The Runaway Slave

To whom then does the contemplation of these matters belong? To him who has leisure, for man is an animal that loves contemplation. But it is shameful to contemplate these things as runaway slaves do. We should sit, as in a theater, free from distraction, and listen at one time to the tragic actor, at another time to the lute-player; and not do as slaves do. As soon as the slave has taken his station, he praises the actor and at the same time looks round. Then if any one calls out his master's name, the slave is immediately frightened and disturbed. It is shameful for philosophers thus to contemplate the works of nature. For what is a master? Man is not the master of man, but death is, and life, and pleasure, and pain; for if he comes without these things, bring Caesar to me and you will see how firm I am. But when he shall come with these things, thundering and lightning, and when I am afraid of them, what do I do then except to recognize my master like the runaway slave? But so long as I have any respite from these terrors, as a runaway slave stands in the theater, so do I. I bathe. I drink. I sing. But all this I do with terror and uneasiness. But if I shall release myself from my masters, that is from those things by means of which masters are formidable, what further trouble have I, what master have I still?

We have but one master, and He is God. If we make other things our master, then our behavior will be swayed by them. If we make food or some addiction our master then we take away the power of our own will and the will of God within us. The same is true for any mundane thing, even obsessions with other people.

So, if we accept God as our only master, we have a perfect example of how to translate philosophy to action. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:14), he told his disciples, "If I, your Lord and Master, wash your feet; you also ought to wash one another's feet." A person must understand it to apply it. But Christianity makes this easier than most philosophies, for it supplies an example in the person of Jesus.

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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