The Worlds Greatest Books, Volume XIII. - Religion and Philosophy
Author: Various
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For my own part, I would be engaged in nothing but the care of my own faculty of choice, how to render it undisturbed, unrestrained, uncompelled, free. I would be found studying this, that I may be able to say to God, "Have I transgressed Thy commands? Have I perverted the powers, the senses, the preconceptions which Thou hast given me? Have I ever accused Thee or censured Thy dispensations? I have been sick, because it was Thy pleasure. I have been poor, with joy. I have not been in power, because it was not Thy will, and power I have never desired. Have I not always approached Thee cheerfully, prepared to execute Thy commands? Is it Thy pleasure that I depart from this assembly? I depart. I give Thee thanks that Thou hast thought me worthy to have a share in it with Thee; to behold Thy works, and to join with Thee in comprehending Thy administration." Let death overtake me while I am thinking, writing, reading such things as these. Of things, some are in our power, others not. In our power are opinion, pursuit, desire, accession; in a word, whatever are our own actions. Not in our power are body, property, reputation, command; in a word, whatever are not our own actions.

Now, the things in our power are free, unrestrained, unhindered, while those not in our power are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose these latter things free, and what belongs to others your own, you will be hindered; you will lament; you will be disturbed; you will find fault with both gods and men. But if you regard that only as your own which is your own, and what is others, as theirs, no one will ever compel you; no one will restrain you; you will find fault with no one; you will accuse no one; you will do nothing against your will; you will have no enemy and will suffer no harm.

Aiming, therefore, at great things, remember that you must not allow yourself to be carried out of your course, however slightly.

Study to be able to say to every hostile appearance, "You are but an appearance, and not the thing you appear to be." Then examine it by your rules, and first and chiefly by this: whether it concerns the things in your own power or those which are not. And if it concerns anything not in your own power, be prepared to say it is nothing to you.

With regard to whatever objects either delight the mind, or contribute to use, or are loved with fondness, remember to tell yourself of what nature they are, beginning from the most trifling things. If you are fond of an earthen cup, remind yourself it is an earthen cup of which you are fond; thus, if it be broken, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, remember you kiss a being subject to the accidents of humanity; thus you will not be disturbed if either die.

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by their own notions regarding them.

Be not elated over excellences not your own. If a horse should be elated and say, "I am handsome," it would be supportable. But when you are elated and say, "I have a handsome horse," know that you are elated on what is, in fact, only the good of the horse.

Require not things to happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen. Then all will go well.

In every happening, inquire of your mind how to turn it to proper account.

Never say of anything "I have lost it," but "I have restored it." Is your child dead? It is restored. Is your wife dead? She is restored. Is your estate taken away from you? Well, and is not that likewise restored? "But he who took it away is a bad man." What is it to you by whose hands He who gave it hath demanded it again? While He gives you to possess it, take care of it, but as of something not your own, like a passenger in an inn.


If you would improve, lay aside such reasonings as prevent tranquillity. It is better to die with hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation. It is better your servant should be bad than you unhappy. Is a little oil spilt? A little wine stolen? Say to yourself, "This is the purchase paid for peace, for tranquillity, and nothing is to be had for nothing." When you call your servant, consider it possible he may not come at your call; or if he doth, that he may not do what you would have him do. He is by no means of such importance that it should be in his power to give you disturbance.

Be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to externals and unessentials. Do not wish to be thought to know. And though you appear to others to be somebody, distrust yourself. For be assured it is not easy at once to preserve your faculty of choice in a state conformable to nature, and to secure externals, since while you are careful of the one you will neglect the other.

Behave in life as at an entertainment. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand and take your share, with moderation. Doth it pass by you? Do not stop it. Is it not yet come? Do not stretch forth your desire towards it, but wait till it reaches you. Thus do with regard to children, to a wife, to public posts, to riches, and you will be, some time or other, a worthy partner of the feasts of the gods. And if you do not so much as take the things set before you, but are able even to despise them, then you will not only be a partner of the gods' feasts, but of their empire.

Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the Author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it be His pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another's.

To me all the portents are lucky, if I will. For, whatever happens, it is in my power to derive advantage from it.

Remember that not he who gives ill language or a blow affronts, but the principle which represents these things as affronting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try in the first place not to be hurried away with the appearance. For if you once gain time and respite you will more easily command yourself.

Be assured that the essential property of piety towards the gods is to form right opinions concerning them as existing and as governing the universe with goodness and justice. And fix yourself in the resolution to obey them, and yield to them, and willingly follow them in all events, as produced by the most perfect understanding. For thus you will never find fault with the gods, nor accuse them of neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be effected any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things not in your own power and placing good or evil in those only which are. For if you suppose any of the things not in your own power to be either good or evil, when you are disappointed at what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you must necessarily find fault with and blame the authors.

Be for the most part silent, or speak merely what is necessary, and in few words. We may sparingly enter into discourse when occasion calls for it, but not on the vulgar topics of gladiators, horse-races, feasts, and so on; above all, not of men, so as either to blame, praise, or make comparisons.

If anyone tells you such a person speaks ill of you, make no excuses, but answer, "He does not know my other faults, or he would not have mentioned only these."

When you do anything from a clear judgment that it ought to be done, never shun the being seen to do it, even though the world should make a wrong supposition about it. For if you do not act right, shun the action itself; and if you do, why be afraid of mistaken censure?

When any person does ill by you, or speaks ill of you, remember that he acts or speaks from a supposition of its being his duty. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he misjudges, he is the person hurt, for he is the one deceived. Meekly bear, then, a person who reviles you, for you will say upon every occasion, "It seemed so to him."

The condition and characteristic of a vulgar person is that he never expects either benefit or hurt from himself, but from externals. The condition and characteristic of a philosopher is that he expects all hurt and benefit from himself. The marks of a proficient are that he censures no one, praises no one, blames no one, accuses no one, says nothing concerning himself as being anybody or knowing anything; when he is hindered or restrained, he accuses himself; when praised, he secretly laughs; if censured, he makes no defence. He suppresses all desire; transfers his aversion to things only which thwart the proper use of his own will; is gentle in all exercise of his powers; and does not care if he appears stupid and ignorant, but watches himself as an enemy, like one in ambush.

Whatever rules of life you have deliberately proposed to yourself, abide by them as laws, and as if it were impious to transgress them; and do not regard what anyone says of you; for this, after all, is no concern of yours. Let whatever appears to you to be the best be to you an inviolable law. Socrates became perfect, improving himself in everything by attending to reason only. And though you be not yet a Socrates, live as one who would become a Socrates.

Upon all occasions we ought to have ready at hand these three maxims:

Conduct me, God, and thou, O Destiny, Wherever your decrees have fixed my station. I follow cheerfully. And did I not, Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.

Whoe'er yields properly to Fate is deemed Wise among men and knows the laws of heaven.

"O Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt my soul they cannot."

* * * * *


Footnote 1: The deceased speaks constantly as if he were Osiris or some other god. This is supposed to give him the privileges and power of the god whose name he bears.

Footnote 2: The Egyptians thought that in the lower world the heart or conscience was weighed, i.e., judged.

Footnote 3: This chapter and the like are found on stone, wood, porcelain, etc., figures, and attached to the mummy. It was supposed to act magically in transferring the tasks of the underworld from the person.

Footnote 4: The storm-god, the arch-fiend of Ra, the sun-god

Footnote 5: The suppliant has made a wax figure of Apepi, and, by sympathetic magic, imagines that by burning it he is destroying the power of the original. Such wax figures of the gods made for magical purposes were generally illegal.

Footnote 6: There are many examples in the Book of the Dead of the magical potency attached to names. To invoke a god by his name was to control him.

Footnote 7: The ass stands for Ra, the sun-god, and the eater of the ass is darkness or some eclipse, represented as one of the foes of Ra, in the vignette figured as a serpent on the back of an ass. Compare the Babylonian myth of Marduk and Tiamat.

Footnote 8: The married name of Confucius.

Footnote 9: Compare the method of Socrates in the investigation of truth.

Footnote 10: In the above four "difficulties," note the reappearance of the law of reciprocity, the negative form of the Golden Rule.

Footnote 11: A technical name for China, which was supposed to be enclosed by the four great oceans of the world. China is also called "The Middle Kingdom."

Footnote 12: That is, those who have been invested with the sacred thread, which is a sign of having been initiated into the paternal caste. This ceremony takes place at the age of seven or nine years, but is only observed by the three higher castes. It is to be compared with the Christian rites of baptism and confirmation. Hindu boys, when invested with the sacred thread or cord, are said to be born again.

Footnote 13: This spelling of the word ("Quran") represents the native Arabic pronunciation if it be remembered that "q" stands for a "k" sound proceeding from the lower part of the throat. The initial sound is therefore to be distinguished from that of the Arabic and Hebrew letters properly transliterated "k."

Footnote 14: The pronunciation heard by the present writer among the Muslim Arabs of Egypt, Syria, etc. The word means literally "The Praised One" or "The One to be Praised." The "h," however, in the word is not the ordinary one, but that pronounced at the lower part of the throat, as the Arabic equivalent of "q" is. Hence this "h" is transliterated as "h" with a dot underneath it.

Footnote 15: All the suras, except the ninth, begin with this formula, as, indeed, do most Arabic books, often even books of an immoral nature.

Footnote 16: Muhammad's uncle, who, with his wife, rejected the prophet'" claims.

Footnote 17: A word-play, Lahab meaning "flame."

Footnote 18: Said by Muslim commentators to be one of the last ten nights of Ramadhan, the seventh of those nights reckoning backwards.

Footnote 19: The earliest mention of the doctrine of abrogation of previous revelations. When Muhammad was convinced that what he had previously taught was erroneous he always professed to have received a new revelation annulling the earlier one bearing on the matter.

Footnote 20: There is perhaps here an indirect reference to the alleged deification of the Virgin Mary by the Christians with whom Muhammad came in contact.

Footnote 21: This is from one of the oldest suras. A most important Muslim tradition says that Muhammad declares this sura to be equal to a third of the rest of the Koran. Some say it represents the prophet's creed when he entered upon his mission.

Footnote 22: This is directed against both the Mekkan belief that angels were daughters of God and also against the Christian doctrine that Jesus was the Son of God. Reference is also made, perhaps, to the Jewish description of Ezra as God's son.

Footnote 23: Muhammad here adopts the Jewish and Arab myth that Solomon had a seal with the divine name (Yahwe) inscribed on it giving him control over winds and jinns, or demons.

Footnote 24: In Arabic, Mary and Miriam are spelt exactly alike ("Miriam"). This evidently misled Muhammad. In sura 56 he describes the Virgin as a daughter of Amram, the father of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. (See Numbers xxvi. 59, and Exodus xv. 20.)

Footnote 25: This is a well-known Arab fable, based on a misunderstanding of I Kings iv. 33, influenced by the second Targum on Esther. See an English translation of this last in a commentary on Esther by Paul Cassel (T. & T. Clark), p. 263. This Targum is certainly older than the Koran, and it embodies Jewish legends of a still greater antiquity.

Footnote 26: This legend about Mount Sinai is contained twice in the Jewish Talmud (Abodah Zarah Mishnah II, 2, and Shabbath Gemarah lxxxviii. 1). It is no doubt this Jewish tradition that suggested the above passage.

Footnote 27: The point to which men turn in prayer, Zoroastrians pray towards the east—the direction of the rising sun; Jews towards Jerusalem, where the Temple was; and Muslims, from the utterance of this sura, towards Mekka. At first Muhammad adopted no Qiblah. On reaching Medinah, in order to conciliate the Jews he adopted Jerusalem as the Qiblah. But a year after reaching Medinah, he broke with the Jews and commanded his people to make the Kaabah their Qiblah.

Footnote 28: The cube-like building in the centre of the mosque at Mekka, which contains the sacred black stone.

Footnote 29: Ahmad and Muhammad have both the same meaning, i.e., "the Praiseworthy One." Muslim commentators hold that the Paraclete (Comforter) promised in John xvi. 7 means Muhammad. In order to make this clear, however, they say we ought to read "Periklutos," i.e., virtually Ahmad and Muhammad, instead of "Paracletos."

Footnote 30: According to the Koran, Mary was worshipped as God by the Christians of Arabia.

Footnote 31: According to sura 2, verse 174, the Bismillah (lit. "In the name of Allah," etc.) must be uttered before animals to be eaten are killed.


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