Seekers after God
Frederic William Farrar

Part 3 out of 5

truer than he would have liked seriously to confess. He must have often
and deeply felt that he was not living in accordance with the light
which was in him.

It would indeed be cheap and easy, to attribute the general inferiority
and the many shortcomings of Seneca's life and character to the fact
that he was a Pagan, and to suppose that if he had known Christianity he
would necessarily have attained to a loftier ideal. But such a style of
reasoning and inference, commonly as it is adopted for rhetorical
purposes, might surely be refused by any intelligent child. A more
intellectual assent to the lessons of Christianity would have probably
been but of little avail to inspire in Seneca a nobler life. The fact
is, that neither the gift of genius nor the knowledge of Christianity
are adequate to the ennoblement of the human heart, nor does the grace
of God flow through the channels of surpassing intellect or of orthodox
belief. Men there have been in all ages, Pagan no less than Christian,
who with scanty mental enlightenment and spiritual knowledge have yet
lived holy and noble lives: men there have been in all ages, Christian
no less than Pagan, who with consummate gifts and profound erudition
have disgraced some of the noblest words which ever were uttered by some
of the meanest lives which were ever lived. In the twelfth century was
there any mind that shone more brightly, was there any eloquence which
flowed more mightily, than that of Peter Abelard? Yet Abelard sank
beneath the meanest of his scholastic cotemporaries in the degradation
of his career as much as he towered above the highest of them in the
grandeur of his genius. In the seventeenth century was there any
philosopher more profound, any moralist more elevated, than Francis
Bacon? Yet Bacon could flatter a tyrant, and betray a friend, and
receive a bribe, and be one of the latest of English judges to adopt the
brutal expedient of enforcing confession by the exercise of torture. If
Seneca defended the murder of Agrippina, Bacon blackened the character
of Essex. "What I would I do not; but the thing that I would not, that I
do," might be the motto for many a confession of the sins of genius; and
Seneca need not blush if we compare him with men who were his equals in
intellectual power, but whose "means of grace," whose privileges, whose
knowledge of the truth, were infinitely higher than his own. Let the
noble constancy of his death shed a light over his memory which may
dissipate something of those dark shades which rest on portions of his
history. We think of Abelard, humble, silent, patient, God-fearing,
tended by the kindly-hearted Peter in the peaceful gardens of Clugny; we
think of Bacon, neglected, broken, and despised, dying of the chill
caught in a philosophical experiment and leaving his memory to the
judgment of posterity; let us think of Seneca, quietly yielding to his
destiny without a murmur, cheering the constancy of the mourners round
him during the long agonies of his enforced suicide and dictating some
of the purest utterances of Pagan wisdom almost with his latest breath.
The language of his great contemporary, the Apostle St. Paul, will best
help us to understand his position. He was one of those who was _seeking
the Lord, if haply he might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be
not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have
our being_.



In the spring of the year 61, not long after the time when the murder of
Agrippina, and Seneca's justifications of it, had been absorbing the
attention of the Roman world, there disembarked at Puteoli a troop of
prisoners, whom the Procurator of Judaea had sent to Rome under the
charge of a centurion. Walking among them, chained and weary, but
affectionately tended by two younger companions,[38] and treated with
profound respect by little deputations of friends who met him at Appii
Forum and the Three Taverns, was a man of mean presence and
weather-beaten aspect, who was handed over like the rest to the charge
of Burrus, the Praefect of the Praetorian Guards. Learning from the
letters of the Jewish Procurator that the prisoner had been guilty of no
serious offence,[39] but had used his privilege of Roman citizenship to
appeal to Caesar for protection against the infuriated malice of his
co-religionists--possibly also having heard from the centurion Julius
some remarkable facts about his behaviour and history--Burrus allowed
him, pending the hearing of his appeal, to live in his own hired
apartments.[40] This lodging was in all probability in that quarter of
the city opposite the island in the Tiber, which corresponds to the
modern Trastevere. It was the resort of the very lowest and meanest of
the populace--that promiscuous jumble of all nations which makes Tacitus
call Rome at this time "the sewer of the universe." It was here
especially that the Jews exercised some of the meanest trades in Rome,
selling matches, and old clothes, and broken glass, or begging and
fortune-telling on the Cestian or Fabrican bridges.[41] In one of these
narrow, dark, and dirty streets, thronged by the dregs of the Roman
populace, St. Mark and St. Peter had in all probability lived when they
founded the little Christian Church at Rome. It was undoubtedly in the
same despised locality that St. Paul,--the prisoner who had been
consigned to the care of Burrus,--hired a room, sent for the principle
Jews, and for two years taught to Jews and Christians, to any Pagans who
would listen to him, the doctrines which were destined to regenerate
the world.

[Footnote 38: Luke and Aristarchus.]

[Footnote 39: Acts xxiv. 23, xxvii. 3.]

[Footnote 40: Acts xxviii. 30, [Greek: en idio misthomati].]

[Footnote 41: MART. _Ep_. i. 42: JUV. xiv. 186. In these few paragraphs
I follow M. Aubertin, who (as well as many other authors) has collected
many of the principal passages in which Roman writers allude to the Jews
and Christians.]

Any one entering that mean and dingy room would have seen a Jew with
bent body and furrowed countenance, and with every appearance of age,
weakness, and disease chained by the arm to a Roman soldier. But it is
impossible that, had they deigned to look closer, they should not also
have seen the gleam of genius and enthusiasm, the fire of inspiration,
the serene light of exalted hope and dauntless courage upon those
withered features. And though _he_ was chained, "the Word of God was not
chained." [42] Had they listened to the words which he occasionally
dictated, or overlooked the large handwriting which alone his weak
eyesight and bodily infirmities, as well as the inconvenience of his
chains, permitted, they would have heard or read the immortal utterances
which strengthened the faith of the nascent and struggling Churches in
Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae, and which have since been treasured
among the most inestimable possessions of a Christian world.

[Footnote 42: 2 Tim. ii. 9.]

His efforts were not unsuccessful; his misfortunes were for the
furtherance of the Gospel; his chains were manifest "in all the palace,
and in all other places;" [43] and many waxing confident by his bonds
were much more bold to speak the word without fear. Let us not be misled
by assuming a wrong explanation of these words, or by adopting the
Middle Age traditions which made St. Paul convert some of the immediate
favourites of the Emperor, and electrify with his eloquence an admiring
Senate. The word here rendered "palace" [44] may indeed have that
meaning, for we know that among the early converts were "they of
Caesar's household;" [45] but these were in all probability--if not
certainly--Jews of the lowest rank, who were, as we know, to be found
among the _hundreds_ of unfortunates of every age and country who
composed a Roman _familia_. And it is at least equally probable that the
word "praetorium" simply means the barrack of that detachment of Roman
soldiers from which Paul's gaolers were taken in turn. In such labours
St. Paul in all probability spent two years (61-63), during which
occurred the divorce of Octavia, the marriage with Poppaea, the death of
Burrus, the disgrace of Seneca, and the many subsequent infamies
of Nero.

[Footnote 43: Phil. i. 12.]

[Footnote 44: [Greek: en olo to praitorio].]

[Footnote 45: Phil. iv. 22.]

It is out of such materials that some early Christian forger thought it
edifying to compose the work which is supposed to contain the
correspondence of Seneca and St. Paul. The undoubted spuriousness of
that work is now universally admitted, and indeed the forgery is too
clumsy to be even worth reading. But it is worth while inquiring whether
in the circumstances of the time there is even a bare possibility that
Seneca should ever have been among the readers or the auditors of Paul.

And the answer is, There is absolutely no such probability. A vivid
imagination is naturally attracted by the points of contrast and
resemblance offered by two such characters, and we shall see that there
is a singular likeness between many of their sentiments and expressions.
But this was a period in which, as M. Villemain observes, "from one
extremity of the social world to the other truths met each other without
recognition." Stoicism, noble as were many of its precepts, lofty as was
the morality it professed, deeply as it was imbued in many respects with
a semi-Christian piety, looked upon Christianity with profound contempt.
The Christians disliked the Stoics, the Stoics despised and persecuted
the Christians. "The world knows nothing of its greatest men." Seneca
would have stood aghast at the very notion of his receiving the lessons,
still more of his adopting the religion, of a poor, accused, and
wandering Jew. The haughty, wealthy, eloquent, prosperous, powerful
philosopher would have smiled at the notion that any future ages would
suspect him of having borrowed any of his polished and epigrammatic
lessons of philosophic morals or religion from one whom, if he heard of
him, he would have regarded as a poor wretch, half fanatic and half

We learn from St. Paul himself that the early converts of Christianity
were men in the very depths of poverty,[46] and that its preachers were
regarded as fools, and weak, and were despised, and naked, and
buffeted--persecuted and homeless labourers--a spectacle to the world,
and to angels, and to men, "made as the filth of the earth and the
off-scouring of all things." We know that their preaching was to the
Greeks "foolishness," and that, when they spoke of Jesus and the
resurrection, their hearers mocked[47] and jeered. And these indications
are more than confirmed by many contemporary passages of ancient
writers. We have already seen the violent expressions of hatred which
the ardent and high-toned soul of Tacitus thought applicable to the
Christians; and such language is echoed by Roman writers of every
character and class. The fact is that at this time and for centuries
afterwards the Romans regarded the Christians with such lordly
indifference that--like Festus, and Felix and Seneca's brother
Gallio--they never took the trouble to distinguish them from the Jews.
The distinction was not fully realized by the Pagan world till the cruel
and wholesale massacre of the Christians by the pseudo-Messiah
Barchochebas in the reign of Adrian opened their eyes to the fact of the
irreconcilable differences which existed between the two religions. And
pages might be filled with the ignorant and scornful allusions which the
heathen applied to the Jews. They confused them with the whole degraded
mass of Egyptian and Oriental impostors and brute-worshippers; they
disdained them as seditious, turbulent, obstinate, and avaricious; they
regarded them as mainly composed of the very meanest slaves out of the
gross and abject multitude; their proselytism they considered as the
clandestine initiation into some strange and revolting mystery, which
involved as its direct teachings contempt of the gods, and the negation
of all patriotism and all family affection; they firmly believed that
they worshipped the head of an ass; they thought it natural that none
but the vilest slaves and the silliest woman should adopt so
misanthropic and degraded a superstition; they characterized their
customs as "absurd, sordid, foul, and depraved," and their nation as
"prone to superstition, opposed to religion." [48] And as far as they
made _any_ distinction between Jews and Christians, it was for the
latter that they reserved their choicest and most concentrated epithets
of hatred and abuse. A "new," "pernicious," "detestable," "execrable,"
superstition is the only language with which Suetonius and Tacitus
vouchsafe to notice it. Seneca,--though he must have heard the name of
Christian during the reign of Claudius (when both they and the Jews were
expelled from Rome, "because of their perpetual turbulence, at the
instigation of Chrestus," as Suetonius ignorantly observed), and during
the Neronian persecution--never once alludes to them, and only mentions
the Jews to apply a few contemptuous remarks to the idleness of their
sabbaths, and to call them "a most abandoned race."

[Footnote 46: 2 Cor. viii. 2.]

[Footnote 47: [Greek: _Echleuazon_], Acts xvii. 32. The word expresses
the most profound and unconcealed contempt.]

[Footnote 48: Tac. _Hist_. i. 13: ib. v. 5: JUV. xiv. 85: Pers. v. 190,

The reader will now judge whether there is the slightest probability
that Seneca had any intercourse with St. Paul, or was likely to have
stooped from his superfluity of wealth, and pride of power, to take
lessons from obscure and despised slaves in the purlieus inhabited by
the crowded households of Caesar or Narcissus.



And yet in a very high sense of the word Seneca may be called, as he is
called in the title of this book, a Seeker after God; and the
resemblances to the sacred writings which may be found in the pages of
his works are numerous and striking. A few of these will probably
interest our readers, and will put them in a better position for
understanding how large a measure of truth and enlightenment had
rewarded the honest search of the ancient philosophers. We will place a
few such passages side by side with the texts of Scripture which they
resemble or recall.

1. _God's Indwelling Presence_.

"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God
dwelleth in you?" asks St. Paul (1 Cor. iii. 16).

"_God is near you, is with you, is within you_," writes Seneca to his
friend Lucilius, in the 41st of those _Letters_ which abound in his most
valuable moral reflections; "_a sacred Spirit dwells within us, the
observer and guardian of all our evil and our good ... there is no good
man without God_."

And again (_Ep._ 73): "_Do you wonder that man goes to the gods? God
comes to men: nay, what is yet nearer; He comes into men. No good mind
is holy without God_."

2. _The Eye of God_.

"All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have
to do." (Heb. iv. 13.)

"Pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in
secret shall reward thee openly." (Matt. vi. 6.)

Seneca (_On Providence_, 1): "_It is no advantage that conscience is
shut within us; we lie open to God_."

_Letter_ 83: "_What advantage is it that anything is hidden from man?
Nothing is closed to God: He is present to our minds, and enters into
our central thoughts_."

_Letter_ 83: "_We must live as if we were living in sight of all men; we
must think as though some one could and can gaze into our
inmost breast_."

3. _God is a Spirit_.

St. Paul, "We ought not to think that the God-head is like unto gold, or
silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." (Acts xvii. 29.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 31): "_Even from a corner it is possible to spring up
into heaven: rise, therefore, and form thyself into a fashion worthy of
God; thou canst not do this, however, with gold and silver: an image
like to God cannot be formed out of such materials as these_."

4. _Imitating God_.

"Be ye therefore followers ([Greek: _mimaetai_], imitators) of God, as
dear children." (Eph. v. 1.)

"He that in these things [righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost]
serveth Christ is acceptable to God." (Rom. xiv. 18.)

Seneca _(Letter_ 95): "_Do you wish to render the gods propitious? Be
virtuous. To honour them it is enough to imitate them_."

_Letter_ 124: "_Let man aim at the good which belongs to him. What is
this good? A mind reformed and pure, the imitator of God, raising itself
above things human, confining all its desires within itself_."

5. _Hypocrites like whited Sepulchres_.

"Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto
whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within
full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (Matt, xxiii. 27.)

Seneca: "_Those whom you regard as happy, if you saw them, not in their
externals, but in their hidden aspect, are wretched, sordid, base; like
their own walls adorned outwardly. It is no solid and genuine felicity;
it is a plaster, and that a thin one; and so, as long as they can stand
and be seen at their pleasure, they shine and impose on us: when
anything has fallen which disturbs and uncovers them, it is evident how
much deep and real foulness an extraneous splendour has concealed_."

6. _Teaching compared to Seed_.

"But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit; some an
hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold." (Matt xiii. 8.)

Seneca (Letter 38): "_Words must be sown like seed; which, although it
be small, when it hath found a suitable ground, unfolds its strength,
and from very small size is expanded into the largest increase. Reason
does the same.... The things spoken are few; but if the mind have
received them well, they gain strength and grow_."

7. _All Men are Sinners_.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is
not in us." (1 John i. 8.)

Seneca (_On Anger_, i. 14, ii. 27): "_If we wish to be just judges of
all things, let us first persuade ourselves of this:--that there is not
one of us without fault.... No man is found who can acquit himself; and
he who calls himself innocent does so with reference to a witness, and
not to his conscience_."

8. _Avarice_.

"The love of money is the root of all evil." (1 Tim. vi. 10.)

Seneca (_On Tranquillity of Soul_, 8): "_Riches ... the greatest source
of human trouble_."

"Be content with such things as ye have." (Heb. xiii. 5.)

"Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content." (1 Tim. vi. 8.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 114): "_We shall be wise if we desire but little; if
each man takes count of himself, and at the same time measures his own
body, he will know how little it can contain, and for how short
a time_."

_Letter_ 110: "_We have polenta, we have water; let us challenge Jupiter
himself to a comparison of bliss!_"

"Godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Tim. vi. 6.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 110): "_Why are you struck with wonder and
astonishment? It is all display! Those things are shown, not
possessed_.... _Turn thyself rather to the true riches, learn to be
content with little_."

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a
rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matt. xix. 24.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 20): "_He is a high-souled man who sees riches spread
around him, and hears rather than feels that they are his. It is much
not to be corrupted by fellowship with riches: great is he who in the
midst of wealth is poor, but safer he who has no wealth at all_."

9. _The Duty of Kindness_.

"Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love." (Rom. xii.

Seneca (_On Anger_, i. 5): "_Man is born for mutual assistance_."

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Lev. xiv. 18.)

_Letter_ 48: "_You must live for another, if you wish to live for

_On Anger_, iii. 43: "_While we are among men let us cultivate kindness;
let us not be to any man a cause either of peril or of fear_."

10. _Our common Membership_.

"Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (1 Cor. xii.

"We being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of
another." (Rom. xii. 5.)

Seneca (_Letter_ 95): "_Do we teach that he should stretch his hand to
the shipwrecked, show his path to the wanderer, divide his bread with
the hungry_?... _when I could briefly deliver to him the formula of
human duty: all this that you see, in which things divine and human are
included, is one: we are members of one great body_."

11. _Secrecy in doing Good_.

"Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." (Matt. vi. 3.)

Seneca (_On Benefits_, ii. 11): "_Let him who hath conferred a favour
hold his tongue_.... _In conferring a favour nothing should be more
avoided than pride_."

12. _God's impartial Goodness_.

"He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain
on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. v. 45.)

Seneca (_On Benefits_, i. 1): "_How many are unworthy of the light! and
yet the day dawns_."

Id. vii. 31: "_The gods begin to confer benefits on those who recognize
them not, they continue them to those who are thankless for them....
They distribute their blessings in impartial tenor through the nations
and peoples;... they sprinkle the earth with timely showers, they stir
the seas with wind, they mark out the seasons by the revolution of the
constellations, they temper the winter and summer by the intervention of
a gentler air_."

It would be a needless task to continue these parallels, because by
reading any treatise of Seneca a student might add to them by scores;
and they prove incontestably that, as far as moral illumination was
concerned, Seneca "was not far from the kingdom of heaven." They have
been collected by several writers; and all of these here adduced,
together with many others, may be found in the pages of Fleury,
Troplong, Aubertin, and others. Some authors, like M. Fleury, have
endeavoured to show that they can only be accounted for by the
supposition that Seneca had some acquaintance with the sacred writings.
M. Aubertin, on the other hand, has conclusively demonstrated that this
could not have been the case. Many words and expressions detached from
their context have been forced into a resemblance with the words of
Scripture, when the context wholly militates against its spirit; many
belong to that great common stock of moral truths which had been
elaborated by the conscientious labours of ancient philosophers; and
there is hardly one of the thoughts so eloquently enunciated which may
not be found even more nobly and more distinctly expressed in the
writings of Plato and of Cicero. In a subsequent chapter we shall show
that, in spite of them all, the divergences of Seneca from the spirit of
Christianity are at least as remarkable as the closest of his
resemblances; but it will be more convenient to do this when we have
also examined the doctrines of those two other great representatives of
spiritual enlightenment in Pagan souls, Epictetus the slave and Marcus
Aurelius the emperor.

Meanwhile, it is a matter for rejoicing that writings such as these give
us a clear proof that in all ages the Spirit of the Lord has entered
into holy men, and made them sons of God and prophets. God "left not
Himself without witness" among them. The language of St. Thomas Aquinas,
that many a heathen has had an "implicit faith," is but another way of
expressing St. Paul's statement that "not having the law they were a law
unto themselves, and showed the work of the law written in their
hearts." [49] To them the Eternal Power and Godhead were known from the
things that do appear, and alike from the voice of conscience and the
voice of nature they derived a true, although a partial and inadequate,
knowledge. To them "the voice of nature was the voice of God." Their
revelation was the law of nature, which was confirmed, strengthened, and
extended, but _not_ suspended, by the written law of God.[50]

[Footnote 49: Rom. i. 2.]

[Footnote 50: Hooker, _Eccl. Pol_. iii. 8.]

The knowledge thus derived, i.e. the sum-total of religious impressions
resulting from the combination of reason and experience, has been called
"natural religion;" the term is in itself a convenient and
unobjectionable one, so long as it is remembered that natural religion
is itself a revelation. No _antithesis_ is so unfortunate and pernicious
as that of natural with revealed religion. It is "a contrast rather of
words than of ideas; it is an opposition of abstractions to which no
facts really correspond." God has revealed Himself, not in one but in
many ways, not only by inspiring the hearts of a few, but by vouchsafing
His guidance to all who seek it. "The spirit of man is the candle of the
Lord," and it is not religion but apostasy to deny the reality of any of
God's revelations of truth to man, merely because they have not
descended through a single channel. On the contrary, we ought to hail
with gratitude, instead of viewing with suspicion, the enunciation by
heathen writers of truths which we might at first sight have been
disposed to regard as the special heritage of Christianity. In
Pythagoras, and Socrates, and Plato,--in Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus
Aurelius--we see the light of heaven struggling its impeded way through
clouds of darkness and ignorance; we thankfully recognize that the souls
of men in the Pagan world, surrounded as they were by perplexities and
dangers, were yet enabled to reflect, as from the dim surface of silver,
some image of what was divine and true; we hail, with the great and
eloquent Bossuet, "THE CHRISTIANITY OF NATURE." "The divine image in
man," says St. Bernard, "may be burned, but it cannot be burnt out."

And this is the pleasantest side on which to consider the life and the
writings of Seneca. It is true that his style partakes of the defects of
his age, that the brilliancy of his rhetoric does not always compensate
for the defectiveness of his reasoning; that he resembles, not a mirror
which clearly reflects the truth, but "a glass fantastically cut into a
thousand spangles;" that side by side with great moral truths we
sometimes find his worst errors, contradictions, and paradoxes; that his
eloquent utterances about God often degenerate into a vague Pantheism;
and that even on the doctrine of immortality his hold is too slight to
save him from waverings and contradictions;[51] yet as a moral teacher
he is full of real greatness, and was often far in advance of the
general opinion of his age. Few men have written more finely, or with
more evident sincerity, about truth and courage, about the essential
equality of man,[52] about the duty of kindness and consideration to
slaves,[53] about tenderness even in dealing with sinners,[54] about the
glory of unselfishness,[55] about the great idea of humanity[56] as
something which transcends all the natural and artificial prejudices of
country and of caste. Many of his writings are Pagan sermons and moral
essays of the best and highest type. The style, as Quintilian says,
"abounds in delightful faults," but the strain of sentiment is never
otherwise than high and true.

[Footnote 51: Consol. ad Polyb. 27; Ad Helv. 17; Ad Marc. 24, _seqq_.]

[Footnote 52: Ep. 32; De Benef. iii. 2.]

[Footnote 53: De Ira, iii. 29, 32.]

[Footnote 54: Ibid. i. 14; De Vit. beat. 24.]

[Footnote 55: Ep. 55, 9.]

[Footnote 56: Ibid. 28; De Oti Sapientis, 31.]

He is to be regarded rather as a wealthy, eminent, and successful Roman,
who devoted most of his leisure to moral philosophy, than as a real
philosopher by habit and profession. And in this point of view his very
inconsistencies have their charm, as illustrating his ardent, impulsive,
imaginative temperament. He was no apathetic, self-contained, impassible
Stoic, but a passionate, warm-hearted man, who could break into a flood
of unrestrained tears at the death of his friend Annaeus Serenus,[57]
and feel a trembling solicitude for the welfare of his wife and little
ones. His was no absolute renunciation, no impossible perfection;[58]
but few men have painted more persuasively, with deeper emotion, or more
entire conviction, the pleasures of virtue, the calm of a
well-regulated soul, the strong and severe joys of a lofty self-denial.
In his youth, he tells us, he was preparing himself for a righteous
life, in his old age for a noble death.[59] And let us not forget, that
when the hour of crisis came which tested the real calm and bravery of
his soul, he was not found wanting. "With no dread," he writes to
Lucilius, "I am preparing myself for that day on which, laying aside all
artifice or subterfuge, I shall be able to judge respecting myself
whether I merely _speak_ or really _feel_ as a brave man should; whether
all those words of haughty obstinacy which I have hurled against fortune
were mere pretence and pantomime.... Disputations and literary talks,
and words collected from the precepts of philosophers, and eloquent
discourse, do not prove the true strength of the soul. For the mere
_speech_ of even the most cowardly is bold; what you have really
achieved will then be manifest when your end is near. I accept the
terms, I do not shrink from the decision." [60]

[Footnote 57: Ep. 63.]

[Footnote 58: Martha, _Les Moralistes_, p. 61.]

[Footnote 59: Ep. 61.]

[Footnote 60: Ep. 26.]

"_Accipio conditionem, non reformido judicrum_." They were courageous
and noble words, and they were justified in the hour of trial. When we
remember the sins of Seneca's life, let us recall also the constancy of
his death; while we admit the inconsistencies of his systematic
philosophy, let us be grateful for the genius, the enthusiasm, the glow
of intense conviction, with which he clothes his repeated utterance of
truths, which, when based upon a surer basis, were found adequate for
the moral regeneration of the world. Nothing is more easy than to sneer
at Seneca, or to write clever epigrams on one whose moral attainments
fell infinitely short of his own great ideal. But after all he was not
more inconsistent than thousands of those who condemn him. With all his
faults he yet lived a nobler and a better life, he had loftier aims, he
was braver, more self-denying--nay, even more consistent--than the
majority of professing Christians. It would be well for us all if those
who pour such scorn upon his memory attempted to achieve one tithe of
the good which he achieved for humanity and for Rome. His thoughts
deserve our imperishable gratitude: let him who is without sin among us
be eager to fling stones at his failures and his sins!




In the court of Nero, Seneca must have been thrown into more or less
communication with the powerful freedmen of that Emperor, and especially
with his secretary or librarian, Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus was a
constant companion of the Emperor; he was the earliest to draw Nero's
attention to the conspiracy in which Seneca himself perished. There can
be no doubt that Seneca knew him, and had visited at his house. Among
the slaves who thronged that house, the natural kindliness of the
philosopher's heart may have drawn his attentions to one little lame
Phrygian boy, deformed and mean-looking, whose face--if it were any
index of the mind within--must even from boyhood have worn a serene and
patient look. The great courtier, the great tutor of the Emperor, the
great Stoic and favourite writer of his age, would indeed have been
astonished if he had been suddenly told that that wretched-looking
little slave-lad was destined to attain purer and clearer heights of
philosophy than he himself had ever done, and to become quite as
illustrious as himself, and far more respected as an exponent of Stoic
doctrines. For that lame boy was Epictetus--Epictetus for whom was
written the memorable epitaph: "I was Epictetus, a slave, and maimed in
body, and a beggar for poverty, _and dear to the immortals_."

Although we have a clear sketch of his philosophical doctrines, we have
no materials whatever for any but the most meagre description of his
life. The picture of his mind--an effigy of that which he alone regarded
as his true self--may be seen in his works, and to this we can add
little except a few general facts and uncertain anecdotes.

Epictetus was probably born in about the fiftieth year of the Christian
era; but we do not know the exact date of his birth, nor do we even know
his real name. "Epictetus" means "bought" or "acquired," and is simply a
servile designation. He was born at Hierapolis, in Phrygia, a town
between the rivers Lycus and Meander, and considered by some to be the
capital of the province. The town possessed several natural
wonders--sacred springs, stalactite grottoes, and a deep cavern
remarkable for its mephitic exhalations. It is more interesting to us to
know that it was within a few miles of Colossae and Laodicea, and is
mentioned by St. Paul (Col. iv. 13) in connexion with those two cities.
It must, therefore, have possessed a Christian Church from the earliest
times, and, if Epictetus spent any part of his boyhood there, he might
have conversed with men and women of humble rank who had heard read in
their obscure place of meeting the Epistle of St. Paul to the
Colossians, and the other, now lost, which he addressed to the Church of

[Footnote 61: Col. iv. 16.]

It is probable, however, that Hierapolis and its associations produced
very little influence on the mind of Epictetus. His parents were people
in the very lowest and humblest class, and their moral character could
hardly have been high, or they would not have consented under any
circumstance to sell into slavery their sickly child. Certainly it could
hardly have been possible for Epictetus to enter into the world under
less enviable or less promising auspices. But the whole system of life
is full of divine and memorable compensations, and Epictetus experienced
them. God kindles the light of genius where He will, and He can inspire
the highest and most regal thoughts even into the meanest slave:--

"Such seeds are scattered night and day
By the soft wind from Heaven,
And in the poorest human clay
Have taken root and thriven."

What were the accidents--or rather, what was "the unseen Providence, by
man nicknamed chance"--which assigned Epictetus to the house of
Epaphroditus we do not know. To a heart refined and noble there could
hardly have been a more trying position. The slaves of a Roman _familia_
were crowded together in immense gangs; they were liable to the most
violent and capricious punishments; they might be subjected to the most
degraded and brutalising influences. Men sink too often to the level to
which they are supposed to belong. Treated with infamy for long years,
they are apt to deem themselves worthy of infamy--to lose that
self-respect which is the invariable concomitant of religious feeling,
and which, apart from religious feeling, is the sole preventive of
personal degradation. Well may St. Paul say, "Art thou called, being a
servant? care not for it: _but if thou mayest be made free, use it
rather_." [62]

[Footnote 62: 1 Cor. vii. 21.]

It is true that even in the heathen world there began at this time to
be disseminated among the best and wisest thinkers a sense that slaves
were made of the same clay as their masters, that they differed from
freeborn men only in the externals and accidents of their position, and
that kindness to them and consideration for their difficulties was a
common and elementary duty of humanity. "I am glad to learn," says
Seneca, in one of his interesting letters to Lucilius, "that you live on
terms of familiarity with your slaves; it becomes your prudence and your
erudition. Are they slaves? Nay, they are men. Slaves? Nay, companions.
Slaves? Nay, humble friends. Slaves? _Nay, fellow-slaves,_ if you but
consider that fortune has power over you both." He proceeds, in a
passage to which we have already alluded, to reprobate the haughty and
inconsiderate fashion of keeping them standing for hours, mute and
fasting, while their masters gorged themselves at the banquet. He
deplores the cruelty which thinks it necessary to punish with terrible
severity an accidental cough or sneeze. He quotes the proverb--a proverb
which reveals a whole history--"So many slaves, so many foes," and
proves that they are not foes, but that men _made_ them so; whereas,
when kindly treated, when considerately addressed, they would be silent,
even under torture, rather than speak to their master's disadvantage.
"Are they not sprung," he asks, "from the same origin, do they not
breathe the same air, do they not live and die just as we do?" The
blows, the broken limbs, the clanking chains, the stinted food of the
_ergastula_ or slave-prisons, excited all Seneca's compassion, and in
all probability presented a picture of misery which the world has rarely
seen surpassed, unless it were in that nefarious trade which England to
her shame once practised, and, to her eternal glory, resolutely
swept away.

But Seneca's inculcation of tenderness towards slaves was in reality
one of the most original of his moral teachings; and, from all that we
know of Roman life, it is to be feared that the number of those who
acted in accordance with it was small. Certainly Epaphroditus, the
master of Epictetus, was not one of them. The historical facts which we
know of this man are slight. He was one of the four who accompanied the
tragic and despicable flight of Nero from Rome in the year 69, and when,
after many waverings of cowardice, Nero at last, under imminent peril of
being captured and executed, put the dagger to his breast, it was
Epaphroditus who helped the tyrant to drive it home into his heart, for
which he was subsequently banished, and finally executed by the
Emperor Domitian.

Epictetus was accustomed to tell one or two anecdotes which, although
given without comment, show the narrowness and vulgarity of the man.
Among his slaves was a certain worthless cobbler named Felicio; as the
cobbler was quite useless, Epaphroditus sold him, and by some chance he
was bought by some one of Caesar's household, and made Caesar's cobbler.
Instantly Epaphroditus began to pay him the profoundest respect, and to
address him in the most endearing terms, so that if any one asked what
Epaphroditus was doing, the answer, as likely as not, would be, "He is
holding an important consultation with Felicio."

On one occasion, some one came to him bewailing, and weeping, and
embracing his knees in a paroxysm of grief, because of all his fortune
little more than 50,000_l_. was left! "What did Epaphroditus do?" asks
Epictetus; "did he laugh at the man as we did? Not at all; on the
contrary, he exclaimed, in a tone of commiseration and surprise, 'Poor
fellow! how could you possibly keep silence and endure such a

How brutally he could behave, and how little respect he inspired, we may
see in the following anecdote. When Plautius Lateranus, the brave
nobleman whose execution during Piso's conspiracy we have already
related, had received on his neck an ineffectual blow of the tribune's
sword, Epaphroditus, even at that dread moment, could not abstain from
pressing him with questions. The only reply which he received from the
dying man was the contemptuous remark, "Should I wish to say anything, I
will say it (not to a slave like you, but) to _your master_."

Under a man of this calibre it is hardly likely that a lame Phrygian boy
would experience much kindness. An anecdote, indeed, has been handed
down to us by several writers, which would show that he was treated with
atrocious cruelty. Epaphroditus, it is said, once gratified his cruelty
by twisting his slave's leg in some instrument of torture. "If you go
on, you will break it," said Epictetus. The wretch did go on, and did
break it. "I told you that you would break it," said Epictetus quietly,
not giving vent to his anguish by a single word or a single groan.
Stories of heroism no less triumphant have been authenticated both in
ancient and modern times; but we may hope for the sake of human nature
that this story is false, since another authority tells us that
Epictetus became lame in consequence of a natural disease. Be that
however as it may, some of the early writers against Christianity--such,
for instance, as the physician Celsus--were fond of adducing this
anecdote in proof of a magnanimity which not even Christianity could
surpass; to which use of the anecdote Origen opposed the awful silence
of our Saviour upon the cross, and Gregory of Nazianzen pointed out
that, though it was a noble thing to endure inevitable evils, it was yet
more noble to undergo them voluntarily with an equal fortitude. But even
if Epaphroditus were not guilty of breaking the leg of Epictetus, it is
clear that the life of the poor youth was surrounded by circumstances of
the most depressing and miserable character; circumstances which would
have forced an ordinary man to the low and animal level of existence
which appears to have contented the great majority of Roman slaves. Some
of the passages in which he speaks about the consideration due to this
unhappy class show a very tender feeling towards them. "It would be
best," he says, "if, both while making your preparations and while
feasting at your banquets, you distribute among the attendants some of
the provisions. But if such a plan, at any particular time, be difficult
to carry out, remember that you who are not fatigued are being waited
upon by those who are fatigued; you who are eating and drinking by those
who are not eating and drinking; you who are conversing by those who are
mute--you who are at your ease by people under painful constraint. And
thus you will neither yourself be kindled into unseemly passion, nor
will you in a fit of fury do harm to any one else." No doubt Epictetus
is here describing conduct which he had often seen, and of which he had
himself experienced the degradation. But he had early acquired a
loftiness of soul and an insight into truth which enabled him to
distinguish the substance from the shadow, to separate the realities of
life from its accidents, and so to turn his very misfortunes into fresh
means of attaining to moral nobility. In proof of this let us see some
of his own opinions as to his state of life.

At the very beginning of his _Discourses_ he draws a distinction
between the things which the gods _have_ and the things which they _have
not_ put in our own power, and he held (being deficient here in that
light which Christianity might have furnished to him) that the blessings
denied to us are denied not because the gods _would_ not, but because
they _could_ not grant them to us. And then he supposes that Jupiter
addresses him:--

"O Epictetus, had it been possible, I would have made both your little
body and your little property free and unentangled; but now, do not be
mistaken, it is not yours at all, but only clay finely kneaded. Since,
however, I could not do this, I gave you a portion of ourselves, namely,
this power of pursuing and avoiding, of desiring and of declining, and
generally the power of _dealing with appearances_: and if you cultivate
this power, and regard it as that which constitutes your real
possession, you will never be hindered or impeded, nor will you groan or
find fault with, or flatter any one. Do these advantages then appear to
you to be trifling? Heaven forbid! Be content therefore with these, and
thank the gods."

And again in one of his _Fragments_ (viii. ix.):--

"Freedom and slavery are but names, respectively, of virtue and of vice:
and both of them depend upon the will. But neither of them have anything
to do with those things in which the will has no share. For no one is a
slave whose will is free."

"Fortune is an evil bond of the body, vice of the soul; for he is a
slave whose body is free but whose soul is bound, and, on the contrary,
he is free whose body is bound but whose soul is free."

Who does not catch in these passages the very tone of St, Paul when he
says, "He that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's
freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is
Christ's servant?"

Nor is his independence less clearly express when he speaks of his
deformity. Being but the deformity of a body which he despised, he spoke
of himself as "an ethereal existence staggering under the burden of a
corpse." In his admirable chapter on Contentment, he very forcibly lays
down that topic of consolation which is derived from the sense that "the
universe is not made for our individual satisfaction." "_Must my leg be
lame_?" he supposes some querulous objector to inquire. "Slave!" he
replies, "do you then because of one miserable little leg find fault
with the universe? Will you not concede that accident to the existence
of general laws? Will you not dismiss the thought of it? Will you not
cheerfully assent to it for the sake of him who gave it. And will you be
indignant and displeased at the ordinances of Zeus, which he ordained
and appointed with the Destinies, who were present and wove the web of
your being? Know you not what an atom you are compared with the
whole?--that is, as regards your body, since as regards your reason you
are no whit inferior to, or less than the gods. For the greatness of
reason is not estimated by size or height, but by the doctrines which it
embraces. Will you not then lay up your treasure in those matters
wherein you are equal to the gods?" And, thanks to such principles, a
poor and persecuted slave was able to raise his voice in sincere and
eloquent thanksgiving to that God to whom he owed his "creation,
preservation, and all the blessings of this life."

Speaking of the multitude of our natural gifts, he says, "Are these the
only gifts of Providence towards us? Nay, what power of speech suffices
adequately to praise, or to set them forth? for, had we but true
intelligence, what duty would be more perpetually incumbent on us than
both in public and in private to hymn the Divine, and bless His name and
praise His benefits? Ought we not, when we dig, and when we plough, and
when we eat, to sing this hymn to God? 'Great is God, because He hath
given us these implements whereby we may till the soil; great is God,
because He hath given us hands, and the means of nourishment by food,
and insensible growth, and breathing sleep;' these things in each
particular we ought to hymn, and to chant the greatest and the divinest
hymn, because He hath given us the power to appreciate these blessings,
and continuously to use them. What then? Since the most of you are
blinded, ought there not to be some one to fulfil this province for you,
and on behalf of all to sing his hymn to God? And what else can _I_ do,
who am a lame old man, except sing praises to God? Now, had I been a
nightingale, I should have sung the songs of a nightingale, or had I
been a swan the songs of a swan; but, being a reasonable being, it is my
duty to hymn God. This is my task, and I accomplish it; nor, so far as
may be granted to me, will I ever abandon this post, and you also do I
exhort to this same song."

There is an almost lyric beauty about these expressions of resignation
and faith in God, and it is the utterance of such warm feelings towards
Divine Providence that constitutes the chief originality of Epictetus.
It is interesting to think that the oppressed heathen philosopher found
the same consolation, and enjoyed the same contentment, as the
persecuted Christian Apostle. "Whether ye eat or drink," says St. Paul,
"or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." "Think of God," says
Epictetus, "oftener than you breathe. Let discourse of God be renewed
daily more surely than your food."

Here, again, are his views about his poverty (_Fragment_ xix.):--

"Examine yourself whether you wish to be rich or to be happy; and if you
wish to be rich, know that it neither is a blessing, nor is it
altogether in your own power; but if to be happy, know that it both _is_
a blessing, and is in your own power; since the former is but a
temporary loan of fortune, but the gift of happiness depends upon
the will."

"Just as when you see a viper, or an asp, or a scorpion, in a casket of
ivory or gold, you do not love or congratulate them on the splendour of
their material, but because their nature is pernicious you turn from and
loathe them, so likewise when you see vice enshrined in wealth and the
pomp of circumstance do not be astounded at the glory of its
surroundings, but despise the meanness of its character."

"Wealth is _not_ among the number of good things; extravagance _is_
among the number of evils, sober-mindedness of good things. Now
sober-mindedness invites us to frugality and the acquisition of real
advantages; but wealth to extravagance, and it drags us away from
sober-mindedness. It is a hard matter, therefore, being rich to be
sober-minded, or being sober-minded to be rich."

The last sentence will forcibly remind the reader of our Lord's own
words, "How hardly shall they that have riches (or as the parallel
passage less startlingly expresses it, 'Children, how hard is it for
them that _trust_ in riches to') enter into the kingdom of God."

But this is a favourite subject with the ancient philosopher, and
Epictetus continues:--

"Had you been born in Persia, you would not have been eager to live in
Greece, but to stay where you were, and be happy; and, being born in
poverty, why are you eager to be rich, and not rather to abide in
poverty, and so be happy?"

"As it is better to be in good health, being hard-pressed on a little
truckle-bed, than to roll, and to be ill in some broad couch; so too it
is better in a small competence to enjoy the calm of moderate desires,
than in the midst of superfluities to be discontented."

This, too, is a thought which many have expressed. "Gentle sleep," says
Horace, "despises not the humble cottages of rustics, nor the shaded
banks, nor valleys whose foliage waves with the western wind;" and every
reader will recall the magnificent words of our own great Shakespeare--

"Why rather, Sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull'd with sounds of sweetest melody?"

To the subject of freedom, and to the power which man possesses to make
himself entirely independent of all surrounding circumstances, Epictetus
incessantly recurs. With the possibility of banishment to an
_ergastulum_ perpetually before his eyes, he defines a prison as being
any situation in which a man is placed against his will; to Socrates for
instance the prison was no prison, for he was there willingly, and no
man _need_ be in prison, against his will if he has learnt, as one of
his primary duties, a cheerful acquiescence in the inevitable. By the
expression of such sentiments Epictetus had anticipated by fifteen
hundred years the immortal truth so sweetly expressed by Lovelace:

"_Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage_;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage."

Situated as he was, we can hardly wonder that thoughts like these
occupied a large share of the mind of Epictetus, or that he had taught
himself to lay hold of them with the firmest possible grasp. When asked,
"Who among men is rich?" he replied, "He who suffices for himself;" an
expression which contains the germ of the truth so forcibly expressed in
the Book of Proverbs, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his
own ways, and a good man _shall be satisfied from himself_". Similarly,
when asked, "Who is free?" he replies, "The man who masters his own
self," with much the same tone of expressions as that of Solomon, "He
that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his
spirit than he that taketh a city." Socrates was one of the great models
whom Epictetus constantly seats before him, and this is one of the
anecdotes which he relates about him with admiration. When Archelaus
sent a message to express the intention of making him rich, Socrates
bade the messenger inform him that at Athens four quarts of meal might
be bought for three halfpence, and the fountains flow with water. "If
then my existing possessions are insufficient for me, at any rate I am
sufficient for them, and so they too are sufficient for me. Do you not
see that Polus acted the part of Oedipus in his royal state with no less
beauty of voice than that of Oedipus in Colonos, a wanderer and beggar?
Shall then a noble man appear inferior to Polus, so as not to act well
every character imposed upon him by Divine Providence; and shall he not
imitate Ulysses, who even in rags was no less conspicuous than in the
curled nap of his purple cloak?"

Generally speaking, the view which Epictetus took of life is always
simple, and always consistent; it is a view which gave him consolation
among life's troubles, and strength to display some of its noblest
virtues, and it may be summed up in the following passages of his famous

"Remember," he says, "that you are an actor of just such a part as is
assigned you by the Poet of the play; of a short part, if the part be
short; of a long part, if it be long. Should He wish you to act the part
of a beggar, take care to act it naturally and nobly; and the same if it
be the part of a lame man, or a ruler, or a private man; for _this_ is
in your power, to act well the part assigned to you; but to _choose_
that part is the function of another."

"Let not these considerations afflict you: 'I shall live despised, and
the merest nobody;' for if dishonour be an evil, you cannot be involved
in evil any more than you can be involved in baseness through any one
else's means. Is it then at all _your_ business to be a leading man, or
to be entertained at a banquet? By no means. How then can it be a
dishonor not to be so? And how will you be a mere nobody, since it is
your duty to be somebody only in those circumstances which are in your
own power, in which you may be a person of the greatest importance?"

"Honour, precedence, confidence," he argues in another passage, "whether
they be good things or evil things, are at any rate things for which
their own definite price must be paid. Lettuces are sold for a penny,
and if you want your lettuce you must pay your penny; and similarly, if
you want to be asked out to a person's house, you must pay the price
which he demands for asking people, whether the coin he requires be
praise or attention; but if you do not give these, do not expect the
other. Have you then gained nothing in lieu of your supper? Indeed you
have; you have escaped praising a person whom you did not want to
praise, and you have escaped the necessity of tolerating the upstart
impertinence of his menials."

Some parts of this last thought have been so beautifully expressed by
the American poet Lowell that I will conclude this chapter in his words:

"Earth hath her price for what earth gives us;
The beggar is tax'd for a corner to die in;
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrieves us;
We bargain for the graves we lie in:
At the devil's mart are all things sold,
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold,
For a cap and bells our lives we pay.
Bubbles we earn with our whole soul's tasking,
'_Tis only God that is given away,
'Tis only heaven may be had for the asking_."



Whether any of these great thoughts would have suggested themselves
_spontaneously_ to Epictetus--whether there was an inborn wisdom and
nobleness in the mind of this slave which would have enabled him to
elaborate such views from his own consciousness, we cannot tell; they do
not, however, express _his_ sentiments only, but belong in fact to the
moral teaching of the great Stoic school, in the doctrines of which he
had received instruction.

It may sound strange to the reader that one situated as Epictetus was
should yet have had a regular tutor to train him in Stoic doctrines.
That such should have been the case appears at first sight inconsistent
with the cruelty with which he was treated, but it is a fact which is
capable of easy explanation. In times of universal luxury and
display--in times when a sort of surface-refinement is found among all
the wealthy--some sort of respect is always paid to intellectual
eminence, and intellectual amusements are cultivated as well as those of
a coarser character. Hence a rich Roman liked to have people of literary
culture among his slaves; he liked to have people at hand who would get
him any information which he might desire about books, who could act as
his amanuenses, who could even correct and supply information for his
original compositions. Such learned slaves formed part of every large
establishment, and among them were usually to be found some who bore, if
they did not particularly merit, the title of "philosophers." These
men--many of whom are described as having been mere impostors,
ostentatious pedants, or ignorant hypocrites--acted somewhat like
domestic chaplains in the houses of their patrons. They gratified an
amateur taste for wisdom, and helped to while away in comparative
innocence the hours which their masters might otherwise have spent in
lassitude or sleep. It was no more to the credit of Epaphroditus that he
wished to have a philosophic slave, than it is to the credit of an
illiterate millionaire in modern times that he likes to have works of
high art in his drawing-room, and books of reference in his
well-furnished library.

Accordingly, since Epictetus must have been singularly useless for all
physical purposes, and since his thoughtfulness and intelligence could
not fail to command attention, his master determined to make him useful
in the only way possible, and sent him to Caius Musonius Rufus to be
trained in the doctrines of the Stoic philosophy.

Musonius was the son of a Roman knight. His learning and eloquence, no
less than his keen appreciation of Stoic truths, had so deeply kindled
the suspicions of Nero, that he banished him to the rocky little island
of Gyaros, on the charge of his having been concerned in Piso's
conspiracy. He returned to Rome after the suicide of Nero, and lived in
great distinction and respect, so that he was allowed to remain in the
city when the Emperor Vespasian banished all the other philosophers of
any eminence.

The works of Musonius have not come down to us, but a few notices of
him, which are scattered in the _Discourses_ of his greater pupil, show
us what kind of man he was. The following anecdotes will show that he
was a philosopher of the strictest school.

Speaking of the value of logic as a means of training the reason,
Epictetus anticipates the objection that, after all, a mere error in
reasoning is no very serious fault. He points out that it _is_ a fault,
and that is sufficient. "I too," he says, "once made this very remark to
Rufus when he rebuked me for not discovering the suppressed premiss in
some syllogism. 'What!' said I, 'have I then set the Capitol on fire,
that you rebuke me thus?' 'Slave!' he answered, 'what has the Capitol to
do with it? Is there no _other_ fault then short of setting the Capitol
on fire? Yes! to use one's own mere fancies rashly, at random, anyhow;
not to follow an argument, or a demonstration, or a sophism; not, in
short, to see what makes for oneself or not, in questioning and
answering--is none of these things a fault?'"

Sometimes he used to test the Stoical endurance of his pupil by pointing
out the indignities and tortures which his master might at any moment
inflict upon him; and when Epictetus answered that, after all, such
treatment was what man _had_ borne, and therefore _could_ bear, he would
reply approvingly that every man's destiny was in his own hands; that he
need lack nothing from any one else; that, since he could derive from
himself magnanimity and nobility of soul, he might despise the notion of
receiving lands or money or office. "But," he continued, "when any one
is cowardly or mean, one ought obviously in writing letters about such a
person to speak of him as a corpse, and to say, 'Favour us with the
corpse and blood of So-and-so,' For? in fact, such a man _is_ a mere
corpse, and nothing more; for if he were anything more, he would have
perceived that no man ever suffers any real misfortunes by another's
means." I do not know whether Mr. Ruskin is a student of Epictetus, but
he, among others, has forcibly expressed the same truth. "My friends, do
you remember that old Scythian custom, when the head of a house died?
How he was dressed in his finest dress, and set in his chariot, and
carried about to his friends' houses; and each of them placed him at his
table's head, and all feasted in his presence? Suppose it were offered
to you, in plain words, as it _is_ offered to you in dire facts, that
you should gain this Scythian honour gradually, while you yet thought
yourself alive.... Would you take the offer verbally made by the
death-angel? Would the meanest among us take it, think you? Yet
practically and verily we grasp at it, every one of us, in a measure;
many of us grasp at it in the fulness of horror."

The way in which Musonius treated would-be pupils much resembled the
plan adopted by Socrates. "It is not easy," says Epictetus, "to train
effeminate youths, any more than it is easy to take up whey with a hook.
But those of fine nature, even if you discourage them, desire
instruction all the more. For which reason Rufus often discouraged
pupils, using this as a criterion of fine and of common natures; for he
used to say, that just as a stone, even if you fling it into the air,
will fall down to the earth by its own gravitating force, so also a
noble nature, in proportion as it is repulsed, in that proportion tends
more in its own natural direction." As Emerson says,--

"Yet on the nimble air benign
Speed nimbler messages,
That waft the breath of grace divine
To hearts in sloth and ease.
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, 'THOU MUST,'
The youth replies, 'I CAN.'"

One more trait of the character of Musonius will show how deeply
Epictetus respected him, and how much good he derived from him. In his
_Discourse on Ostentation_, Epictetus says that Rufus was in the habit
of remarking to his pupils, "If you have leisure to praise me, I can
have done you no good." "He used indeed so to address us that each one
of us, sitting there, thought that some one had been privately telling
tales against _him_ in particular, so completely did Rufus seize hold of
his characteristics, so vividly did he portray our individual faults."

Such was the man under whose teaching Epictetus grew to maturity, and it
was evidently a teaching which was wise and noble, even if it were
somewhat chilling and austere. It formed an epoch in the slave's life;
it remoulded his entire character; it was to him the source of blessings
so inestimable in their value that it is doubtful whether they were
counter-balanced by all the miseries of poverty, slavery, and contempt.
He would probably have admitted that it was _better_ for him to have
been sold into cruel slavery, than it would have been to grow up in
freedom, obscurity, and ignorance in his native Hierapolis. So that
Epictetus might have found, and did find, in his own person, an
additional argument in favour of Divine Providence: an additional proof
that God is kind and merciful to all men; an additional intensity of
conviction that, if our lots on earth are not equal, they are at least
dominated by a principle of justice and of wisdom, and each man, on the
whole, may gain that which is best for him, and that which most
honestly and most heartily he desires. Epictetus reminds us again and
again that we may have many, if not all, such advantages as the world
has to offer, _if we are willing to pay the price by which they are
obtained_. But if that price be a mean or a wicked one, and if we should
scorn ourselves were we ever tempted to pay it, then we must not even
cast one longing look of regret towards things which can only be got by
that which we deliberately refuse to give. Every good and just man may
gain, if not happiness, then something higher than happiness. Let no one
regard this as a mere phrase, for it is capable of a most distinct and
definite meaning. There are certain things which all men desire, and
which all men would _gladly_, if they could _lawfully_ and _innocently_
obtain. These things are health, wealth, ease, comfort, influence,
honour, freedom from opposition and from pain; and yet, if you were to
place all these blessings on the one side, and on the other side to
place poverty, and disease, and anguish, and trouble, and
contempt,--yet, if on _this_ side also you were to place truth and
justice, and a sense that, however densely the clouds may gather about
our life, the light of God will be visible beyond them, all the noblest
men who ever lived would choose, as without hesitation they always have
chosen, the _latter_ destiny. It is not that they like failure, but they
prefer failure to falsity; it is not that they love persecution, but
they prefer persecution to meanness; it is not that they relish
opposition, but they welcome opposition rather than guilty acquiescence;
it is not that they do not shrink from agony, but they would not escape
agony by crime. The selfishness of Dives in his purple is to them less
enviable than the innocence of Lazarus in rags; they would be chained
with John in prison rather than loll with Herod at the feast; they
would fight with beasts with Paul in the arena rather than be steeped in
the foul luxury of Nero on the throne. It is not happiness, but it is
something higher than happiness; it is stillness, it is assurance, it is
satisfaction, it is peace; the world can neither understand it, nor give
it, nor take it away,--it is something indescribable--it is the gift
of God.

"The fallacy" of being surprised at wickedness in prosperity, and
righteousness in misery, "can only lie," says Mr. Froude, in words which
would have delighted Epictetus, and which would express the inmost
spirit of his philosophy, "in the supposed _right_ to happiness....
Happiness is not what we are to look for. Our place is to be true to the
best we know, to seek that, and do that; and if by 'virtue is its own
reward' be meant that the good man cares only to continue good, desiring
nothing more, then it is a true and a noble saying.... Let us do right,
and then whether happiness come, or unhappiness, it is no very mighty
matter. If it come, life will be sweet; if it do not come, life will be
bitter--bitter, not sweet, and yet to be borne.... The well-being of our
souls depends only on what we _are_; and nobleness of character is
nothing else but _steady love of good, and steady scorn of evil_....
Only to those who have the heart to say, 'We can do without selfish
enjoyment: it is not what we ask or desire,' is there no secret. Man
will have what he desires, and will find what is really best for him,
exactly as he honestly seeks for it. _Happiness may fly away, pleasure
pall or cease to be obtainable, wealth decay, friends fail or prove
unkind; but the power to serve God never fails, and the love of Him is
never rejected_."



Of the life of Epictetus, as distinct from his opinions, there is
unfortunately little more to be told. The life of

"That halting slave, who in Nicopolis
Taught Arrian, when Vespasian's brutal son
Cleared Rome of what most shamed him,"

is not an eventful life, and the conditions which surrounded it are very
circumscribed. Great men, it has been observed, have often the shortest
biographies; their real life is in their books.

At some period of his life, but how or when we do not know, Epictetus
was manumitted by his master, and was henceforward regarded by the world
as free. Probably the change made little or no difference in his life.
If it saved him from a certain amount of brutality, if it gave him more
uninterrupted leisure, it probably did not in the slightest degree
modify the hardships of his existence, and may have caused him some
little anxiety as to the means of procuring the necessaries of life. He,
of all men, would have attached the least importance to the external
conditions under which he lived; he always regarded them as falling
under the category of things which lay beyond the sphere of his own
influence, and therefore as things with which he had nothing to do. Even
in his most oppressed days, he considered himself, by the grace of
heaven, to be more free--free in a far truer and higher sense--than
thousands of those who owed allegiance to no master's will. Whether he
had saved any small sum of money, or whether his needs were supplied by
the many who loved and honoured him, we do not know. He was a man who
was content with the barest necessaries of life, and we may be sure that
he would have refused to be indebted to any one for more than these.

It is probable that he never married. This may have been due to that
shade of indifference to the female character of which we detect traces
here and there in his writings. In one passage he complains that women
seemed to think of nothing but admiration and getting married; and, in
another, he observes, almost with a sneer, that the Roman ladies were
fond of Plato's _Republic_ because he allowed some very liberal marriage
regulations. We can only infer from these passages that he had been very
unfortunate in the specimens of women with whom he had been thrown. The
Roman ladies of his time were certainly not models of character; he was
not likely to fall in with very exalted females among the slaves of
Epaphroditus or the ladies of his family, and he had probably never
known the love of a sister or a mother's care. He did not, however, go
the length of condemning marriage altogether; on the contrary, he blames
the philosophers who did so. But it is equally obvious that he approves
of celibacy as a "counsel of perfection," and indeed his views on the
subject have so close and remarkable a resemblance to those of St. Paul
that our readers will be interested in seeing them side by side.

In 1 Cor. vii. St. Paul, after speaking of the nobleness of virginity,
proceeds, nevertheless, to sanction matrimony as in itself a hallowed
and honourable estate. It was not given to all, he says, to abide even
as he was, and therefore marriage should be adopted as a sacred and
indissoluble bond. Still, without being sure that he has any divine
sanction for what he is about to say, he considers celibacy good "for
the present distress," and warns those that marry that they "shall have
trouble in the flesh." For marriage involves a direct multiplication of
the cares of the flesh: "He that is unmarried careth for the things that
belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married
careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his
wife.... And this I speak for your own profit, not that I may cast a
snare upon you, _but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend
upon the Lord without distraction_."

It is clear, then, that St. Paul regarded virginity as a "counsel of
perfection," and Epictetus uses respecting it almost identically the
same language. Marriage was perfectly permissible in his view, but it
was much better for a Cynic (i.e. for all who carried out most fully
their philosophical obligations) to remain single: "Since the condition
of things is such as it now is, as though we were on the eve of battle,
_ought not the Cynio to be entirely without distraction_" [the Greek
word being the very same as that used by St. Paul] "_for the service of
God_? ought he not to be able to move about among mankind free from the
entanglement of private relationships or domestic duties, which if he
neglect he will no longer preserve the character of a wise and good
man, and which if he observe he will lose the function of a messenger,
and sentinel, and herald of the gods?" Epictetus proceeds to point out
that if he is married he can no longer look after the spiritual
interests of all with whom he is thrown in contact, and no longer
maintain the rigid independence of all luxuries which marked the genuine
philosopher. He _must_, for instance, have a bath for his child,
provisions for his wife's ailments, and clothes for his little ones, and
money to buy them satchels and pens, and cribs and cups; and hence a
general increase of furniture, and all sorts of undignified
distractions, which Epictetus enumerates with an almost amusing
manifestation of disgust. It is true (he admits) that Crates, a
celebrated cynic, was married, but it was to a lady as self-denying as
himself, and to one who had given up wealth and friends to share
hardship and poverty with him. And, if Epictetus does not venture to say
in so many words that Crates in this matter made a mistake, he takes
pains to point out that the circumstances were far too exceptional to be
accepted as a precedent for the imitation of others.

"But," inquires the interlocutor, "how then is the world to get on?" The
question seems quite to disturb the bachelor equanimity of Epictetus; it
makes him use language of the strongest and most energetic contempt: and
it is only when he trenches on this subject that he ever seems to lose
the nobility and grace, the "sweetness and light," which are the general
characteristic of his utterances. In spite of his complete self-mastery
he was evidently a man of strong feelings, and with a natural tendency
to express them strongly. "Heaven bless us," he exclaims in reply, "are
_they_ greater benefactors of mankind who bring into the world two or
three evilly-squalling brats,[63] or those who, to the best of their
power, keep a beneficent eye on the lives, and habits, and tendencies of
all mankind? Were the Thebans who had large families more useful to
their country than the childless Epaminondas; or was Homer less useful
to mankind than Priam with his fifty good-for-nothing sons?... Why, sir,
the true cynic is a father to all men; all men are his sons and all
women his daughters; he has a bond of union, a lien of affection with
them all." (_Dissert_. iii. 22.)

[Footnote 63: [Greek: kakorrugcha paidia]. Another reading is [Greek:
kokorugcha], which M. Martha renders, "_Marmots a vilain petit museau_!"
It is evident that Epictetus did not like children, which makes his
subsequently mentioned compassion to the poor neglected child still more
creditable to him.]

The whole character of Epictetus is sufficient to prove that he would
only do what he considered _most_ desirable and most exalted; and
passages like these, the extreme asperity of which I have necessarily,
softened down, are, I think, decisive in favour of the tradition which
pronounces him to have been unmarried.

We are told that he lived in a cottage of the simplest and even meanest
description: it neither needed nor possessed a fastening of any kind,
for within it there was no furniture except a lamp and the poor straw
pallet on which he slept. About his lamp there was current in antiquity
a famous story, to which he himself alludes. As a piece of unwonted
luxury he had purchased a little iron lamp, which burned in front of the
images of his household deities. It was the only possession which he
had, and a thief stole it. "He will be finely disappointed when he comes
again," quietly observed Epictetus. "for he will only find an
earthenware lamp next time." At his death the little earthenware lamp
was bought by some genuine hero-worshipper for 3,000 drachmas. "The
purchaser hoped," says the satirical Lucian, "that if he read philosophy
at night by that lamp, he would at once acquire in dreams the wisdom of
the admirable old man who once possessed it."

But, in spite of his deep poverty, it must not be supposed that there
was anything eccentric or ostentatious in the life of Epictetus. On the
contrary, his writings abound in directions as to the proper bearing of
a philosopher in life. He warns his students that they may have ridicule
to endure. Not only did the little boys in the streets, the _gamins_ of
Rome, appear to consider a philosopher "fair game," and think it fine
fun to mimic his gestures and pull his beard, but he had to undergo the
sneers of much more dignified people. "If," says Epictetus, "you want to
know how the Romans regard philosophers, listen. Maelius, who had the
highest philosophic reputation among them, once when I was present,
happened to get into a great rage with his people, and as though he had
received an intolerable injury, exclaimed, 'I _cannot_ endure it; you
are killing me; why, you'll make me _like him_! pointing to me,"
evidently as if Epictetus were the merest insect in existence. And,
again he says in the _Manual_. "If you wish to be a philosopher, prepare
yourself to be thoroughly laughed at since many will certainly sneer and
jeer at you, and will say, 'He has come back to us as a philosopher all
of a sudden,' and 'Where in the world did he get this superciliousness?'
Now do not you be supercilious, but cling to the things which appear
best to you in such a manner as though you were conscious of having been
appointed by God to this position." Again in the little discourse _On
the Desire of Admiration_, he warns the philosopher "_not to walk as if
he had swallowed a poker_" or to care for the applause of those
multitudes whom he holds to be immersed in error. For all display, and
pretence, and hypocrisy, and Pharisaism, and boasting, and mere
fruitless book-learning he seems to have felt a genuine and profound
contempt. Recommendations to simplicity of conduct, courtesy of manner,
and moderation of language were among his practical precepts. It is
refreshing, too, to know that with the strongest and manliest good
sense, he entirely repudiated that dog-like brutality of behaviour, and
repulsive eccentricity of self-neglect, which characterised not a few of
the Cynic leaders. He expressly argues that the Cynic should be a man of
ready tact, and attractive presence; and there is something of almost
indignant energy in his words when he urges upon a pupil the plain duty
of scrupulous cleanliness. In this respect our friends the Hermits would
not quite have satisfied him, although he might possibly have pardoned
them on the plea that they abode in desert solitudes, since he bids
those who neglect the due care of their bodies to live "either in the
wilderness or alone."

Late in life Epictetus increased his establishment by taking in an old
woman as a servant. The cause of his doing so shows an almost Christian
tenderness of character. According to the hideous custom of infanticide
which prevailed in the pagan world, a man with whom Epictetus was
acquainted exposed his infant son to perish. Epictetus in pity took the
child home to save its life, and the services of a female were necessary
to supply its wants. Such kindness and self-denial were all the more
admirable because pity, like all other deep emotions, was regarded by
the Stoics in the light rather of a vice than of a virtue. In this
respect, however, both Seneca and Epictetus, and to a still greater
extent Marcus Aurelius, were gloriously false to the rigidity of the
school to which they professed to belong. We see with delight that one
of the _Discourses_ of Epictetus was _On the Tenderness and Forbearance
due to Sinners_; and he abounds in exhortations to forbearance in
judging others. In one of his _Fragments_ he tells the following
anecdote:--A person who had seen a poor ship-wrecked and almost dying
pirate took pity on him, carried him home, gave him clothes, and
furnished him with all the necessaries of life. Somebody reproached him
for doing good to the wicked--"I have honoured," he replied, "not the
man, but humanity in his person."

But one fact more is known in the life of Epictetus, Domitian, the
younger son of Vespasian, succeeded his far nobler brother the Emperor
Titus; and in the course of his reign a decree was passed which banished
all the philosophers from Italy. Epictetus was not exempted from this
unjust and absurd decree. That he bore it with equanimity may be
inferred from the approval with which he tells an anecdote about
Agrippinus, who while his cause was being tried in the Senate went on
with all his usual avocations, and on being informed on his return from
bathing that he had been condemned, quietly asked, "To death or
banishment?" "To banishment," said the messenger. "Is my property
confiscated?" "No," "Very well, then let us go as far as Aricia" (about
sixteen miles from Rome), "and dine there."

There was a certain class of philosophers whose external mark and whose
sole claim to distinction rested in the length of their beards; and when
the decree of Domitian was passed these gentleman contented themselves
with shaving. Epictetus alludes to this in his second _Discourse_,
"Come, Epictetus, shave off your beard," he imagines some one to say to
him. "If I am a philosopher I will not," he replies. "Then I will take
off your head." "By all means, if that will do you any good."

He went to Nicopolis, a town of Epirus, which had been built by Augustus
in commemoration of his victory at Actium. Whether he ever revisited
Rome is uncertain, but it is probable that he did so, for we know that
he enjoyed the friendship of several eminent philosophers and statesmen,
and was esteemed and honoured by the Emperor Hadrian himself. He is said
to have lived to a good old age, surrounded by affectionate and eager
disciples, and to have died with the same noble simplicity which had
marked his life. The date of his death is as little known as that of his
birth. It only remains to give a sketch of those thoughts which, poor
though he was, and despised, and a slave, yet made him "dear to the



It is nearly certain that Epictetus never committed any of his doctrines
to writing. Like his great exemplar. Socrates, he contented himself with
oral instruction, and the bulk of what has come down to us in his name
consists in the _Discourses_ reproduced for us by his pupil Arrian. It
was the ambition of Arrian "to be to Epictetus what Xenophon had been to
Socrates," that is, to hand down to posterity a noble and faithful
picture of the manner in which his master had lived and taught. With
this view, he wrote four books on Epictetus,--a life, which is now
unhappily lost; a book of conversation or "table talk," which is also
lost; and two books which have come down to us, viz. the _Discourses_
and the _Manual_. It is from these two invaluable books, and from a good
many isolated fragments, that we are enabled to judge what was the
practical morality of Stoicism, as expounded by the holy and
upright slave.

The _Manual_ is a kind of abstract of Epictetus's ethical principles,
which, with many additional illustrations and with more expansion, are
also explained in the _Discourses_. Both books were so popular that by
their means Arrian first came into conspicuous notice, and ultimately
attained the highest eminence and rank. The _Manual_ was to antiquity
what the _Imitatio_ of Thomas a Kempis was to later times, and what
Woodhead's _Whole Duty of Man_ or Wilberforce's _Practical View of
Christianity_ have been to large sections of modern Englishmen. It was a
clear, succinct, and practical statement of common daily duties, and the
principles upon which they rest. Expressed in a manner entirely simple
and unornate, its popularity was wholly due to the moral elevation of
the thoughts which it expressed. Epictetus did not aim at style; his one
aim was to excite his hearers to virtue, and Arrian tells us that in
this endeavour he created a deep impression by his manner and voice. It
is interesting to know that the _Manual_ was widely accepted among
Christians no less than among Pagans, and that, so late as the fifth
century, paraphrases were written of it for Christian use. No systematic
treatise of morals so simply beautiful was ever composed, and to this
day the best Christian may study it, not with interest only, but with
real advantage. It is like the voice of the Sybil, which, uttering
things simple, and unperfumed, and unadorned, by God's grace reacheth
through innumerable years. We proceed to give a short sketch of
its contents.

Epictetus began by laying down the broad comprehensive statement that
there are some things which are in our power, and depend upon ourselves;
other things which are beyond our power, and wholly independent of us.
The things which are in our power are our opinions, our aims, our
desires, our aversions--in a word, _our actions_. The things beyond our
power are bodily accidents, possessions, fame, rank, and whatever lies
_beyond_ the sphere of our actions. To the former of these classes of
things our whole attention must be confined. In that region we may be
noble, unperturbed, and free; in the other we shall be dependent,
frustrated, querulous, miserable. Both classes cannot be successfully
attended to; they are antagonistic, antipathetic; we cannot serve God
and Mammon.

Now, if we take a right view of all these things which in no way depend
on ourselves we shall regard them as mere semblances--as shadows which
are to be distinguished from the true substance. We shall not look upon
them as fit subjects for aversion or desire. Sin and cruelty, and
falsehood we may hate, because we can avoid them if we will; but we must
look upon sickness, and poverty, and death as things which are _not_ fit
subjects for our avoidance, because they lie wholly beyond our control.

This, then,--endurance of the inevitable, avoidance of the evil--is the
keynote of the Epictetean philosophy. It has been summed up in the three
words, [Greek: Anechou kai apechou], "_sustine et abstine_," "Bear and
forbear,"--bear whatever God assigns to you, abstain from that which
He forbids.

The earlier part of the _Manual_ is devoted to practical advice which
may enable men to endure nobly. For instance, "If there be anything,"
says Epictetus, "which you highly value or tenderly love, estimate at
the same time its true nature. Is it some possession? remember that it
may be destroyed. Is it wife or child? remember that they may die."
"Death," says an epitaph in Chester Cathedral--

"Death, the great monitor, comes oft to prove,
'Tis dust we dote on, when 'tis man we love."

"Desire nothing too much. If you are going to the public baths and are
annoyed or hindered by the rudeness, the pushing, the abuse, the
thievish propensities of others, do not lose your temper: remind
yourself that it is more important that you should keep your will in
harmony with nature than that you should bathe. And so with all
troubles; men suffer far less from the things themselves than from the
opinions they have of them."

"If you cannot frame your circumstances in accordance with your wishes,
frame your will into harmony with your circumstances.[64] When you lose
the best gifts of life, consider them as not lost but only resigned to
Him who gave them. You have a remedy in your own heart against all
trials--continence as a bulwark against passion, patience against
opposition, fortitude against pain. Begin with trifles: if you are
robbed, remind yourself that your peace of mind is of more value and
importance than the thing which has been stolen from you. Follow the
guidance of nature; that is the great thing; regret nothing, desire
nothing, which can disturb that end. Behave as at a banquet--take with
gratitude and in moderation what is set before you, and seek for nothing
more; a higher and diviner step will be to be ready and able to forego
even that which is given you, or which you might easily obtain.
Sympathise with others, at least externally, when they are in sorrow and
misfortune; but remember in your own heart that to the brave and wise
and true there is really no such thing as misfortune; it is but an ugly
semblance; the croak of the raven can portend no harm to such a man, he
is elevated above its power."

[Footnote 64: "When what thou willest befalls not, thou then must will
what befalleth."]

"We do not choose our own parts in life, and have nothing to do with
those parts; our simple duty is confined to playing them well. The slave
may be as free as the consul; and freedom is the chief of blessings; it
dwarfs all others; beside it all others are insignificant, with it all
others become needless, without it no others are possible. No one can
insult you if you will not regard his words or deeds as insults.[65]
Keep your eye steadily fixed on the great reality of death, and all
other things will shrink to their true proportions. As in a voyage, when
a ship has come to anchor, if you have gone out to find water, you may
amuse yourself with picking up a little shell or bulb, but you must keep
your attention steadily fixed upon the ship, in case the captain should
call, and then you must leave all such things lest you should be flung
on board, bound like sheep. So in life; if, instead of a little shell or
bulb, some wifeling or childling be granted you, well and good; but, if
the captain call, run to the ship and leave such possessions behind you,
not looking back. But if you be an old man, take care not to go a long
distance from the ship at all, lest you should be called and come too
late." The metaphor is a significant one, and perhaps the following
lines of Sir Walter Scott, prefixed anonymously to one of the chapters
of the Waverley Novels, may help to throw light upon it:

"Death finds us 'midst our playthings; snatches us,
As a cross nurse might do a wayward child,
From all our toys and baubles--the rough call
Unlooses all our favourite ties on earth:
And well if they are such as may be answered
In yonder world, where all is judged of truly."

[Footnote 65: Compare Cowper's _Conversation_:--
"Am I to set my life upon a throw
Because a bear is rude and surly?--No.--
A modest, sensible, and well-bred man
Will not insult me, and _no other can_."]

"Preserve your just relations to other men; their misconduct does not
affect your duties. Has your father done wrong, or your brother been
unjust? Still he _is_ your father, he _is_ your brother; and you must
consider your relation to him, not whether he be worthy of it or no.

"Your duty towards the gods is to form just and true opinions respecting
them. Believe that they do all things well, and then you need never
murmur or complain."

"As rules of practice," says Epictetus, "prescribe to yourself an ideal,
and then act up to it. Be mostly silent; or, if you converse, do not let
it be about vulgar and insignificant topics, such as dogs, horses,
racing, or prize-fighting. Avoid foolish and immoderate laughter, vulgar
entertainments, impurity, display, spectacles, recitations, and all
egotistical remarks. Set before you the examples of the great and good.
Do not be dazzled by mere appearances. Do what is right quite
irrespective of what people will say or think. Remember that your body
is a very small matter and needs but very little; just as all that the
foot needs is a shoe, and not a dazzling ornament of gold, purple, or
jewelled embroidery. To spend all one's time on the body, or on bodily
exercises, shows a weak intellect. Do not be fond of criticising others,
and do not resent their criticisms of you. Everything," he says, and
this is one of his most characteristic precepts, "has two handles! one
by which it may be borne, the other by which it cannot. If your brother
be unjust, do not take up the matter by that handle--the handle of his
injustice--for that handle is the one by which it cannot be taken up;
but rather by the handle that he is your brother and brought up with
you; and then you will be taking it up as it can be borne."

All these precepts have a general application, but Epictetus adds
others on the right bearing of a philosopher; that is, of one whose
professed ideal is higher than the multitude. He bids him above all
things not to be censorious, and not to be ostentatious. "Feed on your
own principles; do not throw them up to show how much you have eaten. Be
self-denying, but do not boast of it. Be independent and moderate, and
regard not the opinion or censure of others, but keep a watch upon
yourself as your own most dangerous enemy. Do not plume yourself on an
_intellectual_ knowledge of philosophy, which is in itself quite
valueless, but on a consistent nobleness of action. Never relax your
efforts, but aim at perfection. Let everything which seems best be to
you a law not to be transgressed; and whenever anything painful, or
pleasurable, or glorious, or inglorious, is set before you, remember
that now is the struggle, now is the hour of the Olympian contest, and
it may not be put off, and that by a single defeat or yielding your
advance in virtue may be either secured or lost. It was thus that
Socrates attained perfection, by giving his heart to reason, and to
reason only. And thou, even if as yet thou art not a Socrates, yet
shouldst live as though it were thy wish to be one." These are noble
words, but who that reads them will not be reminded of those sacred and
far more deeply-reaching words, "_Be ye perfect, even as your Father
which is in heaven is perfect" Behold, now is the accepted time; behold,
now is the day of salvation_.

In this brief sketch we have included all the most important thoughts in
the _Manual_. It ends in these words. "On all occasions we may keep in
mind these three sentiments:--"

'Lead me, O Zeus, and thou, Destiny, whithersoever ye have appointed me
to go, for I will follow, and that without delay. Should I be
unwilling, I shall follow as a coward, but I must follow all the same.'

'Whosoever hath nobly yielded to necessity, I hold him wise, and he
knoweth the things of God.' (Euripides.)

And this third one also, 'O Crito, be it so, if so be the will of
heaven. Anytus and Melitus can indeed slay me, but harm me they cannot.'

To this last conception of life; quoted from the end of Plato's
_Apology_, Epictetus recurs elsewhere: "What resources have we," he
asks, "in circumstances of great peril? What other than the remembrance
of what is or what is not in our own power; what is possible to us and
what is not? I must die. Be it so; but need I die groaning? I must be
bound; but must I be bound bewailing? I must be driven into exile, well,
who prevent me then from going with laughter, and cheerfulness, and
calm of mind?

"'Betray secrets.'

"'Indeed I will not, for _that_ rests in my own hands.'

"'Then I will put you in chains.'

"'My good sir, what are you talking about? Put _me_ in chains? No, no!
you may put my leg in chains, but not even Zeus himself can master
my will.'

"'I will throw you into prison.'

"'My poor little body; yes, no doubt.'

"'I will cut off your head.'

"'Well did I ever tell you that my head was the only one which could not
be cut off?'

"Such are the things of which philosophers should think, and write them
daily, and exercise themselves therein."

There are many other passages in which Epictetus shows that the
free-will of man is his noblest privilege, and that we should not "sell
it for a trifle;" or, as Scripture still more sternly expresses it,
should not "sell ourselves for nought." He relates, for instance, the
complete failure of the Emperor Vespasian to induce Helvidius Priscus
not to go to the Senate. "While I am a Senator," said Helvidius, "I
_must_ go." "Well, then, at least be silent there." "Ask me no
questions, and I will be silent." "But I _must_ ask your opinion." "And
_I_ must say what is right." "But I will put you to death." "Did I ever
tell you I was immortal? Do _your_ part, and _I_ will do _mine_. It is
yours to kill me, mine to die untrembling; yours to banish me, mine to
go into banishment without grief."

We see from these remarkable extracts that the wisest of the heathen
had, by God's grace, attained to the sense that life was subject to a
divine guidance. Yet how dim was their vision of this truth, how
insecure their hold upon it, in comparison with that which the meanest
Christian may attain! They never definitely grasped the doctrine of
immortality. They never quite got rid of a haunting dread that perhaps,
after all, they might be nothing better than insignificant and unheeded
atoms, swept hither and thither in the mighty eddies of an unseen,
impersonal, mysterious agency, and destined hereafter "to be sealed amid
the iron hills," or

"To be imprisoned in the viewless winds.
And blown with reckless violence about
The pendent world."

Their belief in a personal deity was confused with their belief in
nature, which, in the language of a modern sceptic, "acts with fearful
uniformity: stern as fate, absolute as tyranny, merciless as death; too
vast to praise, too inexorable to propitiate, it has no ear for prayer,
no heart for sympathy, no arm to save." How different the soothing and
tender certainty of the Christian's hope, for whom Christ has brought
life and immortality to light! For "chance" is not only "the daughter of
forethought," as the old Greek lyric poet calls her, but the daughter
also of love. How different the prayer of David, even in the hours of
his worst agony and shame, "_Let Thy loving Spirit lead me forth into
the land of righteousness_." Guidance, and guidance by the hand of love,
was--as even in that dark season he recognised--the very law of his
life; and his soul, purged by affliction, had but a single wish--the
wish to be led, not into prosperity, not into a recovery of his lost
glory, not even into the restoration of his lost innocence; but
only,--through paths however hard--only into the land of righteousness.
And because he knew that God would lead him thitherward, he had no wish,
no care for anything beyond. We will end this chapter by translating a
few of the isolated fragments of Epictetus which have been preserved for
us by other writers. The wisdom and beauty of these fragments will
interest the reader, for Epictetus was one of the few "in the very dust
of whose thoughts was gold."

* * * * *

"A life entangled with accident is like a wintry torrent, for it is
turbulent, and foul with mud, and impassable, and tyrannous, and loud,
and brief."

"A soul that dwells with virtue is like a perennial spring; for it is
pure, and limpid, and refreshful, and inviting, and serviceable, and
rich, and innocent, and uninjurious."

* * * * *

"If you wish to be good? first believe that you are bad."

Compare Matt. ix. 12, "They that be whole need not a physician, but
they that are sick;" John ix. 41, "Now ye say, We see, therefore your
sin remaineth;" and 1 John i. 8, "If we say that we have no sin, we
deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

* * * * *

"It is base for one who sweetens that which he drinks with the gifts of
bees, to embitter by vice his reason, which is the gift of God."

* * * * *

"Nothing is meaner than the love of pleasure, the love of gain, and
insolence: nothing nobler than high-mindedness, and gentleness, and
philanthropy, and doing good."

* * * * *

"The vine bears three clusters: the first of pleasure; the second of
drunkenness; the third of insult."

"He is a drunkard who drinks more than three cups; even if he be not
drunken, he has exceeded moderation."

Our own George Herbert has laid down the same limit:--

"Be not a beast in courtesy, but stay,
_Stay at the third cup, or forego the place_,
Wine above all things doth God's stamp deface."

* * * * *

"Like the beacon-lights in harbours, which, kindling a great blaze by
means of a few fagots, afford sufficient aid to vessels that wander over
the sea, so, also, a man of bright character in a storm-tossed city,
himself content with little, effects great blessings for his

The thought is not unlike that of Shakespeare:

"How far yon little candle throws its beams,
So shines a good deed in a naughty world."

But the metaphor which Epictetus more commonly adopts is one no less
beautiful. "What good," asked some one, "did Helvidius Priscus do in
resisting Vespasian, being but a single person?" "What good," answers
Epictetus, "does the purple do on the garment? Why, _it is splendid in
itself, and splendid also in the example which it affords_."

* * * * *

"As the sun does not wait for prayers and incantations that he may rise,
but shines at once, and is greeted by all; so neither wait thou for
applause, and shouts, and eulogies, that thou mayst do well;--but be a
spontaneous benefactor, and thou shalt be beloved like the sun."

* * * * *

"Thales, when asked what was the commonest of all possessions, answered,
'Hope; for even those who have nothing else have hope.'"

"Lead, lead me on, my hopes," says Mr. Macdonald; "I know that ye are
true and not vain. Vanish from my eyes day after day, but arise in new
forms. I will follow your holy deception; follow till ye have brought me
to the feet of my Father in heaven, where I shall find you all, with
folded wings, spangling the sapphire dusk whereon stands His throne
which is our home.

"What ought not to be done do not even think of doing."


"_Guard well your thoughts for thoughts are heard in heaven_.'"

* * * * *

Epictetus, when asked how a man could grieve his enemy, replied, "By
preparing himself to act in the noblest way."

Compare Rom. xii. 20, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst,
give him drink: _for in so doing thou shall heap coals of fire on
his head_"

* * * * *

"If you always remember that in all you do in soul or body God stands by
as a witness, in all your prayers and your actions you will not err; and
you shall have God dwelling with you."

Compare Rev. iii. 30, "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man
hear my voice, and open the door, _I will come in to him and will sup
with him, and he with me."_

In the discourse written to prove that God keeps watch upon human
actions, Epictetus touches again on the same topic, saying that God has
placed beside each one of us his own guardian spirit--a spirit that
sleeps not and cannot be beguiled--and has handed us each over to that
spirit to protect us. "And to what better or more careful guardian could
He have entrusted us? So that when you have closed your doors and made
darkness within, _remember never to say that you are alone_. For you are
not alone. God, too, is present there, and your guardian spirit; and
what need have _they_ of light to see what you are doing."

There is in this passage an almost startling coincidence of thought with
those eloquent words in the Book of Ecclesiasticus: "A man that breaketh
wedlock, saying thus in his heart, Who seeth me? _I am compassed about
with darkness, the walls cover me, and nobody seeth me_: what need I to
fear? the Most Highest will not remember my sins: _such a man only
feareth the eyes of man_, and knoweth not that the eyes of the Lord are
ten thousand times brighter than the sun, beholding all the ways of men,
and considering the most secret parts. He knew all things ere ever they
were created: so also after they were perfected He looked upon all. This
man shall be punished in the streets of the city, and where he expecteth
not he shall be taken." (Ecclus. xxiii. 11-21.)

"When we were children, our parents entrusted us to a tutor who kept a
continual watch that we might not suffer harm; but, when we grow to
manhood, God hands us over to an inborn conscience to guard us. We must,
therefore, by no means despise this guardianship, since in that case we
shall both be displeasing to God and enemies to our own conscience."

Beautiful and remarkable as these fragments are we have no space for
more, and must conclude by comparing the last with the celebrated lines
of George Herbert:--

"Lord! with what care hast Thou begirt us round;
_Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws. They send us bound
To rules of reason_. Holy messengers;
Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogging sin;
Afflictions sorted; anguish of all sizes;
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in!
Bibles laid open; millions of surprises;
Blessings beforehand; ties of gratefulness;
The sound of glory ringing in our ears;
Without one shame; _within our consciences_;
Angels and grace; eternal hopes and fears!
Yet all these fences and their whole array,
One cunning bosom sin blows quite away."



The _Discourses_ of Epictetus, as originally published by Arrian,
contained eight books, of which only four have come down to us. They are
in many respects the most valuable expression of his views. There is
something slightly repellent in the stern concision, the "imperious
brevity," of the _Manual_. In the _Manual_, says M. Martha,[66] "the
reason of the Stoic proclaims its laws with an impassibility which is
little human; it imposes silence on all the passions, even the most
respectable; it glories in waging against them an internecine war, and
seems even to wish to repress the most legitimate impulses of generous
sensibility. In reading these rigorous maxims one might be tempted to
believe that this legislator of morality is a man without a heart, and,
if we were not touched by the original sincerity of the language, one
would only see in this lapidary style the conventional precepts of a
chimerical system or the aspirations of an impossible perfection." The
_Discourses_ are more illustrative, more argumentative, more diffuse,
more human. In reading them one feels oneself face to face with a human
being, not with the marble statue of the ideal wise man. The style,
indeed, is simple, but its "athletic nudity" is well suited to this
militant morality; its picturesque and incisive character, its vigorous
metaphors, its vulgar expressions, its absence of all conventional
elegance, display a certain "plebeian originality" which gives them an
almost autobiographic charm. With trenchant logic and intrepid
conviction "he wrestles with the passions, questions them, makes them
answer, and confounds them in a few words which are often sublime. This
Socrates without grace does not amuse us by making his adversary fall
into the long entanglement of a captious dialogue, but he rudely seizes
and often finishes him with two blows. It is like the eloquence of
Phocion, which Demosthenes compares to an axe which is lifted
and falls."

[Footnote 66: Moralistes sous l'Empire, p. 200.]

Epictetus, like Seneca, is a preacher; a preacher with less wealth of
genius, less eloquence of expression, less width of culture, but with
far more bravery, clearness, consistency, and grasp of his subject. His
doctrine and his life were singularly homogeneous, and his views admit
of brief expression, for they are not weakened by any fluctuations, or
chequered with any lights and shades. The _Discourses_ differ from the
_Manual_ only in their manner, their frequent anecdotes, their pointed
illustrations, and their vivid interlocutory form. The remark of Pascal,
that Epictetus knew the grandeur of the human heart, but did not know
its weakness, applies to the _Manual_ but can hardly be maintained when
we judge him by some of the answers which he gave to those who came to
seek for his consolation or advice.

The _Discourses_ are not systematic in their character, and, even if
they were, the loss of the last four books would prevent us from working
out their system with any completeness. Our sketch of the _Manual_ will
already have put the reader in possession of the main principles and
ideas of Epictetus; with the mental and physical philosophy of the
schools he did not in any way concern himself; it was his aim to be a
moral preacher, to ennoble the lives of men and touch their hearts. He
neither plagiarised nor invented, but he gave to Stoicism a practical
reality. All that remains for us to do is to choose from the
_Discourses_ some of his most characteristic views, and the modes by
which he brought them home to his hearers.

It was one of the most essential peculiarities of Stoicism to aim at
absolute independence, or _self_-independence. Now, as the weaknesses
and servilities of men arise most frequently from their desire for
superfluities, the true man must absolutely get rid of any such desire.
He must increase his wealth by moderating his wishes; he must despise
_all_ the luxuries for which men long, and he must greatly diminish the
number of supposed necessaries. We have already seen some of the
arguments which point in this direction, and we may add another from the
third book of _Discourses_.

A certain magnificent orator, who was going to Rome on a lawsuit, had
called on Epictetus. The philosopher threw cold water on his visit,
because he did not believe in his sincerity. "You will get no more from
me," he said, "than you would get from any cobbler or greengrocer, for
you have only come because it happened to be convenient, and you will
only criticise my style, not really wishing to learn _principles_"
"Well, but," answered the orator, "if I attend to that sort of thing, I
shall be a mere pauper like you, with no plate, or equipage, or land."
"I don't _want_ such things," replied Epictetus; "and, besides, you are
poorer than I am, after all." "Why, how so?" "You have no constancy, no
unanimity with nature, no freedom from perturbations. Patron or no
patron, what care I? You _do_ care. I am richer than you. _I_ don't care
what Caesar thinks of me. _I_ flatter no one. This is what I have
instead of your silver and gold plate. You have _silver_ vessels, but
_earthenware_ reasons, principles, appetites. My mind to me a kingdom
is, and it furnishes me abundant and happy occupation in lieu of your
restless idleness. All your possessions seem small to you, mine seem
great to me. Your desire is insatiate, mine is satisfied." The
comparison with which he ends the discussion is very remarkable. I once
had the privilege of hearing Sir William Hooker explain to the late
Queen Adelaide the contents of the Kew Museum. Among them was a
cocoa-nut with a hole in it, and Sir William explained to the Queen that


Back to Full Books