Epictetus (55-135 CE) Enchiridion
A manual for living a contented life
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn (1935- ) 2014
Our natural relationships with other people depend upon historical facts and personal status. You are naturally deferential to your father and mother, and accept poor treatment from them even if they physically abuse you. You might say, “He is a bad father, and I shouldn’t obey him!” But your natural station isn’t that you have a good father, only that you have a father, and must obey him. It is similar if your brother has mistreated you, and you must give him special consideration, because he is your brother, and adjust your behavior to this natural relationship. It is your choice how you interpret and internalize any person’s actions affecting you, and even your father or brother’s behavior can’t harm your core self. You are only harmed when you choose to believe that you are harmed. You may approach your neighbor, a citizen, or a president, and other people with these considerations of your relationship to them, and then you will know what to expect and how to adapt your actions to them.
In this paragraph Epictetus deals with those people who have some special authority over us, and how we should anticipate the kinds of actions they will project towards us because of our preexisting relationship. The idea is that we should submit to some people’s authority because it is within the laws of nature to do so. The idea seems similar to his suggestion of being content with the past, because there is nothing you can do about it. The fact that some particular man is your father is a fixed event of the past, and that individuals must be subservient to their fathers is a natural law. Your life will be more tranquil when you accept these things as facts, and move on.