Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Epictetus Discourses Book 1 Chapter 1

I recently finished my personal commentary on Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.  The purpose of that little project was twofold.  First, it was intended to force me to really think about what Marcus wrote.  Second, I tried to write it in a way that my children could understand.  I'm hoping it will be a resource to them in their life journey.

My next project will have similar aims - really read and think about what I read and then explain it as if I were teaching my kids.  Epictetus will be my next focus; I'll go through Discourses, Fragments and then Enchiridion.  I'm reading from the Penguin Classics copy.  As passages stand out to me, I'll make remarks on them.  I will not copy the entire passage, as I did with Meditations.  If you're reading these blog posts, I suggest you find a copy of the book, and read the corresponding passage.  Also, not quite sure I'll make a post on every chapter of every book.  I'll just have to see how things go.

Let's get to it ...

Epictetus starts things off right by talking about one of the most fundamental aspects of Stoicism and life: determining what is in your control and what is not in your control.  This is called the Dichotomy of Control.

How to you apply the Dichotomy of Control?  Make a list!  Really think about what you can control versus what you cannot control.  And when we use the word "control" it is not partial control or some control.  Rather, it means entirely within our control.  This will be an ongoing topic and list as read Epictetus.

One item under the category "Not in my Control" is my body.  Epictetus uses a lot of examples of how the body is not under our control.  And while he is citing these examples, he is also point out what is in our control in each of those circumstances.

In one example, Lateranus is to be be-headed at the command of Nero.  Lateranus could not prevent himself from losing his head, but he could control his attitude about it.  So, "he held his neck out willingly to take the blow."  But that is not the end of the story!  The blow to his neck was not adequate and he didn't die!  After "recoiling" his head a bit, he "had enough self-command to offer his neck a second time" (p. 6).

The body may be put to death, but our attitude and reaction is up to us.

The body may be put in chains or thrown into prison, but our mind and will cannot be chained or thrown into prison.

And here is the million dollar quote from Discourses Book 1, Chapter 1: "That's the kind of attitude you need to cultivate if you would be a philosopher, the sort of sentiments you should write down every day and put in practice" (p. 7).  A bit later, he advises that we need to come to terms with what we have been given in life.


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