Epictetus
Epictetus


CHAPTER 29: On Constancy and Courage

Good and Evil both result from an application of will. Thus external things are mere materials for the will. How then does the will obtain goodness? First, it must not admire too much the materials upon which it works. Correct opinions about the materials make the will good. But perverse and distorted opinions make the will bad. God has fixed this law, and says, "If you would have anything good, work for it yourself." You say, "No, I will have it from another." Therefore when the tyrant threatens and calls me, I say, "Whom do you threaten?" If he says, "I will put you in chains," I say, "You threaten my hands and my feet." If he says, "I will cut off your head," I reply, "You threaten my head." If he says, "I will throw you into prison," I say, "You threaten the whole of this poor body." If he threatens me with banishment, I say the same. "Does he, then, not threaten you at all?" If I feel that all these things do not concern me, he does not threaten me at all. But if I fear any of them, it is I whom he threatens. Whom then do I fear? I fear the master of things which are in my own power? There is no such master. Do I fear the master of things which are not in my power? And what are these things to me?

Perhaps Epictetus intends to test our constancy with the length of this discourse. He begins by reminding us of the fundamental idea behind Stoicism. Good and Evil have nothing to do with externals. External things are merely acted upon by the will, it is with the individual himself that good or evil resides.

Now, the concept of good and evil are slightly different for a Christian than they are for a Stoic, but the results are the same. For the Christian, a person is capable of perpetrating evil upon another. But the fact is, such actions have the effect of destroying the person who commits the evil, not the person whom the evil is acted upon. For example in Chapter 14 of the book of Acts, Paul was stoned and dragged out of Lystra. The essence of Paul was not destroyed. Even had Paul been killed, his soul would have been saved. It was the souls of his persecutors that were imperiled.

This is one reason that Christian Martyrdom is such a powerful force. It is the clear illustration of the fact that the body and material wealth are nothing to the grace, power and elemental essence of the soul. The power of Tyrants is nothing to the power of God and the goodness within the individual.

Chapter 20:

  1. On Constancy and Courage
  2. Do Philosophers Despise Kings? (2a)
  3. Opinions (2b)
  4. The Stronger and the Weaker (2c)
  5. Anytus and Meletus (2d)
  6. Superior Principles (2e)
  7. Child-Like Minds (2f)
  8. Like an Athlete (2g)
  9. Facing Adversity (2h)
  10. Might for Right (2i)
  11. Objective Truth (2j)
  12. Exhortation to Action (2k)
  13. The Runaway Slave (2l)
  14. Summary - Stoicism and Christianity (2m)
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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