Not a Milo, and yet….

Epictetus, Discourses, Book I, Chapter 2, somewhat abbreviated and digested:

How a Man on every occasion can maintain his Proper Character

To the rational animal only is the irrational intolerable; but that which is rational is tolerable. [That which is understood to be well done or occurring of necessity.]

Blows are not naturally intolerable [, not in Nature itself, not in Life itself. They are an adversity, in their nature.]

“How is that?”

See how the Lacedaemonians endure whipping when they have learned that whipping is consistent with reason. …

In short, if we observe, we shall find that the animal man is pained by nothing so much as by that which is irrational [, meaning that which is senseless and useless and contrary to general nature or our Individual nature]….

But the rational and the irrational appear as such in a different way to different persons, just as the good and the bad, the profitable and the unprofitable. [Rational, like good & its opposite, is a predisposition of thinking, a preconception.] … [We] need discipline [studiousness], in order to learn how to (i) adapt the preconception of the rational and the irrational to (ii) the several things [, and] (iii) [do this] conformably to nature. But in order to determine the rational and the irrational, we use not only (i) the estimates of external things, but we consider also (ii) what is appropriate to each person.

For to one man it is consistent with reason to hold a chamber pot for another, [seeing that] if he does not hold it, he will receive stripes, and he will not receive his food [both disagreeable things]…. But to another man not only does the holding of a chamber pot appear intolerable for himself, but intolerable also for him to allow another to do this office for him. [Hold the chamber pot or not?] … I shall say to you that the receiving of food is worth more than the not receiving of it, and the being scourged is a greater indignity than not being scourged; so that IF you measure your interests by these things, go and hold the chamber pot.

“But this,” you say, “would not be worthy of me.”

Well, then, it is you who must introduce this consideration [of your own value, of your individual dispositions] into the inquiry, not I; for it is you who know (i) yourself, (ii) how much you are worth to yourself, and (iii) at what price you sell yourself; for (iv) men sell themselves at various prices [again, life is a continuum, fully dimensional, and not in its nature a binary proposition].

… Florus was deliberating whether he should [go to] Nero’s spectacles and [even] perform in them himself[.]

Agrippinus said to him, “Go down [and do so, perform]”.

[Florus replied,] “Why do not you go down?”

Agrippinus replied, “Because I do not even deliberate about the matter.” [It was out of the question for Agrippinus, but Florus was weighing other things.]

[Epictétus:] For he who has once brought himself to deliberate about such matters, and to calculate [to weigh] the value of external things, [he] comes very near to those who have forgotten their own character [or, as the Existentialist might say, are acting in bad faith].

For why do you ask me the question, whether death is preferable or life? I say “life.”

“Pain or pleasure?” I say “pleasure.”

“But if I do not take a part in the tragic acting, I shall have my head struck off!”

Go then and take a part, but I will not.


Because you consider yourself to be only one thread … like the rest of men, just as the thread has no design to be anything superior to the other threads. But I wish to be purple, that small part which is bright, and makes all the rest appear graceful and beautiful [; I must excel and not grovel or dirty myself]. Why then do you tell me to make myself like the many? and if I do, how shall I still be purple?

[As to] Priscus Helvidius[:] … Vespasian … commanded him not to go into the senate, [but] he replied, “It is in your power not to allow me to be a member of the senate, but so long as I am, I must go in.”  [Obligation.]

“Well, go in then,” says the emperor, “but say nothing!”

“Do not ask my opinion, and I will be silent.”

“But I must ask your opinion!”

“And I must say what I think right.”  [Duty.]

“But if you do, I shall put you to death.”

“When then did I tell you that I am immortal? You will do your part, and I will do mine: it is your part to kill; it is mine to die, but not in fear: yours to banish me; mine to depart without sorrow.”  [Courage.]

What good then did Priscus do, who was only a single person? And what good does the purple do for the toga? Why, what else than this, that it is conspicuous in the toga as purple, and is displayed also as a fine example to all other things? [That is, it is a contrast, an example, and an admirable thing, worthy to be conspicuous.] …

… [A]n athlete … was in danger of dying unless his private parts were amputated [but refused the amputation]. His brother … a philosopher, … said, “Come, brother, what are you going to do? Shall we amputate this member and return to the gymnasium?” But the athlete persisted in his resolution and died. When someone asked Epictetus how he did this, as an athlete or a philosopher, “As a man,” Epictetus replied, “and a man who (i) had been proclaimed among the athletes at the Olympic games and (ii) had contended in them [shown his quality], … (iii) not merely [been] anointed in Baton’s school. Another would have allowed even his head to be cut off, if he could have lived without it. Such is that regard to character which is so strong in those who have been accustomed to introduce it of themselves and conjoined [it] with other things into their deliberations.”

Some person asked, “How then shall every man among us perceive what is suitable to his character?”

How, he replied, does the bull alone, when the lion has attacked, discover his own powers and put himself forward in defense of the whole herd? It is plain that with the powers, the perception of having them is immediately conjoined; and, therefore, whoever of us has such powers will not be ignorant of them. [The same also for weaknesses, presumably? Alas!] Now a bull is not made suddenly, nor a brave man; but we must discipline ourselves in the winter for the summer campaign, and not rashly run upon that which does not concern us [ie, we must be purposive and train for what we know will come, and not squander our sweat, energy, will and time].

Only consider at what price you sell your own will; if for no other reason, at least for this, that you sell it not for a small sum. But that which is great and superior perhaps belongs to Socrates and such as are like him.

“Why then, if we are naturally such, are not a very great number of us like him?”

Is it true then that all horses become swift, that all dogs are skilled in tracking footprints?

“What, then?  Since I am naturally dull, shall I, for this reason, take no pains? [If I cannot hope to be ‘the purple’, shall I just let it all go and not train, not try?]

I hope not. Epictetus is not superior to Socrates; but if he is not inferior, this is enough for me; for I shall never be a Milo [=a great athlete], and yet I do not neglect my body; nor shall I be a Croesus, and yet I do not neglect my property; nor, in a word, do we neglect looking after [things] because we despair of reaching the highest degree.


Ratio is not simple or cut-and-dried; it APPEARS differently to different people – again, it is a question of MAKING USE OF APPEARANCES.
Rational vs. Irrational: That which is well done vs. that which is ill done.
Man has little tolerance for the irrational.
How can we judge – well or ill? By using ratio (judgement) and discipline (training, studiousness, intelligence) to
adapt our preconceptions (our predisposal to certain categories in which we assign values – good & bad, noble & ignoble, helpful & adverse)  to the several things (things and appearances)  comformably to nature (with regard to what nature is, what nature does, and how we fit into this).  We are all individuals, made better or worse in this or that regard; all dogs are swift, yet not equally among themselves, nor as compared to most cheetahs;  but we are all allotted, vel per chaos vel per indicium Dei, allotted differing degrees of efficiency and wisdom;  and whoever has considerable power will not remain ignorant of it.  Each individual develops himself well or ill, to this or that degree, as his nature, his discipline and the various externals interact; & each individual sells himself at a different price, for nature would not have us all truly be Socrates, and therefore we remain susceptible to mistaken judgments.  “I shall never be a Milo, & yet I do not neglect my body….”
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