commentary on epictetus 38

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commentary on epictetus 38

Text of commentary on epictetus 38

Commentary on Epictetus' Enchiridion (Chapter 38) by Simplicius (c. early sixth century) Chapter. XXXVIII. Take notice, that the principal and most important duty in religion is to possess your mind with just and becoming notions of the gods; to believe that there are such supreme beings, and that they govern and dispose all the affairs of the world with a just and good providence. And, in agreement to such a persuasion, to dispose yourself for a ready and reverential obedience, and a perfect acquiescence in all their dispensations: and this submission is to be the effect of choice, and not constraint; as considering, that all events are ordered by a most wise and excellent mind: for this is the only principle, which can secure you from a querulous temper, and prevent all the impious murmurings of men, who imagine themselves neglected, and their merits overlooked by a partial deity. Now for attaining to the good disposition I have been describing, there is but one possible method; viz. To disregard the things of the world, and be fully satisfied, that there is no happiness or misery in any other thing, but what nature hath put within your own power and choice. For, so long as you suppose any external enjoyments capable of making you happy, or the want of them, miserable, you must unavoidably blame the disposer of them, as oft as you meet with any disappointment in your hopes, or fall into any calamity you fear. This is a principle fixed in all creatures by nature, and nothing can change or remove it, to run away from all that seems hurtful and destructive, and to have an aversion for the causes of these things to us. So is it likewise, to pursue and court the contrary, and love and admire the persons we owe our good to: nor can a man take pleasure in the supposed author of mischief, any more than in the mischief itself. Hence it is, that sons complain of their fathers, and reproach them for not letting them into a greater share of their estates, in which they place their happiness. Hence Polynices and Eteocles engaged in that unnatural war, because they placed their happiness in a crown. Hence the husbandman cries out against God, when the season is unkind; and the merchant repines at storms, and losses at sea; and masters of families, at the death of their beloved wives and children. Now no man can have religion, without mixing some prospect of advantage with it; nor can we heartily serve and adore a Being, of whose justice and kindness we have no a good opinion. So that, by making it our business to regulate our desires and our aversions, and direct them to worthy and proper objects; we do at the same time most effectually secure

our piety. It is necessary also, that you should offer sacrifices, and conform to the custom of your country in the exercise of religion; and that all things of this kind be performed with sincerity and devotion; and not slovenly and carelessly, but with a decent application and respect; and that your offerings be, according to your ability, so tempered, as neither to betray an unwillingness or sordid grudging in one extreme, nor to run out into the other of profuseness and ostentation. Comment. After the duties expected from us to our equals, that is, of men to one another; he proceeds now to instruct us, what we owe to our superiors; viz. Those of a nature more excellent than our own. And in all disquisitions of this kind, it is a very convenient method, to begin with those things that are nearest and most familiar to us, and so by degrees ascend to those above, and at a greater distance from us. Now these duties are likewise discovered, by taking a just view of the relation between the gods and us; and that is such a one, as effects bear to their highest and first cause. If then they are to be considered under this notion; it is evident, that they stand not in any need of our services, nor can we add to their happiness or perfection. Our duties consequently, and the intent of them, are only such, as may express our subjection, and procure us a more free access and intercourse with them: for this is the only method of keeping up the relation to the first and highest causes. The instances of this subjection due from us, are honor and reverence, and adoration, a voluntary submission to all they do, and a perfect acquiescence in all events ordered by them; as being fully satisfied, that they are the appointments of absolute wisdom and infinite goodness. These are such qualifications, as we must attain to, by rectifying the ideas of our minds, and reforming the errors of our lives. The ideas of our minds must be rectified, by entertaining no thoughts of the gods, but what are worthy of them, and becoming us: as, that they are the first cause of all things: that they dispose of all events, and concern themselves in the government of the world; and that all their government, and all their disposals, are wise, and just, and good. For if a man be of the opinion, that there is no God; or if he allows his existence, but denies his providence; or if he allow both of these, but thinks that God, and that providence, defective in his counsels, or unjust in his distributions; such a one can never pay him true honor and hearty adoration, or submit with a resigned and contented spirit, to the various accidents of human life, as if all were ordered for the best.

Again; it is likewise necessary, that the life and conversation of men be so disposed, as to express this persuasion of a wise and good providence by not flying out into peevish murmurings and complaints, or thinking that Almighty God hath done us wrong in any of his dispensations. But this is a temper we can never attain to, so long as we expect happiness, and dread misery, from anything but ourselves. The management of our own will must be our only care; and all our desires and aversions restrained to the objects of choice; and then we need never be disappointed in our hopes, nor surprised by our fears. But this must needs happen to all who place their happiness and misery, in the enjoyment, or the want, of any external advantages; and such disappointments and surprises will necessarily carry them to a detestation of that, which they look upon as the cause of such misfortunes: and they will very hardly refrain from speaking ill of that power, which might have prevented their misery, but took no care to do it. For every creature naturally desires good, and abhors evil; and therefore not only the things themselves, but the causes of them, are shunned and hated, courted and admired, in proportion as they really are, or as we apprehend them to be, good or evil. There is no such thing in nature, nor can there be, as that a man should take delight in, and bear a true affection to, the person, whom he looks upon to have done him some real injury or hurt, any more than he can be fond of that hurt or injury itself. And since all good naturally attracts love and desire, and all evil provokes aversion, we must needs be affected alike, both to the things themselves, and the causes of them to us. Nay though we be mistaken in our notions of good and evil, yet that we shall proceed according to our apprehensions of these things, as if they we really so, and cannot restrain ourselves from hating and reviling the authors of our calamity, or the deceivers of our hope, he proves from hence; that the strictest ties of nature, and duty, and affection, are generally found to feeble engagements, to keep men in temper, or moderate their resentments. Thus we see greedy and impatient children perpetually railing at their fathers, for keeping them out of their estates, which they account their good; or for inflicting some severities upon them which they think evil; as when they chastise their follies, or deny them their liberty. Thus the two sons of Oedipus, Polynices and Eteocles, forgetting that they were brothers, quarreled, and killed one another, for the crown in which they were rivals. Thus the farmer, when his seedtime or his harvest happens ill; if it rains too much, or too little, or if any other cross accident comes to his crop, presently rails and murmurs against the gods: or if he has the modesty to hold his tongue, yet he

is sure to fret and curse inwardly. Thus mariners, when they want a fair wind; even though they are bound to different ports, and must sail with different winds, one perhaps wished for a northern, another for a southerly gale, and the same cannot serve or please them all; yet they swear and rant at providence, as if it were obliged to take care of them only, and neglect all those, whose business requires, it should blow in the quarter where it does. So likewise merchants are never content. When they are to buy, they would have great plenty, and a low market; but when it is their turn to sell, then they wish for scarcity, and a rising price: and if either of these happen otherwise, they grow discontented, and accuse providence. And in general, when men bury their wives, or children, or have something very dear taken from them, or fall into some disaster they feared, they grow angry at the Disposer of these events. For we are naturally inclined to honor and respect the persons who oblige and gratify us; and, as nothing excites these resentments in us so soon, or so powerfully, as our own advantage; so nothing gives such an effectual disgust, and so irreconcilable a disrespect, as the apprehension, that any person hath contributed to our loss and disadvantage. A man therefore in taking care to fix his desires and his aversions upon the right objects,

are always answered, his fears always vanish into nothing; because he neither hopes nor fears anything out of his own power; he is consequently always pleased, and under no temptations to accuse providence, for anything that can possibly happen to him. But the man that gives his desires a loose, and expects his fate from external accidents, is a