The Enchiridion Summarized
An Ancient Book of Wisdom Modernized
The Enchiridion, by Arrian of Nicomedia (ca. 86–160), also known as The Manual or Handbook, is a practical philosophical guide instructing readers on how to live well from a primarily social perspective. In such a setting, The Enchiridion encourages one to enjoy the habits of moderation and modesty.
The Enchiridion is the distillation of a larger work called The Discourses of Epictetus, or, simply, The Discourses. Arrian of Nicomedia, also known as Lucio Flavius Arrianus Xenophon, was a student of Epictetus and summarized The Discourses into what would become The Enchiridion. The text can be thought of as an ancient version of The Idiot's Guide to Stoicism or Stoicism for Dummies.
Some of the subjects covered in The Enchiridion include:
- Outward appearances
- Social control
- Self control
- Doing what one knows to be right, even in the face of criticism
This book can be considered a blueprint for the concept of civil disobedience and its greatest proponents, such as Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Henry David Thoreau.
The great value of this work is that it is pragmatic and non-metaphysical. Simply put, the book advises one to be mature in their actions. For instance, when confronted with the fact that others are speaking ill of you, the book not says that you shouldn't worry about it, but that what others say about you is not any of your business. This is a wondrous twist upon an old idea, and by that twist in thinking, it is effective.
To this end, below is a still shorter, modernized version of The Enchiridion and the philosophy of Epictetus. I've added a bit of stylistic spice to make it more felicitous to the modern reader.
The Enchiridion (Summarized)
- Why worry about what is beyond your power to control? Whatever happens, even if properly guarded against, still happens. To worry is folly; worry not, and go on with your life.
- Restrain desire, whether it be desire to attain something or to avoid something. Desire only that which is truly attainable and avoid only that which is truly avoidable. To desire to avoid death or taxes, for instance, is a fool's game, for they are inevitable.
- Never forget that all possessions and all people that you know are merely fleeting. Objects will break and people will pass away from existence. Do impede your sanity by maintaining great attachments to people or objects.
- Keep your wits about you in all matters, and do not be put off-kilter by the unexpected.
- Realize that your perspective is stronger than any external happenstance upon your person. Even death, when approaching you, is only frightful if you allow it to be so. Accept things as they come, and do not direct your criticism onto others.
- Do not accept compliments or accolades that you are not worthy of. If a person compliments the beauty of your dog, the true compliment goes to your dog, or the parents of your dog, for passing along fine genes. You may have washed and brushed your dog, but truly, you did not bestow the gift of beauty on him. So, do not become excited by any praise not truly due to you.
- Enjoy your life on a daily basis, but never forget the greater importance of responsibility. Travel through life as though you were the captain of a ship, and so, be attentive for not only your safety and that of your ship, but also for your crew, who place their lives and safety in your hands. Likewise, as you grow older, lessen your adventures of risk, and be content with the good, slow life of the elderly.
- Accept things as they happen, for you cannot control them once they have occurred. To disturb your mind with rumination upon the past, you will harm yourself here, now, and maybe in the future.
- The body is not the mind. Should you be lame of the body, do not dwell on it; the mind is a paradise unto itself, that the body should not be allowed to affect. Stay strong of will.
- For every life impediment, there is a solution. Sometimes the solution may not be material, but psychic, and this is fine. The mind controls how we view the world. Attitude is everything.
- Loss is not truly loss. You came into the world naked, wet, and crying. Today you are clothed, warm, and dry. All that you have, as a fine pet, a fine spouse, a wonderful child, a glorious home, all once were not yours. If you lose them, do not be bitter, for they simply have returned to their state of existence before they were a part of you. Accept this, and move forward.
- Be not disturbed by small matters, particularly if the correction of a peccadillo results in a large or serious error in return. Let the little problems fly past you like a gnat, lest they become airplanes falling from the sky.
- Know in your heart that all you truly know is that you are ignorant. Likewise, do not try to impress others with your great knowledge. Even when others applaud your greatness, tell yourself that you are but a mortal. Be meek, for ego and hubris are killers. Further, if you focus on your own greatness, you may miss that of others, and of the world.
- No one lives forever and to will it so is to walk into a den of hungry lions. Have no expectations, and the world will be your oyster, complete with a pearl. Expect, and you will be disappointed.
- Take what comes to you in life, and do not fret over that which is not given you, for it was not to be. Joy is accepting what is, and being happy for it.
- It is our viewpoints which make us unduly happy or sad. Knowing this is the beginning of self control. Further, do not take on the grief of others, neither ostentatiously, nor viscerally.
- You are thrust into this life as you are: the color of your eyes and skin, your lot in life, your riches or your penury. Do not cry or rejoice these points, for they simply are. Simply be yourself, and all will be right in the universe.
- Do not follow the ideas of soothsayers and psychics; superstition cannot affect you. Yet, if you decide to taste of that cake, know that it can only be sweet for you and that there are no omens of evil or dread that can come your way–only of prosperity and hope.
- If you do not take a chance, you won't receive the possible reward. Do not scoff at those who have taken chances, for they may not be as happy as they appear to be. Finally, do not wish for fruit that you couldn't possibly reach on the highest branches; they are unattainable without years of experience on yet lower branches that are still above you. Do not remorse. Simply live your life in peace.
- Perspective is everything. If you believe that another is trying to abuse you, this may be true from your vantage point, but not the others, nor even that of an onlooker. Consider this carefully, and realize the deceit that is found in immediate appearances.
- Memento mori–remember death, and do not forget it. Ponder it daily, along with other terrors of life, and you will then be more prepared for them, as well as for the baser aspects of material life.
- If you will embrace the philosophical life, expect and accept jeering from many people. However, never consider nor show yourself to be superior. Moreover, do not ever give in to the base reflections of those who have sneered at you. In the end, they will recant and even admire you.
- Do not give in to the themes of the masses. Stay true to your philosophical outlook. If ever you feel you must appear philosophical to another, refrain. Rather, be a philosopher who has only you as an audience. This is truth and wisdom.
- Do not lead your life based upon the perceived expectations of others, even of friends. Do not leave philosophy that you may putatively aid your friends, for you cannot help them, as it is your friendship and knowledge which they truly require; not your gold.
- Do not envy another for his or her social position. He or she has surely earned such a position, and, in doing so, has sacrificed time and effort. The only way you should have such prestige is from an equal amount of hard work by yourself, not from mere coveting.
- Understand the loss of others just as when you experience the exact loss. If your neighbor's child has died, be sympathetic as though you have lost your own child.
- If we attempt to achieve happiness but fail, it is merely a goal not achieved. Do not lament that which you do not have. The same is true of evil on the planet: do not lament for a lack of goodness, for you are crying not over spilt milk, but milk that never was offered to you.
- Can you imagine if you were prostituted away by a pimp, or if a necrophiliac defiled your body after death? Now imagine that you are the pimp, the necrophiliac, here and now, to yourself, in your actions. Do right by yourself, your mind, and your health.
- In any future undertaking, do not focus merely on the goal and all of the praise and joy you will receive once the goal has been met. No. Consider, rather, the trial ahead, toward achieving the goal. Ruminate upon the uphill battle that you will have to fight, the many dangers and difficulties you must face. When these points are considered and accepted, you are ready to begin your work.
- In life you will encounter those who will act badly toward you. Some of them may even be close relations. In all cases, take the higher road. That is, always treat them better than they treat you.
- Be pious in your spiritual or religious dealings. Be also strong and cautious in your desires and actions, for God or Gods are not to be blamed when you choose a dangerous path. Free will means that you cannot blame anyone outside yourself for your own mistakes, even deities.
- If you make use of divination, such as from an astrologer or palm reader, do not gain fear or excess desire based upon the outcome of the diviner. Use the news as though you were given a map, but do not be greedy or fearful based upon this news (if it is even reliable), as what comes, comes.
- In your mannerisms, be attentive. Do not speak excessively, nor of trifles, such as sports or television shows. Do not be brash in your laughter, but modest and content to laugh without those a kilometer away hearing you. Avoid taking oaths, as their results may be deleterious to your future. Shun attendance as vulgar and crude forms of entertainment, such as wrestling and gambling casinos. Do not be ostentatious, nor harmful to your body. Have moderation in all things, as the saying goes. Do not give thought to rumors about you, as calumny is foolish for all of those who deal in it; nor should you speak at length of your own exploits, for no one wishes to hear such tales.
- When a great pleasure presents itself, put off from embracing it. As you do, revel in the true pleasure of self-mastery. It will give you time to reflect, and allow you pleasure in something that you yourself control, rather than something external, which may try to control you.
- When you do something that you know to be right, do it with zest. Do not be pressured by those who do not know what you know, even if they are in the majority. If it were not right to do, you would not do it.
- Do not be a glutton, not only for your body's sake, but especially when dining with others, as gluttony looks rude.
- Do not put on airs. Be yourself.
- Just as you protect your body, so too should you protect your mind with proper thinking and by other means.
- If you write music, be sure to not utilize too many notes in any one piece; that is, know your limitations. However, if you are one of those cherubs who refuses to be tied to the earth, fly, and do so to the best of your abilities.
- Do not limit your aspirations nor abilities to fit your physical demeanor. What is inside you has far greater potential, no matter how you may adorn yourself externally.
- While we are like the animals in our physical desires and bodily needs, remember that it is with the mind and reason that we stand sublime.
- Remember that those who might besmirch your name in gossip do so with the belief that they are correct in their assessment. They are at the loss if it is not so, not you. Do not allow yourself to be angered by such offenses.
- All things, it can be said, have two handles, two ways of being grasped, both figuratively and literally. These are by acceptance and by disavowal. If you are ill-treated by your brother, grasp the handle of the thing that allows you to accept it; it is your brother, after-all, and so must be accepted without reprisal.
- See things, people, and situations for what they truly are: the rich are not better than the poor, they are simply richer; the beautiful are more handsome in their mien, but nothing more. Apply this not only to others, but to yourself, as well.
- If a man does wrong and you feel you must speak of his wrong doing, speak about it cleanly and evenly, without embellishment or deviating from the wrongful acts. To do otherwise is to be deceitful and makes both of you worse off than you both began.
- Do not make a show of your knowledge as a philosopher, nor even call yourself such. Further, do not tell others how they should live, but rather live as you know is right, and so lead by example.
- Be patient in all things, including any hardships that you incur in your life, as there are always others who have experienced worse.
- See things for what they really are, especially when you are at fault. Further, control your desire and remember that, given the situation, you can be your own best friend or worst enemy.
- Do not display your knowledge unduly. Also, do not try to understand difficult writings by only understanding others who have interpreted such writings. Rather, it behooves you to understand the writings directly, or, if unable to do so, to never mention these writings to others as though you understood them yourself.
- Be secure in these philosophic rules that you have placed upon yourself. Let the biting words of others fall upon your deaf ears. Be adult in your actions. This means avoidance of sloth and procrastination and all the other bad habits that you are aware of. Attempt to perfection, as Socrates did and achieved.
- When practicing and considering these and other rules of living that you have taken upon yourself, consider why these laws exist, their value, and the reason for their value. Do not lose yourself in the philosophical aspects of such questioning, however. Mere considerations without practice are a waste of time and are falsely ethical. In doing this, and all of these standards of living, you may one day die, but you will never truly be harmed.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Sean Fullmer