Epictetus part 15: A guest of the gods

This article is part of the weekly Epictetus series. New articles will be published every Monday.

Moderation is one of the core stoic virtues. In paragraph fifteen of the Enchiridion, Epictetus stresses its importance, by comparing our life with a dinner or banquet:

Remember that you have to behave as at a dinner. Does something happen to be passed around to you? Reach out your hand and take a moderate amount. Does it go by? Don’t grasp it. It has not come yet? Don’t cast your desire forward, but wait until it comes to you. It is the same with your child, the same with your wife, the same with your employment, the same with your wealth. And some day, you will be a dinner guest of the gods.

Don’t desire things that are not yours, and consider everything you get as a gift. If something befalls you, then be happy with it. But if it doesn’t, then don’t worry, don’t complain and be happy all the same. Do you get a nice child and a loving wife? Then be grateful for that. But if you don’t, then remember that these things are not yours to control. And your happiness does not depend on them. You can be perfectly happy on your own. The same goes for wealth, property and employment. Be moderate and grateful, and you will find a place at the best table of all: the table of the gods.

However, Epictetus shows us that there is a way of living that he thinks is even better than moderation: abstinence. If you can live poor and still be happy, you are the example of a god:

But if you do not take what is presented to you, and look away from it, then you will not only be a dinner guest of the gods, but you will rule together with them. Because by acting like that, Diogenes and Heraclitus and those like them became worthy to be divine and were called so.

Now, I am sure the Cynics would agree with this last part, but as a Stoic, it seems a bit extreme. Why would you forego everything if you can be just as happy with them? To me, abstinence is too extreme. Moderation is key. Being homeless and poor, like Diogenes may proof your integrity (as it sure did in his case), but is not essential for it. To find a place at the table of the gods and to be considered their equal, act with moderation. Be frugal. Know what is important and what is not. And be grateful for everything that is presented to you, without clinging to it.

 

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