Do Philosophers Despise Kings?

"Do you philosophers then teach us to despise kings?" I hope not. Who among us teaches you to make claims against things which you do not possess? Take my poor body, take my property, take my reputation, take those who are about me. If I advise any persons to claim these things, they may truly accuse me.

Here we can easily apply Christ's words to the Pharisees who asked him about paying taxes. Jesus told them (Mark 12:17) to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's." Neither Stoicism nor Christianity teach rebellion against authority. The idea is that there is a kind of "separation of church and state". The soul is our own, and that is all that is truly our own.

The key here is not to confuse politics and religion. Epictetus, by no means wants us to simply give up to the state all power over the individual. In fact, in a Democracy or Republic, the individual has claim to some of the power that would have been Caesar's during the time of the Roman Emperors. As a Christian (or a Stoic) then we have an obligation to wield that power for good, for to do otherwise would imperil the soul. What Epictetus wants us to understand is that should the state perpetrate evil, its effects cannot harm the essence of who we are.

Chapter 29:

  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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