Free from hindrance are those things which lie in the sphere of the moral purpose, and subject to hindrance are those which lie outside the sphere of the moral purpose. And so, if he regards his own good and advantage as residing in these things alone, in those, namely, which are free from hindrance and under his control, he will be free, serene, happy, unharmed, high-minded, reverent, giving thanks for all things ta God, under no circumstances finding fault with anything that has happened, nor blaming anything; if, however, he regards his good and advantage as residing in externals and things outside the sphere of his moral purpose, he must needs be hindered and restrained, be a slave to those who have control over these things which he has admired and fears; he must needs be irreverent, forasmuch as he thinks that God is injuring him, and be unfair, always trying to secure for himself more than his share, and must needs be of an abject and mean spirit.
When a man has once grasped all this, what is there to prevent him from living with a light heart and an obedient disposition; with a gentle spirit awaiting anything that may yet befall, and enduring that which has already befallen? "Would you have me bear poverty?" Bring it on and you shall see what poverty is when it finds a good actor to play the part. "Would you have me hold office?" Bring it on. "Would you have me suffer deprivation of office?" Bring it on. "Well, and would you have me bear troubles?" Bring them on too. "Well, and exile?" Wherever I go it will be well with me, for here where I am it was well with me, not because of my location, but because of my judgements, and these I shall carry away with me; nor, indeed, can any man take these away from me, but they are the only things that are mine, and they cannot be taken away, and with the possession of them I am content, wherever I be and whatever I do. "But it is now time to die." Why say "die"? Make no tragic parade of the matter, but speak of it as it is: "It is now tune for the material of which you are constituted to be restored to those elements from which it came." And what is there terrible about that? What one of the things that make up the universe will be lost, what novel or unreasonable thing will have taken place? Is it for this that the tyrant inspires fear? Is it because of this that his guards seem to have long and sharp swords? Let others see to that; I have considered all this, no one has authority over me. I have been set free by God, I know His commands, no one has power any longer to make a slave of me, I have the right kind of emancipator, and the right kind of judges. "Am I not master of your body?" Very well, what is that to me? "Am I not master of your paltry property?" Very well, what is that to me? "Am I not master of exile or bonds?" Again I yield up to you all these things and my whole paltry body itself, whenever you will. Do make trial of your power, and you will find out how far it extends.
Who is there, then, that I can any longer be afraid of? Shall I be afraid of the chamberlains? For fear they do what? Lock the door in my face? If they find me wanting to enter, let them lock the door in my face!—Why, then, do you go to the gate of the palace?—Because I think it fitting for me to join in the game while the game lasts.—How, then, is it that you are not locked out?—Because, if anyone will not receive me, I do not care to go in, but always I wish rather the thing which takes place. For I regard God's will as better than my will. I shall attach myself to Him as a servant and follower, my choice is one with His, my desire one with His, in a word, my will is one with His will. No door is locked in my face, but rather in the face of those who would force themselves in. Why, then, do I not force myself in? Why, because I know that within nothing good is distributed among those who have entered. But when I hear someone called blessed, because he is being honoured by Caesar, I say, "What is his portion? Does he, then, get also a judgement such as he ought to have for governing a province? Does he, then, get also the ability to administer a procuratorship? Why should I any longer push my way in? Somebody is scattering dried figs and nuts; the children snatch them up and fight with one another, the men do not, for they count this a small matter. But if somebody throws potsherds around, not even the children snatch them up. Governorships are being passed around. The children shall see to that. Money. The children shall see to that. A praetorship, a consulship. Let the children snatch them up; let the children have the door locked in their faces, take a beating, kiss the hands of the giver, and the hands of his slaves. As for me, it's a mere scattering of dried figs and nuts." But what, then, if, when the man is throwing them about, a dried fig chances to fall into my lap? I take it up and eat it. For I may properly value even a dried fig as much as that. But neither a dried fig, nor any other of the things not good, which the philosophers have persuaded me not to think good, is of sufficient value to warrant my grovelling and upsetting someone else, or being upset by him, or flattering those who have flung the dried figs among us.
Excerpt from Chapter VII, Of freedom from fear, in Book IV of Epictetus' Discourses.
/misc | Dec 11, 2017
Subscribe or visit the archives