Epictetus
Epictetus


The Saturnalia

How long, then, is it fit to observe these precepts from God, and not to break up the play? The answer: as long as the play is continued with propriety. In the Saturnalia a king is chosen by lot, for it has been the custom to play at this game. The king commands: "Drink," "Mix the wine," "Sing," "Go," "Come." I obey that the game may not be broken up through me. But if he says, "Think that you are in an evil plight," I answer, "I do not think so, and who compels me to think so?" Further, we agreed to play Agamemnon and Achilles. He who is appointed to play Agamemnon says to me, "Go to Achilles and tear from him Briseis." I go. He says, "Come," and I come.

The Saturnalia was a Roman festival in which the social world was turned upside down. A person was elected "king" for the duration of the festival and it was his job to make sure the people celebrated appropriately. A Saturnalia was rather a wild event that has no real parallel in modern moral religions. The closest we can come is Mardi Gras stripped of its holy connections. (For discussion on the example of Agamemnon and Achilles see Discourse 22.)

This is a rather confusing paragraph on the heels of some cogent commentary. Epictetus asks himself the question of how long we should obey God. The answer for Epictetus is, until the answer is no longer beneficial to us. This, of course, is not a Christian response, and here is a place where Epictetus runs perpendicular (as opposed to parallel) with Christian ideas. However, even perpendicular lines cross at some point.

As Christians we know by faith (an interesting construct in itself) that God has only our best interest at heart. Thus it is in our best interest to follow his rules. The story of Job, from the Old Testament is a perfect example. We have a good man afflicted by all kinds of terrible events. One would think that this would break the faith of Job. Yet as God reveals his majesty and righteousness to Job, he comes to understand that ultimate goodness does indeed spring from God.

The story of Job is then a kind of historical allegory that teaches us a lesson. "God is great, and He will ultimately save us." Thus it is in our own best interest to apply Christian virtues in our daily lives. Here is where the Stoic and Christian meet.

Chapter 25:

  1. More on Struggle
  2. Faculty of Understanding (25a)
  3. God Gave Us a Brain (25b)
  4. The Saturnalia (25c)
  5. Conjecture and Life (25d)
  6. Examples of Application (25e)
  7. Where to Sit in the Amphitheater (25f)
  8. Give Up the Material (25g)
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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