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Epictetus (55-135 CE) Enchiridion
A manual for living a contented life
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn (1935- ) 2014

Paragraph 32

When you go to a fortune-teller you must be aware what a speculative thing it is, and you should have exhausted all natural means for reaching a decision before throwing your future to the unknowable gods. The fortune given to you will not be up to your decision, and therefore it is not in control of your choosing to call it good or bad; it is uncaring and indifferent. Therefore as a stoic do not bring a preexisting desire or aversion to the Oracle, but a neutral attitude. You will react by simply proceeding along the path prescribed to you, just as if it were given by the laws of the Universe, and deal as best you can with what comes. Proceed with optimism and vigor, with the conviction that it is the gods themselves that are directing your journey, and do not disobey them. Approach unknowable crises as Socrates suggested, where there is something important that needs doing, and whatever we do must be done with conviction, even daring, because it is at those times you need an eager heart and total commitment. However, when you share a danger with a friend or with your country, your responsibilities are obvious and there is no decision to be made by you, because it is clear that you must defend them and yourself. If you consulted an oracle relative to those situations, and it was unfavorable, you would be in a quandary because reason would tell you to defend them, and the oracle would tell you to retreat. Your reasoning would win your mind, as it should, but your heart would waver and would put you and your friends at greater risk of failure. Remember the man who was violently cast out of the Delphi Oracle for asking if he should defend his brother, who was about to be murdered.

COMMENTS

This paragraph suggests how we might best cope with serious decisions where we have exhausted all means for coming to a reasonable decision. If we have a life-changing decision that must be made, and yet the various factors are so complex and confusing that we simply can’t tell what we should do, it makes sense to consult the Oracle. If we make a wavering decision and take one path, and there are difficulties, we will hesitate, and perhaps turn back and try some other path, and then turn back from that one too. It would be better to choose a single path and give that one our absolute best effort, and that is where the Oracle comes into play, because, if we are lucky, it will give us a clear decision coming from the gods. When we know that we have the powers of the Universe’s gods supporting us, we can proceed with utmost confidence and our chance of success is certain. We have no choice but to succeed.

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