May 9, 2018 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Epictetus' Discourses ||

Guard Your Freedom

  1. When you lose an external thing, you get something in return. Think about what you get in return when you lose an external thing.
  2. Your freedom is a valuable thing. You will not get anything of equal value for giving it up.
  3. Therefore, be awake and be on guard for your freedom.
Think about what you get in return when you lose an external thing

You should always think this when you lose any external thing: What did you get in return? If it was of greater value, don’t you say you lost anything. It may be a horse for a donkey, an ox for a sheep, a good action for a small sum of money, peace for foolish chatter, or self-respect for indecent talk. If you remember this, you will always maintain your character. If you don’t, you are wasting your time. All your current undertakings and efforts will come to nothing.

Not much is needed to destroy and upset everything – just a slight deviation from reason will do. A captain needs less skill to overturn a ship than to keep it safe. If he turns it a little too far into the wind, he is lost. Even if he doesn’t do it deliberately, but briefly loses his concentration for a moment, he is lost.

You are guarding your freedom which is no small thing

It is so in life as well. Even if you nod off briefly, you could lose all that you have learned. So, pay attention to your sense impressions. Be awake and watch over them. It is no small thing that you are guarding – you are guarding self-respect, fidelity, constancy, a tranquil mind undisturbed by fear, pain, or confusion – in a word, freedom. What will you sell all these for? Look, how valuable are they?

“I cannot get anything of that much value in return.”

Yes. I have modest behaviour; he has a high office. I have self-respect; he has the office of the magistrate. I don’t shout when it is not called for. I don’t stand up when I should not. For I am a free man, a friend of God. I obey him of my own free will. But I should not lay claim to anything else – body, property, office, reputation – nothing, in short. God doesn’t want me to claim these things either. If it was his desire, he would have made them good for me. He hasn’t done so and I won’t disobey his orders.

In everything you do, guard your own good

In everything you do, guard your own good. As for the rest, be happy to take things as they come and use them rationally. Otherwise you will have bad luck and no good luck, and you will be restrained and blocked. These are the laws that have been sent to you from above. These are the laws that you should interpret and obey and not the laws of Masurius and Cassius [the two distinguished jurists at that time.]

Think about this

Guard your good in everything you do; and for the rest be content to take simply what has been given you. Discourses IV.3.11. Epictetus [WO]