Epictetus (55-135 CE) Enchiridion
A manual for living a contented life
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn (1935- ) 2014
Use forethought in all of your actions, and be conscious of what precedes the actions and what are the expected results after your actions. If you naively charge enthusiastically into new occupations without any thoughts or preparations for the various outcomes, then when problems appear you will become discouraged and shamed. Say, for example, that you would like to win a medal at the Olympic games; I would too, for it is an honorable thing to do; but first consider the problems of preparing for such a thing, and then consider the remote likelihood of success. Think about those things before you commit to that risky occupation. To begin with you must endure months and perhaps years of grueling preparations, during which you must abstain from pleasures. You will work hard in the heat and cold, will go thirsty and hungry, and you must submit to a trainer who will treat you roughly and shame you to make you work to the limits of your abilities. You will endure all of these painful things before you even enter the stadium, and when in the contest you must totally commit yourself to absolute action, and thus to risk serious injuries, broken bones, dislocated joints, and often with all of those personal disasters endured still go down in defeat. Think about those probabilities before you consume your life training for such things. Not to use your forethought is to be pretending like a thoughtless child to be a gladiator, an orator, or a philosopher, because without forethought and preparations you can not do any of these things well enough to be successful. Consider what is demanded of people in these roles, what natural talents, what years of preparation, what unique opportunities for practice and economic support. Consider carefully, do you have what it takes? Do you wish to exchange tranquility, contentment, and freedom for stress, aggravation, and subjugation, for the opportunity to enter an arena and be humiliated and possibly killed? You must choose the role you are most capable of performing well, within the society you live within, and then play that role to the best of your ability. You can choose to cultivate your external abilities, or you can choose to cultivate your inner philosopher.
In this paragraph we explore the difficulties of achieving a prominent station in life. There are costs and benefits and these can be thought about before we commit too much time, effort and money. Epictetus chooses an Olympic athlete for his example, and points to the tremendous difficulties and dangers of that pursuit, and the likelihood of failure. Then he mentions some other prominent occupations, and the risks associated with them too, but there is an out that is available to all people, and that is to become a Stoic. That is relatively easy to do once you are willing to abandon the wonderful things society pretends are available to you, if you submit to its demands. And yet at the end he makes it seem as difficult to become a Stoic philosopher as to be an Olympic contender, and yet again, elsewhere he claims it is easy to become a Stoic practitioner and live a tranquil life.