Of Contentment (*)
From Discourses by Epictetus

Concerning gods there are some who say that the divine does not so much as exist; and others, that it exists, indeed, but is inactive and indifferent, and takes forethought for nothing; and a third set, that it exists and takes forethought, though only for great and heavenly things and in no case for terrestrial things; and a fourth set, that it also takes forethought for things terrestrial and the affairs of men, but only in a general way, and not for the individual in particular; and a fifth set, to which Odysseus and Socrates belonged, who say

Nor when I move am I concealed from thee.

We must, therefore, first of all inquire about each of these statements, to see whether it is sound or not sound. For if gods do not exist, how can it be an end to follow the gods? And if they exist, indeed, but care for nothing, how even thus will that conclusion be sound? But if, indeed, they both exist and exercise care, yet there is no communication from them to men, — yes, and, by Zeus, to me personally, — how even in this case can our conclusion still be sound? The good and excellent man must, therefore, inquire into all these things, before he subordinates his own will to him who administers the universe, precisely as good citizens submit to the law of the state. And he that is being instructed ought to come to his instruction with this aim, "How may I follow the gods in everything, and how may I be acceptable to the divine administration, and how may I become free?" Since he is free for whom all things happen according to his moral purpose, and whom none can restrain. What then? Is freedom insanity? Far from it; for madness and freedom are not consistent with one another. "But I would have that which seems best to me happen in every case, no matter how it comes to seem so." You are mad; you are beside yourself. Do you not know that freedom is a noble and precious thing? But for me to desire at haphazard that those things should happen which have at haphazard seemed best to me, is dangerously near being, not merely not noble, but even in the highest degree shameful. For how do we act in writing? Do I desire to write the name "Dio" as I choose? No, but I am taught to desire to write it as it ought to be written. What do we do in music? The same. And what in general, where there is any art or science? The same; otherwise knowledge. f anything would be useless, if it were accommodated to every individual's whims. Is it, then, only in this matter of freedom, the greatest and indeed the highest of all, that I am permitted to desire at haphazard? By no means, but instruction consists precisely in learning to desire each thing exactly as it happens. And how do they happen? As he that ordains them has ordained. And he has ordained that there be summer and winter, and abundance and dearth; and virtue and vice, and all such opposites, for the harmony of the whole, and he has given each of us a body, and members of the body, and property and companions.

Mindful, therefore, of this ordaining we should go to receive instruction, not in order to change the constitution of things, — for this is neither vouchsafed us nor is it better that it should be, — but in order that, things about us being as they are and as their nature is, we may, for our own part, keep our wills in harmony with what happens. For, look you, can we escape from men? And how is it possible? But can we, if they associate with us, change them? And who vouchsafes us that power? What alternative remains, then, or what method can we find for living with them? Some such method as that, while they will act as seems best to them, we shall none the less be in a state conformable to nature. But you are impatient and peevish, and if you are alone, you call it a solitude, but if you are in the company of men, you call them schemers and brigands, and you find fault even with your own parents and children and brothers and neighbours. But you ought, when staying alone, to call that peace and freedom, and to look upon yourself as like the gods; and when you are in the company of many, you ought not call that a mob, nor a tumult, nor a disgusting thing, but a feast and a festival, and so accept all things contentedly.

What, then, is the punishment of those who do not accept? To be just as they are. Is one peevish because he is alone? Let him be in solitudel Is he peevish with his parents? Let him be an evil son and grieve! Is he peevish with his children? Let him be a bad fatherl "Throw him into prison." What sort of prison? Where he now is. For he is there against his will, and where a man is against his will, that for him is a prison. Just as Socrates was not in prison, for he was there willingly. "Alas, that I should be lame in my leg!" Slave, do you, then, because of one paltry leg blame the universe? Will you not make a free gift of it to the whole? Will you not relinquish it? Will you not gladly yield it to the giver? And will you be angry and peevish at the ordinances of Zeus, which he defined and ordained together with the Fates who spun in his presence the thread of your begetting? Do you not know how small a part you are compared with the whole? That is, as to the body; for as to the reason you are not inferior to the gods, nor less than they; for the greatness of the reason is not determined by length nor by height, but by the decisions of its will. . . .

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