Stoic Week

Stoic Week 2013 is from November 25 to December 2. (Yes, that span includes the American Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Hedonism Day, but who says the scheduling gods are perfect.)

I occasionally teach Epictetus (55-135 CE) or Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE) in my courses. So to help you prepare for next week, here are some sample quotations:

epictetus-webEpictetus on philosophy: “If you have an earnest desire toward philosophy, prepare yourself from the very first to have the multitude laugh and sneer.” (Enchiridion, XXII)

On what can be controlled: “There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.” (I)

On controlling one’s mind: “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things.” (V) Also: “As in walking you take care not to tread upon a nail, or turn your foot, so likewise take care not to hurt the ruling faculty of your mind.” (XXXVIII)

Including one’s thoughts on mortality: “If you wish your children and your wife and your friends to live forever, you are foolish, for you wish things to be in your power which are not so, and what belongs to others to be your own. So likewise, if you wish your servant to be without fault, you are foolish, for you wish vice not to be vice but something else.” (XIV)

On worrying about the opinions of others: “If a person had delivered up your body to some passer-by, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in delivering up your own mind to any reviler, to be disconcerted and confounded?” (XXVIII)

Marcus Aurelius on Man:

* “A little flesh, a little breath, and a Reason to rule all — that is myself.” (Meditations, 2,2)

marcus_aurelius_louvre1* “In the life of man, his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his senses a dim rushlight, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, and his fame doubtful.” (2,17)

* “‘A poor soul burdened with a corpse,’ Epictetus calls you.” (4,41)

* “How small a fraction of all the measureless infinity of time is allotted to each one of us; an instant, and it vanishes into eternity. How puny, too, is your portion of the world’s substance; how puny too, is your portion of all the world’s substance; how insignificant your share of all the world’s soul; on how minute a speck of the whole earth do you creep. As you ponder these things, make up your mind that nothing is of any import save to do what your own nature directs, and to bear what the world’s Nature sends you.” (12,32)

Aurelius on self-mastery: “No one can stop you living according to the laws of your own personal nature, and nothing can happen to you against the laws of the World-Nature.” (6,58)

And on predestination: “Whatever may happen to you was prepared for you in advance from the beginning of time.” (10,5)

One more from Epictetus, quoting Cleanthes on our acceptance or not of destiny:
“Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my lot.
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.”

Both Enchiridion and Meditations are well worth reading.

(My reading of Dominique Francon in The Fountainhead is that she’s a Stoic in her value philosophy; that is, she is trying to achieve apathia in a morally valueless world. Another compelling Stoic in contemporary literature is Conrad Hensley in Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full.)

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