Epictetus
Epictetus


The Fruit of Philosophic Labor

Then 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 can be. 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. The fruit of a fig-tree is not perfected suddenly and in one hour. Do you think you can possess the fruit of a man's mind in so short a time and so easily? Do not expect it.

Now perceiving that all his efforts to mend his troubles with his brother might fail, the man wants to know how he, himself, might maintain his own equilibrium - that is, live a happy existence in spite of his brother's hatred.

Epictetus comes back to the idea that has been expressed in many previous discourses: the achievement of a philosophic mind is not an easy matter. Using the analogy of the fig tree he makes the man understand that equilibrium is not gained in a moment. It is the work of long years of contemplation and study.

Here stoicism diverges somewhat from the Christian idea of grace. Grace can be acquired immediately, it only requires faith. And yet is grace really such a simple matter? It does require will to maintain it. It requires prayer and thought, it benefits from study and action. Truly, most people do not become good Christians over night. Yet they do have the benefit of God's help and the exhilaration of the moment of conversion to help keep them on the "straight and narrow" path to God.

Chapter 15:

  1. What Philosophy Promises
  2. My Brother's Material (15a)
  3. The True Test of Philosophy (15b)
  4. The Fruit of Philosophic Labor (15c)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus


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