Sustain and Abstain
December 28, 2004 7:04 PM   Subscribe

The Enchiridion or Manual of the eminently quotable Epictetus contains many words of austere comfort. (more inside)
posted by mono blanco (10 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Caution. Quoting Epictetus can be addictive:

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.

If you do not wish to be prone to anger, do not feed the habit; give it nothing which may tend to its increase.

Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man's task.

Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire.

God has entrusted me with myself.

Okay, that's enough. It's useful to compare the Sanderson's flowery translation in the FPP to Nicholas White's Enchiridion, which is prefaced by an extensive and helpful introduction including this: "The Stoics, however, generally denied that their view made ordinary human efforts pointless, and tried to explain how one might simultaneously both (a) regard all external states of affairs as indifferent, and (b) engage in efforts and actions as human beings ordinarily do."

Indeed. Whether one appreciates Stoicism depends on whether one sees the difference between it and fatalism.

(Thanks to jeffmshaw for the Boethius post. Reading that, I thought of not only of Ignatius T Reilly but also of Conrad Hensley in Wolfe's A Man in Full, mis-remembering Hensley as another Boethius advocate. But, no, he was Epictetus's man.)
posted by mono blanco at 7:11 PM on December 28, 2004

Stoicism was mentioned recently here in connection with Christianity, derisively (or implicitly derisively, if I recall correctly). But when I read Epictetus I didn't think much about Christianity as the underlying message of stoicism is pretty universal and dominated my attention. Universally correct? I don't think so. Certainly a balm, and wisdom, for difficult times.

I haven't mentioned it here today, because it really only matters to me and is trivial to everyone else and especially absurd in the context of the Asia catastrophe, but my beloved cat (whom I've had for 14 years) died last night, while I am out-of-town and away from her, and I've been brokenhearted and grieving for a day, now. (I did post a little comment to the older meta cat thread, though.) Epictetus might be just the thing to act as a bit of a corrective, I suppose. The concept of "loss", and whether or how much personal "loss" is really possible plays a large role. Although he counsels a disinterest or disengagement, which I don't endorse. But a sense of integrity of self, something that can't be diminished, something that the pains of the world can't truly harm—that part makes much more sense to me.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:36 PM on December 28, 2004

Epictetus rocks my world. See also Seneca & Marcus Aurelius
posted by leotrotsky at 8:09 PM on December 28, 2004

Sorry for your loss, EB.
posted by Gyan at 9:50 PM on December 28, 2004

How come nobody in either the Epictetus or the Boethius post has mentioned The Perseus Project? For classical studies it is probably the single best resource on the internet. It offers Arrian's complete works of Epictetus as well as the Encheiridion and Fragments in the original Greek as well as translations by Higginson and Long. All are fully searchable and the Greek has a hypertext language tool that is not perfect, but better than nothing. Perseus has the works of Seneca and M. Aurelius also.
posted by mokujin at 11:00 PM on December 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

mono blanco - thanks for the post.

mokujin - thanks for the link. The Higginson translation was much easier on the brain.
posted by skyscraper at 12:08 AM on December 29, 2004

If you like a jug, say, "I like a jug;"
for when it breaks you will not be disturbed.
If you should kiss your child or wife,
say that you are kissing a person;
for when one dies, you will not be disturbed.

I could swear that in the hellenistic philosophy book I have at home there's a similar quotation (though maybe not from Epictetus) that even more explicitly tells the reader to regard a dead wife as a broken jug, and nothing more.
posted by kenko at 8:25 AM on December 29, 2004

Probably this from the higginson: "If you have a favorite cup, that it is but a cup of which you are fond, - for thus, if it is broken, you can bear it; if you embrace your child, or your wife, that you embrace a mortal, - and thus, if either of them dies, you can bear it.".
posted by kenko at 8:27 AM on December 29, 2004

Thanks, Gyan. I'm having a stupidly hard time dealing with this. That I wasn't there is just driving me nuts. I guess because I've mostly been a shut-in these last few years and she and I have been together 24/7 almost all the time, and that I've had her for 14 years through thick-and-thin...the loss is hitting me very hard. So far, stoicism isn't helping. As always in such matters, time is the only thing that really helps. Anyone got a time-machine? I already would like to get a kitten—actually, I've wanted one for years but Simone hated other cats—and it seems like it would help with the company and fill the absence; but, on the other hand, I feel irrationally guilty about it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:48 PM on December 29, 2004

Oh, by the way, I meant to give more attention to this very insightful comment by mono blanco:

"Indeed. Whether one appreciates Stoicism depends on whether one sees the difference between it and fatalism."

Epictetus, anyway, is very definitely not "fatalistic" in the vulgar sense of the word. More than anything else, stoicism as it's presented by him seems to me to be essentially similar to the famous "Serenity Prayer", which most people recognize as darn good advice.

I wrote a paper, in the form of a dialogue (strongly counseled against—rightly, it turns out—by my tutors) about Epictetus. I was most interested, actually, in the discussion that attended the Epictetus readings in Seminar and that's why I felt a dialogue was appropriate. In my view, there's a tension there between a deep and empowering realism and an implied (or, hell, explicit) disengagement from life. It seems unhealthy to me to deny all attachments; but it seems equally unhealthy to me to deny hard reality. Things end; most things external are beyond control. My dialogue was between a trio, all naive: a hardened self-styled "realist"; a heart-on-sleeve, weepy sort who may be unhealthily fascinated with pain; and an open-minded, even-tempered person caught in the middle. I'd like to think that of the last as representing most of us as we earnestly try to walk the exposed ridge between joy and pain.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:00 PM on December 29, 2004

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