Infomotions, Inc.Letter To Menoeceus / Epictetus

Author: Epictetus
Title: Letter To Menoeceus
Contributor(s): Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.)
Size: 13008
Identifier: epictetus-letter-748
Language: en
Publisher: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Rights: GNU General Public License
Tag(s): Western philosophy
Versions: original; local mirror; plain HTML (this file);
concordance (most frequent 100 words, etc.)
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   Copyright 1996, James Fieser ( See end note for
   details on copyright and editing conventions. Epicurus's "Letter to
   Menoeceus" is preserved in Diogenes Laertius's Lives of Eminent
   Philosophers. The following is from Robert Drew Hicks's 1925
   translation. This is a working draft; please report errors.[1 ]



           Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary
           in the search thereof when he is grown old. For no age is too
           early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that
           the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that
           it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for
           happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore,
           both old and young ought to seek wisdom, the former in order
           that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things
           because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order
           that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old,
           because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we
           must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness,
           since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be
           absent, all our actions are directed toward attaining it.

           Those things which without ceasing I have declared to you,
           those do, and exercise yourself in those, holding them to be
           the elements of right life. First believe that God is a living
           being immortal and happy, according to the notion of a god
           indicated by the common sense of humankind; and so of him
           anything that is at agrees not with about him whatever may
           uphold both his happyness and his immortality. For truly there
           are gods, and knowledge of them is evident; but they are not
           such as the multitude believe, seeing that people do not
           steadfastly maintain the notions they form respecting them.
           Not the person who denies the gods worshipped by the
           multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude
           believes about them is truly impious. For the utterances of
           the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but
           false assumptions; hence it is that the greatest evils happen
           to the wicked and the greatest blessings happen to the good
           from the hand of the gods, seeing that they are always
           favorable to their own good qualities and take pleasure in
           people like to themselves, but reject as alien whatever is not
           of their kind.

           Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for
           good and evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of
           all awareness; therefore a right understanding that death is
           nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by
           adding to life an unlimited time, but by taking away the
           yearning after immortality. For life has no terror; for those
           who thoroughly apprehend that there are no terrors for them in
           ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the person who says
           that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes,
           but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no
           annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in
           the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is
           nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come,
           and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then,
           either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is
           not and the dead exist no longer. But in the world, at one
           time people shun death as the greatest of all evils, and at
           another time choose it as a respite from the evils in life.
           The wise person does not deprecate life nor does he fear the
           cessation of life. The thought of life is no offense to him,
           nor is the cessation of life regarded as an evil. And even as
           people choose of food not merely and simply the larger
           portion, but the more pleasant, so the wise seek to enjoy the
           time which is most pleasant and not merely that which is
           longest. And he who admonishes the young to live well and the
           old to make a good end speaks foolishly, not merely because of
           the desirability of life, but because the same exercise at
           once teaches to live well and to die well. Much worse is he
           who says that it were good not to be born, but when once one
           is born to pass with all speed through the gates of Hades. For
           if he truly believes this, why does he not depart from life?
           It were easy for him to do so, if once he were firmly
           convinced. If he speaks only in mockery, his words are
           foolishness, for those who hear believe him not.

           We must remember that the future is neither wholly ours nor
           wholly not ours, so that neither must we count upon it as
           quite certain to come nor despair of it as quite certain not
           to come.

           We must also reflect that of desires some are natural, others
           are groundless; and that of the natural some are necessary as
           well as natural, and some natural only. And of the necessary
           desires some are necessary if we are to be happy, some if the
           body is to be rid of uneasiness, some if we are even to live.
           He who has a clear and certain understanding of these things
           will direct every preference and aversion toward securing
           health of body and tranquillity of mind, seeing that this is
           the sum and end of a happy life. For the end of all our
           actions is to be free from pain and fear, and, when once we
           have attained all this, the tempest of the soul is laid;
           seeing that the living creature has no need to go in search of
           something that is lacking, nor to look anything else by which
           the good of the soul and of the body will be fulfilled. When
           we are pained pleasure, then, and then only, do we feel the
           need of pleasure. For this reason we call pleasure the alpha
           and omega of a happy life. Pleasure is our first and kindred
           good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every
           aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling
           the rule by which to judge of every good thing. And since
           pleasure is our first and native good, for that reason we do
           not choose every pleasure whatever, but often pass over many
           pleasures when a greater annoyance ensues from them. And often
           we consider pains superior to pleasures when submission to the
           pains for a long time brings us as a consequence a greater
           pleasure. While therefore all pleasure because it is naturally
           akin to us is good, not all pleasure is worthy of choice, just
           as all pain is an evil and yet not all pain is to be shunned.
           It is, however, by measuring one against another, and by
           looking at the conveniences and inconveniences, teat all these
           matters must be judged. Sometimes we treat the good as an
           evil, and the evil, on the contrary, as a good. Again, we
           regard. independence of outward things as a great good, not so
           as in all cases to use little, but so as to be contented with
           little if we have not much, being honestly persuaded that they
           have the sweetest enjoyment of luxury who stand least in need
           of it, and that whatever is natural is easily procured and
           only the vain and worthless hard to win. Plain fare gives as
           much pleasure as a costly diet, when one the pain of want has
           been removed, while bread an water confer the highest possible
           pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips. To habituate
           one's se therefore, to simple and inexpensive diet supplies al
           that is needful for health, and enables a person to meet the
           necessary requirements of life without shrinking and it places
           us in a better condition when we approach at intervals a
           costly fare and renders us fearless of fortune.

           When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not
           mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of
           sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through
           ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By
           pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of
           trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of
           drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the
           enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious
           table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning,
           searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and
           banishing those beliefs through which the greatest
           disturbances take possession of the soul. Of all this the d is
           prudence. For this reason prudence is a more precious thing
           even than the other virtues, for ad a life of pleasure which
           is not also a life of prudence, honor, and justice; nor lead a
           life of prudence, honor, and justice, which is not also a life
           of pleasure. For the virtues have grown into one with a
           pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them.

           Who, then, is superior in your judgment to such a person? He
           holds a holy belief concerning the gods, and is altogether
           free from the fear of death. He has diligently considered the
           end fixed by nature, and understands how easily the limit of
           good things can be reached and attained, and how either the
           duration or the intensity of evils is but slight. Destiny
           which some introduce as sovereign over all things, he laughs
           to scorn, affirming rather that some things happen of
           necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency.
           For he sees that necessity destroys responsibility and that
           chance or fortune is inconstant; whereas our own actions are
           free, and it is to them that praise and blame naturally
           attach. It were better, indeed, to accept the legends of the
           gods than to bow beneath destiny which the natural
           philosophers have imposed. The one holds out some faint hope
           that we may escape if we honor the gods, while the necessity
           of the naturalists is deaf to all entreaties. Nor does he hold
           chance to be a god, as the world in general does, for in the
           acts of a god there is no disorder; nor to be a cause, though
           an uncertain one, for he believes that no good or evil is
           dispensed by chance to people so as to make life happy, though
           it supplies the starting-point of great good and great evil.
           He believes that the misfortune of the wise is better than the
           prosperity of the fool. It is better, in short, that what is
           well judged in action should not owe its successful issue to
           the aid of chance.

           Exercise yourself in these and kindred precepts day and night,
           both by yourself and with him who is like to you; then never,
           either in waking or in dream, will you be disturbed, but will
           live as a god among people. For people lose all appearance of
           mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings.

           1 [COPYRIGHT: (c) 1996, James Fieser (, all
           rights reserved. Unaltered copies of this computer text file
           may be freely distribute for personal and classroom use.
           Alterations to this file are permitted only for purposes of
           computer printouts, although altered computer text files may
           not circulate. Except to cover nominal distribution costs,
           this file cannot be sold without written permission from the
           copyright holder. This copyright notice supersedes all
           previous notices on earlier versions of this text file. This
           is a working draft. Please report errors to James Fieser

   © 1996


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