Epictetus
Epictetus


Perception

"On the small matter of perception, then, do such great things depend?" the student wanted to know. But what do you mean by such great things? Do you mean wars and civil commotions, and the destruction of many men and cities? What great matter is this? "Is it nothing?" But what great matter is the death of many oxen, and many sheep, and many nests of swallows or storks being burnt or destroyed? "Are these things, then, like those?" Very like. Bodies of men are destroyed, and the bodies of oxen and sheep. The dwellings of men are burnt, and the nests of storks may be burnt as well. What is there in this great or dreadful? Show me the difference between a man's house and a stork's nest. Each is a dwelling, except that man builds his little houses of beams and tiles and bricks. Storks build their nests of sticks and mud. "Are a stork and a man, then, like things?" What say you? In body they are very much alike.

In a larger sense the destruction of homes and cities and even people is a small thing. The ebb and flow of history is no different from a child in a sand box who digs up an ant hill. It is not in buildings or lives that human importance lies. Paul in his letter to the Phillipians (3:8) illustrates the Christian view on this matter, "I count all things [but] loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them [but] dung, that I may win Christ." Material things are nothing. The soul and the mind are everything:

Chapter 28:

  1. On Good and Evil
  2. The Strange Medea (28a)
  3. Christianity and Logic (28b)
  4. Paris, Helen, and Menelaus (28c)
  5. Perception (28d)
  6. A Deal with the Devil (28e)
  7. WWJD - What Would Jesus Do? (28f)
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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