BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

About "what is" ...

I am somewhat bemused that just a day or so back, a reader of my regular journal (from whence these book reviews ultimately emerge) suggested this volume as something that I should read. He was pointing me to an on-line version (that I had, frankly, downloaded and printed out a few months back, being that most books composed a couple of millennia ago are well out of copyright and these days “out there” for the taking), however I had picked up a copy of the Dover Thrift Editions printing of Epictetus' Enchiridion in the meanwhile (I needed another $2.50 to get to Amazon's free shipping level, as usual for these books) ... but one has to figure that the confluence of these various factors may well indicate that this was something advisable to inject into my mental stream at this point!

Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher who was born in the first century C.E., a student of Musonius Rufus, and teacher to Arrianus, who was responsible for collecting together his master's lecture notes into the Enchiridion, or “Manual”, as a distillation of Epictetus' teachings. For those not familiar with the Stoics, here's a bit from the book's introduction on this philosophy:
In the Stoic view, our capacity to be happy is completely dependent on ourselves – how we treat ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we react to events in general. Events are good or bad only in terms of our reaction to them. We must not try to predict or control what happens, but merely to accept events with equanimity.
It would appear from the biographical info that survives about Epictetus that he certainly had a lot of opportunity to practice these approaches, having been born in Phrygia a cripple, he ended up as a youth a slave in Rome, but managed to become a freeman, and be apprenticed to a philosopher of note.

The format here is a large number of relatively small blocks of text, the largest being about a page in length, the smallest, a single line. The Enchiridion proper just takes up 52 of these, with the rest of the book being “fragments” which have footnotes pointing to the opinions of various scholars as to the authenticity or provenance of many of the other 178. This is not a particularly hopeful philosophy, but it is not morbid either. The focus is on “what is” and getting one's perspective in a place where that is sufficient. Here are a few samplings:
Of things some are in our power, and others are not. In our power are opinion, movement toward a thing, desire, aversion (turning from a thing); and in a word, whatever are our own acts: not in our power are the body, property, reputation, offices (magisterial power), and in a word, whatever are not our own acts. ... (E-I)

Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life. (E-VIII)

It is not poverty which produces sorrow, but desire; nor does wealth release from fear, but reason (the power of reasoning). If then you acquire the power of reasoning, you will neither desire wealth nor complain of poverty. (F-XXV)

It is better by assenting to truth to conquer opinion, than by assenting to opinion to be conquered by truth. (F-XXXVIII)
As noted, assorted versions of Epictetus' Enchiridion are available on the web, but I'm not sure if this particular one (with the "fragments") is out there (the ones I looked at didn't have that). Of course, you can get the hard-copy version with both parts from Amazon for a whopping $2.50 ... a perfect add-on for those times when you're just a bit short of the $25 free-shipping level!

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Tags: book review
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