“Let not these considerations afflict you: ’I shall live despised, and the merest nobody;’ for if dishonour be an evil, you cannot be involved in evil any more than you can be involved in baseness through any one else’s means. Is it then at all your business to be a leading man, or to be entertained at a banquet? By no means. How then can it be a dishonor not to be so? And how will you be a mere nobody, since it is your duty to be somebody only in those circumstances which are in your own power, in which you may be a person of the greatest importance?”
“Honour, precedence, confidence,” he argues in another passage, “whether they be good things or evil things, are at any rate things for which their own definite price must be paid. Lettuces are sold for a penny, and if you want your lettuce you must pay your penny; and similarly, if you want to be asked out to a person’s house, you must pay the price which he demands for asking people, whether the coin he requires be praise or attention; but if you do not give these, do not expect the other. Have you then gained nothing in lieu of your supper? Indeed you have; you have escaped praising a person whom you did not want to praise, and you have escaped the necessity of tolerating the upstart impertinence of his menials.”
Some parts of this last thought have been so beautifully expressed by the American poet Lowell that I will conclude this chapter in his words:
“Earth hath her
price for what earth gives us;
The beggar is tax’d for a corner to die in;
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrieves us;
We bargain for the graves we lie in:
At the devil’s mart are all things sold,
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold,
For a cap and bells our lives we pay.
Bubbles we earn with our whole soul’s tasking,
’Tis only God that is given away,
’Tis only heaven may be had for the asking.”
LIFE AND VIEWS OF EPICTETUS (continued).
Whether any of these great thoughts would have suggested themselves spontaneously to Epictetus—whether there was an inborn wisdom and nobleness in the mind of this slave which would have enabled him to elaborate such views from his own consciousness, we cannot tell; they do not, however, express his sentiments only, but belong in fact to the moral teaching of the great Stoic school, in the doctrines of which he had received instruction.
It may sound strange to the reader that one situated as Epictetus was should yet have had a regular tutor to train him in Stoic doctrines. That such should have been the case appears at first sight inconsistent with the cruelty with which he was treated, but it is a fact which is capable of easy explanation. In times of universal luxury and display—in times when a sort of surface-refinement is found among