Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.9 - To one who had become shameless

Epictetus seems to be talking to a man who had once embraced Stoicism, but then turned from it and now is distressed by seeing other people who are wealthy and have prominent public offices.

If you are similarly distressed, Stoicism offers the advice to: manage your desires!  "You're capable of not having need of wealth" and that you have the power to focus on "something of much greater value" - that of modesty, decency and noble thoughts (see v. 2, p. 264).

The man who does have wealth and prominence and a perfect body and who has a beautiful wife, may have to worry about "keeping on top of the hill" and retaining the image.  He may have to deal with jealousy (other men seducing his wife), or fear of losing his wealth and prominence.

Epictetus scolds this man who he's trying to help, "Man, you used to be modest and now you're no longer so.  Have you lost nothing?  Instead of Chrysippus and Zeno, you now read Aristides and Evenus [erotic novelists].  Instead of Socrates and Diogenes, you admire the man who is able to corrupt and seduce the largest number of women.  You want to be good-looking and make yourself so, although you're not, and want to display yourself in flashy clothing to attract women's attention, and if you come across some wretched perfume somewhere, you count yourself blessed." (v. 6-7, p. 254)

He later says, "What, is a bit of cash the only thing that a man can lose?  Can't self-respect be lost; can't decency be lost?" (v. 9, p. 264)  Just this last week, I watched the movie Fargo.  After tracking down and arresting Gaear Grimsrud, the police chief Marge Gunderson lectures him about all the death he caused "for a little bit of money."  It is quite a great scene that really puts life in perspective and draws attention to the fact that some people lose focus about what a good life is (watch it here).

Lastly, he coaches the man about how he can regain the good life.  "Fight against yourself; restore yourself to decency, to self-respect, to freedom ... condemn your own actions ... don't give up on yourself ... learn instead from what the wrestling masters do.  The boy has taken a fall: 'Get up,' he says, 'and resume the fight until you grow strong.'" (v. 11-15, p. 265)

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