Enchiridion XXIX


In every affair consider what precedes and what follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit, indeed, careless of the consequences, and when these are developed, you will shamefully desist. “I would conquer at the Olympic Games.” But consider what precedes and what follows, and then, if it be for your advantage, engage in the affair. You must conform to rules, submit to a diet, refrain from dainties; exercise your body, whether you choose it or not, at a stated hour, in heat and cold; you must drink no cold water, and sometimes no wine—in a word, you must give yourself up to your trainer as to a physician. Then, in the combat, you may be thrown into a ditch, dislocate your arm, turn your ankle, swallow an abundance of dust, receive stripes [for negligence], and, after all, lose the victory. When you have reckoned up all this, if your inclination still holds, set about the combat. Otherwise, take notice, you will behave like children who sometimes play wrestlers, sometimes gladiators, sometimes blow a trumpet, and sometimes act a tragedy, when they happen to have seen and admired these shows. Thus you too will be at one time a wrestler, and another a gladiator; now a philosopher, now an orator; but nothing in earnest. Like an ape you mimic all you see, and one thing after another is sure to please you, but is out of favor as soon as it becomes familiar. For you have never entered upon anything considerately; nor after having surveyed and tested the whole matter, but carelessly, and with a halfway zeal. Thus some, when they have seen a philosopher and heard a man speaking like Euphrates—though, indeed, who can speak like him?—have a mind to be philosophers, too. Consider first, man, what the matter is, and what your own nature is able to bear. If you would be a wrestler, consider your shoulders, your back, your thighs; for different persons are made for different things. Do you think that you can act as you do and be a philosopher, that you can eat, drink, be angry, be discontented, as you are now? You must watch, you must labor, you must get the better of certain appetites, must quit your acquaintances, be despised by your servant, be laughed at by those you meet; come off worse than others in everything—in offices, in honors, before tribunals. When you have fully considered all these things, approach, if you please—that is, if, by parting with them, you have a mind to purchase serenity, freedom, and tranquility. If not, do not come hither; do not, like children, be now a philosopher, then a publican, then an orator, and then one of Caesar’s officers. These things are not consistent. You must be one man, either good or bad. You must cultivate either your own reason or else externals; apply yourself either to things within or without you—that is, be either a philosopher or one of the mob.

I didn't say anything about the last chapter because I think it's self-explanatory. That doesn't mean I don't think it's important.

This chapter, as the note at the original mentions, is almost the same as a parallel part of the Discourses, where  arguments and discussions are laid out in fuller form.  Since it is in its fuller form, I will also leave it be save to answer questions you may have.


J Melcher said...

Tangent to the discussion, I must compliment the foresight and planning that put this paragraph into our view during the modern (if "winter") Olympic games. In China, of all places.

Well done. Very well.

douglas said...

Very few will ever be Olympic level competitors. The commitment necessitated by those endeavors is laudable, but also comes with great costs (as he mentions). Yet at the same time he reviles those who 'dabble' in a bit of this and bit of that- yet isn't that really what most of us do in our lives? Perhaps "like a child" is doing more work here than I appreciate, but it seems an almost ascetic level of dedication to extreme.

And yes, I am feeling a bit called out by this one! (probably rightfully so.)

Grim said...

"Revile" might be a little strong. If you want to be a philosopher, you have to accept what comes with that. It requires dedication, including the willingness to look the hard parts in the eye and accept their consequences. If you're going to be a Marine, you can't quit and go home when it starts raining. Children playing at being Marines can do that, but you can't.

That's not to say that you can't have a hobby, or several hobbies. But if you're going to be something, you have to go all in at being it.

The Olympics were a little different back then, featuring a sort of mixed martial arts as the big event. Called "Pankration" ('pan-' should tell you that it's no-holds-barred -- although eye-gouging and biting were forbidden, except in Sparta where it really was 'pan'), it was a very serious bit of combat.