Epictetus
Epictetus


Examples of Application

Further, some men are sour and of bad temper. They say, "I cannot dine with this man if I am obliged to listen to him telling boring old war stories: 'I told you, brother, how I ascended the hill: then I began to be besieged again.'" But another says, "I prefer to get my supper and to hear him talk as much as he likes." Which one is correct? It does not matter - only do nothing in a depressed mood, or when you are afflicted, or when you think that you are in misery. No man compels you to that. Has it smoked in the chamber? If the smoke is moderate, I will stay. If it is excessive, I go out. For you must always remember this and hold it fast, that the door is open. Well, but you say to me, "Do not live in Nicopolis." I will not live there. "Nor in Athens." I will not live in Athens. "Nor in Rome." I will not live in Rome. "Live in Gyarus." I will live in Gyarus, but it seems like a great smoke to live in Gyarus. Then I will depart to the place where no man will hinder me from living, for that dwelling-place is open to all. As to the last garment, that is the poor body, no one has any power over me beyond this. This was the reason why Demetrius said to Nero, "You threaten me with death, but nature threatens you." If I set my admiration on the poor body, I have given myself up to be a slave. If I set it on my little possessions, I also make myself a slave. I immediately make it plain with what I may be tormented. If you are after a snake I tell you to strike that part of him which he guards. Be assured that whatever part of yourself you choose to guard, that part your master will attack. Remembering this, whom will you still flatter or fear?

Here we have a few examples of how to apply Stoic philosophy. Epictetus, begins with a light and humorous story about two men contemplating a dinner invitation. One says he will not eat with so-and-so if he must listen to him tell vain old stories about what a hero he was in some past war. We can almost hear the man assuming mocking tones regarding his host. The other man says that he will gladly listen to such stories as a kind of payment for a free and sumptuous meal. It is the kind of social circumstance we may be faced with even today. Epictetus tells us that the choice is our own. We can either accept or decline the invitation. The key is not to complain once our choice has been made.

But this is a trivial example. Epictetus goes further in this game of supposing, to talk again about dealing with adversity. The idea is to apply what we already know, that possessions and even life itself are not our own. All we have is the freedom that God gave us to choose. If we view possessions and our time on earth as merely tools to live a good and moral life then we will be equipped to deal with any situation, no matter how restrictive or calamitous.

In this paragraph Epictetus refers to Demetrius, a Cynic philosopher. Nero threatened to kill him for some critical remarks he had made. Demetrius responded to this attack by telling Nero that death was merely in the nature of things. Nero's threat to Demetrius was less significant than nature's certain threat to end the life of Nero. Demetrius, who lived at about the same time Epictetus lived, was also famous for a remark he made when the Emperor Caligula sent him a present, "If the Emperor wished to bribe me, he should have sent me his crown." He meant that worldly wealth was nothing to him.

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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