Epictetus
Epictetus


CHAPTER 16: Providence Provides

Do not wonder if all things are provided for animals, not only food and drink, but a place to sleep also. Animals have no need of shoes, beds, or clothing. Yet we humans require all these things. Animals are not made for themselves, but for service. It is not fit for them to need other things. Consider what it would be like for us to take care not only of ourselves, but also of cattle and horses, how they should be clothed, and how shod, and how they should eat and drink. In the same way soldiers are ready for their commander, shod, clothed and armed. It would be ridiculous for a commander to go around and shoe or clothe his men. Nature has formed the animals for service. They are ready, prepared, and require no further care. Because of this even one little boy with a stick may tend cattle.

It is not known how much Epictetus was aware of Judaism, the Torah, or Jewish writings. He must at least have had some knowledge of the Jewish faith because Jews comprised a significant influence in the Roman Empire. He mentions Jews several times in the "Discourses", yet only as a passing reference or example. Though he was a philosopher, he was a philosopher in the Greek tradition, and it is not likely he had read the books of Moses. Even so, the first paragraph of this discourse relates an idea explicitly expressed in Genesis.

We know from Genesis that God created the world, the animals, and everything else, but what may be even more significant, He gave man dominion over all things on the Earth, including the animals. In Chapter 1, verse 28 of Genesis we read, "God blessed them (human beings), and said, 'Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the animals...for all the wild animals and for all the birds I have provided grass and leafy plants for food..."

It is interesting that Epictetus should hew so closely to Judeo-Christian thought in this matter. It could be that this state is inherently obvious in nature. Epictetus insists that animals were made to be servants of man. Genesis tells us that we were given dominion over all the earth. The implications of this are vast. It gives us the justification to farm, to build houses, to make ourselves comfortable in the face of the forces of nature. This is not to say that humans should wantonly lay waste to the world for the benefit of some immediate gratification. It does, though, mean that reasonable and wise use of natural resources, animal, plant or mineral is a good thing. We are part of nature and our effect upon the environment is part of the natural process. Yet, by virtue of our humanness, perhaps even our God given intelligence, we are made stewards of nature.

Chapter 16:

  1. Providence Provides
  2. The Self-sufficient Earth (16a)
  3. Women and Men (16b)
  4. Praise God with Your Intellect (16c)
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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