How We Struggle with Circumstances

Remember that tragedies have their place among the rich and kings and tyrants, but no poor man fills a part in the theatrical tragedy, except as one of the chorus. Kings, indeed, begin prosperously, "ornament the palaces with garlands," then about the third or fourth act they call out, "O Cithaeron, why didst thou receive me?" Slave, where are the crowns, where the diadem? The guards help thee not at all. When then you approach any of these persons, remember that you are approaching a tragedian, not the actor, but OEdipus himself. But you say, "Such a man is happy; for he walks about with many," and I also place myself with the many and walk about with many. In sum remember that the door is open. Do not be more timid than little children, but as they say, when the thing does not please them, "I will play no longer." When things seem to you of such a kind, say "I will no longer play", and be gone. But if you stay, do not complain.

Finally, we see how crucial material things are to our lives. Epictetus makes an astute observation, the great tragedies are never written about poor men. Great tragedy occurs to people possessed of great wealth and power. The more they have to lose, the more they are enslaved to their material wealth. "The bigger they are, the harder they fall!"

In the same way, we have Christ telling us that the Rich man has as much chance of achieving heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle. This is because material things enslave us, distracting us from what is important, our freedom and our relationship with God.

If we are confronted with someone who demands some action of us and we feel it wrong, we should act like a child would when the play does not go his way, "taking our bat and ball and going home".

This discourse is full of potential for cliché. "The bigger they are the harder they fall." "Experience is the best teacher." "What does not kill me makes me stronger." Many people groan when they hear a cliché. They see them as passé, not appropriate for our modern changing society. But the very fact that we can profitably study a text that is over 1900 years old is evidence that there are universal truths that transcend change. Cliché's generally encapsulate these truths in a pithy sentence that sums up a large idea. There is nothing wrong with employing one at the appropriate moment. They can sometimes serve as a guide to good behavior and a moral compass in a changing world.

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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