“To take flight every day! At least for a moment, which may be brief, as long as it is intense. A “spiritual exercise” every day – either alone, or in the company of someone who also wishes to better himself. Spiritual exercises. Step out of duration … try to get rid of your own passions, vanities, and the itch for talk about your own name, which sometimes burns you like a chronic disease. Avoid backbiting. Get rid of pity and hatred. Love all free human beings. Become eternal by transcending yourself.
This work on yourself is necessary; this ambition justified. Lots of people let themselves be wholly absorbed my militant politics and the preparation for social revolution. Rare, much more rare, are they who, in order to prepare for the revolution, are willing to make themselves worthy of it.”
— George Friedmann, La Puissance et la Sagesse
This short excerpt comes from a book titled, “Askesis: Notes on Epictetus’ Educational System,” (Hijmans, B. L.).
It touches on a variety of topics, and this particular bit touches Stoic theology. I’ve worked through it once “quickly,” it relies heavily on primary sources, often not in translation, with the occasional German, French, and Latin thrown in for good measure.
I’m going to need to sit down and spend some serious time with this before my thoughts are finalized, but initial impressions are high favorable. The book is exceedingly well-researched.
Now, on to Stoic Theology…
Whenever we discuss the God of the Stoics, Zeus, Providence, or any other word for this concept in Stoicism, there is often an immediate knee-jerk like reaction from many that prompts them to argue against the Abrahamic God. This short paragraph should lay that particular point to rest, and begin to show how the piety of Epictetus is based in gratitude for reason. Specifically λόγος ὀρθός, or “right reason,” and the prohairesis.
I’ve been wrangling with the conception of Stoic theology and piety for some time, and I think can begin with gratitude and an appreciation for natural beauty. I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.
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.
In Enchiridion 1, Epictetus through Arrian discusses which things are “up to us,” (ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν). He does not provide a definition, although we can use the short hand and definitive prohairetic things. Instead, Epictetus gives us a list of examples, whereby we can infer the general rule or type of things he’s discussing.
He ends this list, which I interpret not to be a closed class, with what’s often translated as “whatever are our own actions/works.” Oftentimes, this word ἔργα (erga) is translated as actions, works, deeds, etc. A literal reading is often “works.”
It is not the person who eagerly listens to and makes notes of what is
spoken by the philosophers who is ready for philosophizing, but the
person who is ready to transfer the prescriptions of philosophy to his
deeds (erga) and to live in accord with them.
— Arius Didymus
I came across another interesting translation which uses “whatever we bring about.” That’s an interesting take, probably closer to the spirit of the passage in Ench.1. As Stoics, we’re more concerned with the intent of a thing than its results in the world. We’re more concerned about how we handle judgments and impressions than how the results of those go out from us. “Whatever we bring about” then encompasses these internal things, our actual focus, better than do the English words “works,” “actions,” or “deeds.”
“How long, then, will you delay to demand of yourself the noblest improvements, and in no instance to transgress the judgments of reason? You have received the philosophic principles with which you ought to be conversant; and you have been conversant with them. For what other master, then, do you wait as an excuse for this delay in self-reformation? You are no longer a boy, but a grown man. If, therefore, you will be negligent and slothful, and always add procrastination to procrastination, purpose to purpose, and fix day after day in which you will attend to yourself, you will insensibly continue to accomplish nothing, and, living and dying, remain of vulgar mind. This instant, then, think yourself worthy of living as a man grown up and a proficient. Let whatever appears to be the best, be to you an inviolable law. And if any instance of pain or pleasure, glory or disgrace, be set before you, remember that now is the combat, now the Olympiad comes on, nor can it be put off; and that by one failure and defeat honor may be lost – or won. Thus Socrates became perfect, improving himself by everything, following reason alone. And though you are not yet a Socrates, you ought, however, to live as one seeking to be a Socrates.”
— Epictetus, Enchirdion 51.