On an Idiot, a Philosopher, and the Signs of Progress

Epictetus, Encheiridion, 48

“The state and character of an ‘idiot’ is this: he never expects harm or help from himself, but he always looks elsewhere. This is the state and character of a philosopher: he expects all help and harm to come from himself

These are signs of someone making progress: he blames no one; praises no one; criticizes no one; impugns no one; and says nothing about himself as if he were someone or knew something. Whenever he meets an obstacle or is held back, he takes the blame. Whenever anyone praises him, he chuckles to himself while they praise. If someone criticizes him, he offers no defense. He proceeds just like the feeble, taking care not to disturb anything he is developing before it grows firm.

He has banished every desire from himself and he has admitted to disinclination only those aspects of nature which are under our control, He applies a disinterested impulse toward all things. Should he seem to be simple or unlearned, he doesn’t care. In sum, he guards against himself as if he were an enemy conspirator.”

48. Ἰδιώτου στάσις καὶ χαρακτήρ· οὐδέποτε ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ προσδοκᾷ ὠφέλειαν ἢ βλάβην, ἀλλ᾿ ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξω. φιλοσόφου στάσις καὶ χαρακτήρ· πᾶσαν ὠφέλειαν καὶ βλάβην ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ προσδοκᾷ.

Σημεῖα προκόπτοντος· οὐδένα ψέγει, οὐδένα ἐπαινεῖ, οὐδένα μέμφεται, οὐδενὶ ἐγκαλεῖ, οὐδὲν περὶ ἑαυτοῦ λέγει ὡς ὄντος τινὸς ἢ εἰδότος τι. ὅταν ἐμποδισθῇ τι ἢ κωλυθῇ, ἑαυτῷ ἐγκαλεῖ. κἄν τις αὐτὸν ἐπαινῇ, καταγελᾷ τοῦ ἐπαινοῦντος αὐτὸς παρ᾿ ἑαυτῷ· κἂν ψέγῃ, οὐκ ἀπολογεῖται. περίεισι δὲ καθάπερ οἱ ἄρρωστοι, εὐλαβούμενός τι κινῆσαι τῶν καθισταμένων, πρὶν πῆξιν λαβεῖν.

ὄρεξιν ἅπασαν ἦρκεν ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ· τὴν δ᾿ ἔκκλισιν εἰς μόνα τὰ παρὰ φύσιν τῶν ἐφ᾿ ἡμῖν μετατέθεικεν. ὁρμῇ πρὸς ἅπαντα ἀνειμένῃ χρῆται. ἂν ἠλίθιος ἢ ἀμαθὴς δοκῇ, οὐ πεφρόντικεν. ἑνί τε λόγῳ, ὡς ἐχθρὸν ἑαυτὸν παραφυλάσσει καὶ ἐπίβουλον.

Image result for medieval manuscript idiot
Horas de Leonor de la Vega. BNE Vitr/24/2 Fol. 185v (my daughter likes this image)

From the Suda

Idiôtai: Private individuals, used in place of citizens [politai]. This is how Thucydides uses it. But in the Frogs, Aristophanes calls idiots the people who are your own—“regarding strangers and idiots. It is derived from the word idios. And so idiôtês is what they call someone who is related to you by clan; but it is also an unlearned person. And in his Wealth, Aristophanes also uses idiôtikon as that which belongs to a person privately or idion as one’s own.

᾿Ιδιῶται: ἀντὶ τοῦ πολῖται. οὕτως Θουκυδίδης. ᾿Αριστοφάνης δὲ ἐν Βατράχοις ἰδιώτας τοὺς ἰδίους λέγει· περὶ τοὺς ξένους καὶ τοὺς ἰδιώτας· κατὰ παραγωγὴν ἴδιος, ἰδιώτης. ἰδιώτης δὲ λέγεται, ὁ πρὸς γένος ἴδιος, καὶ ὁ ἀμαθής. καὶ ἐν Πλούτῳ ἴδιον τὸ ἰδιωτικόν φησιν.

Some Words

ἰδιάζω: “to live as a private person”

ἰδιασμός: “peculiarity”

ἰδιόβιος: “living by or for oneself”

ἰδιόγλωσσος: “of distinct, peculiar tongue”

ἰδιογνώμων: “private opinion”

ἰδιοθανέω: “to die in a peculiar way”

ἰδιολογία: “private conversation”

ἰδιοξενία: “private friendship”

ἰδιοπάθεια: “feeling for oneself alone”

Also from the Suda

Idiôtês: someone who is illiterate. Damaskios writes about Isidore: “of all the idiots and all the philosophers of his time he was equally tight-lipped generally and he hid his thoughts. But he poured his mind out into the shared increase of virtue and the limit of vice.”

᾿Ιδιώτης: ὁ ἀγράμματος. Δαμάσκιος περὶ ᾿Ισιδώρου φησί·  πάντων τῶν καθ’ αὑτὸν ἰδιωτῶν ὁμοίως καὶ φιλοσόφων ἐχέμυθος ἐς τὰ μάλιστα καὶ κρυψίνους ἦν, ἀλλ’ εἴς γε συναύξησιν τῆς ἀρετῆς καὶ τῆς κακίας μείωσιν ὅλην ἐξεκέχυτο τὴν ψυχήν.

On an Idiot, a Philosopher, and the Signs of Progress

Epictetus, Encheiridion, 48

“The state and character of an ‘idiot’ is this: he never expects harm or help from himself, but he always looks elsewhere. This is the state and character of a philosopher: he expects all help and harm to come from himself

These are signs of someone making progress: he blames no one; praises no one; criticizes no one; impugns no one; and says nothing about himself as if he were someone or knew something. Whenever he meets an obstacle or is held back, he takes the blame. Whenever anyone praises him, he chuckles to himself while they praise. If someone criticizes him, he offers no defense. He proceeds just like the feeble, taking care not to disturb anything he is developing before it grows firm.

He has banished every desire from himself and he has admitted to disinclination only those aspects of nature which are under our control, He applies a disinterested impulse toward all things. Should he seem to be simple or unlearned, he doesn’t care. In sum, he guards against himself as if he were an enemy conspirator.”

48. Ἰδιώτου στάσις καὶ χαρακτήρ· οὐδέποτε ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ προσδοκᾷ ὠφέλειαν ἢ βλάβην, ἀλλ᾿ ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξω. φιλοσόφου στάσις καὶ χαρακτήρ· πᾶσαν ὠφέλειαν καὶ βλάβην ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ προσδοκᾷ.

Σημεῖα προκόπτοντος· οὐδένα ψέγει, οὐδένα ἐπαινεῖ, οὐδένα μέμφεται, οὐδενὶ ἐγκαλεῖ, οὐδὲν περὶ ἑαυτοῦ λέγει ὡς ὄντος τινὸς ἢ εἰδότος τι. ὅταν ἐμποδισθῇ τι ἢ κωλυθῇ, ἑαυτῷ ἐγκαλεῖ. κἄν τις αὐτὸν ἐπαινῇ, καταγελᾷ τοῦ ἐπαινοῦντος αὐτὸς παρ᾿ ἑαυτῷ· κἂν ψέγῃ, οὐκ ἀπολογεῖται. περίεισι δὲ καθάπερ οἱ ἄρρωστοι, εὐλαβούμενός τι κινῆσαι τῶν καθισταμένων, πρὶν πῆξιν λαβεῖν.

ὄρεξιν ἅπασαν ἦρκεν ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ· τὴν δ᾿ ἔκκλισιν εἰς μόνα τὰ παρὰ φύσιν τῶν ἐφ᾿ ἡμῖν μετατέθεικεν. ὁρμῇ πρὸς ἅπαντα ἀνειμένῃ χρῆται. ἂν ἠλίθιος ἢ ἀμαθὴς δοκῇ, οὐ πεφρόντικεν. ἑνί τε λόγῳ, ὡς ἐχθρὸν ἑαυτὸν παραφυλάσσει καὶ ἐπίβουλον.

Image result for medieval manuscript idiot
Horas de Leonor de la Vega. BNE Vitr/24/2 Fol. 185v (my daughter likes this image)

 

Incremental Progress Leads to Sudden Transformation

Plutarch, How One Becomes Aware of Progress in Virtue 75c

“For neither in music nor in grammar could someone understand that he is gaining any ground in learning if he does not chip away at ignorance in these matters but instead senses the presence of an ever constant level of ignorance; nor for a sick man, should treatment fail to effect an easing or lightening  and provide no perception of the affliction yielding and harming until the opposite state unfolds when the body has regained its health in every way.

No, but just as in these categories people make no progress unless they progress by the lightening of their burden, as if on a scale they are raised in the opposite direction, they do not recognize the change.

So too in the pursuit of philosophy no change nor even the perception of change must be supposed unless the soul can cast aside and cleanse itself of stupidity—up to the acquisition of the unmixed and perfect good, it clutches to an equally unmixed evil. For in one part of time or a season, the wise person transforms from a previous abject baseness to a nearly unobtainable excess of virtue, and they suddenly depart completely from a share of wickedness which was unshakeable for so great a length of time.”

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐν μουσικοῖς τις ἢ γραμματικοῖς ἐπιδιδοὺς ἂν γνοίη μηδὲν ἐν τῷ μανθάνειν ἀπαρύτων τῆς περὶ ταῦτα ἀμαθίας ἀλλ᾿ ἴσης ἀεὶ τῆς ἀτεχνίας αὐτῷ παρούσης, οὐδὲ κάμνοντι θεραπεία μὴ ποιοῦσα ῥᾳστώνην μηδὲ κουφισμὸν ἁμωσγέπως τοῦ νοσήματος ὑπείκοντος καὶ χαλῶντος αἴσθησιν ἂν παρέχοι διαφορᾶς, πρὶν εἰλικρινῆ τὴν ἐναντίαν ἕξιν ἐγγενέσθαι παντάπασιν ἀναρρωσθέντος τοῦ σώματος. ἀλλ᾿ ὥσπερ ἐν τούτοις οὐ προκόπτουσιν, ἂν προκόπτοντες ἀνέσει τοῦ βαρύνοντος οἷον ἐπὶ ζυγοῦ πρὸς τοὐναντίον ἀναφερόμενοι μὴ γιγνώσκωσι τὴν μεταβολήν, οὕτως ἐν τῷ φιλοσοφεῖν οὔτε προκοπὴν οὔτε τινὰ προκοπῆς αἴσθησιν ὑποληπτέον, εἰ μηδὲν ἡ ψυχὴ μεθίησι μηδ᾿ ἀποκαθαίρεται τῆς ἀβελτερίας, ἄχρι δὲ τοῦ λαβεῖν ἄκρατον τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ τέλειον ἀκράτῳ τῷ κακῷ χρῆται. καὶ γὰρ ἀκαρεὶ χρόνου καὶ ὥρας ἐκ τῆς ὡς ἔνι μάλιστα φαυλότητος εἰς οὐκ ἔχουσαν ὑπερβολὴν ἀρετῆς διάθεσιν μεταβαλὼν ὁ σοφός, ἧς οὐδ᾿ ἐν χρόνῳ πολλῷ μέρος ἀφεῖλε κακίας ἅμα πᾶσαν ἐξαίφνης ἐκπέφευγε.

Image result for medieval manuscript scale weighing
Book of Hours, ca. 1325-1330
MS M.700 fol. 2r