December 21

THE brass pot and the earthen pitcher, as the fable says, are an unsuitable match.

EPICTETUS. DISCOURSES. Book iii. §12. ¶2.

IF you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish things to be in your power which are not so, and what belongs to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are a fool; for you wish vice not to be vice, but something else. But, if you wish to have your desires undisappointed, this is in your own power. Exercise, therefore, what is in your power. He is the master of every other person who is able to confer or remove whatever that person wishes either to have or to avoid. Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others, else he must necessarily be a slave.



December 20

TO look back upon things of former ages, as upon the manifold changes and conversions of several monarchies and commonwealths. We may also foresee things future, for they shall all be of the same kind; neither is it possible that they should leave the tune, or break the consort that is now begun, as it were, by these things that are now done and brought to pass in the World. It comes all to one therefore, whether a man be a spectator of the things of this life but forty years, or whether he see them ten thousand years together: for what shall he see more?"And as for those parts that came from the Earth, they shall return unto the Earth again; and those that came from Heaven, they also shall return unto those heavenly places."


December 19

AS for death, if there be any gods, it is no grievous thing to leave the society of men. The gods will do thee no hurt thou mayest be sure. But if it be so that there be no gods, or that they take no care of the world, why should I desire to live in a world void of gods, and of all divine providence?


HE that feareth Death, either feareth that he shall have no sense at all, or that his senses will not be the same. Whereas, he should rather comfort himself, that either no sense at all, and so no sense of evil; or if any sense, then another life, and so no death properly,


THOU must not in matter of death, carry thyself scornfully, but as one that is well pleased with it, as being one of those things that Nature hath appointed.



December 18

LET that of Heraclitus never be out of thy mind, that the death of earth, is water, and the death of water, is air; and the death of air, is fire; and so on the contrary. Remember him also who was ignorant whither the way did lead, and how that Reason being the thing, by which all things in the world are administered, and which men are continually and most inwardly conversant with: yet is the thing, which ordinarily they are most in opposition with, and how those things which daily happen among them, cease not daily to be strange unto them, and that we should not either speak, or do anything as men in their sleep, by opinion and bare imagination: for then we think we speak and do, and that we must not be as children, who follow their father's example; for best reason alleging barely this: As by tradition from our forefathers we have received it.



December 17

THUS Demetrius said to Nero: "You sentence me to death and nature, you!" If I place my admiration on body, I give myself up for a slave; if on an estate, the same; for I immediately betray myself how I may be taken. Just as when a snake pulls in his head, I say, strike that part of him which he guards: and be you assured, that whatever you show a desire to guard, there your master will attack you. Remember but this, whom will you any longer flatter or fear?


"BUT your head will be taken off." And will his own always remain on; or yours, who obey him? — "But you will be thrown out unburied." If I am the corpse, I shall be thrown out; but if I am something else than the corpse, speak more handsomely, as the thing is, and do not think to fright me. These things are frightful to children and fools.



December 16

THAT soul which is ever ready, even now presently (if need be) from the body, whether by way of Extinction, or Dispersion, or Continuation in another place and estate to be separated, how blessed, and happy is it!


HOW many of them who came into the world at the same time when I did, are already gone out of it?


OUR life is reaped like a ripe ear of corn.


WAIT until thy soul shall fall off from that outward cloak or skin, wherein as a child in the womb it lieth involved and shut up.



December 15

IF I can achieve nothing myself, I will not envy another the honour of doing some gallant action. But suppose this to be a strain too high for us ; are not we capable at least of arguing thus? — Where shall I fly from death? Show me the place; show me the people to whom I may have recourse, whom death doth not overtake. Show me the charm to avoid it. If there be none, what would you have me do? I cannot escape death; but cannot I escape the dread of it? Must I die trembling and lamenting? For the origin of the disease is wishing for something that is not obtained. In consequence of this, if I can bring over externals to my own inclination, I do it; if not, I want to tear out the eyes of whoever hinders me. For it is the nature of man not to bear the being deprived of good; not to bear the falling into evil. And so, at last, when I can neither bring over things to my own inclination, nor tear out the eyes of him who hinders me, I sit down and groan, and revile him whom I can; Zeus, and the rest of the gods.



December 14

I MUST die: and must I die groaning too? — Be fettered. Must it be lamenting too? — Exiled. And what hinders me, then, but that I may go smiling, and cheerful, and serene ? — "Betray a secret." — I will not betray it; for this is in my own power. — "Then I will fetter you." — What do you say, man? Fetter me? You will fetter my leg; but not Jupiter himself can get the better of my choice. "I will throwyou into prison: I will behead that paltry body of yours." Did I ever tell you, that I alone had a head not liable to be cut off? — These things ought philosophers to study; these ought they daily to write; and in these to exercise themselves.


I WILL dine first, and when the hour comes, then I will die. How? As becomes one who restores what is not his own.



December 13

LET it be thy earnest and incessant care as a Roman and a man to perform whatsoever it is that thou art about, with true and unfeigned gravity, natural affection, freedom and justice: and as for all other cares, and imaginations, how thou mayest ease thy mind of them. Which thou shalt do; if thou shalt go about every action as thy last action, free from all vanity, all passionate and wilful aberration from reason, and from all hypocrisy, and self-love, and dislike of those things, which by the fates, or appointment of God, have happened unto thee.



December 12

THIS is the work, if any, that ought to employ your master and preceptor, if you had one; that you should come to him, and say: "Epictetus, we can no longer bear being tied down to this paltry body, feeding and resting and cleaning it, and hurried about with so many low cares on its account. Are not these things indifferent, and nothing to us, and death no evil? Are not we relations of God, and did we not come from Him? Suffer us to go back thither from whence we came; suffer us, at length, to be delivered from these fetters, that chain and weigh us down. Here thieves and robbers, and courts of judicature, and those who are called tyrants, seem to have some power over us, on account of the body and its possessions. Suffer us to show them, that they have no power." And in this case it would be my part to answer: "My friends, wait for God, till He shall give the signal, and dismiss you from this service; then return to Him. For the present, be content to remain in this post where He has placed you. The time of your abode here is short, and easy to such as are disposed like you. For what tyrant, what robber, what thief, or what courts of judicature are formidable to those who thus account the body and its possessions as nothing? Stay. Depart not inconsiderately."



December 11

WHEREVER I go it will be well with me there, for it was well with me here, not on account of the place, but of the principles which I shall carry away with me, for no one can deprive me of these; on the contrary, they alone are my property, and cannot be taken away, and retaining them suffices me wherever I am or whatever I do. "But it is now time to die."—What is it that you call dying? Do not talk of the thing in a tragedy strain, but say, as the truth is, that it is time for a compound piece of matter to be resolved back into its original.

And where is the terror of this? What part of the world is going to be lost? What is going to happen new or prodigious? Is it for this that a tyrant is formidable? Is it on this account that the swords of his guards seem so large and sharp? Try these things upon others. For my part I have examined the whole. No one hath an authority over me. God hath made me free; I know His commands; after this no one can enslave me.



December 10

I HAVE been sick, because it was Thy pleasure; and so have others, but I willingly. I have been poor, it being Thy will, but with joy. I have not been in power, because it was not Thy will; and power I have never desired. Hast Thou ever seen me out of humour upon this account? Have I not always approached thee with a cheerful countenance, prepared to execute Thy commands and the significations of Thy will? Is it Thy pleasure that I should depart from this assembly? I depart. I give Thee all thanks that Thou hast thought me worthy to have a share in it with Thee; to behold Thy works, and to join with Thee in comprehending Thy administration." Let death overtake me while I am thinking, while I am writing, while I am reading such things as these.

EPICTETUS. DISCOURSES. Book iii. §5. ¶1.


December 9

DO not you know that both sickness and death must overtake us? At what employment? The husbandman at his plough; the sailor on his voyage. At what employment would you be taken? For, indeed, at what employment ought you to be taken? If there is any better employment at which you can be taken, follow that. For my own part, I would be taken engaged in nothing, but in the care of my own faculty of choice ; how to render it undisturbed, unrestrained, uncompelled, free. I would be found studying this, that I may be able to say to God, "Have I transgressed Thy commands? Have I perverted the powers, the senses, the preconceptions which Thou hast given me? Have I ever accused Thee, or censured Thy dispensations?"

EPICTETUS. DISCOURSES. Book iii. §5. ¶1.


December 8

AS concerning pain: that which is intolerable is soon ended by death ; and that which holds long must needs be tolerable.


WHATSOEVER doth happen unto thee, thou art naturally by thy natural constitution either able, or not able, to bear. If thou beest able, be not offended, but bear it according to thy natural constitution, or as nature hath enabled thee. If thou beest not able, be not offended. For it will soon make an end of thee, and itself, (whatsoever it be) at the same time end with thee. But remember, that whatsoever by the strength of opinion, grounded upon a true apprehension of both true profit and duty, thou canst conceive tolerable : that thou art able to bear by thy natural constitution.



December 7

O MY soul, the time I trust will be, when thou shalt be good, simple, single, more open and visible, than that body by which it is enclosed. Thou wilt one day be sensible of their happiness, whose end is love, and their affections dead to all worldly things. Thou shalt one day be full, and in want of no external thing : not seeking pleasure from anything, either living or insensible, that this World can afford ; neither wanting time for the continuation of thy pleasure, nor place and opportunity, nor the favour either of the weather or of men. When thou shalt have content in thy present estate, and all things present shall add to thy content: when thou shalt persuade thyself, that thou hast all things; all for thy good, and all by the providence of the gods: and of things future also shalt be as confident, that all will do well, as tending to the maintenance and preservation in some sort, of his perfect welfare and happiness, who is perfection of life, of goodness, and beauty; Who begets all things, and containeth all things in himself, and in himself doth recollect all things from all places that are dissolved, that of them he may beget others again like unto them. Such one day shall be thy disposition, that thou shalt be able, both in regard of the gods, and in regard of men, so to fit and order thy conversation, as neither to complain of them at any time, for anything that they do; nor to do anything thyself, for which thou mayest justly be condemned.



December 6

FOR a man to be proud and high conceited, that he is not proud and high conceited, is of all kinds of pride and presumption the most intolerable.


WHEN you have brought yourself to supply the necessities of your body at a small price, do not pique yourself upon it; nor, if you drink water, be saying upon every occasion, "I drink water." But first consider how much more sparing and patient of hardship the poor are than we. But if at any time you would inure yourself by exercise to labour, and bearing hard trials, do it for your own sake, and not for the world ; do not grasp statues, but, when you are violently thirsty, take a little cold water in your mouth, and spurt it out and tell nobody.


IF you would be well spoken of, learn to speak well of others. And, when you have learned to speak well of them, endeavour likewise to do well to them ; and thus you will reap the fruit of being well spoken of by them.



December 5

WHEN children cry if their nurse happens to be absent for a little while, give them a cake, and they forget their grief. Shall we compare you to these children, then?
No, indeed. For I do not desire to be pacified by a cake, but by right principles. And what are they?

Such as a man ought to study all day long, so as not to be attached to what doth not belong to him; neither to a friend, to a place, an academy, nor even to his own body, but to remember the law and to have that constantly before his eyes. And what is the divine law? To preserve inviolate what is properly our own, not to claim what belongs to others; to use what is given us, and not desire what is not given us; and, when anything is taken away, to restore it readily, and to be thankful for the time you have been permitted the use of it, and not cry after it, like a child for its nurse and its mamma.

EPICTETUS. DISCOURSES. Book ii. §16. ¶3.


December 4

'THE soul' surveys the world and the empty space around it, and the way it's put together. It delves into the endlessness of time to extend its grasp and comprehension of the periodic births and rebirths that the world goes through. It knows that those who come after us will see nothing different, that those who came before us saw no more than we do, and that anyone with forty years behind him and eyes in his head has seen both past and future - both alike.

[Thus] the characteristics of the rational soul [are]:
Affection for its neighbors. Truthfulness. Humility. Not to place anything above itself.



December 3

THE time of a man's life is as a point; the substance of it ever flowing, the sense obscure; and the whole composition of the body, tending to corruption. His soul is restless, fortune uncertain, and fame doubtful: to be brief, as a stream so are all things belonging to the body; as a dream, or as a smoke, so are all that belong unto the soul. Our life is a warfare, and a mere pilgrimage. Fame after life, is no better than oblivion. What is it then that will adhere and follow? Only one thing, Philosophy. And philosophy doth consist in this, for a man to preserve that Spirit which is within him, from all manner of contumelies and injuries, and above all pains or pleasures; never to do anything either rashly, or feignedly, or hypocritically: wholly to depend from himself, and his own proper actions: all things that happen unto him to embrace contentedly, as coming from Him from whom He Himself also came; and above all things, with all meekness and a calm cheerfulness, to expect death, as being nothing else, but the resolution of those Elements, of which every creature is composed. And if the Elements themselves suffer nothing by this their perpetual conversion of one into another, that dissolution, and alteration, which is so common unto all, why should it be feared by any? Is not this according to nature? But nothing that is according to Nature, can be evil.



December 2

AS we say commonly, The physician has prescribed unto this man, riding; unto another, cold baths; unto a third, to go bare foot: so it is alike to say, The Nature of the Universe hath prescribed unto this man sickness, or blindness, or some loss, or damage or some such thing. For as there, when we say of a physician, that he hath prescribed anything, our meaning is, that he hath appointed this for that, as subordinate and conducing to health.


THEY who have a good constitution of body support heats and colds; and so they who have a right constitution of soul bear the attacks of anger, grief, and immoderate joy, and the other passions.



December 1

NATURE has given man one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear twice as much as we speak.

Attributed to EPICTETUS.

WHETHER thou speak in the Senate, or whether thou speak to any particular person, let thy speech be always grave and modest. But thou must not openly and vulgarly observe that sound and exact form of speaking, concerning that which is truly good and truly evil, the vanity of the world and of worldly men, which otherwise truth and reason both prescribe.


LET not your laughter be much, nor often, nor profuse.


USE thyself when any man speaks unto thee, so to hearken unto him, as that in the interim, thou give not way to any other thoughts; that so thou mayest (as far as is possible) seem fixed and fastened to his very soul, whosoever he be that speaks unto thee.