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WHEN one of his pupils inquired of Epictetus, and he was a person who appeared to be inclined to Cynism, what kind of person a Cynic ought to be and what was the notion (πρόληψις) of the thing, we will inquire, said Epictetus, at leisure: but I have so much to say to you that he who without God attempts so great a matter, is hateful to God, and has no other purpose than to act indecently in public. For in any well-managed house no man comes forward, and says to himself, I ought to be manager of the house. If he does so, the master turns round, and seeing him insolently giving orders, drags him forth and flogs him. So it is also in this great city (the world); for here also there is a master of the house who orders every thing. (He says) You are the sun; you can by going round make the year and seasons, and make the fruits grow and nourish them, and stir the winds and make them remit, and warm the bodies of men properly: go, travel round, and so administer things from the greatest to the least. You are a calf; when a lion shall appear, do your proper business (i. e. run away): if you do not, you will suffer. You are a bull: advance and fight, for this is your business, and becomes you, and you can do it. You can lead the army against Ilium; be Agamemnon. You can fight in single combat against Hector: be Achilles. But if Thersites came forward and claimed the command, he would either not have obtained it; or if he did obtain it, he would have disgraced himself before many witnesses.
Do you also think about the matter carefully: it is not what it seems to you. (You say) I wear a cloak now and I shall wear it then: I sleep hard now, and I shall sleep hard then: I will take in addition a little bag now and a staff, and I will go about and begin to beg and to abuse those whom I meet; and if I see any man plucking the hair out of his body, I will rebuke him, or if he has dressed his hair, or if he walks about in purple—If you imagine the thing to be such as this, keep far away from it: do not approach it: it is not at all for you. But if you imagine it to be what it is, and do not think your- self to be unfit for it, consider what a great thing you undertake.
In the first place in the things which relate to yourself, you must not be in any respect like what you do now: you must not blame God or man: you must take away desire altogether, you must transfer avoidance (ἔκκλισις） only to the things which are within the power of the will: you must not feel anger nor resentment nor envy nor pity; a girl must not appear handsome to you, nor must you love a little reputation, nor be pleased with a boy or a cake. For you ought to know that the rest of men throw walls around them and houses and darkness when they do any such things, and they have many means of con- cealment. A man shuts the door, he sets somebody before the chamber: if a person comes, say that he is out, he is not at leisure. But the Cynic instead of all these things must use modesty as his protection: if he does not, he will be indecent in his nakedness and under the open sky. This is his house, his door: this is the slave before his bedchamber: this is his darkness. For he ought not to wish to hide any thing that he does: and if he does, he is gone, he has lost the character of a Cynic, of a man who lives under the open sky, of a free man: he has begun to fear some external thing, he has begun to have need of concealment, nor can he get concealment when he chooses. For where shall he hide himself and how? And if by chance this public instructor shall be detected, this paedagogue, what kind of things will he be compelled to suffer? when then a man fears these things, is it pos- sible for him to be bold with his whole soul to superintend men? It cannot be: it is impossible.
In the first place then you must make your ruling faculty pure, and this mode of life also. Now (you should say), to me the matter to work on is my understanding, as wood is to the carpenter, as hides to the shoemaker; and my business is the right use of appearances. But the body is nothing to me: the parts of it are nothing to me. Death? Let it come when it chooses, either death of the whole or of a part. Fly, you say. And whither; can any man eject me out of the world? He cannot. But wherever I go, there is the sun, there is the moon, there are the stars, dreams, omens, and the conversation (ὁμιλία） with Gods.
Then, if he is thus prepared, the true Cynic cannot be satisfied with this; but he must know that he is sent a messenger from Zeus to men about good and bad things, to show them that they have wandered and are seeking the substance of good and evil where it is not, but where it is, they never think; and that he is a spy, as Diogenes was carried off to Philip after the battle of Chaeroneia as a spy. For in fact a Cynic is a spy of the things which are good for men and which are evil, and it is his duty to examine carefully and to come and report truly, and not to be struck with terror so as to point out as enemies those who are not enemies, nor in any other way to be perturbed by appearances nor confounded.
It is his duty then to be able with a loud voice, if the occasion should arise, and appearing on the tragic stage to say like Socrates: Men, whither are you hurrying, what are you doing, wretches? like blind people you are wan- dering up and down: you are going by another road, and have left the true road: you seek for prosperity and hap- piness where they are not, and if another shows you where they are, you do not believe him. Why do you seek it without? In the body? It is not there. If you doubt, look at Myro, look at Ophellius. In possessions? It is not there. But if you do not believe me, look at Croesus: look at those who are now rich, with what lamentations their life is filled. In power? It is not there. If it is, those must be happy who have been twice and thrice consuls; but they are not. Whom shall we believe in these matters? You who from without see their affairs and are dazzled by an appearance, or the men themselves? What do they say? Hear them when they groan, when they grieve, when on account of these very consulships and glory and splendour they think that they are more wretched and in greater danger. Is it in royal power? It is not: if it were, Nero would have been happy, and Sardanapalus. But neither was Agamemnon happy, though he was a better man than Sardanapalus and Nero; but while others are snoring, what is he doing?Much from his head he tore his rooted hair:Iliad, x. 15.
and what does he say himself?'I am perplexed,' he says, 'and Disturb'd I am,' and 'my heart out of my bosom Is leaping.'Iliad x. 91.
Wretch, which of your affairs goes badly? Your posses- sions? No. Your body? No. But you are rich in gold and copper. What then is the matter with you? That part of you, whatever it is, has been neglected by you and is corrupted, the part with which we desire, with which we avoid, with which we move towards and move from things. How neglected? He knows not the nature of good for which he is made by nature and the nature of evil; and what is his own, and what be- longs to another; and when any thing that belongs to others goes badly, he says, Wo to me, for the Hellenes are in danger. Wretched is his ruling faculty, and alone neglected and uncared for. The Hellenes are going to die destroyed by the Trojans. And if the Trojans do not kill them, will they not die? Yes; but not all at once. What difference then does it make? For if death is an evil, whether men die altogether, or if they die singly, it is equally an evil. Is any thing else then going to happen than the separation of the soul and the body? Nothing. And if the Hellenes perish, is the door closed, and is it not in your power to die? It is. Why then do you lament (and say) Oh, you who are a king and have the sceptre of Zeus? An unhappy king does not exist more than an unhappy god. What then art thou? In truth a shepherd: for you weep as shepherds do, when a wolf has carried off one of their sheep: and these who are governed by you are sheep. And why did you come hither? Was your desire in any danger? was your aver- sion (ἔκκλισις)? was your movement (pursuits)? was your avoidance of things? He replies, No; but the wife of my brother was carried off. Was it not then a great gain to be deprived of an adulterous wife?—Shall we be de- spised then by the Trojans?—What kind of people are the Trojans, wise or foolish? If they are wise, why do you fight with them? If they are fools, why do you care about them?
In what then is the good, since it is not in these things? Tell us, you who are lord, messenger and spy. Where you do not think that it is, nor choose to seek it: for if you chose to seek it, you would have found it to be in yourselves; nor would you be wandering out of the way, nor seeking what belongs to others as if it were your own. Turn your thoughts into yourselves: observe the precon- ceptions which you have. What kind of a thing do you imagine the good to be? That which flows easily, that which is happy, that which is not impeded. Come, and do you not naturally imagine it to be great, do you not imagine it to be valuable? do you not imagine it to be free from harm? In what material then ought you to seek for that which flows easily, for that which is not im- peded? in that which serves or in that which is free? In that which is free. Do you possess the body then free or is it in servile condition? We do not know. Do you not know that it is the slave of fever, of gout, ophthalmia, dysentery, of a tyrant, of fire, of iron, of every thing which is stronger? Yes, it is a slave. How then is it possible that any thing which belongs to the body can be free from hindrance? and how is a thing great or valuable which is naturally dead, or earth, or mud? Well then, do you possess nothing which is free? Perhaps nothing. And who is able to compel you to assent to that which appears false? No man. And who can compel you not to assent to that which appears true? No man. By this then you see that there is something in you naturally free. But to desire or to be averse from, or to move towards an object or to move from it, or to prepare yourself, or to propose to do any thing, which of you can do this, unless he has received an impression of the appearance of that which is profitable or a duty? No man. You have then in these things also something which is not hindered and is free. Wretched men, work out this, take care of this, seek for good here.
And how is it possible that a man who has nothing, who is naked, houseless, without a hearth, squalid, without a slave, without a city, can pass a life that flows easily? See, God has sent you a man to show you that it is pos- sible. Look at me, who am without a city, without a house, without possessions, without a slave; I sleep on the ground; I have no wife, no children, no praetorium, but only the earth and heavens, and one poor cloak. And what do I want? Am I not without sorrow? am I not without fear? Am I not free? When did any of you see me failing in the object of my desire? or ever falling into that which I would avoid? did I ever blame God or man? did I ever accuse any man? did any of you ever see me with sorrowful countenance? And how do I meet with those whom you are afraid of and admire? Do not I treat them like slaves? Who, when he sees me, does not think that he sees his king and master?
This is the language of the Cynics, this their character, this is their purpose. You say No: but their charac- teristic is the little wallet, and staff, and great jaws: the devouring of all that you give them, or storing it up, or the abusing unseasonably all whom they meet, or dis- playing their shoulder as a fine thing.—Do you see how you are going to undertake so great a business? First take a mirror: look at your shoulders; observe your loins, your thighs. You are going, my man, to be enrolled as a combatant in the Olympic games, no frigid and miserable contest. In the Olympic games a man is not permitted to be conquered only and to take his departure; but first he must be disgraced in the sight of all the world, not in the sight of Athenians only, or of Lacedaemonians or of Nicopolitans; next he must be whipped also if he has entered into the contests rashly: and before being whipped, he must suffer thirst and heat, and swallow much dust.
Reflect more carefully, know thyself, consult the divi- nity, without God attempt nothing; for if he shall advise you (to do this or anything), be assured that he intends you to become great or to receive many blows. For this very amusing quality is conjoined to a Cynic: he must be flogged like an ass, and when he is flogged, he must love those who flog him, as if he were the father of all, and the brother of all.—You say No; but if a man flogs you, stand in the public place and call out, 'Caesar, what do I suffer in this state of peace under thy protection?' Let us bring the offender before the proconsul.—But what is Caesar to a Cynic, or what is a proconsul or what is any other except him who sent the Cynic down hither, and whom he serves, namely Zeus? Does he call upon any other than Zeus? Is he not convinced that whatever he suffers, it is Zeus who is exercising him? Hercules when he was exercised by Eurystheus did not think that he was wretched, but without hesitation he attempted to execute all that he had in hand. And is he who is trained to the contest and exercised by Zeus going to call out and to be vexed, he who is worthy to bear the sceptre of Diogenes? Hear what Diogenes says to the passers by when he is in a fever, Miserable wretches, will you not stay? but are you going so long a journey to Olympia to see the destruction or the fight of athletes; and will you not choose to see the combat between a fever and a man? Would such a man accuse God who sent him down as if God were treating him unworthily, a man who gloried in his circumstances, and claimed to be an example to those who were passing by? For what shall he accuse him of? because he maintains a decency of behaviour, because he displays his virtue more conspicuously? Well, and what does he say of poverty, about death, about pain? How did he compare his own happiness with that of the great king (the king of Persia)? or rather he thought that there was no comparison between them. For where there are perturbations, and griefs, and fears, and desires not satisfied, and aversions of things which you cannot avoid, and envies and jealousies, how is there a road to happiness there? But where there are corrupt principles, there these things must of necessity be.
When the young man asked, if when a Cynic has fallen sick, and a friend asks him to come to his house and to be take care of in his sickness, shall the Cynic accept the invitation, he replied, And where shall you find, I ask, a Cynic's friend? For the man who invites ought to be such another as the Cynic that he may be worthy of being reckoned the Cynic's friend. He ought to be a partner in the Cynic's sceptre and his royalty, and a worthy minister, if he intends to be considered worthy of a Cynic's friendship, as Diogenes was a friend of Antisthenes, as Crates was a friend of Diogenes. Do you think that if a man comes to a Cynic and salutes him, that he is the Cynic's friend, and that the Cynic will think him worthy of receiving a Cynio into his house? So that if you please, reflect on this also: rather look round for some convenient dunghill on which you shall bear your fever and which will shelter you from the north wind that you may not be chilled. But you seem to me to wish to go into some man's house and to be well fed there for a time. Why then do you think of attempting so great a thing (as the life of a Cynic)?
But, said the young man, shall marriage and the pro- creation of children as a chief duty be undertaken by the Cynic? If you grant me a community of wise men, Epictetus replies, perhaps no man will readily apply himself to the Cynic practice. For on whose account should he undertake this manner of life? However if we suppose that he does, nothing will prevent him from marrying and begetting children; for his wife will be another like himself, and his father in law another like himself, and his children will be brought up like himself. But in the present state of things which is like that of an army placed in battle order, is it not fit that the Cynic should without any distraction be employed only on the ministration of God, able to go about among men, not tied down to the common duties of mankind, nor entangled in the ordinary relations of life, which if he neglects, he will not maintain the character of an honour- able and good man? and if he observes them he will lose the character of the messenger, and spy and herald of God. For consider that it is his duty to do something towards his father in law, something to the other kinsfolks of his wife, something to his wife also (if he has one). He is also excluded by being a Cynic from looking after the sickness of his own family, and from providing for their support. And to say nothing of the rest, he must have a vessel for heating water for the child that he may wash it in the bath; wool for his wife when she is delivered of a child, oil, a bed, a cup: so the furniture of the house is increased. I say nothing of his other occupations, and of his distraction. Where then now is that king, he who devotes himself to the public interests,The people's guardian and so full of cares.Homer, Iliad ii. 25
whose duty it is to look after others, the married and those who have children; to see who uses his wife well, who uses her badly; who quarrels; what family is well administered, what is not; going about as a physician does and feels pulses? He says to one, you have a fever, to another you have a head-ache, or the gout: he says to one, abstain from food; to another he says, eat; or do not use the bath; to another, you require the knife, or the cautery. How can he have time for this who is tied to the duties of common life? is it not his duty to supply clothing to his children, and to send them to the school- master with writing tablets, and styles (for writing). Besides must he not supply them with beds? for they cannot be genuine Cynics as soon as they are born. If he does not do this, it would be better to expose the children as soon as they are born than to kill them in this way. Consider what we are bringing the Cynic down to, how we are taking his royalty from him.—Yes, but Crates took a wife.—You are speaking of a circumstance which arose from love and of a woman who was another Crates. But we are inquiring about ordinary marriages and those which are free from distractions, and making this inquiry we do not find the affair of marriage in this state of the world a thing which is especially suited to the Cynic.
How then shall a man maintain the existence of society? In the name of God, are those men greater benefactors to society who introduce into the world to occupy their own places two or three grunting children, or those who superintend as far as they can all mankind, and see what they do, how they live, what they attend to, what they neglect con- trary to their duty? Did they who left little children to the Thebans do them more good than Epaminondas who died childless? And did Priamus who begat fifty worthless sons or Danaus or Aeolus contribute more to the community than Homer? then shall the duty of a general or the business of a writer exclude a man from marriage or the begetting of children, and such a man shall not be judged to have accepted the condition of childlessness for nothing; and shall not the royalty of a Cynic be considered an equivalent for the want of children? Do we not perceive his grandeur and do we not justly contemplate the character of Diogenes; and do we instead of this turn our eyes to the present Cynics who are dogs that wait at tables, and in no respect imitate the Cynics of old except perchance in breaking wind, but in nothing else? For such matters would not have moved us at all nor should we have wondered if a Cynic should not marry or beget children. Man, the Cynic is the father of all men; the men are his sons, the women are his daughters: he so carefully visits all, so well does he care for all. Do you think that it is from idle impertinence that he rebukes those whom he meets? He does it as a father, as a brother, and as the minister of the father of all, the minister of Zeus.
If you please, ask me also if a Cynic shall engage in the administration of the state. Fool, do you seek a greater form of administration than that in which he is engaged? Do you ask if he shall appear among the Athenians and say something about the revenues and the supplies, he who must talk with all men, alike with Athenians, alike with Corinthians, alike with Romans, not about supplies, nor yet about revenues, nor about peace or war, but about happiness and unhappiness, about good fortune and bad fortune, about slavery and freedom? When a man has undertaken the administration of such a state, do you ask me if he shall engage in the administration of a state? ask me also if he shall govern (hold a magisterial office): again I will say to you, Fool, what greater government shall he exercise than that which he exercises now?
It is necessary also for such a man (the Cynic) to have a certain habit of body: for if he appears to be consumptive, thin and pale, his testimony has not then the same weight. For he must not only by showing the qualities of the soul prove to the vulgar that it is in his power independent of the things which they admire to be a good man, but he must also show by his body that his simple and frugal way of living in the open air does not injure even the body. See, he says, I am a proof of this, and my own body also is. So Diogenes used to do, for he used to go about fresh looking, and he attracted the notice of the many by his personal appearance. But if a Cynic is an object of com- passion, he seems to be a beggar: all persons turn away from him, all are offended with him; for neither ought he to appear dirty so that he shall not also in this respect drive away men; but his very roughness ought to be clean and attractive.
There ought also to belong to the Cynic much natural grace and sharpness; and if this is not so, he is a stupid fellow, and nothing else; and he must have these qualities that he may be able readily and fitly to be a match for all circumstances that may happen. So Diogenes replied to one who said, Are you the Diogenes who does not believe that there are gods? And, how, replied Diogenes, can this be when I think that you are odious to the gods? On another occasion in reply to Alexander, who stood by him when he was sleeping, and quoted Homer's line (Iliad, ii. 24)A man a councillor should not sleep all night,
he answered, when he was half asleep,The people's guardian and so full of cares.
But before all the Cynic's ruling faculty must be purer than the sun; and if it is not, he must necessarily be a cunning knave and a fellow of no principle, since while he himself is entangled in some vice he will reprove others. For see how the matter stands: to these kings and tyrants their guards and arms give the power of reproving some persons, and of being able even to punish those who do wrong though they are themselves bad; but to a Cynic instead of arms and guards it is conscience (τὸ συνειδός） which gives this power. When he knows that he has watched and laboured for mankind, and has slept pure, and sleep has left him still purer, and that he thought whatever he has thought as a friend of the gods, as a minister, as a participator of the power of Zeus, and that on all occasions he is ready to sayLead me, O Zeus, and thou, O Destiny;
and also, If so it pleases the gods, so let it be; why should he not have confidence to speak freely to his own brothers, to his children, in a word to his kinsmen? For this reason he is neither over curious nor a busybody when he is in this state of mind; for he is not a meddler with the affairs of others when he is superintending human affairs, but he is looking after his own affairs. If that is not so, you may also say that the general is a busybody, when he inspects his soldiers, and examines them and watches them and punishes the disorderly. But if while you have a cake under your arm, you rebuke others, I will say to you, Will you not rather go away into a corner and eat that which you have stolen; what have you to do with the affairs of others? For who are you? are you the bull of the herd, or the queen of the bees? Show me the tokens of your supremacy, such as they have from nature. But if you are a drone claiming the sovereignty over the bees, do you not suppose that your fellow citizens will put you down as the bees do the drones?
The Cynic also ought to have such power of endurance as to seem insensible to the common sort and a stone: no man reviles him, no man strikes him, no man insults him, but he gives his body that any man who chooses may do with it what he likes. For he bears in mind that the inferior must be overpowered by the superior in that in which it is inferior; and the body is inferior to the many, the weaker to the stronger. He never then descends into such a contest in which he can be overpowered; but he immediately withdraws from things which belong to others, he claims not the things which are servile. But where there is will and the use of appearances, there you will see how many eyes he has so that you may say, Argus was blind compared with him. Is his assent ever hasty, his movement (towards an object) rash, does his desire ever fail in its object, does that which he would avoid befal him, is his purpose unaccomplished, does he ever find fault, is he ever humiliated, is he ever envious? To these he directs all his attention and energy; but as to every thing else he snores supine. All is peace; there is no robber who takes away his will, no tyrant. But what say you as to his body? I say there is. And his possessions? I say there is. And as to magistracies and honours?— What does he care for them?—When then any person would frighten him through them, he says to him, Begone, look for children: masks are formidable to them; but I know that they are made of shell, and they have nothing inside.
About such a matter as this you are deliberating. Therefore, if you please, I urge you in God's name, defer the matter, and first consider your preparation for it. For see what Hector says to Andromache, Retire rather, he says, into the house and weave:War is the work of men Of all indeed, but specially 'tis mine.II. vi. 490.
So he was conscious of his own qualification, and knew her weakness.
Source: The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson,