Epictetus
Epictetus


Superior Principles

But show me that he who has the inferior principles overpowers him who is superior in principles. You will never show this, nor come near showing it. For this is the law of nature and of God that the superior shall always overpower the inferior. "In what?" It shall overpower in that in which it is superior. One body is stronger than another; many are stronger than one; the thief is stronger than he who is not a thief. This is the reason I lost my lamp, because in wakefulness the thief was superior to me. But the man bought the lamp at a steep price. For a meager lamp he became a thief, a faithless fellow, like a wild beast. This seemed to him a good bargain. Be it so. But if a man seizes me by the cloak, and draws me to the forum while others bawl out, "Philosopher, what has been the use of your opinions? See, you are dragged to prison. You are going to be beheaded." What system of philosophy could have made so that, if a stronger man should have laid hold of my cloak, I should not be dragged off? If ten men should have laid hold of me and cast me into prison, I should not be cast in? Have I learned nothing else? I have learned to see that everything which happens, if it be independent of my will, is nothing to me. I may ask if you have not gained by this. Why then do you seek advantage in anything else other than that in which you have learned that advantage is?

Thus we see there is tremendous power of the spiritual within each of us. Since this is our strongest suit, it behooves us to play to it.

While sitting in prison I would say, "The man who cries out in this way neither hears what words mean, nor understands what is said, nor does he care at all to know what philosophers say or what they do. Let him alone." But now he says to the prisoner, "Come out from your prison." If you have no further need of me in prison, I come out. If you should have need of me again, I will enter the prison. "How long will you act thus?" So long as reason requires me to be with the body. But when reason does not require this, take away the body, and fare you well. Only we must not do it inconsiderately, nor weakly, nor for any slight reason. For, on the other hand, God does not wish it to be done. He has need of such a world and such inhabitants in it. But if he sounds the signal for retreat, as he did to Socrates, we must obey him who gives the signal, as if he were a general.

Here Epictetus makes sure that his listeners understand that even though we must not value too much the physical world, it is here for a reason. We can not slough off this mortal coil merely for our own convenience. This, too, would be an evil. It would be a weakness of will. Just as it destroys our soul to inflict physical evil on another, it destroys our soul to inflict physical evil upon ourselves.

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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