June 17, 2017 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Book Excerpts ||

Have These Principles Handy During Difficult Times (Epictetus Discourse in Plain English I.30)

Key ideas of this discourse

  1. No matter how powerful an authority we face, there is someone higher looking down upon us.
  2. The higher authority is pleased when you show what you have learned: Good and evil come from your choices and externals are nothing to you.
Remember to please the ultimate authority

When you come face to face with a prominent person, remember that there is someone else looking from above. You have to please him first. He asks:

“When you were in school, how were you taught to look upon exile, imprisonment, restraint, death, and disgrace?”
“I was taught they are indifferents.”
“What do you say now? Have they changed in any way?”
“No.”
“Have you changed?”
“No”
“Tell me what ‘indifferents’ are.”
“Whatever we cannot control.”
“The bottom line?”
“They are nothing to me.”
“Tell me what good things are.”
“Making the right choice and using impressions correctly.”
“What is the goal of life?”
“To follow you.”
“Do you still stand by it?”
“Yes, I do.”

See the insignificance of externals

Hold confidently to these convictions and go in. You will see what it is like to be young and educated among those who are not. I hope you have thoughts like these: “Why do we make such elaborate preparations to face what amounts to nothing? Is that what is meant by ‘authority’? Are the courtyards, the palace staff, and the armed guards just this? Is it for this that I sat through many long lectures? It all amounts to nothing but I was preparing for it as though it were something great.”

Think about this

“Define for me what the ‘indifferents’ are.”
Whatever things we cannot control.
“Remind me what you thought was good.”
The will and the right use of impressions.
Discourses I.30.3/4. Epictetus (RD)