Like the rest of you, I have very little tolerance for cripples, or the like. You know, anyone different, mentally, physically, etc. … just no time for them. What can they possibly offer?
Especially a crippled low-life Roman slave born in the year 55.
Epictetus was a slave (with a bum leg) in Rome during the time of Nero. During his time as a slave he studied Stoic philosophy (a bit different than American slavery, but as abhorrent nonetheless). At some point he was freed, taught philosophy in Rome, and was then banished (along with many others), and he eventually founded a philosophical school in Greece. He lived simply, usually alone, and when elderly he adopted a child his friend was going to leave to die and raised the child with the help of a woman he may have married. He died around the age of eighty.
So we have a poor schmuck, a poor cripple, who ends up making an incredible mark on the world, and I bet you never heard of him.
A student of Epictetus’, Arrian, recorded much of his teacher’s Stoic ethical advice and thus we have The Enchiridion, known as the Handbook of Epictetus (Ἐγχειρίδιον Επικτήτου). Don’t worry if Plato and his like confuse the daylights out of you, the Enchiridion is an easy to understand, basic guide to daily life, divided into fifty-two “chapters,” some only one sentence in length.
Some samples (in full):
5. Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for 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. When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed 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 perfectly instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself.
9. Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.
11. Never say of anything, “I have lost it”; 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 difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.
And the first part of chapter 1 …
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. …
Lots more at the fabulous Project Gutenberg, specifically here, and a good translation of just the Enchiridion is here.
Why do I mention this? Two reasons …
- I think some of the basic ideas can help us all.
- The Enchiridion is the second holy book of SingleDadism …
One amazing crip, that Epictetus was.