CHAPTER 10

Against those who eagerly seek preferment at Rome

If we applied ourselves as busily to our own work as the old men at Rome do to those matters about which they are employed, perhaps we also might accomplish something. I am acquainted with a man older than myself who is now superintendent of corn at Rome, and remember the time when he came here on his way back from exile, and what he said as he related the events of his former life, and how he declared that with respect to the future after his return he would look after nothing else than passing the rest of his life in quiet and tranquillity. "For how little of life," he said, remains for me." I replied, "You will not do it, but as soon as you smell Rome, you will forget all that you have said; and if admission is allowed even into the imperial palace, you will gladly thrust yourself in and thank God." "If you find me, Epictetus," he answered, "setting even one foot within the palace, think what you please." Well, what then did he do? Before he entered the city he was met by letters from Caesar, and as soon as he received them he forgot all, and ever after has added one piece of business to another. I wish that I were now by his side to remind him of what he said when he was passing this way and to tell him how much better a seer I am than he is.

Well, then, do I say that man is an animal made for doing nothing? Certainly not. But why are we not active? For example, as to myself, as soon as day comes, in a few words I remind myself of what I must read over to my pupils; then forthwith I say to myself, "But what is it to me how a certain person shall read? the first thing for me is to sleep." And indeed what resemblance is there between what other persons do and what we do? If you observe what they do, you will understand. And what else do they do all day long than make up accounts, inquire among themselves, give and take advice about some small quantity of grain, a bit of land, and such kind of profits? Is it then the same thing to receive a petition and to read in it: "I entreat you to permit me to export a small quantity of corn"; and one to this effect: "I entreat you to learn from Chrysippus what is the administration of the world, and what place in it the rational animal holds; consider also who you are, and what is the nature of your good and bad." Are these things like the other, do they require equal care, and is it equally base to neglect these and those? Well, then, are we the only persons who are lazy and love sleep? No; but much rather you young men are. For we old men, when we see young men amusing themselves, are eager to play with them; and if I saw you active and zealous, much more should I be eager myself to join you in your serious pursuits.