July 22, 2017 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Book Excerpts ||

Don’t Fear The Future (Epictetus’ Discourses In Plain English II.7)

Key ideas of this discourse

Because we are anxious about the future we go to people like fortune-tellers.

Even if they can predict the future, they really don’t know what is good for us.

It is best to let things unfold as they do. Whatever happens will be good for us, because everything happens according to God’s will.

No fortune-teller can tell us what is good and evil

We use fortune tellers when we have no reason to do so. What fortune-teller can see anything worse than death, danger, or illness? If it becomes necessary for me to risk my life for the sake of my friend or even die for him, what occasion is left for me to consult a fortune-teller? Don’t I have a true fortune-teller inside of me who has taught me the true nature of good and evil and the signs by which I could know the difference? What use do I have for entrails or birds that are used in fortune-telling? When he says that something will be of benefit to me, should I accept it?
What does he know about what is beneficial to me?
Does he know what good is?
Does he know the signs of good and evil, as he does the signs of entrails?
If he knows the signs of good and evil, he also knows what is honorable and shameful and what is just and unjust.

“It is for you (the fortune-teller) to tell me what is in store: life or death, poverty or wealth. But about whether they are beneficial or harmful, am I going to ask you? You don’t speak on points of grammar, do you? And yet, here you are, presuming to speak on matters on which we all go astray and can never agree.”

A woman wanted to send a boatload of provisions to a senator’s exiled wife Gratilla. When someone said to her, “What’s the use? The Emperor Domitian would confiscate them anyway,” she gave an excellent reply. “I would rather have them confiscated than my not sending them at all.”

It’s our fear that leads us to consult fortune-tellers

Why then do we consult fortune-tellers so often? Cowardice. Our fear of what may happen. So, we flatter the fortune-tellers:

“Please, sir, will I inherit my father’s property?”
“Let’s see. We must offer a sacrifice about that matter.”
“Yes sir, as fortune wills.”
“You will inherit your father’s property.”

If he says that, we thank him profusely as if it his property we are inheriting. What happens as a result? They go on deceiving us.

God wants the best for us. Let everything happen as it does

How should we approach them then? We should go to them without desire or aversion, like a traveler who reaches a fork on the road, not knowing which road to take. She doesn’t have any preference as to which road she takes, as long as it is the one that will take her to where she wants to go. We should also use God as a guide in the same way, like we use our eyes. We don’t ask our eyes to accept only particular impressions, but all that eyes can show us. Instead, we approach fortune-tellers as if they were gods, imploring them to tell us good news.

You want what is best for you. Now, what is best for you other than what God wishes? Why do you then do everything possible to corrupt your judge, to mislead your counsellor?

This about this

What, then, leads us to consult diviners constantly? Cowardice, our fear of what will turn out. [CG/RH]