Sunday, December 23, 2018

Epictetus Discourses 1.10 - to those who have set their hearts on advancement in Rome

In this little discourse, Epictetus tries to make a point about how vigorous we ought to pursue a life of philosophy.  "If we had devoted the same unsparing effort to our own work as the senators at Rome have in achieving what they have set their mind on, perhaps we too might have achieved something" (v. 1, p. 25).

He shares a story of an older man who passes through his town.  The man was returning from exile and going back to Rome.  The man denounced his old life (his life in Rome, prior to exile) and "declared that from now on, after he got back, he would concern himself with nothing other living the rest of his life in peace and calm" noting that he had very little time left to him in life.  Epictetus told the man he was bluffing and that as soon as the man got a "whiff or Rome" he would be right back where he started before his exile.  Sure enough, the man returned to Rome and soon was back at it.

The point?  It was not to denounce this man's life and choice when he returned to Rome, but rather to learn from his industry and desire.  Epictetus wants people to be busy and industrious about their lives, and he wants them to put just as much vigor in learning and practicing philosophy.

"To be sure, we old men, when we see the young at play, feel a desire on our part, too, to join them in play.  How much more, then, if I saw them wide awake and eager to join us in our endeavors, would I be eager to combine my efforts with theirs" (v. 13, p. 26).

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