Epictetus (55-135 CE) Enchiridion
A manual for living a contented life
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn (1935- ) 2014
It is important to have a proper piety toward society’s gods, its ideas of justice, and whatever it is that created our universe. These are entities that we exist within, and we have no choice but to acquiesce to their demands as ideal judgments of how things ought to be. The more willingly we accept these as fixed facts the easier it is for us to achieve tranquility. With these thoughts in mind you will never feel abandoned by reality or your society. Of course this submission is impossible unless you choose to renounce your judgment of them and their actions as morally good or bad. We must reserve our moral judgments for what is within our power to personally influence. When you judge things outside of your control as good or bad, you prepare yourself for failure, disappointment, pain, anger and hatred of those things when they don’t conform to your wishes. Every animal, man included, naturally moves away from things that are painful, and then anticipates and avoids what caused the pain, and he moves toward things that are pleasureful, and then anticipates and seeks what caused the pleasure. A man can not approach a thing that he thinks will cause him pain any more than he can approach the pain itself, and he can not avoid approaching a thing that he thinks will bring him pleasure any more than he can avoid the pleasure itself. Without these considerations in mind a son may abuse his father when the father doesn’t give him what he wants, and he hates his father for being a tyrant. Thus too, a farmer, sailor, merchant or widower may hate the world and its behavior and its laws when things are taken away, but when those people have good fortune they will show piety; but when such a man chooses to have desires and aversions he must also accept the responsibility of having pious duties and give customary libations, sacrifices and first-fruits in a pure and obedient way that is never slovenly, careless, or cheap.
There is an obvious but subtle idea that Epictetus states, that our modern psychologists seem to have trouble stating clearly, and that is the natural avoidance of the anticipated source of pain as much as the pain itself. It is now thought of as a free-floating source of tension, sometimes called a neurosis, where a person has fears that are anticipatory of an actual experience. It is similar to the century-old Pavlov experiments with dogs salivating at a bell in anticipation of food, except in this case there are no external bells, only imagined inner ones, creating worries. But, Epictetus goes to the core of that problem and deals with a man’s relationship with functionally fixed realities, rather than treating symptoms, the internalized ringing bells. He states that when we recognize that nearly everything outside of ourselves is outside of our control, or even influence, that then we may relate to them as non-moral facts. Those things are simply what they are, and we are compelled to relate to them as they are, and not as we would wish them to be, and they are to be judged as being neither good nor bad. Every day the sun rises, and it’s then our community begins their daily activities, and even if we want to sleep we must adjust our routine to theirs. Many other things may not be conforming to our current whims, but when we accept them as a fixed fact beyond our influence, we can go about our business comfortably in alignment with them and thus retain our tranquility. Our tranquility is more easily maintained when we are content with the world, and we can be content with the world when we accept it as it is rather than as we might wish it to be.