Monday, November 12, 2018

Epictetus Discourses 1.1

I am reading Epictetus' Discourses, Fragments and Handbook again. My goal is to really think about what Epictetus said and then write my thoughts in a way that my children could understand what he taught. I'm hoping it will be a resource to them in their life journey.

I'm reading from the Oxford World's Classics translated by Robin Hard copy, but I will link the Oldfather translation for each post. 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.

Epictetus starts things off 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. To be more precise and to avoid ambiguity, this concept can be called eph' hêmin or 'up to us.' The dichotomy would then be things 'up to us' and things 'not up to us.'

How to you apply the Dichotomy of Control? Make a list. Deeply think about what you can control (what is 'up to you') versus what you cannot control (what is 'not up to you). And when we use the word "control" it is not partial control or some control; rather, it means entirely within our control.

One item under the category 'not up to me' is the body. Epictetus uses a lot of examples of how the body is not under our control. And while he is citing these examples, he also indicates what is 'up to us' 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. 5).

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 key quote from Discourses Book 1, Chapter 1: "These are the thoughts that those who embark on philosophy ought to reflect upon; it is these that they should write about day after day, and it is in these that they should train themselves." (p. 6). A bit later, he advises that we need to come to terms with what we have been given in life.

What I Highlighted In the Book

"It is fitting, then, that the gods have placed in our power only the best faculty of all, the one that rules over all others, that which enables us to make right use of our impressions; but everything else they haven't placed within our power"

"this body isn't truly your own, but is nothing more than cleverly moulded clay"

speaking as Zeus ... "I've given you a certain portion of myself, this faculty of motivation to act and not to act, of desire and aversion, and, in a word, the power to make proper use of impressions; if you pay good heed to this, and entrust all that you have to its keeping, you'll never be hindered, never obstructed, and you'll never groan, never find fault, and never flatter anyone at all."

"I must die; so must I die groaning too? I must be imprisoned; so must I grieve at that too? I must depart into exile; so can anyone prevent me from setting off with a smile, cheerfully and serenely?"

"These are the thoughts that those who embark on philosophy ought to reflect upon; it is these that they should write about day after day, and it is in these that they should train themselves."

"train oneself in the matters in which one ought to train oneself, to have rendered one's desires incapable of being frustrated, and one's aversions incapable of falling into what they want to avoid."

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