The Enchiridion - Part 24

This is a long, back and forth argument with a presumably imaginary opponent, about how pursuing Stoicism fits in with civic and social duties.

Let not these thoughts afflict you, "I shall live unhonored and be nobody nowhere". For if want of honor is an evil, you cannot be in evil through the means of another any more than you can be invovled in anything base.

From what I can tell, this is saying that you are responsible for your own actions. Lack of social recognition, which in in someone else's control, can't be an evil that you are responsible for.

Is it then your business to obtain the rank of a magistrate, or to be received at a banquet? By no means. How then can this be dishonor? And how will you be nobody nowhere, when you ought to be somebody in those things only which are in your power, in which indeed it is permitted to you to be a man of the greatest worth?

Your greatest worth comes from things within your power, so it makes no sense to be dishonored by not attaining status in other areas.

But your friends will be without assitance! What do you mean by being without assitance? They will not receive money from you, nor will you make them Roman citizens. Who then told you that these are among the things which are in our power, and not in the power of others? And who can give to another what he has not himself?

It took me a while to get the hang of reading rhetorical writing like this. You have to pretend that someone has objected, and Epictetus is reponding (and, helpfully, restating the question).

If you don't want wealth for yourself, maybe you're worried about the impact it could have on your friends. As Epictetus says though, these things are not within your power, so are not yours to give.

Acquire money then, your friends say, that we also may have something. If I can acquire money and also keep myself modest and faithful and magnanimous, point out the way, and I will acquire it. But if you ask me to lose the things which are good and my own, in order that you may gain the things which are not good, see how unfair and silly you are.

It's unreasonable for your friends to expect you to give up your philosophy in order to attempt to provide them with things. That's even more true when they're asking for their base desires to be catered for.

Besides, which would you rather have, money or a faithful and modest friend? For this end then rather help me to be such a man, and do not ask me to do this by which I shall lose that character.

I like this in particular. If you are my friend, see the value in me becoming a better person, and help me pursue that goal.

But my country, you say, as far as it depends on me, will be without my help. I ask again, what help do you mean? It will not have porticos or baths through you. And what does this mean? For it is not furnished with shoes by means of a smith, nor with arms by means of a shoemaker. But it is enough if every man fully discharges the work that is his own: and if you provided it with another citizen faithful and modest, would you not be useful to it? Yes. Then you also cannot be useless to it.

Now the objection has been raised that you owe a duty to your country. As with a friend, your country benefits most when you pursue what is yours, and become a better person.

What place then, you say, shall I hold in the city? Whatever you can, if you maintain at the same time your fidelity and modesty. But if when you wish to be useful to the state, you shall lose these qualities, what profit could you be to it, if you were made shameless and faithless?

I love this. It leaves the door for "success" open, so long as you can continue to conduct yourself properly. This is how Senca and Marcus Aurelius can rise to power while still being faithful Stoics. They do not desire those external honors, and manage to accept them while remaining true to their philosophy.

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