Stoic Advice from Epictetus on the Art of Living – Part 4


In these troubling times of perpetual man-made conflict and recent natural disasters, let us now embrace the practical teachings of a wise old Stoic called Epictetus.

So why not apply this stoic wisdom daily so to calm our minds and strengthen our wills against all adversity.

As Epictetus advised regarding one who is experiencing trials and tribulations:

Chapter 24

How we should struggle with circumstances

It is circumstances which show what men are. Therefore when a difficulty
falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you
with a rough young man. “For what purpose?” you may say, Why, that you may
become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat. In my
opinion no man has had a more profitable difficulty than you have had, if you
choose to make use of it as an athlete would deal with a young antagonist. We
are now sending a scout to Rome; but no man sends a cowardly scout, who, if he
only hears a noise and sees a shadow anywhere, comes running back in terror and
reports that the enemy is close at hand. So now if you should come and tell us,
“Fearful is the state of affairs at Rome, terrible is death, terrible is exile;
terrible is calumny; terrible is poverty; fly, my friends; the enemy is near”;
we shall answer, “Begone, prophesy for yourself; we have committed only one
fault, that we sent such a scout.”

Diogenes, who was sent as a scout before you, made a different report to
us. He says that death is no evil, for neither is it base: he says that fame is
the noise of madmen. And what has this spy said about pain, about pleasure, and
about poverty? He says that to be naked is better than any purple robe, and to
sleep on the bare ground is the softest bed; and he gives as a proof of each
thing that he affirms his own courage, his tranquility his freedom, and the
healthy appearance and compactness of his body. “There is no enemy he says;
“all is peace.” How so, Diogenes? “See,” he replies, “if I am struck, if I have
been wounded, if I have fled from any man.” This is what a scout ought to be.
But you come to us and tell us one thing after another. Will you not go back,
and you will see clearer when you have laid aside fear?

What then shall I do? What do you do when you leave a ship? Do you take
away the helm or the oars? What then do you take away? You take what is your
own, your bottle and your wallet; and now if you think of what is your own, you
will never claim what belongs to others. The emperor says, “Lay aside your
laticlave.” See, I put on the angusticlave. “Lay aside this also.” See, I have
only my toga. “Lay aside your toga.” See, I am naked. “But you still raise my
envy.” Take then all my poor body; when, at a man’s command, I can throw away
my poor body, do I still fear him?

“But a certain person will not leave to me the succession to his estate.”
What then? had I forgotten that not one of these things was mine. How then do
we call them mine? just as we call the bed in the inn. If, then, the innkeeper
at his death leaves you the beds, all well; but if he leaves them to another,
he will have them, and you will seek another bed. If then you shall not find
one, you will sleep on the ground: only sleep with a good will and snore, and
remember that tragedies have their place among the rich and kings and tyrants,
but no poor man fills a part in the tragedy, except as one of the chorus. Kings
indeed commence with prosperity: “ornament the palaces with garlands,” then
about the third or fourth act they call out, “O Cithaeron, why didst thou
receive me?” Slave, where are the crowns, where the diadem? The guards help
thee not at all. When then you approach any of these persons, remember this
that you are approaching a tragedian, not the actor but OEdipus himself. But
you say, “Such a man is happy; for he walks about with many,” and I also place
myself with the many and walk about with many. In sum remember this: the door
is open; be not more timid than little children, but as they say, when the
thing does not please them, “I will play no loner,” so do you, when things seem
to you of such a kind, say I will no longer play, and begone: but if you stay,
do not complain.

~ ‘Discourses and Selected Writings’

One Comment

  1. “Fame is the noise of madmen.” Ah, those Greeks-if only we had that common sense today. One of my favorite sayings, and one that literally transformed my way of thinking, comes from Epictetus: “No one has compelled me to play the tragic hero.” I saw how much of human angst and suffering is just a foolish game.