Enchiridion XLVII


When you have learned to nourish your body frugally, do not pique yourself upon it; nor, if you drink water, be saying upon every occasion, “I drink water.” But first consider how much more frugal are the poor than we, and how much more patient of hardship. If at any time you would inure yourself by exercise to labor and privation, for your own sake and not for the public, do not attempt great feats; but when you are violently thirsty, just rinse your mouth with water, and tell nobody.

This part bears very strong resemblance to Matthew 6, but the motivation is completely different. "[W]hen you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Here there is no expectation of a divine reward; but the practical advice is the same.

"I drink water" as opposed to wine, I expect; the point is not to be 'virtue signaling,' as we call it today. "Oh, I used to eat expensive dinners at fine restaurants, but these days I cook all my own food. It's just so much healthier, and it leaves us extra money to travel -- which is so important, you know, to opening your mind and understanding the world." There are several good reasons not to do this even apart from Jesus' suggestion that God will reward virtue, such as that it annoys everyone to hear you do it. That isn't Epictetus' point either. 

The point is itself about virtue, in the Aristotelian sense of "excellence." If you want to realize this philosophy as fully as possible, this is the way. 

And yet, notice the tension with the last chapter. It was said you should be a living example of your philosophy so that people might learn better from your example than from your words. Now you are being told to hide your actions, so that no one can see them or know of them. This protects you, the Stoic, from vainglory and pride and all similar failings. But now the ignorant will remain ignorant; they will never know that you have trained yourself only to wash your mouth when thirsty, and so bear hardship and privation. 

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