Of Freedom (*)
From Discourses by Epictetus

.. What, then, is it which makes a man free from hindrance and his own master? For wealth does not do it, nor a consulship, nor a province, nor a kingdom, but something else has to be found. What, therefore, is it which makes a man free from hindrance and restraint in writing? — The knowledge of how to write. — And what in playing on the harp? — The knowledge of how to play on the harp. — So also in living, it is the knowledge of how to live. Now you have already heard this, as a general principle, but consider it also in its particular applications. Is it possible for the man who is aiming at some one of these things which are under the control of others to be free from hindrance? — No. — Is it possible for him to be free from restraint? — No. — Therefore, it is not possible for him to be free, either. Consider then: Have we nothing which is under our control and others under the control of others? — How do you mean? — When you want your body to be whole, is the matter under your control, or not? — It is not. — And when you want it to be well? — Nor that, either. — And to live or to die? — Nor that, either. — Therefore, your body is not your own possession, it is subject to everyone who is stronger than you are. — Granted. — And your farm, is it under your control to have it when you want, and as long as you want, and in the condition that you want? — No. — And your paltry slaves? — No. — And your clothes? — No. — And your paltry house? — No. — And your horses? — None of these things. — And if you wish by all means your children to live, or your wife, or your brother, or your friends, is the matter under your control? — No, nor that, either.

Have you, then, nothing subject to your authority, which is under your control and yours only, or do you have something of that sort? — I do not know. — Look, then, at the matter this way, and consider it. No one can make you assent to what is false, can he? — No one. — Well, then, in the region of assent you are free from hindrance and restraint. — Granted. — Come, can anyone force you to choose something that you do not want? — He can; for when he threatens me with death or bonds, he compels me to choose. — If, however, you despise death and bonds, do you pay any further heed to him? — No. — Is it, then, an act of your own to despise death, or is it not your own act? — It is mine. — — So it is your own act to choose, or is it not? — Granted that it is mine. — And to refuse something? This also is yours. — Yes, but suppose I choose to go for a walk and the other person hinders me? — What part of you will he hinder? Surely not your assent? — No; but my poor body. — Yes, as he would a stone. — Granted that, but I do not proceed to take my walk. — But who told you, "It is your own act to take a walk unhindered"? As for me, I told you that the only unhindered thing was the desire; but where there is a use of the body and its co-operation, you have heard long ago that nothing is your own. — Granted that also. — Can anyone force you to desire what you do not want? — No one. — Or to purpose or plan, or, in a word, to deal with the impressions that come to you? — No, nor that, either; but he will hinder me, when I set my desire upon something, from achieving what I desire. — If you desire something which is your own and not subject to hindrance, how will he hinder you? — Not at all. — Who, then, tells you that the man who sets his desire upon what is not his own is free from hindrance?

Shall I not, then, set my desire on health? — No, not at all, nor on anything else which is not your own. For that which is not in your power to acquire or to keep is none of yours. Keep far away from it not merely your hands, but above all your desire; otherwise, you have delivered yourself into slavery, you have bowed your neck to the burden, if you admire anything that is not your own, if you conceive a violent passion for anything that is in subjection to another and mortal. — Is not my hand my own? — It is a part of you, but by nature it is clay, subject to hindrance and compulsion, a slave to everything that is stronger than you are. And why do I name you the hand? You ought to treat your whole body like a poor loaded-down donkey, as long as it is possible, as long as it is allowed; and if it be commandeered and a soldier lay hold of it, let it go, do not resist nor grumble. If you do, you will get a beating and lose your little donkey just the same. But when this is the way in which you should act as regards the body, consider what is left for you to do about all the other things that are provided for the sake of the body. Since the body is a little donkey, the other things become little bridles for a little donkey, little pack-saddles, little shoes, and barley, and fodder. Let them go too, get rid of them more quickly and cheerfully than of the little donkey itself.

Once prepared and trained in this fashion to distinguish what is not your own from what is your own possession, the things which are subject to hindrance from those which are free from it, to regard these latter as your concern, and the former as no concern of yours, diligently to keep your desire fixed on the latter, and your aversion directed toward the former, then have you any longer anyone to fear? — No one: Of course; what is there to be fearful about? About the things that are your own, wherein is the true nature of good and evil for you? And who has authority over these? Who can take them away, who can hinder them, any more than one can hinder God? But shall you be fearful about your body and your property? About the things that are not your own? About the things that are nothing to you? And what else have you been studying, from the very outset, but how to discriminate between what is your own and what is not your own, what is under your control and what is not under your control, what is subject to hindrance and what is free from it? For what purpose did you go to the philosophers? That you might no less than before be unfortunate and miserable? You will not, then, in that case, be free from fear and perturbation. And what has pain to do with you? For fear of things anticipated becomes pain when these things are present. And what will you any longer passionately seek? For you possess a harmonious and regulated desire for the things that are within the sphere of the moral purpose, as being excellent, and as being within your reach; and you desire nothing outside the sphere of the moral purpose, so as to give place to that other element of unreason, which pushes you along and is impetuous beyond all measure.