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.
Epictetus (c. 55 – c. 135 AD) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. The name given by his parents, if one was given, is not known. The word epiktetos in Greek simply means "acquired".
↑Jump back a section
It is difficulties that show what men are.
First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
- To the rational being only the irrational is unendurable, but the rational is endurable.
- "But to be hanged—is that not unendurable?" Even so, when a man feels that it is reasonable, he goes off and hangs himself.
- To a reasonable creature, that alone is insupportable which is unreasonable; but everything reasonable may be supported.
- Yet God hath not only granted these faculties, by which we may bear every event without being depressed or broken by it, but like a good prince and a true father, hath placed their exercise above restraint, compulsion, or hindrance, and wholly without our own control.
- In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action, but our inward opinions and principles.
- Reason is not measured by size or height, but by principle.
- O slavish man! will you not bear with your own brother, who has God for his Father, as being a son from the same stock, and of the same high descent? But if you chance to be placed in some superior station, will you presently set yourself up for a tyrant?
- When you close your doors, and make darkness within, remember never to say that you are alone, for you are not alone; nay, God is within, and your genius is within. And what need have they of light to see what you are doing?
- No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.
- Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a Providence to an humble and grateful mind.
- Were I a nightingale, I would act the part of a nightingale; were I a swan, the part of a swan.
- Since it is Reason which shapes and regulates all other things, it ought not itself to be left in disorder.
- If what the philosophers say be true,—that all men's actions proceed from one source; that as they assent from a persuasion that a thing is so, and dissent from a persuasion that it is not, and suspend their judgment from a persuasion that it is uncertain,—so likewise they seek a thing from a persuasion that it is for their advantage.
- Practice yourself, for heaven's sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater.
- It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
- Every art and every faculty contemplates certain things as its principal objects.
- Why, then, do you walk as if you had swallowed a ramrod?
- When one maintains his proper attitude in life, he does not long after externals. What would you have, O man?
- It is difficulties that show what men are.
- If we are not stupid or insincere when we say that the good or ill of man lies within his own will, and that all beside is nothing to us, why are we still troubled?
- In theory there is nothing to hinder our following what we are taught; but in life there are many things to draw us aside.
- Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man's task.
- Only the educated are free.
- Variant: ...none ought to be educated but the free;...
- Book II, ch. 1.
- For it is not death or pain that is to be feared, but the fear of pain or death.
- Variant: For death or pain is not formidable, but the fear of pain or death.
- Book II, ch. 1
- Shall I show you the sinews of a philosopher? "What sinews are those?" — A will undisappointed; evils avoided; powers daily exercised, careful resolutions; unerring decisions.
- What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.
- Whatever you would make habitual, practice it; and if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practice it, but accustom yourself to something else.
- If you would be a good reader, read; if a writer, write.
- Be not swept off your feet by the vividness of the impression, but say, "Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are and what you represent. Let me try you."
- Book II, ch. 18, Reported in Bartlett's Quotations (1919) as "Be not hurried away by excitement, but say, "Semblance, wait for me a little".
- Two principles we should always have ready — that there is nothing good or evil save in the will; and that we are not to lead events, but to follow them.
- First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
The Enchiridion (c. 135)
- as translated by Elizabeth Carter
- Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. (1).
- Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. (5).
- It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself. (5) [tr. George Long (1888)].
- With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them. (10).
- Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth. (15).
- If a man has reported to you, that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make any defense (answer) to what has been told you: but reply, The man did not know the rest of my faults, for he would not have mentioned these only. (33) [tr. George Long (1888)]
- When you do anything from a clear judgment that it ought to be done, never shun the being seen to do it, even though the world should make a wrong supposition about it; for, if you don't act right, shun the action itself; but, if you do, why are you afraid of those who censure you wrongly? (35).
- Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don't lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried; but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried. (43).
- These reasonings are unconnected: "I am richer than you, therefore I am better"; "I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better." The connection is rather this: "I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours." But you, after all, are neither property nor style. (44).
- Does anyone bathe in a mighty little time? Don't say that he does it ill, but in a mighty little time. Does anyone drink a great quantity of wine? Don't say that he does ill, but that he drinks a great quantity. For, unless you perfectly understand the principle from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill? Thus you will not run the hazard of assenting to any appearances but such as you fully comprehend. (45).
- Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them. Thus, at an entertainment, don't talk how persons ought to eat, but eat as you ought. For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked. So that if ever any talk should happen among the unlearned concerning philosophic theorems, be you, for the most part, silent. For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don't throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested. (46).
- Whatever moral rules you have deliberately proposed to yourself abide by them as they were laws, and as if you would be guilty of impiety by violating any of them. Don't regard what anyone says of you, for this, after all, is no concern of yours. How long, then, will you put off thinking yourself worthy of the highest improvements and follow the distinctions of reason? You have received the philosophical theorems, with which you ought to be familiar, and you have been familiar with them. What other master, then, do you wait for, to throw upon that the delay of reforming yourself?... Let whatever appears to be the best be to you an inviolable law.(50).
- The first and most necessary topic in philosophy is that of the use of moral theorems, such as, "We ought not to lie;" the second is that of demonstrations, such as, "What is the origin of our obligation not to lie;" the third gives strength and articulation to the other two, such as, "What is the origin of this is a demonstration." For what is demonstration? What is consequence? What contradiction? What truth? What falsehood? The third topic, then, is necessary on the account of the second, and the second on the account of the first. But the most necessary, and that whereon we ought to rest, is the first. But we act just on the contrary. For we spend all our time on the third topic, and employ all our diligence about that, and entirely neglect the first. (51).
- Upon all occasions we ought to have these maxims ready at hand:
- Conduct me, Jove, and you, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my station. ~ Cleanthes.
- I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still
Whoever yields properly to Fate, is deemed
Wise among men, and knows the laws of heaven. ~ Euripides, Frag. 965.
- And this third: O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot. ~ Socrates in Plato's Crito and Apology.
Golden Sayings of Epictetus
- as translated by Hastings Crossley
- Try to enjoy the great festival of life with other men. (3).
- Thou shalt not blame or flatter any. (6).
- 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 things. (13).
- If what philosophers say of the kinship of God and Men 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.' (15).
- 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. (26).
- 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. (27).
- 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 attribute 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! (28).
- 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 the 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. (31 & 32).
- Knowest thou what kind of speck you 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. (33)
- 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! (35).
- 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? (36).
- '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 each 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 Cæsar. They, when their service is hired, swear to hold the life of Cæsar 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... They swear to hold no other dearer than Cæsar: you, to hold our true selves dearer than all else beside. (37).
- 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. (41).
- 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. (63).
- 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. (64).
- 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. (72)
- Variant: It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.
- 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... 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 of 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 to 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 thanksgiving. (75).
- 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. (79).
- And are all profited by what they hear, or only some among them? So that it seems that there is an art of hearing as well as one of speaking. (81)
- 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 judgment; 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?..." (81)
- 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. Your behavior, your look?—Nothing whatsoever. (81)
- 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. (81)
- 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. (85)
- 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! (91).
- 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. (95).
- '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. (97).
- A man should also be prepared to be sufficient unto himself—to dwell within himself alone, even as God dwells with Himself alone... 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 and removed; to perfect what needs perfecting as Reason would direct. (98)
- 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 one day—then take a mouthful of cold water, and spit it out again, and tell no man!" (100)
- 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 confirm thy desire to Reason. (101)
- 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 yourself, instead of skulking in the chorus! at length think; look around thee; bestir thyself, that thou mayest know who thou art! (103)
- Friend, bethink you first what it is that you would do, and then what your own nature is able to bear. (104)
- Think you to be a philosopher while acting as you do? think you to go on thus eating, thus drinking, giving way in like manner to [your own] wrath and to displeasure? Nay you must watch, you must labor; 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. Weight these things fully, and then, if you will, lay to your hand; if as the price of these things you would gain Freedom, Tranquility, and passionless Serenity. (104)
- 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. (105)
- 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. (107).
- 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 had my mode of dealing with the things of sense undergone any change. (109)
- 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 the great City, the World. Here also is there a Lord of the House, who orders all things... (110)
- 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! (111)
- 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 those 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 Chæronea, 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 has 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. (113)
- How can it be that one who hath nothing, neither raiment, nor house, nor home, nor bodily tendance, nor servant, nor city, should 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 city nor 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 to 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? (114)
- Give thyself more diligently to reflection: know thyself: take counsel with the Godhead; without God put thine hand into nothing. (115)
- 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 transgresses them, he will forfeit the character of a good man and true; whereas if he observe them, there is an end of him as the Messenger, the Spy, the Herald of the Gods! (116)
- Ask me, if you choose, if a Cynic shall engage in the administration of a state. ...Ask you if a man shall come forward in the Athenian assembly and talk about revenues and supplies, when his business is to converse with all men, Athenians, Corinthians, and Romans alike, not about supplies, not about revenue, not yet peace and war, but about Happiness and Misery, Prosperity and Adversity, Slavery and Freedom? ...what greater government shall he hold than he holds already? (117)
- If a Cynic is an object of pity, he seems a mere beggar; all turn away, all are offended at him. Nor should be 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. (118)
- Kings and tyrants have armed guards wherewith to chastise certain persons, though they be themselves evil. But to the Cynic conscience gives this power—not arms and guards. (119)
- 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, and the food that sustains them? (120)
- 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 dead. (120)
- 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 forth pains in the head. And am I then to sit dwon and treat you to pretty sentiments and empty fluourishes, 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! (121)
- If any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone. For God hath made man to enjoy felicity and constancy of good. (122)
- This whole 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. (123)
- 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. (149).
- 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. (158).
- 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 thought, nor covet anything beyond measure. (161).
- Piety towards the Gods, 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 that 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. (163).
- 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 such common topics as gladiators, horse-races, athletes; and the perpetual talk about food and drink. Above all avoid speaking of persons, either in the way of praise or blame, or comparison. If you can, win over the conversation of your company to what it should be by your own. But if you should find yourself cut off without escape among strangers and aliens, be silent. (164).
- Refuse altogether to take an oath if you can, if not, as far as may be. (166).
- 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? (172).
- 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 his 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. (174).
- 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 seafaring: “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! (186).
- 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 or more noble, what end happier than his? (189).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 delight.
- 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.
- A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope.
- Fortify thyself with contentment: that is an impregnable stronghold.
- 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.
- You are a little soul, carrying a corpse.
- It is more necessary for the soul to be cured than the body; for it is better to die than to live badly.
Last modified on 23 May 2013, at 10:57
Quotes about Epictetus
↑Jump back a section
- The manner in which Epictetus, Montaigne, and Salomon de Tultie wrote, is the most usual, the most suggestive, the most remembered, and the oftener quoted; because it is entirely composed of thoughts born from the common talk of life.
- Note: Salomon de Tultie was a pseudonym adopted by Pascal as the author of the Provincial Letters.
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 18 (1669)