A life at odds with Fortune resembles a wintry torrent, for it is turbulent, muddy, difficult to pass, violent, noisy and brief; A soul conversant with virtue resembles a perpetual fountain; for it is clear, gentle, agreeable, sweet, serviceable, rich, harmless and innocent.
They who have a good constitution of body can bear heat and cold; and so they who have a right constitution of soul can meet anger and grief and immoderate joy and the other passions.
As light-houses in harbors, by kindling a great flame, afford a considerable assistance to ships wandering on the sea; so an illustrious person, in a state harassed by storms, confers great benefits on his fellow-citizens, when himself contented with little.
Of things some are in our power, and others are not. In our power are opinion, desire, aversion; and in a word, whatever are our own acts: not in our power are the body, property, reputation, offices, and in a word, whatever are not our own acts. And the things in our power are by nature free, not subject to restraint nor hindrance: but the things not in our power are weak, slavish, subject to restraint, in the power of others.
Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent, and take what belongs to others for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you take for your own only that which is your own, and view what belongs to others just as it really is, then no one will ever compel you, no one will restrict you, you will find fault with no one, you will accuse no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm.
You can be unconquerable, if you enter into no combat in which it is not in your own power to conquer. When, therefore, you see any one eminent in honors or power, or in high esteem on any other account, take heed not to be bewildered by appearances and to pronounce him happy; for if the essence of good consists in things within our own power, there will be no room for envy or emulation.
Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus death is nothing terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible.
If you are dazzled by the semblance of any promised pleasure, guard yourself against it; let the affair wait your leisure, and procure yourself some delay. Then bring to your mind both points of time, -that in which you shall enjoy the pleasure, and that in which you will repent and reproach yourself, after you have enjoyed it, – and set before you, in opposition to these, how you will rejoice and applaud yourself on having gained a victory, if you abstain. And even though it should appear to you a seasonable gratification, take heed that its enticements and allurements and seductions may not subdue you.
Chastise your passions, that they may not chastise you.
Remember that in life you ought to behave as at a banquet. Suppose that something is carried round and is opposite to you. Stretch out your hand and take a portion with decency. Suppose that it passes by you. Do not detain it. Suppose that it is not yet come to you. Do not send your desire forward to it, but wait till it is opposite to you. Do thus with children, with wife, with magisterial offices, with wealth, and you will be some time a worthy partner of the banquets of the gods. But if you take none of the things which are set before you, and even despise them, then you will be not only a fellow banqueter with the gods, but also a partner with them in power. For by acting thus Diogenes and Heracleitus and those like them were deservedly divine, and were so called.
- “Enchiridion” at Perseus (translated by George Long)
- “Enchiridion” at Perseus (translated by Thomas Wentworth Higginson)