Epictetus (55-135 CE) Enchiridion
A manual for living a contented life
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn (1935- ) 2014
Never call yourself a philosopher or talk about philosophy except with others who are on a similar quest, but when in public practice the principles we are reviewing here rather than talking about them. When at a dinner party don’t mention the etiquette of eating, but demonstrate the polite way of eating. Socrates for example avoided all ostentation so much that newcomers to the philosophical scene would come to this common-appearing man and ask him to point out the philosophers, which he humbly did. If a conversation should develop in a open public setting about philosophy, shrug off any questions, for it is better to appear unknowing rather that to make a fool of yourself by espousing poorly understood ideas. If someone accuses you of not knowing anything and you do not become annoyed, be comforted in the fact that your tranquility is a sign of progress. Observe that even sheep don’t vomit up their dinner to prove to others how much they have eaten, but instead grow wool and produce milk. Be like them and instead of showing off your knowledge, demonstrate it in your actions.
This is a typical Epictetus-style paragraph. It begins with a precept, gives a concrete example where it is easy to apply the idea, gives a second example of a quite different variation, in this case some encouragement for a student who may have endured an insult for practicing the method, and then a further deepening of the core idea. The whole method is compact and ends with easy-to-remember stories and precepts. In this paragraph we learn not to expose ourselves to ridicule by talking about our methods before we have had real experience with them. Our goal isn’t to create converts to our cause, because our cause can never be their cause. We seek personal tranquility, and that is our personal possession, and can never be transferred to anyone, so why bother talking about it.