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Epictetus-About Piety Towards The Gods & About Divination

Assembly of the Gods presided over by Jupiter, painting on the ceiling of the Iliad Room, Palatine Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are two excerpts from Arrian’s ‘Enchiridion’, an anthology based upon Epictetus’ ‘Discourses'(also collected by Arrian and that he would compare to the Socratic literature), here in the English translation of Elizabeth Carter, an impressive English poet, classicist, writer, translator, linguist, and polymath who lived across the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Elizabeth Carter was also an early slavery abolitionist and a noted member of the Anti-Slavery Society.


Excerpt 31:

Be assured that the essential property of piety towards the gods is to form right opinions concerning them, as existing beings and as governing the universe with goodness and justice. And fix yourself in this 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 as neglecting you. And it is not possible for this to be effected any other way than by withdrawing yourself from things not in our own control, and placing good or evil in those only which are. For if you suppose any of the things not in our own control to be either good or evil, when you are disappointed of what you wish, or incur what you would avoid, you must necessarily find fault with and blame the authors. For every animal is naturally formed to fly and abhor things that appear hurtful, and the causes of them; and to pursue and admire those which appear beneficial, and the causes of them. It is impractical, then, that one who supposes himself to be hurt should be happy about the person who, he thinks, hurts him, just as it is impossible to be happy about the hurt itself. Hence, also, a father is reviled by a son, when he does not impart to him the things which he takes to be good; and the supposing empire to be a good made Polynices and Eteocles mutually enemies. On this account the husbandman, the sailor, the merchant, on this account those who lose wives and children, revile the gods. For where interest is, there too is piety placed. So that, whoever is careful to regulate his desires and aversions as he ought, is, by the very same means, careful of piety likewise. But it is also incumbent on everyone to offer libations and sacrifices and first fruits, conformably to the customs of his country, with purity, and not in a slovenly manner, nor negligently, nor sparingly, nor beyond his ability.

Original Greek. Excerpt 31:

τῆς περὶ τοὺς θεοὺς εὐσεβείας ἴσθι ὅτι τὸ κυριώτατον ἐκεῖνό ἐστιν, ὀρθὰς ὑπολήψεις περὶ αὐτῶν ἔχειν ὡς ὄντων καὶ διοικούντων τὰ ὅλα καλῶς καὶ δικαίως καὶ σαυτὸν εἰς τοῦτο κατατεταχέναι, τὸ πείθεσθαι αὐτοῖς καὶ εἴκειν πᾶσι τοῖς γινομένοις καὶ ἀκολουθεῖν ἑκόντα ὡς ὑπὸ τῆς ἀρίστης γνώμης ἐπιτελουμένοις. οὕτω γὰρ οὐ μέμψῃ ποτὲ τοὺς θεοὺς οὔτε ἐγκαλέσεις ὡς ἀμελούμενος. ἄλλως δὲ οὐχ οἷόν τε τοῦτο γίνεσθαι, ἐὰν μὴ ἄρῃς ἀπὸ τῶν οὐκ ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν μόνοις θῇς τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ τὸ κακόν. ὡς, ἄν γέ τι ἐκείνων ὑπολάβῃς ἀγαθὸν ἢ κακόν, πᾶσα ἀνάγκη, ὅταν ἀποτυγχάνῃς ὧν θέλεις καὶ περιπίπτῃς οἷς μὴ θέλεις, μέμψασθαί σε καὶ μισεῖν τοὺς αἰτίους. πέφυκε γὰρ πρὸς τοῦτο πᾶν ζῷον τὰ μὲν βλαβερὰ φαινόμενα καὶ τὰ αἴτια αὐτῶν φεύγειν καὶ ἐκτρέπεσθαι, τὰ δὲ ὠφέλιμα καὶ τὰ αἴτια αὐτῶν μετιέναι τε καὶ τεθηπέναι. ἀμήχανον οὖν βλάπτεσθαί τινα οἰόμενον χαίρειν τῷ δοκοῦντι βλάπτειν, ὥσπερ καὶ τὸ αὐτῇ τῇ βλάβῃ χαίρειν ἀδύνατον. ἔνθεν καὶ πατὴρ ὑπὸ υἱοῦ λοιδορεῖται, ὅταν τῶν δοκούντων ἀγαθῶν εἶναι τῷ παιδὶ μὴ μεταδιδῷ· καὶ Πολυνείκην καὶ Ἐτεοκλέα τοῦτ᾽ ἐποίησε πολεμίους ἀλλήλοις τὸ ἀγαθὸν οἴεσθαι τὴν τυραννίδα. διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ὁ γεωργὸς λοιδορεῖ τοὺς θεούς, διὰ τοῦτο ὁ ναύτης, διὰ τοῦτο ὁ ἔμπορος, διὰ τοῦτο οἱ τὰς γυναῖκας καὶ τὰ τέκνα ἀπολλύντες. ὅπου γὰρ τὸ συμφέρον, ἐπεῖ καὶ τὸ εὐσεβές. ὥστε, ὅστις ἐπιμελεῖται τοῦ ὀρέγεσθαι ὡς δεῖ καὶ ἐκκλίνειν, ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ καὶ εὐσεβείας ἐπιμελεῖται. σπένδειν δὲ καὶ θύειν καὶ ἀπάρχεσθαι κατὰ τὰ πάτρια ἑκάστοτε προσήκει καθαρῶς καὶ μὴ ἐπισεσυρμένως μηδὲ ἀμελῶς μηδέ γε γλίσχρως μηδὲ ὑπὲρ δύναμιν.


Excerpt 32:

When you have recourse to divination, remember that you know not what the event will be, and you come to learn it of the diviner; but of what nature it is you know before you come, at least if you are a philosopher. For if it is among the things not in our own control, it can by no means be either good or evil. Don’t, therefore, bring either desire or aversion with you to the diviner (else you will approach him trembling), but first acquire a distinct knowledge that every event is indifferent and nothing to you., of whatever sort it may be, for it will be in your power to make a right use of it, and this no one can hinder; then come with confidence to the gods, as your counselors, and afterwards, when any counsel is given you, remember what counselors you have assumed, and whose advice you will neglect if you disobey. Come to divination, as Socrates prescribed, in cases of which the whole consideration relates to the event, and in which no opportunities are afforded by reason, or any other art, to discover the thing proposed to be learned. When, therefore, it is our duty to share the danger of a friend or of our country, we ought not to consult the oracle whether we will share it with them or not. For, though the diviner should forewarn you that the victims are unfavorable, this means no more than that either death or mutilation or exile is portended. But we have reason within us, and it directs, even with these hazards, to the greater diviner, the Pythian god, who cast out of the temple the person who gave no assistance to his friend while another was murdering him.

Original Greek, Excerpt 32:

ὅταν μαντικῇ προσίῃς, μέμνησο, ὅτι, τί μὲν ἀποβήσεται, οὐκ οἶδας, ἀλλὰ ἥκεις ὡς παρὰ τοῦ μάντεως αὐτὸ πευσόμενος, ὁποῖον δέ τι ἐστίν, ἐλήλυθας εἰδώς, εἴπερ εἶ φιλόσοφος. εἰ γάρ ἐστί τι τῶν οὐκ ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν, πᾶσα ἀνάγκη μήτε ἀγαθὸν αὐτὸ εἶναι μήτε κακόν. μὴ φέρε οὖν πρὸς τὸν μάντιν ὄρεξιν ἢ ἔκκλισιν μηδὲ τρέμων αὐτῷ πρόσει, ἀλλὰ διεγνωκώς, ὅτι πᾶν τὸ ἀποβησόμενον ἀδιάφορον καὶ οὐδὲν πρὸς σέ, ὁποῖον δ᾽ ἂν ᾖ, ἔσται αὐτῷ χρήσασθαι καλῶς καὶ τοῦτο οὐθεὶς κωλύσει. θαῤῥῶν οὖν ὡς ἐπὶ συμβούλους ἔρχου τοὺς θεούς· καὶ λοιπόν, ὅταν τί σοι συμβουλευθῇ, μέμνησο τίνας συμβούλους παρέλαβες καὶ τίνων παρακούσεις ἀπειθήσας. ἔρχου δὲ ἐπὶ τὸ μαντεύεσθαι, καθάπερ ἠξίου Σωκράτης, ἐφ᾽ ὧν ἡ πᾶσα σκέψις τὴν ἀναφορὰν εἰς τὴν ἔκβασιν ἔχει καὶ οὔτε ἐκ λόγου οὔτε ἐκ τέχνης τινὸς ἄλλης ἀφορμαὶ δίδονται πρὸς τὸ συνιδεῖν τὸ προκείμενον· ὥστε, ὅταν δεήσῃ συγκινδυνεῦσαι φίλῳ ἢ πατρίδι, μὴ μαντεύεσθαι, εἰ συγκινδυνευτέον. καὶ γὰρ ἂν προείπῃ σοι ὁ μάντις φαῦλα γεγονέναι τὰ ἱερά, δῆλον ὅτι θάνατος σημαίνεται ἢ πήρωσις μέρους τινὸς τοῦ σώματος ἢ φυγή· ἀλλ᾽ αἱρεῖ ὁ λόγος καὶ σὺν τούτοις παρίστασθαι τῷ φίλῳ καὶ τῇ πατρίδι συγκινδυνεύειν. τοιγαροῦν τῷ μείζονι μάντει πρόσεχε, τῷ Πυθίῳ, ὃς ἐξέβαλε τοῦ ναοῦ τὸν οὐ βοηθήσαντα ἀναιρουμένῳ τῷ φίλῳ.

Illustration of Epictetus in Edward Ivie’s 1715 Latin translation of the Enchiridion. Frontispiece drawn likely by William Sonmans. The engraver is Michael Burghers.
Portrait of Elizabeth Carter. Wissenschaftlichen Bibliothek der Stadt Trier/Stadtarchiv.


About Epictetus:🌿About Elisabeth Carter: 🌿About Epictetus’ disciple Arrian:
Epictetus-About Piety Towards The Gods & About Divination

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