EPICTETUS ON THE GODS

“_I forbid you to go into the senate-house.” “As long as I am a senator,
go I must._” Two voices were speaking from one person—the first, pompous,
coarse, despotic; the second, refined, dry, austere. There was nothing
that approached stage-acting—only a suggestion of one man swelling out
with authority, and of another straightening up his back in resistance.
These were the first words that I heard from Epictetus, as I crept
late into the lecture-room, tired with a long journey over-night into
Nicopolis.

I need not have feared to attract attention. All eyes were fixed on
the lecturer as I stole into a place near the door, next my friend
Arrian, who was absorbed in his notes. What was it all about? In answer
to my look of inquiry Arrian pushed me his last sheet with the names
“Vespasian” and “Helvidius Priscus” scrawled large upon it. Then I knew
what it meant. It was a story now nearly forty years old—which I had
often heard from my father’s old friend, Æmilius Scaurus—illustrating
the duty of obeying the voice of the conscience rather than the voice of
a king. Epictetus, after his manner, was throwing it into the form of a
dialogue:—

“_Vespasian._ I forbid you to go into the senate-house.

“_Priscus._ As long as I am a senator, go I must.

“_Vespasian._ Go, then, but be silent.

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

“_Vespasian._ But I am bound to ask it.

“_Priscus._ And I am bound to answer, and to answer what I think right.

“_Vespasian._ Then I shall kill you.

“_Priscus._ Did I ever say that I could not be killed? It is yours to
kill; mine, to die fearless.”

I give his words almost as fully as Arrian took them down. But his tone
and spirit are past man’s power to put on paper. He flashed from Emperor
to Senator like the zig-zag of lightning with a straight down flash
at the end. This was always his way. He would play a thousand parts,
seeming, superficially, a very Proteus; but they were all types of two
characters, the philosopher and the worldling, the follower of the Logos
and the follower of the flesh. Moreover, he was always in earnest, in
hot earnest. On the surface he would jest like Menander or jibe like
Aristophanes; but at bottom he was a tragedian. At one moment he would
point to his halting leg and flout himself as a lame old grey-beard with
a body of clay. In the next, he was “a son of Zeus,” or “God’s own son,”
or “carrying about God.” Never at rest, he might deceive a stranger into
supposing that he was occasionally rippling and sparkling with real mirth
like a sea in sunlight. But it was never so. It was a sea of molten metal
and there was always a Vesuvius down below.

I suspect that he never knew mirth or genial laughter even as a child.
He was born a slave, his master being Epaphroditus, a freedman of Nero’s
and his favourite, afterwards killed by Domitian. I have heard—but not
from Arrian—that this master caused his lameness. He was twisting his leg
one day to see how much he could bear. The boy—for he was no more—said
with a smile, “If you go on, you will break it,” and then, “Did not I
tell you, you would break it?” True or false, this story gives the boy
as I knew the man. You might break his leg but never his will. I do not
know whether Epaphroditus, out of remorse, had him taught philosophy;
but taught he was, under one of the best men of the day, and he acquired
such fame that he was banished from Rome under Domitian, with other
philosophers of note—whether at or before the time when Domitian put
Epaphroditus to death I cannot say. In one of his lectures he described
how he was summoned before the Prefect of the City with the other
philosophers: “Come,” said the Prefect, “come, Epictetus, shave off your
beard.” “If I am a philosopher,” he replied, “I am not going to shave it
off.” “Then I shall take your head off.” “If it is for your advantage,
take it off.”

But now to return to my first lecture. Among our audience were several
men of position and one at least of senatorial rank. Some of them seemed
a little scandalized at the Teacher’s dialogue. It was not likely that
the Emperor would take offence, for in the second year of Hadrian we
were not in a Neronian or Domitian atmosphere; moreover, our Teacher
was known to be on good terms with the new Emperor. But perhaps their
official sense of propriety was shocked; and, in the first sentence of
what follows, Epictetus may have been expressing their thoughts: “‘_So
you, philosophers, teach people to despise the throne!_’ Heaven forbid!
Which of us teaches anyone to lay claim to anything over which kings
have authority? Take my body, take my goods, take my reputation! Take my
friends and relations! ‘Yes,’ says the ruler, ‘but I must also be ruler
over your convictions.’ Indeed, and who gave you this authority?”

Epictetus went on to say that if indeed his pupils were of the true
philosophic stamp, holding themselves detached from the things of the
body and with their minds fixed on the freedom of the soul, he would
have no need to spur them to boldness, but rather to draw them back from
over-hasty rushing to the grave; for, said he, they would come flocking
about him, begging and praying to be allowed to teach the tyrant that
they were free, by finding freedom at once in self-inflicted death: “Here
on earth, Master, these robbers and thieves, these courts of justice and
kings, have the upper hand. These creatures fancy that they have some
sort of authority over us, simply because they have a hold on our paltry
flesh and its possessions! Suffer us, Master, to shew them that they have
authority over nothing!” If, said he, a pupil of this high spirit were
brought before the tribunal of one of the rulers of the earth, he would
come back scoffing at such “authority” as a mere scarecrow: “Why all
these preparations, to meet no enemy at all? The pomp of his authority,
his solemn anteroom, his gentlemen of the chamber, his yeomen of the
guard—did they all come to no more than this! These things were nothing,
and I was preparing to meet something great!”

On the scholar of the unpractical and cowardly type, anxiously preparing
“what to say” in his defence before the magistrate’s tribunal, he
poured hot scorn. Had not the fellow, he asked, been practising “what
to say”—all his life through? “What else,” said he, “have you been
practising? Syllogisms and convertible propositions!” Then came the
reply, in a whine, “Yes, but he has authority to kill me!” To which the
Teacher answered, “Then speak the truth, you pitiful creature. Cease your
imposture and give up all claim to be a philosopher. In the lords of the
earth recognise your own lords and masters. As long as you give them this
grip on you, through your flesh, so long must you be at the beck and
call of every one that is stronger than you are. Socrates and Diogenes
had practised ‘what to say’ by the practice of their lives. But as for
you—get you back to your own proper business, and never again budge from
it! Back to your own snug corner, and sit there at your leisure, spinning
your syllogisms:

‘In thee is not the stuff that makes a man
A people’s leader.’”

Thence he passed to the objection that a judicial condemnation might
bring disgrace on a man’s good name. “The authorities, you say, have
condemned you as guilty of impiety and profanity. What harm is there
in that for you? This creature, with authority to condemn you—does he
himself know even the meaning of piety or impiety? If a man in authority
calls day night or bass treble, do men that know take notice of him?
Unless the judge knows what the truth is, his ‘authority to judge’ is
no authority. No man has authority over our convictions, our inmost
thoughts, our will. Hence when Zeno the philosopher went into the
presence of Antigonus the king, it was the king that was anxious, not
the philosopher. The king wished to gain the philosopher’s good opinion,
but the philosopher cared for nothing that the king could give. When,
therefore, you go to the palace of a great ruler, remember that you
are in effect going to the shop of a shoemaker or a grocer—on a great
scale of course, but still a grocer. He cannot sell you anything real or
lasting, though he may sell his groceries at a great price.”

At the bottom of all this doctrine about true and false authority, there
was, as I afterwards understood, a belief that God had bestowed on all
men, if they would but accept and use it, authority over their own
wills, so that we might conform our wills to His, as children do with a
Father, and might find pleasure, and indeed our only pleasure, in doing
this—accepting all bodily pain and evil as not evil but good because it
comes from His will, which must be also our will and must be honoured and
obeyed. “When,” said he, “the ruler says to anyone, ‘I will fetter your
leg,’ the man that is in the habit of honouring his leg cries, ‘Don’t,
for pity’s sake!’ But the man that honours his will says, ‘If it appears
advisable to you, fetter it’.”

“_Tyrant._ Won’t you bend?

“_Cynic._ I will not bend.

“_Tyrant._ I will show you that I am lord.

“_Cynic._ You! impossible! I have been freed by Zeus. Do you really
imagine that He would allow His own son to be made a slave? But of my
corpse you _are_ lord. Take it.”

In this particular lecture Epictetus also gave us a glimpse of a wider
and more divine authority imparted by God to a few special natures,
akin to Himself, whereby, as God is supreme King over men His children,
so a chosen few may become subordinate kings over men their brethren.
Like Plato, he seemed to look forward to a time when rulers would
become philosophers, or else philosophers kings. Nero and Sardanapalus,
Agamemnon and Alexander, all came under his lash—all kings and rulers of
the old _régime_. Not that he denied Agamemnon a superiority to Nero,
or the right to call himself “shepherd of the people” if he pleased.
“Sheep, indeed,” he exclaimed, “to submit to be ruled over by you!” and
“Shepherd, indeed, for you weep like the shepherds, when a wolf has
snatched away a sheep!”

From these old-fashioned rulers he passed to a new and nobler ideal of
kingship: “Those kings and tyrants received from their armed guards the
power of rebuking and punishing wrongdoing, though they might be rascals
themselves. But on the Cynic”—that was the term he used—“this power is
bestowed by the conscience.” Then he explained to us what he meant by
“conscience”—the consciousness of a life of wise, watchful, and unwearied
toil for man, with the co-operation of God. “And how,” he asked, “could
such a man fail to be bold and speak the truth with boldness, speaking,
as he does, to his own brethren, to his own children and kinsfolk? So
inspired, he is no meddler or busybody. Supervising and inspecting the
affairs of mankind, he is not busying himself with other men’s matters,
but with his own. Else, call a general, too, a busybody, when he is busy
inspecting his own soldiers!”

This was, to me, quite a new view of the character of a Cynic. But
Epictetus insisted on it with reiteration. The Cynic, he said, was
Warrior and Physician in one. As a warrior, he was like Hercules,
wandering over the world with his club and destroying noxious beasts and
monsters. As a physician, he was like Socrates or Diogenes, going about
and doing good to those afflicted with sickness of mind, diagnosing
each disease, prescribing diet, cautery, or other remedy. In both these
capacities the Cynic received from God authority over men, and men
recognised it in him, because they perceived him to be their benefactor
and deliverer.

There are, said Epictetus, in each man two characters—the character of
the Beast and the character of the Man. By Beast he meant wild or savage
beast, as distinct from tame beast, which he preferred to call “sheep.”
“Sheep” meant the cowardly, passive-greedy passions within us. “The
Beast” meant the savage, aggressive-greedy nature, not only stirring us
up to external war against our neighbours, but also waging war to the
death against our inward better nature, against the “Man.” The mark or
stamp of the Beast he connected with Nero. “Cast it away,” he said. The
opposite mark or stamp he connected with the recently deceased Emperor,
Trajan. If we acted like a beast, he warned us that we should become like
a beast, and then, according to his customary phrase, “_You will have
lost the Man_.” And was this, asked he, nothing to lose? Over and over
again he repeated it: “_You have thrown away the Man_.” It was in this
light—as a type of the Man—that he regarded Hercules, the first of the
Cynics, the Son of God, going on the errands of the Father to destroy the
Beast in its various shapes, typifying an armed Missionary, but armed
for spiritual not for fleshly warfare, destroying the Beast that would
fain dominate the world. But it was for Diogenes that he reserved his
chief admiration, placing him (I think) even above Socrates, or at all
events praising him more warmly—partly, perhaps, out of fellow-feeling,
because Diogenes, too, like himself, had known what it was to be a slave.
Never shall I forget the passage in this lecture in which he described
Alexander surprising the great Cynic asleep, and waking him up with a
line of Homer:—

“To sleep all night suits not a Councillor,”

—to which Diogenes replied at once in the following line, claiming for
himself the heavy burden (entrusted to him by Zeus) of caring like a king
for all the nations of the earth:—

“Who holds, in trust, the world’s vast orb of cares.”

Diogenes, according to our Teacher, was much more than an Æsculapius
of souls; he was a sovereign with “the sceptre and the kingdom of the
Cynic.” Some have represented Epictetus as claiming this authority for
himself. But in the lecture that I heard, it was not so. Though what he
said might have been mistaken as a claim for himself, it was really a
claim for “the Cynic,” as follows. First he put the question, “How is it
possible for one destitute, naked, homeless, hearthless, squalid, with
not one slave to attend him, or a country to call his own, to lead a life
of equable happiness?” To which he replied, “Behold, God hath sent unto
you the man to demonstrate in act this possibility. ‘_Look on me, and
see that I am without country, home, possessions, slaves; no bed but the
ground, no wife, no children—no palace to make a king or governor out of
me—only the earth, and the sky, and one threadbare cloak! And yet what
do I want? Am I not fearless? Am I not free? When saw ye me failing to
find any good thing that I desired, or falling into any evil that I would
fain have avoided? What fault found I ever with God or man? When did I
ever accuse anyone? Did anyone ever see me with a gloomy face? How do I
confront the great persons before whom you, worldlings, bow abashed and
dismayed? Do not I treat them as cringing slaves? Who, that sees me, does
not feel that he sees in me his natural Lord and Master?_’”

I confess that up to this point I had myself supposed that he was
speaking of himself, standing erect as ruler of the world. But in the
next instant he had dropped, as it were, from the pillar upon which
he had been setting up the King, and now, like a man at the pedestal
pointing up to the statue on the top, he exclaimed, “Behold, these are
the genuine Cynic’s utterances: this is his stamp and image: this is his
aim!”

He passed on to answer the question, What if the Cynic missed his aim,
or, at least, missed it so far as exerting the royal authority over
others? What if death cut his purpose short? In that case, he said, the
will, the purpose, the one essential good, had at all events remained
in its purity; and how could man die better than in such actions? “If,
while I am thus employed, death should overtake me, it will suffice me if
I can lift up my hands to God and say, ‘The helps that I received from
thee, to the intent that I might understand and follow thy ordering of
the universe, these I have not neglected. I have not disgraced thee, so
far as in me lay. See how I have used these faculties which thou hast
given me! Have I ever found fault with thee? ever been ill-pleased with
anything that has happened or ever wished it to happen otherwise? Thou
didst beget me, and I thank thee for all thou gavest me. I have used to
the full the gifts that were of thy giving and I am satisfied. Receive
them back again and dispose them in such region as may please thee. Thine
were they all, and thou hast given them unto me.’” Then, turning to us,
he said, “Are you not content to take your exit after this fashion? Than
such a life, what can be better, or more full of grace and beauty? Than
such an end, what can be more full of blessing?”

There was much more, which I cannot recall. I was no longer in a mood
to note and remember exact words and phrases, and I despair of making
my readers understand why. Able philosophers and lecturers I had heard
before, but none like this man. Some of those had moved me to esteem and
gained my favourable judgement. But this man did more than “move” me. He
whirled me away into an upper region of spiritual possibility, at once
glad and sad—sad at what I was, glad at what I might be. Alcibiades says
in the Symposium of Plato that whereas the orator Pericles had only moved
his outer self to admiration, the teaching of Socrates caught hold of his
very soul, “whirling it away into a Corybantic dance.” I quoted these
words to Arrian as we left the lecture-room together, and he replied
that they were just to the point. “Epictetus,” he said, “is by birth a
Phrygian. And, like the Phrygian priests of Cybele, with their cymbals
and their dances, he has just this power of whirling away his hearers
into any region he pleases and making them feel at any moment what he
wishes them to feel. But,” added he thoughtfully, “it did not last with
Alcibiades. Will it last with us?”

I argued—or perhaps I should say protested—at considerable length, that
it would last. Arrian walked on for a while without answering. Presently
he said, “This is your first lecture. It is not so with me. I, as you
know, have heard Epictetus for several months, and I admire him as
much as you do, perhaps more. I am sure he is doing me good. But I do
not aim at being his ideal Cynic. ‘_In me is not the stuff_’—I admit
his censure—that makes a man into a King, bearing all the cares of all
mankind upon his shoulders. My ambition is, some day, to become (as you
are by birth) a Roman citizen”—he was not one then, nor was he Flavius
Arrianus, but I have called him by the name by which he became known
in the world—“and to do good work in the service of the Empire, as an
officer of the State and yet an honest man. For that purpose I want to
keep myself in order—at all events to some reasonable extent. Epictetus
is helping me to do this, by making me ashamed of the foul life of the
Beast, and by making me aspire to what he calls ‘the Man.’ That I feel
day by day, and for that I am thankful.

“But if you ask me about the reality of this ‘authority,’ which our
Teacher claims for his Cynic, then, in all honesty, I must confess to
doubts. Socrates, certainly, has moved the minds of civilised mankind.
But then he had, as you know, a ‘daemonic something’ in him, a divine
voice of some kind. And he believed in the immortality of the soul—a
point on which you have not yet heard what Epictetus has to say. As to
Diogenes, though I have always faithfully recorded in my notes what our
Teacher says about him, yet I do not feel that the philosopher of the tub
had the same heaven-sent authority as Socrates, or as Epictetus himself.
And, indeed, did you not yourself hear to-day that God gives us authority
over nothing but our own hearts and wills? How, then, can the Cynic claim
this authority over others, except as an accident? But I forget. Perhaps
Epictetus did not mention to-day his usual doctrine about ‘good’ and
‘evil,’ about ‘peace of mind’ and about the ‘rule’ of our neighbours as
being ‘no evil’ to us. It reappears in almost every lecture. Wait till
you have heard this.

“Again, as to the origin of this authority, the Teacher tells us that
it is given by God—or by Gods, for he uses both expressions. But by
what God or Gods? Is not this a matter of great importance? Wait till
you have heard him on this point. Now I must hasten back to my rooms
to commit my notes to writing while fresh in my memory. We meet in the
lecture-room to-morrow. Meantime, believe me, I most heartily sympathize
with you in your admiration of one whom I account the best of all living
philosophers. I have all your conviction of his sincerity. Assuredly,
whencesoever he derives it, he has in him a marvellous power for good.
The Gods grant that it may last!”

Arrian was right in thinking that the next lecture would be on the Gods.
I had come to Nicopolis at the end of one of the lecture-courses, and had
heard its conclusion—the perfecting of the Cynic. The new course began by
describing the purpose of God in making man.

But at the outset the subject was, not God, but the Logos—that word so
untranslateable into our Latin, including as it does suggestions of our
Word, Discourse, Reason, Logic, Understanding, Purpose, Proportion, and
Harmony. Starting from this, Epictetus first said that the only faculty
that could, as it were, behold itself, and theorize about itself, was the
faculty of the Logos, which is also the faculty with which we regard,
and, so to speak, mentally handle, all phenomena. From the Logos, or
Word, he passed to God, as the Giver of this faculty: “It was therefore
right and meet that this highest and best of all gifts should be the
only one that the Gods have placed at our disposal. All the rest they
have not placed at our disposal. Can it be that the Gods did not wish
to place them in our power? For my part, I think that, if they had been
able, they would have entrusted us also with the rest. But they were
absolutely unable. For, being on earth, and bound up with such a body as
this”—and here he made his usual gesture of self-contempt, mocking at his
own lame figure—“how was it possible that we should not be prevented by
these external fetters from receiving those other gifts? But what says
Zeus?”—with that, the halting mortal, turning suddenly round, had become
the Olympian Father addressing a child six years old: “_Epictetus, if it
had been practicable, I would have made your dear little body quite free,
and your pretty little possessions quite free too, and quite at your
disposal. But as it is, don’t shut your eyes to the truth. This little
body is not your very own. It is only a neat arrangement in clay._”

After a pause, the Epictetian Zeus continued as follows, falling from “I”
to “we.” Some of our fellow-scholars declared to Arrian after lecture
that Epictetus could not have meant this change, and they slightly
altered the words in their notes. I prefer to give the difficult words of
Zeus as Arrian took them down and as I heard them: “_But, since I was not
able to do this_, WE _gave you a portion of_ OURSELVES, _this power_”—and
here Epictetus made believe to put a little box into the child’s hand,
adding that it contained a power of pursuing or avoiding, of liking or
disliking—“_Take care of this, and put in it all that belongs to you. As
long as you do this, you will never be hindered or hampered, never cry,
never scold, and never flatter._”

The change from I to WE was certainly curious; and some said that “we
gave,” _edōkamen_, ought to be regarded as two words, _edōka men_, “I
gave on the one hand.” But “on the one hand” made no sense. Nor could
they themselves deny that Epictetus made Zeus say, first, “_I_ was
not able,” and then, “a part of _ourselves_.” I think the explanation
may be this. Epictetus had many ways of looking at the Divine Nature.
Sometimes he regarded it as One, sometimes as Many. When he thought of
God as supporting and controlling the harmonious Cosmos, or Universe,
then God was One—the Monarch or General to whom we all owed loyal
obedience. Often, however, “Gods” were spoken of, as in the expression
“Father of Gods and men,” and elsewhere. Once he reproached himself (a
lower or imaginary self) for repining against the Cosmos because he was
lame, almost as if the Cosmos itself were Providence or God: “Wretched
creature! For the sake of one paltry leg, to impeach the Cosmos!” But
he went on to call the Cosmos “the Whole of Things.” And then he called
on each man to sacrifice some part of himself (a lame man, for example,
sacrificing his lame leg) to the Universe: “What! Will you not make a
present of it (_i.e._ the leg) to the Whole of Things? Let go this leg
of yours! Yield it up gladly to Him that gave it! What! Will you sulk
and fret against the ordinances of Zeus, which He—in concert with the
Fates present at your birth and spinning the thread for you—decreed and
ordained?”

I remember, too, how once, while professing to represent the doctrines
of the philosophers in two sections, he spoke, in the first section, of
“Him,” but in the second, of “Them,” thus: “The philosophers say that we
must in the first place learn this, the existence of _God_, and that _He_
provides for the Universe, and that nothing—whether deed or purpose or
thought—can lie hidden from _Him_. In the next place [we must learn] of
what nature _They_ (_i.e._ the Gods) are. For, of whatever nature _They_
may be found to be, he that would fain please _Them_ and obey [Them] must
needs endeavour (to the best of his ability) to be made like unto _Them_.”

What did he mean by “THEM”? And why did he use THEM directly after
HIM? I believe he did it deliberately. For in the very next sentence
he expressed God in a neuter adjective, “If THE DIVINE [BEING] is
trustworthy, man also must needs be trustworthy.” He seemed to me to
pass from masculine singular to masculine plural and from that to neuter
singular, as much as to say, “Take notice. I use HIM, THEM, and IT in
three consecutive sentences, and all about God, to shew you that God is
not any one of these, but all.”

Similarly, after condemning the attempt of philosophers to please the
rulers of the earth, he said, “I know whom I must needs please, and
submit to, and obey—God and _those next to Him_.” But then he continued
in the singular (“_He_ made me at one with myself” and so on). And I
think I may safely say that I never heard him allow his ideal philosopher
or Cynic to address God in the plural with “ye” or “you.” It was always
“thou,” as in the utterance I quoted above—“Thine were they all and thou
gavest them to me.”

Well, then, whom did he mean by “those next to” God? I think he
referred to certain guardian angels—“daemons” he called them, and so
will I, spelling it thus, so as to distinguish it from “demon” meaning
“devil”—one of whom (he said) was allotted by God to each human being.
This, according to Epictetus, did not exclude the general inspection of
mankind by God Himself: “To each He has assigned a Guardian, the Daemon
of each mortal, to be his guard and keeper, sleepless and undeceivable.
Therefore, whenever you shut your doors and make darkness in the house,
remember never to say that you are alone. For you are not alone. God is
in the house, and your Daemon is in the house. And what need have these
of light to see what you are doing?”

This guardian Daemon, or daemonic Guardian, was said by some of our
fellow-scholars to be the portion of the divine Logos within us, in
virtue of which our Teacher distinguished men from beasts. Notably did he
once make this distinction—in answer to some imaginary questioner, who
was supposed to class man with irrational animals because he is subject
to animal necessities. “Cattle,” replied Epictetus, “are works of God,
but not preeminent, and certainly not parts of God; but thou”—turning to
the supposed opponent—“art a fragment broken off from God; thou hast in
thyself a part of Him. Why then ignore thy noble birth? Why dost thou not
recognise whence thou hast come? Wilt thou not remember, in the moment of
eating, what a Being thou art—thou that eatest—what a Being it is that
thou feedest? Wilt thou not recognise what it is that employs thy senses
and thy faculties? Knowest thou not that thou art feeding God, yea,
taking God with thee to the gymnasium? God, God dost thou carry about,
thou miserable creature, and thou knowest it not!”

We were rather startled at this. In what sense could a miserable creature
“carry about God”? Epictetus proceeded, “Dost thou fancy that I am
speaking of a god of gold or silver, an outside thing? It is within
thyself that thou carriest Him. And thou perceivest not that thou art
defiling Him with impure purposes and filthy actions! Before the face of
a mere statue of the God thou wouldst not dare to do any of the deeds
thou art daily doing. Yet in the presence of the God Himself, within
thee, looking at all thy acts, listening to all thy words and thoughts,
thou art not ashamed to continue thinking the same bad thoughts and doing
the same bad deeds—blind to thine own nature and banned by God’s wrath!”

From this it appeared that the Daemon in each man was good and veritably
God, and turned men towards God and goodness; but that some did not
perceive the presence and were deaf to the voice. These were “miserable
wretches” and “banned by God’s wrath.” Thus in some sense, the same
God seemed to be the cause of virtue in some but of vice in others.
This accorded with a saying of Epictetus on another occasion that God
“ordained that there should be summer and winter, fruitfulness and
fruitlessness, _virtue and vice_.” Then the question arose, To how many
did the Logos of God bring virtue and to how many did it result in vice?
And again, Did it bring virtue to as many as the Logos of God, or God,
desired? Or was He unable to fulfil His desire, as in the case of that
imaginary opponent, for example, so that the Supreme would have to say
to him, as to Epictetus, “If I could have, I would have. But now, make
no mistake. I could not bring virtue unto thee.” I was disposed to think
that Epictetus would have laid the blame on the opponent, who, he would
have said, might have obeyed the Logos in himself, if he had chosen to
do so. According to our Teacher’s doctrine, God would say to this man
nothing more cruel, or less just, than He says to all, “I could not
force virtue on thee, nor on any man. If I forced virtue on thee, virtue
would cease to be virtue and God would cease to be God.” But still the
uneasy feeling came to me—not indeed at the time of this lecture (or at
least not to any great extent) but afterwards—that the God of Epictetus
was hampered by what Epictetus called “the clay,” which He “would have
liked” to make immortal, if He “had been able.” What if each man’s “clay”
was different? Who made the clay? What if God controlled nothing more
than the shaping of the clay, and this, too, only in conjunction with
the Fates? What if the Fates alone were responsible for the making of
the clay? In that case, must not the Fates be regarded as higher Beings,
even above the Maker of the Cosmos—higher in some sense, but bad Beings
or weak Beings, spoiling the Maker’s work by supplying Him with bad
material so that He could not do what He would have liked to have done?

Epictetus, I subsequently found, would never see difficulties of this
kind. He represented the Supreme as a great stage manager, allotting
to all their appropriate parts: “Thou art the sun; go on thy rounds,
minister to all things. Thou art a heifer; when the lion appears, play
thy part, or suffer for it. Thou art a bull; fight as champion of the
herd. Thou canst lead the host against Ilium; be thou Agamemnon. Thou
canst cope with Hector; be thou Achilles.” He did not add, “Thou canst
spit venom and slander against the good and great; be thou Thersites.”
But I did not think of that at the time.

For the moment, I was carried away by the fervour of the speaker. “He,”
I said, “has been a slave, the slave of Nero’s freedman; he has seen
things at their worst; and yet he believes that virtue, freedom, and
peace, are placed by God in the power of all that will obey the Logos,
His gift, within their hearts!” So I believed it, or persuaded myself
that I believed it. Epictetus insisted, in the strongest terms, that the
divine Providence extends to all. “God,” he said, “does not neglect a
single one, even of the least of His creatures.” Stimulating us to _be_
good instead of _talking_ about being good, he exclaimed, “How grand
it is for each of you to be able to say, _The very thing that people
are solemnly arguing about in the schools as an impossible ideal, that
very thing I am accomplishing. They are, in effect, expatiating on my
virtues, investigating me, and singing my praises. Zeus has been pleased
that I should receive from my own self a demonstration of the truth of
this ideal, while He Himself tests and tries me to see whether I am a
worthy soldier of His army, and a worthy citizen of His city. At the same
time it has been His pleasure to bring me forward that I may testify
concerning the things that lie outside the will, and that I may cry aloud
to the world, ‘Behold, O men, that your fears are idle! Vain, all vain,
are your greedy and covetous desires. Seek not the Good in the outside
world! Seek it in yourselves! Else, ye will not find it.’ Engaging me
for such a mission, and for such a testimony as this, God now leads me
hither, now sends me thither; exhibits me to mankind in poverty, in
disease—ruler in fact but no ruler in the eyes of men—banishes me to the
rocks of Gyara, or drags me into prison or into bonds! And all this, not
hating me. No, God forbid! Who can hate his own best and most faithful
servant? No, nor neglecting me. How could He? For He does not neglect
the meanest of His creatures. No, He is training and practising me, He
is employing me as His witness to the rest of mankind. And I, being set
down by Him for such high service as this—can I possibly find time to
entertain anxieties about where I am, or with whom I am living, or what
men say about me? How can I fail to be, with my whole might and my whole
being, intent on God, and on His commandments and ordinances?_”

I noted with pleasure here the words, “He does not neglect the meanest
of His creatures.” To the same effect elsewhere, speaking of Zeus, he
said, “In very truth, the universal frame of things is badly managed
unless Zeus takes care of all His own citizens, in order that they may be
blessed like unto Himself.” A little before this, he said about Hercules,
“He left his children behind him without a groan or regret—not as though
he were leaving them orphans, for he knew that no man is an orphan,”
because Zeus is “Father of men.”

In all these passages describing the fatherhood of God and the sonship
of man, Epictetus spoke of virtue as being, by itself, a sufficient
reward, in respect of the ineffable peace that it brings through
the consciousness of being united to God. But how long this union
lasted, and whether its durability was proof against death—as Socrates
taught—about this he had hitherto said nothing. The Cynic, he again and
again insisted, was God’s son; but he did not insist that the son was
as immortal as the Father. Sometimes indeed he described the man of
temperance and self-control as “banqueting at the table of the Gods.”
Still more, the man that had passed beyond temperance into contempt of
earthly things—a rank to which Arrian and I did not aspire—such a Cynic
as this he extolled as being not only fellow-guest with the Gods but also
fellow-ruler. These expressions reminded me of what we used to learn by
heart in Rome concerning the man described by Horace as “just and firm
of purpose.” The poet likened him to Hercules transported aloft to the
fiery citadel of heaven, and to the Emperor Augustus drinking nectar
at the table of the Gods. But this was said about Augustus while he
was still alive; and the poem did not seem to me to prove that Horace
believed in the immortality of the soul. However, what Epictetus said
about that will appear hereafter. For the present, I must explain why the
teaching of Epictetus concerning the Gods, although it carried me away
for a time, caused me bewilderment in the end, and made me feel the need
of something beyond.

Up to the time of my coming to Nicopolis, my faith in the Gods had been
like that of most official and educated Romans. First I had a literary
belief not only in Zeus but also in Apollo, Athene, Demeter, and the rest
of the Gods and Goddesses of Homer, tempered by a philosophic feeling
that some of the Homeric and other myths about them, and about the less
beautiful divinities, were not true, or were true only as allegories.
In the next place I had a Roman or official belief in the destiny of
the empire, and a recognition that its unity was best maintained by
tolerating the worships of any number of national Gods and Goddesses;
provided they did not tend to sedition and conspiracy, nor to such vices
as were in contravention of the laws. Lastly, I recognised as the belief
of many philosophers—and was myself half inclined to believe—that One
God, or Zeus, so controlled the whole of things that it would hardly be
atheistic if I sometimes regarded even Apollo, and Athene, and others,
as personifying God’s attributes rather than as being Gods and Goddesses
in themselves—although I myself, without scruple and in all willingness,
should have offered them both worship and sacrifice. Personally, apart (I
think) from the influences of childhood, I always shrank from definitely
believing that the One God ever had been, or ever could be, “alone.”

It was with these confused opinions or feelings that I became a pupil of
Epictetus. And at first, whatever he asserted about God, or the Gods,
he made me believe it—as long as he was speaking. When he said “God,”
or “Zeus,” or “Father,” or “HIM,” or “THEM,” or “Providence,” or “The
Divine Being,” or “The Nature of All Things,” or whatever else, he
dragged me as it were to the new Name, and made me follow as a captive
and do it homage. But afterwards there came a reaction. The limbs of
my mind, so to speak, became tired of being dragged. I longed for rest
and found none. My homage, too, was dissipated by distraction. When
he repeated as he often did—addressing each one of us individually,
and therefore (I assumed) me among the rest—“Thou carriest about God,”
he seemed to say to me, “Look within thyself for Him whom thou must
worship.” That was not helpful, it was the reverse of helpful—at least,
to me. I felt vaguely then (and now as a Christian I know) that men have
need not only to look within, but also (and much more) to look up—up to
the Father in heaven with the aid of His Spirit on earth. It was due to
Epictetus that at this time I—however faintly—began to feel this need.

Epictetus seemed to have no consistent view either of the unity of God
or of the possibility of plural Gods. In Rome, we have three altars to
the Goddess Febris, or Fever. Epictetus once referred to Febris in the
reply of a philosopher to a tyrant. The latter says, “I have power to
cut off your head”; the former replies, “You are in the right. I quite
forgot that I must pay you homage as people do to Fever and Cholera, and
erect an altar to you, _as indeed in Rome there is an altar to Fever_.”
It was hardly possible to mistake the Master’s mockery of this worship.
On the other hand, he was bitterly sarcastic against those who denied the
existence of Demeter, the Koré her daughter, and Pluto the husband of
the Koré. These deities our Master regarded as representing bread. “O,
the gratitude,” he exclaimed, “O, the reverence of these creatures! Day
by day they eat bread; and yet they have the face to say ‘We do not know
whether there is any such a being as Demeter, or the Koré, or Pluto!’” It
never seemed to occur to him that the worshippers of Febris might retort
on him, “Day by day scores of people in Rome have the fever, and yet you
have the face to say to us Romans, ‘I do not know whether there is any
such a being as Febris or Cholera!’”

I think he never spoke of Poseidon, Ares, or Aphrodite, and hardly ever
of Apollo. Even Athene he mentioned only thrice in Arrian’s hearing
(so he told me), twice speaking of her statue by Phidias, and once
representing Zeus as bemoaning His solitude (according to some notion,
which he ridiculed) after a universal conflagration of gods and men and
things, “Miserable me! I have neither Hera, nor Athene, nor Apollo!” It
was for Zeus alone, as God, that our Teacher reserved his devotion. And
for Him he displayed a passionate enthusiasm, the absolute sincerity of
which it never entered into my mind to question; nor do I question it
now. Under this God he served as a soldier, or lived as a citizen. To
this God he testified as a witness that others might believe and worship.
In this view of human life—as being a testimony to God—his teaching was
most convincing to me, even when I felt, as I always did, that something
was wanting in any conception of God that regarded Him as ever being
“alone.”

Now I pass to another matter, not of great interest to me at the time,
but of great importance to me in its results, because it led to my first
knowledge—that could be called knowledge—of the followers of the Lord
Jesus Christ. It arose from a passage in the lecture I described in my
last chapter. Epictetus was speaking about “the whole frame of things” as
being a kind of fluid, in which the thrill of one portion affects all the
rest, and about God and the Guardian Dæmon as feeling our every motion
and thought. He concluded by calling on us to take an oath—a military
oath, or _sacramentum_, as we call it in Latin—such as soldiers take to
the Emperor. “They,” he said, “taking on themselves the life of service
for pay, swear to prefer above all things the safety of Cæsar. You, who
have been counted worthy of such vast gifts, will you not likewise swear,
and, after taking your oath, abide by it? And what shall the oath be?
Never to disobey, never to accuse, never to find fault with any of the
gifts that have been given by Him; never to do reluctantly, never to
suffer reluctantly, anything that may be necessary. This oath is like
theirs—after a fashion. The soldiers of Cæsar swear not to prefer another
to him; God’s soldiers swear to prefer themselves to everything.”

On me this came somewhat as bathos. But it was a frequent paradox with
him; and of course, in one sense, it was not a paradox but common sense.
What he meant by bidding us “prefer _ourselves_” was “prefer _virtue_,”
which he always described as each man’s true “profit.” Everyone, he
said, must prefer his own “profit” to everything else, even to father,
brothers, children, wife. Zeus Himself—so he taught—prefers His own
“profit”—which consists in being Father of all. Take away this thin
veil of apparent egotism, and the oath might be described as an oath to
live and die for righteousness, for the Logos or Word of God within us,
and, thus, for God Himself. But why, I thought, disguise loyalty under
the mask of self-seeking? This notion of a military oath taken to God,
and at the same time to oneself—and an oath, so to speak, of negative
allegiance, not to do this or that—did not inspire me with the same
enthusiasm as the more positive doctrine and the picture of the wandering
Cynic going about the world and actively doing good and destroying evil.

Arrian, however, was taking down this passage about the military oath
with even more than his usual earnestness and rapidity. “Did that impress
you?” said I, as we left the lecture-room together. “On me it fell a
little flat.” He did not answer at once. Presently, as if rousing himself
from a reverie, “Forgive me,” he said, “I was thinking of something that
occurred in our neighbourhood about fifteen years ago. You know I was
born in Bithynia. Well, about that time, there was a great outbreak of
that Jewish superstition of which you must often have heard in Rome,
practised by the followers of Christus. They are suspected of all sorts
of horrible crimes and abominations, as you know, I dare say, better than
I do, being familiar with what the common people say about them in Rome.
Moreover the new work just published by your Tacitus—a lover of truth
if any man is—severely condemns them. I am bound to say our Governor
did not think so badly of them as Tacitus does. Perhaps in Rome and in
Nero’s time they were more savage and vicious than among us in Bithynia
recently. However, that matters little. The question was not about
their private vices or virtues. Our Governor believed them guilty of
treasonable conspiracy. So he determined to stop it.

“Stop it he did; or, at all events, to a very great extent. But the
point of interest for me is, that when these fellows were had up before
our Governor—it was Caius Plinius Cæcilius Secundus, an intimate
friend of the Emperor Trajan—he found there was really no mischief at
all to be apprehended from them. Secundus had heard something about a
_sacramentum_, or military oath—and this is my point—which these people
were in the habit of taking at their secret meetings. Naturally this
convinced him at first that there must be something wrong. But, when he
came to look into it, the whole thing came to no more than what I will
now tell you. I am sure of my facts for I heard them from his secretary,
who had a copy of his letter to the Emperor. It was to this effect,
‘_They affirm that the sum total of their crime or error is, that they
were wont, on an appointed day, to meet together before daybreak and to
sing an alternate chant to Christus, as to a God, and to bind themselves
by an oath—not, as conspirators do, to commit some crime in common,
but to avoid committing theft, robbery, adultery, fraud, breach of
faith. This done, they break up. It is true they return to take food in
common, but it is a mere harmless repast._’ After the Governor had gone
carefully into the matter, putting a few women to the torture to get at
the truth, he came to the conclusion that this so-called military oath,
or _sacramentum_, had no harm whatever in it. The thing was merely a
perverted superstition run wild. He very sensibly adopted the mild course
of giving the poor deluded people a chance of denying their faith as they
called it. The Emperor sanctioned his mildness. Most of them recanted.
Things settled down, and promised to be very much as they were before. At
least so the Governor thought. We, outside the palace, were not quite so
sanguine. But anyhow, what struck me to-day was the similarity between
the military oath of these Christians and the military oath prescribed by
our great Teacher to his Cynics.”

“But,” said I, “does it not seem to you that our military oath ought
to be a positive one, namely, that we Cynics will go anywhere and do
anything that the General may command—and not a negative one, that we
will abstain from grumbling against His orders?” Arrian replied, “As to
that, I think our Master follows Socrates, who expressly says that he had
indeed a daemon, or at all events a daemonic voice; but that it told him
only what to avoid, not what to do.” “Surely,” replied I, “what Socrates
said on his trial was, ‘How could I be fairly described as introducing
new daemons when saying that _a voice of God manifestly points out to me
what I ought to do_?’” “I do not remember that,” said my friend, “but we
are near my rooms. Come in and let us look into Plato’s Apologia.”

So we went in, and Arrian took out of his book-case Plato’s account of
the Speech of Socrates before the jury that condemned him to death.
“There, Silanus,” said he, “you see I was right.” And he pointed to these
words, “There comes to me, as you have often heard me say, a divine and
daemonic something, which indeed my prosecutor Meletus mentioned and
burlesqued in his written indictment. This thing, in its commencement,
dates back (I believe) from my boyhood, a kind of Voice that comes to me
from time to time, and, whenever it comes, it always”—“Mark this,” said
Arrian—“_turns me back from doing that (whatever it may be) which I am
purposing to do, but never moves me forward_.”

I seemed fairly and fully confuted. But suddenly it occurred to me to ask
my friend to let me see Xenophon’s version of the same speech. He brought
it out. I was not long before I disinterred the very words that I have
quoted above, “_a Voice of God that manifestly points out to me what I
ought to do_.” And the context, too, indicated that the Voice—which he
calls _daemonic_, or a _daemonion_—gave positive directions, recognised
as such by his friends.

This very important difference between Plato and Xenophon in regard to
the daemon of Socrates, as described by Socrates himself, interested
Arrian not a little. “Come back,” he said, “in the evening, when I shall
have finished reducing my notes to writing, and let us put the two
versions side by side and see how many passages we can find agreeing.”
So I came back after sunset, and we sat down and went carefully through
them. And, as far as I remember, we could not find these two great
biographers of this great man agreeing in so much as a dozen consecutive
words in their several records of his Apologia, his only public speech.
Presently—Arrian having Xenophon in his hand and I Plato—I read out the
well-known words of Socrates about Anytus and Meletus, his accusers,
and about their power to kill him but not to hurt him. “What,” said
I, “is Xenophon’s version of this?” “He omits it altogether,” replied
Arrian; “but I see, reading on, that he puts into the mouth of Socrates
an entirely different saying about Anytus, after the condemnation. Let
me see the Plato.” Taking it from my hand, he observed, “Our Master,
Epictetus, who is continually quoting these words of Plato’s, never
quotes them exactly. ‘Anytus and Meletus may kill me but they cannot hurt
me’—that is always his condensed version. But you see it is not Plato’s,
Plato’s is much longer.”

So the conversation strayed away in a literary direction. We talked
a great deal—without much knowledge, at least on my part—about oral
tradition. I remarked on the possibilities in it of astonishing
divergences and distortions of doctrine—“unless,” said I, as I rose up
to go, “it happens, by good fortune, to be taken down at the time by
an honest fellow like you, who loves his teacher, but loves the truth
more, so that he just sets down what he hears, as he hears it.” “I do my
best,” said Arrian; “but if it were not nearly midnight, I could shew you
that even my best is not always good enough. I suspect that such sayings
of our Master as become most current will be very variously reported a
hundred years hence.”

“Good-night,” said I, and was opening the door to depart, when it flashed
upon me that all this time, although we had been discussing Socrates, and
assuming a resemblance between him and our Master, we had said nothing
about that great doctrine in the profession of which Socrates breathed
his last—prescribing a sacrifice to Æsculapius as though death were the
beginning of a higher life—I mean the immortality of the soul. “I will
not stay now,” said I, “but we have not said a word about Epictetus’s
doctrine concerning the immortality of the soul; could you lend me some
of your notes about it?” “He seldom speaks of it,” replied my friend;
“when he does, it is not always easy to distinguish between metaphor and
not-metaphor. My notes, so far, do not quite satisfy me that I have done
him justice. He is likely to touch on it in the next lecture or soon
after. I should prefer you to hear for yourself what he says.”

“One more question,” said I. “Did our Master ever, in your hearing, refer
to that last strange saying of Socrates, ‘We owe a cock to Æsculapius’?
Sometimes it seems to me the finest epigram in all Greek literature.”
“Never,” replied Arrian. “He has never mentioned it either in my hearing,
or in the hearing of those whom I have asked about it. And I have asked
many.”

Departing home I found myself almost at once forgetting our long literary
discussion about oral tradition, in the larger and deeper question
touched on in the last few minutes. Why should not Arrian have been able
to “do justice” to Epictetus in this particular subject? Was it that
our Teacher did not quite “do justice” to himself? Then I began to ask
what Epictetus had meant precisely by such expressions as that men may
become “fellow-banqueters” and even “fellow-rulers” with “the Gods.” “If
God Himself is immortal, how,” said I, “can ‘God’s own son’ fail to be
immortal also?”

All through that night, even till near dawn, I was harassed with wild
and wearying dreams. I travelled, wandering through wilderness after
wilderness in quest of Socrates and nowhere finding him. Wherever I went
I seemed to hear a strange monotonous cry that followed close behind me.
Presently I heard a flapping of wings, and I knew that the sound was the
crowing of the cock that was to be offered for Socrates to Æsculapius.
Then it became a mocking, inarticulate, human voice striving to utter
articulate speech. At last I heard distinctly, “If Zeus could have, he
would have. If he could have, he would have. But he could not.”

The cock was still crowing when I started out of my dream. It was not
yet dawn but sleep was impossible. When Arrian called to accompany me
to lecture, he found me in a fever and sent in a physician, by whose
advice I stayed indoors for two or three days. During this enforced
inaction, I resolved to write to my old friend Scaurus. Marcus Æmilius
Scaurus—for that was his name in full—had been a friend of my father’s,
years before I was born; and his advice had been largely the cause of my
coming to Nicopolis. Scaurus had seen service; but for many years past he
had devoted himself wholly to literature, not as a rhetorician, nor as
a lover of the poets, but as “a practical historian,” so he called it.
By this he meant to distinguish himself from what he called “ornamental
historians.” “History,” he used to say, “contains truth in a well; and I
like trying to draw it out.”

For a man of nearly seventy, Scaurus was remarkably vigorous in mind
and thought, with large stores of observation and learning, of a sort
not common among Romans of good birth. His favourite motto was, “Quick
to perceive, slow to believe.” I used to think he erred on the side
of believing too little, and his friends used to call him Miso-mythus
or “Myth-hater.” But over and over again, when I had ventured to
discuss with him a matter of documentary evidence, I had found that his
incredulity was justified; so that I had come to admit that there was
some force in his protest, that he ought to be called, not “Myth-hater,”
but “Truth-lover.”

In the year after my fathers death, when I was wasting my time in Rome,
and in danger of doing worse, Scaurus took me to task as befitted my
father’s dearest friend—a cousin also of my mother, who had died while
I was still an infant. He had long desired me to enter the army, and
I should have done so but for illness. Now that my health was almost
restored, he returned to his previous advice, but suggested that, for
the present, I might spend a month or two with advantage in attending
the lectures of Epictetus, of whom he knew something while he was in
Rome, and about whom he had heard a good deal since. When I demurred, and
told him that I had heard a good many philosophers and did not care for
them, he replied, “Epictetus you will not find a common philosopher.” He
pressed me and I yielded.

Since my coming to Nicopolis, I had written once to tell him of my
arrival, and to thank him for advising me to come to so admirable a
teacher. But I had been too much absorbed in the teaching to enter into
detail. Now, having leisure, and knowing his great interest in such
subjects, I wrote to him even more fully than I have done for my readers
above, sending him all my lecture notes; and I asked him what he judged
to be the secret of Epictetus, which made him so different from other
philosophers. Nor did I omit to tell him of my talk with Arrian about the
Christians and their _sacramentum_.

Many days elapsed, and I had been attending lectures again for a long
time, before his letter in reply reached Nicopolis; but I will set it
down here, as also a second letter from him on the same subject. In the
first, Scaurus expressed his satisfaction at my meeting with Arrian (whom
he knew and described as an extremely sensible and promising young man,
likely to get on). He added a hope that I would take precisely Arrian’s
view of the advantage to be derived from philosophy. But a large part
of his letter—much more than I could have wished—was occupied with our
“wonderful discovery” (as he called it) that Plato and Xenophon disagreed
in their versions of the Apologia of Socrates. On this he rallied us as
mere babes in criticism, but, said he, not much more babyish than many
professed critics, who cannot be made to understand that—outside poetry,
and traditions learned by rote, and a few “aculeate sayings” (so he
called them) of philosophers and great men—no two historians ever agree
independently—he laid stress on “_independently_”—for twenty consecutive
words, in recording a speech or dialogue. “I will not lay you a wager,”
said he, “for it would be cheating you. But I will make you an offer.
If you and Arrian, between you, can find twenty identical consecutive
words of Socrates in the whole of Xenophon’s Memorabilia and Plato’s
Dialogues, I will give you five hundred sesterces apiece[1]. Your failure
(for fail you will) ought to strike you as all the more remarkable
because both Plato and Xenophon tell us that Socrates used to describe
himself as ‘_always saying the same things about the same subjects_.’
That one similar saying they have preserved. For the rest, these two
great biographers, writing page upon page of Socratic talk, cannot agree
exactly about ‘_the same things_’ for a score of consecutive words!”

He added more, not of great interest to me, about the credulity of
those who persuaded themselves that Xenophon’s version must be spurious
just because it differed from Plato’s, whereas, said he, this very
difference went to shew that it was genuine, and that Xenophon was
tacitly correcting Plato. But concerning the secret of Epictetus he said
very little—and that, merely in reference to the _sacramentum_ of the
Christians which I mentioned in my first letter. On this he remarked that
Pliny, with whom he had been well acquainted, had never mentioned the
matter to him. “But that,” he said, “is not surprising. His measures to
suppress the Christian superstition did not prove so successful as he
had hoped. Moreover he disliked the whole business—having to deal with
mendacious informers on one side, and fanatical fools or hysterical women
on the other. And I, who knew a good deal more about the Christians than
Pliny did, disliked the subject still more. My conviction is, however,
that your excellent Epictetus—rationalist though he is now, and even less
prone to belief than Socrates—has not been always unscathed by that same
Christian infection (for that is the right name for it).

“Partly, he sympathizes with the Christian hatred or contempt for ‘the
powers of this world’ (to use their phrase) and partly with their
allegiance to one God, whom he and they regard as casting down kings
and setting up philosophers. But there is this gulf between them. The
Christians think of their champion, Christus, as having devoted himself
to death for their sake, and then as having been miraculously raised from
the dead, and as, even now, present among them whenever they choose to
meet together and ‘sing hymns to him as to a God.’ Epictetus absolutely
disbelieves this. Hence, he is at a great disadvantage—I mean, of course,
as a preacher, not as a philosopher. The Christians have their God,
standing in the midst of their daily assemblies, before whom they can
‘corybantize’—to repeat your expression—to their hearts’ content. Your
teacher has nothing—nay, worse than nothing, for he has a blank and feels
it to be a blank.

“What does he do then? He fills the blank with a Hercules or a Diogenes
or a Socrates, and he corybantizes before that. But it is a make-believe,
though an honest one. I have said more than I intended. You know how I
ramble on paper. And the habit is growing on me. Let no casual word of
mine make you doubt that Epictetus is thoroughly honest. But honest men
may be deceived. Be ‘quick in perceiving, slow in believing.’ Keep to
Arrian’s view of a useful and practical life in the world, the world as
it is, not as it might be in Plato’s Republic—which, by the way, would be
a very dull place. Farewell.”

This letter did not satisfy me at all. “Honest men,” I repeated, “may be
deceived.” True, and Scaurus, though honest as the day, is no exception.
To think that Epictetus, _our_ Epictetus—for so Arrian and I used to call
him—had been even for a time under the spell of such a superstition as
this! I had always assumed—and my conversation with Arrian about what
seemed exceptional experiences in Bithynia had done little to shake my
assumption—that the Christians were a vile Jewish sect, morose, debased,
given up to monstrous secret vices, hostile to the Empire, and hateful
to Gods and men. What was the ground for connecting Epictetus with
them? Contempt for rulers? That was no new thing in philosophers. Many
of them had despised kings, or affected to despise them, without any
intention of rebelling against them. What though Epictetus suggested,
in a hyperbolical or metaphorical way, a religious _sacramentum_ for
philosophers? This was quite different from that of the Christians as
mentioned by Arrian. I could not help feeling that, for once, my old
friend had “perceived” little and “believed” much.

Perhaps my reply shewed traces of this feeling. At all events, Scaurus
wrote back, asking whether I had observed in him “a habit of basing
conclusions on slight grounds.” Then he continued “I told you that I
knew a good deal about the Christians. I also know a great deal more
about Epictetus than you suppose. When I was a young man, I attended the
lectures of that most admirable of philosophers, Musonius Rufus. About
the time when I left, Epictetus, then a slave, was brought to the classes
by his master, Epaphroditus; and Rufus, whom I shall always regard with
respect and affection, spoke to me about his new pupil in the highest
terms. Afterwards he often told me how he tried to arm the poor boy with
philosophy against what he would have to endure from such a master. Many
a time have I thought that the young philosopher must have needed all his
Stoic armour, going home from the lecture-room of Rufus to the palace of
Nero’s freedman.

“But I also remember seeing him long before that, when he came one
morning as a mere child not twelve years old, along with Epaphroditus, to
Nero’s Palace. I was then about fourteen or fifteen. After we had left
the Palace—my father and I—we came upon him again on that same evening,
staring at some Christians, smeared with pitch and burning away like so
many flaring torches, to light the Imperial Gardens—one of Nero’s insane
or bestial freaks! I have never been able to forget the sight, and I have
often thought that he could never forget it. Somewhere about that time,
one of the Christian ringleaders, Paulus by name, was put to death. As
happens in such cases, his people began to collect every scrap of his
writings that could be found. A little volume of them came into my hands
some twenty years ago. But long before that date, all through the period
when Epictetus was in Rufus’s classes, the Christian slaves in Rome had
in their hands the letters of this Paulus or Paul. One of them, the
longest, written to the Christians in Rome (a few years before Paul was
brought to the City as a prisoner) goes back as far as sixty years ago.
Some are still earlier. I saw the volume more than once in Cæsar’s Palace
in the days of Vespasian. This Paul was one of the most practical of men,
and his letters are steeped in practical experience. Epictetus, besides
being a great devourer of literature in general, devoured in particular
everything that bore on practical life. The odds are great that he would
have come across the book somewhere among his slave or freedman friends.

“But I do not trust to such mere antecedent probabilities. You must know
that, ever since Epictetus set up as a philosopher, I have followed
his career with interest. Recluse though I am, I have many friends and
correspondents. These, from time to time, have furnished me with notes of
his lectures. Well, when I came to read Paul’s letters, I was prepared to
find in them certain general similarities to Stoic doctrine; for Paul was
a man of Tarsus and might have picked up these things at the University
there. But I found a great deal more. I found particularities, just of
the sort that you find in your lectures. Paul’s actual experiences had
been exactly those of a vagrant Æsculapius or Hercules. Your friend
idealizes the wanderings of Hercules; Paul enacted them. Paul journeyed
from city to city, from continent to continent, everywhere turning
the world upside down—Jerusalem, Damascus, Antioch, Ephesus, Colossæ,
Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Jerusalem again—last of all, Rome.
Everywhere the slaves, the poor, the women, went after him. Everywhere he
came into collision with the rulers of the earth. If he did not proclaim
a war between them and his God, he at all events implied war.

“Now this is just what Epictetus would have liked to do. Only he could
not often get people to take him in the same serious way, because he
had not the same serious business in hand. I verily believe he was not
altogether displeased when the Prefect of the City banished him with
other philosophers of note under Domitian. I know certain philosophers
who actually made money by being thus banished. It was an advertisement
for their lectures. Don’t imagine that _your_ philosopher made, or wished
to make, money. No. But he made influence—which he valued above money.

“However, the Emperors and Prefects after Domitian were not such fools.
They knew the difference between a real revolution and a revolution on
paper. A mere theoretical exaltation of the mind above the body, a mere
scholastic laudation of kingship over the minds of men as superior to
kingship over their bodies—these things kings tolerate; for they mean
nothing but words. But a revolution in the name of a _person_—a person,
too, supposed by fanatics to be living and present in all their secret
meetings, ‘wherever two or three are gathered together,’ for that is
their phrase—this may mean a great deal. A person, regarded in this way,
may take hold of men’s spirits. Missionaries pretending—or, still worse,
believing—that they are speaking in the name of such a person, may lead
crowds of silly folk into all sorts of sedition. They may refuse, for
example, to adore the Emperor’s image and to offer sacrifice to the Gods
of the State; or they might even attempt to subvert the foundations of
society by withholding taxes, or by encouraging or inculcating some
wholesale manumission of slaves. This sort of thing means war, and Paul,
fifty years ago, was actually waging this war. Epictetus longs to be
waging it now. As he cannot, he takes pleasure in urging his pupils
to it, painting an imaginary battle array in which he sees imaginary
soldiers waging, or destined to wage, imaginary conflicts with imaginary
enemies.

“Hence that picturesque contrast (in the lecture you transcribed for
me) between the unmarried and the married Cynic—which, besides the
similarity of thought, contains some curious similarities to the actual
words of Paul. It ran thus, ‘The condition of the times being such as it
is, opposing forces, as it were, being drawn up in line of battle’—that
was his expression. Well, what followed from this non-existent,
hypothetical, imminent conflict? The Philosopher, it seems, must be a
soldier, ‘_undistracted_, wholly devoted to the ministry of God, able to
go about and visit men, not bound fast to private personal duties, not
_entangled_ in conditions of life that he cannot honourably transgress.’
And then he describes at great length a married Cynic dragged down from
his royal throne by the claims and encumbrances of a nursery. Now this
same ‘undistractedness’ (using the very word) of unmarried life Paul
himself has mentioned in a letter to the Corinthians, where he says that
‘owing to the pressing necessity’ of the times, it was good for a man
to be unmarried, and that he wished them to be ‘free from anxiety.’ He
concludes ‘But I speak this for your own profit, not that I may cast
a noose round you but that you may with all seemliness attend on the
Lord _undistractedly_.’ Again, he writes to one of his assistants or
subalterns, ‘Endure hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
No one engaged in a campaign is _entangled_’—your friend’s word again—‘in
the affairs of civil life.’

“I lay little stress on the similarity of word, but a great deal on the
similarity of thought. There is no such conflict as Epictetus describes.
There is no such ‘line of battle’—not at least for us, Romans, or for
you, Cynics. But _there is for the Christians_—arrayed as they are
against the authorities of the Empire. And that reminds me of your
Epictetian antithesis between ‘the Beast’ and ‘the Man.’ It is a little
like a Christian tradition about ‘the Beast.’ By ‘the Beast’ they mean
Nero. They have never forgotten his treatment of them after the fire.
For a long time after his death they had a notion—I believe some of them
have it still—that the Beast may rise from the dead and persecute them
again. They also expect—I cannot do more than allude to their fantastic
dreams—a sort of ‘Son of Man’ to appear on the clouds taking vengeance on
the armies of the Beast. So, you see, they, too, recognise an opposition
between the Man and the Beast. Only, with the Christians it is of a date
much earlier than Epictetus. It goes back to a Jewish tradition, which
represents a sort of opposition between the empires of Beasts and the
empire of the Son of Man, in a prophet named Daniel, some centuries ago.

“Epictetus, of course, does not believe in all this. But still he
persuades himself that there is such a ‘line of battle’ in the air,
and that he and his followers can take part in this aerial conflict
by ‘going about the world’ as spiritually armed warriors, making
themselves substantially miserable—or what the world would call
such—while championing the cause of unsubstantial good against evil. All
that you wrote to me about the missionary life and its hardships—its
destitution, homelessness, nakedness, yes, even the extraordinary phrase
you added from Arrian’s notes about the cudgelled Cynic, how he ‘must
be cudgelled like a donkey, and, in the act of being cudgelled, must
love his cudgellers as being the father of all and brother of all’—all
this I could match, in a compressed form, from a passage in my little
Pauline volume. Here it is: ‘_For I think that God has made a show of us
Missionaries_’—Missionaries, or Apostles, that is their name for their
wandering Æsculapii—‘_like condemned criminals in the arena. We have been
made a theatre-show to the universe, to angels and men …:—up to this
very moment, hungering, thirsting, naked, buffeted, driven from place
to place, toiling and labouring with our own hands. Reviled, we bless;
persecuted, we endure. Men imprecate evil on us, we exhort them to their
good. We have been made as the refuse of the universe, the offscouring of
all, up to this very moment._’

“Again, elsewhere, Paul brings in that same Epictetian contrast between
the external misery and the internal joy of the Missionary: ‘_Never
needlessly offending anyone in anything, lest the Service_’—which your
philosopher calls ‘the service of God’—‘_be reproached, but in everything
commending ourselves as the Servants of God, in much endurance, in
tribulations, in necessities, in hardships, in scourgings, in prisons,
in tumults, in toils, in watchings, in fastings_.’ Now comes the
contrast, indicating that all these things are superficial trifles,
the petty pin-pricks inflicted by the spite of the contemptible world,
but underneath lie the solid realities:—‘_in purity, in knowledge, in
longsuffering, in kindness and goodness, in the holy spirit, in love
unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God_.’

“This leads Paul to the thought of the armour of God, and the friends and
enemies of God, the good and the evil, which this wandering Christian
Hercules has to deal with: ‘_By the arms of righteousness, on the right
hand and on the left; by glory and dishonour; by ill report and good
report_—,’ he means, I think, ‘glory in the sight of God, dishonour
in the sight of men,’ and again, ‘ill report on earth, good report in
heaven.’ And so he continues, ‘_as knaves and true_’—that is, ‘knaves in
appearance, in the world’s false judgment, but true men in the sight of
Him who judges truly.’ It is a marvel of compression. And it is kept up
in what follows:—‘_misunderstood_ [_i.e._ by men] _and well understood_
[_i.e._ by God]; _dying, and behold we live; under the headsman’s
scourge, yet not beheaded; grieving, but always rejoicing; beggars, but
making many rich; having nothing, yet having all things for ever!_’

“You will be tired of this. But your zeal for your new teacher brought
it on you. You admire his ‘fervour.’ Then what do you think of this
man’s fervour? He could give points to Epictetus both for fervour and
for compression. I admit that Paul has not your master’s dramatic flash,
irony, and epigrammatic twist. But, as for ‘fervour,’ here, I contend,
is the original Falernian, which your friend Epictetus has watered down.
Not that I blame him, either as regards style or in respect of morality.
His humorous description of the nursery troubles of the married Stoic
was very good—for his purpose, and for a lecture. But it would not have
suited Paul. A lecturer must not be too brief. If Epictetus were to pack
stuff in his lectures as Paul packs it in his epistles, your lesson would
sometimes not last five minutes.

“But I am straying from the question, which is, whether Epictetus
borrowed. Let me give you another instance. The Christians are permeated
with two notions, the first is, that they have received an ‘invitation,’
‘summons,’ or ‘calling’ (_Klēsis_ they call it) to a heavenly Feast in
a Kingdom of Heaven. The second is, that, if they are to attain to this
Feast, they must pass through suffering and persecution, by ‘witnessing’
or ‘testifying’ to Christ, as being their King, in opposition to the Gods
of the Romans. This ‘witness,’ or _martyria_, is so closely associated in
their minds with the notion of persecution that ‘martyrdom,’ with them,
has come to imply, almost always, death. Now, as far as I know, the
Greeks do not anywhere use the word ‘calling’ in this sense. But look at
what Epictetus says about a sham philosopher, who, having been ‘called’
by God to be a beggar, ‘disgraces his _calling_’: ‘How then dost thou
mount the stage now? It is in the character of a witness _called_ by God,
who says “Come thou, and bear witness to me.”’ Then the sham philosopher
whines out, ‘I am in a terrible strait, O Lord, and most unfortunate.
None take thought for me; none give to me. All blame me. All speak evil
of me.’ To which Epictetus replies, ‘Is this the witness thou wouldst
bear, _bringing shame on the calling wherewith He hath called thee_, in
that He honoured thee with so great an honour, and counted thee _worthy_
to be promoted to the high task of such a witnessing?’ Now this phrase,
‘worthy of the calling,’ is Pauline in thought, and Pauline in word. Here
is an instance, from a letter to the Thessalonians, ‘That our God would
_count you worthy of the calling_.’ And Paul writes to the Ephesians,
‘That ye walk _worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called_.’

“Again, you yourself remarked to me on the strangeness and originality
of Epictetus’s expression about ‘eating,’ namely, that, in the very act
of eating, or going to the gymnasium, or whatever else, the philosopher
was to remember that he was ‘feeding on God’ and ‘carrying about God,’
and that he must not ‘defile’ the image of the God within him. Well, I
admit it is strange, but I do not admit that it is original. I can match
it in the first place with another passage from Epictetus himself, where
he bids some of his uppish pupils, who wished to reform the world, first
to reform themselves. ‘In this way,’ he said, ‘when eating, help those
who eat with you; when drinking, those who drink with you.’ In the next
place, I can match both out of the letter to the Corinthians, which says,
‘Ye are _God’s temple_,’ and ‘If anyone destroys _God’s temple_, him will
God destroy,’ and again, ‘Your body is _the temple of the Holy Spirit_,
which ye have from God.’ It adds that people cause shame to others and
injury to themselves by greediness at the sacred meals they take in
common; and lastly, says Paul, ‘_Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or
whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God._’ There are things like
this, of course, in Seneca, but none, as far as I know, that come so near
as Epictetus does to the language of Paul.

“I could quote more from Paul, and also from other sacred books of the
Christians, to shew that Epictetus is indebted to them. But I have been
already led on by the fascination—to me it is a fascination—of a merely
literary discussion, to say more than enough, and a great deal more
than I intended. Let me conclude with an extract from a letter I lately
rummaged up from my dear old friend Pliny, whom I greatly miss. He was
the former Governor of Bithynia about whom you wrote. It refers to a
very fine fellow, Artemidorus by name, a military tribune, son-in-law of
the excellent Musonius (Epictetus’s teacher, whom I mentioned above).
‘Among the whole multitude of those who in these days call themselves
philosophers, you will hardly find one so sincere, genuine, and true,
as Artemidorus. I say nothing about his bodily endurance of heat and
cold and the most arduous toil, of his indifference to the pleasures of
the table, of the strict control with which he keeps his eyes and his
passions in order. These are great virtues, but only great in others. In
him they are but trifles compared with his other merits.’

“So wrote Pliny. Well, for me at all events, ‘to keep eyes and passions
in order’ is not ‘a trifle.’ Perhaps it is not ‘a trifle’ for you. I
fully believe that Musonius’s successor—for as such I regard Epictetus—in
spite of some opinions in which I cannot quite follow him, will help you
to attain this object. Give yourself wholly to that. I knew Artemidorus.
So did your father. We both thought him the model of a soldier and a
gentleman. Believe me, my dear Quintus, it would be one of the greatest
comforts in my last moments if I could feel assured that—to some slight
extent in consequence of advice from me—the son of my old friend Decimus
Junius Silanus was following in the footsteps of one whom he so esteemed
and admired. Farewell.”

This was the end of the letter. But out of it dropped a paper containing
a sealed note. On the paper were these words: “To convince you that I
had not judged your philosopher unfairly, I transcribed a few passages
from other Christian documents, containing words assigned by Christians
to Christ himself, which seem to me to have influenced Epictetus. On
second thoughts, I have come to think it was waste of my time. That it
might not waste yours too, I was on the point of throwing the thing into
the fire. But I decided to send it rather than let you suppose me to be
a crotchety, suspicious, prejudiced old man, ungenerous towards one whom
both you and I respect with all our hearts. I grant that I am slow to
believe in new _facts_; but I need hardly assure you, my dearest Quintus,
that I am not slow to believe in good _motives_—the motives of good men,
tried, tested, and proved, by such severe trials as have befallen your
admirable Master. Rather than suspect me thus, break the seal and read
it at once. But I hope you will not want to read it. Discussions of this
sort must not be allowed to distract your energies as they might do.
Better burn it. Or keep it—till you are military tribune.”

[1] In “Notes on Silanus,” 2809_a_, the author repeats this offer.