We will be referring to this text for our meeting on June 24, 2023. Please review it and be prepared to discuss how to apply it to your life. Enjoy. 

Saturday June 24, 2023
Time: 17:00
Central Cafe, Caldas da Rainha




Of the things which are, and the things which are not in our own power.

From Tufts University, Discourses 1.1.

Translated by Thomas Wentworth Higginson


Of human faculties in general, you will find that each is unable to contemplate itself, and therefore to approve or disapprove itself. How far does the proper sphere of grammar extend? As far as the judging of language. Of music? As far as the judging of melody. Does either of them contemplate itself, then? By no means.

Thus, for instance, when you are to write to your friend, grammar will tell you what to write; but whether you are to write to your friend at all, or no, grammar will not tell you. Thus music, with regard to tunes; but whether it be proper or improper, at any particular time, to sing or play, music will not tell you. [p. 1004] What will tell, then?

That faculty which contemplates both itself and all other things.

And what is that?

The Reasoning Faculty; for that alone is found able to place an estimate upon itself, – what it is, what are its powers, what its value and likewise all the rest. For what is it else that says, gold is beautiful? since the gold itself does not speak. Evidently, that faculty which judges of the appearances of things.1 What else distinguishes music, grammar, the other faculties, proves their uses, and shows their proper occasions?

Nothing but this.

As it was fit, then, this most excellent and superior faculty alone, a right use of the appearances of things, the gods have placed in our own power; but all other matters they have not placed in our power. What, was it because they would not? I rather think that, if they could, they had granted us these too; but they [p. 1005] certainly could not. For, placed upon earth, and confined to such a body and to such companions, how was it possible that, in these respects, we should not be hindered by things outside of us?

But what says Zeus? ” O Epictetus, if it had been possible, I had made this little body and property of thine free, and not liable to hindrance. But now do not mistake; it is not thy own, but only a finer mixture of clay. Since, then, I could not give thee this, I have given thee a certain portion of myself; this faculty of exerting the powers of pursuit and avoidance, of desire and aversion, and, in a word, the use of the appearances of things. Taking care of this point, and making what is thy own to consist in this, thou wilt never be restrained, never be hindered; thou wilt not groan, wilt not complain, wilt not flatter any one. How, then? Do all these advantages seem small to thee? Heaven forbid! Let them suffice thee, then, and thank the gods.”

But now, when it is in our power to take care of one thing, and to apply ourselves to one, we choose rather to take care of many, and to encumber ourselves with many, – body, property, brother, friend, child, and slave, – and, by this multiplicity of encumbrances, we are burdened and weighed down. Thus, when the weather does not happen to be fair for sailing, we sit in distress and gaze out perpetually. Which way is the wind? North. What good will that do us? When will the west blow? When it pleases [p. 1006] friend, or when Aeolus pleases; for Zeus has not made you dispenser of the winds, but Aeolus.

What, then, is to be done?

To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it occurs.

And how does it occur?

As it pleases God.

What, then, must I be the only one to lose my head?

Why, would you have all the world, then, lose their heads for your consolation? Why are not you willing to stretch out your neck, like Lateranus,2 when he was commanded by Nero to be beheaded? For, shrinking a little -after receiving a weak blow, he stretched it out again. And before this, when Epaphroditus,3 the freedman of Nero, interrogated him about the conspiracy, ” If I have a mind to say anything,” replied he, ” I will tell it to your master.”

What resource have we, then, upon such occasions? Why, what else but to distinguish between what is [p. 1007] ours, and what not ours, – what is right, and what is wrong? I must die, and must I die groaning too? I must be fettered; must I be lamenting too? I must be exiled; and what hinders me, then, but that I may go smiling, and cheerful, and serene? “Betray a secret.” I will not betray it, for this is in my own power. “Then I will fetter you.” What do you say, man? Fetter me? You will fetter my leg, but not Zeus himself can get the better of my free will. ” I will throw you into prison; I will behead that paltry body of yours.” Did I ever tell you that I alone had a head not liable to be cut off? These things ought philosophers to study; these ought they daily to write, and in these to exercise themselves.

Thraseas4 used to say, ” I had rather be killed today than banished to-morrow.” But how did Rufus5 answer him? ” If you prefer it as a heavier misfortune, how foolish a preference ! If as a lighter, who has put it in your power? Why do you not study to be contented with what is allotted you?” [p. 1008]

Well, and what said Agrippinus 6 upon this account? “I will not be a hindrance to myself.” Word was brought him, ” Your cause is pending in the senate.” “Good luck attend it; but it is eleven o’clock ” (the hour when he used to exercise before bathing),- ” let us go to our exercise.” This being over, a messenger tells him, ” You are condemned.” ” To banishment,” says he, ” or to death? ” ” To banishment.” “What of my estate? ” ” It is not taken away.” Well, then, let us go as far as Aricia,7 and dine there.”

This it is to have studied what ought to be studied; to have placed our desires and aversions above tyranny and above chance. I must die, -if instantly, I will die instantly; if in a short time, I will dine first, and when the hour comes, then will I die. How? As becomes one who restores what is not his own. [p. 1009]


1 The word (φαντασία) here translated ” the appearances of things,” will sometime- be found rendered, in other passages, “the phenomena of existence,” and sometimes ” things as they appear.” It was a favorite word with the Stoics, and can be adequately translated by no single English word, or even phrase, – implying as it does not merely the uncertainty of all impressions, but the unimportance of the emotions they involved. Fortunately for translators, Epictetus cared very little for metaphysical subtilties, and very much for his few and simple ethical principles; so that it is rarely difficult to make his meaning clear. – H.

2 Plautius Lateranus, a consul elect, was put to death by the command of Nero, for being privy to the conspiracy of Piso. His execution was so sudden that he was not permitted to take leave of his wife and children, but was hurried into a place appropriated to the punishment of slaves, and there killed by the hand of the tribune Statius. He suffered in obstinate silence, and without making any reproach to Statius, who was concerned in the same plot for which he himself was punished. Tacitus, Ann. 15.60.- C.

3 Epaphroditus was the master of requests and freedman of Nero, and the master of Epictetus. He assisted Nero in killing himself, for which he was condemned to death by Domitian Suetonius in Vita Neronis, 49; Domit. c. 14.-C.

4 Thraseas Pastus, a Stoic philosopher put to death by Nero. Hie was husband of Arria, so well known by that beautiful epigram in Martial. The expression of Tacitus concerning him is remarkable: “After the murder of so many excellent persons, Nero at last formed a desire of cutting off virtue itself, by the execution of Thraseas Paetus and Bareas Soranus.” Ann. 16.21.– C.

5 Rufus was a Tuscan, of the equestrian order, and a Stoic philosopher. When Vespasian banished the other philosophers, Rufus was alone excepted. – C.

6 “Agrippinus was banished by Nero, for no other crime than the unfortunate death of his father, who had been causelessly killed by the command of Tiberius; and this had furnished a pretence for accusing him of hereditary disloyalty.” Tacitus, Ann. 10.1 c. 28, 29. – C.

7 Aricia, a town about sixteen miles from Rome, the first stage in his road to banishment. – C.