Enchiridion XXXIII

Begin by prescribing to yourself some character and demeanor, such as you may preserve both alone and in company.

Be mostly silent, or speak merely what is needful, and in few words. We may, however, enter sparingly into discourse sometimes, when occasion calls for it; but let it not run on any of the common subjects, as gladiators, or horse races, or athletic champions, or food, or drink—the vulgar topics of conversation—and especially not on men, so as either to blame, or praise, or make comparisons. If you are able, then, by your own conversation, bring over that of your company to proper subjects; but if you happen to find yourself among strangers, be silent.

Let not your laughter be loud, frequent, or abundant.

Avoid taking oaths, if possible, altogether; at any rate, so far as you are able.

Avoid public and vulgar entertainments; but if ever an occasion calls you to them, keep your attention upon the stretch, that you may not imperceptibly slide into vulgarity. For be assured that if a person be ever so pure himself, yet, if his companion be corrupted, he who converses with him will be corrupted likewise.

Provide things relating to the body no further than absolute need requires, as meat, drink, clothing, house, retinue. But cut off everything that looks toward show and luxury.

Before marriage guard yourself with all your ability from unlawful intercourse with women; yet be not uncharitable or severe to those who are led into this, nor boast frequently that you yourself do otherwise.

If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you, but answer: “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”

It is not necessary for you to appear often at public spectacles; but if ever there is a proper occasion for you to be there, do not appear more solicitous for any other than for yourself—that is, wish things to be only just as they are, and only the best man to win; for thus nothing will go against you. But abstain entirely from acclamations and derision and violent emotions. And when you come away, do not discourse a great deal on what has passed and what contributes nothing to your own amendment. For it would appear by such discourse that you were dazzled by the show.

Be not prompt or ready to attend private recitations; but if you do attend, preserve your gravity and dignity, and yet avoid making yourself disagreeable.

When you are going to confer with anyone, and especially with one who seems your superior, represent to yourself how Socrates or Zeno* would behave in such a case, and you will not be at a loss to meet properly whatever may occur.

When you are going before anyone in power, fancy to yourself that you may not find him at home, that you may be shut out, that the doors may not be opened to you, that he may not notice you. If, with all this, it be your duty to go, bear what happens and never say to yourself, “It was not worth so much”; for this is vulgar, and like a man bewildered by externals.

In company, avoid a frequent and excessive mention of your own actions and dangers. For however agreeable it may be to yourself to allude to the risks you have run, it is not equally agreeable to others to hear your adventures. Avoid likewise an endeavor to excite laughter, for this may readily slide you into vulgarity, and, besides, may be apt to lower you in the esteem of your acquaintance. Approaches to indecent discourse are likewise dangerous. Therefore, when anything of this sort happens, use the first fit opportunity to rebuke him who makes advances that way, or, at least, by silence and blushing and a serious look show yourself to be displeased by such talk.
These are interesting maxims, as nearly all pertain to semblances and how to relate to them. In a way this doesn't seem like the proper business of a Stoic; on the other hand, you can imagine Epictetus saying "one must do something from day to day during ordinary activities, so here's some guidelines." 

They remind me of the opening verses of the Havamal, and indeed much of the advice is the same: advice to tend towards silence in company, advice to be moderate at gatherings and feasts, advice to think about how others will receive your boasting and, therefore, to avoid it.
For the unwise man 'tis best to be mute
when he come amid the crowd,
for none is aware of his lack of wit
if he wastes not too many words;
for he who lacks wit shall never learn
though his words flow ne'er so fast.
The advice about how to respond to insult is hard to keep today, for the habit of so many is to go to the worst insults possible right off the bat. It would be a bold man who responded to accusations that one is a racist Nazi white-supremacist sexist misogynist fascist by saying, "Well, but what about my other faults?" Yet something like that might be more effective than either denial -- which is pointless, because it will not be believed and anyway the accusations are obviously false -- or apology, the latter of which is never accepted and instead taken to be proof of your deserving punishment. 

* The note at the original says this is probably Zeno of Cyprus, the founder of the Stoic school, and not the Zeno you know from earlier commentaries. 


J Melcher said...

" Begin by prescribing to yourself some character and demeanor, such as you may preserve both alone and in company. "

It that just me, or another artifact of translation, or something else that creates an impression that we are advised to essentially write up (or roll, as in D-n-D) a fictional persona, and learn to portray it?

Sort of like Cary Grant's accent.

I mean, for a young person, choosing the traits of the protagonist of the adventure one hopes to undertake may suffer from the inexperience and misjudgements of what traits are important. Over-valuing physical strength, say, or "charisma" and under-valuing empathy or thrift. On the other hand, adapting oneself to a pre-written "pre-scribed" character, a set of traits a presumably older and wiser philosopher has tested and found valuable, is at least quick and efficient. So, Baden Powell catches six year olds and exhorts them to spend the next decade becoming habitually trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

I overdo the question. Sorry. Is "prescribe" the best translation of the word in the advice?

Elise said...

It is not necessary for you to appear often at public spectacles ... that you were dazzled by the show.

Interesting advice on Super Bowl Sunday. :+)

Grim said...

"I overdo the question. Sorry. Is "prescribe" the best translation of the word in the advice?"

It's pretty good. The Greek invokes an engraver, so 'prescribe' -- which invokes scribing -- is close. The Greek leans heavily on military language, though, in a way that is not present here. One is invited to imagine battle lines and watchful guarding in the first sentence.