The Enchiridion - Part 49

When a man is proud because he can understand and explain the writings of Chrysippus, say to yourself, If Chrysippus had not written obscurely, this man would have nothing to be proud of. But what is it that I wish? To understand Nature and to follow it. I inquire, therefore, who is the interpreter: and when I have heard that it is Chrysippus, I come to him (the interpreter). But I do not understand what is written, and therefore I seek the interpreter. And so far there is yet nothing to be proud of. But when I shall have found the interpreter, the thing that remains is to use the precepts (the lessons). This itself is the only thing to be proud of. But if I shall admire the exposition, what else have I been made unless a grammarian instead of a philosopher? except in one thing, that I am explaining Chrysippus instead of Homer. When, then, any man says to me, Read Chrysippus to me, I rather blush, when I cannot show my acts like to and consistent with his words.

This is another "actions speak louder than words" section. Instead of taking pride in being able to understand something, take pride in being able to implement it (if it is amenable with nature). Being able to understand philosophy is no more use than being able to understand fiction; value comes in the application.


The Enchiridion - Part 48

The condition and characteristic of an uninstructed person is this: he never expects from himself profit (advantage) nor harm, but from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is this: he expects all advantage and all harm from himself.

We start off with a nice clear contrast between the lay person and the Stoic, then look at what movement along the path from one to the other looks like.

The signs (marks) of one who is making progress are these: he censures no man, he praises no man, he blames no man, he accuses no man, he says nothing about himself as if he were somebody or knew something; when he is impeded at all or hindered, he blames himself: if a man praises him, he ridicules the praiser to himself: if a man censures him, he makes no defense: he goes about like weak persons, being careful not to move any of the things which are placed, before they are firmly fixed: he removes all desire from himself, and he transfers aversion to those things only of the things within our power which are contrary to nature: he employs a moderate movement toward everything: whether he is considered foolish or ignorant, he cares not: and in a word he watches himself as if he were an enemy and lying in ambush.

Lets reconstruct this into a simple list:

  • don't talk about be behaviour of others
  • don't talk about yourself in a positive light
  • blame yourself for any that you dislike in your life
  • ignore praise and criticism
  • move carefully through the world
  • desire nothing, abhor only things within your power to fix

As you study and practice Stoicism, you should see yourself attaining more of these behaviours.

The last line is great: he watches himself as if he were an enemy and lying in ambush. From a Stoic mindset, you are literally your worst, and only, enemy because you are the only one who can cause your defeat (that is, your failure to follow the Stoic path).

One of the subtle implications that follows from this passage, and one that's been covered earlier, is that Stoicism is hard work. Too often I think the critics of Stoicism mis-read the dichotomy of control as saying that people can simply make a choice to be happy. Far from it; Stoicism is a hard and continuous struggle with yourself.


The Enchiridion - Part 47

When at a small cost you are supplied with everything for the body, do not be proud of this; nor, if you drink water, say on every occasion, I drink water. But consider first how much more frugal the poor are than we, and how much more enduring of labor. And if you ever wish to exercise yourself in labor and endurance, do it for yourself, and not for others: do not embrace statues. But if you are ever very thirsty, take a draught of cold water, and spit it out, and tell no man.

Essentially, don't fall into the trap of using your philosohpy as a status symbol. Don't brag about how humble you are.