the encheiridion

Some things in the world are up to us, while others are not. Up to us are our faculties of judgment, motivation, desire, and aversion—in short, everything that is our own doing. Not up to us are our body and property, our reputations, and our official positions—in short, everything that is not our own doing. Moreover, the things up to us are naturally free, unimpeded, and unconstrained, while the things not up to us are powerless, servile, impeded, and not our own. Keep this in mind then: if you think things naturally servile are free and that things not our own are ours, you will be frustrated, pained, and troubled, and you will find fault with gods and men. But if you think you own only what is yours, and that you do not own what is not yours, as you really don’t, no one will ever put pressure on you, no one will impede you, you will not reproach anyone, you will not blame anyone, you will not do a single thing reluctantly, no one will harm you, you will have no enemy, because nothing harmful will happen to you.

Keep in mind, then, that you have to be highly motivated if you want to achieve such great goals. You will have to forego some things completely, and postpone others for the present. But if you want both at the same time—the things that are really yours plus prominence and wealth in addition—you will probably not get even the latter because of wanting the former as well, and you certainly will not get the former, which are the only way to secure freedom and happiness.

Right now, then, make it your habit to tell every jarring thought or impression: “You are just an appearance and in no way the real thing.” Next, examine it and test it by these rules that you have. First and foremost: does it involve the things up to us, or the things not up to us? And if it involves one of the things not up to us, have the following response to hand: “Not my business.”


Keep in mind that desire presumes your getting what you want and that aversion presumes your avoiding what you don’t want, and that not getting what we want makes us unfortunate, while encountering what we don’t want makes us miserable. So if, among the things contrary to nature you restrict aversion to those that are up to you, you will experience none of the things you don’t want, but if you are averse to sickness or death or poverty, you will be miserable. So move aversion away from everything that is not up to us and transfer it to the things contrary to nature that are up to us. As for desire, give it up completely for the time being. Otherwise, if you desire any of the things that are not up to us, you are bound to be unfortunate, while none of the things up to us, which it would be fine to desire, will be available to you. Confine yourself to motivation and disinclination, and apply these attitudes lightly, with reservation and without straining.


In the case of everything that attracts you or has its uses or that you are fond of, keep in mind to tell yourself what it is like, starting with the most trivial things. If you are fond of a jug, say: “I am fond of a jug.” Then, if it is broken, you will not be troubled. When you kiss your little child or your wife, say that you are kissing a human being. Then, if one of them dies, you will not be troubled.


Whenever you are about to start on some activity, remind yourself what the activity is like. If you go out to bathe, picture what happens at a bathhouse— the people there who splash you or jostle you or talk rudely or steal your things. In this way you will be more prepared to start on the activity, by telling yourself at the outset: “I want to bathe, and I also want to keep my will in harmony with nature.” Make this your practice in every activity. Then, if anything happens that gets in the way of your bathing, you will have the following response available: “Well, this was not the only thing I wanted; I also wanted to keep my will in harmony with nature. I shall not do that if I get angry about what is happening.”


It is not things themselves that trouble people, but their opinions about things. Death, for instance, is nothing terrible (otherwise, it would have appeared that way to Socrates as well), but the terrible thing is the opinion that death is terrible. So whenever we are frustrated, or troubled, or pained, let us never hold anyone responsible except ourselves, meaning our own opinions. Uneducated people blame others when they are doing badly. Those whose education is underway blame themselves. But a fully educated person blames no one, neither himself nor anyone else.


Don’t preen yourself on any distinction that is not your own. If the preening horse should say “I am beautiful,” it would be acceptable. But when you are preening and say, “I have a beautiful horse,” admit that you are preening yourself on a good quality that belongs to the horse. What, then, is your own? The management of impressions. So whenever you are in harmony with nature in the way you perform this function, that’s the time to preen yourself; for then you will have a good thing that is your own to preen yourself on.


When you are on a voyage and the boat is at anchor, if you disembark to get water, you may pick up a little shellfish and vegetable on the way, but you need to keep your mind fixed on the boat and keep turning around in case the *captain calls; and if he does call, you must drop all those things, to avoid being tied up and stowed on board like the sheep. That’s how it is in life too. If you are given a little wife and child, instead of a little vegetable and shellfish, that will not be a problem. But if the captain calls you, run to the boat and leave all those things without even turning around. And if you are old, never go far from the boat in case you are missing when he calls.


Don’t ask for things to happen as you would like them to, but wish them to happen as they actually do, and you will be all right.


Sickness is an impediment to the body, but not to the will unless the will wants to be impeded. Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will. If you tell yourself this at every occurrence, you will find the impediment is to something else but not to yourself.


In all circumstances keep in mind to turn in to yourself and ask what resources you have for dealing with these things. If you see a good-looking man or woman, you will find self-control the appropriate power; if pain afflicts you, you will find endurance; if rudeness, you will find patience. By developing these habits, you will not be carried away by your first impressions.


Never say about anything, “I have lost it”; but say, “I have returned it.” Has your little child died? “It has been returned.” Has your wife died? “She has been returned.” “I have been robbed of my land.” No, that has been returned as well. “But it was a bad person who stole it.” Why are you bothered about the individual the donor used to demand its return? As long as these things are given to you, take care of them as things that are not your own, just as travelers treat their lodging.


If you want to make progress, dismiss this kind of reasoning: “If I neglect my business, I will have nothing to live on,” or “If I don’t punish my slave, he will be no good.” It is better to starve to death in a calm and confident state of mind than to live anxiously amidst abundance. And it is better also for your slave to be bad than for you to be unhappy. So make a start with the little things, like some oil being spilled or some wine being stolen. Then tell yourself: “This is the price one pays for not getting worked up, the price for tranquility. Nothing comes free of charge.” When you summon your slave, reflect that he is quite capable of not responding, or if he does respond that he may do none of the things you want. In any case he is too unimportant for your own tranquility to depend on him.


If you want to make progress, don’t mind appearing foolish and silly where outward things are concerned, and don’t wish to appear an expert. Even if some people think you are somebody, distrust yourself. It is not easy, you can be sure, to keep your own will in harmony with nature and simultaneously secure outward things. If you care about the one, you are completely bound to neglect the other.


If you want your children and your wife and friends to survive no matter what, you are silly; for you are wanting things to be up to you that are not up to you, and things to be your own that are not your own. You are just as foolish if you want your slave to make no mistakes; for you are wanting inferiority not to be a flaw but something else. But if your wish is not to be frustrated in your desires, this is in your power. Train yourself, then, in this power that you do have. Our master is anyone who has the power to implement or prevent the things that we want or don’t want. Whoever wants to be free, therefore, should wish for nothing or avoid nothing that is up to other people. Failing that, one is bound to be a slave.


Keep in mind that you should always behave as you would do at a banquet. Something comes around to you; stretch out your hand and politely take a portion. It passes on; don’t try to stop it. It has not come yet; don’t let your appetite run ahead, but wait till the portion reaches you. If you act like this toward your children, your wife, your public positions, and your wealth, you will be worthy one day to dine with the gods. And if you don’t even take things, when they are put before you, but pass them by, you will not only dine with the gods but also share their rule. It was by acting like that that Diogenes and Heracles and others like them were deservedly divine and called so.


Whenever you see someone grieving at the departure of their child or the loss of their property, take care not to be carried away by the impression that they are in dire external straits, but at once have the following thought available: “What is crushing these people is not the event (since there are other people it does not crush) but their opinion about it.” Don’t hesitate, however, to sympathize with them in words and even maybe share their groans, but take care not to groan inwardly as well.


Keep in mind that you are an actor in a play that is just the way the producer wants it to be. It is short, if that is his wish, or long, if he wants it long. If he wants you to act the part of a beggar, see that you play it skillfully; and similarly if the part is to be a cripple, or an official, or a private person. Your job is to put on a splendid performance of the role you have been given, but selecting the role is the job of someone else.


Whenever a raven croaks ominously, don’t let the impression carry you away, but straightaway discriminate within yourself, and say: “None of this is a warning to me; it only concerns my feeble body or my tiny estate or my paltry reputation or my children or my wife. But to myself all predictions are favorable if I wish them to be, since it is up to me to benefit from the outcome, whatever it may be.”


You can always win if you only enter competitions where winning is up to you. When you see someone honored ahead of you or holding great power or being highly esteemed in another way, be careful never to be carried away by the impression and judge the person to be happy. For if the essence of goodness consists in things that are up to us, there is room for neither envy nor jealousy, and you yourself will not want to be a praetor or a senator or a consul, but to be free. The only way to achieve this is by despising the things that are not up to us.


Keep in mind that what injures you is not people who are rude or aggressive but your opinion that they are injuring you. So whenever someone provokes you, be aware that the provocation really comes from your own judgment. Start, then, by trying not to get carried away by the impression. Once you pause and give yourself time, you will more easily control yourself.


Set before your eyes every day death and exile and everything else that looks terrible, especially death. Then you will never have any mean thought or be too keen on anything.


If you are keen on philosophy, be ready at the outset to be laughed at and mocked by many people with words like “What do you know, he’s come back to us as a philosopher!” and “Where did he get that superior look from?” Don’t look that way, then, but stick to your views of what is best, as one who has been appointed to this place by God. And keep in mind that if you stick to those same views, the people who used to laugh at you will admire you later, but if you lapse from them, you will be a laughingstock for a second time.


If you ever find yourself looking for outside approval in order to curry favor, you can be sure that you have lost your way. Be satisfied, then, simply to be a philosopher, and if you want people to think of you that way as well, appear so to yourself, and that will be sufficient.


Don’t let yourself be worried by thinking, “My life is going to be without honor, and I will be a nobody everywhere.” If lack of honor is something bad (as it is), no one but yourself could be responsible, any more than others could put you in a shameful position. You don’t really think it’s your job to secure a public office, do you, or be invited to a banquet? “Of course not.” How, then, is this still a lack of honor? And how will you be a nobody everywhere, since you need to be somebody only in the things that are up to you, and in them you can be a top person?

“But your friends will lack support?” What do you mean by “lack support”? They won’t get a cash handout from you, and you won’t make them Roman citizens. But who told you that these things are up to us and not the business of other people? Who can give to another what he doesn’t have himself?

“Get money, then,” someone says, “so we can have it too.” If I can get it and preserve my honor and integrity and moral principles, show me the way, and I will get it. But if you are asking me to lose the good things that are mine just for you to acquire things that are not good, you can see how unfair you are and how ungenerous. What would you rather have—money or a trustworthy and honorable friend? Help me, rather, to maintain this character and do not ask me to do the very things that will make me lose it.

“But my country,” someone says, “will lack such support as I could have given.” I repeat the question of what support you have in mind. Your country will not have colonnades or public baths because of you. But what does that mean? Your country does not have shoes because of the blacksmith or weapons because of the cobbler? It is enough if each person performs his own job. And if you were to supply your country with another trustworthy and honorable citizen, would you not be doing it a benefit? “Yes, I would.” So you yourself would not be of no benefit to your community.

“What position, then, will I hold in it?” Whichever one you can have and still preserve your trustworthy and honorable character. But if you lose this character in wanting to benefit your country, and you end up dishonorable and untrustworthy, what benefit would you be? 


If someone has been placed ahead of you at a banquet or in a reception line or in being called on as a consultant, you should be pleased that he has got these things, if they are good. But if they are bad, don’t be upset because you didn’t get them. Keep in mind that you cannot expect to get an equal share of the things that are not up to us without doing the same things others have done. If you don’t hang out at someone’s door or go around with him or flatter him, how can you have the same share of his regard as the person who does these things? If you don’t pay the price these things are sold at, and want to get them for free, you would be unfair and greedy.

What’s the cost of lettuces? An obol maybe. If someone pays an obol and gets the lettuces, don’t think you have less than he has. While he has the lettuces, you have the unspent obol. It’s just the same in the cases we are considering. You were not invited to someone’s dinner party. That’s because you didn’t pay the host the price of the dinner. He sells it for flattery, for getting attention. Pay the price it’s sold for, then, if you think it’s worth it. But if you want to get it without paying up, you are being greedy and stupid. Do you have nothing instead of the dinner? Of course you do. You don’t have to flatter the man you didn’t want to flatter or to deal with the crowd around his door.


Nature’s purpose can be learned from situations that we all agree about. When, for instance, someone else’s slave breaks his master’s drinking cup, one is instantly ready to say, “It’s just an accident.” So when your own cup gets broken, acknowledge that you should be just the way you were when that happened to the other person’s cup. Now apply this rule to more serious things. When someone’s child or wife dies, it’s normal to say “That’s just life.” Yet whenever it’s one’s own family member who dies, the immediate response is “Alas” and “Poor me!” We should remember how we feel when we hear of this happening to other people.


No target is set up simply to be missed, and in the same way nothing that occurs in the world is bad in its own nature as such.


If someone in the street were entrusted with your body, you would be furious. Yet you entrust your mind to anyone around who happens to insult you, and allow it to be troubled and confused. Aren’t you ashamed of that?


In every undertaking, examine its antecedents and their consequences, and only then proceed to the act itself. If you don’t do that, you will start enthusiastically, because you have not thought about any of the next stages; then, when difficulties appear, you will give up and be put to shame. Do you want to win at the Olympics? I do too, of course, because it’s a splendid thing. But examine the project from start to finish, and only go in for it after that. You must train, keep a strict diet, stay off pastries, submit to a regular exercise regime each day, summer or winter, drink no cold water and no wine except at appropriate times; in other words, you have to surrender yourself to the trainer just as you would to your doctor. Then in the actual contest you have to dig in alongside the other contestants, and perhaps dislocate your hand or twist your ankle, swallow a lot of sand, get flogged, and with all of this lose the fight.

When you have thought about this, go and compete if you still want to. But if you don’t think first, you will be acting like children who play at wrestling for a while, then at being gladiators, then trumpeters, and then stage performers. That’s what you are like too, now an athlete, next a gladiator, then an orator, now a philosopher but nothing in your self as a whole. You are like a monkey mimicking whatever you see, as one thing after another takes your fancy. You haven’t pursued anything with due consideration or after thorough review; you mess about and don’t put your heart into things.

It’s the way some people who have seen a philosopher and heard one speak like Euphrates (though no one can really speak like him) want to go in for philosophy themselves. Dear man, think first about what the thing is like, and then study your own nature to see whether you are up to it. Do you really want to compete in the pentathlon or the wrestling? If so, you had better study your arms and your thighs and your hips. People differ in what they are naturally suited to. Do you suppose you can go in for philosophy and eat and drink just as you do now or get angry and irritated in the same way? You are going to have to go without sleep, work really hard, stay away from friends and family, be disrespected by a young slave, get mocked by people in the street, and come off worse in rank, office, or courtroom, everywhere in fact. Think about all this and then see whether you want to exchange it for calm, freedom, and tranquility. If not, don’t go near philosophy; don’t be like children playing first a philosopher, and after that a tax collector, then an orator, and then an imperial official. These professions don’t match. You have to be one person, either good or bad. You have to work either on your commanding-faculty or on external things. Either the inner or the outer should be the focus of your efforts, which means adopting the role either of a philosopher or of an ordinary person.


Appropriate actions are largely set by our social relationships. In the case of one’s father, this involves looking after him, letting him have his way in everything, and not making a fuss if he is abusive or violent. “But what if he’s a bad father? ” Do you think you have a natural affinity only to a good father? “No, just to a father.” Suppose your brother treats you badly. In that case, maintain your fraternal relationship to him. Don’t think about why he behaves that way but about what you need to do to keep your will in harmony with nature. No one else, in fact, will harm you without your consent; you will be harmed only when you think you are being harmed. So make a habit of studying your social relationships – with neighbors, citizens, or army officers – and then you will discover the appropriate thing to do.


The essence of reverence concerning the gods is, first, to hold correct beliefs concerning their existence and their fine and just administration of the universe, and, second, to position yourself to obey them and accept whatever happens, complying with it willingly, on the understanding that what comes to pass has been ordained by their most excellent decision. In this way, you will never find fault with the gods, nor will you charge them with neglect. But such reverence is not possible unless you remove goodness and badness from the things not up to us and ascribe it only to the things that are up to us; for if you judge any of those other things to be good or bad, whenever you fail to get what you want and encounter what you don’t want, you will be bound to blame the gods and hate them for being responsible.

It is every creature’s nature, you see, to shun things that look harmful or cause harm, and to admire and pursue things that are beneficial or bring benefit. If you think you are being injured, you can no more enjoy what seems to be injuring you than you can enjoy the injury itself. Even fathers are maligned by their sons when they deprive them of things they think are good; and it was this, the belief that holding exclusive power is good, that created hostility between Eteocles and Polyneices. For the same reason, farmers malign the gods, and sailors do so too, and merchants, and men who have lost their wives and children. Wherever people’s interest lies, that’s also the site of their reverence. If you are careful, then, to focus your desires and aversions where you should, you will be equally careful about reverence. Nevertheless, it is fitting for +everyone+ to perform religious rituals and make customary offerings as long as they act with a pure heart, not mechanically or carelessly, and not meanly or extravagantly.


Whenever you have your fortune taken, keep in mind that you don’t know precisely what’s going to happen (that’s why you came to consult the fortune-teller), but if you are really a philosopher, you already know the sort of thing it is. For if it is one of the things not up to us, it must absolutely be neither good nor bad. So don’t project your desire or aversion onto the fortune-teller  (otherwise you will come to him in great anxiety), but go in the understanding that every outcome is indifferent—nothing that bears on you except as an opportunity, whatever it is like, to be put to excellent use and with no one to get in your way.

Go to the gods then, as your advisers, and go confidently. And next, when you have been given some advice, keep in mind whom you have taken as your advisers and whom you will be ignoring if you don’t heed them. Proceed to fortune-telling in the way Socrates judged to be right for handling situations where the whole point of the inquiry is to learn what’s going to happen, and where neither reason nor any other procedure can tell you what you are facing. And so, when there’s a need for you to put yourself at risk on behalf of a friend or your country, those are not topics to consult a fortune-teller about. For even if the fortune-teller reports that the omens are inauspicious, what is clearly forecast is no more than death or bodily injury or exile. But reason requires that even under these circumstances you should support your friend and run risks for your country. So pay attention to the greater fortune-teller, Pythian Apollo. He threw out of the temple the man who gave no help to his friend when he was being killed.


Draw up right now a definite character and identity for yourself, one that you intend to stick to whether you are by yourself or in company.

Stay mainly silent or keep your conversation to the necessary minimum. On rare occasions, though, when the situation calls for it, engage in talk, but not about trite topics, like gladiators or horse races or athletes or food or drink—the things that come up all the time; and above all don’t talk critically or flatteringly or judgmentally about people. By your own conversation, if you can, guide your friends’ talk in a fitting direction, but if you find yourself all alone among strangers, stay silent.

Don’t laugh much or often, and keep it down.

Refuse completely to take an oath, or if that is out of the question, refuse to the extent that you can.

Excuse yourself from attending dinner parties given by people outside your circle. But if you have to, be very careful not to slip into their ways. A companion’s crudeness is bound to rub off on the one he is with, no matter how refined that person may be.

In things to do with the body—food, drink, clothes, housing, and servants— take only what you need, and cut out everything that is for show or luxury.

As for sex, abstain as far as possible before marriage, and if you do go in for it, do nothing that is socially unacceptable. But don’t interfere with other people on account of their sex lives or criticize them, and don’t broadcast your own abstinence.

If you are told that someone is talking badly of you, don’t defend yourself against the story but reply: “Obviously he didn’t know my other faults, or he would have mentioned them as well.”

There is no need for you to put in much of an appearance at the public games, but if the occasion arises don’t let people see you supporting anyone’s side except your own—I mean you should want the result to be exactly what it is and for the winner to be exactly the one who wins. In this way you won’t be disappointed. Restrain yourself completely from shouting or laughing at anyone or getting strongly involved. After coming away, confine your account of the events to the experiences that bear on your own improvement. Otherwise people will think that you were impressed by the spectacle.

Don’t show up casually or thoughtlessly at public lectures, but when you do go behave decently and seriously and without causing offence.

Whenever you are going to meet anyone, especially someone thought to be important, ask yourself what Socrates or Zeno would have done in this case, and then you will have no difficulty in handling the situation appropriately. And when you call on some high official, imagine that you will not find him at home, that you will be shut out, that the door will be slammed in your face, and that he will ignore you. But if, in spite of all this, you really have to go, accept it and go without ever telling yourself, “It was not worth all that.” That’s what an ordinary person would do, someone upset by mere circumstances.

In company don’t go on at length about your own deeds or adventures. It may be pleasant for you to recount them, but others are less eager to hear about what has happened to you. And don’t try to be funny; it’s behavior that easily lapses into vulgarity, and it is also liable to make your neighbors think less well of you. Be warned, too, against encouraging lewd conversation. If and when anything of the sort happens, chide the person who has started it if you can find the right moment, and if not, show your dislike of the talk by staying silent, blushing and frowning.


Whenever the impression of some pleasure comes into your mind, guard yourself against being carried away by it, just as you should do with impressions in general. Let the thing wait a bit, and give yourself a pause. Then think of both times—first the one when you will enjoy the pleasure, and then the one after that when you will be sorry and be angry with yourself. Now contrast them with your joy and self-satisfaction if you abstain. But if you find this the right moment to embark on the affair, do beware that you are not being overwhelmed by its charm and sweetness and allure. Think how much better it is to realize that you have won this victory.


Whenever you do something you have decided ought to be done, never try to avoid being seen doing it, even if people in general may disapprove of it. If, of course, your action is wrong, just don’t do it at all; but if it’s right, why be afraid of people whose criticism is off the mark?


You can form a valid *disjunctive statement from the propositions “It is day” and “It is night” taken separately {“Either it is day, or it is night”}, but the *conjunctive statement {“Both it is day and it is night”} is completely invalid. Similarly, at a dinner party, choosing the larger share could have positive value for the body, but it has negative value for maintaining the sociability the occasion requires. So when you are dining with someone, be mindful not only to note the value of the dishes for your body but also to show respect for your host.


If you have taken on a role beyond your capacity, you have demeaned yourself in it, and you have also passed up the role you could have filled creditably.


You are careful in walking not to step on a nail or twist your ankle, and you should be just as careful to do no harm to your commanding-faculty. If we stick to this rule in every action, we shall perform what we are doing more securely.


The body is the proper measure for each person’s acquisitive needs, just as the foot is the measure for a shoe. If you stick to this rule, you will keep the measure, but if you go beyond it, you are bound in the end to go over a cliff, so to speak. It’s the same with the shoe if you exceed the foot; first comes a gilded shoe, and next one embroidered with purple. Once you exceed the measure, there is no limit.


As soon as they are fourteen, women are called “ladies” by men. So when they see that their only prospect is to go to bed with them, they begin to make themselves up and place all their hopes on their looks. They need to understand that the true basis for being respected is to appear refined and modest.


It is the mark of a crude disposition to spend most of one’s time on bodily functions such as exercise, eating, drinking, defecating, and copulating. These are things to be done just incidentally. All your attention should be on your mind.


Whenever people treat you badly or criticize you, remember that they are only doing and saying what they think is appropriate for them. They cannot take their lead from your opinion but only from their own. So if their opinion is incorrect, they are the people who suffer harm because they are the ones who got it wrong. When someone takes a true conjunctive statement to be false, no harm is done to the statement but only to the person making the mistake. If you start out from this position, you will be indulgent to your critics, and tell yourself each time, “That’s what they thought.”


Every situation has two handles, as it were, one making it supportable and the other insupportable. If your brother mistreats you, don’t fasten on the mistreatment—that is the insupportable handle of the situation—but on the other handle instead—that he is your brother, the boy you were raised with—and then you will fasten onto the situation in the way that makes it supportable.


These inferences are invalid: “I am richer than you, therefore I am better than you,” and “I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better than you.” But the following inferences are more cogent: “I am richer than you, therefore my property is better than yours,” or “I am more eloquent than you, therefore my diction is better than yours.” But you yourself are neither property nor diction.


If people take a bath in a hurry, don’t criticize them for their bathing, but say that they do it hurriedly. If they drink a lot of wine, don’t criticize them for their drinking, but say that they drink a lot. Until you know their reasons, how do you know whether they acted wrongly. This way you will not combine indubitable impressions of a situation with an endorsement of something else that lacks this certainty.


Don’t ever describe yourself as a philosopher or talk much among ordinary people about your philosophical principles; simply do what the principles prescribe. At a dinner party, for instance, don’t discuss table manners, just eat nicely. Keep in mind that Socrates was so unostentatious that people came to him when they wanted him to introduce them to philosophers, and he took them along, so little did he mind being unacknowledged himself. If the conversation turns to a philosophical point, stay mainly silent, since there’s a great risk that you will immediately spew up what you haven’t fully absorbed. When your silence is taken for ignorance and you don’t react, then believe me, you have made a real start on the philosophical enterprise. Sheep don’t show how much they have eaten by bringing their fodder to the shepherds; they digest it inside their bodies, and on the outside produce wool and milk. Don’t then, in your case, show off your philosophical principles to ordinary people, but show the actions that come from them once the principles have been absorbed.


When you have accustomed your body to a frugal regime, don’t put on airs about it, and if you only drink water, don’t broadcast the fact all the time. And if ever you want to go in for endurance training, do it for yourself and not for the world to see. Don’t [be seen outside] embracing statues. If you are very thirsty, you can suck cold water and spit it out, but without telling anyone.


The stance and hallmark of ordinary persons is never looking for help or harm from themselves, but only from things that are on the outside. The stance and hallmark of philosophers is only looking for help and harm from themselves.

The signs of a person making progress are these: criticizing nobody, praising nobody, blaming nobody, accusing nobody, and saying nothing about oneself to indicate being someone or knowing something. Whenever such a person is frustrated or impeded, he accuses himself. If he’s complimented, he laughs to himself at the one paying the compliment, and if he’s criticized, he doesn’t defend himself. He goes around like a patient, taking care not to injure any of his recovering limbs before they are fully firm. He has banished all desire, and he has transferred his aversion to the naturally disagreeable things that are up to us. He is relaxed in all his motivations. He doesn’t care if he appears simple-minded or ignorant. In a word, he keeps watch on himself as though he were his own enemy plotting an attack.


Whenever people take pride in their ability to understand and explain Chrysippus’s books, say to yourself: “If Chrysippus had not written obscurely, they would have nothing to be proud of.” What do I want then for myself? I want to understand nature and follow its lead. So I look for someone to interpret nature for me, and on hearing that Chrysippus can do that I go to him. But I don’t understand his writings, so I look for an interpreter of them. Thus far there is nothing for me to take pride in. After I have found the interpreter, I still have to put the precepts into practice—that’s the only thing to be proud of. But if what impresses me is just the interpreting itself, I have ended up as a literary scholar and not a philosopher, except that I am interpreting Chrysippus instead of Homer. Rather than showing pride, therefore, when I am asked to expound Chrysippus, I blush at my inability to exhibit the sort of actions that would match his statements.


In all your projects, keep to them as laws that it would be totally wrong to transgress. And as to anything that people may say about you, ignore it because it doesn’t belong to you.


How long will you delay thinking yourself worthy of the best and making reason your decisive principle in everything? You have received the principles you ought to endorse, and you have endorsed them. What sort of teacher, then, are you still waiting for, so you that can transfer the correction of yourself to him? You are not a boy anymore, but already a full-grown man. If you are negligent now and lazy and always procrastinating, and settling on the day after tomorrow and the next as when you will take yourself in hand, you will fail to see that you are making no progress but spending your entire life as an ordinary person until you die. Right now, then, think yourself worthy to live as a grownup making progress; and take your view of the best to be the rule that you never transgress. And whatever you encounter that is painful or pleasant or popular or unpopular, keep in mind that now is the contest, and here right now are the Olympic games, and that postponement is no longer an option, and that your progress is saved or ruined by a single day and a single action. That’s how Socrates perfected himself, by attending to nothing except reason in everything he encountered. You yourself too, even though you are not yet Socrates, ought to live as someone who wants to be a Socrates.


The first and most necessary area of philosophy is application of the principles, such as not to lie. The second area treats their proofs, such as the grounds for the principle that one should not lie. Third comes the field that confirms and analyzes the proofs, such as investigating what makes this a proof, what proof is as such, and what validity, contradiction, truth and falsehood are. Therefore, the third area is necessary because of the second, and the second because of the first, but it is the first that is the most necessary and the one where we ought to stay. In fact, though, we do the opposite. We spend our time on the third area, concentrating all our enthusiasm on it and neglecting the first one completely. The result is that we do tell lies, while we are ready to advance the proofs that we shouldn’t.


On every occasion we should have the following quotations to hand:

Lead me, O Zeus, and you, O Destiny,
Wherever you have ordained for me.
I will follow unflinching. But if, grown bad,
I should refuse, I will follow none the less.

Whosoever complies nobly with necessity
We count as wise and knowing things divine.
Well, Crito, if it [my death] is pleasing to the gods, so let it be.

Anytus and Meletus [Socrates’ Athenian prosecutors] can kill me, but they cannot harm me


Epictetus, & Long, A. A. (2018). How to Be Free : An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life : Encheiridion and Selections from Discourses. Princeton University Press.

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