Of the post-Aristotelian schools of philosophy there can be little doubt that Stoicism was the most influential. W. W. Tam goes so far as to say that "the philosophy of the Hellenistic world was the Stoa; all else was secondary. What we see, broadly speaking, as we look down the three centuries, is that Aristotle's school loses all importance, and Plato's, for a century and a half, becomes a parasite upon the Stoa in the sense that its life as a school of scepticism consists wholly in combating Stoic doctrine; Epicurus' school continues unchanged, but only attracts small minorities; but the Stoa . . . finally masters Scepticism, in fact though not in argument, and takes to itself enough of a revived Platonism to form that modified Stoicism or Eclecticism which was the distinguishing philosophy of the earlier Roman empire." * The length of its life as a more or less organized body of doctrine, the number of its distinguished adherents in later antiquity, and indeed the frequent recurrence in all periods of characteristically Stoic attitudes, all imply that Stoicism is able to satisfy some deep and constant human demand.
There is a sense, however, in which it was always based on a kind of desperate dogmatism. It is impossible to distinguish, behind the copious and systematic writings of Chrysippus of Soli, the original doctrine of the founder of the Stoa, Zeno of Citium (c. 334/3-262/1 B.C.); but it is clear at least that he relied heavily in his teaching on the power of brief, unqualified assertion, and on the force of his own example and personality. In each of the three divisions of Stoic doctrine — Logical, Physical and Ethical — there is much more of vehement affirmation than of argument.
The Stoic answer to the arguments of sceptics was, in effect, the bare assertion that cases occur in which all doubt is out of the question. The human mind is originally "like a clean tablet"; the "impressions" from which all thinking and all knowledge derive differ in "clearness"; but some are borne in upon us with such force and vividness that they (in a phrase that perhaps is Zeno's own) "take hold of us by the hair and drag us to assent." It is said that Zeno would illustrate the resulting "grasp" of the truth by clenching his fist.
The "physical" doctrine of the Stoics was no less positive. It was monistic; there was only one "substance," one phusis, underlying all phenomena whatever. It was materialistic; the gods, human minds, even emotions and the qualities of objects, were all "bodies," all corporeal or material things. But it was at the same time rationalistic; phusis is often referred to by the name of God, and often identified with Reason. Thus, though everything that exists is asserted to be material, everything that occurs is held to be directed by rational purpose. Most curiously of all, it was also held that the universe, which came into being out of "divine fire," was supposed, after a cycle of enormous length, to be reconsumed in a cosmic conflagration, thereafter to repeat identical cycles forever.
But the ethics was by far the most important part of Stoic doctrine. Its overriding objective was the attainment of peace. We are at peace, we may all agree, when we have what we want. But this state may be sought, either by attempting to get what we want, [or] by attempting to want what it is that we get. This second course (expressed here with deliberate paradox) is that which the Stoics pursued. It may even be that "want" is too strong a word; the Stoic view was rather that all that occurs should be [accepted] without, at least ideally, any stirring whatever of emotion — or appetite. The only good was virtue, the only evil vice. Virtue and vice were held to consist, respectively, primarily in right and wrong disposition of the will. But the will (it was assumed) was wholly and unalterably under the control of the individual. Hence, it could be held that the attainment of the true good was wholly within the power of each individual: Everything else, everything that did not fall within the sphere of his absolute control, was to be regarded with indifference — pain and pleasure along with the rest.
Thus far, the doctrine seems unsatisfactory in two respects. First, it appears that very often "external" matters are denied to be either good or bad only because they are not under absolute control of the will — the idea that good and evil are within the sole power of the individual is employed, not as a reasoned conclusion from experience, but as an axiom dogmatically laid down before experience. Second, in mere acceptance of what occurs there would seem to be no motive for action — as if the desired Stoic condition of apatheia must simply be that which we call " apathy." The first of these objections cannot really be answered. To one who maintained, for instance, that pain was bad, the Stoic could only reply that his peace of mind would be less liable to disturbance if he could regard it with absolute indifference. This was indeed an effective answer for those many who regarded peace of mind as desirable above everything; but it was not, however effective, rationally cogent. But to the second point the Stoics did pay considerable attention. They held that, though the "wise man" would desire nothing but the right disposition of his own will, yet he would choose some things in preference to others. He would choose to act "in accordance with Nature." This meant two things. First, he would justifiably seek the fulfillment of his simple, "natural" human instincts; and second, because (they held) mankind was "naturally" one family, he would seek to serve his fellow-men. Each man, in a figure which they frequently employed, was assigned by Nature to his particular role in the drama of existence, a role which set him in relation with other men; and it was "fitting" for him to play this part to the best of his ability — though strictly, except in so far as it affected his own virtue, he should be wholly indifferent as to the outcome. To the question why a man should act in accordance with Nature, it was answered that Nature is Reason — the same Reason which every man recognizes as the highest part of himself; to the further question what Reason required him to do, it was answered that he should play out the part that was assigned to him, whether the outcome was agreeable to him or not, remembering that everything but virtue is really indifferent, and that everything that occurs has its place in Nature's grand design.
It may be clear even from this brief account in what the great strength of Stoicism consisted. First, it held out the hope of inner tranquillity. By insisting on the absolute sufficiency of the good will and upon the ultimate worthlessness of all else, it seemed to point the way to an unshakeable security through any and all vicissitudes of fortune. But second, it did not preach a policy of feeble resignation. On the contrary, Nature demanded the most strict and punctilious discharge of the obligations of one's station in life. The life of the Stoic, though untroubled, was also to be strenuous. And third, it put forward the genuinely inspiring idea — by no means a natural one to the Greeks — of mankind as a single family, of each man as fundamentally a "citizen of the world," and only secondarily and by convention a member of this or that restricted community. Alexander, according to Plutarch, put this idea into practice in the government of his vast and heterogeneous empire; but it was formulated in philosophy by Zeno. It is relevant, no doubt, that Zeno himself was not Greek; he was, apparently, of Semitic extraction.
There is one major theoretical difficulty in the Stoic doctrine, which may seem to us to be comparatively obvious, but which apparently did not receive much notice from the Stoics themselves. It is that there is a fundamental incompatibility between their two main devices for achieving apatheia. On the one hand they argued that everything was determined by Nature, that all that occurs can be seen by the reflective mind to occur inevitably, and hence that acceptance of whatever occurs is the only rational attitude. Indignation, regret, fear, hope, anxiety — all these are foolish, unjustifiable feelings, for all rest on the false idea that the actual course of events could be, or could have been, other than what it is, has been, and will be. There is nothing for the wise man to do but to resign himself to what Nature may bring him. On the other hand they insisted no less vigorously on the absolute freedom of the individual will — as if this alone were exempt from the direction of Nature, unique in being solely in the power of each man himself. One striking effect of this conflict is seen clearly in both Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Each is tacitly inclined to make a special case of himself — to reproach and exhort himself, to assume full responsibility for his own conduct and character, to resolve to direct his actions differently in the future, and so on, while tending to regard others as nearly as possible as automata, undeserving of censure for their defects of character and conduct since it is, after all, "in their nature" to have those defects. The resulting position, in a sense, is morally admirable; it leads to a personal insistence on the highest standards of conduct, without censoriousness for the many others who fail to live up to them; but it is, intellectually, somewhat paradoxical and strained. It would have been characteristic of the Stoics to insist with vehemence that we can regard others as the puppets of Nature, and that we cannot regard ourselves in the very same way; and this may be true; but it states the problem without resolving it.
In the century following the death of Zeno, Stoic doctrine came to be modified in certain respects. The chief influence in this period was that of Panaetius of Rhodes, born early in the second century B.C., the philosopher through whom all Stoic ideas were transplanted to that Roman soil where they flourished so greatly. In some respects his amendments of the doctrine were advantageous. The earlier Stoics, influenced partly by their general reverence for "Nature" and partly by their predominantly moral concerns, had been disposed to believe that there might be much sense in astrology, and conversely disinclined to take pure science very seriously; they were, in effect, apt to be superstitious. Panaetius, however, was a determined rationalist, and Roman Stoicism thus, at least in its early days, shook off the disadvantage of being associated with undue credulity. More serious, however, was the abandonment by Panaetius of the doctrine of recurring cosmic conflagration; and in fact he appears to have greatly modified also the conception of the Stoic "wise man." He retained the idea of humanity as a single family, but in ethics laid emphasis on the virtues of co-operation rather than upon the old, harsher ideal of the attainment of personal apatheia, of unfeeling tranquillity. This movement away from the purity of Stoic doctrine was even more marked in his pupil Posidonius of Apamea, a great traveler, a learned historian, a born encyclopedist, but a collector of thoughts rather than a thinker. He constructed what Eduard Zeller has called "a great pantheistic system, in which the whole of empirical knowledge finds a place; but unfortunately not only knowledge but also the whole superstition of his time." He was essentially concerned with fitting ideas together, rather than with subjecting any of them to critical inspection. However, his influence in his time was very great; and he is noteworthy as being, perhaps, the last philosopher in the pure Greek tradition, untouched by Rome.
Epictetus, the Stoic whose works have survived most substantially, was Greek by birth, but he lived long in Rome as a slave, and later as a free man. He was born in about the middle of the first century A.D., but although he is thus much later in time than Panaetius or Posidonius, he adheres far more closely to the old Stoic tradition. He studied thoroughly the works of Chrysippus, and deliberately attempted to revive the early inspiration of Zeno. In some respects he even went further. Zeno, while insisting that "conformity with nature or reason," the right disposition of the will, was alone truly valuable, had been prepared to admit that among indifferent things some could properly be preferred to others. Health and wealth, for example, though by no means really good, were, other things being equal, preferable to illness or poverty. Epictetus makes no mention of this concession. In his view, to be master of one's fate through control of the will, and through the control or elimination of all feeling whatever, is the only rational goal. As so often, however, in Stoicism, this harshness of doctrine was combined in him with an admirable tolerance of the failings of others, and in his own case with a genuine good humor in spite of affliction. This tolerance, regrettably, did not extend to the Epicureans. Unable apparently to see how closely in practice the Epicurean rule of life resembled the Stoic, Epictetus persistently speaks of Epicurus as if he had been the sort of self-indulgent, irresponsible hedonist that popular opinion has too often taken him to be. It seems that the true Stoic found something repulsive in any admission, however guarded, of the value of pleasure — in any qualification, however cautious, of the stern, inescapable demands of duty. And in this the characteristic spirit of Rome seems to have been in natural alliance with Stoicism. Though Epicurus had his distinguished followers, Stoicism was far more widely known and more influential.
There follow some extracts from the Discourses of Epictetus, as vividly preserved for us by his pupil Arrian.
1. Of The Things Which Are Under Our Control And Not Under Our Control (*)
2. Of Contentment (*)
3. To Those Who Take Up The Teachings Of The Philosophers Only To Talk About Them. (*)
4. Of Freedom. (*)
Marcus Aurelius is at once one of the most remarkable, and one of the most attractive, of the philosophers of antiquity. He is remarkable in that, while unswervingly devoted to philosophy, he was also Emperor of Rome at, perhaps, the height of its prosperity and power. The historian Gibbon says of him, somewhat disapprovingly, that he "condescended to give lessons on philosophy, in a more public manner than was perhaps consistent with the modesty of a sage or the dignity of an emperor." But Gibbon is also obliged to admit that "his life was the noblest commentary on the precepts of Zeno. He was severe to himself, indulgent to the imperfections of others, just and beneficent to all mankind." It was sometimes said of him that his only wrong action was the appointment of his son Commodus as his successor — an action that indeed proved disastrous, but was surely forgivable.
He was born in Rome in 121 A.D., and adopted at the age of seventeen by the Emperor Antoninus Pius. His early studies were in law and rhetoric; but under the influence of Junius Rusticus, Prefect of Rome and an admirer of Epictetus, he gradually abandoned these pursuits in favor of philosophy, and the cultivation of his style in Latin in favor of plain, undecorated Greek. His reign was not without its misfortunes. In 166 the armies returning from war in Parthia and Armenia brought into Italy a disastrous bubonic plague; in the same year an invasion of Italy by German barbarians had to be repelled; and indeed the last ten years of his reign were spent in almost incessant campaigns on the northern frontiers, with an insurrection in the East, in 175, to be put down also. It appears from the manuscript of the Meditations that much of his writing was done in the adverse conditions of northern warfare; and it was in one of his northern camps that the Emperor died, when not yet sixty, in 180 A.D.
He was perhaps not wholly orthodox in his Stoicism. His writings suggest at least that he was by temperament both more human, and more ascetic, than the Stoic "wise man" was really required to be. The first book of his Meditations consists of a detailed catalogue of those from whom he had learned, and to whom he felt indebted; and in this, particularly perhaps in the tribute to his adoptive father Antoninus, it is difficult to believe that all emotional engagement is strictly suppressed. Again, though the Stoic sage should certainly have regarded the material trappings of civilization as of no significance, Marcus Aurelius seems to have been inclined to go further than this, to regard them as actually repulsive. It is as if he would have liked, not merely to be independent of worldly goods, but positively to reject them. A link may be discerned here between the later and the very earliest stages of Stoicism; for Zeno, before he came forward as a teacher on his own account, had been most strongly attracted at Athens by the Cynic doctrines, in which all the adornments of civilization were most violently condemned. However, both Marcus' asceticism of temperament and his frequent concessions to ordinary human feeling have probably increased the very large number of his later admirers. Perhaps the most interesting feature in his Meditations, apart from his very evident sincerity and the adventitious fact of their author's exalted position, is his repeated inculcation of the idea that, so far as possible, one should observe one's own actions and feelings with a no less cool and critical detachment than those of others. In this he comes close to the moral outlook of Spinoza, who also sought to provide, in the device of seeing all things sub specie aeternitatis, what he called a "remedy against the emotions." It seems certain that there will always be many to whom this kind of aim is repulsive; but there are few perhaps for whom it is never at some time tempting; and many again for whom it has the force of an inspiration. The following selections are from the Meditations
1. Every morning repeat to thyself: I shall meet with a busybody, an ingrate, and a bully; with treachery, envy, and selfishness. All these vices have fallen to their share because they know not good and evil. But I have contemplated the nature of the good and seen that it is the beautiful; of evil, and seen that it is deformity; of the sinner, and seen that it is kindred to my own kindred, not because he shares the same flesh and blood and is sprung from the same seed, but because he partakes of the same reason and the same spark of divinity. How then can any of these harm me? For none can involve me in the shameful save myself. Or how can I be angered with my kith and kin, or cherish hatred towards them?
For we are all created to work together, as the members of one body — feet, hands, and eyelids, or the upper and nether teeth. Whence, to work against each other is contrary to nature; — but this is the very essence of anger and aversion.
2. This thing that I call "myself" is compact of flesh, breath, and reason. Thou art even now in the throes of death; despise therefore the flesh. It is but a little blood, a few bones, a paltry net woven from nerves and veins and arteries. Consider next thy breath. What a trifle it is! A little air, and this for ever changing: every minute of every hour we are gasping it forth and sucking it in again!
Only reason is left us. Consider thus: Thou art stricken in years; then suffer it not to remain a bond-servant; suffer it not to be puppet-like, hurried hither and thither by impulses that take no thought of thy fellow-man; suffer it not to murmur at destiny in the present or look askance at it in the future.
3. The works of God are full of providence; the works of Fortune are not independent of Nature, but intertwisted and intertwined with those directed by providence. Thence flow all things. Co-factors, too, are necessity and the common welfare of the whole universe whereof thou art part. Now whatever arises from the nature of the whole, and tends to its well-being, is good also for every part of that nature. But the well-being of the universe depends on change, not merely of the elementary, but also of the compound. Let these dogmas suffice thee, if dogmas thou must have; but put off that thirst for books, and see thou die of good cheer, not with murmurs on thy lips, but blessing God truthfully and with all thy heart.
4. Bethink thee how long thou hast delayed to do these things; how many days of grace heaven hath vouchsafed thee and thou neglected. Now is the time to learn at last what is the nature of the universe whereof thou art part; what of the power that governs the universe, whereof thou art an emanation. Forget not there is a boundary set to thy time, and that if thou use it not to uncloud thy soul it will anon be gone, and thou with it, never to return again.
5. Let it be thy hourly care to do stoutly what thy hand findeth to do, as becomes a man and a Roman, with carefulness, unaffected dignity, humanity, freedom, and justice. Free thyself from the obsession of all other thoughts; for free thyself thou wilt, if thou but perform every action as though it were the last of thy life, without light-mindedness, without swerving through force of passion from the dictates of reason, without hypocrisy, without self-love, without chafing at destiny.
Thou seest how few things are needful for man to live a happy and godlike life: for, if he observe these, heaven will demand no more.
6. Abase thee, abase thee, O my soul! The time is past for exalting thyself. Man hath but a single life; and this thou hast well nigh spent, reverencing not thyself, but dreaming thy happiness is situate in the souls of others!
7. Why suffer the incidence of things external to distract thee? Make for thyself leisure to learn something new of good, and cease this endless round. — And here beware lest the wheel only reverse its motion. For fools, too, are they who have worn out their lives in action, yet never set before themselves a goal to which they could direct every impulse — nay, every thought.
8. Thou mayest search, but wilt hardly find a man made wretched through failing to read another's soul; whereas he who fails to ponder the motions of his own must needs be wretched.
9. Let me ever be mindful what is the nature of the universe, and what my own; how the latter is related to the former, and what part it is of what whole. — And forget not that there is none that can forbid thee to be ever, in deed and word, in harmony with the nature whereof thou art part.
10. Theophrastus spoke with the voice of true philosophy, when he said in his comparison of the vices — though that comparison, in itself, is popular rather than scientific — that the sins of desire are less venial than the sins of anger. For a man in anger seems to turn his back on reason through pain and a sort of unconscious spasm of the mind; while he who sins through desire — that is, because he is too weak to withstand pleasure — would appear to be grosser and more effeminate in his vice.
Hence he considered, justly and philosophically enough, that the sins of pleasure are more reprehensible than the sins of pain. For, on the whole, if you take the two sinners, the one will be found to have been driven to anger through injuries previously sustained; while the other has set out deliberately to do wrong, and been swept along by the current of his own appetites.
11. Let thy every action, word, and thought be that of one who is prepared at any moment to quit this life. For, if God exist, to depart from the fellowship of man has no terrors, — for the divine nature is incapable of involving thee in evil. But if He exist not, or, existing, thinks not of mankind, what profits it to linger in a godless, soulless universe? But God is, and cares for us and ours. For He has put it wholly in man's power to ensure that he fall not into aught that is evil indeed; and if in the rest of things there had been anything of evil, this too would He have foreseen and enabled us all to avoid.
But how can that which makes not man evil make man's life evil? Universal nature could not have thus sinned by omission: it is omniscient, and, being omniscient, omnipotent to foresee and correct all errors; nor would it have gone so far astray, whether through lack of power or lack of skill, as to allow good and evil to befall the evil and good alike without rhyme or reason.
Rather, life and death, fame and infamy, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty fall to the lot of both just and unjust because they are neither fair nor foul — neither good nor evil.
12. How speedily change and decay invade all thingsl In the universe our corporeal substance perishes; in time, its very memory. Look at the things of sense in general: in particular, the allurements of pleasure, the terrors of pain, and all the themes of vanity. Tawdry and despicable, sordid and corruptible, dead and festering are they all! — These are subjects for the intellect to ponder. — And let it ask what are they on whose plaudits and whose fancies fame depends. Let it ask what is death, and reflect that if one look solely to its nature and analyse the idea in itself, plucking off the stage-terrors in which our imagination arrays it, it will be seen to be naught but a function of Nature — and this who but a child would fear? Nay, it is not only a function of Nature but an essential to her well-being. — And let the same reason consider also, how and by what part of himself man can lay hold of God, and under what conditions that part will act for the best.
13. There is no more wretched creature than the man who is ever revolving in a circle, searching, as Pindar says, "the things of the nether realms"; ever striving to read the riddle of another's soul, ever too blind to see that it is enough to observe the godhead within him and devote himself loyally to its service. And this service is to preserve it untainted by passion, light-mindedness, or repinings at the works of God or man. For the decisions of heaven virtue bids us reverence; the deeds of men are the deeds of our kin, and as such we must love them, or, at times, perchance, pity, in that they know not the better and the worse — a blindness blacker than that which renders darkness and light alike to us.
14. Though the years of thy life should be fixed at three thousand, with three thousand myriads more, remember that no man loses another life than the one he is living, or lives another than that he loses. Thus the longest span is equivalent to the shortest. The present belongs to all in equal measure, so that, when it is lost, the loss, too, must be the same to all. That is to say, through death we lose an infinitesimal portion of time; for we can no more lose the past and the future than be robbed of what we have not.
There are two things, then, which it behoves us to keep in mind: first, that all things from time everlasting have been alike and continue to revolve in the same orbit, so that it matters little whether a man behold the same sights for one century, or two, or through endless aeons: second, that he who dies in the fulness of years and he who is cut down in his youth are losers in like degree. It is the present alone that death tears from us, for the present is all that we have — ilf other words, all that we can lose.
15. Remember that all is opinion. The saying of Monimus the Cynic is evident enough — as evident as its usefulness, if we accept his jocose remark only so far as it is corroborated by truth.
16. The soul of man may debase itself in many ways, but worst of all when it degenerates, as far as in it lies, into a sort of tumour, an alien excretion on the universe. For to repine at aught that is, is a canker alien to that universal nature, in part of which are comprehended all other natures. Again, it debases itself whenever it conceives aversion for any man or opposes him with purpose of harm; of which type are the souls of those who are possessed by anger. Thirdly, whenever it is overcome by pleasure or pain. Fourthly, when it plays the hypocrite, and is false or feigned in word or deed. Fifthly, whenever it directs an energy or an impulse of itself to no certain mark, but works at random and knows not what it does; whereas, in the least of its actions, it is its duty to look towards the end. And the end of all that has life and reason is to conform to the laws of reason that obtain in the oldest of all bodies politic, the universe.
17. The measure of man's life is a point, substance a perpetual ebb and flow, sense-perception vague and shadowy, the fabric of his whole body corruptible, the soul past searching out, fortune a whirligig, and fame the decision of unreason. In brief, the things of the body are unstable as water; the things of the soul dreams and vapours; life itself a warfare or a sojourning in a strange land. What then shall be our guide and escort? One thing, and one only — Philosophy. And true Philosophy is to observe the celestial part within us, to keep it inviolate and unscathed, above the power of pain and pleasure, doing nothing at hazard, nothing with falsehood, and nothing with hypocrisy; careless whether another do this or that, or no; accepting every vicissitude and every dispensation as coming from that place which was its own home; and at all times awaiting death with cheerfulness, in the sure knowledge that it is but a dissolution of the elements whereof every life is compound. For if to the elements themselves there is no disaster in that they are forever changing each to other, how shall we fear the change and dissolution of all? It is in harmony with nature, and naught that is evil can be in harmony with nature.
1.When the governing part within us is in harmony with nature it stands in such a relation to the course of events as enables it to adapt itself with ease to the possibilities allowed it. For it requires no specific material to work in, but its efforts to attain its purpose are conditional, and when it encounters an obstacle in lieu of what it sought it converts this into material for itself, much as a fire lays hold of the objects that fall into it. These would have sufficed to extinguish a flickering lamp, but the blazing fire in a moment appropriates the fuel heaped on it and uses it as a means whereby to mount higher and higher.
2. Do not act at random or otherwise than is prescribed by the exact canons of the art of living.
3. Men are continually seeking retreats for themselves, in the country, or by the sea, or among the hills. And thou thyself art wont to yearn after the like. — Yet all this is the sheerest folly, for it is open to thee every hour to retire into thyself. And where can man find a calmer, more restful haven than in his own soul? Most of all he whose inner state is so ordered that he has only to penetrate thither to find himself in the midst of a great peace — a peace that, to my mind, is synonymous with orderliness.
Therefore betake thee freely to this city of refuge, there to be made new. And cherish within thee a few brief and fundamental principles, such as will suffice, so soon as they recur to thee, to wash away all pain and bid thee depart in peace, repining not at the things whereto thou returnest. — For what is it that vexes thee? — The evil of man's heart? — Call to mind the doctrine that all rational beings exist for the sake each of other, that to bear and forbear is part of justice, and that men's sins are not sins of will. Reflect how many before thee have lived in enmity, suspicion, hatred, and strife and then been laid out and reduced to ashes. — Think of this and be at rest. — But, perchance, it is the lot assigned thee from the sum of things that troubles thee. — Then recall the dilemma — "Either Providence or atomic theory," and all the proofs that went to show that the universe is a constitutional state: Maybe, the ills of the flesh will prick thee somewhat. — Then remember that the mind, when once it has withdrawn itself to itself and realized its own power, has neither part nor lot with the soft and pleasant, or harsh and painful, motions of thy breath; and ponder again the doctrines of pain and pleasure to which thou hast hearkened and assented. — Or, again, thy little need off glory may cause thee a twinge. — Then look and see how speedily all things fall into oblivion; what a great gulf of infinite time yawns behind thee and before; how empty are the plaudits of men; how fickle and unreasoning are they who feign to praise thee, and within what narrow boundaries that praise is circumscribed. For the whole earth is but a point; and what a fraction of the whole is this corner where we dwell! Nay, how few even here — and they how insignificant! — will be thy panegyrists.
So much is left thee: forget not to retreat into this little plot of thyself. Above all, let nothing distract thee. Do not strain and struggle, but maintain thy freedom and look things in the face as befits a man and a male, a member of the state, and a mortal creature. And, among the principles which are ever most ready to hand for thee to turn to, let these two find a place: first, that things in themselves have no point of contact with the soul, but are stationed motionless without, while all unrest proceeds solely from the opinion within; second, that all the objects thou now beholdest will anon change and be no more. Think, and think often, how many changes thine own eyes have witnessed, and know that the universe is mutation, and life opinion. . . .
1. What is evil? — It is what thou hast often seen. — Nay more, whatever may chance, let thy first reflection be: "All this have I beheld time and again." In brief, above and below — everywhere thou wilt find the self-same things that have crowded histories, ancient, mediaeval, and modern, and now crowd every city and every house. There is naught new. Everything is as trite as it is ephemeral.
7 Think it no shame to accept help. Thy work in life is to do thy duty like a soldier at the storming of a fortress. How then, if being halt and maimed thou canst not, of thyself, scale the battlements, while with another's aid thou mayest?
26 When any man sins against thee, let thy first reflection be: "With what conception of Good and Evil did he commit this sin?" When this is clear to thee, astonishment and anger will give place to pity. For if thy conception of the Good be still identical with, or similar to, his, it is a matter of duty to pardon him. But if thou hast passed the stage in which these things seem either good or ill, thou wilt be the more ready to show kindness to one who is yet in darkness.
32 Of death. It is but dispersal, if the universe be atomic; or, if it be unity, extinction and change.
33 Of pain. The pang that cannot be borne soon ends life and itself. That which drags on its course becomes bearable, the mind suspends judgement and preserves its calm, and the rational principle remains unscathed. As for the parts that suffer, let them give evidence if they can.
34 Of glory. Look at the minds of them that seek it, and observe their nature, with the character of the objects they pursue and flee. Reflect that as, on the seashore, one layer of sand is buried from sight under another, so in life the exploits of one age are submerged by those of the next.
1.Injustice is impiety. For if we consider that universal Nature has created all rational beings for mutual service; that is, to do good to their fellow-creatures in proportion to their deserts, and under no circumstances to do them harm, — it is obvious that a man who transgresses Nature's will is guilty of sacrilege against the eldest of the gods. And the same sin against the same divinity is committed by the liar. For the nature of the universe is the nature of the existent, and all things existent are intimately related to each other. Now Truth is only a synonym for Nature as the first cause of all that is true. Hence deliberate falsehood is impiety, inasmuch as deception involves injustice: and involuntary falsehood is impiety, in that it is in discord with the nature of the Whole, and a revolt against order as expressed in the power that orders the world. For a man raises the standard of revolt when he betakes himself, of himself, to the antipode of truth; for he has so neglected the powers with which Nature had endowed him that now he cannot distinguish the false from the true.
Again, another form off impiety is to pursue pleasure as good and flee pain as evil. For it is inevitable that a man so acting will often murmur at the universal Nature as unfair in her dispensations to the just and the unjust, on the ground that nothing is more common than for the unjust to be surrounded with pleasures and richly endowed with means to secure them, while the just have pain and its causes for their only inheritance. Moreover, the man who fears pain must at times fear something that will come into being in the universe; and this is, ex hypothesi, a form of impiety. As for the man who pursues pleasure, he will not stop short of injustice in his pursuit; and injustice is flagrant impiety.
The truth is that to whatever the Nature of the universe is indifferent, — and she would not have created both pleasure and pain had she any preference for either, — to these things, I say, we who desire to follow in Nature's footsteps must show like indifference and submit our opinions to hers. It is plain, then, that whoever fails to regard pleasure and pain, life and death, fame and infamy, with the impartiality displayed by Nature in her use of them is guilty of impiety. And when I say that Nature makes impartial use of all these, I mean that they form a necessary sequel to the products and by-products of that Nature, in virtue of a certain primeval activity of Providence, when she set out, from a definite starting-point, on this work of setting all things in order, having conceived within herself certain principles of all that was to be, and determined certain powers generative of existence, transmutation, and all such succession.
14. All is the same: in experience, familiar; in time, ephemeral; in matter, sordid; and all in our days is as in the days of those we buried.
15. Things, as such, stand without the door, themselves by themselves, knowing nothing and speaking nothing concerning themselves. What then is it that speaks for them? Reason.
27. Let this thought be ever present to thy mind: that all that now takes place took place in time past in exactly the same fashion; and doubt not the future will see the like. Nay more, conjure up to sight whole dramas with their staging to match; — all thou hast learned from experience or the pages of history. Say, the entire courts of Hadrian and Antoninus, of Philip and Alexander or Croesus. The plays are all the same; the cast only is changed!
29. In every single act of thine pause and ask: "Is it the loss of this that lends death his terrors?"
18. When thy neighbour sins against thee, consider first what is thy relationship to mankind, reflecting that we all exist to serve each other, and that, in especial, thy life-work is to champion thy fellow-creatures as the bull defends his herd and the ram his flock. Again, approach the matter from the first principle that, if the atomic theory is false, Nature must be the power that governs the universe; and, in this case, the worse is created for the good of the better, and the better for the good of one another.
Secondly, call to mind what manner of men these sinners are, at their tables, on their couches, and in the rest of their life. Chief of all, remember the many forms of constraint laid on them by their principles, and the foolish pride with which their very sins inspire them.
Thirdly, reflect that, if these actions of theirs are right, it is no duty of thine to take them amiss; while if they are wrong it is clear they err through ignorance, not of free-will. For as no soul is willingly deprived of truth, so neither is it willingly deprived of the power of treating every one according to his merits. Whence it comes that nothing pricks a man more than to be spoken of as unjust, cruel, avaricious, or, in a word, as a bad neighbour.
Fourthly, bethink thee thou hast vices enough of thine own, and art a sinner with the rest. True, thou holdest aloof from certain errors, yet thy character is prone to fall into them, though cowardice, love of reputation, or some equally despicable motive may save thee from such overt commission.
Fifthly, remember thou hast no sure knowledge that they sin at all. For many acts are merely means to some hidden end, and, in general, much is to learn before one man can pronounce with certainty on the action of another.
Sixthly, when utter vexation and impatience overpower thee, take refuge in the thought that man's life is but for a moment, and anon we shall all be under the sod.
Seventhly, consider that it is not men's actions that trouble us, — for they are situate in the agent's ruling faculty, — but purely our own opinions on them. Then take this judgement of thine that pronounces this or that an object of terror, dare to cast it out, and anger vanishes with it. — "How is this to be done?" you ask: By reflecting that another's sin is not thy dishonour. For, unless dishonour be the sole evil, it is inevitable that thou must commit untold sins and turn robber, or what not, at the same time as thy neighbour.
Eighthly, bear in mind how much harder to endure are the consequences of the anger and grief that ensue on an act than is the act itself which evoked these feelings.
Ninthly, reflect that kindliness is invincible, provided only it be genuine and not the specious grin of hypocrisy. For how can the extremity of insolence touch thee if thou preserve thy good will to the sinner, meekly admonishing him as opportunity offers and quietly pointing out the error of his ways at the very moment he is meditating thy injury? "Not so, my son; this is not the end for which we were created. True, it will harm me not; but, child, it is harming thee." And show him with tactfulness and friendliness that the case is so, and that not even the bees or the cattle in their herds act as he does. But set about thy demonstration without trace of irony or rebuke, relying simply on affection and a soul free from rancour. Neither treat him as a pedagogue treats his pupil nor strive to inspire the bystander with admiration of thy magnanimity; but, whether alone with him or in the presence of others, be gentle and unaffected.
Remember these nine rules and guard them as though they were so many gifts from the Muses. Begin even now, while life is still left thee, to be a man. But shun flattery as diligently as thou shunnest anger. Both are detrimental to the community and both lead to harm. And in anger let the thought be ever present that indignation is not a form of courage, but that meekness and gentleness are not only more human but also more manly, and it is he who possesses these that has strength, nerve and bravery, not the angry and discontented. For, the nearer patience is to dispassionateness, by so much is it nearer strength; and as pain is a characteristic of weakness, so is anger. For their victims have both received their wounds and both succumbed.
And, if thou wilt, receive this tenth gift from the Muses' presiding god. To ask that the wicked shall not sin is an act of madness, inasmuch as it aims at the impossible. But to give them leave to sin against others and demand they shall not sin against thee is not madness, but cruelty and tyranny.
36. Friend, thou hast been a citizen in this great city; and what matters it whether for five years or three? The law is the same for us all. Where is the hardship, then, if it be no tyrant's stroke, no unjust judge, that sends thee into exile, but the same Nature that brought thee hither, even as the master of the show dismisses the mummer that he put on the stage? — "But my role is unfinished. There are five acts and only the three are gone!" — Thy words are true; but in life three acts are all the play. For He decrees it shall end, who was once the author of thy existence, and now of thy dissolution. But thou art guiltless of both. Then depart at peace with all men; for He who bids thee go is at peace with thee.
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