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

Paragraph 49

When you hear someone is expounding on the works of the Greek Stoic Chrysippus, say to yourself  — If this man had understood Chrysippus he would have nothing to be proud of and would be silent. But who then should I turn to, to understand Nature’s ways, and to give me guidance on how to follow them? I am told that Chrysippus knows, so I read his writings; but they are so vague I don’t know what to do. So then I turn to an interpreter, but still nothing of value comes to me until I actually attempt to use the information. When I learned the precepts, and heard some interpretations of what they mean, I gained nothing, and only became an idle grammarian, a word-filled philosopher. In that condition I had no real experience of the way, and was simply reciting poorly understood Chrysippus instead of reciting Homer’s poetry. When some student asks me to read Chrysippus to him I am embarrassed, for it would be better if I could demonstrate by my behavior what I have learned.


This paragraph is about the difficulty of getting information from an ancient text, through translations, through other people’s interpretations, and through personal thinking about the stoic philosophy of thought and action. We learn through our personal actions, and the thoughts driving our actions that are based on decisions of the moment are the ones that have the greatest impact on our habits. Our character is the vast assemblage of habits we bring to the moment, and our control over our character of the future is in the conscious moments of our decisions. Our future self is being created by how we behave in every moment, in this moment.