Epictetus

1

   Some things are within our power and some things are beyond our power. Those things within our power include opinions, goals, desires, and aversions, in other words, whatever affairs belong to us. Those things beyond our power include our bodies, property, reputation, and public office, that is, whatever does not properly belong to us. Those things within our power are naturally free, unlimited, and unhindered; however, those things beyond our power are naturally dependent, weak, and foreign to us. Therefore, remember that if you ascribe freedom to things that are naturally dependent and take for yourself what belongs to others (such as your reputation), you will face obstacles, you will be full of regrets and unfulfilled wishes, and you will continually blame both the gods and men. But if you take for your own only that which properly is your own and regard what belongs to others as belonging to others, then you will never be coerced or restricted, you will not find fault with others, you will not blame others, and you will do nothing unwillingly; you cannot be hurt, you will have no enemies, you will suffer no harm. . . .


2

   Keep in mind that desire always demands the attainment of that which you desire, and aversion demands the avoidance of that which you shun; everyone who fails to attain the object they desire are disappointed; everyone who acquires the object they shun are miserable. If you shun only those things which you can control, you will never acquire what you are averse to; but if you try to avoid sickness, or death, or poverty, you will eventually be miserable. Cease trying to avoid those things you have no power over, and apply your effort to those undesirable things which are in your power. For the present, restrain your desire. If you desire anything not within your power, you are sure to be disappointed . . .


5

   Humans are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus death is not a terrible thing, or it would have appeared so to Socrates; rather, our notions of death are terrifying. Therefore, when we are blocked or troubled or grieved, let us never blame it on others but rather blame it on ourselves, that is, our own views. Ignorant people blame others for their own misfortunes; those people partially wise learn to blame themselves; the truly wise need not blame either themselves or others.


7

   Imagine yourself on a voyage at sea, and if, while the ship is at anchor off some coast, you go ashore to get water, and begin to amuse yourself by collecting shells or mushrooms, still your thoughts need to be centered on the ship and your voyage. Should the captain call, you must leave all those trifles you've been amusing yourself with; if you're not paying attention, you might have to be carried onto the ship, tied up like some animal. Thus, in life, instead of pretty shells or mushrooms, you've been given a wife or a child, don't object; but should the captain call, run to the ship, leaving these things behind, and never look back. . . .


8

   Ask not that events should happen as you wish them to happen, but simply wish events to happen as they do happen, and you will be well.


17

   Keep in mind that you are merely an actor in a play which the Author has chosen. If the play is short, then it's short; if the play is long, then it's long. If the Author chooses that you play a beggar, or a cripple, or a king, or a subject, your job is to act the part well. This is your only business—act your part well—for choosing what part you play belongs to another.


27

   One does not set up a target for the sake of missing it; in the same way, evil does not exist in the world.



43

   Everything can be said to have two handles; one by which you can bear the thing, and one by which you cannot. If, say, your brother commits some unjust act against you, do not grasp the affair by the handle of his injustice, for you can't bear it that way; rather grasp it by the opposite handle, that is, that he is your brother and has been raised up with you; thus you will grasp the affair in such a way that you can bear it.


44

   These arguments are logically absurd: "I'm richer than you, therefore I'm better." "I'm more eloquent than you, therefore I'm better." The only logical arguments that can be made in these cases are: "I'm richer than you, therefore I have more property." "I'm more eloquent than you, therefore my speaking style is better than yours." Remember, you are neither property nor a speaking style.


50

   Whatever principles you have decided on, abide by those principles as if they were laws, as if you would commit a sin against the gods by transgressing them. Forget all about the things people might say about you, for these things don't concern you. Why hold off demanding of yourself the most noble improvements? . . . You are no longer a child, but an adult. If you're negligent and lazy, adding delay to delay, excuse to excuse, and always waiting for tomorrow to get around to bettering yourself, you will accomplish nothing, as if asleep your entire life. Now is the time to decide to live as a full and grown person. Whatever appears to be the best to you, make that an inviolable law. . . . Though you are not yet a Socrates, always seek to be a Socrates.

Translated from the Greek by Richard Hooker
1993, Richard Hooker



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1993, Richard Hooker
Updated 10-3-97