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.

Robert Delaunay, “Fenétre Sur La Ville” 1914

Seeking One Who Explains; Or, The Difference Between Grammar and Philosophy

Epictetus Encheiridion, 49

“Whenever someone is haughty because he understands and can explain the books of Chrysippus, say to him: “If Chrysippus hadn’t written so obscurely, you’d have nothing to be haughty about.”

But what do I desire? To understand nature and follow it. Therefore, I seek one who explains it. And because I have heard that Chrysippus does this, I go to him. But I do not understand what he has written. Therefore, I seek out someone who explains him. And within these steps there is nothing worthy of pride. Whenever I find the right interpreter, it is still up to me to practice his precepts. This alone is worthy of pride.

But if I am amazed at this act of explanation, have I done anything but transform into a grammarian instead of a philosopher? (Except, I interpret Chryippos instead of Homer.) Hence, whenever anyone says to me “Read me Chrysippus,” I turn red when I am incapable of demonstrating actions equal to and harmonious with his words

Ὅταν τις ἐπὶ τῷ νοεῖν καὶ ἐξηγεῖσθαι δύνασθαι τὰ Χρυσίππου βιβλία σεμνύνηται, λέγε αὐτὸς πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ὅτι “εἰ μὴ Χρύσιππος ἀσαφῶς ἐγεγράφει, οὐδὲν ἂν εἶχεν οὗτος, ἐφ᾿ ᾧ ἐσεμνύνετο.

 Ἐγὼ δὲ τί βούλομαι; καταμαθεῖν τὴν φύσιν καὶ ταύτῃ ἕπεσθαι. ζητῶ οὖν, τίς ἐστὶν ὁ ἐξηγούμενος· καὶ ἀκούσας, ὅτι Χρύσιππος, ἔρχομαι πρὸς αὐτόν. ἀλλ᾿ οὐ νοῶ τὰ γεγραμμένα· ζητῶ οὖν τὸν ἐξηγούμενον. καὶ μέχρι τούτων οὔπω σεμνὸν οὐδέν. ὅταν δὲ εὕρω τὸν ἐξηγούμενον, ἀπολείπεται χρῆσθαι τοῖς παρηγγελμένοις· τοῦτο αὐτὸ μόνον σεμνόν ἐστιν. ἂν δὲ αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὸ ἐξηγεῖσθαι θαυμάσω, τί ἄλλο ἢ γραμματικὸς ἀπετελέσθην ἀντὶ φιλοσόφου; πλήν γε δὴ ὅτι ἀντὶ Ὁμήρου Χρύσιππον ἐξηγούμενος. μᾶλλον οὖν, ὅταν τις εἴπῃ μοι “ἐπανάγνωθί μοι Χρύσιππον,” ἐρυθριῶ, ὅταν μὴ δύνωμαι ὅμοια τὰ ἔργα καὶ σύμφωνα ἐπιδεικνύειν τοῖς λόγοις.

BERNARD Emile,1887 – Young Woman in Kimono, reading

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.

Socrates, Antisthenes, Chrysippos, Epicurus (British Museum)

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

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

Anger and Masks of Injury

Seneca, De Ira 5-8

“Some one will be said to have spoken badly of you: think whether you did this first; think of how many people you talk about. Let us think, I say, that some are not offending us, but repaying us; that some are doing good for us, that others are forced to act, and some are just ignorant. There are those who do what they do willingly and with full understanding who attach us not for the injury itself: one is either seduced by the sweetness of his wit; other does it not to move against us but because he cannot pursue his own aims unless he moves through us.

Often praise, although it flatters, offends. Whoever reminds himself of how many times he has encountered false suspicion or how many good services fortune has disguised with masks of injury, or how many people he learned to love after hating them, he will not anger quickly. As you are offended each time, say to yourself quietly: “I have done this myself.”

And where would you encounter a judge this just? The one who desires everyone’s wife and believes that it is just enough a reason to love her that someone else has her refuses to have his own wife seen. The traitor has the harshest demands on loyalty and the perjurer is obsessed with lies himself. The devious lawyer despises any charge made against him and the man who thinks nothing of his own shame will not abide the temptation of others. We keep everyone else’s vices in clear view, but own own behind our backs.”

Dicetur aliquis male de te locutus; cogita an prior feceris, cogita de quam multis loquaris. Cogitemus, inquam, alios non facere iniuriam sed reponere, alios pro nobis facere, alios coactos facere, alios ignorantes, etiam eos, qui volentes scientesque faciunt, ex iniuria nostra non ipsam iniuriam petere; aut dulcedine urbanitatis prolapsus est, aut fecit aliquid, non ut nobis obesset, sed quia consequi ipse non poterat, nisi nos repulisset; saepe adulatio, dum blanditur, offendit. Quisquis ad se rettulerit, quotiens ipse in suspicionem falsam inciderit, quam multis officiis suis fortuna speciem iniuriae induerit, quam multos post odium amare coeperit, poterit non statim irasci, utique si sibi tacitus ad singula quibus offenditur dixerit: “Hoc et ipse commisi.” Sed ubi tam aequum iudicem invenies? Is qui nullius non uxorem concupiscit et satis iustas causas putat amandi, quod aliena est, idem uxorem suam aspici non vult; et fidei acerrimus exactor est perfidus, et mendacia persequitur ipse periurus, et litem sibi inferri aegerrime calumniator patitur; pudicitiam servulorum suorum adtemptari non vult qui non pepercit suae. Aliena vitia in oculis habemus, a tergo nostra sunt.

 

File:Bronze Cavalry Sports Mask Roman 2nd century CE.jpg
Roman Calvary Sports Mask, MET

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

Politics Getting You Down? Here’s a Pep-talk from Cicero

Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum: paradox 2: That having virtue is enough for being happy

“No one can be really happy if they rely wholly on themselves and value everything with themselves alone. But those whose reasoning and hope depend entirely on fortune cannot have anything certain—nothing possessed can be expected to last for more than a solitary day.

Threaten that kind of person, should you find one, with these threats of death and exile. In truth, whatever will happen in so thankless a state will happen whether I am protesting or resisting or not. What have I labored over or what have I done or what of my worries and thoughts passing throughout the night, If I have actually accomplished or pursued nothing to put me in a state that rashness of fate or injuries to my friends cannot weaken? Do you threaten death so that I will completely withdraw from humankind or exile so I may abandon the wicked? Death is terrible to those who lose everything along with life but not for those whose praise can never die. Exile is dreadful to those whose home is a mere boundary line but not to those who think that the whole world is one city.”

Nemo potest non beatissimus esse qui est totus aptus ex sese quique in se uno sua ponit omnia; cui spes omnis et ratio et cogitatio pendet ex fortuna, huic nihil potest esse certi, nihil quod exploratum habeat permansurum sibi unum diem. Eum 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.

Cicero, copy by Bertel Thorvaldsen 1799-1800 of Roman bust

The Soul and the Light Upon Its Face

Epictetus, Discourses according to Arrian 3.18-22

“These are the cruel beliefs that need to be excised, what we need to focus on completely. What is weeping and groaning? A kind of judgment. What is bad luck? A belief? What is conflict, nitpicking, accusation, sacrilege, nonsense? These are all just beliefs and they are also beliefs that sit outside the selection of what is actually good and evil. Have someone change their focus to these real things and I promise they will stand fast no matter what things change around them.

The soul is a bit like a bowl of water and its experiences are like the ray of light that dances on the water’s face. When the water is rough, it seems like the light is disturbed too, even though it isn’t touched. Just so, whenever someone suffers a moment of darkness, their skills and virtues aren’t all mixed up, just the breath in which they subsist. When it finds peace again, so do they.”

ταῦτ᾿ οὖν ἐκκόπτειν δεῖ τὰ πονηρὰ δόγματα, περὶ τοῦτο συντετάσθαι. τί γάρ ἐστι τὸ κλαίειν καὶ οἰμώζειν; δόγμα. τί δυστυχία; δόγμα. τί στάσις, τί διχόνοια, τί μέμψις, τί κατηγορία, τί ἀσέβεια, τί φλυαρία; ταῦτα πάντα δόγματά ἐστι καὶ ἄλλο οὐδὲν καὶ δόγματα περὶ τῶν ἀπροαιρέτων ὡς ὄντων ἀγαθῶν καὶ κακῶν. ταῦτά τις ἐπὶ τὰ προαιρετικὰ μεταθέτω, κἀγὼ αὐτὸν ἐγγυῶμαι ὅτι εὐσταθήσει, ὡς ἂν ἔχῃ τὰ περὶ αὐτόν.

Οἷόν ἐστιν ἡ λεκάνη τοῦ ὕδατος, τοιοῦτον ἧ ψυχή, οἷον ἡ αὐγὴ ἡ προσπίπτουσα τῷ ὕδατι, τοιοῦτον αἱ φαντασίαι. ὅταν οὖν τὸ ὕδωρ κινηθῇ, δοκεῖ μὲν καὶ ἡ αὐγὴ κινεῖσθαι, οὐ μέντοι κινεῖται. καὶ ὅταν τοίνυν σκοτωθῇ τις, οὐχ αἱ τέχναι καὶ αἱ ἀρεταὶ συγχέονται, ἀλλὰ τὸ πνεῦμα, ἐφ᾿ οὗ εἰσίν· καταστάντος δὲ καθίσταται κἀκεῖνα.