Stoicism and Inheritance

"What then shall I do?" A student asks. What do you do when you leave a ship? Do you take away the helm or the oars? What then do you take away? You take what is your own, your bottle and your wallet. Now if you think of what is your own, you will never claim what belongs to others. The emperor says, "Lay aside your high rank." See, I put on a lesser rank. "Lay aside this also." See, I have only my toga. "Lay aside your toga." See, I am naked. "But you still raise my envy." Take my poor body. When, at a man's command, I can throw away my poor body, do I still fear him?

As usual Epictetus comes back to the idea that when we shun material things we gain freedom.

"But a certain person will not leave to me the succession to his estate." A person says. What then? Had I forgotten that not one of these things belongs to me? How then do we call them "mine"? Only in the same way we call the bed in the inn our own. If the innkeeper at his death leaves you the beds, all is well. But if he leaves them to another, the other will have them, and you will seek another bed. If then you shall not find one, you will sleep on the ground. Sleep with a good will, and snore!

Laws of inheritance are not so different today than they were in Roman times. The owner had the right to pass along his belongings as he saw fit. Epictetus would have us not conduct our lives in a way that anticipates such an event. Work and live as though such property is not and never will be yours. For, indeed, it is not. But if someone threatens to cut you out of his will, such a threat, says Epictetus, should not be considered at all. Again we relinquish material things (the mere specter of material things in this case) for freedom to act in a righteous manner and to follow the word of God.

Chapter 24:

  1. How We Struggle with Circumstances
  2. Sending a Scout to Rome (24a)
  3. Death Is No Evil (24b)
  4. Stoicism and Inheritance (24c)
  5. How We Struggle with Circumstances (24d)
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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