Epictetus, The Manual
Analysis Question: Stoicism was one of the Hellenistic therapies devised during that period. In a single sentence, distill the various pieces of advice in the Manual to a definition of Stoicism. Defend your definition, using the text.
Evaluative Question: What is the most ‘attractive’ piece of ethical advice that the Manual suggest to you?
Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher during the Hellenistic period. The Manual is a short collection of Stoic ethical advice compiled by Arrian, a 2nd-century disciple of the Greek philosopher Epictetus.
The Enchiridion (The Manual)
- Some things are in our control and others are not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, public office, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, un-hindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, re-strained, in the power of others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose those things to be your own which are your own, and what belongs to others to be theirs, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you will not be harmed.
Aiming therefore at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself to be carried, even with a slight tendency, towards the attainment of lesser things. Instead, you must entirely quit some things and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would both have these great things, along with power and riches, then you will not gain even the latter, because you aim at the former too: but you will absolutely fail of the former, by which alone happiness and freedom are achieved.
- With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.
- Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for in-stance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible. When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others. Someone just starting instruction will lay the fault on himself. Some who is perfectly instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself.
- Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.
- Remember that you must behave in life as at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don’t stop it. Is it not yet come? Don’t stretch your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you don’t even take the things which are set before you, but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a part-ner at the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire. For, by doing this, Diogenes, Heraclitus and others like them, deserv-edly became, and were called, divine.
- Be for the most part silent, or speak merely what is necessary, and in few words. We may, however, enter, though sparingly, into discourse sometimes when occasion calls for it, but not on any of the common subjects, of gladiators, or horse races, or athletic champions, or feasts, the vulgar topics of conversa-tion; but principally not of men, so as either to blame, or praise, or make comparisons. If you are able, then, by your own conversation bring over that of your company to proper subjects; but, if you happen to be taken among strangers, be silent.
Don’t allow your laughter be much, nor on many occasions, nor profuse.
Avoid swearing, if possible, altogether; if not, as far as you are able.
Avoid public and vulgar entertainments; but, if ever an occa-sion calls you to them, keep your attention upon the stretch, that you may not imperceptibly slide into vulgar manners. For be assured that if a person be ever so sound himself, yet, if his companion be infected, he who converses with him will be infected likewise.
Provide things relating to the body no further than mere use; as meat, drink, clothing, house, family. But strike off and re-ject everything relating to show and delicacy.
As far as possible, before marriage, keep yourself pure from familiarities with women, and, if you indulge them, let it be lawfully.” But don’t therefore be troublesome and full of re-proofs to those who use these liberties, nor frequently boast that you yourself don’t.
If anyone tells you that such a person speaks ill of you, don’t make excuses about what is said of you, but answer: “He does not know my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only these.”
It is not necessary for you to appear often at public spectacles; but if ever there is a proper occasion for you to be there, don’t appear more solicitous for anyone than for yourself; that is, wish things to be only just as they are, and him only to con-quer who is the conqueror, for thus you will meet with no hin-drance. But abstain entirely from declamations and derision and violent emotions. And when you come away, don’t dis-course a great deal on what has passed, and what does not contribute to your own amendment. For it would appear by such discourse that you were immoderately struck with the show.