Well, then, am I saying that man is an animal made for idleness? This is certainly not the case. You may ask why philosophers are not active? But they are active. For example, as to myself, as soon as day comes I begin to think of what I must assign my pupils to read. Then I remind myself, "What is it to me how a certain person shall read? The first thing for me is to sleep." And indeed what resemblance is there between what other persons do and what we do? If you observe what they do, you will understand. And what else do they do all day long than make up accounts, inquire among themselves, give and take advice about some small quantity of grain, a bit of land, and such kind of profits? Is it then the same thing to receive a petition and to read in it: "I entreat you to permit me to export a small quantity of corn." Or to receive another petition to this effect: "I entreat you to learn from Chrysippus what is the administration of the world, and what place in it the rational animal holds. Consider also who you are, and consider what is the nature of good and bad." Are these things like the other, do they require equal care, and is it equally base to neglect these and those? Well, then, are we the only persons who are lazy and love sleep? No; but much rather you young men are. For we old men, when we see young men amusing themselves, are eager to play with them; and if I saw you active and zealous, much more should I be eager myself to join you in your serious pursuits..
So, why do we not trouble ourselves about matters of the soul with the same avidity that we pursue wealth? This is the question that Epictetus puts to us. He points out that we will work fervently for gold, but we only lazily contemplate divine justice.
His little talk is meant to spur his students (and us) to work harder. For perfection of the soul may be just as unattainable as ultimate power, yet the rewards that may be reaped are so much greater - even for only going a little way down the path of righteousness. Wealth and power yields only a hollow craving for more wealth and power, while study of a well-grounded philosophy (such as Stoicism) and the contemplation of a Christian God impart a sense of serenity, surety and compassion, in it we can find true happiness.
Stoicism and Christianity Index
- Preferment at Rome
- Priorities (2a)