some persons captivated by these very
things abide in them, one captivated by the expression,
another by syllogisms, another again by sophisms, and still
another by some other inn ([Greek: paudocheiou]) of the kind;
and there they stay and waste away as they were among
Man, your purpose (business) was to make yourself capable
of using conformably to nature the appearances presented to
you, in your desires not to be frustrated, in your aversion from
things not to fall into that which you would avoid, never to
have no luck (as one may say), nor ever to have bad luck, to
be free, not hindered, not compelled, conforming yourself to
the administration of Zeus, obeying it, well satisfied with this,
blaming no one, charging no one with fault, able from your
whole soul to utter these verses:
Lead me, O Zeus, and thou too Destiny.
A certain person said to him (Epictetus): Frequently I desired
to hear you and came to you, and you never gave me any
answer; and now, if it is possible, I entreat you to say
something to me. Do you think, said Epictetus, that as there is
an art in anything else, so there is also an art in speaking, and
that he who has the art, will speak skilfully, and he who has
not, will speak unskilfully?—I do think so.—He then who by
speaking receives benefit himself, and is able to benefit others,
will speak skilfully; but he who is rather damaged by speaking
and does damage to others, will he be unskilled in this art of
speaking? And you may find that some are damaged and
others benefited by speaking. And are all who hear benefited
by what they hear? Or will you find that among them also
some are benefited and some damaged? There are both
among these also, he said. In this case also then those who
hear skilfully are benefited, and those who hear unskilfully are
damaged? He admitted this. Is there then a skill in hearing
also, as there is in speaking? It seems so. If you choose,
consider the matter in this way also. The practice of music, to
whom does it belong? To a musician. And the proper making of
a statue, to whom do you think that it belongs? To a statuary.
And the looking at a statue skilfully, does this appear to you to
require the aid of no art? This also requires the aid of art. Then
if speaking properly is the business of the skilful man, do you
see that to hear also with benefit is the business of the skilful
man? Now as to speaking and hearing perfectly, and usefully,
let us for the present, if you please, say no more, for both of us
are a long way from everything of the kind. But I think that
every man will allow this, that he who is going to hear
philosophers requires some amount of practice in hearing. Is it
not so?
Why then do you say nothing to me? I can only say this to
you, that he who knows not who he is, and for what purpose he
exists, and what is this world, and with whom he is associated,
and what things are the good and the bad, and the beautiful
and the ugly, and who neither understands discourse nor
demonstration, nor what is true nor what is false, and who is
not able to distinguish them, will neither desire according to
nature nor turn away nor move towards, nor intend (to act),
nor assent, nor dissent, nor suspend his judgment: to say all in
a few words, he will go about dumb and blind, thinking that he
is somebody, but being nobody. Is this so now for the first
time? Is it not the fact that ever since the human race existed,
all errors and misfortunes have arisen through this ignorance?
This is all that I have to say to you; and I say even this not
willingly. Why? Because you have not roused me. For what
must I look to in order to be roused, as men who are expert in
riding are roused by generous horses? Must I look to your
body? You treat it disgracefully. To your dress? That is
luxurious. To your behavior, to your look? That is the same as
nothing. When you would listen to a philosopher, do not say to
him, You tell me nothing; but only show yourself worthy of
hearing or fit for hearing; and you will see how you will move
the speaker.
When one of those who were present said, Persuade me that
logic is necessary, he replied, Do you wish me to prove this to
you? The answer was, Yes. Then I must use a demonstrative
form of speech. This was granted. How then will you know if I
am cheating you by my argument? The man was silent. Do you
see, said Epictetus, that you yourself are admitting that logic is
necessary, if without it you cannot know so much as this,
whether logic is necessary or not necessary?
A certain young man, a rhetorician, came to see Epictetus,
with his hair dressed more carefully than was usual and his
attire in an ornamental style; whereupon Epictetus said, Tell
me if you do not think that some dogs are beautiful and some
horses, and so of all other animals. I do think so, the youth
replied. Are not then some men also beautiful and others ugly?
Certainly. Do we then for the same reason call each of them in
the same kind beautiful, or each beautiful for something
peculiar? And you will judge of this matter thus. Since we see a
dog naturally formed for one thing, and a horse for another,
and for another still, as an example, a nightingale, we may
generally and not improperly declare each of them to be
beautiful then when it is most excellent according to its nature;
but since the nature of each is different, each of them seems
to me to be beautiful in a different way. Is it not so? He
admitted that it was. That then which makes a dog beautiful,
makes a horse ugly; and that which makes a horse beautiful,
makes a dog ugly, if it is true that their natures are different. It
seems to be so. For I think that what makes a Pancratiast
beautiful, makes a wrestler to be not good, and a runner to be
most ridiculous; and he who is beautiful for the Pentathlon, is
very ugly for wrestling. It is so, said he. What then makes a
man beautiful? Is it that which in its kind makes both a dog
and a horse beautiful? It is, he said. What then makes a dog
beautiful? The possession of the excellence of a dog. And what
makes a horse beautiful? The possession of the excellence of a
horse. What then makes a man beautiful? Is it not the
possession of the excellence of a man? And do you then, if you
wish to be beautiful, young man, labor at this, the acquisition
of human excellence? But what is this? Observe whom you
yourself praise, when you praise many persons without
partiality: do you praise the just or the unjust? The just.
Whether do you praise the moderate or the immoderate? The
moderate. And the temperate or the intemperate? The
temperate. If then you make yourself such a person, you will
know that you will make yourself beautiful; but so long as you
neglect these things, you must be ugly ([Greek: aischron]),
even though you contrive all you can to appear beautiful.
There are three things (topics, [Greek: topoi]) in which a man
ought to exercise himself who would be wise and good. The
first concerns the desires and the aversions, that a man may
not fail to get what he desires, and that he may not fall into
that which he does not desire. The second concerns the
movements towards an object and the movements from an
object, and generally in doing what a man ought to do, that he
may act according to order, to reason, and not carelessly. The
third thing concerns freedom from deception and rashness in
judgment, and generally it concerns the assents ([Greek:
sugchatatheseis]). Of these topics the chief and the most
urgent is that which relates to the affects ([Greek: ta pathae]
perturbations); for an affect is produced in no other way than
by a failing to obtain that which a man desires or falling into
that which a man would wish to avoid. This is that which brings
in perturbations, disorders, bad fortune, misfortunes, sorrows,
lamentations, and envy; that which makes men envious and
jealous; and by these causes we are unable even to listen to
the precepts of reason. The second topic concerns the duties
of a man; for I ought not to be free from affects ([Greek:
apathae]) like a statue, but I ought to maintain the relations
([Greek: scheseis]) natural and acquired, as a pious man, as a
son, as a father, as a citizen.
The third topic is that which immediately concerns those who
are making proficiency, that which concerns the security of the
other two, so that not even in sleep any appearance
unexamined may surprise us, nor in intoxication, nor in
melancholy. This, it may be said, is above our power. But the
present philosophers neglecting the first topic and the second
(the affects and duties), employ themselves on the third, using
sophistical arguments ([Greek: metapiptontas]), making
conclusions from questioning, employing hypotheses, lying. For
a man must, it is said, when employed on these matters, take
care that he is not deceived. Who must? The wise and good
man. This then is all that is wanting to you. Have you
successfully worked out the rest? Are you free from deception
in the matter of money? If you see a beautiful girl do you resist
the appearance? If your neighbor obtains an estate by will, are
you not vexed? Now is there nothing else wanting to you
except unchangeable firmness of mind ([Greek: ametaptosia])?
Wretch, you hear these very things with fear and anxiety that
some person may despise you, and with inquiries about what
any person may say about you. And if a man come and tell you
that in a certain conversation in which the question was, Who
is the best philosopher, a man who was present said that a
certain person was the chief philosopher, your little soul which
was only a finger's length stretches out to two cubits. But if
another who is present says, You are mistaken; it is not worth
while to listen to a certain person, for what does he know? he
has only the first principles, and no more? then you are
confounded, you grow pale, you cry out immediately, I will
show him who I am, that I am a great philosopher. It is seen by
these very things: why do you wish to show it by others? Do
you not know that Diogenes pointed out one of the sophists in
this way by stretching out his middle finger? And then when
the man was wild with rage, This, he said, is the certain
person: I have pointed him out to you. For a man is not shown
by the finger, as a stone or a piece of wood; but when any
person shows the man's principles, then he shows him as a
Let us look at your principles also. For is it not plain that you
value not at all your own will ([Greek: proairesis]), but you look
externally to things which are independent of your will? For
instance, what will a certain person say? and what will people
think of you? Will you be considered a man of learning; have
you read Chrysippus or Antipater? for if you have read
Archedamus also, you have every thing (that you can desire).
Why you are still uneasy lest you should not show us who you
are? Would you let me tell you what manner of man you have
shown us that you are? You have exhibited yourself to us as a
mean fellow, querulous, passionate, cowardly, finding fault
with everything, blaming everybody, never quiet, vain: this is
what you have exhibited to us. Go away now and read
Archedamus; then if a mouse should leap down and make a
noise, you are a dead man. For such a death awaits you as it
did—what was the man's name—Crinis; and he too was proud,
because he understood Archedamus. Wretch, will you not
dismiss these things that do not concern you at all? These
things are suitable to those who are able to learn them without
perturbation, to those who can say: "I am not subject to anger,
to grief, to envy: I am not hindered, I am not restrained. What
remains for me? I have leisure, I am tranquil: let us see how we
must deal with sophistical arguments; let us see how when a
man has accepted an hypothesis he shall not be led away to
any thing absurd." To them such things belong. To those who
are happy it is appropriate to light a fire, to dine; if they
choose, both to sing and to dance. But when the vessel is
sinking, you come to me and hoist the sails.
The material for the wise and good man is his own ruling
faculty: and the body is the material for the physician and the
aliptes (the man who oils persons); the land is the matter for
the husbandman. The business of the wise and good man is to
use appearances conformably to nature: and as it is the nature
of every soul to assent to the truth, to dissent from the false,
and to remain in suspense as to that which is uncertain; so it is
its nature to be moved towards the desire for the good, and to
aversion from the evil; and with respect to that which is neither
good nor bad it feels indifferent. For as the money-changer
(banker) is not allowed to reject Caesar's coin, nor the seller of
herbs, but if you show the coin, whether he chooses or not, he
must give up what is sold for the coin; so it is also in the
matter of the soul. When the good appears, it immediately
attracts to itself; the evil repels from itself. But the soul will
never reject the manifest appearance of the good, any more
than persons will reject Caesar's coin. On this principle
depends every movement both of man and God.
Against (or with respect to) this kind of thing chiefly a man
should exercise himself. As soon as you go out in the morning,
examine every man whom you see, every man whom you
hear; answer as to a question, What have you seen? A
handsome man or woman? Apply the rule. Is this independent
of the will, or dependent? Independent. Take it away. What
have you seen? A man lamenting over the death of a child.
Apply the rule. Death is a thing independent of the will. Take it
away. Has the proconsul met you? Apply the rule. What kind of
a thing is a proconsul's office? Independent of the will or
dependent on it? Independent. Take this away also; it does not
stand examination; cast it away; it is nothing to you.
If we practised this and exercised ourselves in it daily from
morning to night, something indeed would be done. But now
we are forthwith caught half asleep by every appearance, and
it is only, if ever, that in the school we are roused a little. Then
when we go out, if we see a man lamenting, we say, He is
undone. If we see a consul, we say, He is happy. If we see an
exiled man, we say, He is miserable. If we see a poor man, we
say, He is wretched; he has nothing to eat.
We ought then to eradicate these bad opinions, and to this
end we should direct all our efforts. For what is weeping and
lamenting? Opinion. What is bad fortune? Opinion. What is civil
sedition, what is divided opinion, what is blame, what is
accusation, what is impiety, what is trifling? All these things
are opinions, and nothing more, and opinions about things
independent of the will, as if they were good and bad. Let a
man transfer these opinions to things dependent on the will,
and I engage for him that he will be firm and constant,
whatever may be the state of things around him. Such as is a
dish of water, such is the soul. Such as is the ray of light which
falls on the water, such are the appearances. When the water
is moved, the ray also seems to be moved, yet it is not moved.
And when then a man is seized with giddiness, it is not the arts
and the virtues which are confounded, but the spirit (the
nervous power) on which they are impressed; but if the spirit
be restored to its settled state, those things also are restored.
When some person asked him how it happened that since
reason has been more cultivated by the men of the present
age, the progress made in former times was greater. In what
respect, he answered, has it been more cultivated now, and in
what respect was the progress greater then? For in that in
which it has now been more cultivated, in that also the
progress will now be found. At present it has been cultivated
for the purpose of resolving syllogisms, and progress is made.
But in former times it was cultivated for the purpose of
maintaining the governing faculty in a condition conformable
to nature, and progress was made. Do not then mix things
which are different, and do not expect, when you are laboring
at one thing to make progress in another. But see if any man
among us when he is intent upon this, the keeping himself in a
state conformable to nature and living so always, does not
make progress. For you will not find such a man.
It is not easy to exhort weak young men; for neither is it
easy to hold (soft) cheese with a hook. But those who have a
good natural disposition, even if you try to turn them aside,
cling still more to reason.
When the administrator came to visit him, and the man was
an Epicurean, Epictetus said, It is proper for us who are not
philosophers to inquire of you who are philosophers, as those
who come to a strange city inquire of the citizens and those
who are acquainted with it, what is the best thing in the world,
in order that we also after inquiry may go in quest of that
which is best and look at it, as strangers do with the things in
cities. For that there are three things which relate to man—
soul, body, and things external, scarcely any man denies. It
remains for you philosophers to answer what is the best. What
shall we say to men? Is the flesh the best? and was it for this
that Maximus sailed as far as Cassiope in winter (or bad
weather) with his son, and accompanied him that he might be
gratified in the flesh? When the man said that it was not, and
added, Far be that from him. Is it not fit then, Epictetus said, to
be actively employed about the best? It is certainly of all
things the most fit. What then do we possess which is better
than the flesh? The soul, he replied. And the good things of the
best, are they better, or the good things of the worse? The
good things of the best. And are the good things of the best
within the power of the will or not within the power of the will?
They are within the power of the will. Is then the pleasure of
the soul a thing within the power of the will? It is, he replied.
And on what shall this pleasure depend? On itself? But that
cannot be conceived; for there must first exist a certain
substance or nature ([Greek: ousia]) of good, by obtaining
which we shall have pleasure in the soul. He assented to this
also. On what then shall we depend for this pleasure of the
soul? for if it shall depend on things of the soul, the substance
(nature) of the good is discovered; for good cannot be one
thing, and that at which we are rationally delighted another
thing; nor if that which precedes is not good, can that which
comes after be good, for in order that the thing which comes
after may be good, that which precedes must be good. But you
would not affirm this, if you are in your right mind, for you
would then say what is inconsistent both with Epicurus and the
rest of your doctrines. It remains then that the pleasure of the
soul is in the pleasure from things of the body; and again that
those bodily things must be the things which precede and the
substance (nature) of the good.
Seek for doctrines which are consistent with what I say, and
by making them your guide you will with pleasure abstain from
things which have such persuasive power to lead us and
overpower us. But if to the persuasive power of these things,
we also devise such a philosophy as this which helps to push
us on towards them and strengthens us to this end, what will
be the consequence? In a piece of toreutic art which is the best
part? the silver or the workmanship? The substance of the
hand is the flesh; but the work of the hand is the principal part
(that which precedes and leads the rest). The duties then are
also three: those which are directed towards the existence of a
thing; those which are directed towards its existence in a
particular kind; and third, the chief or leading things
themselves. So also in man we ought not to value the material,
the poor flesh, but the principal (leading things, [Greek: ta
proaegoumena]). What are these? Engaging in public business,
marrying, begetting children, venerating God, taking care of
parents, and generally, having desires, aversions ([Greek:
echchlinein]), pursuits of things and avoidances, in the way in
which we ought to do these things, and according to our
nature. And how are we constituted by nature? Free, noble,
modest; for what other animal blushes? what other is capable
of receiving the appearance (the impression) of shame? and
we are so constituted by nature as to subject pleasure to these
things, as a minister, a servant, in order that it may call forth
our activity, in order that it may keep us constant in acts which
are conformable to nature.
As we exercise ourselves against sophistical questions, so we
ought to exercise ourselves daily against appearances; for
these appearances also propose questions to us. A certain
person's son is dead. Answer; the thing is not within the power
of the will: it is not an evil. A father has disinherited a certain
son. What do you think of it? It is a thing beyond the power of
the will, not an evil. Cæsar has condemned a person. It is a
thing beyond the power of the will, not an evil. The man is
afflicted at this. Affliction is a thing which depends on the will:
it is an evil. He has borne the condemnation bravely. That is a
thing within the power of the will: it is a good. If we train
ourselves in this manner, we shall make progress; for we shall
never assent to anything of which there is not an appearance
capable of being comprehended. Your son is dead. What has
happened? Your son is dead. Nothing more? Nothing. Your ship
is lost. What has happened? Your ship is lost. A man has been
led to prison. What has happened? He has been led to prison.
But that herein he has fared badly, every man adds from his
own opinion. But Zeus, you say, does not do right in these
matters. Why? because he has made you capable of
endurance? because he has made you magnanimous? because
he has taken from that which befalls you the power of being
evils? because it is in your power to be happy while you are
suffering what you suffer? because he has opened the door to
you, when things do not please you? Man, go out and do not
Hear how the Romans feel towards philosophers, if you
would like to know. Italicus, who was the most in repute of the
philosophers, once when I was present, being vexed with his
own friends and as if he was suffering something intolerable,
said: "I cannot bear it, you are killing me; you will make me
such as that man is," pointing to me.
When a certain person came to him, who was going up to
Rome on account of a suit which had regard to his rank,
Epictetus inquired the reason of his going to Rome, and the
man then asked what he thought about the matter. Epictetus
replied: If you ask me what you will do in Rome, whether you
will succeed or fail, I have no rule ([Greek: theoraema]) about
this. But if you ask me how you will fare, I can tell you: if you
have right opinions ([Greek: dogmata]), you will fare well; if
they are false, you will fare ill. For to every man the cause of
his acting is opinion. For what is the reason why you desired to
be elected governor of the Cnossians? Your opinion. What is
the reason that you are now going up to Rome? Your opinion.
And going in winter, and with danger and expense? I must go.
What tells you this? Your opinion. Then if opinions are the
causes of all actions, and a man has bad opinions, such as the
cause may be, such also is the effect! Have we then all sound
opinions, both you and your adversary? And how do you differ?
But have you sounder opinions than your adversary? Why? You
think so. And so does he think that his opinions are better; and
so do madmen. This is a bad criterion. But show to me that you
have made some inquiry into your opinions and have taken
some pains about them. And as now you are sailing to Rome in
order to become governor of the Cnossians, and you are not
content to stay at home with the honors which you had, but
you desire something greater and more conspicuous, so when
did you ever make a voyage for the purpose of examining your
own opinions, and casting them out, if you have any that are
bad? Whom have you approached for this purpose? What time
have you fixed for it? What age? Go over the times of your life
by yourself, if you are ashamed of me (knowing the fact) when
you were a boy, did you examine your own opinions? and did
you not then, as you do all things now, do as you did do? and
when you were become a youth and attended the rhetoricians,
and yourself practised rhetoric, what did you imagine that you
were deficient in? And when you were a young man and
engaged in public matters, and pleaded causes yourself, and
were gaining reputation, who then seemed your equal? And
when would you have submitted to any man examining and
showing that your opinions are bad? What then do you wish
me to say to you? Help me in this matter. I have no theorem
(rule) for this. Nor have you, if you came to me for this
purpose, come to me as a philosopher, but as to a seller of
vegetables or a shoemaker. For what purpose then have
philosophers theorems? For this purpose, that whatever may
happen, our ruling faculty may be and continue to be
conformable to nature. Does this seem to you a small thing?
No; but the greatest. What then? does it need only a short
time? and is it possible to seize it as you pass by? If you can,
seize it.
Then you will say, I met with Epictetus as I should meet with
a stone or a statue: for you saw me and nothing more. But he
meets with a man as a man, who learns his opinions, and in his
turn shows his own. Learn my opinions: show me yours; and
then say that you have visited me. Let us examine one
another: if I have any bad opinion, take it away; if you have
any, show it. This is the meaning of meeting with a
philosopher. Not so (you say): but this is only a passing visit,
and while we are hiring the vessel, we can also see Epictetus.
Let us see what he says. Then you go away and say: Epictetus
was nothing; he used solecisms and spoke in a barbarous way.
For of what else do you come as judges? Well, but a man may
say to me, if I attend to such matters (as you do), I shall have
no land as you have none; I shall have no silver cups as you
have none, nor fine beasts as you have none. In answer to tins
it is perhaps sufficient to say: I have no need of such things;
but if you possess many things you have need of others:
whether you choose or not, you are poorer than I am. What
then have I need of? Of that which you have not? of firmness,
of a mind which is conformable to nature, of being free from
When the need of each opinion comes, we ought to have it in
readiness: on the occasion of breakfast, such opinions as relate
to breakfast; in the bath, those that concern the bath; in bed,
those that concern bed.
Let sleep not come upon thy languid eyes
Before each daily action thou hast scann'd;
What's done amiss, what done, what left undone;
From first to last examine all, and then
Blame what is wrong, in what is right rejoice.
And we ought to retain these verses in such way that we
may use them, not that we may utter them aloud, as when we
exclaim, "Paean Apollo." Again in fever we should have ready
such opinions as concern a fever; and we ought not, as soon as
the fever begins, to lose and forget all. A man who has a fever
may say: If I philosophize any longer, may I be hanged:
wherever I go, I must take care of the poor body, that a fever
may not come. But what is philosophizing? Is it not a
preparation against events which may happen? Do you not
understand that you are saying something of this kind? "If I
shall still prepare myself to bear with patience what happens,
may I be hanged." But this is just as if a man after receiving
blows should give up the Pancratium. In the Pancratium it is in
our power to desist and not to receive blows.
But in the other matter if we give up philosophy, what shall
we gain? What then should a man say on the occasion of each
painful thing? It was for this that I exercised myself, for this I
disciplined myself. God says to you: Give me a proof that you
have duly practised athletics, that you have eaten what you
ought, that you have been exercised, that you have obeyed
the aliptes (the oiler and rubber). Then do you show yourself
weak when the time for action comes? Now is the time for the
fever. Let it be borne well. Now is the time for thirst, bear it
well. Now is the time for hunger, bear it well. Is it not in your
power? Who shall hinder you? The physician will hinder you
from drinking; but he cannot prevent you from bearing thirst
well: and he will hinder you from eating; but he cannot prevent
you from bearing hunger well.
But I cannot attend to my philosophical studies. And for what
purpose do you follow them? Slave, is it not that you may be
happy, that you may be constant, is it not that you may be in a
state conformable to nature and live so? What hinders you
when you have a fever from having your ruling faculty
conformable to nature? Here is the proof of the thing, here is
the test of the philosopher. For this also is a part of life, like
walking, like sailing, like journeying by land, so also is fever. Do
you read when you are walking? No. Nor do you when you
have a fever. But if you walk about well, you have all that
belongs to a man who walks. If you bear a fever well, you have
all that belongs to a man in a fever. What is it to bear a fever
well? Not to blame God or man; not to be afflicted at that
which happens, to expect death well and nobly, to do what
must be done: when the physician comes in, not to be
frightened at what he says; nor if he says you are doing well,
to be overjoyed. For what good has he told you? and when you
were in health, what good was that to you? And even if he says
you are in a bad way, do not despond. For what is it to be ill? is
it that you are near the severance of the soul and the body?
what harm is there in this? If you are not near now, will you not
afterwards be near? Is the world going to be turned upside
down when you are dead? Why then do you flatter the
physician? Why do you say if you please, master, I shall be
well? Why do you give him an opportunity of raising his
eyebrows (being proud; or showing his importance)? Do you
not value a physician, as you do a shoemaker when he is
measuring your foot, or a carpenter when he is building your
house, and so treat the physician as to the body which is not
yours, but by nature dead? He who has a fever has an
opportunity of doing this: if he does these things, he has what
belongs to him. For it is not the business of a philosopher to
look after these externals, neither his wine nor his oil nor his
poor body, but his own ruling power. But as to externals how
must he act? so far as not to be careless about them. Where
then is there reason for fear? where is there then still reason
for anger, and of fear about what belongs to others, about
things which are of no value? For we ought to have these two
principles in readiness, that except the will nothing is good nor
bad; and that we ought not to lead events, but to follow them.
My brother ought not to have behaved thus to me. No, but he
will see to that; and, however he may behave, I will conduct
myself towards him as I ought. For this is my own business;
that belongs to another: no man can prevent this, the other
thing can be hindered.
We ought not to make our exercises consist in means
contrary to nature and adapted to cause admiration, for if we
do so, we who call ourselves philosophers, shall not differ at all
from jugglers. For it is difficult even to walk on a rope; and not
only difficult, but it is also dangerous. Ought we for this reason
to practice walking on a rope, or setting up a palm-tree, or
embracing statues? By no means. Every thing which is difficult
and dangerous is not suitable for practice; but that is suitable
which conduces to the working out of that which is proposed to
us. And what is that which is proposed to us as a thing to be
worked out? To live with desire and aversion (avoidance of
certain things) free from restraint. And what is this? Neither to
be disappointed in that which you desire, nor to fall into
anything which you would avoid. Towards this object then
exercise (practice) ought to tend. For since it is not possible to
have your desire not disappointed and your aversion free from
falling into that which you would avoid, without great and
constant practice, you must know that if you allow your desire
and aversion to turn to things which are not within the power
of the will, you will neither have your desire capable of
attaining your object, nor your aversion free from the power of
avoiding that which you would avoid. And since strong habit
leads (prevails), and we are accustomed to employ desire and
aversion only to things which are not within the power of our
will, we ought to oppose to this habit a contrary habit, and
where there is great slipperiness in the appearances, there to
oppose the habit of exercise. Then at last, if occasion presents
itself, for the purpose of trying yourself at a proper time you
will descend into the arena to know if appearances overpower
you as they did formerly. But at first fly far from that which is
stronger than yourself; the contest is unequal between a
charming young girl and a beginner in philosophy. The earthen
pitcher, as the saying is, and the rock do not agree.
Solitude is a certain condition of a helpless man. For because
a man is alone, he is not for that reason also solitary; just as
though a man is among numbers, he is not therefore not
solitary. When then we have lost either a brother, or a son, or a
friend on whom we were accustomed to repose, we say that
we are left solitary, though we are often in Rome, though such
a crowd meet us, though so many live in the same place, and
sometimes we have a great number of slaves. For the man
who is solitary, as it is conceived, is considered to be a
helpless person and exposed to those who wish to harm him.
For this reason when we travel, then especially do we say that
we are lonely when we fall among robbers, for it is not the
sight of a human creature which removes us from solitude, but
the sight of one who is faithful and modest and helpful to us.
For if being alone is enough to make solitude, you may say
that even Zeus is solitary in the conflagration and bewails
himself saying, Unhappy that I am who have neither Hera, nor
Athena, nor Apollo, nor brother, nor son, nor descendant, nor
kinsman. This is what some say that he does when he is alone
at the conflagration. For they do not understand how a man
passes his life when he is alone, because they set out from a
certain natural principle, from the natural desire of community
and mutual love and from the pleasure of conversation among
men. But none the less a man ought to be prepared in a
manner for this also (being alone), to be able to be sufficient
for himself and to be his own companion. For as Zeus dwells
with himself, and is tranquil by himself, and thinks of his own
administration and of its nature, and is employed in thoughts
suitable to himself; so ought we also to be able to talk with
ourselves, not to feel the want of others also, not to be
unprovided with the means of passing our time; to observe the
divine administration, and the relation of ourselves to
everything else; to consider how we formerly were affected
towards things that happened and how at present; what are
still the things which give us pain; how these also can be cured
and how removed; if any things require improvement, to
improve them according to reason.
Well then, if some man should come upon me when I am
alone and murder me? Fool, not murder You, but your poor
What kind of solitude then remains? what want? why do we
make ourselves worse than children; and what do children do
when they are left alone? They take up shells and ashes, and
they build something, then pull it down, and build something
else, and so they never want the means of passing the time.
Shall I then, if you sail away, sit down and weep, because I
have been left alone and solitary? Shall I then have no shells,
no ashes? But children do what they do through want of
thought (or deficiency in knowledge), and we through
knowledge are unhappy.
Every great power (faculty) is dangerous to beginners. You
must then bear such things as you are able, but conformably
to nature: but not ... Practise sometimes a way of living like a
person out of health that you may at some time live like a man
in health.
As bad tragic actors cannot sing alone, but in company with
many, so some persons cannot walk about alone. Man, if you
are anything, both walk alone and talk to yourself, and do not
hide yourself in the chorus. Examine a little at last, look
around, stir yourself up, that you may know who you are.
You must root out of men these two things, arrogance (pride)
and distrust. Arrogance then is the opinion that you want
nothing (are deficient in nothing); but distrust is the opinion
that you cannot be happy when so many circumstances
surround you. Arrogance is removed by confutation; and
Socrates was the first who practised this. And (to know) that
the thing is not impossible inquire and seek. This search will do
you no harm; and in a manner this is philosophizing, to seek
how it is possible to employ desire and aversion ([Greek:
echchlisis]) without impediment.
I am superior to you, for my father is a man of consular rank.
Another says, I have been a tribune, but you have not. If we
were horses, would you say, My father was swifter? I have
much barley and fodder, or elegant neck ornaments. If then
you were saying this, I said, Be it so: let us run then. Well, is
there nothing in a man such as running in a horse, by which it
will be known which is superior and inferior? Is there not
modesty ([Greek: aidos]), fidelity, justice? Show yourself
superior in these, that you may be superior as a man. If you
tell me that you can kick violently, I also will say to you, that
you are proud of that which is the act of an ass.
In every act consider what precedes and what follows, and
then proceed to the act. If you do not consider, you will at first
begin with spirit, since you have not thought at all of the
things which follow; but afterwards when some consequences
have shown themselves, you will basely desist (from that
which you have begun).—I wish to conquer at the Olympic
games.—(And I too, by the gods; for it is a fine thing.) But
consider here what precedes and what follows; and then, if it is
for your good, undertake the thing. You must act according to
rules, follow strict diet, abstain from delicacies, exercise
yourself by compulsion at fixed times, in heat, in cold; drink no
cold water, nor wine, when there is opportunity of drinking it.
In a word, you must surrender yourself to the trainer, as you
do to a physician. Next in the contest, you must be covered
with sand, sometimes dislocate a hand, sprain an ankle,
swallow a quantity of dust, be scourged with the whip; and
after undergoing all this, you must sometimes be conquered.
After reckoning all these things, if you have still an inclination,
go to the athletic practice. If you do not reckon them, observe
you will behave like children who at one time play as wrestlers,
then as gladiators, then blow a trumpet, then act a tragedy,
when they have seen and admired such things. So you also do:
you are at one time a wrestler (athlete), then a gladiator, then
a philosopher, then a rhetorician; but with your whole soul you
are nothing: like the ape you imitate all that you see; and
always one thing after another pleases you, but that which
becomes familiar displeases you. For you have never
undertaken anything after consideration, nor after having
explored the whole matter and put it to a strict examination;
but you have undertaken it at hazard and with a cold desire.
Thus some persons having seen a philosopher and having
heard one speak like Euphrates—and yet who can speak like
him?—wish to be philosophers themselves.
Man, consider first what the matter is (which you propose to
do), then your own nature also, what it is able to bear. If you
are a wrestler, look at your shoulders, your thighs, your loins:
for different men are naturally formed for different things. Do
you think that, if you do (what you are doing daily), you can be
a philosopher? Do you think that you can eat as you do now,
drink as you do now, and in the same way be angry and out of
humor? You must watch, labor, conquer certain desires, you
must depart from your kinsmen, be despised by your slaves,
laughed at by those who meet you, in everything you must be
in an inferior condition, as to magisterial office, in honors, in
courts of justice. When you have considered all these things
completely, then, if you think proper, approach to philosophy,
if you would gain in exchange for these things freedom from
perturbations, liberty, tranquillity. If you have not considered
these things, do not approach philosophy: do not act like
children, at one time a philosopher, then a tax collector, then a
rhetorician, then a procurator (officer) of Cæsar. These things
are not consistent. You must be one man either good or bad;
you must either labor at your own ruling faculty or at external
things; you must either labor at things within or at external
things; that is, you must either occupy the place of a
philosopher or that of one of the vulgar.
A person said to Rufus when Galba was murdered: Is the
world now governed by Providence? But Rufus replied: Did I
ever incidentally form an argument from Galba that the world
is governed by Providence?
If a man has frequent intercourse with others either for talk,
or drinking together, or generally for social purposes, he must
either become like them, or change them to his own fashion.
For if a man places a piece of quenched charcoal close to a
piece that is burning, either the quenched charcoal will quench
the other, or the burning charcoal will light that which is
quenched. Since then the danger is so great, we must
cautiously enter into such intimacies with those of the common
sort, and remember that it is impossible that a man can keep
company with one who is covered with soot without being
partaker of the soot himself. For what will you do if a man
speaks about gladiators, about horses, about athletes, or what
is worse about men? Such a person is bad, such a person is
good; this was well done, this was done badly. Further, if he
scoff, or ridicule, or show an ill-natured disposition? Is any man
among us prepared like a lute-player when he takes a lute, so
that as soon as he has touched the strings, he discovers which
are discordant, and tunes the instrument? Such a power as
Socrates had who in all his social intercourse could lead his
companions to his own purpose? How should you have this
power? It is therefore a necessary consequence that you are
carried about by the common kind of people.
Why then are they more powerful than you? Because they
utter these useless words from their real opinions; but you
utter your elegant words only from your lips; for this reason
they are without strength and dead, and it is nauseous to listen
to your exhortations and your miserable virtue, which is talked
of everywhere (up and down). In this way the vulgar have the
advantage over you; for every opinion ([Greek: dogma]) is
strong and invincible. Until then the good ([Greek: chompsai])
sentiments ([Greek: hupolaepseis]) are fixed in you, and you
shall have acquired a certain power for your security, I advise
you to be careful in your association with common persons; if
you are not, every day like wax in the sun there will be melted
away whatever you inscribe on your minds in the school.
Withdraw then yourselves far from the sun so long as you have
these waxen sentiments. For this reason also philosophers
advise men to leave their native country, because ancient
habits distract them and do not allow a beginning to be made
of a different habit; nor can we tolerate those who meet us and
say: See such a one is now a philosopher, who was once so
and so. Thus also physicians send those who have lingering
diseases to a different country and a different air; and they do
right. Do you also introduce other habits than those which you
have; fix you opinions and exercise yourselves in them. But
you do not so; you go hence to a spectacle, to a show of
gladiators, to a place of exercise ([Greek: chuston]), to a
circus; then you come back hither, and again from this place
you go to those places, and still the same persons. And there is
no pleasing (good) habit, nor attention, nor care about self and
observation of this kind. How shall I use the appearances
presented to me? according to nature, or contrary to nature?
how do I answer to them? as I ought, or as I ought not? Do I
say to those things which are independent of the will, that they
do not concern me? For if you are not yet in this state, fly from
your former habits, fly from the common sort, if you intend
ever to begin to be something.
When you make any charge against Providence, consider,
and you will learn that the thing has happened according to
reason. Yes, but the unjust man has the advantage. In what? In
money. Yes, for he is superior to you in this, that he flatters, is
free from shame, and is watchful. What is the wonder? But see
if he has the advantage over you in being faithful, in being
modest; for you will not find it to be so; but wherein you are
superior, there you will find that you have the advantage. And I
once said to a man who was vexed because Philostorgus was
fortunate: Would you choose to lie with Sura? May it never
happen, he replied, that this day should come? Why then are
you vexed, if he receives something in return for that which he
sells; or how can you consider him happy who acquires those
things by such means as you abominate; or what wrong does
Providence, if he gives the better things to the better men? Is
it not better to be modest than to be rich? He admitted this.
Why are you vexed then, man, when you possess the better
thing? Remember then always and have in readiness the truth,
that this is a law of nature, that the superior has an advantage
over the inferior in that in which he is superior; and you will
never be vexed.
But my wife treats me badly. Well, if any man asks you what
this is, say, my wife treats me badly. Is there then nothing
more? Nothing. My father gives me nothing. (What is this? my
father gives me nothing. Is there nothing else then? Nothing);
but to say that this is an evil is something which must be
added to it externally, and falsely added. For this reason we
must not get rid of poverty, but of the opinion about poverty,
and then we shall be happy.
When one of his pupils inquired of Epictetus, and he was a
person who appeared to be inclined to Cynicism, what kind of
person a Cynic ought to be, and what was the notion ([Greek:
prolaepsis]) of the thing, we will inquire, said Epictetus, at
leisure; but I have so much to say to you that he who without
God attempts so great a matter, is hateful to God, and has no
other purpose than to act indecently in public.
In the first place, in the things which relate to yourself, you
must not be in any respect like what you do now; you must not
blame God or man; you must take away desire altogether, you
must transfer avoidance ([Greek: echchlisis]) only to the things
which are within the power of the will; you must not feel anger
nor resentment or envy nor pity; a girl must not appear
handsome to you, nor must you love a little reputation, nor be
pleased with a boy or a cake. For you ought to know that the
rest of men throw walls around them and houses and darkness
when they do any such things, and they have many means of
concealment. A man shuts the door, he sets somebody before
the chamber; if a person comes, say that he is out, he is not at
leisure. But the Cynic instead of all these things must use
modesty as his protection; if he does not, he will be indecent in
his nakedness and under the open sky. This is his house, his
door; this is the slave before his bedchamber; this is his
darkness. For he ought not to wish to hide anything that he
does; and if he does, he is gone, he has lost the character of a
Cynic, of a man who lives under the open sky, of a free man;
he has begun to fear some external thing, he has begun to
have need of concealment, nor can he get concealment when
he chooses. For where shall he hide himself and how? And if by
chance this public instructor shall be detected, this
pædagogue, what kind of things will he be compelled to suffer?
when then a man fears these things, is it possible for him to be
bold with his whole soul to superintend men? It cannot be: it is
In the first place then you must make your ruling faculty
pure, and this mode of life also. Now (you should say), to me
the matter to work on is my understanding, as wood is to the
carpenter, as hides to the shoemaker; and my business is the
right use of appearances. But the body is nothing to me: the
parts of it are nothing to me. Death? Let it come when it
chooses, either death of the whole or of a part. Fly, you say.
And whither; can any man eject me out of the world? He
cannot. But wherever I go, there is the sun, there is the moon,
there are the stars, dreams, omens, and the conversation
([Greek: omilia]) with gods.
Then, if he is thus prepared, the true Cynic cannot be
satisfied with this; but he must know that he is sent a
messenger from Zeus to men about good and bad things, to
show them that they have wandered and are seeking the
substance of good and evil where it is not, but where it is, they
never think; and that he is a spy, as Diogenes was carried off
to Philip after the battle of Chaeroneia as a spy. For in fact a
Cynic is a spy of the things which are good for men and which
are evil, and it is his duty to examine carefully and to come
and report truly, and not to be struck with terror so as to point
out as enemies those who are not enemies, nor in any other
way to be perturbed by appearances nor confounded.
It is his duty then to be able with a loud voice, if the occasion
should arise, and appearing on the tragic stage to say like
Socrates: Men, whither are you hurrying, what are you doing,
wretches? like blind people you are wandering up and down;
you are going by another road, and have left the true road; you
seek for prosperity and happiness where they are not, and if
another shows you where they are, you do not believe him.
Why do you seek it without? In the body? It is not there. If you
doubt, look at Myro, look at Ophellius. In possessions? It is not
there. But if you do not believe me, look at Croesus: look at
those who are now rich, with what lamentations their life is
filled. In power? It is not there. If it is, those must be happy
who have been twice and thrice consuls; but they are not.
Whom shall we believe in these matters? You who from without
see their affairs and are dazzled by an appearance, or the men
themselves? What do they say? Hear them when they groan,
when they grieve, when on account of these very consulships
and glory and splendor they think that they are more wretched
and in greater danger. Is it in royal power? It is not: if it were,
Nero would have been happy, and Sardanapalus. But neither
was Agamemnon happy, though he was a better man than
Sardanapalus and Nero; but while others are snoring, what is
he doing?
“Much from his head he tore his rooted hair.” Iliad, x., 15.
and what does he say himself?
"I am perplexed," he says, "and disturb'd I am," and "my
heart out of my bosom Is leaping."
Iliad, x., 91.
Wretch, which of your affairs goes badly? Your possessions?
No. Your body? No. But you are rich in gold and copper. What
then is the matter with you? That part of you, whatever it is,
has been neglected by you and is corrupted, the part with
which we desire, with which we avoid, with which we move
towards and move from things. How neglected? He knows not
the nature of good for which he is made by nature and the
nature of evil; and what is his own, and what belongs to
another; and when anything that belongs to others goes badly,
he says, Woe to me, for the Hellenes are in danger. Wretched
is his ruling faculty, and alone neglected and uncared for. The
Hellenes are going to die destroyed by the Trojans. And if the
Trojans do not kill them, will they not die? Yes; but not all at
once. What difference then does it make? For if death is an
evil, whether men die altogether, or if they die singly, it is
equally an evil. Is anything else then going to happen than the
separation of the soul and the body? Nothing. And if the
Hellenes perish, is the door closed, and is it not in your power
to die? It is. Why then do you lament (and say), Oh, you are a
king and have the sceptre of Zeus? An unhappy king does not
exist more than an unhappy god. What then art thou? In truth
a shepherd: for you weep as shepherds do, when a wolf has
carried off one of their sheep: and these who are governed by
you are sheep. And why did you come hither? Was your desire
in any danger? was your aversion ([Greek: echchlisis])? was
your movement (pursuits)? was your avoidance of things? He
replies, No; but the wife of my brother was carried off. Was it
not then a great gain to be deprived of an adulterous wife?
Shall we be despised then by the Trojans? What kind of people
are the Trojans, wise or foolish? If they are wise, why do you
fight with them? If they are fools, why do you care about
Do you possess the body then free or is it in servile
condition? We do not know. Do you not know that it is the slave
of fever, of gout, ophthalmia, dysentery, of a tyrant, of fire, of
iron, of everything which is stronger? Yes, it is a slave. How
then is it possible that anything which belongs to the body can
be free from hindrance? and how is a thing great or valuable
which is naturally dead, or earth, or mud? Well then, do you
possess nothing which is free? Perhaps nothing. And who is
able to compel you to assent to that which appears false? No
man. And who can compel you not to assent to that which
appears true? No man. By this then you see that there is
something in you naturally free. But to desire or to be averse
from, or to move towards an object or to move from it, or to
prepare yourself, or to propose to do anything, which of you
can do this, unless he has received an impression of the
appearance of that which is profitable or a duty? No man. You
have then in these things also something which is not hindered
and is free. Wretched men, work out this, take care of this,
seek for good here.
Let not that which in another is contrary to nature be an evil
to you; for you are not formed by nature to be depressed with
others nor to be unhappy with others, but to be happy with
them. If a man is unhappy, remember that his unhappiness is
his own fault; for God has made all men to be happy, to be free
from perturbations. For this purpose he has given means to
them, some things to each person as his own, and other things
not as his own; some things subject to hindrance and
compulsion and deprivation; and these things are not a man's
own; but the things which are not subject to hindrances, are
his own; and the nature of good and evil, as it was fit to be
done by him who takes care of us and protects us like a father,
he has made our own. But you say, I have parted from a
certain person, and he is grieved. Why did he consider as his
own that which belongs to another? why, when he looked on
you and was rejoiced, did he not also reckon that you are a
mortal, that it is natural for you to part from him for a foreign
country? Therefore he suffers the consequences of his own
folly. But why do you or for what purpose bewail yourself? Is it
that you also have not thought of these things? but like poor
women who are good for nothing, you have enjoyed all things
in which you took pleasure, as if you would always enjoy them,
both places and men and conversation; and now you sit and
weep because you do not see the same persons and do not
live in the same places. Indeed you deserve this, to be more
wretched than crows and ravens who have the power of flying
where they please and changing their nests for others, and
crossing the seas without lamenting or regretting their former
condition. Yes, but this happens to them because they are
irrational creatures. Was reason then given to us by the gods
for the purpose of unhappiness and misery, that we may pass
our lives in wretchedness and lamentation? Must all persons be
immortal and must no man go abroad, and must we ourselves
not go abroad, but remain rooted like plants; and if any of our
familiar friends goes abroad, must we sit and weep; and on the
contrary, when he returns, must we dance and clap our hands
like children?
But my mother laments when she does not see me. Why has
she not learned these principles? and I do not say this, that we
should not take care that she may not lament, but I say that
we ought not to desire in every way what is not our own. And
the sorrow of another is another's sorrow; but my sorrow is my
own. I then will stop my own sorrow by every means, for it is in
my power; and the sorrow of another I will endeavor to stop as
far as I can; but I will not attempt to do it by every means; for
if I do, I shall be fighting against God, I shall be opposing Zeus
and shall be placing myself against him in the administration
of the universe; and the reward (the punishment) of this
fighting against God and of this disobedience not only will the
children of my children pay, but I also shall myself, both by day
and by night, startled by dreams, perturbed, trembling at
every piece of news, and having my tranquillity depending on
the letters of others. Some person has arrived from Rome. I
only hope there is no harm. But what harm can happen to you,
where you are not? From Hellas (Greece) some one is come; I
hope that there is no harm. In this way every place may be the
cause of misfortune to you. Is it not enough for you to be
unfortunate there where you are, and must you be so even
beyond sea, and by the report of letters? Is this the way in
which your affairs are in a state of security? Well then suppose
that my friends have died in the places which are far from me.
What else have they suffered than that which is the condition
of mortals? Or how are you desirous at the same time to live to
old age, and at the same time not to see the death of any
person whom you love? Know you not that in the course of a
long time many and various kinds of things must happen; that
a fever shall overpower one, a robber another, and a third a
tyrant? Such is the condition of things around us, such are
those who live with us in the world; cold and heat, and
unsuitable ways of living, and journeys by land, and voyages
by sea, and winds, and various circumstances which surround
us, destroy one man, and banish another, and throw one upon
an embassy and another into an army. Sit down then in a
flutter at all these things, lamenting, unhappy, unfortunate,
dependent on another, and dependent not on one or two, but
on ten thousands upon ten thousands.
Did you hear this when you were with the philosophers? did
you learn this? do you not know that human life is a warfare?
that one man must keep watch, another must go out as a spy,
and a third must fight? and it is not possible that all should be
in one place, nor is it better that it should be so. But you
neglecting to do the commands of the general complain when
anything more hard than usual is imposed on you, and you do
not observe what you make the army become as far as it is in
your power; that if all imitate you, no man will dig a trench, no
man will put a rampart round, nor keep watch, nor expose
himself to danger, but will appear to be useless for the
purposes of an army. Again, in a vessel if you go as a sailor,
keep to one place and stick to it. And if you are ordered to
climb the mast, refuse; if to run to the head of the ship, refuse;
and what master of a ship will endure you? and will he not
pitch you overboard as a useless thing, an impediment only
and bad example to the other sailors? And so it is here also:
every man's life is a kind of warfare, and it is long and
diversified. You must observe the duty of a soldier and do
every thing at the nod of the general; if it is possible, divining
what his wishes are; for there is no resemblance between that
general and this, neither in strength nor in superiority of
character. Know you not that a good man does nothing for the
sake of appearance, but for the sake of doing right? What
advantage is it then to him to have done right? And what
advantage is it to a man who writes the name of Dion to write
it as he ought? The advantage is to have written it. Is there no
reward then? Do you seek a reward for a good man greater
than doing what is good and just? At Olympia you wish for
nothing more, but it seems to you enough to be crowned at the
games. Does it seem to you so small and worthless a thing to
be good and happy? For these purposes being introduced by
the gods into this city (the world), and it being now your duty
to undertake the work of a man, do you still want nurses also
and a mamma, and do foolish women by their weeping move
you and make you effeminate? Will you thus never cease to be
a foolish child? know you not that he who does the acts of a
child, the older he is, the more ridiculous he is?
So in this matter also: if you kiss your own child, or your
brother or friend, never give full license to the appearance
([Greek: phantasian]), and allow not your pleasure to go as far
as it chooses; but check it, and curb it as those who stand
behind men in their triumphs and remind them that they are
mortal. Do you also remind yourself in like manner, that he
whom you love is mortal, and that what you love is nothing of
your own; it has been given to you for the present, not that it
should not be taken from you, nor has it been given to you for
all time, but as a fig is given to you or a bunch of grapes at the
appointed season of the year. But if you wish for these things
in winter, you are a fool. So if you wish for your son or friend
when it is not allowed to you, you must know that you are
wishing for a fig in winter. For such as winter is to a fig, such is
every event which happens from the universe to the things
which are taken away according to its nature. And further, at
the times when you are delighted with a thing, place before
yourself the contrary appearances. What harm is it while you
are kissing your child to say with a lisping voice: To-morrow
you will die; and to a friend also: To-morrow you will go away
or I shall, and never shall we see one another again? But these
are words of bad omen—and some incantations also are of bad
omen; but because they are useful, I don't care for this; only
let them be useful. But do you call things to be of bad omen
except those which are significant of some evil? Cowardice is a
word of bad omen, and meanness of spirit, and sorrow, and
grief, and shamelessness. These words are of bad omen; and
yet we ought not to hesitate to utter them in order to protect
ourselves against the things. Do you tell me that a name which
is significant of any natural thing is of evil omen? say that even
for the ears of corn to be reaped is of bad omen, for it signifies
the destruction of the ears, but not of the world. Say that the
falling of the leaves also is of bad omen, and for the dried fig
to take the place of the green fig, and for raisins to be made
from the grapes. For all these things are changes from a
former state into other states; not a destruction, but a certain
fixed economy and administration. Such is going away from
home and a small change: such is death, a greater change, not
from the state which now is to that which is not, but to that
which is not now. Shall I then no longer exist? You will not exist,
but you will be something else, of which the world now has
need; for you also came into existence not when you chose,
but when the world had need of you.
Let these thoughts be ready to hand by night and by day;
these you should write, these you should read; about these
you should talk to yourself and to others. Ask a man: Can you
help me at all for this purpose? and further, go to another and
to another. Then if anything that is said be contrary to your
wish, this reflection first will immediately relieve you, that it is
not unexpected. For it is a great thing in all cases to say: I
knew that I begot a son who is mortal. For so you also will say:
I knew that I am mortal, I knew that I may leave my home, I
knew that I may be ejected from it, I knew that I may be led to
prison. Then if you turn round and look to yourself, and seek
the place from which comes that which has happened, you will
forthwith recollect that it comes from the place of things which
are out of the power of the will, and of things which are not my
own. What then is it to me? Then, you will ask, and this is the
chief thing: And who is it that sent it? The leader, or the
general, the state, the law of the state. Give it me then, for I
must always obey the law in everything. Then, when the
appearance (of things) pains you, for it is not in your power to
prevent this, contend against it by the aid of reason, conquer
it: do not allow it to gain strength nor to lead you to the
consequences by raising images such as it pleases and as it
pleases. If you be in Gyara, do not imagine the mode of living
at Rome, and how many pleasures there were for him who
lived there and how many there would be for him who returned
to Rome; but fix your mind on this matter, how a man who
lives in Gyara ought to live in Gyara like a man of courage. And
if you be in Rome, do not imagine what the life in Athens is,
but think only of the life in Rome.
Then in the place of all other delights substitute this, that of
being conscious that you are obeying God, that not in word,
but in deed you are performing the acts of a wise and good
man. For what a thing it is for a man to be able to say to
himself: Now whatever the rest may say in solemn manner in
the schools and may be judged to be saying in a way contrary
to common opinion (or in a strange way), this I am doing; and
they are sitting and are discoursing of my virtues and inquiring
about me and praising me; and of this Zeus has willed that I
shall receive from myself a demonstration, and shall myself
know if he has a soldier such as he ought to have, a citizen
such as he ought to have, and if he has chosen to produce me
to the rest of mankind as a witness of the things which are
independent of the will: See that you fear without reason, that
you foolishly desire what you do desire; seek not the good in
things external; seek it in yourselves: if you do not, you will not
find it. For this purpose he leads me at one time hither, at
another time sends me thither, shows me to men as poor,
without authority, and sick; sends me to Gyara, leads me into
prison, not because he hates me—far from him be such a
meaning, for who hates the best of his servants? nor yet
because he cares not for me, for he does not neglect any even
of the smallest things; but he does this for the purpose of
exercising me and making use of me as a witness to others.
Being appointed to such a service, do I still care about the
place in which I am, or with whom I am, or what men say about
me? and do I not entirely direct my thoughts to God and to his
instructions and commands?
Having these things (or thoughts) always in hand, and
exercising them by yourself, and keeping them in readiness,
you will never be in want of one to comfort you and strengthen
you. For it is not shameful to be without something to eat, but
not to have reason sufficient for keeping away fear and sorrow.
But if once you have gained exemption from sorrow and fear,
will there any longer be a tyrant for you, or a tyrant's guard, or
attendants on Cæsar? Or shall any appointment to offices at
court cause you pain, or shall those who sacrifice in the Capitol
on the occasion of being named to certain functions, cause
pain to you who have received so great authority from Zeus?
Only do not make a proud display of it, nor boast of it; but
show it by your acts; and if no man perceives it, be satisfied
that you are yourself in a healthy state and happy.
Consider as to the things which you proposed to yourself at
first, which you have secured, and which you have not; and
how you are pleased when you recall to memory the one, and
are pained about the other; and if it is possible, recover the
things wherein you failed. For we must not shrink when we are
engaged in the greatest combat, but we must even take blows.
For the combat before us is not in wrestling and the
Pancration, in which both the successful and the unsuccessful
may have the greatest merit, or may have little, and in truth
may be very fortunate or very unfortunate; but the combat is
for good fortune and happiness themselves. Well then, even if
we have renounced the contest in this matter (for good fortune
and happiness), no man hinders us from renewing the combat
again, and we are not compelled to wait for another four years
that the games at Olympia may come again; but as soon as
you have recovered and restored yourself, and employ the
same zeal, you may renew the combat again; and if again you
renounce it, you may again renew it; and if you once gain the
victory, you are like him who has never renounced the combat.
Only do not through a habit of doing the same thing
(renouncing the combat), begin to do it with pleasure, and
then like a bad athlete go about after being conquered in all
the circuit of the games like quails who have run away.
Are you not ashamed at being more cowardly and more
mean than fugitive slaves? How do they when they run away
leave their masters? on what estates do they depend, and
what domestics do they rely on? Do they not after stealing a
little, which is enough for the first days, then afterwards move
on through land or through sea, contriving one method after
another for maintaining their lives? And what fugitive slave
ever died of hunger? But you are afraid lest necessary things
should fail you, and are sleepless by night. Wretch, are you so
blind, and don't you see the road to which the want of
necessaries leads?—Well, where does it lead?—to the same
place to which a fever leads, or a stone that falls on you, to
death. Have you not often said this yourself to your
companions? have you not read much of this kind, and written
much? and how often have you boasted that you were easy as
to death?
Learn then first what are the things which are shameful, and
then tell us that you are a philosopher: but at present do not,
even if any other man calls you so, allow it.
Is that shameful to you which is not your own act, that of
which you are not the cause, that which has come to you by
accident, as a headache, as a fever? If your parents were poor,
and left their property to others, and if while they live, they do
not help you at all, is this shameful to you? Is this what you
learned with the philosophers? Did you never hear that the
thing which is shameful ought to be blamed, and that which is
blamable is worthy of blame? Whom do you blame for an act
which is not his own, which he did not do himself? Did you then
make your father such as he is, or is it in your power to
improve him? Is this power given to you? Well then, ought you
to wish the things which are not given to you, or to be
ashamed if you do not obtain them? And have you also been
accustomed while you were studying philosophy to look to
others and to hope for nothing from yourself? Lament then and
groan and eat with fear that you may not have food to-morrow.
Tremble about your poor slaves lest they steal, lest they run
away, lest they die. So live, and continue to live, you who in
name only have approached philosophy, and have disgraced
its theorems as far as you can by showing them to be useless
and unprofitable to those who take them up; you, who have
never sought constancy, freedom from perturbation, and from
passions; you who have not sought any person for the sake of
this object, but many for the sake of syllogisms; you who have
never thoroughly examined any of these appearances by
yourself, Am I able to bear, or am I not able to bear? What
remains for me to do? But as if all your affairs were well and
secure, you have been resting on the third topic, that of things
being unchanged, in order that you may possess unchanged—
what? cowardice, mean spirit, the admiration of the rich, desire
without attaining any end, and avoidance ([Greek: echchlisin])
which fails in the attempt? About security in these things you
have been anxious.
Ought you not to have gained something in addition from
reason, and then to have protected this with security? And
whom did you ever see building a battlement all around and
encircling it with a wall? And what doorkeeper is placed with no
door to watch? But you practise in order to be able to prove—
what? You practise that you may not be tossed as on the sea
through sophisms, and tossed about from what? Show me first
what you hold, what you measure, or what you weigh; and
show me the scales or the medimnus (the measure); or how
long will you go on measuring the dust? Ought you not to
demonstrate those things which make men happy, which make
things go on for them in the way as they wish, and why we
ought to blame no man, accuse no man, and acquiesce in the
administration of the universe?
He is free who lives as he wishes to live; who is neither
subject to compulsion nor to hindrance, nor to force; whose
movements to action ([Greek: hormai]) are not impeded,
whose desires attain their purpose, and who does not fall into
that which he would avoid ([Greek: echchliseis aperiptotoi]).
Who then chooses to live in error? No man. Who chooses to
live deceived, liable to mistake, unjust, unrestrained,
discontented, mean? No man. Not one then of the bad lives as
he wishes; nor is he then free. And who chooses to live in
sorrow, fear, envy, pity, desiring and failing in his desires,
attempting to avoid something and falling into it? Not one. Do
we then find any of the bad free from sorrow, free from fear,
who does not fall into that which he would avoid, and does not
obtain that which he wishes? Not one; nor then do we find any
bad man free.
Further, then, answer me this question, also: does freedom
seem to you to be something great and noble and valuable?
How should it not seem so? Is it possible then when a man
obtains anything so great and valuable and noble to be mean?
It is not possible. When then you see any man subject to
another or flattering him contrary to his own opinion,
confidently affirm that this man also is not free; and not only if
he do this for a bit of supper, but also if he does it for a
government (province) or a consulship; and call these men
little slaves who for the sake of little matters do these things,
and those who do so for the sake of great things call great
slaves, as they deserve to be. This is admitted also. Do you
think that freedom is a thing independent and self-governing?
Certainly. Whomsoever then it is in the power of another to
hinder and compel, declare that he is not free. And do not look,
I entreat you, after his grandfathers and great-grandfathers, or
inquire about his being bought or sold, but if you hear him
saying from his heart and with feeling, "Master," even if the
twelve fasces precede him (as consul), call him a slave. And if
you hear him say, "Wretch that I am, how much I suffer," call
him a slave. If, finally, you see him lamenting, complaining,
unhappy, call him a slave, though he wears a praetexta. If,
then, he is doing nothing of this kind do not yet say that he is
free, but learn his opinions, whether they are subject to
compulsion, or may produce hindrance, or to bad fortune, and
if you find him such, call him a slave who has a holiday in the
Saturnalia; say that his master is from home; he will return
soon, and you will know what he suffers.
What then is that which makes a man free from hindrance
and makes him his own master? For wealth does not do it, nor
consulship, nor provincial government, nor royal power; but
something else must be discovered. What then is that which
when we write makes us free from hindrance and unimpeded?
The knowledge of the art of writing. What then is it in playing
the lute? The science of playing the lute. Therefore in life also
it is the science of life. You have then heard in a general way;
but examine the thing also in the several parts. Is it possible
that he who desires any of the things which depend on others
can be free from hindrance? No. Is it possible for him to be
unimpeded? No. Therefore he cannot be free. Consider then,
whether we have nothing which is in our own power only, or
whether we have all things, or whether some things are in our
own power, and others in the power of others. What do you
mean? When you wish the body to be entire (sound) is it in
your power or not? It is not in my power. When you wish it to
be healthy? Neither is this in my power. When you wish it to be
handsome? Nor is this. Life or death? Neither is this in my
power. Your body then is another's, subject to every man who
is stronger than yourself. It is. But your estate is it in your
power to have it when you please, and as long as you please,
and such as you please? No. And your slaves? No. And your
clothes? No. And your house? No. And your horses? Not one of
these things. And if you wish by all means your children to live,
or your wife, or your brother, or your friends, is it in your
power? This also is not in my power.
Whether then have you nothing which is in your own power,
which depends on yourself only and cannot be taken from you,
or have you anything of the kind? I know not. Look at the thing
then thus, and examine it. Is any man able to make you assent
to that which is false? No man. In the matter of assent then
you are free from hindrance and obstruction. Granted. Well;
and can a man force you to desire to move towards that to
which you do not choose? He can, for when he threatens me
with death or bonds he compels me to desire to move towards
it. If then you despise death and bonds, do you still pay any
regard to him? No. Is then the despising of death an act of your
own or is it not yours? It is my act.
When you have made this preparation, and have practised
this discipline, to distinguish that which belongs to another
from that which is your own, the things which are subject to
hindrance from those which are not, to consider the things free
from hindrance to concern yourself, and those which are not
free not to concern yourself, to keep your desire steadily fixed
to the things which do concern yourself, and turned from the
things which do not concern yourself; do you still fear any
man? No one. For about what will you be afraid? About the
things which are your own, in which consists the nature of
good and evil? and who has power over these things? who can
take them away? who can impede them? No man can, no more
than he can impede God. But will you be afraid about your
body and your possessions, about things which are not yours,
about things which in no way concern you? and what else have
you been studying from the beginning than to distinguish
between your own and not your own, the things which are in
your power and not in your power, the things subject to
hindrance and not subject? and why have you come to the
philosophers? was it that you may nevertheless be unfortunate
and unhappy? You will then in this way, as I have supposed you
to have done, be without fear and disturbance. And what is
grief to you? for fear comes from what you expect, but grief
from that which is present. But what further will you desire?
For of the things which are within the power of the will, as
being good and present, you have a proper and regulated
desire; but of the things which are not in the power of the will
you do not desire any one, and so you do not allow any place
to that which is irrational, and impatient, and above measure
Then after receiving everything from another and even
yourself, are you angry and do you blame the giver if he takes
anything from you? Who are you, and for what purpose did you
come into the world? Did not he (God) introduce you here, did
he not show you the light, did he not give you fellow-workers,
and perceptions and reason? and as whom did he introduce
you here? did he not introduce you as subject to death, and as
one to live on the earth with a little flesh, and to observe his
administration, and to join with him in the spectacle and the
festival for a short time? Will you not then, as long as you have
been permitted, after seeing the spectacle and the solemnity,
when he leads you out, go with adoration of him and thanks for
what you have heard and seen? No; but I would still enjoy the
feast. The initiated too would wish to be longer in the initiation;
and perhaps also those at Olympia to see other athletes. But
the solemnity is ended; go away like a grateful and modest
man; make room for others; others also must be born, as you
were, and, being born, they must have a place, and houses,
and necessary things. And if the first do not retire, what
remains? Why are you insatiable? Why are you not content?
why do you contract the world? Yes, but I would have my little
children with me and my wife. What, are they yours? do they
not belong to the giver, and to him who made you? then will
you not give up what belongs to others? will you not give way
to him who is superior? Why then did he introduce me into the
world on these conditions? And if the conditions do not suit
you, depart. He has no need of a spectator who is not satisfied.
He wants those who join in the festival, those who take part in
the chorus, that they may rather applaud, admire, and
celebrate with hymns the solemnity. But those who can bear
no trouble, and the cowardly, he will not unwillingly see absent
from the great assembly ([Greek: panaeguris]) for they did not
when they were present behave as they ought to do at a
festival nor fill up their place properly, but they lamented,
found fault with the deity, fortune, their companions; not
seeing both what they had, and their own powers, which they
received for contrary purposes, the powers of magnanimity, of
a generous mind, manly spirit, and what we are now inquiring
about, freedom. For what purpose then have I received these
things? To use them. How long? So long as he who has lent
them chooses. What if they are necessary to me? Do not
attach yourself to them and they will not be necessary; do not
say to yourself that they are necessary, and then they are not
You then, a man may say, are you free? I wish, by the gods,
and pray to be free; but I am not yet able to face my masters, I
still value my poor body, I value greatly the preservation of it
entire, though I do not possess it entire. But I can point out to
you a free man, that you may no longer seek an example.
Diogenes was free. How was he free? Not because he was born
of free parents, but because he was himself free, because he
had cast off all the handles of slavery, and it was not possible
for any man to approach him, nor had any man the means of
laying hold of him to enslave him. He had everything easily
loosed, everything only hanging to him. If you laid hold of his
property, he would have rather let it go and be yours, than he
would have followed you for it; if you had laid hold of his leg,
he would have let go his leg; if of all his body, all his poor
body; his intimates, friends, country, just the same. For he
knew from whence he had them, and from whom, and on what
conditions. His true parents indeed, the gods, and his real
country he would never have deserted, nor would he have
yielded to any man in obedience to them and to their orders,
nor would any man have died for his country more readily. For
he was not used to inquire when he should be considered to
have done anything on behalf of the whole of things (the
universe, or all the world), but he remembered that everything
which is done comes from thence and is done on behalf of that
country and is commanded by him who administers it.
Therefore see what Diogenes himself says and writes: "For this
reason," he says, "Diogenes, it is in your power to speak both
with the King of the Persians and with Archidamus the King of
the Lacedaemonians, as you please." Was it because he was
born of free parents? I suppose all the Athenians and all the
Lacedaemonians, because they were born of slaves, could not
talk with them (these kings) as they wished, but feared and
paid court to them. Why then does he say that it is in his
power? Because I do not consider the poor body to be my own,
because I want nothing, because law is everything to me, and
nothing else is. These were the things which permitted him to
be free.
Think of these things, these opinions, these words; look to
these examples, if you would be free, if you desire the thing
according to its worth. And what is the wonder if you buy so
great a thing at the price of things so many and so great? For
the sake of this which is called liberty, some hang themselves,
others throw themselves down precipices, and sometimes
even whole cities have perished; and will you not for the sake
of the true and unassailable and secure liberty give back to
God when he demands them the things which he has given?
Will you not, as Plato says, study not to die only, but also to
endure torture, and exile, and scourging, and, in a word, to
give up all which is not your own? If you will not, you will be a
slave among slaves, even if you be ten thousand times a
consul; and if you make your way up to the palace (Caesar's
residence), you will no less be a slave; and you will feel that
perhaps philosophers utter words which are contrary to
common opinion (paradoxes), as Cleanthes also said, but not
words contrary to reason. For you will know by experience that
the words are true, and that there is no profit from the things
which are valued and eagerly sought to those who have
obtained them; and to those who have not yet obtained them
there is an imagination ([Greek: phantasia]), that when these
things are come, all that is good will come with them; then,
when they are come, the feverish feeling is the same, the
tossing to and fro is the same, the satiety, the desire of things,
which are not present; for freedom is acquired not by the full
possession of the things which are desired, but by removing
the desire. And that you may know that this is true, as you
have labored for those things, so transfer your labor to these:
be vigilant for the purpose of acquiring an opinion which will
make you free; pay court to a philosopher instead of to a rich
old man; be seen about a philosopher's doors; you will not
disgrace yourself by being seen; you will not go away empty
nor without profit, if you go to the philosopher as you ought,
and if not (if you do not succeed), try at least; the trial
(attempt) is not disgraceful.
To this matter before all you must attend, that you be never
so closely connected with any of your former intimates or
friends as to come down to the same acts as he does. If you do
not observe this rule, you will ruin yourself. But if the thought
arises in your mind, "I shall seem disobliging to him and he will
not have the same feeling towards me," remember that
nothing is done without cost, nor is it possible for a man if he
does not do the same things to be the same man that he was.
Choose then which of the two you will have, to be equally
loved by those by whom you were formerly loved, being the
same with your former self; or, being superior, not to obtain
from your friends the same that you did before.
Keep this thought in readiness, when you lose anything
external, what you acquire in place of it; and if it be worth
more, never say, I have had a loss; neither if you have got a
horse in place of an ass, or an ox in place of a sheep, nor a
good action in place of a bit of money, nor in place of idle talk
such tranquillity as befits a man, nor in place of lewd talk if you
have acquired modesty. If you remember this, you will always
maintain your character such as it ought to be. But if you do
not, consider that the times of opportunity are perishing, and
that whatever pains you take about yourself, you are going to
waste them all and overturn them. And it needs only a few
things for the loss and overturning of all—namely, a small
deviation from reason. For the steerer of a ship to upset it, he
has no need of the same means as he has need of for saving
it; but if he turns it a little to the wind, it is lost; and if he does
not do this purposely, but has been neglecting his duty a little,
the ship is lost. Something of the kind happens in this case
also; if you only fall a nodding a little, all that you have up to
this time collected is gone. Attend therefore to the
appearances of things, and watch over them; for that which
you have to preserve is no small matter, but it is modesty and
fidelity and constancy, freedom from the affects, a state of
mind undisturbed, freedom from fear, tranquillity, in a word
liberty. For what will you sell these things? See what is the
value of the things which you will obtain in exchange for these.
—But shall I not obtain any such thing for it?—See, and if you
do in return get that, see what you receive in place of it. I
possess decency, he possesses a tribuneship: he possesses a
prætorship, I possess modesty. But I do not make acclamations
where it is not becoming: I will not stand up where I ought not;
for I am free, and a friend of God. and so I obey him willingly.
But I must not claim (seek) anything else, neither body nor
possession, nor magistracy, nor good report, nor in fact
anything. For he (God) does not allow me to claim (seek) them,
for if he had chosen, he would have made them good for me;
but he has not done so, and for this reason I cannot transgress
his commands. Preserve that which is your own good in
everything; and as to every other thing, as it is permitted, and
so far as to behave consistently with reason in respect to
them, content with this only. If you do not, you will be
unfortunate, you will fail in all things, you will be hindered, you
will be impeded. These are the laws which have been sent
from thence (from God); these are the orders. Of these laws a
man ought to be an expositor, to these he ought to submit, not
to those of Masurius and Cassius.
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
salutations 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 labor. But if you refer reading to the proper end, what
else is this than a tranquil and happy life ([Greek: eusoia])? 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, of acting with modesty, steadiness, without
desire and aversion to things external; and then that I may
attend to men, what they say, how they are moved; 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
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 a way
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, 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, [Greek: hormae]),
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 ([Greek:
echchlisei]) 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, my abstinence, my co-operation
with others; and so we should thank God for what we ought to
thank him.
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, 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 labor; and if he does it through love of learning, I say
that he is a lover of learning. But if he refers his labor to his
own ruling power that he may keep it in a state conformable 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); for 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. If you see anything 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, today 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? Do they
not see from all places alike that which is going on?
The wise and good man neither himself fights with any
person, nor does he allow another, so far as he can prevent it.
And an example of this as well as of all other things is
proposed to us in the life of Socrates, who not only himself on
all occasions avoided fights (quarrels), but would not allow
even others to quarrel. See in Xenophon's Symposium how
many quarrels he settled, how further he endured
Thrasymachus and Polus and Callicles; how he tolerated his
wife, and how he tolerated his son who attempted to confute
him and to cavil with him. For he remembered well that no
man has in his power another man's ruling principle. He
wished therefore for nothing else than that which was his own.
And what is this? Not that this or that man may act according
to nature, for that is a thing which belongs to another; but that
while others are doing their own acts, as they choose, he may
nevertheless be in a condition conformable to nature and live
in it, only doing what is his own to the end that others also
may be in a state conformable to nature. For this is the object
always set before him by the wise and good man. Is it to be
commander (a praetor) of an army? No; but if it is permitted
him, his object is in this matter to maintain his own ruling
principle. Is it to marry? No; but if marriage is allowed to him,
in this matter his object is to maintain himself in a condition
conformable to nature. But if he would have his son not to do
wrong or his wife, he would have what belongs to another not
to belong to another: and to be instructed is this, to learn what
things are a man's own and what belongs to another.
How then is there left any place for fighting (quarrelling) to a
man who has this opinion (which he ought to have)? Is he
surprised at any thing which happens, and does it appear new
to him? Does he not expect that which comes from the bad to
be worse and more grievous than that what actually befalls
him? And does he not reckon as pure gain whatever they (the
bad) may do which falls short of extreme wickedness? Such a
person has reviled you. Great thanks to him for not having
struck you. But he has struck me also. Great thanks that he did
not wound you. But he wounded me also. Great thanks that he
did not kill you. For when did he learn or in what school that
man is a tame animal, that men love one another, that an act
of injustice is a great harm to him who does it. Since then he
has not learned this and is not convinced of it, why shall he not
follow that which seems to be for his own interest? Your
neighbor has thrown stones. Have you then done anything
wrong? But the things in the house have been broken. Are you
then a utensil? No; but a free power of will. What then is given
to you (to do) in answer to this? If you are like a wolf, you must
bite in return, and throw more stones. But, if you consider what
is proper for a man, examine your storehouse, see with what
faculties you came into the world. Have you the disposition of
a wild beast, have you the disposition of revenge for an injury?
When is a horse wretched? When he is deprived of his natural
faculties, not when he cannot crow like a cock, but when he
cannot run. When is a dog wretched? Not when he cannot fly,
but when he cannot track his game. Is then a man also
unhappy in this way, not because he cannot strangle lions or
embrace statues, for he did not come into the world in the
possession of certain powers from nature for this purpose, but
because he has lost his probity and his fidelity? People ought
to meet and lament such a man for the misfortunes into which
he has fallen; not indeed to lament because a man has been
born or has died, but because it has happened to him in his
lifetime to have lost the things which are his own, not that
which he received from his father, not his land and house, and
his inn, and his slaves; for not one of these things is a man's
own, but all belong to others, are servile, and subject to
account ([Greek: hupeithuna]), at different times given to
different persons by those who have them in their power: but I
mean the things which belong to him as a man, the marks
(stamps) in his mind with which he came into the world, such
as we seek also on coins, and if we find them we approve of
the coins, and if we do not find the marks we reject them.
What is the stamp on this sestertius? The stamp of Trajan.
Present it. It is the stamp of Nero. Throw it away; it cannot be
accepted, it is counterfeit. So also in this case: What is the
stamp of his opinions? It is gentleness, a sociable disposition, a
tolerant temper, a disposition to mutual affections. Produce
these qualities. I accept them: I consider this man a citizen, I
accept him as a neighbor, a companion in my voyages. Only
see that he has not Nero's stamp. Is he passionate, is he full of
resentment, is he fault-finding? If the whim seizes him, does he
break the heads of those who come in his way? (If so), why
then did you say that he is a man? Is everything judged
(determined) by the bare form? If that is so, say that the form
in wax is an apple and has the smell and the taste of an apple.
But the external figure is not enough: neither then is the nose
enough and the eyes to make the man, but he must have the
opinions of a man. Here is a man who does not listen to
reason, who does not know when he is refuted: he is an ass; in
another man the sense of shame is become dead: he is good
for nothing, he is anything rather than a man. This man seeks
whom he may meet and kick or bite, so that he is not even a
sheep or an ass, but a kind of wild beast.
What then? would you have me to be despised?—By whom?
by those who know you? and how shall those who know you
despise a man who is gentle and modest? Perhaps you mean
by those who do not know you? What is that to you? For no
other artisan cares for the opinion of those who know not his
art. But they will be more hostile to me for this reason. Why do
you say "me"? Can any man injure your will, or prevent you
from using in a natural way the appearances which are
presented to you? In no way can he. Why then are you still
disturbed and why do you choose to show yourself afraid? And
why do you not come forth and proclaim that you are at peace
with all men whatever they may do, and laugh at those chiefly
who think that they can harm you? These slaves, you can say,
know not either who I am, nor where lies my good or my evil,
because they have no access to the things which are mine.
In this way also those who occupy a strong city mock the
besiegers (and say): What trouble these men are now taking
for nothing; our wall is secure, we have food for a very long
time, and all other resources. These are the things which make
a city strong and impregnable; but nothing else than his
opinions makes a man's soul impregnable. For what wall is so
strong, or what body is so hard, or what possession is so safe,
or what honor (rank, character) so free from assault (as a
man's opinions)? All (other) things everywhere are perishable,
easily taken by assault, and if any man in any way is attached
to them, he must be disturbed, except what is bad, he must
fear, lament, find his desires disappointed, and fall into things
which he would avoid. Then do we not choose to make secure
the only means of safety which are offered to us, and do we
not choose to withdraw ourselves from that which is perishable
and servile and to labor at the things which are imperishable
and by nature free; and do we not remember that no man
either hurts another or does good to another, but that a man's
opinions about each thing, is that which hurts him, is that
which overturns him; this is fighting, this is civil discord, this is
war? That which made Eteocles and Polynices enemies was
nothing else than this opinion which they had about royal
power, their opinion about exile, that the one is the extreme of
evils, the other the greatest good. Now this is the nature of
every man to seek the good, to avoid the bad; to consider him
who deprives us of the one and involves us in the other an
enemy and treacherous, even if he be a brother, or a son, or a
father. For nothing is more akin to us than the good; therefore,
if these things (externals) are good and evil, neither is a father
a friend to sons, nor a brother to a brother, but all the world is
everywhere full of enemies, treacherous men, and sycophants.
But if the will ([Greek: proairesis], the purpose, the intention)
being what it ought to be, is the only good; and if the will being
such as it ought not to be, is the only evil, where is there any
strife, where is there reviling? about what? about the things
which do not concern us? and strife with whom? with the
ignorant, the unhappy, with those who are deceived about the
chief things?
Remembering this Socrates managed his own house and
endured a very ill-tempered wife and a foolish (ungrateful?)
I am grieved, a man says, at being pitied. Whether then is
the fact of your being pitied a thing which concerns you or
those who pity you? Well, is it in your power to stop this pity? It
is in my power, if I show them that I do not require pity. And
whether then are you in the condition of not deserving
(requiring) pity, or are you not in that condition? I think that I
am not; but these persons do not pity me, for the things for
which, if they ought to pity me, it would be proper, I mean, for
my faults; but they pity me for my poverty, for not possessing
honorable offices, for diseases and deaths and other such
things. Whether then are you prepared to convince the many,
that not one of these things is an evil, but that it is possible for
a man who is poor and has no office ([Greek: anarchonti)] and
enjoys no honor to be happy; or to show yourself to them as
rich and in power? For the second of these things belong to a
man who is boastful, silly, and good for nothing. And consider
by what means the pretence must be supported. It will be
necessary for you to hire slaves and to possess a few silver
vessels, and to exhibit them in public, if it is possible, though
they are often the same, and to attempt to conceal the fact
that they are the same, and to have splendid garments, and all
other things for display, and to show that you are a man
honored by the great, and to try to sup at their houses, or to
be supposed to sup there, and as to your person to employ
some mean arts, that you may appear to be more handsome
and nobler than you are. These things you must contrive, if
you choose to go by the second path in order not to be pitied.
But the first way is both impracticable and long, to attempt the
very thing which Zeus has not been able to do, to convince all
men what things are good and bad. Is this power given to you?
This only is given to you, to convince yourself; and you have
not convinced yourself. Then I ask you, do you attempt to
persuade other men? and who has lived so long with you as
you with yourself? and who has so much power of convincing
you as you have of convincing yourself; and who is better
disposed and nearer to you than you are to yourself? How then
have you not yet convinced yourself in order to learn? At
present are not things upside down? Is this what you have
been earnest about doing, to learn to be free from grief and
free from disturbance, and not to be humbled (abject), and to
be free? Have you not heard then that there is only one way
which leads to this end, to give up (dismiss) the things which
do not depend on the will, to withdraw from them, and to
admit that they belong to others? For another man then to
have an opinion about you, of what kind is it? It is a thing
independent of the will—Then is it nothing to you? It is nothing.
When then you are still vexed at this and disturbed, do you
think that you are convinced about good and evil?
What makes the tyrant formidable? The guards, you say, and
their swords, and the men of the bedchamber, and those who
exclude them who would enter. Why then if you bring a boy
(child) to the tyrant when he is with his guards, is he not
afraid; or is it because the child does not understand these
things? If then any man does understand what guards are and
that they have swords, and comes to the tyrant for this very
purpose because he wishes to die on account of some
circumstance and seeks to die easily by the hand of another, is
he afraid of the guards? No, for he wishes for the thing which
makes the guards formidable. If then any man neither wishing
to die nor to live by all means, but only as it may be permitted,
approaches the tyrant what hinders him from approaching the
tyrant without fear? Nothing. If then a man has the same
opinion about his property as the man whom I have instanced
has about his body; and also about his children and his wife,
and in a word is so affected by some madness or despair that
he cares not whether he possesses them or not, but like
children who are playing with shells (quarrel) about the play,
but do not trouble themselves about the shells, so he too has
set no value on the materials (things), but values the pleasure
that he has with them and the occupation, what tyrant is then
formidable to him, or what guards or what swords?
What hinders a man, who has clearly separated
(comprehended) these things, from living with a light heart
and bearing easily the reins, quietly expecting everything
which can happen, and enduring that which has already
happened? Would you have me to bear poverty? Come and
you will know what poverty is when it has found one who can
act well the part of a poor man. Would you have me to possess
power? Let me have power, and also the trouble of it. Well,
banishment? Wherever I shall go, there it will be well with me;
for here also where I am, it was not because of the place that it
was well with me, but because of my opinions which I shall
carry off with me, for neither can any man deprive me of them;
but my opinions alone are mine and they cannot be taken from
me, and I am satisfied while I have them, wherever I may be
and whatever I am doing. But now it is time to die. Why do you
say to die? Make no tragedy show of the thing, but speak of it
as it is. It is now time for the matter (of the body) to be
resolved into the things out of which it was composed. And
what is the formidable thing here? what is going to perish of
the things which are in the universe? what new thing or
wondrous is going to happen? Is it for this reason that a tyrant
is formidable? Is it for this reason that the guards appear to
have swords which are large and sharp? Say this to others; but
I have considered about all these things; no man has power
over me. I have been made free; I know his commands, no
man can now lead me as a slave. I have a proper person to
assert my freedom; I have proper judges. (I say) are you not
the master of my body? What then is that to me? Are you not
the master of my property? What then is that to me? Are you
not the master of my exile or of my chains? Well, from all these
things and all the poor body itself I depart at your bidding,
when you please. Make trial of your power, and you will know
how far it reaches.
Whom then can I still fear? Those who are over the
bedchamber? Lest they should do, what? Shut me out? If they
find that I wish to enter, let them shut me out. Why then do
you go to the doors? Because I think it befits me, while the
play (sport) lasts, to join in it. How then are you not shut out?
Because unless some one allows me to go in, I do not choose
to go in, but am always content with that which happens; for I
think that what God chooses is better than what I choose. I will
attach myself as a minister and follower to him; I have the
same movements (pursuits) as he has, I have the same
desires; in a word, I have the same will ([Greek: sunthelo]).
There is no shutting out for me, but for those who would force
their way in. Why then do not I force my way in? Because I
know that nothing good is distributed within to those who
enter. But when I hear any man called fortunate because he is
honored by Cæsar, I say what does he happen to get? A
province (the government of a province). Does he also obtain
an opinion such as he ought? The office of a Prefect. Does he
also obtain the power of using his office well? Why do I still
strive to enter (Caesar's chamber)? A man scatters dried figs
and nuts: the children seize them, and fight with one another;
men do not, for they think them to be a small matter. But if a
man should throw about shells, even the children do not seize
them. Provinces are distributed: let children look to that.
Money is distributed; let children look to that. Prætorships,
consulships, are distributed; let children scramble for them, let
them be shut out, beaten, kiss the hands of the giver, of the
slaves: but to me these are only dried figs and nuts. What
then? If you fail to get them, while Cæsar is scattering them
about, do not be troubled; if a dried fig come into your lap,
take it and eat it; for so far you may value even a fig. But if I
shall stoop down and turn another over, or be turned over by
another, and shall flatter those who have got into (Caesar's)
chamber, neither is a dried fig worth the trouble, nor anything
else of the things which are not good, which the philosophers
have persuaded me not to think good.
When you see another man in the possession of power
(magistracy), set against this the fact that you have not the
want (desire) of power; when you see another rich, see what
you possess in place of riches: for if you possess nothing in
place of them, you are miserable; but if you have not the want
of riches, know that you possess more than this man
possesses and what is worth much more.
The difficulties of all men are about external things, their
helplessness is about external. What shall I do? how will it be?
how will it turn out? will this happen? will that? All these are
the words of those who are turning themselves to things which
are not within the power of the will. For who says, How shall I
not assent to that which is false? how shall I not turn away
from the truth? If a man be of such a good disposition as to be
anxious about these things I will remind him of this: Why are
you anxious? The thing is in your own power, be assured; do
not be precipitate in assenting before you apply the natural
rule. On the other side, if a man is anxious (uneasy) about
desire, lest it fail in its purpose and miss its end, and with
respect to the avoidance of things, lest he should fall into that
which he would avoid, I will first kiss (love) him, because he
throws away the things about which others are in a flutter
(others desire) and their fears, and employs his thoughts about
his own affairs and his own condition. Then I shall say to him: If
you do not choose to desire that which you will fail to obtain
nor to attempt to avoid that into which you will fall, desire
nothing which belongs to (which is in the power of) others, nor
try to avoid any of the things which are not in your power. If
you do not observe this rule, you must of necessity fail in your
desires and fall into that which you would avoid. What is the
difficulty here? where is there room for the words How will it
be? and How will it turn out? and Will this happen or that?
Now is not that which will happen independent of the will?
Yes. And the nature of good and of evil, is it not in the things
which are within the power of the will? Yes. Is it in your power
then to treat according to nature everything which happens?
Can any person hinder you? No man. No longer then say to
me, How will it be? For, however it may be, you will dispose of
it well, and the result to you will be a fortunate one. What
would Hercules have been if he said: How shall a great lion not
appear to me, or a great boar, or savage men? And what do
you care for that? If a great boar appear, you will fight a
greater fight; if bad men appear, you will relieve the earth of
the bad. Suppose then that I lose my life in this way. You will
die a good man, doing a noble act. For since he must certainly
die, of necessity a man must be found doing something, either
following the employment of a husbandman, or digging, or
trading, or serving in a consulship, or suffering from
indigestion or from diarrhoea. What then do you wish to be
doing when you are found by death? I, for my part, would wish
to be found doing something which belongs to a man,
beneficent, suitable to the general interest, noble. But if I
cannot be found doing things so great, I would be found doing
at least that which I cannot be hindered from doing, that which
is permitted me to do, correcting myself, cultivating the faculty
which makes use of appearances, laboring at freedom from the
affects (laboring at tranquillity of mind); rendering to the
relations of life their due. If I succeed so far, also (I would be
found) touching on (advancing to) the third topic (or head)
safety in forming judgments about things. If death surprises
me when I am busy about these things, it is enough for me if I
can stretch out my hands to God and say: The means which I
have received from thee for seeing thy administration (of the
world) and following it I have not neglected; I have not
dishonored thee by my acts; see how I have used my
perceptions, see how I have used my preconceptions; have I
ever blamed thee? have I been discontented with anything
that happens, or wished it to be otherwise? have I wished to
transgress the (established) relations (of things)? That thou
hast given me life, I thank thee for what thou hast given. So
long as I have used the things which are thine I am content.
Take them back and place them wherever thou mayest choose,
for thine were all things, thou gavest them to me. Is it not
enough to depart in this state of mind? and what life is better
and more becoming than that of a man who is in this state of
mind? and what end is more happy?
Some persons raise a question whether the social feeling is
contained in the nature of man; and yet I think that these
same persons would have no doubt that love of purity is
certainly contained in it, and that if man is distinguished from
other animals by anything, he is distinguished by this. When
then we see any other animal cleaning itself, we are
accustomed to speak of the act with surprise, and to add that
the animal is acting like a man; and on the other hand, if a
man blames an animal for being dirty, straightway, as if we
were making an excuse for it, we say that of course the animal
is not a human creature. So we suppose that there is
something superior in man, and that we first receive it from
the gods. For since the gods by their nature are pure and free
from corruption, so far as men approach them by reason, so
far do they cling to purity and to a love (habit) of purity. But
since it is impossible that man's nature ([Greek: ousia]) can be
altogether pure, being mixed (composed) of such materials,
reason is applied, as far as it is possible, and reason endeavors
to make human nature love purity.
The first then and highest purity is that which is in the soul;
and we say the same of impurity. Now you could not discover
the impurity of the soul as you could discover that of the body;
but as to the soul, what else could you find in it than that
which makes it filthy in respect to the acts which are her own?
Now the acts of the soul are movement towards an object or
movement from it, desire, aversion, preparation, design
(purpose), assent. What then is it which in these acts makes
the soul filthy and impure? Nothing else than her own bad
judgments ([Greek: chrimata]). Consequently the impurity of
the soul is the soul's bad opinions; and the purification of the
soul is the planting in it of proper opinions; and the soul is pure
which has proper opinions, for the soul alone in her own acts is
free from perturbation and pollution.
For we ought not even by the appearance of the body to
deter the multitude from philosophy; but as in other things, a
philosopher should show himself cheerful and tranquil, so also
he should in the things that relate to the body. See, ye men,
that I have nothing, that I want nothing; see how I am without
a house, and without a city, and an exile, if it happens to be so,
and without a hearth I live more free from trouble and more
happily than all of noble birth and than the rich. But look at my
poor body also and observe that it is not injured by my hard
way of living. But if a man says this to me, who has the
appearance (dress) and face of a condemned man, what god
shall persuade me to approach philosophy, if it makes men
such persons? Far from it; I would not choose to do so, even if I
were going to become a wise man. I indeed would rather that a
young man, who is making his first movements towards
philosophy, should come to me with his hair carefully trimmed
than with it dirty and rough, for there is seen in him a certain
notion (appearance) of beauty and a desire of (attempt at) that
which is becoming; and where he supposes it to be, there also
he strives that it shall be. It is only necessary to show him
(what it is), and to say: Young man, you seek beauty, and you
do well; you must know then that it (is produced) grows in that
part of you where you have the rational faculty; seek it there
where you have the movements towards and movements from
things, where you have the desires towards and the aversion
from things; for this is what you have in yourself of a superior
kind; but the poor body is naturally only earth; why do you
labor about it to no purpose? if you shall learn nothing else,
you will learn from time that the body is nothing. But if a man
comes to me daubed with filth, dirty, with a moustache down
to his knees, what can I say to him, by what kind of
resemblance can I lead him on? For about what has he busied
himself which resembles beauty, that I may be able to change
him and say, Beauty is not in this, but in that? Would you have
me to tell him, that beauty consists not in being daubed with
muck, but that it lies in the rational part? Has he any desire of
beauty? has he any form of it in his mind? Go and talk to a
hog, and tell him not to roll in the mud.
When you have remitted your attention for a short time, do
not imagine this, that you will recover it when you choose; but
let this thought be present to you, that in consequence of the
fault committed today your affairs must be in a worse
condition for all that follows. For first, and what causes most
trouble, a habit of not attending is formed in you; then a habit
of deferring your attention. And continually from time to time
you drive away by deferring it the happiness of life, proper
behavior, the being and living conformably to nature. If then
the procrastination of attention is profitable, the complete
omission of attention is more profitable; but if it is not
profitable, why do you not maintain your attention constant?
Today I choose to play. Well then, ought you not to play with
attention? I choose to sing. What then hinders you from doing
so with attention? Is there any part of life excepted, to which
attention does not extend? For will you do it (anything in life)
worse by using attention, and better by not attending at all?
And what else of the things in life is done better by those who
do not use attention? Does he who works in wood work better
by not attending to it? Does the captain of a ship manage it
better by not attending? and are any of the smaller acts done
better by inattention? Do you not see that when you have let
your mind loose, it is no longer in your power to recall it, either
to propriety, or to modesty, or to moderation; but you do
everything that comes into your mind in obedience to your
First then we ought to have these (rules) in readiness, and to
do nothing without them, and we ought to keep the soul
directed to this mark, to pursue nothing external, and nothing
which belongs to others (or is in the power of others), but to do
as he has appointed who has the power; we ought to pursue
altogether the things which are in the power of the will, and all
other things as it is permitted. Next to this we ought to
remember who we are, and what is our name, and to endeavor
to direct our duties towards the character (nature) of our
several relations (in life) in this manner: what is the season for
singing, what is the season for play, and in whose presence;
what will be the consequence of the act; whether our
associates will despise us, whether we shall despise them;
when to jeer ([Greek: schopsai]), and whom to ridicule; and on
what occasion to comply and with whom; and finally, in
complying how to maintain our own character. But wherever
you have deviated from any of these rules, there is damage
immediately, not from anything external, but from the action
What then? is it possible to be free from faults (if you do all
this)? It is not possible; but this is possible, to direct your
efforts incessantly to being faultless. For we must be content if
by never remitting this attention we shall escape at least a few
errors. But now when you have said, Tomorrow I will begin to
attend, you must be told that you are saying this, Today I will
be shameless, disregardful of time and place, mean; it will be
in the power of others to give me pain; today I will be
passionate and envious. See how many evil things you are
permitting yourself to do. If it is good to use attention
tomorrow, how much better is it to do so today? if tomorrow it
is in your interest to attend, much more is it today, that you
may be able to do so tomorrow also, and may not defer it
again to the third day.
When a man has seemed to us to have talked with simplicity
(candor) about his own affairs, how is it that at last we are
ourselves also induced to discover to him our own secrets and
we think this to be candid behavior? In the first place, because
it seems unfair for a man to have listened to the affairs of his
neighbor, and not to communicate to him also in turn our own
affairs; next, because we think that we shall not present to
them the appearance of candid men when we are silent about
our own affairs. Indeed, men are often accustomed to say, I
have told you all my affairs, will you tell me nothing of your
own? where is this done? Besides, we have also this opinion
that we can safely trust him who has already told us his own
affairs; for the notion rises in our mind that this man could
never divulge our affairs because he would be cautious that we
also should not divulge his. In this way also the incautious are
caught by the soldiers at Rome. A soldier sits by you in a
common dress and begins to speak ill of Caesar; then you, as if
you had received a pledge of his fidelity by his having begun
the abuse, utter yourself also what you think, and then you are
carried off in chains.
Something of this kind happens to us also generally. Now as
this man has confidently intrusted his affairs to me, shall I also
do so to any man whom I meet? (No), for when I have heard, I
keep silence, if I am of such a disposition; but he goes forth
and tells all men what he has heard. Then, if I hear what has
been done, if I be a man like him, I resolve to be revenged, I
divulge what he has told me; I both disturb others, and am
disturbed myself. But if I remember that one man does not
injure another, and that every man's acts injure and profit him,
I secure this, that I do not anything like him, but still I suffer
what I do suffer through my own silly talk.
True, but it is unfair when you have heard the secrets of your
neighbor for you in your turn to communicate nothing to him.
Did I ask you for your secrets, my man? did you communicate
your affairs on certain terms, that you should in return hear
mine also? If you are a babbler and think that all who meet you
are friends, do you wish me also to be like you? But why, if you
did well in intrusting your affairs to me, and it is not well for
me to intrust mine to you, do you wish me to be so rash? It is
just the same as if I had a cask which is water-tight, and you
one with a hole in it, and you should come and deposit with me
your wine that I might put it into my cask, and then should
complain that I also did not intrust my wine to you, for you
have a cask with a hole in it. How then is there any equality
here? You intrusted your affairs to a man who is faithful and
modest, to a man who thinks that his own actions alone are
injurious and (or) useful, and that nothing external is. Would
you have me intrust mine to you, a man who has dishonored
his own faculty of will, and who wishes to gain some small bit
of money or some office or promotion in the court (emperor's
palace), even if you should be going to murder your own
children, like Medea? Where (in what) is this equality
(fairness)? But show yourself to me to be faithful, modest, and
steady; show me that you have friendly opinions; show that
your cask has no hole in it; and you will see how I shall not
wait for you to trust me with your own affairs, but I myself shall
come to you and ask you to hear mine. For who does not
choose to make use of a good vessel? Who does not value a
benevolent and faithful adviser? Who will not willingly receive
a man who is ready to bear a share, as we may say, of the
difficulty of his circumstances, and by this very act to ease the
burden, by taking a part of it.
Epistulae Morales AD Lucilium
All Three Volumes
By Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Translated by Richard Mott Gummere
Letter I - On Saving Time
Greetings from Seneca to his friend Lucilius.
Continue to act thus, my dear Lucilius – set yourself free for
your own sake; gather and save your time, which till lately has
been forced from you, or filched away, or has merely slipped
from your hands. Make yourself believe the truth of my words,
– that certain moments are torn from us, that some are gently
removed, and that others glide beyond our reach. The most
disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness.
Furthermore, if you will pay close heed to the problem, you will
find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are
doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the
whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose.
What man can you show me who places any value on his time,
who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is
dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to
death; the major portion of death has already passed.
Whatever years be behind us are in death's hands.
Therefore, Lucilius, do as you write me that you are doing:
hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of to-day's task, and
you will not need to depend so much upon to-morrow's. While
we are postponing, life speeds by. Nothing, Lucilius, is ours,
except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership
of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who
will can oust us from possession. What fools these mortals be!
They allow the cheapest and most useless things, which can
easily be replaced, to be charged in the reckoning, after they
have acquired them; but they never regard themselves as in
debt when they have received some of that precious
commodity, – time! And yet time is the one loan which even a
grateful recipient cannot repay.
You may desire to know how I, who preach to you so freely,
am practising. I confess frankly: my expense account balances,
as you would expect from one who is free-handed but careful. I
cannot boast that I waste nothing, but I can at least tell you
what I am wasting, and the cause and manner of the loss; I can
give you the reasons why I am a poor man. My situation,
however, is the same as that of many who are reduced to
slender means through no fault of their own: every one
forgives them, but no one comes to their rescue.
What is the state of things, then? It is this: I do not regard a
man as poor, if the little which remains is enough for him. I
advise you, however, to keep what is really yours; and you
cannot begin too early. For, as our ancestors believed, it is too
late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask. Of that
which remains at the bottom, the amount is slight, and the
quality is vile. Farewell.
Letter II - On Discursiveness in Reading
Judging by what you write me, and by what I hear, I am
forming a good opinion regarding your future. You do not run
hither and thither and distract yourself by changing your
abode; for such restlessness is the sign of a disordered spirit.
The primary indication, to my thinking, of a well-ordered mind
is a man's ability to remain in one place and linger in his own
company. Be careful, however, lest this reading of many
authors and books of every sort may tend to make you
discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited
number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you
would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.
Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his
time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances,
but no friends. And the same thing must hold true of men who
seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit
them all in a hasty and hurried manner. Food does no good and
is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as
soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent
change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried
after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow
strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful
while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is
Accordingly, since you cannot read all the books which you
may possess, it is enough to possess only as many books as
you can read. "But," you reply, "I wish to dip first into one book
and then into another." I tell you that it is the sign of an
overnice appetite to toy with many dishes; for when they are
manifold and varied, they cloy but do not nourish. So you
should always read standard authors; and when you crave a
change, fall back upon those whom you read before. Each day
acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against
death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you
have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly
digested that day. This is my own custom; from the many
things which I have read, I claim some one part for myself.
The thought for today is one which I discovered in Epicurus;
for I am wont to cross over even into the enemy's camp, – not
as a deserter, but as a scout. He says: "Contented poverty is
an honourable estate." Indeed, if it be contented, it is not
poverty at all. It is not the man who has too little, but the man
who craves more, that is poor. What does it matter how much
a man has laid up in his safe, or in his warehouse, how large
are his flocks and how fat his dividends, if he covets his
neighbour's property, and reckons, not his past gains, but his
hopes of gains to come? Do you ask what is the proper limit to
wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to
have what is enough. Farewell.
Letter III - On True and False Friendship
You have sent a letter to me through the hand of a "friend" of
yours, as you call him. And in your very next sentence you
warn me not to discuss with him all the matters that concern
you, saying that even you yourself are not accustomed to do
this; in other words, you have in the same letter affirmed and
denied that he is your friend. Now if you used this word of ours
in the popular sense, and called him "friend" in the same way
in which we speak of all candidates for election as "honourable
gentlemen," and as we greet all men whom we meet casually,
if their names slip us for the moment, with the salutation "my
dear sir," – so be it. But if you consider any man a friend whom
you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily
mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true
friendship means. Indeed, I would have you discuss everything
with a friend; but first of all discuss the man himself. When
friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is
formed, you must pass judgment. Those persons indeed put
last first and confound their duties, who, violating the rules of
Theophrastus, judge a man after they have made him their
friend, instead of making him their friend after they have
judged him. Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a
given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to
admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as
boldly with him as with yourself. As to yourself, although you
should live in such a way that you trust your own self with
nothing which you could not entrust even to your enemy, yet,
since certain matters occur which convention keeps secret,
you should share with a friend at least all your worries and
reflections. Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal.
Some, for example, fearing to be deceived, have taught men
to deceive; by their suspicions they have given their friend the
right to do wrong. Why need I keep back any words in the
presence of my friend? Why should I not regard myself as
alone when in his company?
There is a class of men who communicate, to anyone whom
they meet, matters which should be revealed to friends alone,
and unload upon the chance listener whatever irks them.
Others, again, fear to confide in their closest intimates; and if it
were possible, they would not trust even themselves, burying
their secrets deep in their hearts. But we should do neither. It
is equally faulty to trust everyone and to trust no one. Yet the
former fault is, I should say, the more ingenuous, the latter the
more safe. In like manner you should rebuke these two kinds of
men, – both those who always lack repose, and those who are
always in repose. For love of bustle is not industry, – it is only
the restlessness of a hunted mind. And true repose does not
consist in condemning all motion as merely vexation; that kind
of repose is slackness and inertia. Therefore, you should note
the following saying, taken from my reading in Pomponius:
"Some men shrink into dark corners, to such a degree that
they see darkly by day." No, men should combine these
tendencies, and he who reposes should act and he who acts
should take repose. Discuss the problem with Nature; she will
tell you that she has created both day and night. Farewell.
Letter IV - On the Terrors of Death
Keep on as you have begun, and make all possible haste, so
that you may have longer enjoyment of an improved mind, one
that is at peace with itself. Doubtless you will derive enjoyment
during the time when you are improving your mind and setting
it at peace with itself; but quite different is the pleasure which
comes from contemplation when one's mind is so cleansed
from every stain that it shines. You remember, of course, what
joy you felt when you laid aside the garments of boyhood and
donned the man's toga, and were escorted to the forum;
nevertheless, you may look for a still greater joy when you
have laid aside the mind of boyhood and when wisdom has
enrolled you among men. For it is not boyhood that still stays
with us, but something worse, – boyishness. And this condition
is all the more serious because we possess the authority of old
age, together with the follies of boyhood, yea, even the follies
of infancy. Boys fear trifles, children fear shadows, we fear
All you need to do is to advance; you will thus understand
that some things are less to be dreaded, precisely because
they inspire us with great fear. No evil is great which is the last
evil of all. Death arrives; it would be a thing to dread, if it could
remain with you. But death must either not come at all, or else
must come and pass away.
"It is difficult, however," you say, "to bring the mind to a
point where it can scorn life." But do you not see what trifling
reasons impel men to scorn life? One hangs himself before the
door of his mistress; another hurls himself from the house-top
that he may no longer be compelled to bear the taunts of a
bad-tempered master; a third, to be saved from arrest after
running away, drives a sword into his vitals. Do you not
suppose that virtue will be as efficacious as excessive fear? No
man can have a peaceful life who thinks too much about
lengthening it, or believes that living through many
consulships is a great blessing. Rehearse this thought every
day, that you may be able to depart from life contentedly; for
many men clutch and cling to life, even as those who are
carried down a rushing stream clutch and cling to briars and
sharp rocks.
Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of
death and the hardships of life; they are unwilling to live, and
yet they do not know how to die. For this reason, make life as a
whole agreeable to yourself by banishing all worry about it. No
good thing renders its possessor happy, unless his mind is
reconciled to the possibility of loss; nothing, however, is lost
with less discomfort than that which, when lost, cannot be
missed. Therefore, encourage and toughen your spirit against
the mishaps that afflict even the most powerful. For example,
the fate of Pompey was settled by a boy and a eunuch, that of
Crassus by a cruel and insolent Parthian. Gaius Caesar ordered
Lepidus to bare his neck for the axe of the tribune Dexter; and
he himself offered his own throat to Chaerea. No man has ever
been so far advanced by Fortune that she did not threaten him
as greatly as she had previously indulged him. Do not trust her
seeming calm; in a moment the sea is moved to its depths.
The very day the ships have made a brave show in the games,
they are engulfed. Reflect that a highwayman or an enemy
may cut your throat; and, though he is not your master, every
slave wields the power of life and death over you. Therefore I
declare to you: he is lord of your life that scorns his own. Think
of those who have perished through plots in their own home,
slain either openly or by guile; you will that just as many have
been killed by angry slaves as by angry kings. What matter,
therefore, how powerful he be whom you fear, when every one
possesses the power which inspires your fear? "But," you will
say, "if you should chance to fall into the hands of the enemy,
the conqueror will command that you be led away," – yes,
whither you are already being led. Why do you voluntarily
deceive yourself and require to be told now for the first time
what fate it is that you have long been labouring under? Take
my word for it: since the day you were born you are being led
thither. We must ponder this thought, and thoughts of the like
nature, if we desire to be calm as we await that last hour, the
fear of which makes all previous hours uneasy.
But I must end my letter. Let me share with you the saying
which pleased me to-day. It, too, is culled from another man's
Garden: "Poverty brought into conformity with the law of
nature, is great wealth." Do you know what limits that law of
nature ordains for us? Merely to avert hunger, thirst, and cold.
In order to banish hunger and thirst, it is not necessary for you
to pay court at the doors of the purse-proud, or to submit to
the stern frown, or to the kindness that humiliates; nor is it
necessary for you to scour the seas, or go campaigning;
nature's needs are easily provided and ready to hand. It is the
superfluous things for which men sweat, – the superfluous
things that wear our togas threadbare, that force us to grow
old in camp, that dash us upon foreign shores. That which is
enough is ready to our hands. He who has made a fair compact
with poverty is rich. Farewell.
Letter V - On the Philosopher's Mean
I commend you and rejoice in the fact that you are persistent
in your studies, and that, putting all else aside, you make it
each day your endeavour to become a better man. I do not
merely exhort you to keep at it; I actually beg you to do so. I
warn you, however, not to act after the fashion of those who
desire to be conspicuous rather than to improve, by doing
things which will rouse comment as regards your dress or
general way of living. Repellent attire, unkempt hair, slovenly
beard, open scorn of silver dishes, a couch on the bare earth,
and any other perverted forms of self-display, are to be
avoided. The mere name of philosophy, however quietly
pursued, is an object of sufficient scorn; and what would
happen if we should begin to separate ourselves from the
customs of our fellow-men? Inwardly, we ought to be different
in all respects, but our exterior should conform to society. Do
not wear too fine, nor yet too frowzy, a toga. One needs no
silver plate, encrusted and embossed in solid gold; but we
should not believe the lack of silver and gold to be proof of the
simple life. Let us try to maintain a higher standard of life than
that of the multitude, but not a contrary standard; otherwise,
we shall frighten away and repel the very persons whom we
are trying to improve. We also bring it about that they are
unwilling to imitate us in anything, because they are afraid lest
they might be compelled to imitate us in everything.
The first thing which philosophy undertakes to give is fellowfeeling with all men; in other words, sympathy and sociability.
We part company with our promise if we are unlike other men.
We must see to it that the means by which we wish to draw
admiration be not absurd and odious. Our motto, as you know,
is "Live according to Nature"; but it is quite contrary to nature
to torture the body, to hate unlaboured elegance, to be dirty
on purpose, to eat food that is not only plain, but disgusting
and forbidding. Just as it is a sign of luxury to seek out
dainties, so it is madness to avoid that which is customary and
can be purchased at no great price. Philosophy calls for plain
living, but not for penance; and we may perfectly well be plain
and neat at the same time. This is the mean of which I
approve; our life should observe a happy medium between the
ways of a sage and the ways of the world at large; all men
should admire it, but they should understand it also.
"Well then, shall we act like other men? Shall there be no
distinction between ourselves and the world?" Yes, a very great
one; let men find that we are unlike the common herd, if they
look closely. If they visit us at home, they should admire us,
rather than our household appointments. He is a great man
who uses earthenware dishes as if they were silver; but he is
equally great who uses silver as if it were earthenware. It is the
sign of an unstable mind not to be able to endure riches.
But I wish to share with you to-day's profit also. I find in the
writings of our Hecato that the limiting of desires helps also to
cure fears: "Cease to hope," he says, "and you will cease to
fear." "But how," you will reply, "can things so different go side
by side?" In this way, my dear Lucilius: though they do seem at
variance, yet they are really united. Just as the same chain
fastens the prisoner and the soldier who guards him, so hope
and fear, dissimilar as they are, keep step together; fear
follows hope. I am not surprised that they proceed in this way;
each alike belongs to a mind that is in suspense, a mind that is
fretted by looking forward to the future. But the chief cause of
both these ills is that we do not adapt ourselves to the present,
but send our thoughts a long way ahead. And so foresight, the
noblest blessing of the human race, becomes perverted.
Beasts avoid the dangers which they see, and when they have
escaped them are free from care; but we men torment
ourselves over that which is to come as well as over that which
is past. Many of our blessings bring bane to us; for memory
recalls the tortures of fear, while foresight anticipates them.
The present alone can make no man wretched. Farewell.
Letter VI - On Sharing Knowledge
I feel, my dear Lucilius, that I am being not only reformed,
but transformed. I do not yet, however, assure myself, or
indulge the hope, that there are no elements left in me which
need to be changed. Of course there are many that should be
made more compact, or made thinner, or be brought into
greater prominence. And indeed this very fact is proof that my
spirit is altered into something better, – that it can see its own
faults, of which it was previously ignorant. In certain cases sick
men are congratulated because they themselves have
perceived that they are sick.
I therefore wish to impart to you this sudden change in
myself; I should then begin to place a surer trust in our
friendship, – the true friendship which hope and fear and selfinterest cannot sever, the friendship in which and for the sake
of which men meet death.
I can show you many who have lacked, not a friend, but a
friendship; this, however, cannot possibly happen when souls
are drawn together by identical inclinations into an alliance of
honourable desires. And why can it not happen? Because in
such cases men know that they have all things in common,
especially their troubles.
You cannot conceive what distinct progress I notice that each
day brings to me. And when you say: "Give me also a share in
these gifts which you have found so helpful," I reply that I am
anxious to heap all these privileges upon you, and that I am
glad to learn in order that I may teach. Nothing will ever please
me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the
knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given me under
the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not
uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to
possess, without friends to share it.
I shall therefore send to you the actual books; and in order
that you may not waste time in searching here and there for
profitable topics, I shall mark certain passages, so that you can
turn at once to those which I approve and admire. Of course,
however, the living voice and the intimacy of a common life
will help you more than the written word. You must go to the
scene of action, first, because men put more faith in their eyes
than in their ears, and second, because the way is long if one
follows precepts, but short and helpful, if one follows patterns.
Cleanthes could not have been the express image of Zeno, if
he had merely heard his lectures; he shared in his life, saw into
his hidden purposes, and watched him to see whether he lived
according to his own rules. Plato, Aristotle, and the whole
throng of sages who were destined to go each his different
way, derived more benefit from the character than from the
words of Socrates. It was not the class-room of Epicurus, but
living together under the same roof, that made great men of
Metrodorus, Hermarchus, and Polyaenus. Therefore I summon
you, not merely that you may derive benefit, but that you may
confer benefit; for we can assist each other greatly.
Meanwhile, I owe you my little daily contribution; you shall
be told what pleased me to-day in the writings of Hecato; it is
these words: "What progress, you ask, have I made? I have
begun to be a friend to myself." That was indeed a great
benefit; such a person can never be alone. You may be sure
that such a man is a friend to all mankind. Farewell.
Letter VII - On Crowds
Do you ask me what you should regard as especially to be
avoided? I say, crowds; for as yet you cannot trust yourself to
them with safety. I shall admit my own weakness, at any rate;
for I never bring back home the same character that I took
abroad with me. Something of that which I have forced to be
calm within me is disturbed; some of the foes that I have
routed return again. Just as the sick man, who has been weak
for a long time, is in such a condition that he cannot be taken
out of the house without suffering a relapse, so we ourselves
are affected when our souls are recovering from a lingering
disease. To consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no
person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or
stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith.
Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the
greater the danger.
But nothing is so damaging to good character as the habit of
lounging at the games; for then it is that vice steals subtly
upon one through the avenue of pleasure. What do you think I
mean? I mean that I come home more greedy, more ambitious,
more voluptuous, and even more cruel and inhuman, because I
have been among human beings. By chance I attended a midday exhibition, expecting some fun, wit, and relaxation, – an
exhibition at which men's eyes have respite from the slaughter
of their fellow-men. But it was quite the reverse. The previous
combats were the essence of compassion; but now all the
trifling is put aside and it is pure murder. The men have no
defensive armour. They are exposed to blows at all points, and
no one ever strikes in vain. Many persons prefer this
programme to the usual pairs and to the bouts "by request." Of
course they do; there is no helmet or shield to deflect the
weapon. What is the need of defensive armour, or of skill? All
these mean delaying death. In the morning they throw men to
the lions and the bears; at noon, they throw them to the
spectators. The spectators demand that the slayer shall face
the man who is to slay him in his turn; and they always reserve
the latest conqueror for another butchering. The outcome of
every fight is death, and the means are fire and sword. This
sort of thing goes on while the arena is empty. You may retort:
"But he was a highway robber; he killed a man!" And what of
it? Granted that, as a murderer, he deserved this punishment,
what crime have you committed, poor fellow, that you should
deserve to sit and see this show? In the morning they cried
"Kill him! Lash him! Burn him! Why does he meet the sword in
so cowardly a way? Why does he strike so feebly? Why doesn't
he die game? Whip him to meet his wounds! Let them receive
blow for blow, with chests bare and exposed to the stroke!"
And when the games stop for the intermission, they announce:
"A little throat-cutting in the meantime, so that there may still
be something going on!"
Come now; do you not understand even this truth, that a bad
example reacts on the agent? Thank the immortal gods that
you are teaching cruelty to a person who cannot learn to be
cruel. The young character, which cannot hold fast to
righteousness, must be rescued from the mob; it is too easy to
side with the majority. Even Socrates, Cato, and Laelius might
have been shaken in their moral strength by a crowd that was
unlike them; so true it is that none of us, no matter how much
he cultivates his abilities, can withstand the shock of faults
that approach, as it were, with so great a retinue. Much harm is
done by a single case of indulgence or greed; the familiar
friend, if he be luxurious, weakens and softens us
imperceptibly; the neighbour, if he be rich, rouses our
covetousness; the companion, if he be slanderous, rubs off
some of his rust upon us, even though we be spotless and
sincere. What then do you think the effect will be on character,
when the world at large assaults it! You must either imitate or
loathe the world.
But both courses are to be avoided; you should not copy the
bad simply because they are many, nor should you hate the
many because they are unlike you. Withdraw into yourself, as
far as you can. Associate with those who will make a better
man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve.
The process is mutual; for men learn while they teach. There is
no reason why pride in advertising your abilities should lure
you into publicity, so that you should desire to recite or
harangue before the general public. Of course I should be
willing for you to do so if you had a stock-in-trade that suited
such a mob; as it is, there is not a man of them who can
understand you. One or two individuals will perhaps come in
your way, but even these will have to be moulded and trained
by you so that they will understand you. You may say: "For
what purpose did I learn all these things?" But you need not
fear that you have wasted your efforts; it was for yourself that
you learned them.
In order, however, that I may not to-day have learned
exclusively for myself, I shall share with you three excellent
sayings, of the same general purport, which have come to my
attention. This letter will give you one of them as payment of
my debt; the other two you may accept as a contribution in
advance. Democritus says: "One man means as much to me as
a multitude, and a multitude only as much as one man." The
following also was nobly spoken by someone or other, for it is
doubtful who the author was; they asked him what was the
object of all this study applied to an art that would reach but
very few. He replied: "I am content with few, content with one,
content with none at all." The third saying – and a noteworthy
one, too – is by Epicurus, written to one of the partners of his
studies: "I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is
enough of an audience for the other." Lay these words to
heart, Lucilius, that you may scorn the pleasure which comes
from the applause of the majority. Many men praise you; but
have you any reason for being pleased with yourself, if you are
a person whom the many can understand? Your good qualities
should face inwards. Farewell.
Letter VIII - On the Philosopher's Seclusion
"Do you bid me," you say, "shun the throng, and withdraw
from men, and be content with my own conscience? Where are
the counsels of your school, which order a man to die in the
midst of active work?" As to the course which I seem to you to
be urging on you now and then, my object in shutting myself
up and locking the door is to be able to help a greater number.
I never spend a day in idleness; I appropriate even a part of
the night for study. I do not allow time for sleep but yield to it
when I must, and when my eyes are wearied with waking and
ready to fall shut, I keep them at their task. I have withdrawn
not only from men, but from affairs, especially from my own
affairs; I am working for later generations, writing down some
ideas that may be of assistance to them. There are certain
wholesome counsels, which may be compared to prescriptions
of useful drugs; these I am putting into writing; for I have
found them helpful in ministering to my own sores, which, if
not wholly cured, have at any rate ceased to spread.
I point other men to the right path, which I have found late in
life, when wearied with wandering. I cry out to them: "Avoid
whatever pleases the throng: avoid the gifts of Chance! Halt
before every good which Chance brings to you, in a spirit of
doubt and fear; for it is the dumb animals and fish that are
deceived by tempting hopes. Do you call these things the
'gifts' of Fortune? They are snares. And any man among you
who wishes to live a life of safety will avoid, to the utmost of
his power, these limed twigs of her favour, by which we
mortals, most wretched in this respect also, are deceived; for
we think that we hold them in our grasp, but they hold us in
theirs. Such a career leads us into precipitous ways, and life on
such heights ends in a fall. Moreover, we cannot even stand up
against prosperity when she begins to drive us to leeward; nor
can we go down, either, 'with the ship at least on her course,'
or once for all; Fortune does not capsize us, – she plunges our
bows under and dashes us on the rocks.
"Hold fast, then, to this sound and wholesome rule of life –
that you indulge the body only so far as is needful for good
health. The body should be treated more rigorously, that it
may not be disobedient to the mind. Eat merely to relieve your
hunger; drink merely to quench your thirst; dress merely to
keep out the cold; house yourself merely as a protection
against personal discomfort. It matters little whether the house
be built of turf, or of variously coloured imported marble;
understand that a man is sheltered just as well by a thatch as
by a roof of gold. Despise everything that useless toil creates
as an ornament and an object of beauty. And reflect that
nothing except the soul is worthy of wonder; for to the soul, if
it be great, naught is great."
When I commune in such terms with myself and with future
generations, do you not think that I am doing more good than
when I appear as counsel in court, or stamp my seal upon a
will, or lend my assistance in the senate, by word or action, to
a candidate? Believe me, those who seem to be busied with
nothing are busied with the greater tasks; they are dealing at
the same time with things mortal and things immortal.
But I must stop, and pay my customary contribution, to
balance this letter. The payment shall not be made from my
own property; for I am still conning Epicurus. I read to-day, in
his works, the following sentence: "If you would enjoy real
freedom, you must be the slave of Philosophy." The man who
submits and surrenders himself to her is not kept waiting; he is
emancipated on the spot. For the very service of Philosophy is
It is likely that you will ask me why I quote so many of
Epicurus's noble words instead of words taken from our own
school. But is there any reason why you should regard them as
sayings of Epicurus and not common property? How many
poets give forth ideas that have been uttered, or may be
uttered, by philosophers! I need not touch upon the tragedians
and our writers of national drama; for these last are also
somewhat serious, and stand half-way between comedy and
tragedy. What a quantity of sagacious verses lie buried in the
mime! How many of Publilius's lines are worthy of being
spoken by buskin-clad actors, as well as by wearers of the
slipper! I shall quote one verse of his, which concerns
philosophy, and particularly that phase of it which we were
discussing a moment ago, wherein he says that the gifts of
Chance are not to be regarded as part of our possessions:
Still alien is whatever you have gained/By coveting
I recall that you yourself expressed this idea much more
happily and concisely:
What Chance has made yours is not really yours.
And a third, spoken by you still more happily, shall not be
The good that could be given, can be removed.
I shall not charge this up to the expense account, because I
have given it to you from your own stock. Farewell.
Letter IX - On Philosophy and Friendship
You desire to know whether Epicurus is right when, in one of
his letters, he rebukes those who hold that the wise man is
self-sufficient and for that reason does not stand in need of
friendships. This is the objection raised by Epicurus against
Stilbo and those who believe that the Supreme Good is a soul
which is insensible to feeling.
We are bound to meet with a double meaning if we try to
express the Greek term "lack of feeling" summarily, in a single
word, rendering it by the Latin word impatientia. For it may be
understood in the meaning the opposite to that which we wish
it to have. What we mean to express is, a soul which rejects
any sensation of evil; but people will interpret the idea as that
of a soul which can endure no evil. Consider, therefore,
whether it is not better to say "a soul that cannot be harmed,"
or "a soul entirely beyond the realm of suffering." There is this
difference between ourselves and the other school: our ideal
wise man feels his troubles, but overcomes them; their wise
man does not even feel them. But we and they alike hold this
idea, – that the wise man is self-sufficient. Nevertheless, he
desires friends, neighbours, and associates, no matter how
much he is sufficient unto himself. And mark how self-sufficient
he is; for on occasion he can be content with a part of himself.
If he lose a hand through disease or war, or if some accident
puts out one or both of his eyes, he will be satisfied with what
is left, taking as much pleasure in his impaired and maimed
body as he took when it was sound. But while he does not pine
for these parts if they are missing, he prefers not to lose them.
In this sense the wise man is self-sufficient, that he can do
without friends, not that he desires to do without them. When I
say "can," I mean this: he endures the loss of a friend with
But he need never lack friends, for it lies in his own control
how soon he shall make good a loss. Just as Phidias, if he lose
a statue, can straightway carve another, even so our master in
the art of making friendships can fill the place of a friend he
has lost. If you ask how one can make oneself a friend quickly,
I will tell you, provided we are agreed that I may pay my debt
at once and square the account, so far as this letter is
concerned. Hecato, says: "I can show you a philtre,
compounded without drugs, herbs, or any witch's incantation:
'If you would be loved, love.'" Now there is great pleasure, not
only in maintaining old and established friendships, but also in
beginning and acquiring new ones. There is the same
difference between winning a new friend and having already
won him, as there is between the farmer who sows and the
farmer who reaps. The philosopher Attalus used to say: "It is
more pleasant to make than to keep a friend, as it is more
pleasant to the artist to paint than to have finished painting."
When one is busy and absorbed in one's work, the very
absorption affords great delight; but when one has withdrawn
one's hand from the completed masterpiece, the pleasure is
not so keen. Henceforth it is the fruits of his art that he enjoys;
it was the art itself that he enjoyed while he was painting. In
the case of our children, their young manhood yields the more
abundant fruits, but their infancy was sweeter.
Let us now return to the question. The wise man, I say, selfsufficient though he be, nevertheless desires friends if only for
the purpose of practising friendship, in order that his noble
qualities may not lie dormant. Not, however, for the purpose
mentioned by Epicurus in the letter quoted above: "That there
may be someone to sit by him when he is ill, to help him when
he is in prison or in want;" but that he may have someone by
whose sick-bed he himself may sit, someone a prisoner in
hostile hands whom he himself may set free. He who regards
himself only, and enters upon friendships for this reason,
reckons wrongly. The end will be like the beginning: he has
made friends with one who might assist him out of bondage; at
the first rattle of the chain such a friend will desert him. These
are the so-called "fair-weather" friendships; one who is chosen
for the sake of utility will be satisfactory only so long as he is
useful. Hence prosperous men are blockaded by troops of
friends; but those who have failed stand amid vast loneliness
their friends fleeing from the very crisis which is to test their
worth. Hence, also, we notice those many shameful cases of
persons who, through fear, desert or betray. The beginning and
the end cannot but harmonize. He who begins to be your
friend because it pays will also cease because it pays. A man
will be attracted by some reward offered in exchange for his
friendship, if he be attracted by aught in friendship other than
friendship itself.
For what purpose, then, do I make a man my friend? In order
to have someone for whom I may die, whom I may follow into
exile, against whose death I may stake my own life, and pay
the pledge, too. The friendship which you portray is a bargain
and not a friendship; it regards convenience only, and looks to
the results. Beyond question the feeling of a lover has in it
something akin to friendship; one might call it friendship run
mad. But, though this is true, does anyone love for the sake of
gain, or promotion, or renown? Pure love, careless of all other
things, kindles the soul with desire for the beautiful object, not
without the hope of a return of the affection. What then? Can a
cause which is more honourable produce a passion that is
base? You may retort: "We are now discussing the question
whether friendship is to be cultivated for its own sake." On the
contrary, nothing more urgently requires demonstration; for if
friendship is to be sought for its own sake, he may seek it who
is self-sufficient. "How, then," you ask, "does he seek it?"
Precisely as he seeks an object of great beauty, not attracted
to it by desire for gain, nor yet frightened by the instability of
Fortune. One who seeks friendship for favourable occasions,
strips it of all its nobility.
"The wise man is self-sufficient." This phrase, my dear
Lucilius, is incorrectly explained by many; for they withdraw
the wise man from the world, and force him to dwell within his
own skin. But we must mark with care what this sentence
signifies and how far it applies; the wise man is sufficient unto
himself for a happy existence, but not for mere existence. For
he needs many helps towards mere existence; but for a happy
existence he needs only a sound and upright soul, one that
despises Fortune.
I should like also to state to you one of the distinctions of
Chrysippus, who declares that the wise man is in want of
nothing, and yet needs many things. "On the other hand," he
says, "nothing is needed by the fool, for he does not
understand how to use anything, but he is in want of
everything." The wise man needs hands, eyes, and many
things that are necessary for his daily use; but he is in want of
nothing. For want implies a necessity, and nothing is necessary
to the wise man. Therefore, although he is self-sufficient, yet
he has need of friends. He craves as many friends as possible,
not, however, that he may live happily; for he will live happily
even without friends. The Supreme Good calls for no practical
aids from outside; it is developed at home, and arises entirely
within itself. If the good seeks any portion of itself from
without, it begins to be subject to the play of Fortune.
People may say: "But what sort of existence will the wise
man have, if he be left friendless when thrown into prison, or
when stranded in some foreign nation, or when delayed on a
long voyage, or when out upon a lonely shore?" His life will be
like that of Jupiter, who, amid the dissolution of the world,
when the gods are confounded together and Nature rests for a
space from her work, can retire into himself and give himself
over to his own thoughts. In some such way as this the sage
will act; he will retreat into himself, and live with himself. As
long as he is allowed to order his affairs according to his
judgment, he is self-sufficient – and marries a wife; he is selfsufficient – and brings up children; he is self-sufficient – and
yet could not live if he had to live without the society of man.
Natural promptings, and not his own selfish needs, draw him
into Friendships. For just as other things have for us an
inherent attractiveness, so has friendship. As we hate solitude
and crave society, as nature draws men to each other, so in
this matter also there is an attraction which makes us desirous
of friendship. Nevertheless, though the sage may love his
friends dearly, often comparing them with himself, and putting
them ahead of himself, yet all the good will be limited to his
own being, and he will speak the words which were spoken by
the very Stilbo whom Epicurus criticizes in his letter. For Stilbo,
after his country was captured and his children and his wife
lost, as he emerged from the general desolation alone and yet
happy, spoke as follows to Demetrius, called Sacker of Cities
because of the destruction he brought upon them, in answer to
the question whether he had lost anything: "I have all my
goods with me!" There is a brave and stout-hearted man for
you! The enemy conquered, but Stilbo conquered his
conqueror. "I have lost nothing!" Aye, he forced Demetrius to
wonder whether he himself had conquered after all. "My goods
are all with me!" In other words, he deemed nothing that might
be taken from him to be a good.
We marvel at certain animals because they can pass through
fire and suffer no bodily harm; but how much more marvellous
is a man who has marched forth unhurt and unscathed through
fire and sword and devastation! Do you understand now how
much easier it is to conquer a whole tribe than to conquer one
man? This saying of Stilbo makes common ground with
Stoicism; the Stoic also can carry his goods unimpaired
through cities that have been burned to ashes; for he is selfsufficient. Such are the bounds which he sets to his own
But you must not think that our school alone can utter noble
words; Epicurus himself, the reviler of Stilbo, spoke similar
language; put it down to my credit, though I have already
wiped out my debt for the present day. He says: "Whoever
does not regard what he has as most ample wealth, is
unhappy, though he be master of the whole world." Or, if the
following seems to you a more suitable phrase, – for we must
try to render the meaning and not the mere words: "A man
may rule the world and still be unhappy, if he does not feel
that he is supremely happy." In order, however, that you may
know that these sentiments are universal, suggested, of
course, by Nature, you will find in one of the comic poets this
Unblest is he who thinks himself unblest.
or what does your condition matter, if it is bad in your own
eyes? You may say; "What then? If yonder man, rich by base
means, and yonder man, lord of many but slave of more, shall
call themselves happy, will their own opinion make them
happy?" It matters not what one says, but what one feels; also,
not how one feels on one particular day, but how one feels at
all times. There is no reason, however, why you should fear
that this great privilege will fall into unworthy hands; only the
wise man is pleased with his own. Folly is ever troubled with
weariness of itself. Farewell.
Letter X - On Living to Oneself
Yes, I do not change my opinion: avoid the many, avoid the
few, avoid even the individual. I know of no one with whom I
should be willing to have you shared. And see what an opinion
of you I have; for I dare to trust you with your own self. Crates,
they say, the disciple of the very Stilbo whom I mentioned in a
former letter, noticed a young man walking by himself, and
asked him what he was doing all alone. "I am communing with
myself," replied the youth. "Pray be careful, then," said Crates,
"and take good heed; you are communing with a bad man!"
When persons are in mourning, or fearful about something,
we are accustomed to watch them that we may prevent them
from making a wrong use of their loneliness. No thoughtless
person ought to be left alone; in such cases he only plans folly,
and heaps up future dangers for himself or for others; he
brings into play his base desires; the mind displays what fear
or shame used to repress; it whets his boldness, stirs his
passions, and goads his anger. And finally, the only benefit
that solitude confers, – the habit of trusting no man, and of
fearing no witnesses, – is lost to the fool; for he betrays
Mark therefore what my hopes are for you, – nay, rather,
what I am promising myself, inasmuch as hope is merely the
title of an uncertain blessing: I do not know any person with
whom I should prefer you to associate rather than yourself. I
remember in what a great-souled way you hurled forth certain
phrases, and how full of strength they were! I immediately
congratulated myself and said: "These words did not come
from the edge of the lips; these utterances have a solid
foundation. This man is not one of the many; he has regard for
his real welfare." Speak, and live, in this way; see to it that
nothing keeps you down. As for your former prayers, you may
dispense the gods from answering them; offer new prayers;
pray for a sound mind and for good health, first of soul and
then of body. And of course you should offer those prayers
frequently. Call boldly upon God; you will not be asking him for
that which belongs to another.
But I must, as is my custom, send a little gift along with this
letter. It is a true saying which I have found in Athenodorus:
"Know that thou art freed from all desires when thou hast
reached such a point that thou prayest to God for nothing
except what thou canst pray for openly." But how foolish men
are now! They whisper the basest of prayers to heaven; but if
anyone listens, they are silent at once. That which they are
unwilling for men to know, they communicate to God. Do you
not think, then, that some such wholesome advice as this
could be given you: "Live among men as if God beheld you;
speak with God as if men were listening"? Farewell.
Letter XI - On the Blush of Modesty
Your friend and I have had a conversation. He is a man of
ability; his very first words showed what spirit and
understanding he possesses, and what progress he has already
made. He gave me a foretaste, and he will not fail to answer
thereto. For he spoke not from forethought, but was suddenly
caught off his guard. When he tried to collect himself, he could
scarcely banish that hue of modesty, which is a good sign in a
young man; the blush that spread over his face seemed so to
rise from the depths. And I feel sure that his habit of blushing
will stay with him after he has strengthened his character,
stripped off all his faults, and become wise. For by no wisdom
can natural weaknesses of the body be removed. That which is
implanted and inborn can be toned down by training, but not
overcome. The steadiest speaker, when before the public,
often breaks into a perspiration, as if he had wearied or overheated himself; some tremble in the knees when they rise to
speak; I know of some whose teeth chatter, whose tongues
falter, whose lips quiver. Training and experience can never
shake off this habit; nature exerts her own power and through
such a weakness makes her presence known even to the
strongest. I know that the blush, too, is a habit of this sort,
spreading suddenly over the faces of the most dignified men. It
is, indeed more prevalent in youth, because of the warmer
blood and the sensitive countenance; nevertheless, both
seasoned men and aged men are affected by it. Some are
most dangerous when they redden, as if they were letting all
their sense of shame escape. Sulla, when the blood mantled
his cheeks, was in his fiercest mood. Pompey had the most
sensitive cast of countenance; he always blushed in the
presence of a gathering, and especially at a public assembly.
Fabianus also, I remember, reddened when he appeared as a
witness before the senate; and his embarrassment became
him to a remarkable degree. Such a habit is not due to mental
weakness, but to the novelty of a situation; an inexperienced
person is not necessarily confused, but is usually affected,
because he slips into this habit by natural tendency of the
body. Just as certain men are full-blooded, so others are of a
quick and mobile blood, that rushes to the face at once.
As I remarked, Wisdom can never remove this habit; for if
she could rub out all our faults, she would be mistress of the
universe. Whatever is assigned to us by the terms of our birth
and the blend in our constitutions, will stick with us, no matter
how hard or how long the soul may have tried to master itself.
And we cannot forbid these feelings any more than we can
summon them. Actors in the theatre, who imitate the
emotions, who portray fear and nervousness, who depict
sorrow, imitate bashfulness by hanging their heads, lowering
their voices, and keeping their eyes fixed and rooted upon the
ground. They cannot, however, muster a blush; for the blush
cannot be prevented or acquired. Wisdom will not assure us of
a remedy, or give us help against it; it comes or goes
unbidden, and is a law unto itself.
But my letter calls for its closing sentence. Hear and take to
heart this useful and wholesome motto: "Cherish some man of
high character, and keep him ever before your eyes, living as if
he were watching you, and ordering all your actions as if he
beheld them." Such, my dear Lucilius, is the counsel of
Epicurus; he has quite properly given us a guardian and an
attendant. We can get rid of most sins, if we have a witness
who stands near us when we are likely to go wrong. The soul
should have someone whom it can respect, – one by whose
authority it may make even its inner shrine more hallowed.
Happy is the man who can make others better, not merely
when he is in their company, but even when he is in their
thoughts! And happy also is he who can so revere a man as to
calm and regulate himself by calling him to mind! One who can
so revere another, will soon be himself worthy of reverence.
Choose therefore a Cato; or, if Cato seems too severe a model,
choose some Laelius, a gentler spirit. Choose a master whose
life, conversation, and soul-expressing face have satisfied you;
picture him always to yourself as your protector or your
pattern. For we must indeed have someone according to whom
we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that
which is crooked unless you use a ruler. Farewell.
Letter XII - On Old Age
Wherever I turn, I see evidences of my advancing years. I
visited lately my country-place, and protested against the
money which was spent on the tumble-down building. My
bailiff maintained that the flaws were not due to his own
carelessness; "he was doing everything possible, but the house
was old." And this was the house which grew under my own
hands! What has the future in store for me, if stones of my own
age are already crumbling? I was angry, and I embraced the
first opportunity to vent my spleen in the bailiff's presence. "It
is clear," I cried, "that these plane-trees are neglected; they
have no leaves. Their branches are so gnarled and shrivelled;
the boles are so rough and unkempt! This would not happen, if
someone loosened the earth at their feet, and watered them."
The bailiff swore by my protecting deity that "he was doing
everything possible, and never relaxed his efforts, but those
trees were old." Between you and me, I had planted those
trees myself, I had seen them in their first leaf. Then I turned
to the door and asked: "Who is that broken-down dotard? You
have done well to place him at the entrance; for he is outward
bound. Where did you get him? What pleasure did it give you
to take up for burial some other man's dead?" But the slave
said: "Don't you know me, sir? I am Felicio; you used to bring
me little images. My father was Philositus the steward, and I
am your pet slave." "The man is clean crazy," I remarked. "Has
my pet slave become a little boy again? But it is quite possible;
his teeth are just dropping out."
I owe it to my country-place that my old age became
apparent whithersoever I turned. Let us cherish and love old
age; for it is full of pleasure if one knows how to use it. Fruits
are most welcome when almost over; youth is most charming
at its close; the last drink delights the toper, the glass which
souses him and puts the finishing touch on his drunkenness.
Each pleasure reserves to the end the greatest delights which
it contains. Life is most delightful when it is on the downward
slope, but has not yet reached the abrupt decline. And I myself
believe that the period which stands, so to speak, on the edge
of the roof, possesses pleasures of its own. Or else the very
fact of our not wanting pleasures has taken the place of the
pleasures themselves. How comforting it is to have tired out
one's appetites, and to have done with them! "But," you say,
"it is a nuisance to be looking death in the face!" Death,
however, should be looked in the face by young and old alike.
We are not summoned according to our rating on the censor's
list. Moreover, no one is so old that it would be improper for
him to hope for another day of existence. And one day, mind
you, is a stage on life's journey.
Our span of life is divided into parts; it consists of large
circles enclosing smaller. One circle embraces and bounds the
rest; it reaches from birth to the last day of existence. The next
circle limits the period of our young manhood. The third
confines all of childhood in its circumference. Again, there is, in
a class by itself, the year; it contains within itself all the
divisions of time by the multiplication of which we get the total
of life. The month is bounded by a narrower ring. The smallest
circle of all is the day; but even a day has its beginning and its
ending, its sunrise and its sunset. Hence Heraclitus, whose
obscure style gave him his surname, remarked: "One day is
equal to every day." Different persons have interpreted the
saying in different ways. Some hold that days are equal in
number of hours, and this is true; for if by "day" we mean
twenty-four hours' time, all days must be equal, inasmuch as
the night acquires what the day loses. But others maintain that
one day is equal to all days through resemblance, because the
very longest space of time possesses no element which cannot
be found in a single day, – namely, light and darkness, – and
even to eternity day makes these alternations more numerous,
not different when it is shorter and different again when it is
longer. Hence, every day ought to be regulated as if it closed
the series, as if it rounded out and completed our existence.
Pacuvius, who by long occupancy made Syria his own, used
to hold a regular burial sacrifice in his own honour, with wine
and the usual funeral feasting, and then would have himself
carried from the dining-room to his chamber, while eunuchs
applauded and sang in Greek to a musical accompaniment:
"He has lived his life, he has lived his life!" Thus Pacuvius had
himself carried out to burial every day. Let us, however, do
from a good motive what he used to do from a debased
motive; let us go to our sleep with joy and gladness; let us say:
I have lived; the course which Fortune set for me/Is finished.
And if God is pleased to add another day, we should
welcome it with glad hearts. That man is happiest, and is
secure in his own possession of himself, who can await the
morrow without apprehension. When a man has said: "I have
lived!", every morning he arises he receives a bonus.
But now I ought to close my letter. "What?" you say; "shall it
come to me without any little offering? "Be not afraid; it brings
something, – nay, more than something, a great deal. For what
is more noble than the following saying of which I make this
letter the bearer: "It is wrong to live under constraint; but no
man is constrained to live under constraint." Of course not. On
all sides lie many short and simple paths to freedom; and let
us thank God that no man can be kept in life. We may spurn
the very constraints that hold us. "Epicurus," you reply,
"uttered these words; what are you doing with another's
property?" Any truth, I maintain, is my own property. And I
shall continue to heap quotations from Epicurus upon you, so
that all persons who swear by the words of another, and put a
value upon the speaker and not upon the thing spoken, may
understand that the best ideas are common property. Farewell.
Letter XIII - On Groundless Fears
I know that you have plenty of spirit; for even before you
began to equip yourself with maxims which were wholesome
and potent to overcome obstacles, you were taking pride in
your contest with Fortune; and this is all the more true, now
that you have grappled with Fortune and tested your powers.
For our powers can never inspire in us implicit faith in
ourselves except when many difficulties have confronted us on
this side and on that, and have occasionally even come to
close quarters with us. It is only in this way that the true spirit
can be tested, – the spirit that will never consent to come
under the jurisdiction of things external to ourselves. This is
the touchstone of such a spirit; no prizefighter can go with high
spirits into the strife if he has never been beaten black and
blue; the only contestant who can confidently enter the lists is
the man who has seen his own blood, who has felt his teeth
rattle beneath his opponent's fist, who has been tripped and
felt the full force of his adversary's charge, who has been
downed in body but not in spirit, one who, as often as he falls,
rises again with greater defiance than ever. So then, to keep
up my figure, Fortune has often in the past got the upper hand
of you, and yet you have not surrendered, but have leaped up
and stood your ground still more eagerly. For manliness gains
much strength by being challenged; nevertheless, if you
approve, allow me to offer some additional safeguards by
which you may fortify yourself.
There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than
there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than
in reality. I am not speaking with you in the Stoic strain but in
my milder style. For it is our Stoic fashion to speak of all those
things, which provoke cries and groans, as unimportant and
beneath notice; but you and I must drop such great-sounding
words, although, heaven knows, they are true enough. What I
advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes;
since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if
they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they
certainly have not yet come. Accordingly, some things torment
us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought;
and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all.
We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or
anticipating, sorrow.
The first of these three faults may be postponed for the
present, because the subject is under discussion and the case
is still in court, so to speak. That which I should call trifling, you
will maintain to be most serious; for of course I know that
some men laugh while being flogged, and that others wince at
a box on the ear. We shall consider later whether these evils
derive their power from their own strength, or from our own
Do me the favour, when men surround you and try to talk
you into believing that you are unhappy, to consider not what
you hear but what you yourself feel, and to take counsel with
your feelings and question yourself independently, because
you know your own affairs better than anyone else does. Ask:
"Is there any reason why these persons should condole with
me? Why should they be worried or even fear some infection
from me, as if troubles could be transmitted? Is there any evil
involved, or is it a matter merely of ill report, rather than an
evil?" Put the question voluntarily to yourself: "Am I tormented
without sufficient reason, am I morose, and do I convert what
is not an evil into what is an evil?" You may retort with the
question: "How am I to know whether my sufferings are real or
imaginary?" Here is the rule for such matters: we are
tormented either by things present, or by things to come, or by
both. As to things present, the decision is easy. Suppose that
your person enjoys freedom and health, and that you do not
suffer from any external injury. As to what may happen to it in
the future, we shall see later on. To-day there is nothing wrong
with it. "But," you say, "something will happen to it." First of
all, consider whether your proofs of future trouble are sure. For
it is more often the case that we are troubled by our
apprehensions, and that we are mocked by that mocker,
rumour, which is wont to settle wars, but much more often
settles individuals. Yes, my dear Lucilius; we agree too quickly
with what people say. We do not put to the test those things
which cause our fear; we do not examine into them; we blench
and retreat just like soldiers who are forced to abandon their
camp because of a dust-cloud raised by stampeding cattle, or
are thrown into a panic by the spreading of some
unauthenticated rumour. And somehow or other it is the idle
report that disturbs us most. For truth has its own definite
boundaries, but that which arises from uncertainty is delivered
over to guesswork and the irresponsible license of a frightened
mind. That is why no fear is so ruinous and so uncontrollable
as panic fear. For other fears are groundless, but this fear is
Let us, then, look carefully into the matter. It is likely that
some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How
often has the unexpected happened! How often has the
expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained
to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You
will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so look forward
meanwhile to better things. What shall you gain by doing this?
Time. There will be many happenings meanwhile which will
serve to postpone, or end, or pass on to another person, the
trials which are near or even in your very presence. A fire has
opened the way to flight. Men have been let down softly by a
catastrophe. Sometimes the sword has been checked even at
the victim's throat. Men have survived their own executioners.
Even bad fortune is fickle. Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in
the meantime it is not. So look forward to better things.
The mind at times fashions for itself false shapes of evil
when there are no signs that point to any evil; it twists into the
worst construction some word of doubtful meaning; or it
fancies some personal grudge to be more serious than it really
is, considering not how angry the enemy is, but to what
lengths he may go if he is angry. But life is not worth living,
and there is no limit to our sorrows, if we indulge our fears to
the greatest possible extent; in this matter, let prudence help
you, and contemn with a resolute spirit even when it is in plain
sight. If you cannot do this, counter one weakness with
another, and temper your fear with hope. There is nothing so
certain among these objects of fear that it is not more certain
still that things we dread sink into nothing and that things we
hope for mock us.
Accordingly, weigh carefully your hopes as well as your fears,
and whenever all the elements are in doubt, decide in your
own favour; believe what you prefer. And if fear wins a majority
of the votes, incline in the other direction anyhow, and cease
to harass your soul, reflecting continually that most mortals,
even when no troubles are actually at hand or are certainly to
be expected in the future, become excited and disquieted. No
one calls a halt on himself, when he begins to be urged ahead;
nor does he regulate his alarm according to the truth. No one
says; "The author of the story is a fool, and he who has
believed it is a fool, as well as he who fabricated it." We let
ourselves drift with every breeze; we are frightened at
uncertainties, just as if they were certain. We observe no
moderation. The slightest thing turns the scales and throws us
forthwith into a panic.
But I am ashamed either to admonish you sternly or to try to
beguile you with such mild remedies. Let another say. "Perhaps
the worst will not happen." You yourself must say. "Well, what if
it does happen? Let us see who wins! Perhaps it happens for
my best interests; it may be that such a death will shed credit
upon my life." Socrates was ennobled by the hemlock draught.
Wrench from Cato's hand his sword, the vindicator of liberty,
and you deprive him of the greatest share of his glory. I am
exhorting you far too long, since you need reminding rather
than exhortation. The path on which I am leading you is not
different from that on which your nature leads you; you were
born to such conduct as I describe. Hence there is all the more
reason why you should increase and beautify the good that is
in you.
But now, to close my letter, I have only to stamp the usual
seal upon it, in other words, to commit thereto some noble
message to be delivered to you: "The fool, with all his other
faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to live." Reflect,
my esteemed Lucilius, what this saying means, and you will
see how revolting is the fickleness of men who lay down every
day new foundations of life, and begin to build up fresh hopes
even at the brink of the grave. Look within your own mind for
individual instances; you will think of old men who are
preparing themselves at that very hour for a political career, or
for travel, or for business. And what is baser than getting ready
to live when you are already old? I should not name the author
of this motto, except that it is somewhat unknown to fame and
is not one of those popular sayings of Epicurus which I have
allowed myself to praise and to appropriate. Farewell.
Letter XIV - On the Reasons for Withdrawing
from the World
I confess that we all have an inborn affection for our body; I
confess that we are entrusted with its guardianship. I do not
maintain that the body is not to be indulged at all; but I
maintain that we must not be slaves to it. He will have many
masters who makes his body his master, who is over-fearful in
its behalf, who judges everything according to the body. We
should conduct ourselves not as if we ought to live for the
body, but as if we could not live without it. Our too great love
for it makes us restless with fears, burdens us with cares, and
exposes us to insults. Virtue is held too cheap by the man who
counts his body too dear. We should cherish the body with the
greatest care; but we should also be prepared, when reason,
self-respect, and duty demand the sacrifice, to deliver it even
to the flames.
Let us, however, in so far as we can, avoid discomforts as
well as dangers, and withdraw to safe ground, by thinking
continually how we may repel all objects of fear. If I am not
mistaken, there are three main classes of these: we fear want,
we fear sickness, and we fear the troubles which result from
the violence of the stronger. And of all these, that which
shakes us most is the dread which hangs over us from our
neighbour's ascendancy; for it is accompanied by great outcry
and uproar. But the natural evils which I have mentioned, –
want and sickness, steal upon us silently with no shock of
terror to the eye or to the ear. The other kind of evil comes, so
to speak, in the form of a huge parade. Surrounding it is a
retinue of swords and fire and chains and a mob of beasts to
be let loose upon the disembowelled entrails of men. Picture to
yourself under this head the prison, the cross, the rack, the
hook, and the stake which they drive straight through a man
until it protrudes from his throat. Think of human limbs torn
apart by chariots driven in opposite directions, of the terrible
shirt smeared and interwoven with inflammable materials, and
of all the other contrivances devised by cruelty, in addition to
those which I have mentioned! It is not surprising, then, if our
greatest terror is of such a fate; for it comes in many shapes
and its paraphernalia are terrifying. For just as the torturer
accomplishes more in proportion to the number of instruments
which he displays, – indeed, the spectacle overcomes those
who would have patiently withstood the suffering, – similarly,
of all the agencies which coerce and master our minds, the
most effective are those which can make a display. Those other
troubles are of course not less serious; I mean hunger, thirst,
ulcers of the stomach, and fever that parches our very bowels.
They are, however, secret; they have no bluster and no
heralding; but these, like huge arrays of war, prevail by virtue
of their display and their equipment.
Let us, therefore, see to it that we abstain from giving
offence. It is sometimes the people that we ought to fear; or
sometimes a body of influential oligarchs in the Senate, if the
method of governing the State is such that most of the
business is done by that body; and sometimes individuals
equipped with power by the people and against the people. It
is burdensome to keep the friendship of all such persons; it is
enough not to make enemies of them. So the wise man will
never provoke the anger of those in power; nay, he will even
turn his course, precisely as he would turn from a storm if he
were steering a ship. When you travelled to Sicily, you crossed
the Straits. The reckless pilot scorned the blustering South
Wind, – the wind which roughens the Sicilian Sea and forces it
into choppy currents; he sought not the shore on the left, but
the strand hard by the place where Charybdis throws the seas
into confusion. Your more careful pilot, however, questions
those who know the locality as to the tides and the meaning of
the clouds; he holds his course far from that region notorious
for its swirling waters. Our wise man does the same he shuns a
strong man who may be injurious to him, making a point of not
seeming to avoid him, because an important part of one's
safety lies in not seeking safety openly; for what one avoids,
one condemns,
We should therefore look about us, and see how we may
protect ourselves from the mob. And first of all, we should
have no cravings like theirs; for rivalry results in strife. Again,
let us possess nothing that can be snatched from us to the
great profit of a plotting foe. Let there be as little booty as
possible on your person. No one sets out to shed the blood of
his fellow-men for the sake of bloodshed, – at any rate very
few. More murderers speculate on their profits than give vent
to hatred. If you are empty-handed, the highwayman passes
you by: even along an infested road, the poor may travel in
peace. Next, we must follow the old adage and avoid three
things with special care: hatred, jealousy, and scorn. And
wisdom alone can show you how this may be done. It is hard to
observe a mean; we must be chary of letting the fear of
jealousy lead us into becoming objects of scorn, lest, when we
choose not to stamp others down, we let them think that they
can stamp us down. The power to inspire fear has caused
many men to be in fear. Let us withdraw ourselves in every
way; for it is as harmful to be scorned as to be admired.
One must therefore take refuge in philosophy; this pursuit,
not only in the eyes of good men, but also in the eyes of those
who are even moderately bad, is a sort of protecting emblem.
For speechmaking at the bar, or any other pursuit that claims
the people's attention, wins enemies for a man; but philosophy
is peaceful and minds her own business. Men cannot scorn her;
she is honoured by every profession, even the vilest among
them. Evil can never grow so strong, and nobility of character
can never be so plotted against, that the name of philosophy
shall cease to be worshipful and sacred.
Philosophy itself, however should be practised with calmness
and moderation. "Very well, then," you retort, "do you regard
the philosophy of Marcus Cato as moderate? Cato's voice
strove to check a civil war. Cato parted the swords of
maddened chieftains. When some fell foul of Pompey and
others fell foul of Caesar, Cato defied both parties at once!"
Nevertheless, one may well question whether, in those days, a
wise man ought to have taken any part in public affairs, and
ask: "What do you mean, Marcus Cato? It is not now a question
of freedom; long since has freedom gone to rack and ruin. The
question is, whether it is Caesar or Pompey who controls the
State. Why, Cato, should you take sides in that dispute? It is no
business of yours; a tyrant is being selected. What does it
concern you who conquers? The better man may win; but the
winner is bound to be the worse man." I have referred to
Cato's final role. But even in previous years the wise man was
not permitted to intervene in such plundering of the state; for
what could Cato do but raise his voice and utter unavailing
words? At one time he was "bustled" by the mob and spat
upon and forcibly removed from the forum and marked for
exile; at another, he was taken straight to prison from the
However, we shall consider later whether the wise man
ought to give his attention to politics; meanwhile, I beg you to
consider those Stoics who, shut out from public life, have
withdrawn into privacy for the purpose of improving men's
existence and framing laws for the human race without
incurring the displeasure of those in power. The wise man will
not upset the customs of the people, nor will he invite the
attention of the populace by any novel ways of living.
"What then? Can one who follows out this Plan be safe in any
case?" I cannot guarantee you this any more than I can
guarantee good health in the case of a man who observes
moderation; although, as a matter of fact, good health results
from such moderation. Sometimes a vessel perishes in
harbour; but what do you think happens on the open sea? And
how much more beset with danger that man would be, who
even in his leisure is not secure, if he were busily working at
many things! Innocent persons sometimes perish; who would
deny that? But the guilty perish more frequently. A soldier's
skill is not at fault if he receives the death-blow through his
armour. And finally, the wise man regards the reason for all his
actions, but not the results. The beginning is in our own power;
fortune decides the issue, but I do not allow her to pass
sentence upon myself. You may say: "But she can inflict a
measure of suffering and of trouble." The highwayman does
not pass sentence when he slays.
Now you are stretching forth your hand for the daily gift.
Golden indeed will be the gift with which I shall load you; and,
inasmuch as we have mentioned gold, let me tell you how its
use and enjoyment may bring you greater pleasure. "He who
needs riches least, enjoys riches most." "Author's name,
please!" you say. Now, to show you how generous I am, it is my
intent to praise the dicta of other schools. The phrase belongs
to Epicurus, or Metrodorus, or some one of that particular
thinking-shop. But what difference does it make who spoke the
words? They were uttered for the world. He who craves riches
feels fear on their account. No man, however, enjoys a
blessing that brings anxiety; he is always trying to add a little
more. While he puzzles over increasing his wealth, he forgets
how to use it. He collects his accounts, he wears out the
pavement in the forum, he turns over his ledger, – in short, he
ceases to be master and becomes a steward. Farewell.
Letter XV - On Brawn and Brains
The old Romans had a custom which survived even into my
lifetime. They would add to the opening words of a letter: "If
you are well, it is well; I also am well." Persons like ourselves
would do well to say. "If you are studying philosophy, it is well."
For this is just what "being well" means. Without philosophy
the mind is sickly, and the body, too, though it may be very
powerful, is strong only as that of a madman or a lunatic is
strong. This, then, is the sort of health you should primarily
cultivate; the other kind of health comes second, and will
involve little effort, if you wish to be well physically. It is indeed
foolish, my dear Lucilius, and very unsuitable for a cultivated
man, to work hard over developing the muscles and
broadening the shoulders and strengthening the lungs. For
although your heavy feeding produce good results and your
sinews grow solid, you can never be a match, either in
strength or in weight, for a first-class bull. Besides, by
overloading the body with food you strangle the soul and
render it less active. Accordingly, limit the flesh as much as
possible, and allow free play to the spirit. Many inconveniences
beset those who devote themselves to such pursuits. In the
first place, they have their exercises, at which they must work
and waste their life-force and render it less fit to bear a strain
or the severer studies. Second, their keen edge is dulled by
heavy eating. Besides, they must take orders from slaves of
the vilest stamp, – men who alternate between the oil-flask
and the flagon, whose day passes satisfactorily if they have
got up a good perspiration and quaffed, to make good what
they have lost in sweat, huge draughts of liquor which will sink
deeper because of their fasting. Drinking and sweating, – it's
the life of a dyspeptic!
Now there are short and simple exercises which tire the body
rapidly, and so save our time; and time is something of which
we ought to keep strict account. These exercises are running,
brandishing weights, and jumping, – high-jumping or broad-
jumping, or the kind which I may call, "the Priest's dance," or,
in slighting terms, "the clothes-cleaner's jump." Select for
practice any one of these, and you will find it plain and easy.
But whatever you do, come back soon from body to mind. The
mind must be exercised both day and night, for it is nourished
by moderate labour. and this form of exercise need not be
hampered by cold or hot weather, or even by old age.
Cultivate that good which improves with the years. Of course I
do not command you to be always bending over your books
and your writing materials; the mind must have a change, –
but a change of such a kind that it is not unnerved, but merely
unbent. Riding in a litter shakes up the body, and does not
interfere with study: one may read, dictate, converse, or listen
to another; nor does walking prevent any of these things.
You need not scorn voice-culture; but I forbid you to practise
raising and lowering your voice by scales and specific
intonations. What if you should next propose to take lessons in
walking! If you consult the sort of person whom starvation has
taught new tricks, you will have someone to regulate your
steps, watch every mouthful as you eat, and go to such
lengths as you yourself, by enduring him and believing in him,
have encouraged his effrontery to go. "What, then?" you will
ask; "is my voice to begin at the outset with shouting and
straining the lungs to the utmost?" No; the natural thing is that
it be aroused to such a pitch by easy stages, just as persons
who are wrangling begin with ordinary conversational tones
and then pass to shouting at the top of their lungs. No speaker
cries "Help me, citizens!" at the outset of his speech.
Therefore, whenever your spirit's impulse prompts you, raise a
hubbub, now in louder now in milder tones, according as your
voice, as well as your spirit, shall suggest to you, when you are
moved to such a performance. Then let your voice, when you
rein it in and call it back to earth, come down gently, not
collapse; it should trail off in tones half way between high and
low, and should not abruptly drop from its raving in the
uncouth manner of countrymen. For our purpose is, not to give
the voice exercise, but to make it give us exercise.
You see, I have relieved you of no slight bother; and I shall
throw in a little complementary present, – it is Greek, too. Here
is the proverb; it is an excellent one: "The fool's life is empty of
gratitude and full of fears; its course lies wholly toward the
future." "Who uttered these words?" you say. The same writer
whom I mentioned before. And what sort of life do you think is
meant by the fool's life? That of Baba and Isio? No; he means
our own, for we are plunged by our blind desires into ventures
which will harm us, but certainly will never satisfy us; for if we
could be satisfied with anything, we should have been satisfied
long ago; nor do we reflect how pleasant it is to demand
nothing, how noble it is to be contented and not to be
dependent upon Fortune. Therefore continually remind
yourself, Lucilius, how many ambitions you have attained.
When you see many ahead of you, think how many are behind!
If you would thank the gods, and be grateful for your past life,
you should contemplate how many men you have outstripped.
But what have you to do with the others? You have outstripped
Fix a limit which you will not even desire to pass, should you
have the power. At last, then, away with all these treacherous
goods! They look better to those who hope for them than to
those who have attained them. If there were anything
substantial in them, they would sooner or later satisfy you; as
it is, they merely rouse the drinkers' thirst. Away with fripperies
which only serve for show! As to what the future's uncertain lot
has in store, why should I demand of Fortune that she give
rather than demand of myself that I should not crave? And why
should l crave? Shall I heap up my winnings, and forget that
man's lot is unsubstantial? For what end should I toil? Lo, today is the last; if not, it is near the last. Farewell.
Letter XVI - On Philosophy, the Guide of Life
It is clear to you, I am sure, Lucilius, that no man can live a
happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of
wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our
wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least
endurable even when our wisdom is only begun. This idea,
however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and
implanted more deeply by daily reflection; it is more important
for you to keep the resolutions you have already made than to
go on and make noble ones. You must persevere, must develop
new strength by continuous study, until that which is only a
good inclination becomes a good settled purpose. Hence you
no longer need to come to me with much talk and
protestations; I know that you have made great progress. I
understand the feelings which prompt your words; they are not
feigned or specious words. Nevertheless I shall tell you what I
think, – that at present I have hopes for you, but not yet
perfect trust. And I wish that you would adopt the same
attitude towards yourself; there is no reason why you should
put confidence in yourself too quickly and readily. Examine
yourself; scrutinize and observe yourself in divers ways; but
mark, before all else, whether it is in philosophy or merely in
life itself that you have made progress. Philosophy is no trick
to catch the public; it is not devised for show. It is a matter, not
of words, but of facts. It is not pursued in order that the day
may yield some amusement before it is spent, or that our
leisure may be relieved of a tedium that irks us. It moulds and
constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct,
shows us what we should do and what we should leave
undone; it sits at the helm and directs our course as we waver
amid uncertainties. Without it, no one can live fearlessly or in
peace of mind. Countless things that happen every hour call
for advice; and such advice is to be sought in philosophy.
Perhaps someone will say: "How can philosophy help me, if
Fate exists? Of what avail is philosophy, if God rules the
universe? Of what avail is it, if Chance governs everything? For
not only is it impossible to change things that are determined,
but it is also impossible to plan beforehand against what is
undetermined; either God has forestalled my plans, and
decided what I am to do, or else Fortune gives no free play to
my plans." Whether the truth, Lucilius, lies in one or in all of
these views, we must be philosophers; whether Fate binds us
down by an inexorable law, or whether God as arbiter of the
universe has arranged everything, or whether Chance drives
and tosses human affairs without method, philosophy ought to
be our defence. She will encourage us to obey God cheerfully,
but Fortune defiantly; she will teach us to follow God and
endure Chance. But it is not my purpose now to be led into a
discussion as to what is within our own control, – if
foreknowledge is supreme, or if a chain of fated events drags
us along in its clutches, or if the sudden and the unexpected
play the tyrant over us; I return now to my warning and my
exhortation, that you should not allow the impulse of your
spirit to weaken and grow cold. Hold fast to it and establish it
firmly, in order that what is now impulse may become a habit
of the mind.
If I know you well, you have already been trying to find out,
from the very beginning of my letter, what little contribution it
brings to you. Sift the letter, and you will find it. You need not
wonder at any genius of mine; for as yet I am lavish only with
other men's property. – But why did I say "other men"?
Whatever is well said by anyone is mine. This also is a saying
of Epicurus: "If you live according to nature, you will never be
poor; if you live according to opinion, you will never be rich."
Nature's wants are slight; the demands of opinion are
boundless. Suppose that the property of many millionaires is
heaped up in your possession. Assume that fortune carries you
far beyond the limits of a private income, decks you with gold,
clothes you in purple, and brings you to such a degree of
luxury and wealth that you can bury the earth under your
marble floors; that you may not only possess, but tread upon,
riches. Add statues, paintings, and whatever any art has
devised for the luxury; you will only learn from such things to
crave still greater.
Natural desires are limited; but those which spring from false
opinion can have no stopping-point. The false has no limits.
When you are travelling on a road, there must be an end; but
when astray, your wanderings are limitless. Recall your steps,
therefore, from idle things, and when you would know whether
that which you seek is based upon a natural or upon a
misleading desire, consider whether it can stop at any definite
point. If you find, after having travelled far, that there is a
more distant goal always in view, you may be sure that this
condition is contrary to nature. Farewell.
Letter XVII - On Philosophy and Riches
Cast away everything of that sort, if you are wise; nay,
rather that you may be wise; strive toward a sound mind at top
speed and with your whole strength. If any bond holds you
back, untie it, or sever it. "But," you say, "my estate delays
me; I wish to make such disposition of it that it may suffice for
me when I have nothing to do, lest either poverty be a burden
to me, or I myself a burden to others." You do not seem, when
you say this, to know the strength and power of that good
which you are considering. You do indeed grasp the all
important thing, the great benefit which philosophy confers,
but you do not yet discern accurately its various functions, nor
do you yet know how great is the help we receive from
philosophy in everything, everywhere, – how, (to use Cicero's
language,) it not only succours us in the greatest matters but
also descends to the smallest. Take my advice; call wisdom
into consultation; she will advise you not to sit for ever at your
ledger. Doubtless, your object, what you wish to attain by such
postponement of your studies, is that poverty may not have to
be feared by you. But what if it is something to be desired?
Riches have shut off many a man from the attainment of
wisdom; poverty is unburdened and free from care. When the
trumpet sounds, the poor man knows that he is not being
attacked; when there is a cry of "Fire,"he only seeks a way of
escape, and does not ask what he can save; if the poor man
must go to sea, the harbour does not resound, nor do the
wharves bustle with the retinue of one individual. No throng of
slaves surrounds the poor man, – slaves for whose mouths the
master must covet the fertile crops of regions beyond the sea.
It is easy to fill a few stomachs, when they are well trained and
crave nothing else but to be filled. Hunger costs but little;
squeamishness costs much. Poverty is contented with fulfilling
pressing needs.
Why, then, should you reject Philosophy as a comrade? Even
the rich man copies her ways when he is in his senses. If you
wish to have leisure for your mind, either be a poor man, or
resemble a poor man. Study cannot be helpful unless you take
pains to live simply; and living simply is voluntary poverty.
Away, then, with all excuses like: "I have not yet enough; when
I have gained the desired amount, then I shall devote myself
wholly to philosophy." And yet this ideal, which you are putting
off and placing second to other interests, should be secured
first of all; you should begin with it. You retort: "I wish to
acquire something to live on." Yes, but learn while you are
acquiring it; for if anything forbids you to live nobly, nothing
forbids you to die nobly. There is no reason why poverty should
call us away from philosophy, – no, nor even actual want. For
when hastening after wisdom, we must endure even hunger.
Men have endured hunger when their towns were besieged,
and what other reward for their endurance did they obtain
than that they did not fall under the conqueror's power? How
much greater is the promise of the prize of everlasting liberty,
and the assurance that we need fear neither God nor man!
Even though we starve, we must reach that goal. Armies have
endured all manner of want, have lived on roots, and have
resisted hunger by means of food too revolting to mention. All
this they have suffered to gain a kingdom, and, – what is more
marvellous, – to gain a kingdom that will be another's. Will any
man hesitate to endure poverty, in order that he may free his
mind from madness?
Therefore one should not seek to lay up riches first; one may
attain to philosophy, however, even without money for the
journey. It is indeed so. After you have come to possess all
other things, shall you then wish to possess wisdom also? Is
philosophy to be the last requisite in life, – a sort of
supplement? Nay, your plan should be this: be a philosopher
now, whether you have anything or not, – for if you have
anything, how do you know that you have not too much
already? – but if you have nothing, seek understanding first,
before anything else. "But," you say, "I shall lack the
necessities of life." In the first place, you cannot lack them;
because nature demands but little, and the wise man suits his
needs to nature. But if the utmost pinch of need arrives, he will
quickly take leave of life and cease being a trouble to himself.
If, however, his means of existence are meagre and scanty, he
will make the best of them, without being anxious or worried
about anything more than the bare necessities; he will do
justice to his belly and his shoulders; with free and happy spirit
he will laugh at the bustling of rich men, and the flurried ways
of those who are hastening after wealth, and say: "Why of your
own accord postpone your real life to the distant future? Shall
you wait for some interest to fall due, or for some income on
your merchandise, or for a place in the will of some wealthy
old man, when you can be rich here and now. Wisdom offers
wealth in ready money, and pays it over to those in whose
eyes she has made wealth superfluous." These remarks refer
to other men; you are nearer the rich class. Change the age in
which you live, and you have too much. But in every age, what
is enough remains the same.
I might close my letter at this point, if I had not got you into
bad habits. One cannot greet Parthian royalty without bringing
a gift; and in your case I cannot say farewell without paying a
price. But what of it? I shall borrow from Epicurus: "The
acquisition of riches has been for many men, not an end, but a
change, of troubles." I do not wonder. For the fault is not in the
wealth, but in the mind itself. That which had made poverty a
burden to us, has made riches also a burden. Just as it matters
little whether you lay a sick man on a wooden or on a golden
bed, for whithersoever he be moved he will carry his malady
with him; so one need not care whether the diseased mind is
bestowed upon riches or upon poverty. His malady goes with
the man. Farewell,
Letter XVIII - On Festivals and Fasting
It is the month of December, and yet the city is at this very
moment in a sweat. License is given to the general
merrymaking. Everything resounds with mighty preparations, –
as if the Saturnalia differed at all from the usual business day!
So true it is that the difference is nil, that I regard as correct
the remark of the man who said: "Once December was a
month; now it is a year."
If I had you with me, I should be glad to consult you and find
out what you think should be done, – whether we ought to
make no change in our daily routine, or whether, in order not
to be out of sympathy with the ways of the public, we should
dine in gayer fashion and doff the toga. As it is now, we
Romans have changed our dress for the sake of pleasure and
holiday-making, though in former times that was only
customary when the State was disturbed and had fallen on evil
days. I am sure that, if I know you aright, playing the part of an
umpire you would have wished that we should be neither like
the liberty-capped throng in all ways, nor in all ways unlike
them; unless, perhaps, this is just the season when we ought
to lay down the law to the soul, and bid it be alone in refraining
from pleasures just when the whole mob has let itself go in
pleasures; for this is the surest proof which a man can get of
his own constancy, if he neither seeks the things which are
seductive and allure him to luxury, nor is led into them. It
shows much more courage to remain dry and sober when the
mob is drunk and vomiting; but it shows greater self-control to
refuse to withdraw oneself and to do what the crowd does, but
in a different way, – thus neither making oneself conspicuous
nor becoming one of the crowd. For one may keep holiday
without extravagance.
I am so firmly determined, however, to test the constancy of
your mind that, drawing from the teachings of great men, I
shall give you also a lesson: Set aside a certain number of
days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and
cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself
the while: "Is this the condition that I feared?" It is precisely in
times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself
beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while
Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence.
In days of peace the soldier performs manoeuvres, throws up
earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by
gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable
toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes,
train him before it comes. Such is the course which those men
have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every
month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from
what they had so often rehearsed.
You need not suppose that I mean meals like Timon's, or
"paupers' huts," or any other device which luxurious
millionaires use to beguile the tedium of their lives. Let the
pallet be a real one, and the coarse cloak; let the bread be
hard and grimy. Endure all this for three or four days at a time,
sometimes for more, so that it may be a test of yourself
instead of a mere hobby. Then, I assure you, my dear Lucilius,
you will leap for joy when filled with a pennyworth of food, and
you will understand that a man's peace of mind does not
depend upon Fortune; for, even when angry she grants enough
for our needs.
There is no reason, however, why you should think that you
are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what
many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men
are doing every day. But you may credit yourself with this item,
– that you will not be doing it under compulsion, and that it will
be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the
experiment from time to time. Let us practise our strokes on
the "dummy"; let us become intimate with poverty, so that
Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with
all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from
being a burden.
Even Epicurus, the teacher of pleasure, used to observe
stated intervals, during which he satisfied his hunger in
niggardly fashion; he wished to see whether he thereby fell
short of full and complete happiness, and, if so, by what
amount he fell short, and whether this amount was worth
purchasing at the price of great effort. At any rate, he makes
such a statement in the well known letter written to Polyaenus
in the archonship of Charinus. Indeed, he boasts that he
himself lived on less than a penny, but that Metrodorus, whose
progress was not yet so great, needed a whole penny. Do you
think that there can be fullness on such fare? Yes, and there is
pleasure also, – not that shifty and fleeting Pleasure which
needs a fillip now and then, but a pleasure that is steadfast
and sure. For though water, barley-meal, and crusts of barleybread, are not a cheerful diet, yet it is the highest kind of
Pleasure to be able to derive pleasure from this sort of food,
and to have reduced one's needs to that modicum which no
unfairness of Fortune can snatch away. Even prison fare is
more generous; and those who have been set apart for capital
punishment are not so meanly fed by the man who is to
execute them. Therefore, what a noble soul must one have, to
descend of one's own free will to a diet which even those who
have been sentenced to death have not to fear! This is indeed
forestalling the spear thrusts of Fortune.
So begin, my dear Lucilius, to follow the custom of these
men, and set apart certain days on which you shall withdraw
from your business and make yourself at home with the
scantiest fare. Establish business relations with poverty.
Dare, O my friend, to scorn the sight of wealth,
And mould thyself to kinship with thy God.
For he alone is in kinship with God who has scorned wealth.
Of course I do not forbid you to possess it, but I would have
you reach the point at which you possess it dauntlessly; this
can be accomplished only by persuading yourself that you can
live happily without it as well as with it, and by regarding
riches always as likely to elude you.
But now I must begin to fold up my letter. "Settle your debts
first," you cry. Here is a draft on Epicurus; he will pay down the
sum: "Ungoverned anger begets madness." You cannot help
knowing the truth of these words, since you have had not only
slaves, but also enemies. But indeed this emotion blazes out
against all sorts of persons; it springs from love as much as
from hate, and shows itself not less in serious matters than in
jest and sport. And it makes no difference how important the
provocation may be, but into what kind of soul it penetrates.
Similarly with fire; it does not matter how great is the flame,
but what it falls upon. For solid timbers have repelled a very
great fire; conversely, dry and easily inflammable stuff
nourishes the slightest spark into a conflagration. So it is with
anger, my dear Lucilius; the outcome of a mighty anger is
madness, and hence anger should be avoided, not merely that
we may escape excess, but that we may have a healthy mind.
Letter XIX - On Worldliness and Retirement
I leap for joy whenever I receive letters from you. For they fill
me with hope; they are now not mere assurances concerning
you, but guarantees. And I beg and pray you to proceed in this
course; for what better request could I make of a friend than
one which is to be made for his own sake? If possible, withdraw
yourself from all the business of which you speak; and if you
cannot do this, tear yourself away. We have dissipated enough
of our time already – let us in old age begin to pack up our
baggage. Surely there is nothing in this that men can begrudge
us. We have spent our lives on the high seas; let us die in
harbour. Not that I would advise you to try to win fame by your
retirement; one's retirement should neither be paraded nor
concealed. Not concealed, I say, for I shall not go so far in
urging you as to expect you to condemn all men as mad and
then seek out for yourself a hiding-place and oblivion; rather
make this your business, that your retirement be not
conspicuous, though it should be obvious. In the second place,
while those whose choice is unhampered from the start will
deliberate on that other question, whether they wish to pass
their lives in obscurity, in your case there is not a free choice.
Your ability and energy have thrust you into the work of the
world; so have the charm of your writings and the friendships
you have made with famous and notable men. Renown has
already taken you by storm. You may sink yourself into the
depths of obscurity and utterly hide yourself; yet your earlier
acts will reveal you. You cannot keep lurking in the dark; much
of the old gleam will follow you wherever you fly.
Peace you can claim for yourself without being disliked by
anyone, without any sense of loss, and without any pangs of
spirit. For what will you leave behind you that you can imagine
yourself reluctant to leave? Your clients? But none of these
men courts you for yourself; they merely court something from
you. People used to hunt friends, but now they hunt pelf; if a
lonely old man changes his will, the morning-caller transfers
himself to another door. Great things cannot be bought for
small sums; so reckon up whether it is preferable to leave your
own true self, or merely some of your belongings. Would that
you had had the privilege of growing old amid the limited
circumstances of your origin, and that fortune had not raised
you to such heights! You were removed far from the sight of
wholesome living by your swift rise to prosperity, by your
province, by your position as procurator, and by all that such
things promise; you will next acquire more important duties
and after them still more. And what will be the result? Why
wait until there is nothing left for you to crave? That time will
never come. We hold that there is a succession of causes, from
which fate is woven; similarly, you may be sure, there is a
succession in our desires; for one begins where its predecessor
ends. You have been thrust into an existence which will never
of itself put an end to your wretchedness and your slavery.
Withdraw your chafed neck from the yoke; it is better that it
should be cut off once for all, than galled for ever. If you
retreat to privacy, everything will be on a smaller scale, but
you will be satisfied abundantly; in your present condition,
however, there is no satisfaction in the plenty which is heaped
upon you on all sides. Would you rather be poor and sated, or
rich and hungry? Prosperity is not only greedy, but it also lies
exposed to the greed of others. And as long as nothing
satisfies you, you yourself cannot satisfy others.
"But," you say, "how can I take my leave?" Any way you
please. Reflect how many hazards you have ventured for the
sake of money, and how much toil you have undertaken for a
title! You must dare something to gain leisure, also, – or else
grow old amid the worries of procuratorships abroad and
subsequently of civil duties at home, living in turmoil and in
ever fresh floods of responsibilities, which no man has ever
succeeded in avoiding by unobtrusiveness or by seclusion of
life. For what bearing on the case has your personal desire for
a secluded life? Your position in the world desires the opposite!
What if, even now, you allow that position to grow greater? But
all that is added to your successes will be added to your fears.
At this point I should like to quote a saying of Maecenas, who
spoke the truth when he stood on the very summit: "There's
thunder even on the loftiest peaks." If you ask me in what book
these words are found, they occur in the volume entitled
Prometheus. He simply meant to say that these lofty peaks
have their tops surrounded with thunder-storms. But is any
power worth so high a price that a man like you would ever, in
order to obtain it, adopt a style so debauched as that?
Maecenas was indeed a man of parts, who would have left a
great pattern for Roman oratory to follow, had his good fortune
not made him effeminate, – nay, had it not emasculated him!
An end like his awaits you also, unless you forthwith shorten
sail and, – as Maecenas was not willing to do until it was too
late, – hug the shore!
This saying of Maecenas's might have squared my account
with you; but I feel sure, knowing you, that you will get out an
injunction against me, and that you will be unwilling to accept
payment of my debt in such crude and debased currency.
However that may be, I shall draw on the account of Epicurus.
He says: "You must reflect carefully beforehand with whom you
are to eat and drink, rather than what you are to eat and drink.
For a dinner of meats without the company of a friend is like
the life of a lion or a wolf." This privilege will not be yours
unless you withdraw from the world; otherwise, you will have
as guests only those whom your slave-secretary sorts out from
the throng of callers. It is, however, a mistake to select your
friend in the reception-hall or to test him at the dinner-table.
The most serious misfortune for a busy man who is
overwhelmed by his possessions is, that he believes men to be
his friends when he himself is not a friend to them, and that he
deems his favours to be effective in winning friends, although,
in the case of certain men, the more they owe, the more they
hate. A trifling debt makes a man your debtor; a large one
makes him an enemy. "What," you say, "do not kindnesses
establish friendships?" They do, if one has had the privilege of
choosing those who are to receive them, and if they are placed
judiciously, instead of being scattered broadcast.
Therefore, while you are beginning to call your mind your
own, meantime apply this maxim of the wise: consider that it
is more important who receives a thing, than what it is he
receives. Farewell.
Letter XX - On Practising what you Preach
If you are in good health and if you think yourself worthy of
becoming at last your own master, I am glad. For the credit will
be mine, if I can drag you from the floods in which you are
being buffeted without hope of emerging. This, however, my
dear Lucilius, I ask and beg of you, on your part, that you let
wisdom sink into your soul, and test your progress, not by
mere speech or writings, but by stoutness of heart and
decrease of desire. Prove your words by your deeds.
Far different is the purpose of those who are speech-making
and trying to win the approbation of a throng of hearers, far
different that of those who allure the ears of young men and
idlers by many-sided or fluent argumentation; philosophy
teaches us to act, not to speak; it exacts of every man that he
should live according to his own standards, that his life should
not be out of harmony with his words, and that, further, his
inner life should be of one hue and not out of harmony with all
his activities. This, I say, is the highest duty and the highest
proof of wisdom, – that deed and word should be in accord,
that a man should be equal to himself under all conditions, and
always the same.
"But," you reply, "who can maintain this standard?" Very few,
to be sure; but there are some. It is indeed a hard undertaking,
and I do not say that the philosopher can always keep the
same pace. But he can always travel the same path. Observe
yourself, then, and see whether your dress and your house are
inconsistent, whether you treat yourself lavishly and your
family meanly, whether you eat frugal dinners and yet build
luxurious houses. You should lay hold, once for all, upon a
single norm to live by, and should regulate your whole life
according to this norm. Some men restrict themselves at
home, but strut with swelling port before the public; such
discordance is a fault, and it indicates a wavering mind which
cannot yet keep its balance. And I can tell you, further, whence
arise this unsteadiness and disagreement of action and
purpose; it is because no man resolves upon what he wishes,
and, even if he has done so, he does not persist in it, but
jumps the track; not only does he change, but he returns and
slips back to the conduct which he has abandoned and
abjured. Therefore, to omit the ancient definitions of wisdom
and to include the whole manner of human life, I can be
satisfied with the following: "What is wisdom? Always desiring
the same things, and always refusing the same things." You
may be excused from adding the little proviso, – that what you
wish, should be right; since no man can always be satisfied
with the same thing, unless it is right.
For this reason men do not know what they wish, except at
the actual moment of wishing; no man ever decided once and
for all to desire or to refuse. Judgment varies from day to day,
and changes to the opposite, making many a man pass his life
in a kind of game. Press on, therefore, as you have begun;
perhaps you will be led to perfection, or to a point which you
alone understand is still short of perfection.
"But what," you say, "will become of my crowded household
without a household income?" If you stop supporting that
crowd, it will support itself; or perhaps you will learn by the
bounty of poverty what you cannot learn by your own bounty.
Poverty will keep for you your true and tried friends; you will
be rid of the men who were not seeking you for yourself, but
for something which you have. Is it not true, however, that you
should love poverty, if only for this single reason, – that it will
show you those by whom you are loved? O when will that time
come, when no one shall tell lies to compliment you!
Accordingly, let your thoughts, your efforts, your desires, help
to make you content with your own self and with the goods
that spring from yourself; and commit all your other prayers to
God's keeping! What happiness could come closer home to
you? Bring yourself down to humble conditions, from which
you cannot be ejected and in order that you may do so with
greater alacrity, the contribution contained in this letter shall
refer to that subject; I shall bestow it upon you forthwith.
Although you may look askance, Epicurus will once again be
glad to settle my indebtedness: "Believe me, your words will
be more imposing if you sleep on a cot and wear rags. For in
that case you will not be merely saying them; you will be
demonstrating their truth." I, at any rate, listen in a different
spirit to the utterances of our friend Demetrius, after I have
seen him reclining without even a cloak to cover him, and,
more than this, without rugs to lie upon. He is not only a
teacher of the truth, but a witness to the truth. "May not a
man, however, despise wealth when it lies in his very pocket?"
Of course; he also is great-souled, who sees riches heaped up
round him and, after wondering long and deeply because they
have come into his possession, smiles, and hears rather than
feels that they are his. It means much not to be spoiled by
intimacy with riches; and he is truly great who is poor amidst
riches. "Yes, but I do not know," you say, "how the man you
speak of will endure poverty, if he falls into it suddenly." Nor do
I, Epicurus, know whether the poor man you speak of will
despise riches, should he suddenly fall into them; accordingly,
in the case of both, it is the mind that must be appraised, and
we must investigate whether your man is pleased with his
poverty, and whether my man is displeased with his riches.
Otherwise, the cot-bed and the rags are slight proof of his good
intentions, if it has not been made clear that the person
concerned endures these trials not from necessity but from
It is the mark, however, of a noble spirit not to precipitate
oneself into such things on the ground that they are better, but
to practise for them on the ground that they are thus easy to
endure. And they are easy to endure, Lucilius; when, however,
you come to them after long rehearsal, they are even pleasant;
for they contain a sense of freedom from care, – and without
this nothing is pleasant. I hold it essential, therefore, to do as I
have told you in a letter that great men have often done: to
reserve a few days in which we may prepare ourselves for real
poverty by means of fancied poverty. There is all the more
reason for doing this, because we have been steeped in luxury
and regard all duties as hard and onerous. Rather let the soul
be roused from its sleep and be prodded, and let it be
reminded that nature has prescribed very little for us. No man
is born rich. Every man, when he first sees light, is
commanded to be content with milk and rags. Such is our
beginning, and yet kingdoms are all too small for us! Farewell.
Letter XXI - On the Renown which my
Writings will Bring you
Do you conclude that you are having difficulties with those
men about whom you wrote to me? Your greatest difficulty is
with yourself; for you are your own stumbling-block. You do not
know what you want. You are better at approving the right
course than at following it out. You see where the true
happiness lies, but you have not the courage to attain it. Let
me tell you what it is that hinders you, inasmuch as you do not
of yourself discern it.
You think that this condition, which you are to abandon, is
one of importance, and after resolving upon that ideal state of
calm into which you hope to pass, you are held back by the
lustre of your present life, from which it is your intention to
depart, just as if you were about to fall into a state of filth and
darkness. This is a mistake, Lucilius; to go from your present
life into the other is a promotion. There is the same difference
between these two lives as there is between mere brightness
and real light; the latter has a definite source within itself, the
other borrows its radiance; the one is called forth by an
illumination coming from the outside, and anyone who stands
between the source and the object immediately turns the
latter into a dense shadow; but the other has a glow that
comes from within.
It is your own studies that will make you shine and will
render you eminent, Allow me to mention the case of Epicurus.
He was writing to Idomeneus and trying to recall him from a
showy existence to sure and steadfast renown. Idomeneus was
at that time a minister of state who exercised a rigorous
authority and had important affairs in hand. "If," said Epicurus,
"you are attracted by fame, my letters will make you more
renowned than all the things which you cherish and which
make you cherished." Did Epicurus speak falsely? Who would
have known of Idomeneus, had not the philosopher thus
engraved his name in those letters of his? All the grandees and
satraps, even the king himself, who was petitioned for the title
which Idomeneus sought, are sunk in deep oblivion. Cicero's
letters keep the name of Atticus from perishing. It would have
profited Atticus nothing to have an Agrippa for a son-in-law, a
Tiberius for the husband of his grand-daughter, and a Drusus
Caesar for a great-grandson; amid these mighty names his
name would never be spoken, had not Cicero bound him to
himself. The deep flood of time will roll over us; some few great
men will raise their heads above it, and, though destined at
the last to depart into the same realms of silence, will battle
against oblivion and maintain their ground for long.
That which Epicurus could promise his friend, this I promise
you, Lucilius. I shall find favour among later generations; I can
take with me names that will endure as long as mine. Our poet
Vergil promised an eternal name to two heroes, and is keeping
his promise:
Blest heroes twain! If power my song possess,
The record of your names shall never be
Erased from out the book of Time, while yet
Aeneas' tribe shall keep the Capitol,
That rock immovable, and Roman sire
Shall empire hold.
Whenever men have been thrust forward by fortune,
whenever they have become part and parcel of another's
influence, they have found abundant favour, their houses have
been thronged, only so long as they themselves have kept
their position; when they themselves have left it, they have
slipped at once from the memory of men. But in the case of
innate ability, the respect in which it is held increases, and not
only does honour accrue to the man himself, but whatever has
attached itself to his memory is passed on from one to
In order that Idomeneus may not be introduced free of
charge into my letter, he shall make up the indebtedness from
his own account. It was to him that Epicurus addressed the
well-known saying urging him to make Pythocles rich, but not
rich in the vulgar and equivocal way. "If you wish," said he, "to
make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but
subtract from his desires." This idea is too clear to need
explanation, and too clever to need reinforcement. There is,
however, one point on which I would warn you, – not to
consider that this statement applies only to riches; its value
will be the same, no matter how you apply it. "If you wish to
make Pythocles honourable, do not add to his honours, but
subtract from his desires"; "if you wish Pythocles to have
pleasure for ever, do not add to his pleasures, but subtract
from his desires"; "if you wish to make Pythocles an old man,
filling his life to the full, do not add to his years, but subtract
from his desires." There is no reason why you should hold that
these words belong to Epicurus alone; they are public property.
I think we ought to do in philosophy as they are wont to do in
the Senate: when someone has made a motion, of which I
approve to a certain extent, I ask him to make his motion in
two parts, and I vote for the part which I approve. So I am all
the more glad to repeat the distinguished words of Epicurus, in
order that I may prove to those who have recourse to him
through a bad motive, thinking that they will have in him a
screen for their own vices, that they must live honourably, no
matter what school they follow.
Go to his Garden and read the motto carved there:
"Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest
good is pleasure."
The care-taker of that abode, a kindly host, will be ready for
you; he will welcome you with barley-meal and serve you
water also in abundance, with these words: "Have you not
been well entertained?" "This garden," he says, "does not whet
your appetite; it quenches it. Nor does it make you more
thirsty with every drink; it slakes the thirst by a natural cure, a
cure that demands no fee. This is the 'pleasure' in which I have
grown old."
In speaking with you, however, I refer to those desires which
refuse alleviation, which must be bribed to cease. For in regard
to the exceptional desires, which may be postponed, which
may be chastened and checked, I have this one thought to
share with you: a pleasure of that sort is according to our
nature, but it is not according to our needs; one owes nothing
to it; whatever is expended upon it is a free gift. The belly will
not listen to advice; it makes demands, it importunes. And yet
it is not a troublesome creditor; you can send it away at small
cost, provided only that you give it what you owe, not merely
all you are able to give. Farewell.
Letter XXII - On the Futility of Half-Way
You understand by this time that you must withdraw yourself
from those showy and depraved pursuits; but you still wish to
know how this may be accomplished. There are certain things
which can be pointed out only by someone who is present. The
physician cannot prescribe by letter the proper time for eating
or bathing; he must feel the pulse. There is an old adage about
gladiators, – that they plan their fight in the ring; as they
intently watch, something in the adversary's glance, some
movement of his hand, even some slight bending of his body,
gives a warning. We can formulate general rules and commit
them to writing, as to what is usually done, or ought to be
done; such advice may be given, not only to our absent
friends, but also to succeeding generations. In regard,
however, to that second question, – when or how your plan is
to be carried out, – no one will advise at long range; we must
take counsel in the presence of the actual situation. You must
be not only present in the body, but watchful in mind, if you
would avail yourself of the fleeting opportunity. Accordingly,
look about you for the opportunity; if you see it, grasp it, and
with all your energy and with all your strength devote yourself
to this task – to rid yourself of those business duties.
Now listen carefully to the opinion which I shall offer; it is my
opinion that you should withdraw either from that kind of
existence, or else from existence altogether. But I likewise
maintain that you should take a gentle path, that you may
loosen rather than cut the knot which you have bungled so
badly in tying, – provided that if there shall be no other way of
loosening it, you may actually cut it. No man is so fainthearted that he would rather hang in suspense for ever than
drop once for all. Meanwhile, – and this is of first importance, –
do not hamper yourself; be content with the business into
which you have lowered yourself, or, as you prefer to have
people think, have tumbled. There is no reason why you should
be struggling on to something further; if you do, you will lose
all grounds of excuse, and men will see that it was not a
tumble. The usual explanation which men offer is wrong: "I was
compelled to do it. Suppose it was against my will; I had to do
it." But no one is compelled to pursue prosperity at top speed;
it means something to call a halt, – even if one does not offer
resistance, – instead of pressing eagerly after favouring
fortune. Shall you then be put out with me, if I not only come
to advise you, but also call in others to advise you, – wiser
heads than my own, men before whom I am wont to lay any
problem upon which l am pondering? Read the letter of
Epicurus which appears on this matter; it is addressed to
Idomeneus. The writer asks him to hasten as fast as he can,
and beat a retreat before some stronger influence comes
between and takes from him the liberty to withdraw. But he
also adds that one should attempt nothing except at the time
when it can be attempted suitably and seasonably. Then, when
the long-sought occasion comes, let him be up and doing.
Epicurus forbids us to doze when we are meditating escape; he
bids us hope for a safe release from even the hardest trials,
provided that we are not in too great a hurry before the time,
nor too dilatory when the time arrives.
Now, I suppose, you are looking for a Stoic motto also. There
is really no reason why anyone should slander that school to
you on the ground of its rashness; as a matter of fact, its
caution is greater than its courage. You are perhaps expecting
the sect to utter such words as these: "It is base to flinch under
a burden. Wrestle with the duties which you have once
undertaken. No man is brave and earnest if he avoids danger,
if his spirit does not grow with the very difficulty of his task."
Words like these will indeed be spoken to you, if only your
perseverance shall have an object that is worth while, if only
you will not have to do or to suffer anything unworthy of a
good man; besides, a good man will not waste himself upon
mean and discreditable work or be busy merely for the sake of
being busy. Neither will he, as you imagine, become so
involved in ambitious schemes that he will have continually to
endure their ebb and flow. Nay, when he sees the dangers,
uncertainties, and hazards in which he was formerly tossed
about, he will withdraw, – not turning his back to the foe, but
falling back little by little to a safe position. From business,
however, my dear Lucilius, it is easy to escape, if only you will
despise the rewards of business. We are held back and kept
from escaping by thoughts like these: "What then? Shall I leave
behind me these great prospects? Shall I depart at the very
time of harvest? Shall I have no slaves at my side? no retinue
for my litter? no crowd in my reception room?"
Hence men leave such advantages as these with reluctance;
they love the reward of their hardships, but curse the
hardships themselves. Men complain about their ambitions as
they complain about their mistresses; in other words, if you
penetrate their real feelings, you will find, not hatred, but
bickering. Search the minds of those who cry down what they
have desired, who talk about escaping from things which they
are unable to do without; you will comprehend that they are
lingering of their own free will in a situation which they declare
they find it hard and wretched to endure. It is so, my dear
Lucilius; there are a few men whom slavery holds fast, but
there are many more who hold fast to slavery.
If, however, you intend to be rid of this slavery; if freedom is
genuinely pleasing in your eyes; and if you seek counsel for
this one purpose, – that you may have the good fortune to
accomplish this purpose without perpetual annoyance, – how
can the whole company of Stoic thinkers fail to approve your
course? Zeno, Chrysippus, and all their kind will give you
advice that is temperate, honourable, and suitable. But if you
keep turning round and looking about, in order to see how
much you may carry away with you, and how much money you
may keep to equip yourself for the life of leisure, you will never
find a way out. No man can swim ashore and take his baggage
with him. Rise to a higher life, with the favour of the gods; but
let it not be favour of such a kind as the gods give to men
when with kind and genial faces they bestow magnificent ills,
justified in so doing by the one fact that the things which
irritate and torture have been bestowed in answer to prayer.
I was just putting the seal upon this letter; but it must be
broken again, in order that it may go to you with its customary
contribution, bearing with it some noble word. And lo, here is
one that occurs to my mind; I do not know whether its truth or
its nobility of utterance is the greater. "Spoken by whom?" you
ask. By Epicurus; for I am still appropriating other men's
belongings. The words are: "Everyone goes out of life just as if
he had but lately entered it." Take anyone off his guard, young,
old, or middle-aged; you will find that all are equally afraid of
death, and equally ignorant of life. No one has anything
finished, because we have kept putting off into the future all
our undertakings. No thought in the quotation given above
pleases me more than that it taunts old men with being
infants. "No one," he says, "leaves this world in a different
manner from one who has just been born." That is not true; for
we are worse when we die than when we were born; but it is
our fault, and not that of Nature. Nature should scold us,
saying: "What does this mean? I brought you into the world
without desires or fears, free from superstition, treachery and
the other curses. Go forth as you were when you entered!"
A man has caught the message of wisdom, if he can die as
free from care as he was at birth; but as it is we are all a-flutter
at the approach of the dreaded end. Our courage fails us, our
cheeks blanch; our tears fall, though they are unavailing. But
what is baser than to fret at the very threshold of peace? The
reason, however is, that we are stripped of all our goods, we
have jettisoned our cargo of life and are in distress; for no part
of it has been packed in the hold; it has all been heaved
overboard and has drifted away. Men do not care how nobly
they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of
every man to live nobly, but within no man's power to live
long. Farewell.
Letter XXIII - On the True Joy which Comes
from Philosophy
Do you suppose that I shall write you how kindly the winter
season has dealt with us, – a short season and a mild one, – or
what a nasty spring we are having, – cold weather out of
season, – and all the other trivialities which people write when
they are at a loss for topics of conversation? No; I shall
communicate something which may help both you and myself.
And what shall this "something" be, if not an exhortation to
soundness of mind? Do you ask what is the foundation of a
sound mind? It is, not to find joy in useless things. I said that it
was the foundation; it is really the pinnacle. We have reached
the heights if we know what it is that we find joy in and if we
have not placed our happiness in the control of externals. The
man who is goaded ahead by hope of anything, though it be
within reach, though it be easy of access, and though his
ambitions have never played him false, is troubled and unsure
of himself. Above all, my dear Lucilius, make this your
business: learn how to feel joy.
Do you think that I am now robbing you of many pleasures
when I try to do away with the gifts of chance, when I counsel
the avoidance of hope, the sweetest thing that gladdens our
hearts? Quite the contrary; I do not wish you ever to be
deprived of gladness. I would have it born in your house; and it
is born there, if only it be inside of you. Other objects of cheer
do not fill a man's bosom; they merely smooth his brow and
are inconstant, – unless perhaps you believe that he who
laughs has joy. The very soul must be happy and confident,
lifted above every circumstance.
Real joy, believe me, is a stern matter. Can one, do you
think, despise death with a care-free countenance, or with a
"blithe and gay" expression, as our young dandies are
accustomed to say? Or can one thus open his door to poverty,
or hold the curb on his pleasures, or contemplate the
endurance of pain? He who ponders these things in his heart is
indeed full of joy; but it is not a cheerful joy. It is just this joy,
however, of which I would have you become the owner; for it
will never fail you when once you have found its source. The
yield of poor mines is on the surface; those are really rich
whose veins lurk deep, and they will make more bountiful
returns to him who delves unceasingly. So too those baubles
which delight the common crowd afford but a thin pleasure,
laid on as a coating, and even joy that is only plated lacks a
real basis. But the joy of which I speak, that to which I am
endeavouring to lead you, is something solid, disclosing itself
the more fully as you penetrate into it. Therefore I pray you,
my dearest Lucilius, do the one thing that can render you
really happy: cast aside and trample under foot all the things
that glitter outwardly and are held out to you by another or as
obtainable from another; look toward the true good, and
rejoice only in that which comes from your own store. And
what do I mean by "from your own store"? I mean from your
very self, that which is the best part of you. The frail body,
also, even though we can accomplish nothing without it, is to
be regarded as necessary rather than as important; it involves
us in vain pleasures, short-lived, and soon to be regretted,
which, unless they are reined in by extreme self-control, will be
transformed into the opposite. This is what I mean: pleasure,
unless it has been kept within bounds, tends to rush headlong
into the abyss of sorrow.
But it is hard to keep within bounds in that which you believe
to be good. The real good may be coveted with safety. Do you
ask me what this real good is, and whence it derives? I will tell
you: it comes from a good conscience, from honourable
purposes, from right actions, from contempt of the gifts of
chance, from an even and calm way of living which treads but
one path. For men who leap from one purpose to another, or
do not even leap but are carried over by a sort of hazard, –
how can such wavering and unstable persons possess any
good that is fixed and lasting? There are only a few who control
themselves and their affairs by a guiding purpose; the rest do
not proceed; they are merely swept along, like objects afloat in
a river. And of these objects, some are held back by sluggish
waters and are transported gently; others are torn along by a
more violent current; some, which are nearest the bank, are
left there as the current slackens; and others are carried out to
sea by the onrush of the stream. Therefore, we should decide
what we wish, and abide by the decision.
Now is the time for me to pay my debt. I can give you a
saying of your friend Epicurus and thus clear this letter of its
obligation. "It is bothersome always to be beginning life." Or
another, which will perhaps express the meaning better: "They
live ill who are always beginning to live." You are right in
asking why; the saying certainly stands in need of a
commentary. It is because the life of such persons is always
incomplete. But a man cannot stand prepared for the approach
of death if he has just begun to live. We must make it our aim
already to have lived long enough. No one deems that he has
done so, if he is just on the point of planning his life. You need
not think that there are few of this kind; practically everyone is
of such a stamp. Some men, indeed, only begin to live when it
is time for them to leave off living. And if this seems surprising
to you, I shall add that which will surprise you still more: Some
men have left off living before they have begun. Farewell.
Letter XXIV - On Despising Death
You write me that you are anxious about the result of a
lawsuit, with which an angry opponent is threatening you; and
you expect me to advise you to picture to yourself a happier
issue, and to rest in the allurements of hope. Why, indeed, is it
necessary to summon trouble, – which must be endured soon
enough when it has once arrived, or to anticipate trouble and
ruin the present through fear of the future? It is indeed foolish
to be unhappy now because you may be unhappy at some
future time. But I shall conduct you to peace of mind by
another route: if you would put off all worry, assume that what
you fear may happen will certainly happen in any event;
whatever the trouble may be, measure it in your own mind,
and estimate the amount of your fear. You will thus understand
that what you fear is either insignificant or short-lived. And you
need not spend a long time in gathering illustrations which will
strengthen you; every epoch has produced them. Let your
thoughts travel into any era of Roman or foreign history, and
there will throng before you notable examples of high
achievement or of high endeavour.
If you lose this case, can anything more severe happen to
you than being sent into exile or led to prison? Is there a worse
fate that any man may fear than being burned or being killed?
Name such penalties one by one, and mention the men who
have scorned them; one does not need to hunt for them, – it is
simply a matter of selection. Sentence of conviction was borne
by Rutilius as if the injustice of the decision were the only thing
which annoyed him. Exile was endured by Metellus with
courage, by Rutilius even with gladness; for the former
consented to come back only because his country called him;
the latter refused to return when Sulla summoned him, – and
nobody in those days said "No" to Sulla! Socrates in prison
discoursed, and declined to flee when certain persons gave
him the opportunity; he remained there, in order to free
mankind from the fear of two most grievous things, death and
imprisonment. Mucius put his hand into the fire. It is painful to
be burned; but how much more painful to inflict such suffering
upon oneself! Here was a man of no learning, not primed to
face death and pain by any words of wisdom, and equipped
only with the courage of a soldier, who punished himself for his
fruitless daring; he stood and watched his own right hand
falling away piecemeal on the enemy's brazier, nor did he
withdraw the dissolving limb, with its uncovered bones, until
his foe removed the fire. He might have accomplished
something more successful in that camp, but never anything
more brave. See how much keener a brave man is to lay hold
of danger than a cruel man is to inflict it: Porsenna was more
ready to pardon Mucius for wishing to slay him than Mucius to
pardon himself for failing to slay Porsenna!
"Oh," say you, "those stories have been droned to death in
all the schools; pretty soon, when you reach the topic 'On
Despising Death,' you will be telling me about Cato." But why
should I not tell you about Cato, how he read Plato's book on
that last glorious night, with a sword laid at his pillow? He had
provided these two requisites for his last moments, – the first,
that he might have the will to die, and the second, that he
might have the means. So he put his affairs in order, – as well
as one could put in order that which was ruined and near its
end, – and thought that he ought to see to it that no one
should have the power to slay or the good fortune to save
Cato. Drawing the sword, – which he had kept unstained from
all bloodshed against the final day, he cried: "Fortune, you
have accomplished nothing by resisting all my endeavours. I
have fought, till now, for my country's freedom, and not for my
own, I did not strive so doggedly to be free, but only to live
among the free. Now, since the affairs of mankind are beyond
hope, let Cato be withdrawn to safety." So saying, he inflicted a
mortal wound upon his body. After the physicians had bound it
up, Cato had less blood and less strength, but no less courage;
angered now not only at Caesar but also at himself, he rallied
his unarmed hands against his wound, and expelled, rather
than dismissed, that noble soul which had been so defiant of
all worldly power.
I am not now heaping up these illustrations for the purpose
of exercising my wit, but for the purpose of encouraging you to
face that which is thought to be most terrible. And I shall
encourage you all the more easily by showing that not only
resolute men have despised that moment when the soul
breathes its last, but that certain persons, who were craven in
other respects, have equalled in this regard the courage of the
bravest. Take, for example, Scipio, the father-in-law of Gnaeus
Pompeius: he was driven back upon the African coast by a
head-wind and saw his ship in the power of the enemy. He
therefore pierced his body with a sword; and when they asked
where the commander was, he replied: "All is well with the
commander." These words brought him up to the level of his
ancestors and suffered not the glory which fate gave to the
Scipios in Africa to lose its continuity. It was a great deed to
conquer Carthage, but a greater deed to conquer death. "All is
well with the commander!" Ought a general to die otherwise,
especially one of Cato's generals? I shall not refer you to
history, or collect examples of those men who throughout the
ages have despised death; for they are very many. Consider
these times of ours, whose enervation and over-refinement call
forth our complaints; they nevertheless will include men of
every rank, of every lot in life, and of every age, who have cut
short their misfortunes by death.
Believe me, Lucilius; death is so little to be feared that
through its good offices nothing is to be feared. Therefore,
when your enemy threatens, listen unconcernedly. Although
your conscience makes you confident, yet, since many things
have weight which are outside your case, both hope for that
which is utterly just, and prepare yourself against that which is
utterly unjust. Remember, however, before all else, to strip
things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each
is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain
nothing fearful except the actual fear. That you see happening
to boys happens also to ourselves, who are only slightly bigger
boys: when those whom they love, with whom they daily
associate, with whom they play, appear with masks on, the
boys are frightened out of their wits. We should strip the mask,
not only from men, but from things, and restore to each object
its own aspect.
"Why dost thou hold up before my eyes swords, fires, and a
throng of executioners raging about thee? Take away all that
vain show, behind which thou lurkest and scarest fools! Ah!
thou art naught but Death, whom only yesterday a manservant
of mine and a maid-servant did despise! Why dost thou again
unfold and spread before me, with all that great display, the
whip and the rack? Why are those engines of torture made
ready, one for each several member of the body, and all the
other innumerable machines for tearing a man apart
piecemeal? Away with all such stuff, which makes us numb
with terror! And thou, silence the groans the cries, and the
bitter shrieks ground out of the victim as he is torn on the
rack! Forsooth thou are naught but Pain, scorned by yonder
gout-ridden wretch, endured by yonder dyspeptic in the midst
of his dainties, borne bravely by the girl in travail. Slight thou
art, if I can bear thee; short thou art if I cannot bear thee!"
Ponder these words which you have often heard and often
uttered. Moreover, prove by the result whether that which you
have heard and uttered is true. For there is a very disgraceful
charge often brought against our school, – that we deal with
the words, and not with the deeds, of philosophy.
What, have you only at this moment learned that death is
hanging over your head, at this moment exile, at this moment
grief? You were born to these perils. Let us think of everything
that can happen as something which will happen. I know that
you have really done what I advise you to do; I now warn you
not to drown your soul in these petty anxieties of yours; if you
do, the soul will be dulled and will have too little vigour left
when the time comes for it to arise. Remove the mind from this
case of yours to the case of men in general. Say to yourself
that our petty bodies are mortal and frail; pain can reach them
from other sources than from wrong or the might of the
stronger. Our pleasures themselves become torments;
banquets bring indigestion, carousals paralysis of the muscles
and palsy, sensual habits affect the feet, the hands, and every
joint of the body.
I may become a poor man; I shall then be one among many. I
may be exiled; I shall then regard myself as born in the place
to which I shall be sent. They may put me in chains. What
then? Am I free from bonds now? Behold this clogging burden
of a body, to which nature has fettered me! "I shall die," you
say; you mean to say "I shall cease to run the risk of sickness; I
shall cease to run the risk of imprisonment; I shall cease to run
the risk of death." I am not so foolish as to go through at this
juncture the arguments which Epicurus harps upon, and say
that the terrors of the world below are idle, – that Ixion does
not whirl round on his wheel, that Sisyphus does not shoulder
his stone uphill, that a man's entrails cannot be restored and
devoured every day; no one is so childish as to fear Cerberus,
or the shadows, or the spectral garb of those who are held
together by naught but their unfleshed bones. Death either
annihilates us or strips us bare. If we are then released, there
remains the better part, after the burden has been withdrawn;
if we are annihilated, nothing remains; good and bad are alike
Allow me at this point to quote a verse of yours, first
suggesting that, when you wrote it, you meant it for yourself
no less than for others. It is ignoble to say one thing and mean
another; and how much more ignoble to write one thing and
mean another! I remember one day you were handling the
well-known commonplace, – that we do not suddenly fall on
death, but advance towards it by slight degrees; we die every
day. For every day a little of our life is taken from us; even
when we are growing, our life is on the wane. We lose our
childhood, then our boyhood, and then our youth. Counting
even yesterday, all past time is lost time; the very day which
we are now spending is shared between ourselves and death.
It is not the last drop that empties the water-clock, but all that
which previously has flowed out; similarly, the final hour when
we cease to exist does not of itself bring death; it merely of
itself completes the death-process. We reach death at that
moment, but we have been a long time on the way. In
describing this situation, you said in your customary, style (for
you are always impressive, but never more pungent than when
you are putting the truth in appropriate words):
Not single is the death which comes; the death
Which takes us off is but the last of all.
I prefer that you should read your own words rather than my
letter; for then it will be clear to you that this death, of which
we are afraid, is the last but not the only death. I see what you
are looking for; you are asking what I have packed into my
letter, what inspiriting saying from some master-mind, what
useful precept. So I shall send you something dealing with this
very subject which has been under discussion. Epicurus
upbraids those who crave, as much as those who shrink from,
death: "It is absurd," he says, "to run towards death because
you are tired of life, when it is your manner of life that has
made you run towards death." And in another passage: "What
is so absurd as to seek death, when it is through fear of death
that you have robbed your life of peace?" And you may add a
third statement, of the same stamp: "Men are so thoughtless,
nay, so mad, that some, through fear of death, force
themselves to die."
Whichever of these ideas you ponder, you will strengthen
your mind for the endurance alike of death and of life. For we
need to be warned and strengthened in both directions, – not
to love or to hate life overmuch; even when reason advises us
to make an end of it, the impulse is not to be adopted without
reflection or at headlong speed. The grave and wise man
should not beat a hasty retreat from life; he should make a
becoming exit. And above all, he should avoid the weakness
which has taken possession of so many, – the lust for death.
For just as there is an unreflecting tendency of the mind
towards other things, so, my dear Lucilius, there is an
unreflecting tendency towards death; this often seizes upon
the noblest and most spirited men, as well as upon the craven
and the abject. The former despise life; the latter find it
Others also are moved by a satiety of doing and seeing the
same things, and not so much by a hatred of life as because
they are cloyed with it. We slip into this condition, while
philosophy itself pushes us on, and we say; "How long must I
endure the same things? Shall I continue to wake and sleep, be
hungry and be cloyed, shiver and perspire? There is an end to
nothing; all things are connected in a sort of circle; they flee
and they are pursued. Night is close at the heels of day, day at
the heels of night; summer ends in autumn, winter rushes after
autumn, and winter softens into spring; all nature in this way
passes, only to return. I do nothing new; I see nothing new;
sooner or later one sickens of this, also." There are many who
think that living is not painful, but superfluous. Farewell.
Letter XXV - On Reformation
With regard to these two friends of ours, we must proceed
along different lines; the faults of the one are to be corrected,
the other's are to be crushed out. I shall take every liberty; for I
do not love this one if I am unwilling to hurt his feelings.
"What," you say, "do you expect to keep a forty-year-old ward
under your tutelage? Consider his age, how hardened it now is,
and past handling! Such a man cannot be re-shaped; only
young minds are moulded." I do not know whether I shall make
progress; but I should prefer to lack success rather than to lack
faith. You need not despair of curing sick men even when the
disease is chronic, if only you hold out against excess and
force them to do and submit to many things against their will.
As regards our other friend I am not sufficiently confident,
either, except for the fact that he still has sense of shame
enough to blush for his sins. This modesty should be fostered;
so long as it endures in his soul, there is some room for hope.
But as for this veteran of yours, I think we should deal more
carefully with him, that he may not become desperate about
himself. There is no better time to approach him than now,
when he has an interval of rest and seems like one who has
corrected his faults. Others have been cheated by this interval
of virtue on his part, but he does not cheat me. I feel sure that
these faults will return, as it were, with compound interest, for
just now, I am certain, they are in abeyance but not absent. I
shall devote some time to the matter, and try to see whether
or not something can be done.
But do you yourself, as indeed you are doing, show me that
you are stout-hearted; lighten your baggage for the march.
None of our possessions is essential. Let us return to the law of
nature; for then riches are laid up for us. The things which we
actually need are free for all, or else cheap; nature craves only
bread and water. No one is poor according to this standard;
when a man has limited his desires within these bounds, he
can challenge the happiness of Jove himself, as Epicurus says.
I must insert in this letter one or two more of his sayings: "Do
everything as if Epicurus were watching you." There is no real
doubt that it is good for one to have appointed a guardian over
oneself, and to have someone whom you may look up to,
someone whom you may regard as a witness of your thoughts.
It is, indeed, nobler by far to live as you would live under the
eyes of some good man, always at your side; but nevertheless
I am content if you only act, in whatever you do, as you would
act if anyone at all were looking on; because solitude prompts
us to all kinds of evil. And when you have progressed so far
that you have also respect for yourself, you may send away
your attendant; but until then, set as a guard over yourself the
authority of some man, whether your choice be the great Cato
or Scipio, or Laelius, – or any man in whose presence even
abandoned wretches would check their bad impulses.
Meantime, you are engaged in making of yourself the sort of
person in whose company you would not dare to sin. When this
aim has been accomplished and you begin to hold yourself in
some esteem, I shall gradually allow you to do what Epicurus,
in another passage, suggests: "The time when you should
most of all withdraw into yourself is when you are forced to be
in a crowd."
You ought to make yourself of a different stamp from the
multitude. Therefore, while it is not yet safe to withdraw into
solitude, seek out certain individuals; for everyone is better off
in the company of somebody or other, – no matter who, – than
in his own company alone. "The time when you should most of
all withdraw into yourself is when you are forced to be in a
crowd." Yes, provided that you are a good, tranquil, and selfrestrained man; otherwise, you had better withdraw into a
crowd in order to get away from your self. Alone, you are too
close to a rascal. Farewell.
Letter XXVI - On Old Age and Death
I was just lately telling you that I was within sight of old age.
I am now afraid that I have left old age behind me. For some
other word would now apply to my years, or at any rate to my
body; since old age means a time of life that is weary rather
than crushed. You may rate me in the worn-out class, – of
those who are nearing the end.
Nevertheless, I offer thanks to myself, with you as witness;
for I feel that age has done no damage to my mind, though I
feel its effects on my constitution. Only my vices, and the
outward aids to these vices, have reached senility; my mind is
strong and rejoices that it has but slight connexion with the
body. It has laid aside the greater part of its load. It is alert; it
takes issue with me on the subject of old age; it declares that
old age is its time of bloom. Let me take it at its word, and let
it make the most of the advantages it possesses. The mind
bids me do some thinking and consider how much of this
peace of spirit and moderation of character I owe to wisdom
and how much to my time of life; it bids me distinguish
carefully what I cannot do and what I do not want to do. For
why should one complain or regard it as a disadvantage, if
powers which ought to come to an end have failed? "But," you
say, "it is the greatest possible disadvantage to be worn out
and to die off, or rather, if I may speak literally, to melt away!
For we are not suddenly smitten and laid low; we are worn
away, and every day reduces our powers to a certain extent."
But is there any better end to it all than to glide off to one's
proper haven, when nature slips the cable? Not that there is
anything painful in a shock and a sudden departure from
existence; it is merely because this other way of departure is
easy, – a gradual withdrawal. I, at any rate, as if the test were
at hand and the day were come which is to pronounce its
decision concerning all the years of my life, watch over myself
and commune thus with myself: "The showing which we have
made up to the present time, in word or deed, counts for
nothing. All this is but a trifling and deceitful pledge of our
spirit, and is wrapped in much charlatanism. I shall leave it to
Death to determine what progress I have made. Therefore with
no faint heart I am making ready for the day when, putting
aside all stage artifice and actor's rouge, I am to pass
judgment upon myself, – whether I am merely declaiming
brave sentiments, or whether I really feel them; whether all the
bold threats I have uttered against fortune are a pretence and
a farce. Put aside the opinion of the world; it is always
wavering and always takes both sides. Put aside the studies
which you have pursued throughout your life; Death will
deliver the final judgment in your case. This is what I mean:
your debates and learned talks, your maxims gathered from
the teachings of the wise, your cultured conversation, – all
these afford no proof of the real strength of your soul. Even the
most timid man can deliver a bold speech. What you have
done in the past will be manifest only at the time when you
draw your last breath. I accept the terms; I do not shrink from
the decision." This is what I say to myself, but I would have you
think that I have said it to you also. You are younger; but what
does that matter? There is no fixed count of our years. You do
not know where death awaits you; so be ready for it
I was just intending to stop, and my hand was making ready
for the closing sentence; but the rites are still to be performed
and the travelling money for the letter disbursed. And just
assume that I am not telling where I intend to borrow the
necessary sum; you know upon whose coffers I depend. Wait
for me but a moment, and I will pay you from my own account;
meanwhile, Epicurus will oblige me with these words: "Think on
death," or rather, if you prefer the phrase, on "migration to
heaven." The meaning is clear, – that it is a wonderful thing to
learn thoroughly how to die. You may deem it superfluous to
learn a text that can be used only once; but that is just the
reason why we ought to think on a thing. When we can never
prove whether we really know a thing, we must always be
learning it. "Think on death." In saying this, he bids us think on
freedom. He who has learned to die has unlearned slavery; he
is above any external power, or, at any rate, he is beyond it.
What terrors have prisons and bonds and bars for him? His way
out is clear. There is only one chain which binds us to life, and
that is the love of life. The chain may not be cast off, but it
may be rubbed away, so that, when necessity shall demand,
nothing may retard or hinder us from being ready to do at once
that which at some time we are bound to do. Farewell.
Letter XXVII - On the Good which Abides
"What," say you, "are you giving me advice? Indeed, have
you already advised yourself, already corrected your own
faults? Is this the reason why you have leisure to reform other
men?" No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my
fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with
you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy
with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital. Listen
to me, therefore, as you would if I were talking to myself. I am
admitting you to my inmost thoughts, and am having it out
with myself, merely making use of you as my pretext. I keep
crying out to myself: "Count your years, and you will be
ashamed to desire and pursue the same things you desired in
your boyhood days. Of this one thing make sure against your
dying day, – let your faults die before you die. Away with those
disordered pleasures, which must be dearly paid for; it is not
only those which are to come that harm me, but also those
which have come and gone. Just as crimes, even if they have
not been detected when they were committed, do not allow
anxiety to end with them; so with guilty pleasures, regret
remains even after the pleasures are over. They are not
substantial, they are not trustworthy; even if they do not harm
us, they are fleeting. Cast about rather for some good which
will abide. But there can be no such good except as the soul
discovers it for itself within itself. Virtue alone affords
everlasting and peace-giving joy; even if some obstacle arise,
it is but like an intervening cloud, which floats beneath the sun
but never prevails against it."
When will it be your lot to attain this joy? Thus far, you have
indeed not been sluggish, but you must quicken your pace.
Much toil remains; to confront it, you must yourself lavish all
your waking hours, and all your efforts, if you wish the result to
be accomplished. This matter cannot be delegated to someone
else. The other kind of literary activity admits of outside
assistance. Within our own time there was a certain rich man
named Calvisius Sabinus; he had the bank-account and the
brains of a freedman. I never saw a man whose good fortune
was a greater offence against propriety. His memory was so
faulty that he would sometimes forget the name of Ulysses, or
Achilles, or Priam, – names which we know as well as we know
those of our own attendants. No major-domo in his dotage,
who cannot give men their right names, but is compelled to
invent names for them, – no such man, I say, calls off the
names of his master's tribesmen so atrociously as Sabinus
used to call off the Trojan and Achaean heroes. But none the
less did he desire to appear learned. So he devised this short
cut to learning: he paid fabulous prices for slaves, – one to
know Homer by heart and another to know Hesiod; he also
delegated a special slave to each of the nine lyric poets. You
need not wonder that he paid high prices for these slaves; if he
did not find them ready to hand he had them made to order.
After collecting this retinue, he began to make life miserable
for his guests; he would keep these fellows at the foot of his
couch, and ask them from time to time for verses which he
might repeat, and then frequently break down in the middle of
a word. Satellius Quadratus, a feeder, and consequently a
fawner, upon addle-pated millionaires, and also (for this quality
goes with the other two) a flouter of them, suggested to
Sabinus that he should have philologists to gather up the bits.
Sabinus remarked that each slave cost him one hundred
thousand sesterces; Satellius replied: "You might have bought
as many book-cases for a smaller sum." But Sabinus held to
the opinion that what any member of his household knew, he
himself knew also. This same Satellius began to advise Sabinus
to take wrestling lessons, – sickly, pale, and thin as he was,
Sabinus answered: "How can I? I can scarcely stay alive now."
"Don't say that, I implore you," replied the other, "consider
how many perfectly healthy slaves you have!" No man is able
to borrow or buy a sound mind; in fact, as it seems to me, even
though sound minds were for sale, they would not find buyers.
Depraved minds, however, are bought and sold every day.
But let me pay off my debt and say farewell: "Real wealth is
poverty adjusted to the law of Nature." Epicurus has this
saying in various ways and contexts; but it can never be
repeated too often, since it can never be learned too well. For
some persons the remedy should be merely prescribed; in the
case of others, it should be forced down their throats. Farewell.
Letter XXVIII - On Travel as a Cure for
Do you suppose that you alone have had this experience?
Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long
travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able
to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a
change of soul rather than a change of climate. Though you
may cross vast spaces of sea, and though, as our Vergil
Lands and cities are left astern
your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel. Socrates
made the same remark to one who complained; he said: "Why
do you wonder that globe-trotting does not help you, seeing
that you always take yourself with you? The reason which set
you wandering is ever at your heels." What pleasure is there in
seeing new lands? Or in surveying cities and spots of interest?
All your bustle is useless. Do you ask why such flight does not
help you? It is because you flee along with yourself. You must
lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place
will satisfy you. Reflect that your present behaviour is like that
of the prophetess whom Vergil describes: she is excited and
goaded into fury, and contains within herself much inspiration
that is not her own:
The priestess raves, if haply she may shake
The great god from her heart.
You wander hither and yon, to rid yourself of the burden that
rests upon you, though it becomes more troublesome by
reason of your very restlessness, just as in a ship the cargo
when stationary makes no trouble, but when it shifts to this
side or that, it causes the vessel to heel more quickly in the
direction where it has settled. Anything you do tells against
you, and you hurt yourself by your very unrest; for you are
shaking up a sick man.
That trouble once removed, all change of scene will become
pleasant; though you may be driven to the uttermost ends of
the earth, in whatever corner of a savage land you may find
yourself, that place, however forbidding, will be to you a
hospitable abode. The person you are matters more than the
place to which you go; for that reason we should not make the
mind a bondsman to any one place. Live in this belief: "I am
not born for any one corner of the universe; this whole world is
my country." If you saw this fact clearly, you would not be
surprised at getting no benefit from the fresh scenes to which
you roam each time through weariness of the old scenes. For
the first would have pleased you in each case, had you
believed it wholly yours. As it is, however, you are not
journeying; you are drifting and being driven, only exchanging
one place for another, although that which you seek, – to live
well, – is found everywhere. Can there be any spot so full of
confusion as the Forum? Yet you can live quietly even there, if
necessary. Of course, if one were allowed to make one's own
arrangements, I should flee far from the very sight and
neighbourhood of the Forum. For just as pestilential places
assail even the strongest constitution, so there are some
places which are also unwholesome for a healthy mind which is
not yet quite sound, though recovering from its ailment. I
disagree with those who strike out into the midst of the billows
and, welcoming a stormy existence, wrestle daily in hardihood
of soul with life's problems. The wise man will endure all that,
but will not choose it; he will prefer to be at peace rather than
at war. It helps little to have cast out your own faults if you
must quarrel with those of others. Says one: "There were thirty
tyrants surrounding Socrates, and yet they could not break his
spirit"; but what does it matter how many masters a man has?
"Slavery" has no plural; and he who has scorned it is free, – no
matter amid how large a mob of over-lords he stands.
It is time to stop, but not before I have paid duty. "The
knowledge of sin is the beginning of salvation." This saying of
Epicurus seems to me to be a noble one. For he who does not
know that he has sinned does not desire correction; you must
discover yourself in the wrong before you can reform yourself.
Some boast of their faults. Do you think that the man has any
thought of mending his ways who counts over his vices as if
they were virtues? Therefore, as far as possible, prove yourself
guilty, hunt up charges against yourself; play the part, first of
accuser, then of judge, last of intercessor. At times be harsh
with yourself. Farewell.
Letter XXIX - On the Critical Condition of
You have been inquiring about our friend Marcellinus and you
desire to know how he is getting along. He seldom comes to
see me, for no other reason than that he is afraid to hear the
truth, and at present he is removed from my danger of hearing
it; for one must not talk to a man unless he is willing to listen.
That is why it is often doubted whether Diogenes and the other
Cynics, who employed an undiscriminating freedom of speech
and offered advice to any who came in their way, ought to
have pursued such a plan. For what if one should chide the
deaf or those who are speechless from birth or by illness? But
you answer: "Why should I spare words? They cost nothing. I
cannot know whether I shall help the man to whom I give
advice; but I know well that I shall help someone if I advise
many. I must scatter this advice by the handful. It is impossible
that one who tries often should not sometime succeed."
This very thing, my dear Lucilius, is, I believe, exactly what a
great-souled man ought not to do; his influence is weakened; it
has too little effect upon those whom it might have set right if
it had not grown so stale. The archer ought not to hit the mark
only sometimes; he ought to miss it only sometimes. That
which takes effect by chance is not an art. Now wisdom is an
art; it should have a definite aim, choosing only those who will
make progress, but withdrawing from those whom it has come
to regard as hopeless, – yet not abandoning them too soon,
and just when the case is becoming hopeless trying drastic
As to our friend Marcellinus, I have not yet lost hope. He can
still be saved, but the helping hand must be offered soon.
There is indeed danger that he may pull his helper down; for
there is in him a native character of great vigour, though it is
already inclining to wickedness. Nevertheless I shall brave this
danger and be bold enough to show him his faults. He will act
in his usual way; he will have recourse to his wit, – the wit that
can call forth smiles even from mourners. He will turn the jest,
first against himself, and then against me. He will forestall
every word which I am about to utter. He will quiz our
philosophic systems; he will accuse philosophers of accepting
doles, keeping mistresses, and indulging their appetites. He
will point out to me one philosopher who has been caught in
adultery, another who haunts the cafes, and another who
appears at court. He will bring to my notice Aristo, the
philosopher of Marcus Lepidus, who used to hold discussions in
his carriage; for that was the time which he had taken for
editing his researches, so that Scaurus said of him when asked
to what school he belonged: "At any rate, he isn't one of the
Walking Philosophers." Julius Graecinus, too, a man of
distinction, when asked for an opinion on the same point,
replied: "I cannot tell you; for I don't know what he does when
dismounted," as if the query referred to a chariot-gladiator. It is
mountebanks of that sort, for whom it would be more
creditable to have left philosophy alone than to traffic in her,
whom Marcellinus will throw in my teeth. But I have decided to
put up with taunts; he may stir my laughter, but I perchance
shall stir him to tears; or, if he persist in his jokes, I shall
rejoice, so to speak, in the midst of sorrow, because he is
blessed with such a merry sort of lunacy. But that kind of
merriment does not last long. Observe such men, and you will
note that within a short space of time they laugh to excess and
rage to excess. It is my plan to approach him and to show him
how much greater was his worth when many thought it less.
Even though I shall not root out his faults, I shall put a check
upon them; they will not cease, but they will stop for a time;
and perhaps they will even cease, if they get the habit of
stopping. This is a thing not to be despised, since to men who
are seriously stricken the blessing of relief is a substitute for
health. So while I prepare myself to deal with Marcellinus, do
you in the meantime, who are able, and who understand
whence and whither you have made your way, and who for
that reason have an inkling of the distance yet to go, regulate
your character, rouse your courage, and stand firm in the face
of things which have terrified you. Do not count the number of
those who inspire fear in you. Would you not regard as foolish
one who was afraid of a multitude in a place where only one at
a time could pass? Just so, there are not many who have
access to you to slay you, though there are many who threaten
you with death. Nature has so ordered it that, as only one has
given you life, so only one will take it away.
If you had any shame, you would have let me off from paying
the last instalment. Still, I shall not be niggardly either, but
shall discharge my debts to the last penny and force upon you
what I still owe: "I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for
what I know, they do not approve, and what they approve, I do
not know." "Who said this?" you ask, as if you were ignorant
whom I am pressing into service; it is Epicurus. But this same
watchword rings in your ears from every sect, – Peripatetic,
Academic, Stoic, Cynic. For who that is pleased by virtue can
please the crowd? It takes trickery to win popular approval;
and you must needs make yourself like unto them; they will
withhold their approval if they do not recognise you as one of
themselves. However, what you think of yourself is much more
to the point than what others think of you. The favour of
ignoble men can be won only by ignoble means. What benefit,
then, will that vaunted philosophy confer, whose praises we
sing, and which, we are told, is to be preferred to every art and
every possession? Assuredly, it will make you prefer to please
yourself rather than the populace, it will make you weigh, and
not merely count, men's judgments, it will make you live
without fear of gods or men, it will make you either overcome
evils or end them. Otherwise, if I see you applauded by popular
acclamation, if your entrance upon the scene is greeted by a
roar of cheering and clapping, marks of distinction meet only
for actors, – if the whole state, even the women and children,
sing your praises, how can I help pitying you? For I know what
pathway leads to such popularity. Farewell.
Letter XXX - On Conquering the Conqueror
I have beheld Aufidius Bassus, that noble man, shattered in
health and wrestling with his years. But they already bear upon
him so heavily that he cannot be raised up; old age has settled
down upon him with great, – yes, with its entire, weight. You
know that his body was always delicate and sapless. For a long
time he has kept it in hand, or, to speak more correctly, has
kept it together; of a sudden it has collapsed. Just as in a ship
that springs a leak, you can always stop the first or the second
fissure, but when many holes begin to open and let in water,
the gaping hull cannot be saved; similarly, in an old man's
body, there is a certain limit up to which you can sustain and
prop its weakness. But when it comes to resemble a decrepit
building, when every joint begins to spread and while one is
being repaired another falls apart, – then it is time for a man to
look about him and consider how he may get out.
But the mind of our friend Bassus is active. Philosophy
bestows this boon upon us; it makes us joyful in the very sight
of death, strong and brave no matter in what state the body
may be, cheerful and never failing though the body fail us. A
great pilot can sail even when his canvas is rent; if his ship be
dismantled, he can yet put in trim what remains of her hull and
hold her to her course. This is what our friend Bassus is doing;
and he contemplates his own end with the courage and
countenance which you would regard as undue indifference in
a man who so contemplated another's.
This is a great accomplishment, Lucilius, and one which
needs long practice to learn, – to depart calmly when the
inevitable hour arrives. Other kinds of death contain an
ingredient of hope: a disease comes to an end; a fire is
quenched; falling houses have set down in safety those whom
they seemed certain to crush; the sea has cast ashore
unharmed those whom it had engulfed, by the same force
through which it drew them down; the soldier has drawn back
his sword from the very neck of his doomed foe. But those
whom old age is leading away to death have nothing to hope
for; old age alone grants no reprieve. No ending, to be sure, is
more painless; but there is none more lingering.
Our friend Bassus seemed to me to be attending his own
funeral, and laying out his own body for burial, and living
almost as if he had survived his own death, and bearing with
wise resignation his grief at his own departure. For he talks
freely about death, trying hard to persuade us that if this
process contains any element of discomfort or of fear, it is the
fault of the dying person, and not of death itself; also, that
there is no more inconvenience at the actual moment than
there is after it is over. "And it is just as insane," he adds, "for a
man to fear what will not happen to him, as to fear what he will
not feel if it does happen." Or does anyone imagine it to be
possible that the agency by which feeling is removed can be
itself felt? "Therefore," says Bassus, "death stands so far
beyond all evil that it is beyond all fear of evils."
I know that all this has often been said and should be often
repeated; but neither when I read them were such precepts so
effective with me, nor when I heard them from the lips of those
who were at a safe distance from the fear of the things which
they declared were not to be feared. But this old man had the
greatest weight with me when he discussed death and death
was near. For I must tell you what I myself think: I hold that
one is braver at the very moment of death than when one is
approaching death. For death, when it stands near us, gives
even to inexperienced men the courage not to seek to avoid
the inevitable. So the gladiator, who throughout the fight has
been no matter how faint-hearted, offers his throat to his
opponent and directs the wavering blade to the vital spot. But
an end that is near at hand, and is bound to come, calls for
tenacious courage of soul; this is a rarer thing, and none but
the wise man can manifest it.
Accordingly, I listened to Bassus with the deepest pleasure;
he was casting his vote concerning death and pointing out
what sort of a thing it is when it is observed, so to speak,
nearer at hand. I suppose that a man would have your
confidence in a larger degree, and would have more weight
with you, if he had come back to life and should declare from
experience that there is no evil in death; and so, regarding the
approach of death, those will tell you best what disquiet it
brings who have stood in its path, who have seen it coming
and have welcomed it. Bassus may be included among these
men; and he had no wish to deceive us. He says that it is as
foolish to fear death as to fear old age; for death follows old
age precisely as old age follows youth. He who does not wish
to die cannot have wished to live. For life is granted to us with
the reservation that we shall die; to this end our path leads.
Therefore, how foolish it is to fear it, since men simply await
that which is sure, but fear only that which is uncertain! Death
has its fixed rule, – equitable and unavoidable. Who can
complain when he is governed by terms which include
everyone? The chief part of equity, however, is equality.
But it is superfluous at the present time to plead Nature's
cause; for she wishes our laws to be identical with her own;
she but resolves that which she has compounded, and
compounds again that which she has resolved. Moreover, if it
falls to the lot of any man to be set gently adrift by old age, –
not suddenly torn from life, but withdrawn bit by bit, oh, verily
he should thank the gods, one and all, because, after he has
had his fill, he is removed to a rest which is ordained for
mankind, a rest that is welcome to the weary. You may observe
certain men who crave death even more earnestly than others
are wont to beg for life. And I do not know which men give us
greater courage, – those who call for death, or those who meet
it cheerfully and tranquilly, – for the first attitude is sometimes
inspired by madness and sudden anger, the second is the calm
which results from fixed judgment. Before now men have gone
to meet death in a fit of rage; but when death comes to meet
him, no one welcomes it cheerfully, except the man who has
long since composed himself for death.
I admit, therefore, that I have visited this dear friend of mine
more frequently on many pretexts, but with the purpose of
learning whether I should find him always the same, and
whether his mental strength was perhaps waning in company
with his bodily powers. But it was on the increase, just as the
joy of the charioteer is wont to show itself more clearly when
he is on the seventh round of the course, and nears the prize.
Indeed, he often said, in accord with the counsels of Epicurus:
"I hope, first of all, that there is no pain at the moment when a
man breathes his last; but if there is, one will find an element
of comfort in its very shortness. For no great pain lasts long.
And at all events, a man will find relief at the very time when
soul and body are being torn asunder, even though the process
be accompanied by excruciating pain, in the thought that after
this pain is over he can feel no more pain. I am sure, however,
that an old man's soul is on his very lips, and that only a little
force is necessary to disengage it from the body. A fire which
has seized upon a substance that sustains it needs water to
quench it, or, sometimes, the destruction of the building itself;
but the fire which lacks sustaining fuel dies away of its own
I am glad to hear such words, my dear Lucilius, not as new to
me, but as leading me into the presence of an actual fact. And
what then? Have I not seen many men break the thread of life?
I have indeed seen such men; but those have more weight
with me who approach death without any loathing for life,
letting death in, so to speak, and not pulling it towards them.
Bassus kept saying: "It is due to our own fault that we feel this
torture, because we shrink from dying only when we believe
that our end is near at hand." But who is not near death? It is
ready for us in all places and at all times. "Let us consider," he
went on to say, "when some agency of death seems imminent,
how much nearer are other varieties of dying which are not
feared by us." A man is threatened with death by an enemy,
but this form of death is anticipated by an attack of
indigestion. And if we are willing to examine critically the
various causes of our fear, we shall find that some exist, and
others only seem to be. We do not fear death; we fear the
thought of death. For death itself is always the same distance
from us; wherefore, if it is to be feared at all, it is to be feared
always. For what season of our life is exempt from death?
But what I really ought to fear is that you will hate this long
letter worse than death itself; so I shall stop. Do you, however,
always think on death in order that you may never fear it.
Letter XXXI - On Siren Songs
Now I recognize my Lucilius! He is beginning to reveal the
character of which he gave promise. Follow up the impulse
which prompted you to make for all that is best, treading under
your feet that which is approved by the crowd. I would not
have you greater or better than you planned; for in your case
the mere foundations have covered a large extent of ground;
only finish all that you have laid out, and take in hand the
plans which you have had in mind. In short, you will be a wise
man, if you stop up your ears; nor is it enough to close them
with wax; you need a denser stopple than that which they say
Ulysses used for his comrades. The song which he feared was
alluring, but came not from every side; the song, however,
which you have to fear, echoes round you not from a single
headland, but from every quarter of the world. Sail, therefore,
not past one region which you mistrust because of its
treacherous delights, but past every city. Be deaf to those who
love you most of all; they pray for bad things with good
intentions. And, if you would be happy, entreat the gods that
none of their fond desires for you may be brought to pass.
What they wish to have heaped upon you are not really good
things; there is only one good, the cause and the support of a
happy life, – trust in oneself. But this cannot be attained,
unless one has learned to despise toil and to reckon it among
the things which are neither good nor bad. For it is not possible
that a single thing should be bad at one time and good at
another, at times light and to be endured, and at times a cause
of dread. Work is not a good. Then what is a good? I say, the
scorning of work. That is why I should rebuke men who toil to
no purpose. But when, on the other hand, a man is struggling
towards honourable things, in proportion as he applies himself
more and more, and allows himself less and less to be beaten
or to halt, I shall recommend his conduct and shout my
encouragement, saying: "By so much you are better! Rise,
draw a fresh breath, and surmount that hill, if possible, at a
single spurt!"
Work is the sustenance of noble minds. There is, then, no
reason why, in accordance with that old vow of your parents,
you should pick and choose what fortune you wish should fall
to your lot, or what you should pray for; besides, it is base for a
man who has already travelled the whole round of highest
honours to be still importuning the gods. What need is there of
vows? Make yourself happy through your own efforts; you can
do this, if once you comprehend that whatever is blended with
virtue is good, and that whatever is joined to vice is bad. Just
as nothing gleams if it has no light blended with it, and nothing
is black unless it contains darkness or draws to itself
something of dimness, and as nothing is hot without the aid of
fire, and nothing cold without air; so it is the association of
virtue and vice that makes things honourable or base.
What then is good? The knowledge of things. What is evil?
The lack of knowledge of things. Your wise man, who is also a
craftsman, will reject or choose in each case as it suits the
occasion; but he does not fear that which he rejects, nor does
he admire that which he chooses, if only he has a stout and
unconquerable soul. I forbid you to be cast down or depressed.
It is not enough if you do not shrink from work; ask for it. "But,"
you say, "is not trifling and superfluous work, and work that
has been inspired by ignoble causes, a bad sort of work?" No;
no more than that which is expended upon noble endeavours,
since the very quality that endures toil and rouses itself to
hard and uphill effort, is of the spirit, which says: "Why do you
grow slack? It is not the part of a man to fear sweat." And
besides this, in order that virtue may be perfect, there should
be an even temperament and a scheme of life that is
consistent with itself throughout; and this result cannot be
attained without knowledge of things, and without the art
which enables us to understand things human and things
divine. That is the greatest good. If you seize this good, you
begin to be the associate of the gods, and not their suppliant.
"But how," you ask, "does one attain that goal?" You do not
need to cross the Pennine or Graian hills, or traverse the
Candavian waste, or face the Syrtes, or Scylla, or Charybdis,
although you have travelled through all these places for the
bribe of a petty governorship; the journey for which nature has
equipped you is safe and pleasant. She has given you such
gifts that you may, if you do not prove false to them, rise level
with God. Your money, however, will not place you on a level
with God; for God has no property. Your bordered robe will not
do this; for God is not clad in raiment; nor will your reputation,
nor a display of self, nor a knowledge of your name widespread throughout the world; for no one has knowledge of God;
many even hold him in low esteem, and do not suffer for so
doing. The throng of slaves which carries your litter along the
city streets and in foreign places will not help you; for this God
of whom I speak, though the highest and most powerful of
beings, carries all things on his own shoulders. Neither can
beauty or strength make you blessed, for none of these
qualities can withstand old age.
What we have to seek for, then, is that which does not each
day pass more and more under the control of some power
which cannot be withstood. And what is this? It is the soul, –
but the soul that is upright, good, and great. What else could
you call such a soul than a god dwelling as a guest in a human
body? A soul like this may descend into a Roman knight just as
well as into a freedman's son or a slave. For what is a Roman
knight, or a freedmen's son, or a slave? They are mere titles,
born of ambition or of wrong. One may leap to heaven from
the very slums. Only rise
And mould thyself to kinship with thy God.
This moulding will not be done in gold or silver; an image
that is to be in the likeness of God cannot be fashioned of such
materials; remember that the gods, when they were kind unto
men, were moulded in clay. Farewell.
Letter XXXII - On Progress
I have been asking about you, and inquiring of everyone who
comes from your part of the country, what you are doing, and
where you are spending your time, and with whom. You cannot
deceive me; for I am with you. Live just as if I were sure to get
news of your doings, nay, as if I were sure to behold them. And
if you wonder what particularly pleases me that I hear
concerning you, it is that I hear nothing, that most of those
whom I ask do not know what you are doing.
This is sound practice – to refrain from associating with men
of different stamp and different aims. And I am indeed
confident that you cannot be warped, that you will stick to
your purpose, even though the crowd may surround and seek
to distract you. What, then, is on my mind? I am not afraid lest
they work a change in you; but I am afraid lest they may
hinder your progress. And much harm is done even by one who
holds you back, especially since life is so short; and we make it
still shorter by our unsteadiness, by making ever fresh
beginnings at life, now one and immediately another. We break
up life into little bits, and fritter it away. Hasten ahead, then,
dearest Lucilius, and reflect how greatly you would quicken
your speed if an enemy were at your back, or if you suspected
the cavalry were approaching and pressing hard upon your
steps as you fled. It is true; the enemy is indeed pressing upon
you; you should therefore increase your speed and escape
away and reach a safe position, remembering continually what
a noble thing it is to round out your life before death comes,
and then await in peace the remaining portion of your time,
claiming nothing for yourself, since you are in possession of
the happy life; for such a life is not made happier for being
longer. O when shall you see the time when you shall know
that time means nothing to you, when you shall be peaceful
and calm, careless of the morrow, because you are enjoying
your life to the full?
Would you know what makes men greedy for the future? It is
because no one has yet found himself. Your parents, to be
sure, asked other blessings for you; but I myself pray rather
that you may despise all those things which your parents
wished for you in abundance. Their prayers plunder many
another person, simply that you may be enriched. Whatever
they make over to you must be removed from someone else. I
pray that you may get such control over yourself that your
mind, now shaken by wandering thoughts, may at last come to
rest and be steadfast, that it may be content with itself and,
having attained an understanding of what things are truly
good, – and they are in our possession as soon as we have this
knowledge, – that it may have no need of added years. He has
at length passed beyond all necessities – he has won his
honourable discharge and is free, – who still lives after his life
has been completed. Farewell.
Letter XXXIII - On the Futility of Learning
You wish me to close these letters also, as I closed my former
letters, with certain utterances taken from the chiefs of our
school. But they did not interest themselves in choice extracts;
the whole texture of their work is full of strength. There is
unevenness, you know, when some objects rise conspicuous
above others. A single tree is not remarkable if the whole
forest rises to the same height. Poetry is crammed with
utterances of this sort, and so is history. For this reason I would
not have you think that these utterances belong to Epicurus.
they are common property and are emphatically our own. They
are, however, more noteworthy in Epicurus, because they
appear at infrequent intervals and when you do not expect
them, and because it is surprising that brave words should be
spoken at any time by a man who made a practice of being
effeminate. For that is what most persons maintain. In my own
opinion, however, Epicurus is really a brave man, even though
he did wear long sleeves. Fortitude, energy, and readiness for
battle are to be found among the Persians, just as much as
among men who have girded themselves up high.
Therefore, you need not call upon me for extracts and
quotations; such thoughts as one may extract here and there
in the works of other philosophers run through the whole body
of our writings. Hence we have no "show-window goods," nor
do we deceive the purchaser in such a way that, if he enters
our shop, he will find nothing except that which is displayed in
the window. We allow the purchasers themselves to get their
samples from anywhere they please. Suppose we should desire
to sort out each separate motto from the general stock; to
whom shall we credit them? To Zeno, Cleanthes, Chrysippus,
Panaetius, or Posidonius? We Stoics are not subjects of a
despot: each of us lays claim to his own freedom. With them,
on the other hand, whatever Hermarchus says or Metrodorus,
is ascribed to one source. In that brotherhood, everything that
any man utters is spoken under the leadership and
commanding authority of one alone. We cannot, I maintain, no
matter how we try, pick out anything from so great a multitude
of things equally good.
Only the poor man counts his flock.
Wherever you direct your gaze, you will meet with something
that might stand out from the rest, if the context in which you
read it were not equally notable.
For this reason, give over hoping that you can skim, by
means of epitomes, the wisdom of distinguished men. Look
into their wisdom as a whole; study it as a whole. They are
working out a plan and weaving together, line upon line, a
masterpiece, from which nothing can be taken away without
injury to the whole. Examine the separate parts, if you like,
provided you examine them as parts of the man himself. She is
not a beautiful woman whose ankle or arm is praised, but she
whose general appearance makes you forget to admire her
single attributes.
If you insist, however, I shall not be niggardly with you, but
lavish; for there is a huge multitude of these passages; they
are scattered about in profusion, – they do not need to be
gathered together, but merely to be picked up. They do not
drip forth occasionally; they flow continuously. They are
unbroken and are closely connected. Doubtless they would be
of much benefit to those who are still novices and worshipping
outside the shrine; for single maxims sink in more easily when
they are marked off and bounded like a line of verse. That is
why we give to children a proverb, or that which the Greeks
call Chria, to be learned by heart; that sort of thing can be
comprehended by the young mind, which cannot as yet hold
more. For a man, however, whose progress is definite, to chase
after choice extracts and to prop his weakness by the best
known and the briefest sayings and to depend upon his
memory, is disgraceful; it is time for him to lean on himself. He
should make such maxims and not memorize them. For it is
disgraceful even for an old man, or one who has sighted old
age, to have a note-book knowledge. "This is what Zeno said."
But what have you yourself said? "This is the opinion of
Cleanthes." But what is your own opinion? How long shall you
march under another man's orders? Take command, and utter
some word which posterity will remember. Put forth something
from your own stock. For this reason I hold that there is
nothing of eminence in all such men as these, who never
create anything themselves, but always lurk in the shadow of
others, playing the role of interpreters, never daring to put
once into practice what they have been so long in learning.
They have exercised their memories on other men's material.
But it is one thing to remember, another to know.
Remembering is merely safeguarding something entrusted to
the memory; knowing, however, means making everything
your own; it means not depending upon the copy and not all
the time glancing back at the master. "Thus said Zeno, thus
said Cleanthes, indeed!" Let there be a difference between
yourself and your book! How long shall you be a learner? From
now on be a teacher as well! "But why," one asks, "should I
have to continue hearing lectures on what I can read?" "The
living voice," one replies, "is a great help." Perhaps, but not the
voice which merely makes itself the mouthpiece of another's
words, and only performs the duty of a reporter.
Consider this fact also. Those who have never attained their
mental independence begin, in the first place, by following the
leader in cases where everyone has deserted the leader; then,
in the second place, they follow him in matters where the truth
is still being investigated. However, the truth will never be
discovered if we rest contented with discoveries already made.
Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but
is not even investigating. What then? Shall I not follow in the
footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road,
but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to
travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these
discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides.
Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And
there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover. Farewell.
Letter XXXIV - On a Promising Pupil
I grow in spirit and leap for joy and shake off my years and
my blood runs warm again, whenever I understand, from your
actions and your letters, how far you have outdone yourself;
for as to the ordinary man, you left him in the rear long ago. If
the farmer is pleased when his tree develops so that it bears
fruit, if the shepherd takes pleasure in the increase of his
flocks, if every man regards his pupil as though he discerned in
him his own early manhood, – what, then, do you think are the
feelings of those who have trained a mind and moulded a
young idea, when they see it suddenly grown to maturity?
I claim you for myself; you are my handiwork. When I saw
your abilities, I laid my hand upon you, I exhorted you, I
applied the goad and did not permit you to march lazily, but
roused you continually. And now I do the same; but by this
time I am cheering on one who is in the race and so in turn
cheers me on.
"What else do you want of me, then?" you ask; "the will is
still mine." Well, the will in this case is almost everything, and
not merely the half, as in the proverb "A task once begun is
half done." It is more than half, for the matter of which we
speak is determined by the soul. Hence it is that the larger
part of goodness is the will to become good. You know what I
mean by a good man? One who is complete, finished, – whom
no constraint or need can render bad. I see such a person in
you, if only you go steadily on and bend to your task, and see
to it that all your actions and words harmonize and correspond
with each other and are stamped in the same mould. If a
man's acts are out of harmony, his soul is crooked. Farewell.
Letter XXXV - On the Friendship of Kindred
When I urge you so strongly to your studies, it is my own
interest which I am consulting; I want your friendship, and it
cannot fall to my lot unless you proceed, as you have begun,
with the task of developing yourself. For now, although you
love me, you are not yet my friend. "But," you reply, "are these
words of different meaning?" Nay, more, they are totally unlike
in meaning. A friend loves you, of course; but one who loves
you is not in every case your friend. Friendship, accordingly, is
always helpful, but love sometimes even does harm. Try to
perfect yourself, if for no other reason, in order that you may
learn how to love.
Hasten, therefore, in order that, while thus perfecting
yourself for my benefit, you may not have learned perfection
for the benefit of another. To be sure, I am already deriving
some profit by imagining that we two shall be of one mind, and
that whatever portion of my strength has yielded to age will
return to me from your strength, although there is not so very
much difference in our ages. But yet I wish to rejoice in the
accomplished fact. We feel a joy over those whom we love,
even when separated from them, but such a joy is light and
fleeting; the sight of a man, and his presence, and communion
with him, afford something of living pleasure; this is true, at
any rate, if one not only sees the man one desires, but the sort
of man one desires. Give yourself to me, therefore, as a gift of
great price, and, that you may strive the more, reflect that you
yourself are mortal, and that I am old. Hasten to find me, but
hasten to find yourself first. Make progress, and, before all
else, endeavour to be consistent with yourself. And when you
would find out whether you have accomplished anything,
consider whether you desire the same things today that you
desired yesterday. A shifting of the will indicates that the mind
is at sea, heading in various directions, according to the course
of the wind. But that which is settled and solid does not
wander from its place. This is the blessed lot of the completely
wise man, and also, to a certain extent, of him who is
progressing and has made some headway. Now what is the
difference between these two classes of men? The one is in
motion, to be sure, but does not change its position; it merely
tosses up and down where it is; the other is not in motion at
all. Farewell.
Letter XXXVI - On the Value of Retirement
Encourage your friend to despise stout-heartedly those who
upbraid him because he has sought the shade of retirement
and has abdicated his career of honours, and, though he might
have attained more, has preferred tranquillity to them all. Let
him prove daily to these detractors how wisely he has looked
out for his own interests. Those whom men envy will continue
to march past him; some will be pushed out of the ranks, and
others will fall. Prosperity is a turbulent thing; it torments itself.
It stirs the brain in more ways than one, goading men on to
various aims, – some to power, and others to high living. Some
it puffs up; others it slackens and wholly enervates.
"But," the retort comes, "so-and-so carries his prosperity
well." Yes; just as he carries his liquor. So you need not let this
class of men persuade you that one who is besieged by the
crowd is happy; they run to him as crowds rush for a pool of
water, rendering it muddy while they drain it. But you say:
"Men call our friend a trifler and a sluggard." There are men,
you know, whose speech is awry, who use the contrary terms.
They called him happy; what of it? Was he happy? Even the
fact that to certain persons he seems a man of a very rough
and gloomy cast of mind, does not trouble me. Aristo used to
say that he preferred a youth of stern disposition to one who
was a jolly fellow and agreeable to the crowd. "For," he added,
"wine which, when new, seemed harsh and sour, becomes
good wine; but that which tasted well at the vintage cannot
stand age." So let them call him stern and a foe to his own
advancement, it is just this sternness that will go well when it
is aged, provided only that he continues to cherish virtue and
to absorb thoroughly the studies which make for culture, – not
those with which it is sufficient for a man to sprinkle himself,
but those in which the mind should be steeped. Now is the
time to learn. "What? Is there any time when a man should not
learn?" By no means; but just as it is creditable for every age
to study, so it is not creditable for every age to be instructed.
An old man learning his A B C is a disgraceful and absurd
object; the young man must store up, the old man must use.
You will therefore be doing a thing most helpful to yourself if
you make this friend of yours as good a man as possible; those
kindnesses, they tell us, are to be both sought for and
bestowed, which benefit the giver no less than the receiver;
and they are unquestionably the best kind.
Finally, he has no longer any freedom in the matter; he has
pledged his word. And it is less disgraceful to compound with a
creditor than to compound with a promising future. To pay his
debt of money, the business man must have a prosperous
voyage, the farmer must have fruitful fields and kindly
weather; but the debt which your friend owes can be
completely paid by mere goodwill. Fortune has no jurisdiction
over character. Let him so regulate his character that in
perfect peace he may bring to perfection that spirit within him
which feels neither loss nor gain, but remains in the same
attitude, no matter how things fall out. A spirit like this, if it is
heaped with worldly goods, rises superior to its wealth; if, on
the other hand, chance has stripped him of a part of his
wealth, or even all, it is not impaired.
If your friend had been born in Parthia, he would have begun,
when a child, to bend the bow; if in Germany, he would
forthwith have been brandishing his slender spear; if he had
been born in the days of our forefathers, he would have
learned to ride a horse and smite his enemy hand to hand.
These are the occupations which the system of each race
recommends to the individual, – yes, prescribes for him. To
what, then, shall this friend of yours devote his attention? I
say, let him learn that which is helpful against all weapons,
against every kind of foe, – contempt of death; because no one
doubts that death has in it something that inspires terror, so
that it shocks even our souls, which nature has so moulded
that they love their own existence; for otherwise there would
be no need to prepare ourselves, and to whet our courage, to
face that towards which we should move with a sort of
voluntary instinct, precisely as all men tend to preserve their
existence. No man learns a thing in order that, if necessity
arises, he may lie down with composure upon a bed of roses;
but he steels his courage to this end, that he may not
surrender his plighted faith to torture, and that, if need be, he
may some day stay out his watch in the trenches, even though
wounded, without even leaning on his spear; because sleep is
likely to creep over men who support themselves by any prop
In death there is nothing harmful; for there must exist
something to which it is harmful. And yet, if you are possessed
by so great a craving for a longer life, reflect that none of the
objects which vanish from our gaze and are re-absorbed into
the world of things, from which they have come forth and are
soon to come forth again, is annihilated; they merely end their
course and do not perish. And death, which we fear and shrink
from, merely interrupts life, but does not steal it away; the
time will return when we shall be restored to the light of day;
and many men would object to this, were they not brought
back in forgetfulness of the past.
But I mean to show you later, with more care, that
everything which seems to perish merely changes. Since you
are destined to return, you ought to depart with a tranquil
mind. Mark how the round of the universe repeats its course;
you will see that no star in our firmament is extinguished, but
that they all set and rise in alternation. Summer has gone, but
another year will bring it again; winter lies low, but will be
restored by its own proper months; night has overwhelmed the
sun, but day will soon rout the night again. The wandering
stars retrace their former courses; a part of the sky is rising
unceasingly, and a part is sinking. One word more, and then I
shall stop; infants, and boys, and those who have gone mad,
have no fear of death, and it is most shameful if reason cannot
afford us that peace of mind to which they have been brought
by their folly. Farewell.
Letter XXXVII - On Allegiance to Virtue
You have promised to be a good man; you have enlisted
under oath; that is the strongest chain which will hold you to a
sound understanding. Any man will be but mocking you, if he
declares that this is an effeminate and easy kind of soldiering. I
will not have you deceived. The word of this most honourable
compact are the same as the words of that most disgraceful
one, to wit: "Through burning, imprisonment, or death by the
sword." From the men who hire out their strength for the
arena, who eat and drink what they must pay for with their
blood, security is taken that they will endure such trials even
though they be unwilling; from you, that you will endure them
willingly and with alacrity. The gladiator may lower his weapon
and test the pity of the people; but you will neither lower your
weapon nor beg for life. You must die erect and unyielding.
Moreover, what profit is it to gain a few days or a few years?
There is no discharge for us from the moment we are born.
"Then how can I free myself?" you ask. You cannot escape
necessities, but you can overcome them
By force a way is made.
And this way will be afforded you by philosophy. Betake
yourself therefore to philosophy if you would be safe,
untroubled, happy, in fine, if you wish to be, – and that is most
important, – free. There is no other way to attain this end. Folly
is low, abject, mean, slavish, and exposed to many of the
cruellest passions. These passions, which are heavy
taskmasters, sometimes ruling by turns, and sometimes
together, can be banished from you by wisdom, which is the
only real freedom. There is but one path leading thither, and it
is a straight path; you will not go astray. Proceed with steady
step, and if you would have all things under your control, put
yourself under the control of reason; if reason becomes your
ruler, you will become ruler over many. You will learn from her
what you should undertake, and how it should be done; you
will not blunder into things. You can show me no man who
knows how he began to crave that which he craves. He has not
been led to that pass by forethought; he has been driven to it
by impulse. Fortune attacks us as often as we attack Fortune.
It is disgraceful, instead of proceeding ahead, to be carried
along, and then suddenly, amid the whirlpool of events, to ask
in a dazed way: "How did I get into this condition?" Farewell.
Letter XXXVIII - On Quiet Conversation
You are right when you urge that we increase our mutual
traffic in letters. But the greatest benefit is to be derived from
conversation, because it creeps by degrees into the soul.
Lectures prepared beforehand and spouted in the presence of
a throng have in them more noise but less intimacy. Philosophy
is good advice; and no one can give advice at the top of his
lungs. Of course we must sometimes also make use of these
harangues, if I may so call them, when a doubting member
needs to be spurred on; but when the aim is to make a man
learn and not merely to make him wish to learn, we must have
recourse to the low-toned words of conversation. They enter
more easily, and stick in the memory; for we do not need
many words, but, rather, effective words.
Words should be scattered like seed; no matter how small
the seed may be, if it has once found favourable ground, it
unfolds its strength and from an insignificant thing spreads to
its greatest growth. Reason grows in the same way; it is not
large to the outward view, but increases as it does its work.
Few words are spoken; but if the mind has truly caught them,
they come into their strength and spring up. Yes, precepts and
seeds have the same quality; they produce much, and yet they
are slight things. Only, as I said, let a favourable mind receive
and assimilate them. Then of itself the mind also will produce
bounteously in its turn, giving back more than it has received.
Letter XXXIX - On Noble Aspirations
I shall indeed arrange for you, in careful order and narrow
compass, the notes which you request. But consider whether
you may not get more help from the customary method than
from that which is now commonly called a "breviary," though
in the good old days, when real Latin was spoken, it was called
a "summary." The former is more necessary to one who is
learning a subject, the latter to one who knows it. For the one
teaches, the other stirs the memory. But I shall give you
abundant opportunity for both. A man like you should not ask
me for this authority or that; he who furnishes a voucher for
his statements argues himself unknown. I shall therefore write
exactly what you wish, but I shall do it in my own way; until
then, you have many authors whose works will presumably
keep your ideas sufficiently in order. Pick up the list of the
philosophers; that very act will compel you to wake up, when
you see how many men have been working for your benefit.
You will desire eagerly to be one of them yourself, for this is
the most excellent quality that the noble soul has within itself,
that it can be roused to honourable things.
No man of exalted gifts is pleased with that which is low and
mean; the vision of great achievement summons him and
uplifts him. Just as the flame springs straight into the air and
cannot be cabined or kept down any more than it can repose in
quiet, so our soul is always in motion, and the more ardent it
is, the greater its motion and activity. But happy is the man
who has given it this impulse toward better things! He will
place himself beyond the jurisdiction of chance; he will wisely
control prosperity; he will lessen adversity, and will despise
what others hold in admiration. It is the quality of a great soul
to scorn great things and to prefer that which is ordinary rather
than that which is too great. For the one condition is useful and
life-giving; but the other does harm just because it is
excessive. Similarly, too rich a soil makes the grain fall flat,
branches break down under too heavy a load, excessive
productiveness does not bring fruit to ripeness. This is the case
with the soul also; for it is ruined by uncontrolled prosperity,
which is used not only to the detriment of others, but also to
the detriment of itself. What enemy was ever so insolent to
any opponent as are their pleasures to certain men? The only
excuse that we can allow for the incontinence and mad lust of
these men is the fact that they suffer the evils which they have
inflicted upon others. And they are rightly harassed by this
madness, because desire must have unbounded space for its
excursions, if it transgresses nature's mean. For this has its
bounds, but waywardness and the acts that spring from wilful
lust are without boundaries. Utility measures our needs; but by
what standard can you check the superfluous? It is for this
reason that men sink themselves in pleasures, and they cannot
do without them when once they have become accustomed to
them, and for this reason they are most wretched, because
they have reached such a pass that what was once superfluous
to them has become indispensable. And so they are the slaves
of their pleasures instead of enjoying them; they even love
their own ills, – and that is the worst ill of all! Then it is that the
height of unhappiness is reached, when men are not only
attracted, but even pleased, by shameful things, and when
there is no longer any room for a cure, now that those things
which once were vices have become habits. Farewell.
Letter XL - On the Proper Style for a
Philosopher's Discourse
I thank you for writing to me so often; for you are revealing
your real self to me in the only way you can. I never receive a
letter from you without being in your company forthwith. If the
pictures of our absent friends are pleasing to us, though they
only refresh the memory and lighten our longing by a solace
that is unreal and unsubstantial, how much more pleasant is a
letter, which brings us real traces, real evidences, of an absent
friend! For that which is sweetest when we meet face to face is
afforded by the impress of a friend's hand upon his letter, –
You write me that you heard a lecture by the philosopher
Serapio, when he landed at your present place of residence.
"He is wont," you say, "to wrench up his words with a mighty
rush, and he does not let them flow forth one by one, but
makes them crowd and dash upon each other. For the words
come in such quantity that a single voice is inadequate to utter
them." I do not approve of this in a philosopher; his speech,
like his life, should be composed; and nothing that rushes
headlong and is hurried is well ordered. That is why, in Homer,
the rapid style, which sweeps down without a break like a
snow-squall, is assigned to the younger speaker; from the old
man eloquence flows gently, sweeter than honey.
Therefore, mark my words; that forceful manner of speech,
rapid and copious, is more suited to a mountebank than to a
man who is discussing and teaching an important and serious
subject. But I object just as strongly that he should drip out his
words as that he should go at top speed; he should neither
keep the ear on the stretch, nor deafen it. For that povertystricken and thin-spun style also makes the audience less
attentive because they are weary of its stammering slowness;
nevertheless, the word which has been long awaited sinks in
more easily than the word which flits past us on the wing.
Finally, people speak of "handing down" precepts to their
pupils; but one is not "handing down" that which eludes the
grasp. Besides, speech that deals with the truth should be
unadorned and plain. This popular style has nothing to do with
the truth; its aim is to impress the common herd, to ravish
heedless ears by its speed; it does not offer itself for
discussion, but snatches itself away from discussion. But how
can that speech govern others which cannot itself be
governed? May I not also remark that all speech which is
employed for the purpose of healing our minds, ought to sink
into us? Remedies do not avail unless they remain in the
Besides, this sort of speech contains a great deal of sheer
emptiness; it has more sound than power. My terrors should be
quieted, my irritations soothed, my illusions shaken off, my
indulgences checked, my greed rebuked. And which of these
cures can be brought about in a hurry? What physician can
heal his patient on a flying visit? May I add that such a jargon
of confused and ill-chosen words cannot afford pleasure,
either? No; but just as you are well satisfied, in the majority of
cases, to have seen through tricks which you did not think
could possibly be done, so in the case of these word-gymnasts
to have heard them once is amply sufficient. For what can a
man desire to learn or to imitate in them? What is he to think
of their souls, when their speech is sent into the charge in
utter disorder, and cannot be kept in hand? Just as, when you
run down hill, you cannot stop at the point where you had
decided to stop, but your steps are carried along by the
momentum of your body and are borne beyond the place
where you wished to halt; so this speed of speech has no
control over itself, nor is it seemly for philosophy; since
philosophy should carefully place her words, not fling them
out, and should proceed step by step.
"What then?" you say; "should not philosophy sometimes
take a loftier tone?" Of course she should; but dignity of
character should be preserved, and this is stripped away by
such violent and excessive force. Let philosophy possess great
forces, but kept well under control; let her stream flow
unceasingly, but never become a torrent. And I should hardly
allow even to an orator a rapidity of speech like this, which
cannot be called back, which goes lawlessly ahead; for how
could it be followed by jurors, who are often inexperienced and
untrained? Even when the orator is carried away by his desire
to show off his powers, or by uncontrollable emotion, even
then he should not quicken his pace and heap up words to an
extent greater than the ear can endure.
You will be acting rightly, therefore, if you do not regard
those men who seek how much they may say, rather than how
they shall say it, and if for yourself you choose, provided a
choice must be made, to speak as Publius Vinicius the
stammerer does. When Asellius was asked how Vinicius spoke,
he replied: "Gradually"! (It was a remark of Geminus Varius, by
the way: "I don't see how you can call that man 'eloquent';
why, he can't get out three words together.") Why, then,
should you not choose to speak as Vinicius does? Though of
course some wag may cross your path, like the person who
said, when Vinicius was dragging out his words one by one, as
if he were dictating and not speaking. "Say, haven't you
anything to say?" And yet that were the better choice, for the
rapidity of Quintus Haterius, the most famous orator of his age,
is, in my opinion, to be avoided by a man of sense. Haterius
never hesitated, never paused; he made only one start, and
only one stop.
However, I suppose that certain styles of speech are more or
less suitable to nations also; in a Greek you can put up with
the unrestrained style, but we Romans, even when writing,
have become accustomed to separate our words. And our
compatriot Cicero, with whom Roman oratory sprang into
prominence, was also a slow pacer. The Roman language is
more inclined to take stock of itself, to weigh, and to offer
something worth weighing. Fabianius, a man noteworthy
because of his life, his knowledge, and, less important than
either of these, his eloquence also, used to discuss a subject
with dispatch rather than with haste; hence you might call it
ease rather than speed. I approve this quality in the wise man;
but I do not demand it; only let his speech proceed
unhampered, though I prefer that it should be deliberately
uttered rather than spouted.
However, I have this further reason for frightening you away
from the latter malady, namely, that you could only be
successful in practising this style by losing your sense of
modesty; you would have to rub all shame from your
countenance, and refuse to hear yourself speak. For that
heedless flow will carry with it many expressions which you
would wish to criticize. And, I repeat, you could not attain it
and at the same time preserve your sense of shame.
Moreover, you would need to practise every day, and transfer
your attention from subject matter to words. But words, even if
they came to you readily and flowed without any exertion on
your part, yet would have to be kept under control. For just as
a less ostentatious gait becomes a philosopher, so does a
restrained style of speech, far removed from boldness.
Therefore, the ultimate kernel of my remarks is this: I bid you
be slow of speech. Farewell
Letter XLI - On the God within Us
You are doing an excellent thing, one which will be
wholesome for you, if, as you write me, you are persisting in
your effort to attain sound understanding; it is foolish to pray
for this when you can acquire it from yourself. We do not need
to uplift our hands towards heaven, or to beg the keeper of a
temple to let us approach his idol's ear, as if in this way our
prayers were more likely to be heard. God is near you, he is
with you, he is within you. This is what I mean, Lucilius: a holy
spirit indwells within us, one who marks our good and bad
deeds, and is our guardian. As we treat this spirit, so are we
treated by it. Indeed, no man can be good without the help of
God. Can one rise superior to fortune unless God helps him to
rise? He it is that gives noble and upright counsel. In each
good man
A god doth dwell, but what god know we not.
If ever you have come upon a grove that is full of ancient
trees which have grown to an unusual height, shutting out a
view of the sky by a veil of pleached and intertwining
branches, then the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the
spot, and your marvel at the thick unbroken shade in the midst
of the open spaces, will prove to you the presence of deity. Or
if a cave, made by the deep crumbling of the rocks, holds up a
mountain on its arch, a place not built with hands but hollowed
out into such spaciousness by natural causes, your soul will be
deeply moved by a certain intimation of the existence of God.
We worship the sources of mighty rivers; we erect altars at
places where great streams burst suddenly from hidden
sources; we adore springs of hot water as divine, and
consecrate certain pools because of their dark waters or their
immeasurable depth. If you see a man who is unterrified in the
midst of dangers, untouched by desires, happy in adversity,
peaceful amid the storm, who looks down upon men from a
higher plane, and views the gods on a footing of equality, will
not a feeling of reverence for him steal over you, will you not
say: "This quality is too great and too lofty to be regarded as
resembling this petty body in which it dwells? A divine power
has descended upon that man." When a soul rises superior to
other souls, when it is under control, when it passes through
every experience as if it were of small account, when it smiles
at our fears and at our prayers, it is stirred by a force from
heaven. A thing like this cannot stand upright unless it be
propped by the divine. Therefore, a greater part of it abides in
that place from whence it came down to earth. Just as the rays
of the sun do indeed touch the earth, but still abide at the
source from which they are sent; even so the great and
hallowed soul, which has come down in order that we may
have a nearer knowledge of divinity, does indeed associate
with us, but still cleaves to its origin; on that source it depends,
thither it turns its gaze and strives to go, and it concerns itself
with our doings only as a being superior to ourselves.
What, then, is such a soul? One which is resplendent with no
external good, but only with its own. For what is more foolish
than to praise in a man the qualities which come from without?
And what is more insane than to marvel at characteristics
which may at the next instant be passed on to someone else?
A golden bit does not make a better horse. The lion with gilded
mane, in process of being trained and forced by weariness to
endure the decoration, is sent into the arena in quite a
different way from the wild lion whose spirit is unbroken; the
latter, indeed, bold in his attack, as nature wished him to be,
impressive because of his wild appearance, – and it is his glory
that none can look upon him without fear, – is favoured in
preference to the other lion, that languid and gilded brute.
No man ought to glory except in that which is his own. We
praise a vine if it makes the shoots teem with increase, if by its
weight it bends to the ground the very poles which hold its
fruit; would any man prefer to this vine one from which golden
grapes and golden leaves hang down? In a vine the virtue
peculiarly its own is fertility; in man also we should praise that
which is his own. Suppose that he has a retinue of comely
slaves and a beautiful house, that his farm is large and large
his income; none of these things is in the man himself; they
are all on the outside. Praise the quality in him which cannot
be given or snatched away, that which is the peculiar property
of the man. Do you ask what this is? It is soul, and reason
brought to perfection in the soul. For man is a reasoning
animal. Therefore, man's highest good is attained, if he has
fulfilled the good for which nature designed him at birth. And
what is it which this reason demands of him? The easiest thing
in the world, – to live in accordance with his own nature. But
this is turned into a hard task by the general madness of
mankind; we push one another into vice. And how can a man
be recalled to salvation, when he has none to restrain him, and
all mankind to urge him on? Farewell.
Letter XLII - On Values
Has that friend of yours already made you believe that he is
a good man? And yet it is impossible in so short a time for one
either to become good or be known as such. Do you know
what kind of man I now mean when I speak of "a good man"? I
mean one of the second grade, like your friend. For one of the
first class perhaps springs into existence, like the phoenix, only
once in five hundred years. And it is not surprising, either, that
greatness develops only at long intervals; Fortune often brings
into being commonplace powers, which are born to please the
mob; but she holds up for our approval that which is
extraordinary by the very fact that she makes it rare.
This man, however, of whom you spoke, is still far from the
state which he professes to have reached. And if he knew what
it meant to be "a good man," he would not yet believe himself
such; perhaps he would even despair of his ability to become
good. "But," you say, "he thinks ill of evil men." Well, so do evil
men themselves; and there is no worse penalty for vice than
the fact that it is dissatisfied with itself and all its fellows. "But
he hates those who make an ungoverned use of great power
suddenly acquired." I retort that he will do the same thing as
soon as he acquires the same powers. In the case of many
men, their vices, being powerless, escape notice; although, as
soon as the persons in question have become satisfied with
their own strength, the vices will be no less daring than those
which prosperity has already disclosed. These men simply lack
the means whereby they may unfold their wickedness.
Similarly, one can handle even a poisonous snake while it is
stiff with cold; the poison is not lacking; it is merely numbed
into inaction. In the case of many men, their cruelty, ambition,
and indulgence only lack the favour of Fortune to make them
dare crimes that would match the worst. That their wishes are
the same you will in a moment discover, in this way: give them
the power equal to their wishes.
Do you remember how, when you declared that a certain
person was under your influence, I pronounced him fickle and
a bird of passage, and said that you held him not by the foot
but merely by a wing? Was I mistaken? You grasped him only
by a feather; he left it in your hands and escaped. You know
what an exhibition he afterwards made of himself before you,
how many of the things he attempted were to recoil upon his
own head. He did not see that in endangering others he was
tottering to his own downfall. He did not reflect how
burdensome were the objects which he was bent upon
attaining, even if they were not superfluous.
Therefore, with regard to the objects which we pursue, and
for which we strive with great effort, we should note this truth;
either there is nothing desirable in them, or the undesirable is
preponderant. Some objects are superfluous; others are not
worth the price we pay for them. But we do not see this
clearly, and we regard things as free gifts when they really cost
us very dear. Our stupidity may be clearly proved by the fact
that we hold that "buying" refers only to the objects for which
we pay cash, and we regard as free gifts the things for which
we spend our very selves. These we should refuse to buy, if we
were compelled to give in payment for them our houses or
some attractive and profitable estate; but we are eager to
attain them at the cost of anxiety, of danger, and of lost
honour, personal freedom, and time; so true it is that each
man regards nothing as cheaper than himself.
Let us therefore act, in all our plans and conduct, just as we
are accustomed to act whenever we approach a huckster who
has certain wares for sale; let us see how much we must pay
for that which we crave. Very often the things that cost nothing
cost us the most heavily; I can show you many objects the
quest and acquisition of which have wrested freedom from our
hands. We should belong to ourselves, if only these things did
not belong to us.
I would therefore have you reflect thus, not only when it is a
question of gain, but also when it is a question of loss. "This
object is bound to perish." Yes, it was a mere extra; you will
live without it just as easily as you have lived before. If you
have possessed it for a long time, you lose it after you have
had your fill of it; if you have not possessed it long, then you
lose it before you have become wedded to it. "You will have
less money." Yes, and less trouble. "Less influence." Yes, and
less envy. Look about you and note the things that drive us
mad, which we lose with a flood of tears; you will perceive that
it is not the loss that troubles us with reference to these things,
but a notion of loss. No one feels that they have been lost, but
his mind tells him that it has been so. He that owns himself has
lost nothing. But how few men are blessed with ownership of
self! Farewell.
Letter XLIII - On the Relativity of Fame
Do you ask how the news reached me, and who informed
me, that you were entertaining this idea, of which you had said
nothing to a single soul? It was that most knowing of persons, –
gossip. "What," you say, "am I such a great personage that I
can stir up gossip?" Now there is no reason why you should
measure yourself according to this part of the world; have
regard only to the place where you are dwelling. Any point
which rises above adjacent points is great, at the spot where it
rises. For greatness is not absolute; comparison increases it or
lessens it. A ship which looms large in the river seems tiny
when on the ocean. A rudder which is large for one vessel, is
small for another.
So you in your province are really of importance, though you
scorn yourself. Men are asking what you do, how you dine, and
how you sleep, and they find out, too; hence there is all the
more reason for your living circumspectly. Do not, however,
deem yourself truly happy until you find that you can live
before men's eyes, until your walls protect but do not hide you;
although we are apt to believe that these walls surround us,
not to enable us to live more safely, but that we may sin more
secretly. I shall mention a fact by which you may weigh the
worth of a man's character: you will scarcely find anyone who
can live with his door wide open. It is our conscience, not our
pride, that has put doorkeepers at our doors; we live in such a
fashion that being suddenly disclosed to view is equivalent to
being caught in the act. What profits it, however, to hide
ourselves away, and to avoid the eyes and ears of men? A
good conscience welcomes the crowd, but a bad conscience,
even in solitude, is disturbed and troubled. If your deeds are
honourable, let everybody know them; if base, what matters it
that no one knows them, as long as you yourself know them?
How wretched you are if you despise such a witness! Farewell.
Letter XLIV - On Philosophy and Pedigrees
You are again insisting to me that you are a nobody, and
saying that nature in the first place, and fortune in the second,
have treated you too scurvily, and this in spite of the fact that
you have it in your power to separate yourself from the crowd
and rise to the highest human happiness! If there is any good
in philosophy, it is this, – that it never looks into pedigrees. All
men, if traced back to their original source, spring from the
gods. You are a Roman knight, and your persistent work
promoted you to this class; yet surely there are many to whom
the fourteen rows are barred; the senate-chamber is not open
to all; the army, too, is scrupulous in choosing those whom it
admits to toil and danger. But a noble mind is free to all men;
according to this test, we may all gain distinction. Philosophy
neither rejects nor selects anyone; its light shines for all.
Socrates was no aristocrat. Cleanthes worked at a well and
served as a hired man watering a garden. Philosophy did not
find Plato already a nobleman; it made him one. Why then
should you despair of becoming able to rank with men like
these? They are all your ancestors, if you conduct yourself in a
manner worthy of them; and you will do so if you convince
yourself at the outset that no man outdoes you in real nobility.
We have all had the same number of forefathers; there is no
man whose first beginning does not transcend memory. Plato
says: "Every king springs from a race of slaves, and every
slave has had kings among his ancestors." The flight of time,
with its vicissitudes, has jumbled all such things together, and
Fortune has turned them upside down. Then who is well-born?
He who is by nature well fitted for virtue. That is the one point
to be considered; otherwise, if you hark back to antiquity,
every one traces back to a date before which there is nothing.
From the earliest beginnings of the universe to the present
time, we have been led forward out of origins that were
alternately illustrious and ignoble. A hall full of smokebegrimed busts does not make the nobleman. No past life has
been lived to lend us glory, and that which has existed before
us is not ours; the soul alone renders us noble, and it may rise
superior to Fortune out of any earlier condition, no matter what
that condition has been.
Suppose, then, that you were not that Roman knight, but a
freedman, you might nevertheless by your own efforts come to
be the only free man amid a throng of gentlemen. "How?" you
ask. Simply by distinguishing between good and bad things
without patterning your opinion from the populace. You should
look, not to the source from which these things come, but to
the goal towards which they tend. If there is anything that can
make life happy, it is good on its own merits; for it cannot
degenerate into evil. Where, then, lies the mistake, since all
men crave the happy life? It is that they regard the means for
producing happiness as happiness itself, and, while seeking
happiness, they are really fleeing from it. For although the sum
and substance of the happy life is unalloyed freedom from
care, and though the secret of such freedom is unshaken
confidence, yet men gather together that which causes worry,
and, while travelling life's treacherous road, not only have
burdens to bear, but even draw burdens to themselves; hence
they recede farther and farther from the achievement of that
which they seek, and the more effort they expend, the more
they hinder themselves and are set back. This is what happens
when you hurry through a maze; the faster you go, the worse
you are entangled. Farewell.
Letter XLV - On Sophistical Argumentation
You complain that in your part of the world there is a scant
supply of books. But it is quality, rather than quantity, that
matters; a limited list of reading benefits; a varied assortment
serves only for delight. He who would arrive at the appointed
end must follow a single road and not wander through many
ways. What you suggest is not travelling; it is mere tramping.
"But," you say, "I should rather have you give me advice
than books." Still, I am ready to send you all the books I have,
to ransack the whole storehouse. If it were possible, I should
join you there myself; and were it not for the hope that you will
soon complete your term of office, I should have imposed upon
myself this old man's journey; no Scylla or Charybdis or their
storied straits could have frightened me away. I should not
only have crossed over, but should have been willing to swim
over those waters, provided that I could greet you and judge in
your presence how much you had grown in spirit.
Your desire, however, that I should dispatch to you my own
writings does not make me think myself learned, any more
than a request for my picture would flatter my beauty. I know
that it is due to your charity rather than to your judgment. And
even if it is the result of judgment, it was charity that forced
the judgment upon you. But whatever the quality of my works
may be, read them as if I were still seeking, and were not
aware of, the truth, and were seeking it obstinately, too. For I
have sold myself to no man; I bear the name of no master. I
give much credit to the judgment of great men; but I claim
something also for my own. For these men, too, have left to us,
not positive discoveries, but problems whose solution is still to
be sought. They might perhaps have discovered the essentials,
had they not sought the superfluous also. They lost much time
in quibbling about words and in sophistical argumentation; all
that sort of thing exercises the wit to no purpose. We tie knots
and bind up words in double meanings, and then try to untie
Have we leisure enough for this? Do we already know how to
live, or die? We should rather proceed with our whole souls
towards the point where it is our duty to take heed lest things,
as well as words, deceive us. Why, pray, do you discriminate
between similar words, when nobody is ever deceived by them
except during the discussion? It is things that lead us astray: it
is between things that you must discriminate. We embrace evil
instead of good; we pray for something opposite to that which
we have prayed for in the past. Our prayers clash with our
prayers, our plans with our plans. How closely flattery
resembles friendship! It not only apes friendship, but outdoes
it, passing it in the race; with wide-open and indulgent ears it
is welcomed and sinks to the depths of the heart, and it is
pleasing precisely wherein it does harm. Show me how I may
be able to see through this resemblance! An enemy comes to
me full of compliments, in the guise of a friend. Vices creep
into our hearts under the name of virtues, rashness lurks
beneath the appellation of bravery, moderation is called
sluggishness, and the coward is regarded as prudent; there is
great danger if we go astray in these matters. So stamp them
with special labels.
Then, too, the man who is asked whether he has horns on his
head is not such a fool as to feel for them on his forehead, nor
again so silly or dense that you can persuade him by means of
argumentation, no matter how subtle, that he does not know
the facts. Such quibbles are just as harmlessly deceptive as
the juggler's cup and dice, in which it is the very trickery that
pleases me. But show me how the trick is done, and I have lost
my interest therein. And I hold the same opinion about these
tricky word-plays; for by what other name can one call such
sophistries? Not to know them does no harm, and mastering
them does no good. At any rate, if you wish to sift doubtful
meanings of this kind, teach us that the happy man is not he
whom the crowd deems happy, namely, he into whose coffers
mighty sums have flowed, but he whose possessions are all in
his soul, who is upright and exalted, who spurns inconstancy,
who sees no man with whom he wishes to change places, who
rates men only at their value as men, who takes Nature for his
teacher, conforming to her laws and living as she commands,
whom no violence can deprive of his possessions, who turns
evil into good, is unerring in judgment, unshaken, unafraid,
who may be moved by force but never moved to distraction,
whom Fortune when she hurls at him with all her might the
deadliest missile in her armoury, may graze, though rarely, but
never wound. For Fortune's other missiles, with which she
vanquishes mankind in general, rebound from such a one, like
hail which rattles on the roof with no harm to the dweller
therein, and then melts away.
Why do you bore me with that which you yourself call the
"liar fallacy,"about which so many books have been written?
Come now, suppose that my whole life is a lie; prove that to be
wrong and, if you are sharp enough, bring that back to the
truth. At present it holds things to be essential of which the
greater part is superfluous. And even that which is not
superfluous is of no significance in respect to its power of
making one fortunate and blest. For if a thing be necessary, it
does not follow that it is a good. Else we degrade the meaning
of "good," if we apply that name to bread and barley-porridge
and other commodities without which we cannot live. The good
must in every case be necessary; but that which is necessary
is not in every case a good, since certain very paltry things are
indeed necessary. No one is to such an extent ignorant of the
noble meaning of the word "good," as to debase it to the level
of these humdrum utilities.
What, then? Shall you not rather transfer your efforts to
making it clear to all men that the search for the superfluous
means a great outlay of time, and that many have gone
through life merely accumulating the instruments of life?
Consider individuals, survey men in general; there is none
whose life does not look forward to the morrow. "What harm is
there in this," you ask? Infinite harm; for such persons do not
live, but are preparing to live. They postpone everything. Even
if we paid strict attention, life would soon get ahead of us; but
as we are now, life finds us lingering and passes us by as if it
belonged to another, and though it ends on the final day, it
perishes every day.
But I must not exceed the bounds of a letter, which ought
not to fill the reader's left hand. So I shall postpone to another
day our case against the hair-splitters, those over-subtle
fellows who make argumentation supreme instead of
subordinate. Farewell.
Letter XLVI - On a New Book by Lucilius
I received the book of yours which you promised me. I
opened it hastily with the idea of glancing over it at leisure; for
I meant only to taste the volume. But by its own charm the
book coaxed me into traversing it more at length. You may
understand from this fact how eloquent it was; for it seemed to
be written in the smooth style, and yet did not resemble your
handiwork or mine, but at first sight might have been ascribed
to Titus Livius or to Epicurus. Moreover, I was so impressed and
carried along by its charm that I finished it without any
postponement. The sunlight called to me, hunger warned, and
clouds were lowering; but I absorbed the book from beginning
to end.
I was not merely pleased; I rejoiced. So full of wit and spirit it
was! I should have added "force," had the book contained
moments of repose, or had it risen to energy only at intervals.
But I found that there was no burst of force, but an even flow,
a style that was vigorous and chaste. Nevertheless I noticed
from time to time your sweetness, and here and there that
mildness of yours. Your style is lofty and noble; I want you to
keep to this manner and this direction. Your subject also
contributed something; for this reason you should choose
productive topics, which will lay hold of the mind and arouse it.
I shall discuss the book more fully after a second perusal;
meantime, my judgment is somewhat unsettled, just as if I had
heard it read aloud, and had not read it myself. You must allow
me to examine it also. You need not be afraid; you shall hear
the truth. Lucky fellow, to offer a man no opportunity to tell
you lies at such long range! Unless perhaps, even now, when
excuses for lying are taken away, custom serves as an excuse
for our telling each other lies! Farewell.
Letter XLVII - On Master and Slave
I am glad to learn, through those who come from you, that
you live on friendly terms with your slaves. This befits a
sensible and well-educated man like yourself. "They are
slaves," people declare. Nay, rather they are men. "Slaves!"
No, comrades. "Slaves!" No, they are unpretentious friends.
"Slaves!" No, they are our fellow-slaves, if one reflects that
Fortune has equal rights over slaves and free men alike.
That is why I smile at those who think it degrading for a man
to dine with his slave. But why should they think it degrading?
It is only because purse-proud etiquette surrounds a
householder at his dinner with a mob of standing slaves. The
master eats more than he can hold, and with monstrous greed
loads his belly until it is stretched and at length ceases to do
the work of a belly; so that he is at greater pains to discharge
all the food than he was to stuff it down. All this time the poor
slaves may not move their lips, even to speak. The slightest
murmur is repressed by the rod; even a chance sound, – a
cough, a sneeze, or a hiccup, – is visited with the lash. There is
a grievous penalty for the slightest breach of silence. All night
long they must stand about, hungry and dumb.
The result of it all is that these slaves, who may not talk in
their master's presence, talk about their master. But the slaves
of former days, who were permitted to converse not only in
their master's presence, but actually with him, whose mouths
were not stitched up tight, were ready to bare their necks for
their master, to bring upon their own heads any danger that
threatened him; they spoke at the feast, but kept silence
during torture. Finally, the saying, in allusion to this same highhanded treatment, becomes current: "As many enemies as you
have slaves." They are not enemies when we acquire them; we
make them enemies.
I shall pass over other cruel and inhuman conduct towards
them; for we maltreat them, not as if they were men, but as if
they were beasts of burden. When we recline at a banquet,
one slave mops up the disgorged food, another crouches
beneath the table and gathers up the left-overs of the tipsy
guests. Another carves the priceless game birds; with unerring
strokes and skilled hand he cuts choice morsels along the
breast or the rump. Hapless fellow, to live only for the purpose
of cutting fat capons correctly – unless, indeed, the other man
is still more unhappy than he, who teaches this art for
pleasure's sake, rather than he who learns it because he must.
Another, who serves the wine, must dress like a woman and
wrestle with his advancing years; he cannot get away from his
boyhood; he is dragged back to it; and though he has already
acquired a soldier's figure, he is kept beardless by having his
hair smoothed away or plucked out by the roots, and he must
remain awake throughout the night, dividing his time between
his master's drunkenness and his lust; in the chamber he must
be a man, at the feast a boy. Another, whose duty it is to put a
valuation on the guests, must stick to his task, poor fellow, and
watch to see whose flattery and whose immodesty, whether of
appetite or of language, is to get them an invitation for tomorrow. Think also of the poor purveyors of food, who note
their masters' tastes with delicate skill, who know what special
flavours will sharpen their appetite, what will please their eyes,
what new combinations will rouse their cloyed stomachs, what
food will excite their loathing through sheer satiety, and what
will stir them to hunger on that particular day. With slaves like
these the master cannot bear to dine; he would think it
beneath his dignity to associate with his slave at the same
table! Heaven forfend!
But how many masters is he creating in these very men! I
have seen standing in the line, before the door of Callistus, the
former master, of Callistus; I have seen the master himself
shut out while others were welcomed, – the master who once
fastened the "For Sale" ticket on Callistus and put him in the
market along with the good-for-nothing slaves. But he has
been paid off by that slave who was shuffled into the first lot of
those on whom the crier practises his lungs; the slave, too, in
his turn has cut his name from the list and in his turn has
adjudged him unfit to enter his house. The master sold
Callistus, but how much has Callistus made his master pay for!
Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang
from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on
equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies. It is just as
possible for you to see in him a free-born man as for him to
see in you a slave. As a result of the massacres in Marius's
day, many a man of distinguished birth, who was taking the
first steps toward senatorial rank by service in the army, was
humbled by fortune, one becoming a shepherd, another a
caretaker of a country cottage. Despise, then, if you dare,
those to whose estate you may at any time descend, even
when you are despising them.
I do not wish to involve myself in too large a question, and to
discuss the treatment of slaves, towards whom we Romans are
excessively haughty, cruel, and insulting. But this is the kernel
of my advice: Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by
your betters. And as often as you reflect how much power you
have over a slave, remember that your master has just as
much power over you. "But I have no master," you say. You are
still young; perhaps you will have one. Do you not know at
what age Hecuba entered captivity, or Croesus, or the mother
of Darius, or Plato, or Diogenes?
Associate with your slave on kindly, even on affable, terms;
let him talk with you, plan with you, live with you. I know that
at this point all the exquisites will cry out against me in a body;
they will say: "There is nothing more debasing, more
disgraceful, than this." But these are the very persons whom I
sometimes surprise kissing the hands of other men's slaves.
Do you not see even this, how our ancestors removed from
masters everything invidious, and from slaves everything
insulting? They called the master "father of the household,"
and the slaves "members of the household," a custom which
still holds in the mime. They established a holiday on which
masters and slaves should eat together, – not as the only day
for this custom, but as obligatory on that day in any case. They
allowed the slaves to attain honours in the household and to
pronounce judgment; they held that a household was a
miniature commonwealth.
"Do you mean to say," comes the retort, "that I must seat all
my slaves at my own table?" No, not any more than that you
should invite all free men to it. You are mistaken if you think
that I would bar from my table certain slaves whose duties are
more humble, as, for example, yonder muleteer or yonder
herdsman; I propose to value them according to their
character, and not according to their duties. Each man
acquires his character for himself, but accident assigns his
duties. Invite some to your table because they deserve the
honor, and others that they may come to deserve it. For if
there is any slavish quality in them as the result of their low
associations, it will be shaken off by intercourse with men of
gentler breeding. You need not, my dear Lucilius, hunt for
friends only in the forum or in the Senate-house; if you are
careful and attentive, you will find them at home also. Good
material often stands idle for want of an artist; make the
experiment, and you will find it so. As he is a fool who, when
purchasing a horse, does not consider the animal's points, but
merely his saddle and bridle; so he is doubly a fool who values
a man from his clothes or from his rank, which indeed is only a
robe that clothes us.
"He is a slave." His soul, however, may be that of a freeman.
"He is a slave." But shall that stand in his way? Show me a
man who is not a slave; one is a slave to lust, another to
greed, another to ambition, and all men are slaves to fear. I will
name you an ex-consul who is slave to an old hag, a millionaire
who is slave to a serving-maid; I will show you youths of the
noblest birth in serfdom to pantomime players! No servitude is
more disgraceful than that which is self-imposed.
You should therefore not be deterred by these finicky persons
from showing yourself to your slaves as an affable person and
not proudly superior to them; they ought to respect you rather
than fear you. Some may maintain that I am now offering the
liberty-cap to slaves in general and toppling down lords from
their high estate, because I bid slaves respect their masters
instead of fearing them. They say: "This is what he plainly
means: slaves are to pay respect as if they were clients or
early-morning callers!" Anyone who holds this opinion forgets
that what is enough for a god cannot be too little for a master.
Respect means love, and love and fear cannot be mingled. So I
hold that you are entirely right in not wishing to be feared by
your slaves, and in lashing them merely with the tongue; only
dumb animals need the thong.
That which annoys us does not necessarily injure us; but we
are driven into wild rage by our luxurious lives, so that
whatever does not answer our whims arouses our anger. We
don the temper of kings. For they, too, forgetful alike of their
own strength and of other men's weakness, grow white-hot
with rage, as if they had received an injury, when they are
entirely protected from danger of such injury by their exalted
station. They are not unaware that this is true, but by finding
fault they seize upon opportunities to do harm; they insist that
they have received injuries, in order that they may inflict them.
I do not wish to delay you longer; for you need no
exhortation. This, among other things, is a mark of good
character: it forms its own judgments and abides by them; but
badness is fickle and frequently changing, not for the better,
but for something different. Farewell.
Letter XLVIII - On Quibbling as Unworthy of
the Philosopher
In answer to the letter which you wrote me while travelling, –
a letter as long as the journey itself, – I shall reply later. I ought
to go into retirement, and consider what sort of advice I should
give you. For you yourself, who consult me, also reflected for a
long time whether to do so; how much more, then, should I
myself reflect, since more deliberation is necessary in settling
than in propounding a problem! And this is particularly true
when one thing is advantageous to you and another to me. Am
I speaking again in the guise of an Epicurean? But the fact is,
the same thing is advantageous to me which is advantageous
to you; for I am not your friend unless whatever is at issue
concerning you is my concern also. Friendship produces
between us a partnership in all our interests. There is no such
thing as good or bad fortune for the individual; we live in
common. And no one can live happily who has regard to
himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his
own utility; you must live for your neighbour, if you would live
for yourself. This fellowship, maintained with scrupulous care,
which makes us mingle as men with our fellow-men and holds
that the human race have certain rights in common, is also of
great help in cherishing the more intimate fellowship which is
based on friendship, concerning which I began to speak above.
For he that has much in common with a fellow-man will have
all things in common with a friend.
And on this point, my excellent Lucilius, I should like to have
those subtle dialecticians of yours advise me how I ought to
help a friend, or how a fellow man, rather than tell me in how
many ways the word "friend" is used, and how many meanings
the word "man" possesses. Lo, Wisdom and Folly are taking
opposite sides. Which shall I join? Which party would you have
me follow? On that side, "man" is the equivalent of "friend"; on
the other side, "friend" is not the equivalent of "man." The one
wants a friend for his own advantage; the other wants to make
himself an advantage to his friend. What you have to offer me
is nothing but distortion of words and splitting of syllables. It is
clear that unless I can devise some very tricky premisses and
by false deductions tack on to them a fallacy which springs
from the truth, I shall not be able to distinguish between what
is desirable and what is to be avoided! I am ashamed! Old men
as we are, dealing with a problem so serious, we make play of
"'Mouse' is a syllable. Now a mouse eats its cheese;
therefore, a syllable eats cheese." Suppose now that I cannot
solve this problem; see what peril hangs over my head as a
result of such ignorance! What a scrape I shall be in! Without
doubt I must beware, or some day I shall be catching syllables
in a mousetrap, or, if I grow careless, a book may devour my
cheese! Unless, perhaps, the following syllogism is shrewder
still: "'Mouse' is a syllable. Now a syllable does not eat cheese.
Therefore a mouse does not eat cheese." What childish
nonsense! Do we knit our brows over this sort of problem? Do
we let our beards grow long for this reason? Is this the matter
which we teach with sour and pale faces?
Would you really know what philosophy offers to humanity?
Philosophy offers counsel. Death calls away one man, and
poverty chafes another; a third is worried either by his
neighbour's wealth or by his own. So-and-so is afraid of bad
luck; another desires to get away from his own good fortune.
Some are ill-treated by men, others by the gods. Why, then, do
you frame for me such games as these? It is no occasion for
jest; you are retained as counsel for unhappy mankind. You
have promised to help those in peril by sea, those in captivity,
the sick and the needy, and those whose heads are under the
poised axe. Whither are you straying? What are you doing?
This friend, in whose company you are jesting, is in fear. Help
him, and take the noose from about his neck. Men are
stretching out imploring hands to you on all sides; lives ruined
and in danger of ruin are begging for some assistance; men's
hopes, men's resources, depend upon you. They ask that you
deliver them from all their restlessness, that you reveal to
them, scattered and wandering as they are, the clear light of
truth. Tell them what nature has made necessary, and what
superfluous; tell them how simple are the laws that she has
laid down, how pleasant and unimpeded life is for those who
follow these laws, but how bitter and perplexed it is for those
who have put their trust in opinion rather than in nature.
I should deem your games of logic to be of some avail in
relieving men's burdens, if you could first show me what part
of these burdens they will relieve. What among these games of
yours banishes lust? Or controls it? Would that I could say that
they were merely of no profit! They are positively harmful. I
can make it perfectly clear to you whenever you wish, that a
noble spirit when involved in such subtleties is impaired and
weakened. I am ashamed to say what weapons they supply to
men who are destined to go to war with fortune, and how
poorly they equip them! Is this the path to the greatest good?
Is philosophy to proceed by such claptrap and by quibbles
which would be a disgrace and a reproach even for expounders
of the law? For what else is it that you men are doing, when
you deliberately ensnare the person to whom you are putting
questions, than making it appear that the man has lost his
case on a technical error? But just as the judge can reinstate
those who have lost a suit in this way, so philosophy has
reinstated these victims of quibbling to their former condition.
Why do you men abandon your mighty promises, and, after
having assured me in high-sounding language that you will
permit the glitter of gold to dazzle my eyesight no more than
the gleam of the sword, and that I shall, with mighty
steadfastness, spurn both that which all men crave and that
which all men fear, why do you descend to the ABC's of
scholastic pedants? What is your answer?
Is this the path to heaven?
For that is exactly what philosophy promises to me, that I
shall be made equal to God. For this I have been summoned,
for this purpose have I come. Philosophy, keep your promise!
Therefore, my dear Lucilius, withdraw yourself as far as
possible from these exceptions and objections of so-called
philosophers. Frankness, and simplicity beseem true goodness.
Even if there were many years left to you, you would have had
to spend them frugally in order to have enough for the
necessary things; but as it is, when your time is so scant, what
madness it is to learn superfluous things! Farewell.
Letter XLIX - On the Shortness of Life
A man is indeed lazy and careless, my dear Lucilius, if he is
reminded of a friend only by seeing some landscape which
stirs the memory; and yet there are times when the old
familiar haunts stir up a sense of loss that has been stored
away in the soul, not bringing back dead memories, but
rousing them from their dormant state, just as the sight of a
lost friend's favourite slave, or his cloak, or his house, renews
the mourner's grief, even though it has been softened by time.
Now, lo and behold, Campania, and especially Naples and
your beloved Pompeii, struck me, when I viewed them, with a
wonderfully fresh sense of longing for you. You stand in full
view before my eyes. I am on the point of parting from you. I
see you choking down your tears and resisting without success
the emotions that well up at the very moment when you try to
check them. I seem to have lost you but a moment ago. For
what is not "but a moment ago" when one begins to use the
memory? It was but a moment ago that I sat, as a lad, in the
school of the philosopher Sotion, but a moment ago that I
began to plead in the courts, but a moment ago that I lost the
desire to plead, but a moment ago that I lost the ability.
Infinitely swift is the flight of time, as those see more clearly
who are looking backwards. For when we are intent on the
present, we do not notice it, so gentle is the passage of time's
headlong flight. Do you ask the reason for this? All past time is
in the same place; it all presents the same aspect to us, it lies
together. Everything slips into the same abyss. Besides, an
event which in its entirety is of brief compass cannot contain
long intervals. The time which we spend in living is but a point,
nay, even less than a point. But this point of time, infinitesimal
as it is, nature has mocked by making it seem outwardly of
longer duration; she has taken one portion thereof and made it
infancy, another childhood, another youth, another the gradual
slope, so to speak, from youth to old age, and old age itself is
still another. How many steps for how short a climb! It was but
a moment ago that I saw you off on your journey; and yet this
"moment ago" makes up a goodly share of our existence,
which is so brief, we should reflect, that it will soon come to an
end altogether. In other years time did not seem to me to go
so swiftly; now, it seems fast beyond belief, perhaps, because I
feel that the finish-line is moving closer to me, or it may be
that I have begun to take heed and reckon up my losses.
For this reason I am all the more angry that some men claim
the major portion of this time for superfluous things, – time
which, no matter how carefully it is guarded, cannot suffice
even for necessary things. Cicero declared that if the number
of his days were doubled, he should not have time to read the
lyric poets. And you may rate the dialecticians in the same
class; but they are foolish in a more melancholy way. The lyric
poets are avowedly frivolous; but the dialecticians believe that
they are themselves engaged upon serious business. I do not
deny that one must cast a glance at dialectic; but it ought to
be a mere glance, a sort of greeting from the threshold, merely
that one may not be deceived, or judge these pursuits to
contain any hidden matters of great worth.
Why do you torment yourself and lose weight over some
problem which it is more clever to have scorned than to solve?
When a soldier is undisturbed and travelling at his ease, he
can hunt for trifles along his way; but when the enemy is
closing in on the rear, and a command is given to quicken the
pace, necessity makes him throw away everything which he
picked up in moments of peace and leisure. I have no time to
investigate disputed inflections of words, or to try my cunning
upon them.
Behold the gathering clans, the fast-shut gates,
And weapons whetted ready for the war.
I need a stout heart to hear without flinching this din of
battle which sounds round about. And all would rightly think
me mad if, when graybeards and women were heaping up
rocks for the fortifications, when the armour-clad youths inside
the gates were awaiting, or even demanding, the order for a
sally, when the spears of the foemen were quivering in our
gates and the very ground was rocking with mines and
subterranean passages, – I say, they would rightly think me
mad if I were to sit idle, putting such petty posers as this:
"What you have not lost, you have. But you have not lost any
horns. Therefore, you have horns," or other tricks constructed
after the model of this piece of sheer silliness. And yet I may
well seem in your eyes no less mad, if I spend my energies on
that sort of thing; for even now I am in a state of siege. And
yet, in the former case it would be merely a peril from the
outside that threatened me, and a wall that sundered me from
the foe; as it is now, death-dealing perils are in my very
presence. I have no time for such nonsense; a mighty
undertaking is on my hands. What am I to do? Death is on my
trail, and life is fleeting away; teach me something with which
to face these troubles. Bring it to pass that I shall cease trying
to escape from death, and that life may cease to escape from
me. Give me courage to meet hardships; make me calm in the
face of the unavoidable. Relax the straitened limits of the time
which is allotted me. Show me that the good in life does not
depend upon life's length, but upon the use we make of it;
also, that it is possible, or rather usual, for a man who has
lived long to have lived too little. Say to me when I lie down to
sleep: "You may not wake again!" And when I have waked: "You
may not go to sleep again!" Say to me when I go forth from my
house: "You may not return!" And when I return: "You may
never go forth again!" You are mistaken if you think that only
on an ocean voyage there is a very slight space between life
and death. No, the distance between is just as narrow
everywhere. It is not everywhere that death shows himself so
near at hand; yet everywhere he is as near at hand.
Rid me of these shadowy terrors; then you will more easily
deliver to me the instruction for which I have prepared myself.
At our birth nature made us teachable, and gave us reason,
not perfect, but capable of being perfected. Discuss for me
justice, duty, thrift, and that twofold purity, both the purity
which abstains from another's person, and that which takes
care of one's own self. If you will only refuse to lead me along
by-paths, I shall more easily reach the goal at which I am
aiming. For, as the tragic poet says:
The language of truth is simple.
We should not, therefore, make that language intricate; since
there is nothing less fitting for a soul of great endeavour than
such crafty cleverness. Farewell.
Letter L - On our Blindness and its Cure
I received your letter many months after you had posted it;
accordingly, I thought it useless to ask the carrier what you
were busied with. He must have a particularly good memory if
he can remember that! But I hope by this time you are living in
such a way that I can be sure what it is you are busied with, no
matter where you may be. For what else are you busied with
except improving yourself every day, laying aside some error,
and coming to understand that the faults which you attribute
to circumstances are in yourself? We are indeed apt to ascribe
certain faults to the place or to the time; but those faults will
follow us, no matter how we change our place.
You know Harpaste, my wife's female clown; she has
remained in my house, a burden incurred from a legacy. I
particularly disapprove of these freaks; whenever I wish to
enjoy the quips of a clown, I am not compelled to hunt far; I
can laugh at myself. Now this clown suddenly became blind.
The story sounds incredible, but I assure you that it is true: she
does not know that she is blind. She keeps asking her
attendant to change her quarters; she says that her
apartments are too dark.
You can see clearly that that which makes us smile in the
case of Harpaste happens to all the rest of us; nobody
understands that he is himself greedy, or that he is covetous.
Yet the blind ask for a guide, while we wander without one,
saying: "I am not self-seeking; but one cannot live at Rome in
any other way. I am not extravagant, but mere living in the city
demands a great outlay. It is not my fault that I have a choleric
disposition, or that I have not settled down to any definite
scheme of life; it is due to my youth." Why do we deceive
ourselves? The evil that afflicts us is not external, it is within
us, situated in our very vitals; for that reason we attain
soundness with all the more difficulty, because we do not know
that we are diseased.
Suppose that we have begun the cure; when shall we throw
off all these diseases, with all their virulence? At present, we
do not even consult the physician, whose work would be easier
if he were called in when the complaint was in its early stages.
The tender and the inexperienced minds would follow his
advice if he pointed out the right way. No man finds it difficult
to return to nature, except the man who has deserted nature.
We blush to receive instruction in sound sense; but, by
Heaven, if we think it base to seek a teacher of this art, we
should also abandon any hope that so great a good could be
instilled into us by mere chance.
No, we must work. To tell the truth, even the work is not
great, if only, as I said, we begin to mould and reconstruct our
souls before they are hardened by sin. But I do not despair
even of a hardened sinner. There is nothing that will not
surrender to persistent treatment, to concentrated and careful
attention; however much the timber may be bent, you can
make it straight again. Heat unbends curved beams, and wood
that grew naturally in another shape is fashioned artificially
according to our needs. How much more easily does the soul
permit itself to be shaped, pliable as it is and more yielding
than any liquid! For what else is the soul than air in a certain
state? And you see that air is more adaptable than any other
matter, in proportion as it is rarer than any other.
There is nothing, Lucilius, to hinder you from entertaining
good hopes about us, just because we are even now in the grip
of evil, or because we have long been possessed thereby.
There is no man to whom a good mind comes before an evil
one. It is the evil mind that gets first hold on all of us. Learning
virtue means unlearning vice. We should therefore proceed to
the task of freeing ourselves from faults with all the more
courage because, when once committed to us, the good is an
everlasting possession; virtue is not unlearned. For opposites
find difficulty in clinging where they do not belong, therefore
they can be driven out and hustled away; but qualities that
come to a place which is rightfully theirs abide faithfully. Virtue
is according to nature; vice is opposed to it and hostile. But
although virtues, when admitted, cannot depart and are easy
to guard, yet the first steps in the approach to them are
toilsome, because it is characteristic of a weak and diseased
mind to fear that which is unfamiliar. The mind must, therefore,
be forced to make a beginning; from then on, the medicine is
not bitter; for just as soon as it is curing us it begins to give
pleasure. One enjoys other cures only after health is restored,
but a draught of philosophy is at the same moment wholesome
and pleasant. Farewell.
Letter LI - On Baiae and Morals
Every man does the best he can, my dear Lucilius! You over
there have Etna, that lofty and most celebrated mountain of
Sicily; (although I cannot make out why Messala, – or was it
Valgius? for I have been reading in both, – has called it
"unique," inasmuch as many regions belch forth fire, not
merely the lofty ones where the phenomenon is more frequent,
– presumably because fire rises to the greatest possible height,
– but low-lying places also.) As for myself, I do the best I can; I
have had to be satisfied with Baiae; and I left it the day after I
reached it; for Baiae is a place to be avoided, because, though
it has certain natural advantages, luxury has claimed it for her
own exclusive resort. "What then," you say, "should any place
be singled out as an object of aversion?" Not at all. But just as,
to the wise and upright man, one style of clothing is more
suitable than another, without his having an aversion for any
particular colour, but because he thinks that some colours do
not befit one who has adopted the simple life; so there are
places also, which the wise man or he who is on the way
toward wisdom will avoid as foreign to good morals. Therefore,
if he is contemplating withdrawal from the world, he will not
select Canopus (although Canopus does not keep any man
from living simply), nor Baiae either; for both places have
begun to be resorts of vice. At Canopus luxury pampers itself
to the utmost degree; at Baiae it is even more lax, as if the
place itself demanded a certain amount of licence.
We ought to select abodes which are wholesome not only for
the body but also for the character. Just as I do not care to live
in a place of torture, neither do I care to live in a cafe. To
witness persons wandering drunk along the beach, the riotous
revelling of sailing parties, the lakes a-din with choral song,
and all the other ways in which luxury, when it is, so to speak,
released from the restraints of law not merely sins, but blazons
its sins abroad, – why must I witness all this? We ought to see
to it that we flee to the greatest possible distance from
provocations to vice. We should toughen our minds, and
remove them far from the allurements of pleasure. A single
winter relaxed Hannibal's fibre; his pampering in Campania
took the vigour out of that hero who had triumphed over Alpine
snows. He conquered with his weapons, but was conquered by
his vices. We too have a war to wage, a type of warfare in
which there is allowed no rest or furlough. To be conquered, in
the first place, are pleasures, which, as you see, have carried
off even the sternest characters. If a man has once understood
how great is the task which he has entered upon, he will see
that there must be no dainty or effeminate conduct. What have
I to do with those hot baths or with the sweating-room where
they shut in the dry steam which is to drain your strength?
Perspiration should flow only after toil.
Suppose we do what Hannibal did, – check the course of
events, give up the war, and give over our bodies to be
coddled. Every one would rightly blame us for our untimely
sloth, a thing fraught with peril even for the victor, to say
nothing of one who is only on the way to victory. And we have
even less right to do this than those followers of the
Carthaginian flag; for our danger is greater than theirs if we
slacken, and our toil is greater than theirs even if we press
ahead. Fortune is fighting against me, and I shall not carry out
her commands. I refuse to submit to the yoke; nay rather, I
shake off the yoke that is upon me, – an act which demands
even greater courage. The soul is not to be pampered;
surrendering to pleasure means also surrendering to pain,
surrendering to toil, surrendering to poverty. Both ambition and
anger will wish to have the same rights over me as pleasure,
and I shall be torn asunder, or rather pulled to pieces, amid all
these conflicting passions. I have set freedom before my eyes;
and I am striving for that reward. And what is freedom, you
ask? It means not being a slave to any circumstance, to any
constraint, to any chance; it means compelling Fortune to
enter the lists on equal terms. And on the day when I know
that I have the upper hand, her power will be naught. When I
have death in my own control, shall I take orders from her?
Therefore, a man occupied with such reflections should
choose an austere and pure dwelling-place. The spirit is
weakened by surroundings that are too pleasant, and without a
doubt one's place of residence can contribute towards
impairing its vigour. Animals whose hoofs are hardened on
rough ground can travel any road; but when they are fattened
on soft marshy meadows their hoofs are soon worn out. The
bravest soldier comes from rock-ribbed regions; but the townbred and the home-bred are sluggish in action. The hand which
turns from the plough to the sword never objects to toil; but
your sleek and well-dressed dandy quails at the first cloud of
dust. Being trained in a rugged country strengthens the
character and fits it for great undertakings. It was more
honourable in Scipio to spend his exile at Liternum, than at
Baiae; his downfall did not need a setting so effeminate. Those
also into whose hands the rising fortunes of Rome first
transferred the wealth of the state, Gaius Marius, Gnaeus
Pompey, and Caesar, did indeed build villas near Baiae; but
they set them on the very tops of the mountains. This seemed
more soldier-like, to look down from a lofty height upon lands
spread far and wide below. Note the situation, position, and
type of building which they chose; you will see that they were
not country-places, – they were camps. Do you suppose that
Cato would ever have dwelt in a pleasure-palace, that he
might count the lewd women as they sailed past, the many
kinds of barges painted in all sorts of colours, the roses which
were wafted about the lake, or that he might listen to the
nocturnal brawls of serenaders? Would he not have preferred
to remain in the shelter of a trench thrown up by his own
hands to serve for a single night? Would not anyone who is a
man have his slumbers broken by a war-trumpet rather than
by a chorus of serenaders?
But I have been haranguing against Baiae long enough;
although I never could harangue often enough against vice.
Vice, Lucilius, is what I wish you to proceed against, without
limit and without end. For it has neither limit nor end. If any
vice rend your heart, cast it away from you; and if you cannot
be rid of it in any other way, pluck out your heart also. Above
all, drive pleasures from your sight. Hate them beyond all
other things, for they are like the bandits whom the Egyptians
call "lovers," who embrace us only to garrotte us. Farewell.
Letter LII - On Choosing our Teachers
What is this force, Lucilius, that drags us in one direction
when we are aiming in another, urging us on to the exact place
from which we long to withdraw? What is it that wrestles with
our spirit, and does not allow us to desire anything once for
all? We veer from plan to plan. None of our wishes is free, none
is unqualified, none is lasting. "But it is the fool," you say, "who
is inconsistent; nothing suits him for long." But how or when
can we tear ourselves away from this folly? No man by himself
has sufficient strength to rise above it; he needs a helping
hand, and some one to extricate him.
Epicurus remarks that certain men have worked their way to
the truth without any one's assistance, carving out their own
passage. And he gives special praise to these, for their impulse
has come from within, and they have forged to the front by
themselves. Again, he says, there are others who need outside
help, who will not proceed unless someone leads the way, but
who will follow faithfully. Of these, he says, Metrodorus was
one; this type of man is also excellent, but belongs to the
second grade. We ourselves are not of that first class, either;
we shall be well treated if we are admitted into the second.
Nor need you despise a man who can gain salvation only with
the assistance of another; the will to be saved means a great
deal, too.
You will find still another class of man, – and a class not to be
despised, – who can be forced and driven into righteousness,
who do not need a guide as much as they require someone to
encourage and, as it were, to force them along. This is the
third variety. If you ask me for a man of this pattern also,
Epicurus tells us that Hermarchus was such. And of the two
last-named classes, he is more ready to congratulate the one,
but he feels more respect for the other; for although both
reached the same goal, it is a greater credit to have brought
about the same result with the more difficult material upon
which to work.
Suppose that two buildings have been erected, unlike as to
their foundations, but equal in height and in grandeur. One is
built on faultless ground, and the process of erection goes right
ahead. In the other case, the foundations have exhausted the
building materials, for they have been sunk into soft and
shifting ground and much labour has been wasted in reaching
the solid rock. As one looks at both of them, one sees clearly
what progress the former has made but the larger and more
difficult part of the latter is hidden. So with men's dispositions;
some are pliable and easy to manage, but others have to be
laboriously wrought out by hand, so to speak, and are wholly
employed in the making of their own foundations. I should
accordingly deem more fortunate the man who has never had
any trouble with himself; but the other, I feel, has deserved
better of himself, who has won a victory over the meanness of
his own nature, and has not gently led himself, but has
wrestled his way, to wisdom.
You may be sure that this refractory nature, which demands
much toil, has been implanted in us. There are obstacles in our
path; so let us fight, and call to our assistance some helpers.
"Whom," you say, "shall I call upon? Shall it be this man or
that?" There is another choice also open to you; you may go to
the ancients; for they have the time to help you. We can get
assistance not only from the living, but from those of the past.
Let us choose, however, from among the living, not men who
pour forth their words with the greatest glibness, turning out
commonplaces and holding. as it were, their own little private
exhibitions, – not these, I say, but men who teach us by their
lives, men who tell us what we ought to do and then prove it
by practice, who show us what we should avoid, and then are
never caught doing that which they have ordered us to avoid.
Choose as a guide one whom you will admire more when you
see him act than when you hear him speak. Of course I would
not prevent you from listening also to those philosophers who
are wont to hold public meetings and discussions, provided
they appear before the people for the express purpose of
improving themselves and others, and do not practise their
profession for the sake of self-seeking. For what is baser than
philosophy courting applause? Does the sick man praise the
surgeon while he is operating? In silence and with reverent
awe submit to the cure. Even though you cry applause, I shall
listen to your cries as if you were groaning when your sores
were touched. Do you wish to bear witness that you are
attentive, that you are stirred by the grandeur of the subject?
You may do this at the proper time; I shall of course allow you
to pass judgment and cast a vote as to the better course.
Pythagoras made his pupils keep silence for five years; do you
think that they had the right on that account to break out
immediately into applause?
How mad is he who leaves the lecture-room in a happy
frame of mind simply because of applause from the ignorant!
Why do you take pleasure in being praised by men whom you
yourself cannot praise? Fabianus used to give popular talks,
but his audience listened with self-control. Occasionally a loud
shout of praise would burst forth, but it was prompted by the
greatness of his subject, and not by the sound of oratory that
slipped forth pleasantly and softly. There should be a difference
between the applause of the theatre and the applause of the
school; and there is a certain decency even in bestowing
praise. If you mark them carefully, all acts are always
significant, and you can gauge character by even the most
trifling signs. The lecherous man is revealed by his gait, by a
movement of the hand, sometimes by a single answer, by his
touching his head with a finger, by the shifting of his eye. The
scamp is shown up by his laugh; the madman by his face and
general appearance. These qualities become known by certain
marks; but you can tell the character of every man when you
see how he gives and receives praise. The philosopher's
audience, from this corner and that, stretch forth admiring
hands, and sometimes the adoring crowd almost hang over the
lecturer's head. But, if you really understand, that is not praise;
it is merely applause. These outcries should be left for the arts
which aim to please the crowd; let philosophy be worshipped
in silence. Young men, indeed, must sometimes have free play
to follow their impulses, but it should only be at times when
they act from impulse, and when they cannot force themselves
to be silent. Such praise as that gives a certain kind of
encouragement to the hearers themselves, and acts as a spur
to the youthful mind. But let them be roused to the matter,
and not to the style; otherwise, eloquence does them harm,
making them enamoured of itself, and not of the subject.
I shall postpone this topic for the present; it demands a long
and special investigation, to show how the public should be
addressed, what indulgences should be allowed to a speaker
on a public occasion, and what should be allowed to the crowd
itself in the presence of the speaker. There can be no doubt
that philosophy has suffered a loss, now that she has exposed
her charms for sale. But she can still be viewed in her
sanctuary, if her exhibitor is a priest and not a pedlar. Farewell.
Letter LIII - On the Faults of the Spirit
You can persuade me into almost anything now, for I was
recently persuaded to travel by water. We cast off when the
sea was lazily smooth; the sky, to be sure, was heavy with
nasty clouds, such as usually break into rain or squalls. Still, I
thought that the few miles between Puteoli and your dear
Parthenope might be run off in quick time, despite the
uncertain and lowering sky. So, in order to get away more
quickly, I made straight out to sea for Nesis, with the purpose
of cutting across all the inlets. But when we were so far out
that it made little difference to me whether I returned or kept
on, the calm weather, which had enticed me, came to naught.
The storm had not yet begun, but the ground-swell was on,
and the waves kept steadily coming faster. I began to ask the
pilot to put me ashore somewhere; he replied that the coast
was rough and a bad place to land, and that in a storm he
feared a lee shore more than anything else. But I was suffering
too grievously to think of the danger, since a sluggish
seasickness which brought no relief was racking me, the sort
that upsets the liver without clearing it. Therefore I laid down
the law to my pilot, forcing him to make for the shore, willynilly. When we drew near, I did not wait for things to be done in
accordance with Vergil's orders, until
Prow faced seawards
Anchor plunged from bow
I remembered my profession as a veteran devotee of cold
water, and, clad as I was in my cloak, let myself down into the
sea, just as a cold-water bather should. What do you think my
feelings were, scrambling over the rocks, searching out the
path, or making one for myself? l understood that sailors have
good reason to fear the land. It is hard to believe what I
endured when I could not endure myself; you may be sure that
the reason why Ulysses was shipwrecked on every possible
occasion was not so much because the sea-god was angry with
him from his birth; he was simply subject to seasickness. And
in the future I also, if I must go anywhere by sea, shall only
reach my destination in the twentieth year.
When I finally calmed my stomach (for you know that one
does not escape seasickness by escaping from the sea) and
refreshed my body with a rubdown, I began to reflect how
completely we forget or ignore our failings, even those that
affect the body, which are continually reminding us of their
existence, – not to mention those which are more serious in
proportion as they are more hidden. A slight ague deceives us;
but when it has increased and a genuine fever has begun to
burn, it forces even a hardy man, who can endure much
suffering, to admit that he is ill. There is pain in the foot, and a
tingling sensation in the joints; but we still hide the complaint
and announce that we have sprained a joint, or else are tired
from over-exercise. Then the ailment, uncertain at first, must
be given a name; and when it begins to swell the ankles also,
and has made both our feet "right" feet, we are bound to
confess that we have the gout. The opposite holds true of
diseases of the soul; the worse one is, the less one perceives
it. You need not be surprised, my beloved Lucilius. For he
whose sleep is light pursues visions during slumber, and
sometimes, though asleep, is conscious that he is asleep; but
sound slumber annihilates our very dreams and sinks the spirit
down so deep that it has no perception of self. Why will no man
confess his faults? Because he is still in their grasp; only he
who is awake can recount his dream, and similarly a
confession of sin is a proof of sound mind.
Let us, therefore, rouse ourselves, that we may be able to
correct our mistakes. Philosophy, however, is the only power
that can stir us, the only power that can shake off our deep
slumber. Devote yourself wholly to philosophy. You are worthy
of her; she is worthy of you; greet one another with a loving
embrace. Say farewell to all other interests with courage and
frankness. Do not study philosophy merely during your spare
If you were ill, you would stop caring for your personal
concerns, and forget your business duties; you would not think
highly enough of any client to take active charge of his case
during a slight abatement of your sufferings. You would try
your hardest to be rid of the illness as soon as possible. What,
then? Shall you not do the same thing now? Throw aside all
hindrances and give up your time to getting a sound mind; for
no man can attain it if he is engrossed in other matters.
Philosophy wields her own authority; she appoints her own
time and does not allow it to be appointed for her. She is not a
thing to be followed at odd times, but a subject for daily
practice; she is mistress, and she commands our attendance.
Alexander, when a certain state promised him a part of its
territory and half its entire property, replied: "I invaded Asia
with the intention, not of accepting what you might give, but of
allowing you to keep what I might leave." Philosophy likewise
keeps saying to all occupations: "I do not intend to accept the
time which you have left over, but I shall allow you to keep
what I myself shall leave."
Turn to her, therefore, with all your soul, sit at her feet,
cherish her; a great distance will then begin to separate you
from other men. You will be far ahead of all mortals, and even
the gods will not be far ahead of you. Do you ask what will be
the difference between yourself and the gods? They will live
longer. But, by my faith, it is the sign of a great artist to have
confined a full likeness to the limits of a miniature. The wise
man's life spreads out to him over as large a surface as does
all eternity to a god. There is one point in which the sage has
an advantage over the god; for a god is freed from terrors by
the bounty of nature, the wise man by his own bounty. What a
wonderful privilege, to have the weaknesses of a man and the
serenity of a god! The power of philosophy to blunt the blows
of chance is beyond belief. No missile can settle in her body;
she is well-protected and impenetrable. She spoils the force of
some missiles and wards them off with the loose folds of her
gown, as if they had no power to harm; others she dashes
aside, and hurls them back with such force that they recoil
upon the sender. Farewell.
Letter LIV - On Asthma and Death
My ill-health had allowed me a long furlough, when suddenly
it resumed the attack. "What kind of ill-health?" you say. And
you surely have a right to ask; for it is true that no kind is
unknown to me. But I have been consigned, so to speak, to
one special ailment. I do not know why I should call it by its
Greek name; for it is well enough described as "shortness of
breath." Its attack is of very brief duration, like that of a squall
at sea; it usually ends within an hour. Who indeed could
breathe his last for long? I have passed through all the ills and
dangers of the flesh; but nothing seems to me more
troublesome than this. And naturally so; for anything else may
be called illness; but this is a sort of continued "last gasp."
Hence physicians call it "practising how to die." For some day
the breath will succeed in doing what it has so often essayed.
Do you think I am writing this letter in a merry spirit, just
because I have escaped? It would be absurd to take delight in
such supposed restoration to health, as it would be for a
defendant to imagine that he had won his case when he had
succeeded in postponing his trial. Yet in the midst of my
difficult breathing I never ceased to rest secure in cheerful and
brave thoughts.
"What?" I say to myself; "does death so often test me? Let it
do so; I myself have for a long time tested death." "When?"
you ask. Before I was born. Death is non-existence, and I know
already what that means. What was before me will happen
again after me. If there is any suffering in this state, there
must have been such suffering also in the past, before we
entered the light of day. As a matter of fact, however, we felt
no discomfort then. And I ask you, would you not say that one
was the greatest of fools who believed that a lamp was worse
off when it was extinguished than before it was lighted? We
mortals also are lighted and extinguished; the period of
suffering comes in between, but on either side there is a deep
peace. For, unless I am very much mistaken, my dear Lucilius,
we go astray in thinking that death only follows, when in reality
it has both preceded us and will in turn follow us. Whatever
condition existed before our birth, is death. For what does it
matter whether you do not begin at all, or whether you leave
off, inasmuch as the result of both these states is nonexistence?
I have never ceased to encourage myself with cheering
counsels of this kind, silently, of course, since I had not the
power to speak; then little by little this shortness of breath,
already reduced to a sort of panting, came on at greater
intervals, and then slowed down and finally stopped. Even by
this time, although the gasping has ceased, the breath does
not come and go normally; I still feel a sort of hesitation and
delay in breathing. Let it be as it pleases, provided there be no
sigh from the soul. Accept this assurance from me – I shall
never be frightened when the last hour comes; I am already
prepared and do not plan a whole day ahead. But do you
praise and imitate the man whom it does not irk to die, though
he takes pleasure in living. For what virtue is there in going
away when you are thrust out? And yet there is virtue even in
this: I am indeed thrust out, but it is as if I were going away
willingly. For that reason the wise man can never be thrust out,
because that would mean removal from a place which he was
unwilling to leave; and the wise man does nothing unwillingly.
He escapes necessity, because he wills to do what necessity is
about to force upon him. Farewell.
Letter LV - On Vatia's Villa
I have just returned from a ride in my litter; and I am as
weary as if I had walked the distance, instead of being seated.
Even to be carried for any length of time is hard work, perhaps
all the more so because it is an unnatural exercise; for Nature
gave us legs with which to do our own walking, and eyes with
which to do our own seeing. Our luxuries have condemned us
to weakness; we have ceased to be able to do that which we
have long declined to do. Nevertheless, I found it necessary to
give my body a shaking up, in order that the bile which had
gathered in my throat, if that was my trouble, might be shaken
out, or, if the very breath within me had become, for some
reason, too thick, that the jolting, which I have felt was a good
thing for me, might make it thinner. So I insisted on being
carried longer than usual, along an attractive beach, which
bends between Cumae and Servilius Vatia's country-house,
shut in by the sea on one side and the lake on the other, just
like a narrow path. It was packed firm under foot, because of a
recent storm; since, as you know, the waves, when they beat
upon the beach hard and fast, level it out; but a continuous
period of fair weather loosens it, when the sand, which is kept
firm by the water, loses its moisture.
As my habit is, I began to look about for something there
that might be of service to me, when my eyes fell upon the
villa which had once belonged to Vatia. So this was the place
where that famous praetorian millionaire passed his old age!
He was famed for nothing else than his life of leisure, and he
was regarded as lucky only for that reason. For whenever men
were ruined by their friendship with Asinius Gallus whenever
others were ruined by their hatred of Sejanus, and later by
their intimacy with him, – for it was no more dangerous to have
offended him than to have loved him, – people used to cry out:
"O Vatia, you alone know how to live!" But what he knew was
how to hide, not how to live; and it makes a great deal of
difference whether your life be one of leisure or one of
idleness. So I never drove past his country-place during Vatia's
lifetime without saying to myself: "Here lies Vatia!"
But, my dear Lucilius, philosophy is a thing of holiness,
something to be worshipped, so much so that the very
counterfeit pleases. For the mass of mankind consider that a
person is at leisure who has withdrawn from society, is free
from care, self-sufficient, and lives for himself; but these
privileges can be the reward only of the wise man. Does he
who is a victim of anxiety know how to live for himself? What?
Does he even know (and that is of first importance) how to live
at all? For the man who has fled from affairs and from men,
who has been banished to seclusion by the unhappiness which
his own desires have brought upon him, who cannot see his
neighbour more happy than himself, who through fear has
taken to concealment, like a frightened and sluggish animal. –
this person is not living for himself he is living for his belly, his
sleep, and his lust, – and that is the most shameful thing in the
world. He who lives for no one does not necessarily live for
himself. Nevertheless, there is so much in steadfastness and
adherence to one's purpose that even sluggishness, if
stubbornly maintained, assumes an air of authority with us.
I could not describe the villa accurately; for I am familiar only
with the front of the house, and with the parts which are in
public view and can be seen by the mere passer-by. There are
two grottoes, which cost a great deal of labour, as big as the
most spacious hall, made by hand. One of these does not
admit the rays of the sun, while the other keeps them until the
sun sets. There is also a stream running through a grove of
plane-trees, which draws for its supply both on the sea and on
Lake Acheron; it intersects the grove just like a race-way and is
large enough to support fish, although its waters are
continually being drawn off. When the sea is calm, however,
they do not use the stream, only touching the well-stocked
waters when the storms give the fishermen a forced holiday.
But the most convenient thing about the villa is the fact that
Baiae is next door, it is free from all the inconveniences of that
resort, and yet enjoys its pleasures. I myself understand these
attractions, and I believe that it is a villa suited to every
season of the year. It fronts the west wind, which it intercepts
in such a way that Baiae is denied it. So it seems that Vatia
was no fool when he selected this place as the best in which to
spend his leisure when it was already unfruitful and decrepit.
The place where one lives, however, can contribute little
towards tranquillity; it is the mind which must make everything
agreeable to itself. I have seen men despondent in a gay and
lovely villa, and I have seen them to all appearance full of
business in the midst of a solitude. For this reason you should
not refuse to believe that your life is well-placed merely
because you are not now in Campania. But why are you not
there? Just let your thoughts travel, even to this place. You
may hold converse with your friends when they are absent,
and indeed as often as you wish and for as long as you wish.
For we enjoy this, the greatest of pleasures, all the more when
we are absent from one another. For the presence of friends
makes us fastidious; and because we can at any time talk or sit
together, when once we have parted we give not a thought to
those whom we have just beheld. And we ought to bear the
absence of friends cheerfully, just because everyone is bound
to be often absent from his friends even when they are
present. Include among such cases, in the first place, the
nights spent apart, then the different engagements which each
of two friends has, then the private studies of each and their
excursions into the country, and you will see that foreign travel
does not rob us of much. A friend should be retained in the
spirit; such a friend can never be absent. He can see every day
whomsoever he desires to see.
I would therefore have you share your studies with me, your
meals, and your walks. We should be living within too narrow
limits if anything were barred to our thoughts. I see you, my
dear Lucilius, and at this very moment I hear you; I am with
you to such an extent that I hesitate whether I should not
begin to write you notes instead of letters. Farewell.
Letter LVI - On Quiet and Study
Beshrew me if I think anything more requisite than silence
for a man who secludes himself in order to study! Imagine
what a variety of noises reverberates about my ears! I have
lodgings right over a bathing establishment. So picture to
yourself the assortment of sounds, which are strong enough to
make me hate my very powers of hearing! When your
strenuous gentleman, for example, is exercising himself by
flourishing leaden weights; when he is working hard, or else
pretends to be working hard, I can hear him grunt; and
whenever he releases his imprisoned breath, I can hear him
panting in wheezy and high-pitched tones. Or perhaps I notice
some lazy fellow, content with a cheap rubdown, and hear the
crack of the pummelling hand on his shoulder, varying in
sound according as the hand is laid on flat or hollow. Then,
perhaps, a professional comes along, shouting out the score;
that is the finishing touch. Add to this the arresting of an
occasional roisterer or pickpocket, the racket of the man who
always likes to hear his own voice in the bathroom, or the
enthusiast who plunges into the swimming-tank with
unconscionable noise and splashing. Besides all those whose
voices, if nothing else, are good, imagine the hair-plucker with
his penetrating, shrill voice, – for purposes of advertisement, –
continually giving it vent and never holding his tongue except
when he is plucking the armpits and making his victim yell
instead. Then the cakeseller with his varied cries, the
sausageman, the confectioner, and all the vendors of food
hawking their wares, each with his own distinctive intonation.
So you say: "What iron nerves or deadened ears, you must
have, if your mind can hold out amid so many noises, so
various and so discordant, when our friend Chrysippus is
brought to his death by the continual good-morrows that greet
him!" But I assure you that this racket means no more to me
than the sound of waves or falling water; although you will
remind me that a certain tribe once moved their city merely
because they could not endure the din of a Nile cataract.
Words seem to distract me more than noises; for words
demand attention, but noises merely fill the ears and beat
upon them. Among the sounds that din round me without
distracting, I include passing carriages, a machinist in the
same block, a saw-sharpener near by, or some fellow who is
demonstrating with little pipes and flutes at the Trickling
Fountain, shouting rather than singing.
Furthermore, an intermittent noise upsets me more than a
steady one. But by this time I have toughened my nerves
against all that sort of thing, so that I can endure even a
boatswain marking the time in high-pitched tones for his crew.
For I force my mind to concentrate, and keep it from straying
to things outside itself; all outdoors may be bedlam, provided
that there is no disturbance within, provided that fear is not
wrangling with desire in my breast, provided that meanness
and lavishness are not at odds, one harassing the other. For of
what benefit is a quiet neighbourhood, if our emotions are in
an uproar?
'Twas night, and all the world was lulled to rest.
This is not true; for no real rest can be found when reason
has not done the lulling. Night brings our troubles to the light,
rather than banishes them; it merely changes the form of our
worries. For even when we seek slumber, our sleepless
moments are as harassing as the daytime. Real tranquillity is
the state reached by an unperverted mind when it is relaxed.
Think of the unfortunate man who courts sleep by surrendering
his spacious mansion to silence, who, that his ear may be
disturbed by no sound, bids the whole retinue of his slaves be
quiet and that whoever approaches him shall walk on tiptoe;
he tosses from this side to that and seeks a fitful slumber amid
his frettings! He complains that he has heard sounds, when he
has not heard them at all. The reason, you ask? His soul's in an
uproar; it must be soothed, and its rebellious murmuring
checked. You need not suppose that the soul is at peace when
the body is still. Sometimes quiet means disquiet.
We must therefore rouse ourselves to action and busy
ourselves with interests that are good, as often as we are in
the grasp of an uncontrollable sluggishness. Great generals,
when they see that their men are mutinous, check them by
some sort of labour or keep them busy with small forays. The
much occupied man has no time for wantonness, and it is an
obvious commonplace that the evils of leisure can be shaken
off by hard work. Although people may often have thought that
I sought seclusion because I was disgusted with politics and
regretted my hapless and thankless position, yet, in the retreat
to which apprehension and weariness have driven me, my
ambition sometimes develops afresh. For it is not because my
ambition was rooted out that it has abated, but because it was
wearied or perhaps even put out of temper by the failure of its
plans. And so with luxury, also, which sometimes seems to
have departed, and then when we have made a profession of
frugality, begins to fret us and, amid our economies, seeks the
pleasures which we have merely left but not condemned.
Indeed, the more stealthily it comes, the greater is its force.
For all unconcealed vices are less serious; a disease also is
farther on the road to being cured when it breaks forth from
concealment and manifests its power. So with greed, ambition,
and the other evils of the mind, – you may be sure that they do
most harm when they are hidden behind a pretence of
Men think that we are in retirement, and yet we are not. For
if we have sincerely retired, and have sounded the signal for
retreat, and have scorned outward attractions, then, as I
remarked above, no outward thing will distract us; no music of
men or of birds can interrupt good thoughts, when they have
once become steadfast and sure. The mind which starts at
words or at chance sounds is unstable and has not yet
withdrawn into itself; it contains within itself an element of
anxiety and rooted fear, and this makes one a prey to care, as
our Vergil says:
I, whom of yore no dart could cause to flee,
Nor Greeks, with crowded lines of infantry.
Now shake at every sound, and fear the air,
Both for my child and for the load I bear.
This man in his first state is wise; he blenches neither at the
brandished spear, nor at the clashing armour of the serried
foe, nor at the din of the stricken city. This man in his second
state lacks knowledge fearing for his own concerns, he pales at
every sound; any cry is taken for the battle-shout and
overthrows him; the slightest disturbance renders him
breathless with fear. It is the load that makes him afraid. Select
anyone you please from among your favourites of Fortune,
trailing their many responsibilities, carrying their many
burdens, and you will behold a picture of Vergil's hero, "fearing
both for his child and for the load he bears."
You may therefore be sure that you are at peace with
yourself, when no noise readies you, when no word shakes you
out of yourself, whether it be of flattery or of threat, or merely
an empty sound buzzing about you with unmeaning din. "What
then?" you say, "is it not sometimes a simpler matter just to
avoid the uproar?" I admit this. Accordingly, I shall change
from my present quarters. I merely wished to test myself and
to give myself practice. Why need I be tormented any longer,
when Ulysses found so simple a cure for his comrades even
against the songs of the Sirens? Farewell.
Letter LVII - On the Trials of Travel
When it was time for me to return to Naples from Baiae, I
easily persuaded myself that a storm was raging, that I might
avoid another trip by sea; and yet the road was so deep in
mud, all the way, that I may be thought none the less to have
made a voyage. On that day I had to endure the full fate of an
athlete; the anointing with which we began was followed by
the sand-sprinkle in the Naples tunnel. No place could be
longer than that prison; nothing could be dimmer than those
torches, which enabled us, not to see amid the darkness, but
to see the darkness. But, even supposing that there was light
in the place, the dust, which is an oppressive and disagreeable
thing even in the open air, would destroy the light; how much
worse the dust is there, where it rolls back upon itself, and,
being shut in without ventilation, blows back in the faces of
those who set it going! So we endured two inconveniences at
the same time, and they were diametrically different: we
struggled both with mud and with dust on the same road and
on the same day.
The gloom, however, furnished me with some food for
thought; I felt a certain mental thrill, and a transformation
unaccompanied by fear, due to the novelty and the
unpleasantness of an unusual occurrence. Of course I am not
speaking to you of myself at this point, because I am far from
being a perfect person, or even a man of middling qualities; I
refer to one over whom fortune has lost her control. Even such
a man's mind will be smitten with a thrill and he will change
colour. For there are certain emotions, my dear Lucilius, which
no courage can avoid; nature reminds courage how perishable
a thing it is. And so he will contract his brow when the prospect
is forbidding, will shudder at sudden apparitions, and will
become dizzy when he stands at the edge of a high precipice
and looks down. This is not fear; it is a natural feeling which
reason cannot rout. That is why certain brave men, most
willing to shed their own blood, cannot bear to see the blood of
others. Some persons collapse and faint at the sight of a
freshly inflicted wound; others are affected similarly on
handling or viewing an old wound which is festering. And
others meet the sword-stroke more readily than they see it
Accordingly, as I said, I experienced a certain transformation,
though it could not be called confusion. Then at the first
glimpse of restored daylight my good spirits returned without
forethought or command. And I began to muse and think how
foolish we are to fear certain objects to a greater or less
degree, since all of them end in the same way. For what
difference does it make whether a watchtower or a mountain
crashes down upon us? No difference at all, you will find.
Nevertheless, there will be some men who fear the latter
mishap to a greater degree, though both accidents are equally
deadly; so true it is that fear looks not to the effect, but to the
cause of the effect. Do you suppose that I am now referring to
the Stoics, who hold that the soul of a man crushed by a great
weight cannot abide, and is scattered forthwith, because it has
not had a free opportunity to depart? That is not what I am
doing; those who think thus are, in my opinion, wrong. Just as
fire cannot be crushed out, since it will escape round the edges
of the body which overwhelms it; just as the air cannot be
damaged by lashes and blows, or even cut into, but flows back
about the object to which it gives place; similarly the soul,
which consists of the subtlest particles, cannot be arrested or
destroyed inside the body, but, by virtue of its delicate
substance, it will rather escape through the very object by
which it is being crushed. Just as lightning, no matter how
widely it strikes and flashes, makes its return through a narrow
opening, so the soul, which is still subtler than fire, has a way
of escape through any part of the body. We therefore come to
this question, – whether the soul can be immortal. But be sure
of this: if the soul survives the body after the body is crushed,
the soul can in no wise be crushed out, precisely because it
does not perish; for the rule of immortality never admits of
exceptions, and nothing can harm that which is everlasting.
Letter LVIII - On Being
How scant of words our language is, nay, how povertystricken, I have not fully understood until to-day. We happened
to be speaking of Plato, and a thousand subjects came up for
discussion, which needed names and yet possessed none; and
there were certain others which once possessed, but have
since lost, their words because we were too nice about their
use. But who can endure to be nice in the midst of poverty?
There is an insect, called by the Greeks oestrus, which drives
cattle wild and scatters them all over their pasturing grounds;
it used to be called asilus in our language, as you may believe
on the authority of Vergil:-
Near Silarus groves, and eke Alburnus' shades
Of green-clad oak-trees flits an insect, named
Asilus by the Romans; in the Greek
The word is rendered oestrus. With a rough
And strident sound it buzzes and drives wild
The terror-stricken herds throughout the woods.
By which I infer that the word has gone out of use. And, not
to keep you waiting too long, there were certain
uncompounded words current, like cernere ferro inter se, as
will be proved again by Vergil:-
Great heroes, born in various lands, had come
To settle matters mutually with the sword.
This "settling matters" we now express by decernere. The
plain word has become obsolete. The ancients used to say
iusso, instead of iussero, in conditional clauses. You need not
take my word, but you may turn again to Vergil:-
The other soldiers shall conduct the fight
With me, where I shall bid.
It is not in my purpose to show, by this array of examples,
how much time I have wasted on the study of language; I
merely wish you to understand how many words, that were
current in the works of Ennius and Accius, have become
mouldy with age; while even in the case of Vergil, whose works
are explored daily, some of his words have been filched away
from us.
You will say, I suppose: "What is the purpose and meaning of
this preamble?" I shall not keep you in the dark; I desire, if
possible, to say the word essentia to you and obtain a
favourable hearing. If I cannot do this, I shall risk it even
though it put you out of humour. I have Cicero, as authority for
the use of this word, and I regard him as a powerful authority.
If you desire testimony of a later date, I shall cite Fabianus,
careful of speech, cultivated, and so polished in style that he
will suit even our nice tastes. For what can we do, my dear
Lucilius? How otherwise can we find a word for that which the
Greeks call οὐσία, something that is indispensable, something
that is the natural substratum of everything? I beg you
accordingly to allow me to use this word essentia. I shall
nevertheless take pains to exercise the privilege, which you
have granted me, with as sparing a hand as possible; perhaps I
shall be content with the mere right. Yet what good will your
indulgence do me, if, lo and behold, I can in no wise express in
Latin the meaning of the word which gave me the opportunity
to rail at the poverty of our language? And you will condemn
our narrow Roman limits even more, when you find out that
there is a word of one syllable which I cannot translate. "What
is this?" you ask. It is the word ὄν. You think me lacking in
facility; you believe that the word is ready to hand, that it
might be translated by quod est. I notice, however, a great
difference; you are forcing me to render a noun by a verb. But
if I must do so, I shall render it by quod est. There are six ways
in which Plato expresses this idea, according to a friend of
ours, a man of great learning, who mentioned the fact to-day.
And I shall explain all of them to you, if I may first point out
that there is something called genus and something called
For the present, however, we are seeking the primary idea of
genus, on which the others, the different species, depend,
which is the source of all classification, the term under which
universal ideas are embraced. And the idea of genus will be
reached if we begin to reckon back from particulars; for in this
way we shall be conducted back to the primary notion. Now
"man" is a species, as Aristotle says; so is "horse," or "dog."
We must therefore discover some common bond for all these
terms, one which embraces them and holds them subordinate
to itself. And what is this? It is "animal." And so there begins to
be a genus "animal," including all these terms, "man," "horse,"
and "dog." But there are certain things which have life (anima)
and yet are not "animals." For it is agreed that plants and trees
possess life, and that is why we speak of them as living and
dying. Therefore the term "living things" will occupy a still
higher place, because both animals and plants are included in
this category. Certain objects, however, lack life, – such as
rocks. There will therefore be another term to take precedence
over "living things," and that is "substance." I shall classify
"substance" by saying that all substances are either animate
or inanimate. But there is still something superior to
"substance"; for we speak of certain things as possessing
substance, and certain things as lacking substance. What,
then, will be the term from which these things are derived? It is
that to which we lately gave an inappropriate name, "that
which exists." For by using this term they will be divided into
species, so that we can say: that which exists either possesses,
or lacks, substance.
This, therefore, is what genus is, – the primary, original, and
(to play upon the word) "general." Of course there are the
other genera: but they are "special" genera: "man" being, for
example, a genus. For "man" comprises species: by nations, –
Greek, Roman, Parthian; by colours, – white, black, yellow. The
term comprises individuals also: Cato, Cicero, Lucretius. So
"man" falls into the category genus, in so far as it includes
many kinds; but in so far as it is subordinate to another term, it
falls into the category species. But the genus "that which
exists" is general, and has no term superior to it. It is the first
term in the classification of things, and all things are included
under it.
The Stoics would set ahead of this still another genus, even
more primary; concerning which I shall immediately speak,
after proving that the genus which has been discussed above,
has rightly been placed first, being, as it is, capable of
including everything. I therefore distribute "that which exists"
into these two species, – things with, and things without,
substance. There is no third class. And how do I distribute
"substance"? By saying that it is either animate or inanimate.
And how do I distribute the "animate"? By saying: "Certain
things have mind, while others have only life." Or the idea may
be expressed as follows: "Certain things have the power of
movement, of progress, of change of position, while others are
rooted in the ground; they are fed and they grow only through
their roots." Again, into what species do I divide "animals"?
They are either perishable or imperishable. Certain of the
Stoics regard the primary genus as the "something." I shall add
the reasons they give for their belief; they say: "in the order of
nature some things exist, and other things do not exist. And
even the things that do not exist are really part of the order of
nature. What these are will readily occur to the mind, for
example centaurs, giants, and all other figments of unsound
reasoning, which have begun to have a definite shape,
although they have no bodily consistency."
But I now return to the subject which I promised to discuss
for you, namely, how it is that Plato divides all existing things
in six different ways. The first class of "that which exists"
cannot be grasped by the sight or by the touch, or by any of
the senses; but it can be grasped by the thought. Any generic
conception, such as the generic idea "man," does not come
within the range of the eyes; but "man" in particular does; as,
for example, Cicero, Cato. The term "animal" is not seen; it is
grasped by thought alone. A particular animal, however, is
seen, for example, a horse, a dog.
The second class of "things which exist," according to Plato,
is that which is prominent and stands out above everything
else; this, he says, exists in a pre-eminent degree. The word
"poet" is used indiscriminately, for this term is applied to all
writers of verse; but among the Greeks it has come to be the
distinguishing mark of a single individual. You know that
Homer is meant when you hear men say "the poet." What,
then, is this pre-eminent Being? God, surely, one who is
greater and more powerful than anyone else.
The third class is made up of those things which exist in the
proper sense of the term; they are countless in number, but
are situated beyond our sight. "What are these?" you ask. They
are Plato's own furniture, so to speak; he calls them "ideas,"
and from them all visible things are created, and according to
their pattern all things are fashioned. They are immortal,
unchangeable, inviolable. And this "idea," or rather, Plato's
conception of it, is as follows: "The 'idea' is the everlasting
pattern of those things which are created by nature." I shall
explain this definition, in order to set the subject before you in
a clearer light: Suppose that I wish to make a likeness of you; I
possess in your own person the pattern of this picture,
wherefrom my mind receives a certain outline, which it is to
embody in its own handiwork. That outward appearance, then,
which gives me instruction and guidance, this pattern for me
to imitate, is the "idea." Such patterns, therefore, nature
possesses in infinite number, – of men, fish, trees, according to
whose model everything that nature has to create is worked
In the fourth place we shall put "form." And if you would
know what "form" means, you must pay close attention, calling
Plato, and not me, to account for the difficulty of the subject.
However, we cannot make fine distinctions without
encountering difficulties. A moment ago I made use of the
artist as an illustration. When the artist desired to reproduce
Vergil in colours he would gaze upon Vergil himself. The "idea"
was Vergil's outward appearance, and this was the pattern of
the intended work. That which the artist draws from this "idea"
and has embodied in his own work, is the "form." Do you ask
me where the difference lies? The former is the pattern; while
the latter is the shape taken from the pattern and embodied in
the work. Our artist follows the one, but the other he creates. A
statue has a certain external appearance; this external
appearance of the statue is the "form." And the pattern itself
has a certain external appearance, by gazing upon which the
sculptor has fashioned his statue; this is the "idea." If you
desire a further distinction, I will say that the "form" is in the
artist's work, the "idea" outside his work, and not only outside
it, but prior to it.
The fifth class is made up of the things which exist in the
usual sense of the term. These things are the first that have to
do with us; here we have all such things as men, cattle, and
things. In the sixth class goes all that which has a fictitious
existence, like void, or time.
Whatever is concrete to the sight or touch, Plato does not
include among the things which he believes to be existent in
the strict sense of the term. These things are the first that
have to do with us: here we have all such things as men,
cattle, and things. For they are in a state of flux, constantly
diminishing or increasing. None of us is the same man in old
age that he was in youth; nor the same on the morrow as on
the day preceding. Our bodies are burned along like flowing
waters; every visible object accompanies time in its flight; of
the things which we see, nothing is fixed. Even I myself as I
comment on this change, am changed myself. This is just what
Heraclitus says: "We go down twice into the same river, and
yet into a different river." For the stream still keeps the same
name, but the water has already flowed past. Of course this is
much more evident in rivers than in human beings. Still, we
mortals are also carried past in no less speedy a course; and
this prompts me to marvel at our madness in cleaving with
great affection to such a fleeting thing as the body, and in
fearing lest some day we may die, when every instant means
the death of our previous condition. Will you not stop fearing
lest that may happen once which really happens every day? So
much for man, – a substance that flows away and falls,
exposed to every influence; but the universe, too, immortal
and enduring as it is, changes and never remains the same.
For though it has within itself all that it has had, it has it in a
different way from that in which it has had it; it keeps changing
its arrangement.
. "Very well," say you, "what good shall I get from all this fine
reasoning?" None, if you wish me to answer your question.
Nevertheless, just as an engraver rests his eyes when they
have long been under a strain and are weary, and calls them
from their work, and "feasts" them, as the saying is; so we at
times should slacken our minds and refresh them with some
sort of entertainment. But let even your entertainment be
work; and even from these various forms of entertainment you
will select, if you have been watchful, something that may
prove wholesome. That is my habit, Lucilius: I try to extract
and render useful some element from every field of thought,
no matter how far removed it may be from philosophy. Now
what could be less likely to reform character than the subjects
which we have been discussing? And how can I be made a
better man by the "ideas" of Plato? What can I draw from them
that will put a check on my appetites? Perhaps the very
thought, that all these things which minister to our senses,
which arouse and excite us, are by Plato denied a place among
the things that really exist. Such things are therefore
imaginary, and though they for the moment present a certain
external appearance, yet they are in no case permanent or
substantial; none the less, we crave them as if they were
always to exist, or as if we were always to possess them.
We are weak, watery beings standing in the midst of
unrealities; therefore let us turn our minds to the things that
are everlasting. Let us look up to the ideal outlines of all
things, that flit about on high, and to the God who moves
among them and plans how he may defend from death that
which he could not make imperishable because its substance
forbade, and so by reason may overcome the defects of the
body. For all things abide, not because they are everlasting,
but because they are protected by the care of him who
governs all things; but that which was imperishable would
need no guardian. The Master Builder keeps them safe,
overcoming the weakness of their fabric by his own power. Let
us despise everything that is so little an object of value that it
makes us doubt whether it exists at all. Let us at the same
time reflect, seeing that Providence rescues from its perils the
world itself, which is no less mortal than we ourselves, that to
some extent our petty bodies can be made to tarry longer
upon earth by our own providence, if only we acquire the
ability to control and check those pleasures whereby the
greater portion of mankind perishes. Plato himself, by taking
pains, advanced to old age. To be sure, he was the fortunate
possessor of a strong and sound body (his very name was
given him because of his broad chest); but his strength was
much impaired by sea voyages and desperate adventures.
Nevertheless, by frugal living, by setting a limit upon all that
rouses the appetites, and by painstaking attention to himself,
he reached that advanced age in spite of many hindrances.
You know, I am sure, that Plato had the good fortune, thanks to
his careful living, to die on his birthday, after exactly
completing his eighty-first year. For this reason wise men of
the East, who happened to be in Athens at that time, sacrificed
to him after his death, believing that his length of days was too
full for a mortal man, since he had rounded out the perfect
number of nine times nine. I do not doubt that he would have
been quite willing to forgo a few days from this total, as well as
the sacrifice.
Frugal living can bring one to old age; and to my mind old
age is not to be refused any more than is to be craved. There
is a pleasure in being in one's own company as long as
possible, when a man has made himself worth enjoying. The
question, therefore, on which we have to record our judgment
is, whether one should shrink from extreme old age and should
hasten the end artificially, instead of waiting for it to come. A
man who sluggishly awaits his fate is almost a coward, just as
he is immoderately given to wine who drains the jar dry and
sucks up even the dregs. But we shall ask this question also:
"Is the extremity of life the dregs, or is it the clearest and
purest part of all, provided only that the mind is unimpaired,
and the senses, still sound, give their support to the spirit, and
the body is not worn out and dead before its time?" For it
makes a great deal of difference whether a man is lengthening
his life or his death. But if the body is useless for service, why
should one not free the struggling soul? Perhaps one ought to
do this a little before the debt is due, lest, when it falls due, he
may be unable to perform the act. And since the danger of
living in wretchedness is greater than the danger of dying
soon, he is a fool who refuses to stake a little time and win a
hazard of great gain.
Few have lasted through extreme old age to death without
impairment, and many have lain inert, making no use of
themselves. How much more cruel, then, do you suppose it
really is to have lost a portion of your life, than to have lost
your right to end that life? . Do not hear me with reluctance, as
if my statement applied directly to you, but weigh what I have
to say. It is this, that I shall not abandon old age, if old age
preserves me intact for myself, and intact as regards the
better part of myself; but if old age begins to shatter my mind,
and to pull its various faculties to pieces, if it leaves me, not
life, but only the breath of life, I shall rush out of a house that
is crumbling and tottering. I shall not avoid illness by seeking
death, as long as the illness is curable and does not impede
my soul. I shall not lay violent hands upon myself just because
I am in pain; for death under such circumstances is defeat. But
if I find out that the pain must always be endured, I shall
depart, not because of the pain but because it will be a
hindrance to me as regards all my reasons for living. He who
dies just because he is in pain is a weakling, a coward; but he
who lives merely to brave out this pain, is a fool.
But I am running on too long; and, besides, there is matter
here to fill a day. And how can a man end his life, if he cannot
end a letter? So farewell. This last word you will read with
greater pleasure than all my deadly talk about death. Farewell.
Letter LIX - On Pleasure and Joy
I received great pleasure from your letter; kindly allow me to
use these words in their everyday meaning, without insisting
upon their Stoic import. For we Stoics hold that pleasure is a
vice. Very likely it is a vice; but we are accustomed to use the
word when we wish to indicate a happy state of mind. I am
aware that if we test words by our formula, even pleasure is a
thing of ill repute, and joy can be attained only by the wise. For
"joy" is an elation of spirit, of a spirit which trusts in the
goodness and truth of its own possessions. The common
usage, however, is that we derive great "joy" from a friend's
position as consul, or from his marriage, or from the birth of his
child; but these events, so far from being matters of joy, are
more often the beginnings of sorrow to come. No, it is a
characteristic of real joy that it never ceases, and never
changes into its opposite.
Accordingly, when our Vergil speaks of
The evil joys of the mind,
his words are eloquent, but not strictly appropriate. For no
"joy" can be evil. He has given the name "joy" to pleasures,
and has thus expressed his meaning. For he has conveyed the
idea that men take delight in their own evil. Nevertheless, I
was not wrong in saying that I received great "pleasure" from
your letter; for although an ignorant man may derive "joy" if
the cause be an honourable one, yet, since his emotion is
wayward, and is likely soon to take another direction, I call it
"pleasure"; for it is inspired by an opinion concerning a
spurious good; it exceeds control and is carried to excess.
But, to return to the subject, let me tell you what delighted
me in your letter. You have your words under control. You are
not carried away by your language, or borne beyond the limits
which you have determined upon. Many writers are tempted
by the charm of some alluring phrase to some topic other than
that which they had set themselves to discuss. But this has not
been so in your case; all your words are compact, and suited to
the subject, You say all that you wish, and you mean still more
than you say. This is a proof of the importance of your subject
matter, showing that your mind, as well as your words,
contains nothing superfluous or bombastic.
I do, however, find some metaphors, not, indeed, daring
ones, but the kind which have stood the test of use. I find
similes also; of course, if anyone forbids us to use them,
maintaining that poets alone have that privilege, he has not,
apparently, read any of our ancient prose writers, who had not
yet learned to affect a style that should win applause. For
those writers, whose eloquence was simple and directed only
towards proving their case, are full of comparisons; and I think
that these are necessary, not for the same reason which
makes them necessary for the poets, but in order that they
may serve as props to our feebleness, to bring both speaker
and listener face to face with the subject under discussion. For
example, I am at this very moment reading Sextius; he is a
keen man, and a philosopher who, though he writes in Greek,
has the Roman standard of ethics. One of his similes appealed
especially to me, that of an army marching in hollow square, in
a place where the enemy might be expected to appear from
any quarter, ready for battle. "This," said he, "is just what the
wise man ought to do; he should have all his fighting qualities
deployed on every side, so that wherever the attack threatens,
there his supports may be ready to hand and may obey the
captain's command without confusion." This is what we notice
in armies which serve under great leaders; we see how all the
troops simultaneously understand their general's orders, since
they are so arranged that a signal given by one man passes
down the ranks of cavalry and infantry at the same moment.
This, he declares, is still more necessary for men like
ourselves; for soldiers have often feared an enemy without
reason, and the march which they thought most dangerous has
in fact been most secure; but folly brings no repose, fear
haunts it both in the van and in the rear of the column, and
both flanks are in a panic. Folly is pursued, and confronted, by
peril. It blenches at everything; it is unprepared; it is
frightened even by auxiliary troops. But the wise man is
fortified against all inroads; he is alert; he will not retreat
before the attack of poverty, or of sorrow, or of disgrace, or of
pain. He will walk undaunted both against them and among
We human beings are fettered and weakened by many vices;
we have wallowed in them for a long time and it is hard for us
to be cleansed. We are not merely defiled; we are dyed by
them. But, to refrain from passing from one figure to another, I
will raise this question, which I often consider in my own heart:
why is it that folly holds us with such an insistent grasp? It is,
primarily, because we do not combat it strongly enough,
because we do not struggle towards salvation with all our
might; secondly, because we do not put sufficient trust in the
discoveries of the wise, and do not drink in their words with
open hearts; we approach this great problem in too trifling a
spirit. But how can a man learn, in the struggle against his
vices, an amount that is enough, if the time which he gives to
learning is only the amount left over from his vices? None of us
goes deep below the surface. We skim the top only, and we
regard the smattering of time spent in the search for wisdom
as enough and to spare for a busy man. What hinders us most
of all is that we are too readily satisfied with ourselves; if we
meet with someone who calls us good men, or sensible men,
or holy men, we see ourselves in his description, not content
with praise in moderation, we accept everything that
shameless flattery heaps upon us, as if it were our due. We
agree with those who declare us to be the best and wisest of
men, although we know that they are given to much lying. And
we are so self-complacent that we desire praise for certain
actions when we are especially addicted to the very opposite.
Yonder person hears himself called "most gentle" when he is
inflicting tortures, or "most generous" when he is engaged in
looting, or "most temperate" when he is in the midst of
drunkenness and lust. Thus it follows that we are unwilling to
be reformed, just because we believe ourselves to be the best
of men.
Alexander was roaming as far as India, ravaging tribes that
were but little known, even to their neighbours. During the
blockade of a certain city, while he was reconnoitring the walls
and hunting for the weakest spot in the fortifications, he was
wounded by an arrow. Nevertheless, he long continued the
siege, intent on finishing what he had begun. The pain of his
wound, however, as the surface became dry and as the flow of
blood was checked, increased; his leg gradually became numb
as he sat his horse; and finally, when he was forced to
withdraw, he exclaimed: "All men swear that I am the son of
Jupiter, but this wound cries out that I am mortal." Let us also
act in the same way. Each man, according to his lot in life, is
stultified by flattery. We should say to him who flatters us: "You
call me a man of sense, but I understand how many of the
things which I crave are useless, and how many of the things
which I desire will do me harm. I have not even the knowledge,
which satiety teaches to animals, of what should be the
measure of my food or my drink. I do not yet know how much I
can hold."
I shall now show you how you may know that you are not
wise. The wise man is joyful, happy and calm, unshaken, he
lives on a plane with the gods. Now go, question yourself; if
you are never downcast, if your mind is not harassed by my
apprehension, through anticipation of what is to come, if day
and night your soul keeps on its even and unswerving course,
upright and content with itself, then you have attained to the
greatest good that mortals can possess. If, however, you seek
pleasures of all kinds in all directions, you must know that you
are as far short of wisdom as you are short of joy. Joy is the
goal which you desire to reach, but you are wandering from
the path, if you expect to reach your goal while you are in the
midst of riches and official titles, – in other words, if you seek
joy in the midst of cares, these objects for which you strive so
eagerly, as if they would give you happiness and pleasure, are
merely causes of grief.
All men of this stamp, I maintain, are pressing on in pursuit
of joy, but they do not know where they may obtain a joy that
is both great and enduring. One person seeks it in feasting and
self-indulgence; another, in canvassing for honours and in
being surrounded by a throng of clients; another, in his
mistress; another, in idle display of culture and in literature
that has no power to heal; all these men are led astray by
delights which are deceptive and short-lived – like drunkenness
for example, which pays for a single hour of hilarious madness
by a sickness of many days, or like applause and the
popularity of enthusiastic approval which are gained, and
atoned for, at the cost of great mental disquietude.
Reflect, therefore, on this, that the effect of wisdom is a joy
that is unbroken and continuous. The mind of the wise man is
like the ultra-lunar firmament; eternal calm pervades that
region. You have, then, a reason for wishing to be wise, if the
wise man is never deprived of joy. This joy springs only from
the knowledge that you possess the virtues. None but the
brave, the just, the self-restrained, can rejoice. And when you
query: "What do you mean? Do not the foolish and the wicked
also rejoice?" I reply, no more than lions who have caught their
prey. When men have wearied themselves with wine and lust,
when night fails them before their debauch is done, when the
pleasures which they have heaped upon a body that is too
small to hold them begin to fester, at such times they utter in
their wretchedness those lines of Vergil:
Thou knowest how, amid false-glittering joys.
We spent that last of nights.
Pleasure-lovers spend every night amid false-glittering joys,
and just as if it were their last. But the joy which comes to the
gods, and to those who imitate the gods, is not broken off, nor
does it cease; but it would surely cease were it borrowed from
without. Just because it is not in the power of another to
bestow, neither is it subject to another's whims. That which
Fortune has not given, she cannot take away. Farewell.
Letter LX - On Harmful Prayers
I file a complaint, I enter a suit, I am angry. Do you still desire
what your nurse, your guardian, or your mother, have prayed
for in your behalf? Do you not yet understand what evil they
prayed for? Alas, how hostile to us are the wishes of our own
folk! And they are all the more hostile in proportion as they are
more completely fulfilled. It is no surprise to me, at my age,
that nothing but evil attends us from our early youth; for we
have grown up amid the curses invoked by our parents. And
may the gods give ear to our cry also, uttered in our own
behalf, – one which asks no favours!
How long shall we go on making demands upon the gods, as
if we were still unable to support ourselves? How long shall we
continue to fill with grain the market-places of our great cities?
How long must the people gather it in for us? How long shall
many ships convey the requisites for a single meal, bringing
them from no single sea? The bull is filled when he feeds over
a few acres; and one forest is large enough for a herd of
elephants. Man, however, draws sustenance both from the
earth and from the sea. What, then? Did nature give us bellies
so insatiable, when she gave us these puny bodies, that we
should outdo the hugest and most voracious animals in greed?
Not at all. How small is the amount which will satisfy nature? A
very little will send her away contented. It is not the natural
hunger of our bellies that costs us dear, but our solicitous
cravings. Therefore those who, as Sallust puts it, "hearken to
their bellies," should be numbered among the animals, and not
among men; and certain men, indeed, should be numbered,
not even among the animals, but among the dead. He really
lives who is made use of by many; he really lives who makes
use of himself. Those men, however, who creep into a hole and
grow torpid are no better off in their homes than if they were in
their tombs. Right there on the marble lintel of the house of
such a man you may inscribe his name, for he has died before
he is dead. Farewell.
Letter LXI - On Meeting Death Cheerfully
Let us cease to desire that which we have been desiring. I, at
least, am doing this: in my old age I have ceased to desire
what I desired when a boy. To this single end my days and my
nights are passed; this is my task, this the object of my
thoughts, – to put an end to my chronic ills. I am endeavouring
to live every day as if it were a complete life. I do not indeed
snatch it up as if it were my last; I do regard it, however, as if it
might even be my last. The present letter is written to you with
this in mind as if death were about to call me away in the very
act of writing. I am ready to depart, and I shall enjoy life just
because I am not over-anxious as to the future date of my
Before I became old I tried to live well; now that I am old, I
shall try to die well; but dying well means dying gladly. See to
it that you never do anything unwillingly. That which is bound
to be a necessity if you rebel, is not a necessity if you desire it.
This is what I mean: he who takes his orders gladly, escapes
the bitterest part of slavery, – doing what one does not want to
do. The man who does something under orders is not unhappy;
he is unhappy who does something against his will. Let us
therefore so set our minds in order that we may desire
whatever is demanded of us by circumstances, and above all
that we may reflect upon our end without sadness. We must
make ready for death before we make ready for life. Life is well
enough furnished, but we are too greedy with regard to its
furnishings; something always seems to us lacking, and will
always seem lacking. To have lived long enough depends
neither upon our years nor upon our days, but upon our minds.
I have lived, my dear friend Lucilius, long enough. I have had
my fill; I await death. Farewell.
Letter LXII - On Good Company
We are deceived by those who would have us believe that a
multitude of affairs blocks their pursuit of liberal studies; they
make a pretence of their engagements, and multiply them,
when their engagements are merely with themselves. As for
me, Lucilius, my time is free; it is indeed free, and wherever I
am, I am master of myself. For I do not surrender myself to my
affairs, but loan myself to them, and I do not hunt out excuses
for wasting my time. And wherever I am situated, I carry on my
own meditations and ponder in my mind some wholesome
thought. When I give myself to my friends, I do not withdraw
from my own company, nor do I linger with those who are
associated with me through some special occasion or some
case which arises from my official position. But I spend my
time in the company of all the best; no matter in what lands
they may have lived, or in what age, I let my thoughts fly to
them. Demetrius, for instance, the best of men, I take about
with me, and, leaving the wearers of purple and fine linen, I
talk with him, half-naked as he is, and hold him in high esteem.
Why should I not hold him in high esteem? I have found that
he lacks nothing. It is in the power of any man to despise all
things, but of no man to possess all things. The shortest cut to
riches is to despise riches. Our friend Demetrius, however,
lives not merely as if he has learned to despise all things, but
as if he has handed them over for others to possess. Farewell.
Letter LXIII - On Grief for Lost Friends
I am grieved to hear that your friend Flaccus is dead, but I
would not have you sorrow more than is fitting. That you
should not mourn at all I shall hardly dare to insist; and yet I
know that it is the better way. But what man will ever be so
blessed with that ideal steadfastness of soul, unless he has
already risen far above the reach of Fortune? Even such a man
will be stung by an event like this, but it will be only a sting.
We, however, may be forgiven for bursting into tears, if only
our tears have not flowed to excess, and if we have checked
them by our own efforts. Let not the eyes be dry when we
have lost a friend, nor let them overflow. We may weep, but we
must not wail.
Do you think that the law which I lay down for you is harsh,
when the greatest of Greek poets has extended the privilege of
weeping to one day only, in the lines where he tells us that
even Niobe took thought of food? Do you wish to know the
reason for lamentations and excessive weeping? It is because
we seek the proofs of our bereavement in our tears, and do not
give way to sorrow, but merely parade it. No man goes into
mourning for his own sake. Shame on our ill-timed folly! There
is an element of self-seeking even in our sorrow.
"What," you say, "am I to forget my friend?" It is surely a
short-lived memory that you vouchsafe to him, if it is to endure
only as long as your grief; presently that brow of yours will be
smoothed out in laughter by some circumstance, however
casual. It is to a time no more distant than this that I put off
the soothing of every regret, the quieting of even the bitterest
grief. As soon as you cease to observe yourself, the picture of
sorrow which you have contemplated will fade away; at
present you are keeping watch over your own suffering. But
even while you keep watch it slips away from you, and the
sharper it is, the more speedily it comes to an end.
Let us see to it that the recollection of those whom we have
lost becomes a pleasant memory to us. No man reverts with
pleasure to any subject which he will not be able to reflect
upon without pain. So too it cannot but be that the names of
those whom we have loved and lost come back to us with a
sort of sting; but there is a pleasure even in this sting. For, as
my friend Attalus used to say: "The remembrance of lost
friends is pleasant in the same way that certain fruits have an
agreeably acid taste, or as in extremely old wines it is their
very bitterness that pleases us. Indeed, after a certain lapse of
time, every thought that gave pain is quenched, and the
pleasure comes to us unalloyed." If we take the word of Attalus
for it, "to think of friends who are alive and well is like enjoying
a meal of cakes and honey; the recollection of friends who
have passed away gives a pleasure that is not without a touch
of bitterness. Yet who will deny that even these things, which
are bitter and contain an element of sourness, do serve to
arouse the stomach?" For my part, I do not agree with him. To
me, the thought of my dead friends is sweet and appealing.
For I have had them as if I should one day lose them; I have
lost them as if I have them still.
Therefore, Lucilius, act as befits your own serenity of mind,
and cease to put a wrong interpretation on the gifts of Fortune.
Fortune has taken away, but Fortune has given. Let us greedily
enjoy our friends, because we do not know how long this
privilege will be ours. Let us think how often we shall leave
them when we go upon distant journeys, and how often we
shall fail to see them when we tarry together in the same
place; we shall thus understand that we have lost too much of
their time while they were alive. But will you tolerate men who
are most careless of their friends, and then mourn them most
abjectly, and do not love anyone unless they have lost him?
The reason why they lament too unrestrainedly at such times
is that they are afraid lest men doubt whether they really have
loved; all too late they seek for proofs of their emotions. If we
have other friends, we surely deserve ill at their hands and
think ill of them, if they are of so little account that they fail to
console us for the loss of one. If, on the other hand, we have
no other friends, we have injured ourselves more than Fortune
has injured us; since Fortune has robbed us of one friend, but
we have robbed ourselves of every friend whom we have failed
to make. Again, he who has been unable to love more than
one, has had none too much love even for that one. If a man
who has lost his one and only tunic through robbery chooses to
bewail his plight rather than look about him for some way to
escape the cold, or for something with which to cover his
shoulders, would you not think him an utter fool?
You have buried one whom you loved; look about for
someone to love. It is better to replace your friend than to
weep for him. What I am about to add is, I know, a very
hackneyed remark, but I shall not omit it simply because it is a
common phrase: a man ends his grief by the mere passing of
time, even if he has not ended it of his own accord. But the
most shameful cure for sorrow, in the case of a sensible man,
is to grow weary of sorrowing. I should prefer you to abandon
grief, rather than have grief abandon you; and you should stop
grieving as soon as possible, since, even if you wish to do so, it
is impossible to keep it up for a long time. Our forefathers have
enacted that, in the case of women, a year should be the limit
for mourning; not that they needed to mourn for so long, but
that they should mourn no longer. In the case of men, no rules
are laid down, because to mourn at all is not regarded as
honourable. For all that, what woman can you show me, of all
the pathetic females that could scarcely be dragged away from
the funeral-pile or torn from the corpse, whose tears have
lasted a whole month? Nothing becomes offensive so quickly
as grief; when fresh, it finds someone to console it and attracts
one or another to itself; but after becoming chronic, it is
ridiculed, and rightly. For it is either assumed or foolish.
He who writes these words to you is no other than I, who
wept so excessively for my dear friend Annaeus Serenus that,
in spite of my wishes, I must be included among the examples
of men who have been overcome by grief. To-day, however, I
condemn this act of mine, and I understand that the reason
why I lamented so greatly was chiefly that I had never
imagined it possible for his death to precede mine. The only
thought which occurred to my mind was that he was the
younger, and much younger, too, – as if the Fates kept to the
order of our ages!
Therefore let us continually think as much about our own
mortality as about that of all those we love. In former days I
ought to have said: "My friend Serenus is younger than I; but
what does that matter? He would naturally die after me, but he
may precede me." It was just because I did not do this that I
was unprepared when Fortune dealt me the sudden blow. Now
is the time for you to reflect, not only that all things are mortal,
but also that their mortality is subject to no fixed law.
Whatever can happen at any time can happen to-day. Let us
therefore reflect, my beloved Lucilius, that we shall soon come
to the goal which this friend, to our own sorrow, has reached.
And perhaps, if only the tale told by wise men is true and there
is a bourne to welcome us, then he whom we think we have
lost has only been sent on ahead. Farewell.
Letter LXIV - On the Philosopher's Task
Yesterday you were with us. You might complain if I said
"yesterday" merely. This is why I have added "with us." For, so
far as I am concerned, you are always with me. Certain friends
had happened in, on whose account a somewhat brighter fire
was laid, – not the kind that generally bursts from the kitchen
chimneys of the rich and scares the watch, but the moderate
blaze which means that guests have come. Our talk ran on
various themes, as is natural at a dinner; it pursued no chain of
thought to the end, but jumped from one topic to another. We
then had read to us a book by Quintus Sextius the Elder. He is
a great man, if you have any confidence in my opinion, and a
real Stoic, though he himself denies it. Ye Gods, what strength
and spirit one finds in him! This is not the case with all
philosophers; there are some men of illustrious name whose
writings are sapless. They lay down rules, they argue, and they
quibble; they do not infuse spirit simply because they have no
spirit. But when you come to read Sextius you will say: "He is
alive; he is strong; he is free; he is more than a man; he fills
me with a mighty confidence before I close his book." I shall
acknowledge to you the state of mind I am in when I read his
works: I want to challenge every hazard; I want to cry: "Why
keep me waiting, Fortune? Enter the lists! Behold, I am ready
for you!" I assume the spirit of a man who seeks where he may
make trial of himself where he may show his worth:
And fretting 'mid the unwarlike flocks he prays
Some foam-flecked boar may cross his path, or else
A tawny lion stalking down the hills.
I want something to overcome, something on which I may
test my endurance. For this is another remarkable quality that
Sextius possesses: he will show you the grandeur of the happy
life and yet will not make you despair of attaining it; you will
understand that it is on high, but that it is accessible to him
who has the will to seek it.
And virtue herself will have the same effect upon you, of
making you admire her and yet hope to attain her. In my own
case, at any rate the very contemplation of wisdom takes
much of my time; I gaze upon her with bewilderment, just as I
sometimes gaze upon the firmament itself, which I often
behold as if I saw it for the first time. Hence I worship the
discoveries of wisdom and their disco