Selections from The Enchiridion
Translated by Elizabeth Carter
1. Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
The things in our control are by nature
unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak,
restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose
things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs
to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you
will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But
if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what
to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or
you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You
do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no
and you not be harmed.
Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, "You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be." And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.
2. Remember that following desire promises
the attainment of that of which you are desirous; and aversion promises
the avoiding that to which you are averse. However, he who fails to
the object of his desire is disappointed, and he who incurs the object
of his aversion wretched. If, then, you confine your aversion to those
objects only which are contrary to the natural use of your faculties,
you have in your own control, you will never incur anything to which
are averse. But if you are averse to sickness, or death, or poverty,
will be wretched. Remove aversion, then, from all things that are not
our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what
in our control. But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if
you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you
necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it would
be laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the
appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly,
with gentleness and reservation.
5. Men are disturbed, not by things, but by
the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death,
instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates.
But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible.
therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never
it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An
person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others. Someone
just starting instruction will lay the fault on himself. Some who is
instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself.
8. Don't demand that things happen as you
but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.
11. Never say of anything, "I have lost
but, "I have returned it." Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your
wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not
that likewise returned? "But he who took it away is a bad man." What
is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it
you to possess, take care of it; but don't view it as your own, just as
travelers view a hotel.
13. If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things. Don't wish to be thought to know anything; and even if you appear to be somebody important to others, distrust yourself. For, it is difficult to both keep your faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature, and at the same time acquire external things. But while you are careful about the one, you must of necessity neglect the other.
14. If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are a fool; for you wish vice not to be vice, but something else. But, if you wish to have your desires undisappointed, this is in your own control. Exercise, therefore, what is in your control. He is the master of every other person who is able to confer or remove whatever that person wishes either to have or to avoid. Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing, let him decline nothing, which depends on others else he must necessarily be a slave.
15. Remember that you must behave in life
at a dinner party. Is anything brought around to you? Put out your hand
and take your share with moderation. Does it pass by you? Don't stop
Is it not yet come? Don't stretch your desire towards it, but wait till
it reaches you. Do this with regard to children, to a wife, to public
to riches, and you will eventually be a worthy partner of the feasts of
the gods. And if you don't even take the things which are set before
but are able even to reject them, then you will not only be a partner
the feasts of the gods, but also of their empire. For, by doing this,
Heraclitus and others like them, deservedly became, and were called,
22. If you have an earnest desire of attaining to philosophy,
yourself from the very first to be laughed at, to be sneered by the
to hear them say,." He is returned to us a philosopher all at once,"
" Whence this supercilious [high-brow] look?" Now, for your part, don't
have a supercilious look indeed; but keep steadily to those things
appear best to you as one appointed by God to this station. For
that, if you adhere to the same point, those very persons who at first
ridiculed will afterwards admire you. But if you are conquered by them,
you will incur a double ridicule.
30. Duties are universally measured by
Is anyone a father? If so, it is implied that the children should take
care of him, submit to him in everything, patiently listen to his
his correction. But he is a bad father. Are you naturally entitled,
to a good father? No, only to a father. Is a brother unjust? Well, keep
your own situation towards him. Consider not what he does, but what you
to do to keep your own faculty of choice in a state conformable to
For another will not hurt you unless you please. You will then be hurt
when you think you are hurt. In this manner, therefore, you will find,
from the idea of a neighbor, a citizen, a general, the corresponding
if you accustom yourself to contemplate the several relations.
Be for the most part silent, or speak merely what is necessary, and in few words. We may, however, enter, though sparingly, into discourse sometimes when occasion calls for it, but not on any of the common subjects, of gladiators, or horse races, or athletic champions, or feasts, the vulgar topics of conversation; but principally not of men, so as either to blame, or praise, or make comparisons. If you are able, then, by your own conversation bring over that of your company to proper subjects; but, if you happen to be taken among strangers, be silent.
Don't allow your laughter be much, nor on many occasions, nor profuse.
Avoid swearing, if possible, altogether; if not, as far as you are able.
Avoid public and vulgar entertainments; but, if ever an occasion calls you to them, keep your attention upon the stretch, that you may not imperceptibly slide into vulgar manners. For be assured that if a person be ever so sound himself, yet, if his companion be infected, he who converses with him will be infected likewise.
Provide things relating to the body no further than mere use; as meat, drink, clothing, house, family. But strike off and reject everything relating to show and delicacy.
As far as possible, before marriage, keep yourself pure from familiarities with women, and, if you indulge them, let it be lawfully. But don't therefore be troublesome and full of reproofs to those who use these liberties, nor frequently boast that you yourself don't.
If anyone tells you that such a person
ill of you, don't make excuses about what is said of you, but answer:
does not know my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only
41. It is a mark of want of genius to spend much time in things relating to the body, as to be long in our exercises, in eating and drinking, and in the discharge of other animal functions. These should be done incidentally and slightly, and our whole attention be engaged in the care of the understanding.
42. When any person harms you, or speaks
of you, remember that he acts or speaks from a supposition of its being
his duty. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears
to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he judges from a
wrong appearance, he is the person hurt, since he too is the person
For if anyone should suppose a true proposition to be false, the
is not hurt, but he who is deceived about it. Setting out, then, from
principles, you will meekly bear a person who reviles you, for you will
say upon every occasion, "It seemed so to him."
44. These reasonings are unconnected: "I am richer than you, therefore I am better"; "I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better." The connection is rather this: "I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours." But you, after all, are neither property nor style.
45. Does anyone bathe in a mighty little
Don't say that he does it ill, but in a mighty little time. Does anyone
drink a great quantity of wine? Don't say that he does ill, but that he
drinks a great quantity. For, unless you perfectly understand the
from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill? Thus you
not run the hazard of assenting to any appearances but such as you
48. The condition and characteristic of a vulgar person, is, that he never expects either benefit or hurt from himself, but from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is, that he expects all hurt and benefit from himself. The marks of a proficient are, that he censures no one, praises no one, blames no one, accuses no one, says nothing concerning himself as being anybody, or knowing anything: when he is, in any instance, hindered or restrained, he accuses himself; and, if he is praised, he secretly laughs at the person who praises him; and, if he is censured, he makes no defense. But he goes about with the caution of sick or injured people, dreading to move anything that is set right, before it is perfectly fixed. He suppresses all desire in himself; he transfers his aversion to those things only which thwart the proper use of our own faculty of choice; the exertion of his active powers towards anything is very gentle; if he appears stupid or ignorant, he does not care, and, in a word, he watches himself as an enemy, and one in ambush.
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