Epictetus’ Enchiridion

There are things which are within our power, and there are things which
are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire,
aversion, and in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our
power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever
are not properly our own affairs. Now, the things within our power are
by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are
weak, dependent, restricted, alien. Remember, then, that if you attribute
freedom to things by nature dependent, and take what belongs to others
for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be
disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you take for
your own only that which it really is, then no one will ever compel you,
no one will restrict you, you will find fault with no one, you will accuse
no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you
will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm. Aiming therefore
at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself any
inclination, however slight, towards the attainment of the others; but that
you must entirely quit some of them, and for the present postpone the
rest. But if you would have these, and possess power and wealth
likewise, you may miss the latter in seeking the former; and you will
certainly fail of that by which alone happiness and freedom are
procured. Seek at once, therefore, to be able to say to every unpleasing
semblance, “You are but a semblance and by no means the real thing.”
And then examine it by those rules which you have; and first and
chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are within our own
power, or those which are not; and if it concerns anything beyond our
power, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

Remember that desire demands the attainment of that of which you are
desirous and aversion demands the avoidance of that to which you are
averse; that he who fails of the object of his desires is disappointed; and
he who incurs the object of his aversion is wretched. If, then, you shun
only those undesirable things which you can control, you will never
incur anything you shun; but if you shun sickness, or death, or poverty,
you will run the risk of wretchedness. Remove aversion, then, from all
things that are not within our power, and apply it to things undesirable,
which are within our power. But for the present altogether restrain
desire; for if you desire any of the things not within our own power, you
must necessarily be disappointed; and you are not yet secure of those
which are within our power, and so are legitimate objects of desire.
Where it is practically necessary for you to pursue or avoid anything, do
even this with discretion, and gentleness, and moderation.

With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind, or contribute to
use, or are tenderly beloved, remind yourself of what nature they are,
beginning with the merest trifles: 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.

When you set about any action, remind yourself of what nature the
action is. If you are going to bathe, represent to yourself the incidents
usual in the bath, – some persons pouring out, others pushing in , others
scolding, others pilfering. And thus you will more safely go about this
action, if you say to yourself, “I will now go to bathe, and keep my own
will in harmony with nature.” And so with regard to every other action.
For thus, if any impediment arises in bathing, you will be able to say, “It
was not only to bathe that I desired, but to keep my will in harmony with
nature; and I shall not keep it thus, if I am out of humor at things that

Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of
things. Thus death is nothing terrible, else it would have appeared so to
Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible.

When, therefore, we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved let us never
impute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own views. It is the
action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own
misfortunes; of one entering upon instruction, to reproach himself; and
of one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others or himself.

Be not elated at any excellence not your own. If a horse should be
elated, and say, “I am handsome,” it might be endurable. But when you
are elated, and say, “I have a handsome horse,” know that you are elated
only on the merit of the horse. What then is your own? The use of
phenomena of existence. So that when you are in harmony with nature in
this respect, you will be elated with some reason; for you will be elated
at some good of your own.

As in a voyage, when the ship is at anchor, if you go on shore to get
water, you may amuse yourself with picking up a shell-fish or a truffle
in your way, but your thoughts ought to be bent towards the ship, and
perpetually attentive, lest the captain should call, and then you must
leave all these things, that you may not have to be carried on board the
vessel, bound like a sheep; thus likewise in life, if , instead of a truffle or
shell-fish, such a thing as a wife or child be granted you , there is not
objection; but is the captain calls, run to the ship, leave all these things,
and never look back. But if you are old, never too far from the ship, lest
you should be missing when called for.

Demand not that events should happen as you wish; but wish them to
happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

Sickness is an impediment to the body, but not to the will, unless itself
pleases. Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will; and
say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens. For you will
find it to be an impediment to something else, but not truly to yourself.

Upon every accident, remember to turn towards yourself and inquire
what faculty you have for its use. If you encounter a handsome person,
you will find continence the faculty needed; if pain, then fortitude; if
reviling, then patience. And when thus habituated, the phenomena of
existence will not overwhelm you.

Never say of anything, “I have lost it; “but, “I have restored it.” Has your
child died? It is restored. Has your wife died? She is restored. Has your
estate been taken away? That likewise is restored. “But it was a bad man
who took it.” What is it to you by whose hands he who gave it has
demanded it again? While he permits you to possess it, hold it as
something not your won; as do travelers at an inn.

If you would improve, lay aside such reasonings as these: “If I neglect
my affairs, I shall not have a maintenance; if I do not punish my servant,
he will be good for nothing.” For it were better to die of hunger, exempt
from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation; and it is
better that your servant should be bad than you unhappy. Begin therefore
with little things. Is a little oil spilt or a little wine stolen? Say to
yourself, “This is the price paid for peace and tranquillity; and nothing is
to be had for nothing.” And when you call your servant, consider that it
is possible he may not come at your call; or, if he does, that he may not
do what you wish. But it is not at all desirable for him, and very
undesirable for you, that it should be in his power to cause you any

If you would improve, be content to be thought foolish and dull with
regard to externals. Do not desire to be thought to know anything; and
though you should appear to others to be somebody, distrust yourself.
For be assured, it is not easy at once to keep your will in harmony with
nature, and to secure externals; but while you are absorbed in the one,
you must of necessity neglect the other.

If you wish your children and your wife and your friends to live forever,
you are foolish; for you wish things to be in your power which are not
so; and what belongs to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish
your servant to be without fault, you are foolish; for you wish vice not to
be vice, but something else. But if you wish not to be disappointed in
your desires, that is in your own power. Exercise, therefore, what is in
your power. A man’s master is he who is able to confer or remove
whatever that man seeks or shuns. Whoever then would be free, let him
wish for nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others; else
he must necessarily be a slave.

Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought
round to you? Put out your hand, and take a moderate share. Does it pass
you? Do not stop it. Is it not come yet? Do not yearn in desire towards it,
but wait till it reaches you. So with regard to children , wife, office,
riches; and you will some time or other be worthy to feast with the gods.
And if you do not so much as take the things which are set before you,
but are able even to forego them, then you will not only be worthy to
feast with the gods, but to rule with them also. For, by thus doing,
Diogenes and Heraclitus, and others like them, deservedly became
divine, and were so recognized.

When you see any one weeping for grief, either that his son has gone
abroad, or that he has suffered in his affairs, take care not to be
overcome by the apparent evil; but discriminate, and be ready to say,
“What hurts this man is not this occurrence itself, – for another man
might not be hurt it, – but the view he chooses to take of it.” As far as
conversation goes, however, do not disdain to accommodate yourself to
him, and if need be, to groan with him. Take heed, however, not to groan
inwardly too.

Remember that you are an actor in a drama of such sort as the author
chooses, – if short, then in a short one; if long, then in along one. If it be
his pleasure that you should enact a poor man, see that you act it well; or
a cripple, or a ruler, or a private citizen. For this is your business, to act
well the given part; but to choose it, belongs to another.

When a raven happens to croak unluckily, be not overcome by
appearances, but discriminate, and say, – Nothing is pretended to me; but
either to my paltry body, or property, or reputation, or children, or wife.
But to me all portents are lucky, if I will. For whatsoever happens, it
belongs to me to derive advantage therefrom.”

You can be unconquerable, if you enter into no combat in which it is not
in your own power to conquer. When, therefore, you see any one
eminent in honors or power, or high esteem on any other account, take
heed not to be bewildered by appearances and to pronounce him happy;
for if the essence of good consists in things within our own power, there
will be no room for envy or emulation. But, for your part, do not desire
to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free; and the only way
to this is a disregard of things which lie not within our own power.

Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts; but
the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one
provokes you, be assured that it is your won opinion which provokes
you. Try, therefore, in the first place, not to be bewildered by
appearances. For if you once gain time and respite, you will more easily
command yourself.

Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible, be daily
before your eyes, but death chiefly; and you will never entertain any
abject thought, not too eagerly covet anything.

If you have an earnest desire towards philosophy, prepare yourself from
the very first to have the multitude laugh and sneer, and say, “He is
returned to us a philosopher all at once; “and “Whence this supercilious
look?” Now, for your part, do not have a supercilious look indeed; but
keep steadily to those things which appear best to you, as one appointed
by God to this particular station. For remember that, if you are
persistent, those very persons who at first ridiculed will afterwards
admire you. But if you are conquered by them, you will incur a double

If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, for the pleasure of
any one, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Be
contented, then, in everything, with being a philosopher; and if you with
to seem so likewise to any one, appear so to yourself, and it will suffice

Don’t allow such considerations as these distress you. “I will live in
dishonor, and be nobody anywhere.” For, if dishonor is an evil, you can
no more be involved in any evil by the means of another, than be
engaged in anything base. Is it any business of yours, then, to get power,
or to be admitted to an entertainment? By no means. How, then, after all,
is this a dishonor? And how is it true that you will be nobody anywhere,
when you ought to be somebody in those things only which are in your
own control, in which you may be of the greatest consequence? “But my
friends will be unassisted.” — What do you mean by unassisted? They
will not have money from you, nor will you make them Roman citizens.

Who told you, then, that these are among the things in our own control,
and not the affair of others? And who can give to another the things
which he has not himself? “Well, but get them, then, that we too may
have a share.” If I can get them with the preservation of my own honor
and fidelity and greatness of mind, show me the way and I will get them;
but if you require me to lose my own proper good that you may gain
what is not good, consider how inequitable and foolish you are. Besides,
which would you rather have, a sum of money, or a friend of fidelity and
honor? Rather assist me, then, to gain this character than require me to
do those things by which I may lose it. Well, but my country, say you, as
far as depends on me, will be unassisted. Here again, what assistance is
this you mean? “It will not have porticoes nor baths of your providing.”
And what signifies that? Why, neither does a smith provide it with
shoes, or a shoemaker with arms. It is enough if everyone fully performs
his own proper business. And were you to supply it with another citizen
of honor and fidelity, would not he be of use to it? Yes. Therefore
neither are you yourself useless to it. “What place, then, say you, will I
hold in the state?” Whatever you can hold with the preservation of your
fidelity and honor. But if, by desiring to be useful to that, you lose these,
of what use can you be to your country when you are become faithless
and void of shame.

Is anyone preferred before you at an entertainment, or in a compliment,
or in being admitted to a consultation? If these things are good, you
ought to be glad that he has gotten them; and if they are evil, don’t be
grieved that you have not gotten them. And remember that you cannot,
without using the same means [which others do] to acquire things not in
our own control, expect to be thought worthy of an equal share of them.
For how can he who does not frequent the door of any [great] man, does
not attend him, does not praise him, have an equal share with him who
does? You are unjust, then, and insatiable, if you are unwilling to pay
the price for which these things are sold, and would have them for
nothing. For how much is lettuce sold? Fifty cents, for instance. If
another, then, paying fifty cents, takes the lettuce, and you, not paying it,
go without them, don’t imagine that he has gained any advantage over
you. For as he has the lettuce, so you have the fifty cents which you did
not give. So, in the present case, you have not been invited to such a
person’s entertainment, because you have not paid him the price for
which a supper is sold. It is sold for praise; it is sold for attendance. Give
him then the value, if it is for your advantage. But if you would, at the
same time, not pay the one and yet receive the other, you are insatiable,
and a blockhead. Have you nothing, then, instead of the supper? Yes,
indeed, you have: the not praising him, whom you don’t like to praise;
the not bearing with his behavior at coming in.

The will of Nature may be learned form things upon which we are all
agreed. As, when our neighbor’s boy has broken a cup, or the like, we
are ready at once to say, “These are casualties that will happen; ” be
assured, then, that when your own cup is likewise broken, you ought to
be affected just as when another’s cup was broken. Now apply this to
greater things. Is the child or wife of another dead? There is no one who
would not say, “This is an accident of mortality.” But if any one’s own
child happens to die, it is immediately, “Alas! how wretched am I!” It
should be always remembered how we are affected on hearing the same
thing concerning others.

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