Are these the only works of Providence in us? What words suffice to praise or set them forth? Had we but understanding, should we ever cease hymning and blessing the Divine Power, both openly and in secret, and telling of His gracious gifts? Whether digging or ploughing or eating, should we not sing the hymn to God:—
Great is God, for that He hath given us such instruments to till the ground withal: Great is God, for that He hath given us hands, and the power of swallowing and digesting; of unconsciously growing and breathing while we sleep!
Thus should we ever have sung: yea and this, the grandest and divinest hymn of all:—
Great is God, for that He hath given us a mind to apprehend these things, and duly to use them!
What then! seeing that most of you are blinded, should there not be some one to fill this place, and sing the hymn to God on behalf of all men? What else can I that am old and lame do but sing to God? Were I a nightingale, I should do after the manner of a nightingale. Were I a swan, I should do after the manner of a swan. But now, since I am a reasonable being, I must sing to God: that is my work: I do it, nor will I desert this my post, as long as it is granted me to hold it; and upon you too I call to join in this self-same hymn.
How then do men act? As though one returning to his country who had sojourned for the night in a fair inn, should be so captivated thereby as to take up his abode there.
"Friend, thou hast forgotten thine intention! This was not thy destination, but only lay on the way thither."
"Nay, but it is a proper place."
"And how many more of the sort there be; only to pass through upon thy way! Thy purpose was to return to thy country; to relieve thy kinsmen's fears for thee; thyself to discharge the duties of a citizen; to marry a wife, to beget offspring, and to fill the appointed round of office. Thou didst not come to choose out what places are most pleasant; but rather to return to that wherein thou wast born and where thou wert appointed to be a citizen."
Try to enjoy the great festival of life with other men.
But I have one whom I must please, to whom I must be subject, whom I must obey:— God, and those who come next to Him.(1) He hath entrusted me with myself: He hath made my will subject to myself alone and given me rules for the right use thereof.
(1) I.e., "good and just men."
Rufus(2) used to say, If you have leisure to praise me, what I say is naught. In truth he spoke in such wise, that each of us who sat there, thought that some one had accused him to Rufus:— so surely did he lay his finger on the very deeds we did: so surely display the faults of each before his very eyes.
(2) C. Musonius Rufus, a Stoic philosopher, whose lectures Epictetus had attended.
But what saith God?— "Had it been possible, Epictetus, I would have made both that body of thine and thy possessions free and unimpeded, but as it is, be not deceived:— it is not thine own; it is but finely tempered clay. Since then this I could not do, I have given thee a portion of Myself, in the power of desiring and declining and of pursuing and avoiding, and in a word the power of dealing with the things of sense. And if thou neglect not this, but place all that thou hast therein, thou shalt never be let or hindered; thou shalt never lament; thou shalt not blame or flatter any. What then? Seemeth this to thee a little thing?"—God forbid!—"Be content then therewith!"
And so I pray the Gods.
What saith Antisthenes?(3) Hast thou never heard?—
It is a kingly thing, O Cyrus, to do well and to be evil spoken of.
(3) The founder of the Cynic school of philosophy.
"Aye, but to debase myself thus were unworthy of me."
"That," said Epictetus, "is for you to consider, not for me. You know yourself what you are worth in your own eyes; and at what price you will sell yourself. For men sell themselves at various prices. This was why, when Florus was deliberating whether he should appear at Nero's shows, taking part in the performance himself, Agrippinus replied, 'Appear by all means.' And when Florus inquired, 'But why do not you appear?' he answered, 'Because I do not even consider the question.' For the man who has once stooped to consider such questions, and to reckon up the value of external things, is not far from forgetting what manner of man he is. Why, what is it that you ask me? Is death preferable, or life? I reply, Life. Pain or pleasure? I reply, Pleasure."
"Well, but if I do not act, I shall lose my head."
"Then go and act! But for my part I will not act."
"Because you think yourself but one among the many threads which make up the texture of the doublet. You should aim at being like men in general—just as your thread has no ambition either to be anything distinguished compared with the other threads. But I desire to be the purple—that small and shining part which makes the rest seem fair and beautiful. Why then do you bid me become even as the multitude? Then were I no longer the purple."
If a man could be thoroughly penetrated, as he ought, with this thought, that we are all in an especial manner sprung from God, and that God is the Father of men as well as of Gods, full surely he would never conceive aught ignoble or base of himself. Whereas if Caesar were to adopt you, your haughty looks would be intolerable; will you not be elated at knowing that you are the son of God? Now however it is not so with us: but seeing that in our birth these two things are commingled—the body which we share with the animals, and the Reason and Thought which we share with the Gods, many decline towards this unhappy kinship with the dead, few rise to the blessed kinship with the Divine. Since then every one must deal with each thing according to the view which he forms about it, those few who hold that they are born for fidelity, modesty, and unerring sureness in dealing with the things of sense, never conceive aught base or ignoble of themselves: but the multitude the contrary. Why, what am I?—A wretched human creature; with this miserable flesh of mine. Miserable indeed! but you have something better than that paltry flesh of yours. Why then cling to the one, and neglect the other?
Thou art but a poor soul laden with a lifeless body.