Eternal Beauty or Sensory Truths? Epictetus and Epicurus on the Real

Epictetus, fr. 36

“The truth is an eternal thing and unseen—it does not provide us a beauty which deteriorates with time nor a freedom of speech which is vulnerable to the law. Instead, it provides us with the just and the lawful by separating and refuting injustice from them.”

Ἀθάνατον χρῆμα ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἀΐδιον, παρέχει δὲ ἡμῖν οὐ κάλλος χρόνῳ μαραινόμενον οὔτε παρρησίαν ἀφαιρετὴν ὑπὸ δίκης, ἀλλὰ τὰ δίκαια καὶ τὰ νόμιμα διακρίνουσα ἀπ᾿ αὐτῶν τὰ ἄδικα καὶ ἀπελέγχουσα.

Diogenes Laertius, Epicurus 31

“[Epicureans] dismiss dialectic as being uneccessary—they believe that it is enough for natural scientists to employ the normal words for things. In his Canon, Epicurus asserts that our sensory perceptions and prior experiences and conceptions are the criteria of the truth; and Epicureans also believe that the imagined movements of thoughts are the same. He articulates his own beliefs in his Brief to Herodotus and in his Kurian Beliefs. He says, “Every perception is free of thought and receptive to no memory. Because does not move under its own power or another’s, it cannot add anything or take it away. And there is nothing capable of refuting the senses. For one related perception cannot countermand another because of their equal power nor can inequivalent senses undermine those of a different capacity, since they are not judging the same domains.

Reason depends entirely on perceptions. Different kinds of senses cannot undermine each other, since we use them all. The interdependence of the senses ensures the truth of what we perceive. Our ability to see and hear is just like our ability to feel pain. This is why we must strive to make meaning about unclear things from what actually appears before us.”

Τὴν διαλεκτικὴν ὡς παρέλκουσαν ἀποδοκιμάζουσιν· ἀρκεῖν γὰρ τοὺς φυσικοὺς χωρεῖν κατὰ τοὺς τῶν πραγμάτων φθόγγους. ἐν τοίνυν τῷ Κανόνι λέγων ἐστὶν ὁ Ἐπίκουρος κριτήρια τῆς ἀληθείας εἶναι τὰς αἰσθήσεις καὶ προλήψεις καὶ τὰ πάθη, οἱ δ᾿ Ἐπικούρειοι καὶ τὰς φανταστικὰς ἐπιβολὰς τῆς διανοίας. λέγει δὲ καὶ ἐν τῇ πρὸς Ἡρόδοτον ἐπιτομῇ καὶ ἐν ταῖς Κυρίαις δόξαις. “πᾶσα γάρ,” φησίν, “αἴσθησις ἄλογός ἐστι καὶ μνήμης οὐδεμιᾶς δεκτική· οὔτε γὰρ ὑφ᾿ αὑτῆς οὔτε ὑφ᾿ ἑτέρου κινηθεῖσα δύναταί τι προσθεῖναι ἢ ἀφελεῖν· οὐδὲ ἔστι τὸ δυνάμενον αὐτὰς διελέγξαι. οὔτε γὰρ ἡ ὁμογένεια αἴσθησις τὴν ὁμογενῆ διὰ τὴν ἰσοσθένειαν, οὔθ᾿ ἡ ἀνομογένεια τὴν ἀνομογένειαν, οὐ γὰρ τῶν αὐτῶν εἰσι κριτικαί· οὔτε μὴν λόγος, πᾶς γὰρ λόγος ἀπὸ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἤρτηται. οὔθ᾿ ἡ ἑτέρα τὴν ἑτέραν, πάσαις γὰρ προσέχομεν. καὶ τὸ τὰ ἐπαισθήματα δ᾿ ὑφεστάναι πιστοῦται τὴν τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀλήθειαν. ὑφέστηκε δὲ τό τε ὁρᾶν ἡμᾶς καὶ ἀκούειν, ὥσπερ τὸ ἀλγεῖν· ὅθεν καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀδήλων ἀπὸ τῶν φαινομένων χρὴ σημειοῦσθαι.

File:Epicteti Enchiridion Latinis versibus adumbratum (Oxford 1715) frontispiece.jpg
Epictetus in 1715

On Not Cutting Off Your Penis, or Beard

Epictetus, Discourses 1.2

“Similar too is the athlete who was at the risk of dying unless his penis was cut off. His brother—that one was a philosopher—came to him and said, “Come on, brother, what are you going to do? Are we going to cut that bit off and go to the gym still?” He wouldn’t allow it, so died, steadfast in his convictions.

When someone asked, “How did he do that? As an athlete or a philosopher.” Epictetus answered, “As a man. As a man who had been announced at the Olympic games and competed there and was well-suited to that place, not just rubbed down in oil at Batôn’s gym. A different man would have cut off his neck if he could live separate from it. This is what living in alignment with your persona means. It is so strong for those who are accustomed to introduce their own experiences into examinations.

“Come Epictetus, shave!” If I am a philosopher, I say, “I will not shave my beard.” And he answers, “Then I will cut off your neck.” So I say, if it seems better to you that way, cut it.”

Τοῦτον τὸν τρόπον καὶ ἀθλητής τις κινδυνεύων ἀπο-θανεῖν, εἰ μὴ ἀπεκόπη τὸ αἰδοῖον, ἐπελθόντος αὐτῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ (ἦν δ’ ἐκεῖνος φιλόσοφος) καὶ εἰπόντος ‘ἄγε, ἀδελφέ, τί μέλλεις ποιεῖν; ἀποκόπτομεν τοῦτο τὸ μέρος καὶ ἔτι εἰς γυμνάσιον προερχόμεθα;’ οὐχ ὑπέμεινεν, ἀλλ’ ἐγκαρτερήσας ἀπέθανεν. πυθομένου δέ τινος·

Πῶς τοῦτο ἐποίησεν; ὡς ἀθλητὴς ἢ ὡς φιλόσοφος; <῾Ως> ἀνήρ, ἔφη, ἀνὴρ δ’ ᾿Ολύμπια κεκηρυγμένος καὶ ἠγωνισμένος, ἐν τοιαύτῃ τινὶ χώρᾳ ἀνεστραμμένος, οὐχὶ παρὰ τῷ Βάτω<ν>ι ἀλειφόμενος. ἄλλος δὲ κἂν τὸν τράχηλον ἀπετμήθη, εἰ ζῆν ἠδύνατο δίχα τοῦ τραχήλου. τοιοῦτόν ἐστι τὸ κατὰ πρόσωπον· οὕτως ἰσχυρὸν παρὰ τοῖς εἰθισμένοις αὐτὸ συνεισφέρειν ἐξ αὐτῶν ἐν ταῖς σκέψεσιν. ‘ἄγε οὖν, ᾿Επίκτητε, διαξύρησαι.’ ἂν ὦ φιλόσοφος, λέγω ‘οὐ διαξυρῶμαι’. ‘ἀλλ’ ἀφελῶ σου τὸν τράχηλον.’ εἰ σοὶ ἄμεινον, ἄφελε.

MET Accession 62.4 https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/255120

Eternal Beauty or Sensory Truths? Epictetus and Epicurus on the Real

Here’s a recent piece on Greek concepts of the truth from The Conversation.

Epictetus, fr. 36

“The truth is an eternal thing and unseen—it does not provide us a beauty which deteriorates with time nor a freedom of speech which is vulnerable to the law. Instead, it provides us with the just and the lawful by separating and refuting injustice from them.”

Ἀθάνατον χρῆμα ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἀΐδιον, παρέχει δὲ ἡμῖν οὐ κάλλος χρόνῳ μαραινόμενον οὔτε παρρησίαν ἀφαιρετὴν ὑπὸ δίκης, ἀλλὰ τὰ δίκαια καὶ τὰ νόμιμα διακρίνουσα ἀπ᾿ αὐτῶν τὰ ἄδικα καὶ ἀπελέγχουσα.

Diogenes Laertius, Epicurus 31

“[Epicureans] dismiss dialectic as being uneccessary—they believe that it is enough for natural scientists to employ the normal words for things. In his Canon, Epicurus asserts that our sensory perceptions and prior experiences and conceptions are the criteria of the truth; and Epicureans also believe that the imagined movements of thoughts are the same. He articulates his own beliefs in his Brief to Herodotus and in his Kurian Beliefs. He says, “Every perception is free of thought and receptive to no memory. Because does not move under its own power or another’s, it cannot add anything or take it away. And there is nothing capable of refuting the senses. For one related perception cannot countermand another because of their equal power nor can inequivalent senses undermine those of a different capacity, since they are not judging the same domains.

Reason depends entirely on perceptions. Different kinds of senses cannot undermine each other, since we use them all. The interdependence of the senses ensures the truth of what we perceive. Our ability to see and hear is just like our ability to feel pain. This is why we must strive to make meaning about unclear things from what actually appears before us.”

Τὴν διαλεκτικὴν ὡς παρέλκουσαν ἀποδοκιμάζουσιν· ἀρκεῖν γὰρ τοὺς φυσικοὺς χωρεῖν κατὰ τοὺς τῶν πραγμάτων φθόγγους. ἐν τοίνυν τῷ Κανόνι λέγων ἐστὶν ὁ Ἐπίκουρος κριτήρια τῆς ἀληθείας εἶναι τὰς αἰσθήσεις καὶ προλήψεις καὶ τὰ πάθη, οἱ δ᾿ Ἐπικούρειοι καὶ τὰς φανταστικὰς ἐπιβολὰς τῆς διανοίας. λέγει δὲ καὶ ἐν τῇ πρὸς Ἡρόδοτον ἐπιτομῇ καὶ ἐν ταῖς Κυρίαις δόξαις. “πᾶσα γάρ,” φησίν, “αἴσθησις ἄλογός ἐστι καὶ μνήμης οὐδεμιᾶς δεκτική· οὔτε γὰρ ὑφ᾿ αὑτῆς οὔτε ὑφ᾿ ἑτέρου κινηθεῖσα δύναταί τι προσθεῖναι ἢ ἀφελεῖν· οὐδὲ ἔστι τὸ δυνάμενον αὐτὰς διελέγξαι. οὔτε γὰρ ἡ ὁμογένεια αἴσθησις τὴν ὁμογενῆ διὰ τὴν ἰσοσθένειαν, οὔθ᾿ ἡ ἀνομογένεια τὴν ἀνομογένειαν, οὐ γὰρ τῶν αὐτῶν εἰσι κριτικαί· οὔτε μὴν λόγος, πᾶς γὰρ λόγος ἀπὸ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἤρτηται. οὔθ᾿ ἡ ἑτέρα τὴν ἑτέραν, πάσαις γὰρ προσέχομεν. καὶ τὸ τὰ ἐπαισθήματα δ᾿ ὑφεστάναι πιστοῦται τὴν τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀλήθειαν. ὑφέστηκε δὲ τό τε ὁρᾶν ἡμᾶς καὶ ἀκούειν, ὥσπερ τὸ ἀλγεῖν· ὅθεν καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀδήλων ἀπὸ τῶν φαινομένων χρὴ σημειοῦσθαι.

File:Epicteti Enchiridion Latinis versibus adumbratum (Oxford 1715) frontispiece.jpg
Epictetus in 1715

Hey Tough Guy! Get Comfortable With Masks

Epictetus, Discourses 2.1.15-19

“Just as masks seem frightening and awful to children because of their inexperience, so too do we suffer something similar to current events—it is not different from how children respond to bogeymen. For what is childish? Ignorance. What else is childish? Lack of learning. When a child has learned something, they are no worse off than we are.

What is death? A bogeyman. Turn it around, get personal with it. Look! How can it bite? This little body needs to be separated from the spirit just as it was once before, either now or some time later. Why is it troubling if it happens now? If it doesn’t, it will later. Why? So that the cycle of the universe doesn’t stop. It requires everything that exists now, all things that will happen, and all those that happened before.

What is pain? It’s a bogeyman. Turn it around and get comfortable with it…”

ὡς γὰρ τοῖς παιδίοις τὰ προσωπεῖα φαίνεται δεινὰ καὶ φοβερὰ δι’ ἀπειρίαν, τοιοῦτόν τι καὶ ἡμεῖς πάσχομεν πρὸς τὰ πράγματα δι’ οὐδὲν ἄλλο ἢ ὥσπερ καὶ τὰ παιδία πρὸς τὰς μορμολυκείας. τί γάρ ἐστι παιδίον; ἄγνοια. τί ἐστι παιδίον; ἀμαθία. ἐπεὶ ὅπου οἶδεν, κἀκεῖνα οὐδὲν ἡμῶν ἔλαττον ἔχει.

θάνατος τί ἐστιν; μορμολύκειον. στρέψας αὐτὸ κατάμαθε· ἰδοῦ, πῶς οὐ δάκνει. · ἰδοῦ, πῶς οὐ δάκνει. τὸ σωμάτιον δεῖ χωρισθῆναι τοῦ πνευματίου, ὡς πρότερον ἐκεχώριστο, ἢ νῦν ἢ ὕστερον. τί οὖν ἀγανακτεῖς, εἰ νῦν; εἰ γὰρ μὴνῦν, ὕστερον. διὰ τί; ἵνα ἡ περίοδος ἀνύηται τοῦ κόσμου· χρείαν γὰρ ἔχει τῶν μὲν ἐνισταμένων, τῶν δὲ μελ-λόντων, τῶν δ’ ἠνυσμένων. πόνος τί ἐστιν; μορμολύκειον. στρέψον αὐτὸ καὶ κατάμαθε…”

Portrait of Domenica Morghen as Tragedy and Maddalena Volpato as Comedy (Tragedy and Comedy). by Angelica Kauffman 1791

The Greatness of Freedom

Epictetus, Discourses 4.54-55

“Tell me this then—does freedom seem to be something great, noble, and valuable to you?

How wouldn’t it be?

Is it possible for someone who receives something so great, noble, and valuable to be miserable?

It is not.

So, when you see someone begging someone else or flattering them against what they really believe, be brave enough to say that this person is not free. And it is not just if someone does this for a meal but if they do it for a cabinet position or another office too…”

Ἔτι οὖν ἀπόκριναί μοι κἀκεῖνο· δοκεῖ σοι μέγα τι εἶναι καὶ γενναῖον ἡ ἐλευθερία καὶ ἀξιόλογον; —

Πῶς γὰρ οὔ;—

Ἔστιν οὖν τυγχάνοντά τινος οὕτως μεγάλου καὶ ἀξιολόγου καὶ γενναίου ταπεινὸν εἶναι;

Οὐκ ἔστιν.

Ὅταν οὖν ἴδῃς τινὰ ὑποπεπτωκότα ἑτέρῳ ἢ κολακεύοντα παρὰ τὸ φαινόμενον αὐτῷ, λέγε καὶ τοῦτον θαρρῶν μὴ εἶναι ἐλεύθερον· καὶ μὴ μόνον, ἂν δειπναρίου ἕνεκα αὐτὸ ποιῇ, ἀλλὰ κἂν ἐπαρχίας ἕνεκα κἂν ὑπατείας

Sophocles, fr. 873 [= Mich. Apostol 13.8]

“Whoever does business with a tyrant is
That man’s slave, even if he starts out free.”

ὅστις γὰρ ὡς τύραννον ἐμπορεύεται
κείνου ‘στι δοῦλος, κἂν ἐλεύθερος μόλῃ.

 

Feeling Sad? Just Think of All the Famous Dead People

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.47

“Always keep in mind that all sorts of people from all kinds of occupations and from every country on earth have died. And take this thought to Philistion and Phoibos and Origanion. Turn to the rest of the peoples on earth too.

We have to cross over to the same place where all those clever speakers and so many serious philosophers have gone—Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates—and where those great heroes of old, the brave generals and tyrants have gone too. Among them are Eudoxos, Hipparchus, Archimedes,  and other sharp natures, big minds, tireless men, bold men, and those who mock the temporary and disposable nature of life itself, like Menippus and the rest.

Think about all these people, that they have been dead for a long time. Why is this terrible for them? Why worry about those who are no longer named? This one thing is worth much: to keep on living with truth and justice and in good will even among liars and unjust men.”

Ἐννόει συνεχῶς παντοίους ἀνθρώπους καὶ παντοίων μὲν ἐπιτηδευμάτων, παντοδαπῶν δὲ ἐθνῶν, τεθνεῶτας· ὥστε κατιέναι τοῦτο μέχρι Φιλιστίωνος καὶ Φοίβου καὶ Ὀριγανίωνος. μέτιθι νῦν ἐπὶ τὰ ἄλλα φῦλα. ἐκεῖ δὴ μεταβαλεῖν ἡμᾶς δεῖ, ὅπου τοσοῦτοι μὲν δεινοὶ ῥήτορες, τοσοῦτοι δὲ σεμνοὶ φιλόσοφοι, Ἡράκλειτος, Πυθαγόρας, Σωκράτης· τοσοῦτοι δὲ ἥρωες πρότερον, τοσοῦτοι δὲ ὕστερον στρατηγοί, τύραννοι· ἐπὶ τούτοις δὲ Εὔδοξος, Ἵππαρχος, Ἀρχιμήδης, ἄλλαι φύσεις ὀξεῖαι, μεγαλόφρονες, φιλόπονοι, πανοῦργοι, αὐθάδεις, αὐτῆς τῆς ἐπικήρου καὶ ἐφημέρου τῶν ἀνθρώπων ζωῆς χλευασταί, οἶον Μένιππος καὶ ὅσοι τοιοῦτοι. περὶ πάντων τούτων ἐννόει, ὅτι πάλαι κεῖνται. τί οὖν τοῦτο δεινὸν αὐτοῖς; τί δαὶ τοῖς μηδ᾿ ὀνομαζομένοις ὅλως; Ἓν ὧδε πολλοῦ ἄξιον, τὸ μετ᾿ ἀληθείας καὶ δικαιοσύνης εὐμενῆ τοῖς ψεύσταις καὶ ἀδίκοις διαβιοῦν.

File:David - The Death of Socrates.jpg

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates 1787

The Furious Memory Of The Evils You’ve Done

Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum 17-18

“Terrify this person, if you find anyone like this, with threats of death or exile. Whatever happens to me in so ungrateful a state will happen without any protest from me, not just without fighting back. For what have I accomplished or what I done or to what end have my anxieties and thoughts kept me awake all night if I have actually pursued nothing at all which puts me in a place that cannot be weakened by lapses in fortune or harm from my enemies?

Do you threaten death so I will leave the presence of people or exile so I must depart from wicked men? Death is frightening for people who lose everything along with life but not for those whose glory cannot perish. Exile is frightening to those whose homes are prescribed by a border line, not for those who believe that the whole world is just one city.

No, every bit of sorrow and misfortune oppresses you because you think you are happy and wealthy. Your desires torture you; you are in pain day and night because what you have is not enough and you worry that even this bit will not last. Your memory of wicked deeds works away at you; fear of judges and laws make your heart race. Wherever you look, the harms you have inflicted on others assail you like Furies who will not even let you breathe.”

tum tu hominem terreto, si quem eris nactus, istis mortis aut exilii minis; mihi vero quidquid acciderit in tam ingrata civitate ne recusanti quidem evenerit, non modo non repugnanti, Quid enim ego laboravi aut quid egi aut in quo evigilaverunt curae et cogitationes meae, si quidem nihil peperi tale nihil consecutus sum ut in eo statu essem quem neque fortunae temeritas neque inimicorum labefactaret iniuria? Mortemne mihi minitaris ut omnino ab hominibus, an exilium ut ab improbis demigrandum sit? Mors terribilis est eis quorum cum vita omnia exstinguuntur, non eis quorum laus emori non potest, exilium autem illis quibus quasi circumscriptus est habitandi locus, non eis qui omnem orbem terrarum unam urbem esse ducunt. Te miseriae te aerumnae premunt omnes, qui te beatum qui florentem putas; tuae libidines te torquent, tu dies noctesque cruciaris, cui nec sat est quod est et id ipsum ne non sit diuturnum times; te conscientiae stimulant maleficiorum tuorum, te metus exanimant iudiciorum atque legum; quocumque aspexisti, ut furiae sic tuae tibi occurrunt iniuriae quae te respirare non sinunt.

Lutróforo con escena del rapto de Perséfone por Hades. Pintor de Baltimore - M.A.N. 03.jpg
Red Figure Vase

Four Years of Precious Memory: Children, Afraid of Masks

Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus 3.22

“Look at the children who are scared of masks….”

ζήτει τὰ παιδία· ἐκείνοις τὰ προσωπεῖα φοβερά ἐστιν…

Plutarch, Moralia (On Exile) 300 D

“If we truly encounter some pain and grief, we need to force cheer and ease from the good things we have left to us, smoothing away everything from the outside with our inner strength.

But for those things whose nature bears no evil, but whose pain is completely and simply fashioned from empty opinion, we need to behave as with children who fear masks, putting them into their hands and turning them over, training them not to think too much of them. In this way, by touching things and submitting them to reason, we can uncover their weakness, their emptiness, and their histrionic facade.”

Διὸ κἂν ἀληθῶς κακῷ τινι καὶ λυπηρῷ περιπέσωμεν, ἐπάγεσθαι δεῖ τὸ ἱλαρὸν καὶ τὸ εὔθυμον ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων καὶ ὑπολειπομένων ἀγαθῶν, τῷ οἰκείῳ τὸ ἀλλότριον ἐκλεαίνοντας· ὧν δὲ ἡ φύσις οὐδὲν ἔχει κακόν, ἀλλὰ ὅλον καὶ πᾶν τὸ λυποῦν ἐκ κενῆς δόξης ἀναπέπλασται, ταῦτα δεῖ, καθάπερ τοῖς δεδοικόσι τὰ προσωπεῖα παιδίοις ἐγγὺς καὶ ὑπὸ χεῖρα ποιοῦντες καὶ ἀναστρέφοντες ἐθίζομεν καταφρονεῖν, οὕτως ἐγγὺς ἁπτομένους καὶ συνερείδοντας τὸν λογισμόν, τὸ σαθρὸν καὶ τὸ κενὸν καὶ τετραγῳδημένον ἀποκαλύπτειν.

Marcus Cornelius Fronto to Antoninus Augustus Ambr. 390 17

“Aesopus the tragedian reportedly never put a mask on his face until he had looked at it for awhile from the other side so that he might change his gestures and alter his voice in line with the appearance of the mask.”

Tragicus Aesopus fertur non prius ullam suo induisse capiti personam, antequam diu ex adverso contemplaret, ut pro personae voltu gestum sibi capessere ac vocem <adsimulare posset>

Diogenes Laertius, Ariston 160

“[He compared] the wise man to a good actor who could take up the role of both Thersites and Agamemnon and play either appropriately

εἶναι γὰρ ὅμοιον τὸν σοφὸν τῷ ἀγαθῷ ὑποκριτῇ, ὃς ἄν τε Θερσίτου ἄν τε Ἀγαμέμνονος πρόσωπον ἀναλάβῃ, ἑκάτερον ὑποκρίνεται προσηκόντως.

Epictetus, Discourses 1.29

“There will soon be a time when the tragic actors will believe that their masks and costumes are their real selves. You have these things as material and a plot. Say something so we may know whether you are a tragic actor or a comedian. For they have the rest of their material in common [apart from the words]. If one, then, should deprive the actor of his buskins and his masks and introduce him to the stage as only a ghost, has the actor been lost or does he remain? If he has a voice, he remains.”

ἔσται χρόνος τάχα, ἐν ᾧ οἱ τραγῳδοὶ οἰήσονται ἑαυτοὺς εἶναι προσωπεῖα καὶ ἐμβάδας καὶ τὸ σύρμα. ἄνθρωπε, ταῦτα ὕλην ἔχεις καὶ ὑπόθεσιν. φθέγξαι τι, ἵνα εἰδῶμεν πότερον τραγῳδὸς εἶ ἢ γελωτοποιός· κοινὰ γὰρ ἔχουσι τὰ ἄλλα ἀμφότεροι. διὰ τοῦτο ἂν ἀφέλῃ τις αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰς ἐμβάδας καὶ τὸ προσωπεῖον καὶ ἐν εἰδώλῳ αὐτὸν προαγάγῃ, ἀπώλετο ὁ τραγῳδὸς ἢ μένει; ἂν φωνὴν ἔχῃ, μένει.

Epictetus, Encheiridion, 17

“Remember that you are an actor in a drama, whatever kind the playwright desires. If he wishes it to be short, it is short. If he wants it to be long, it is long.

If he wants you to act as a beggar, act even that part seriously. And the same if you are a cripple, a ruler, or a fool. This is your role: to play well the part you were given. It is another’s duty to choose.”

Μέμνησο, ὅτι ὑποκριτὴς εἶ δράματος, οἵου ἂν θέλῃ ὁ διδάσκαλος· ἂν βραχύ, βραχέος· ἂν μακρόν, μακροῦ· ἂν πτωχὸν ὑποκρίνασθαί σε θέλῃ, ἵνα καὶ τοῦτον εὐφυῶς ὑποκρίνῃ· ἂν χωλόν, ἂν ἄρχοντα, ἂν ἰδιώτην. σὸν γὰρ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστι, τὸ δοθὲν ὑποκρίνασθαι πρόσωπον καλῶς· ἐκλέξασθαι δ᾿ αὐτὸ ἄλλου.

Teles the Philosopher, On Self-Sufficiency (Hense, 5)

“Just as a good actor will carry off well whatever role the poet assigns him, so too a good person should manage well whatever chance allots. For chance, as Biôn says, just like poetry, assigns the role of the first speaker and the second speaker, now a king and then a vagabond. Don’t long to be the second speaker when you have the role of the first. Otherwise, you will create disharmony.”

Δεῖ ὥσπερ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ὑποκριτὴν ὅ τι ἂν ὁ ποιητὴς περιθῇ πρόσωπον τοῦτο ἀγωνίζεσθαι καλῶς, οὕτω καὶ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα ὅ τι ἂν περιθῇ ἡ τύχη. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη, φησὶν ὁ Βίων, ὥσπερ ποιήτρια, ὁτὲ μὲν πρωτολόγου, ὁτὲ δὲ δευτερολόγου περιτίθησι πρόσωπον, καὶ ὁτὲ μὲν βασιλέως, ὁτὲ δὲ ἀλήτου. μὴ οὖν βούλου δευτερολόγος ὢν τὸ πρωτολόγου πρόσωπον· εἰ δὲ μή,  ἀνάρμοστόν τι ποιήσεις.

File:Ancient Greek theatrical mask of Zeus, replica (8380375983).jpg
replica of Theatrical Mask of Zeus

The Fox and the Tragic Mask, Phaedrus 1.7

By chance a fox had seen a tragic mask:
What a sight, he has no brains inside!–he gasped.
To whomever fortune grants honor and glory,
It deprives of common sense, as in this story.

MaskTragedy168.jpg

Personam tragicam forte vulpes viderat:
O quanta species, inquit, cerebrum non habet!
Hoc illis dictum est, quibus honorem et gloriam
Fortuna tribuit, sensum communem abstulit.

Play The Part You’re Given: Epictetus, Teles, and Shakespeare

Epictetus, Encheiridion, 17

“Remember that you are an actor in a drama, whatever kind the playwright desires. If he wishes it to be short, it is short. If he wants it to be long, it is long.

If he wants you to act as a beggar, act even that part seriously. And the same if you are a cripple, a ruler, or a fool. This is your role: to play well the part you were given. It is another’s duty to choose.”

Μέμνησο, ὅτι ὑποκριτὴς εἶ δράματος, οἵου ἂν θέλῃ ὁ διδάσκαλος· ἂν βραχύ, βραχέος· ἂν μακρόν, μακροῦ· ἂν πτωχὸν ὑποκρίνασθαί σε θέλῃ, ἵνα καὶ τοῦτον εὐφυῶς ὑποκρίνῃ· ἂν χωλόν, ἂν ἄρχοντα, ἂν ἰδιώτην. σὸν γὰρ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστι, τὸ δοθὲν ὑποκρίνασθαι πρόσωπον καλῶς· ἐκλέξασθαι δ᾿ αὐτὸ ἄλλου.

On Facebook M. L Lech let me know that this sentiment appeared in the work of an earlier cynic philosopher

Teles the Philosopher, On Self-Sufficiency (Hense, 5)

“Just as a good actor will carry off well whatever role the poet assigns him, so too a good person should manage well whatever chance allots. For chance, as Biôn says, just like poetry, assigns the role of the first speaker and the second speaker, now a king and then a vagabond. Don’t long to be the second speaker when you have the role of the first. Otherwise, you will create disharmony.”

Δεῖ ὥσπερ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ὑποκριτὴν ὅ τι ἂν ὁ ποιητὴς περιθῇ πρόσωπον τοῦτο ἀγωνίζεσθαι καλῶς, οὕτω καὶ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα ὅ τι ἂν περιθῇ ἡ τύχη. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη, φησὶν ὁ Βίων, ὥσπερ ποιήτρια, ὁτὲ μὲν πρωτολόγου, ὁτὲ δὲ δευτερολόγου περιτίθησι πρόσωπον, καὶ ὁτὲ μὲν βασιλέως, ὁτὲ δὲ ἀλήτου. μὴ οὖν βούλου δευτερολόγος ὢν τὸ πρωτολόγου πρόσωπον· εἰ δὲ μή,  ἀνάρμοστόν τι ποιήσεις.

Diogenes Laertius, Ariston 160

“[He compared] the wise man to a good actor who could take up the role of both Thersites and Agamemnon and play either appropriately

εἶναι γὰρ ὅμοιον τὸν σοφὸν τῷ ἀγαθῷ ὑποκριτῇ, ὃς ἄν τε Θερσίτου ἄν τε Ἀγαμέμνονος πρόσωπον ἀναλάβῃ, ἑκάτερον ὑποκρίνεται προσηκόντως.

Epictetus, Discourses 1.29

“There will soon be a time when the tragic actors will believe that their masks and costumes are their real selves. You have these things as material and a plot. Say something so we may know whether you are a tragic actor or a comedian. For they have the rest of their material in common [apart from the words]. If one, then, should deprive the actor of his buskins and his masks and introduce him to the stage as only a ghost, has the actor been lost or does he remain? If he has a voice, he remains.”

ἔσται χρόνος τάχα, ἐν ᾧ οἱ τραγῳδοὶ οἰήσονται ἑαυτοὺς εἶναι προσωπεῖα καὶ ἐμβάδας καὶ τὸ σύρμα. ἄνθρωπε, ταῦτα ὕλην ἔχεις καὶ ὑπόθεσιν. φθέγξαι τι, ἵνα εἰδῶμεν πότερον τραγῳδὸς εἶ ἢ γελωτοποιός· κοινὰ γὰρ ἔχουσι τὰ ἄλλα ἀμφότεροι. διὰ τοῦτο ἂν ἀφέλῃ τις αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰς ἐμβάδας καὶ τὸ προσωπεῖον καὶ ἐν εἰδώλῳ αὐτὸν προαγάγῃ, ἀπώλετο ὁ τραγῳδὸς ἢ μένει; ἂν φωνὴν ἔχῃ, μένει.

 W. Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7 (spoken by Jaques)
                                        All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
Image result for ancient greek vase actors

How Fast A Rotten Foundation Falls

Epictetus, Discourses 2.15 (Go here for the full text)

“If you put down a rotten foundation, already falling apart, not even a little shack can be built upon it, and the greater and more forceful thing you build upon it, the faster it will fall to the ground.

So you are depriving this dear person of life without any reason, a citizen of the very same state, both the larger one and the local one. Then, as you commit an act of murder and destroy another human being who did no wrong, you claim that “you have to stick to what was decided!”  If it ever occurred to you to kill me, would you have to stick to your decisions then?

That kind of a person is scarcely persuaded to change his mind. But it is impossible to transform others today. So, now, I think I understand that proverb that used to confuse me, that “you can’t persuade or break a fool!”

May I never have a wise fool as a friend, there’s nothing harder to deal with. He says, “I have decided.” Well, people who are out of their minds decided too. But just as much as they believe that what isn’t true is solid, that’s how much hellebore they need to drink.”

ἂν δὲ σαπρὸν ὑποστήσῃ καὶ καταπῖπτον, οὐκ οἰκοδομημάτιον, ὅσῳ δ᾿ ἂν πλείονα καὶ ἰσχυρότερα ἐπιθῇς, τοσούτῳ θᾶττον κατενεχθήσεται. ἄνευ πάσης αἰτίας ἐξάγεις ἡμῖν ἄνθρωπον ἐκ τοῦ ζῆν φίλον καὶ συνήθη, τῆς αὐτῆς πόλεως πολίτην καὶ τῆς μεγάλης 11καὶ τῆς μικρᾶς· εἶτα φόνον ἐργαζόμενος καὶ ἀπολλύων ἄνθρωπον μηδὲν ἠδικηκότα λέγεις ὅτι τοῖς κριθεῖσιν ἐμμένειν δεῖ. εἰ δ᾿ ἐπῆλθέν σοί πώς ποτ᾿ ἐμὲ ἀποκτεῖναι, ἔδει σε ἐμμένειν τοῖς κριθεῖσιν;

Ἐκεῖνος μὲν οὖν μόγις μετεπείσθη. τῶν δὲ νῦν τινας οὐκ ἔστι μεταθεῖναι. ὥστε μοι δοκῶ ὃ πρότερον ἠγνόουν νῦν εἰδέναι, τί ἐστι τὸ ἐν τῇ συνηθείᾳ λεγόμενον· μωρὸν οὔτε πεῖσαι οὔτε ῥῆξαι ἔστιν. μή μοι γένοιτο φίλον ἔχειν σοφὸν μωρόν. δυσμεταχειριστότερον οὐδέν ἐστιν. “κέκρικα.” καὶ γὰρ οἱ μαινόμενοι· ἀλλ᾿ ὅσῳ βεβαιότερον κρίνουσι τὰ οὐκ ὄντα, τοσούτῳ πλείονος ἐλλεβόρου δέονται.

Epictetus