Philosophy at a Banquet

He who is in earnest may speak in this manner. But if a man only attends philosophers because he wants to make a display at a banquet and show he is acquainted with hypothetical arguments, what other object has he than that some man of senatorial rank who sits by him may admire him? The riches here appear to be trifles there. I know a certain person who complained, as he embraced the knees of Epaphroditus, that he had only one hundred and fifty times ten thousand denarii remaining. What then did Epaphroditus do? Did he laugh at him, as we slaves of Epaphroditus did? No, but he cried out with amazement, "Poor man, how did you keep silence, how did you endure it?"

There is no question that a person should be in earnest when he picks up the Bible. The object in doing so is always to learn something, how to live, how to act, what to believe. The same goes for philosophy. Those who delve into such matters merely for show can be compared to the tax collector and the Pharisee mentioned in the parable in Luke Chapter 18 (verses 9-14). The one who makes a great show of it and does not put his philosophy into practice is not "right with God."

Epaphroditus, as mentioned in previous lessons, was the owner of Epictetus when he was a slave. He was a very prominent man and thus illustrations containing him carried some weight with listeners of Epictetus. In this case we have a man who mourns for the loss of a great part of his fortune. Yet what he has left is still many times more than the possessions of a slave. Epictetus means to show how a man without philosophy has difficulty putting adversity into perspective.

Also, by this illustration he demonstrates that the values the student gathers at the feet of the philosophers will seem like nothing when faced with the heady atmosphere of life in the big city. A line of philosophy or the sayings of Jesus are important when they are examined and taken to heart, but when tossed off as an observation at a dinner party they lose their effect and thus their value.

Chapter 26:

  1. What is the Law of Life?
  2. Theory Is Easy (26a)
  3. Philosophy at a Banquet (26b)
  4. The Reader (26c)
  5. Understanding Is the Beginning (26d)
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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