CHAPTER 24

To a person who was one of those who was not valued by him
A certain person said to him: "Frequently I desired to hear you and came to you, and you never gave me any answer: and now, if it is possible, I entreat you to say something to me." Do you think, said Epictetus, that as there is an art in anything else, so there is also an art in speaking, and that he who has the art, will speak skillfully, and he who has not, will speak unskillfully? "I do think so." He, then, who by speaking receives benefit himself and is able to benefit others, will speak skillfully: but he who is rather damaged by speaking and does damage to others, will he be unskilled in this art of speaking? And you may find that some are damaged and others benefited by speaking. And are all who hear benefited by what they hear? Or will you find that among them also some are benefited and some damaged? "There are both among these also," he said. In this case also, then, those who hear skillfully are benefited, and those who hear unskillfully are damaged? He admitted this. Is there then a skill in hearing also, as there is in speaking? "It seems so." If you choose, consider the matter in this way also. The practice of music, to whom does it belong? "To a musician." And the proper making of a statue, to whom do you think that it belongs? "To a statuary." And the looking at a statue skillfully, does this appear to you to require the aid of no art? "This also requires the aid of art." Then if speaking properly is the business of the skillful man, do you see that to hear also with benefit is the business of the skillful man? Now as to speaking and hearing perfectly, and usefully, let us for the present, if you please, say no more, for both of us are a long way from everything of the kind. But I think that every man will allow this, that he who is going to hear philosophers requires some amount of practice in hearing. Is it not so?

Tell me then about what I should talk to you: about what matter are you able to listen? "About good and evil." Good and evil in what? In a horse? "No." Well, in an ox? "No." What then? In a man? "Yes." Do know then what a man is, what the notion is that we have of him, or have we our ears in any degree practiced about this matter? But do you understand what nature is? or can you even in any degree understand me when I say, "I shall use demonstration to you?" How? Do you understand this very thing, what demonstration is, or how anything is demonstrated, or by what means; or what things are like demonstration, but are not demonstration? Do you know what is true or what is false? What is consequent on a thing, what is repugnant to a thing, or not consistent, or inconsistent? But must I excite you to philosophy, and how? Shall I show to you the repugnance in the opinions of most men, through which they differ about things good and evil, and about things which are profitable and unprofitable, when you know not this very thing, what repugnance is? Show me then what I shall accomplish by discoursing with you; excite my inclination to do this. As the grass which is suitable, when it is presented to a sheep, moves its inclination to eat, but if you present to it a stone or bread, it will not be moved to eat; so there are in us certain natural inclinations also to speak, when the hearer shall appear to be somebody, when he himself shall excite us: but when he shall sit by us like a stone or like grass, how can he excite a man's desire? Does the vine say to the husbandman, "Take care of me?" No, but the vine by showing in itself that it will be profitable to the husbandman, if he does take care of it, invites him to exercise care. When children are attractive and lively, whom do they not invite to play with them, and crawl with them, and lisp with them? But who is eager to play with an ass or to bray with it? for though it is small, it is still a little ass.

"Why then do you say nothing to me?" I can only say this to you, that he who knows not who he is, and for what purpose he exists, and what is this world, and with whom he is associated, and what things are the good and the bad, and the beautiful and the ugly, and who neither understands discourse nor demonstration, nor what is true nor what is false, and who is not able to distinguish them, will neither desire according to nature, nor turn away, nor move upward, nor intend, nor assent, nor dissent, nor suspend his judgment: to say all in a few words, he will go about dumb and blind, thinking that he is somebody, but being nobody. Is this so now for the first time? Is it not the fact that, ever since the human race existed, all errors and misfortunes have arisen through this ignorance? Why did Agamemnon and Achilles quarrel with one another? Was it not through not knowing what things are profitable and not profitable? Does not the one say it is profitable to restore Chryseis to her father, and does not the other say that it is not profitable? does not the one say that he ought to take the prize of another, and does not the other say that he ought not? Did they not for these reasons forget both who they were and for what purpose they had come there? Oh, man, for what purpose did you come? to gain mistresses or to fight? "To fight." With whom? the Trojans or the Hellenes? "With the Trojans." Do you then leave Hector alone and draw your sword against your own king? And do you, most excellent Sir, neglect the duties of the king, you who are the people's guardian and have such cares; and are you quarreling about a little girl with the most warlike of your allies, whom you ought by every means to take care of and protect? and do you become worse than a well-behaved priest who treats you these fine gladiators with all respect? Do you see what kind of things ignorance of what is profitable does?

"But I also am rich." Are you then richer than Agamemnon? "But I am also handsome." Are you then more handsome than Achilles? "But I have also beautiful hair." But had not Achilles more beautiful hair and gold-colored? and he did not comb it elegantly nor dress it. "But I am also strong." Can you then lift so great a stone as Hector or Ajax? "But I am also of noble birth." Are you the son of a goddess mother? are you the son of a father sprung from Zeus? What good then do these things do to him, when he sits and weeps for a girl? "But I am an orator." And was he not? Do you not see how he handled the most skillful of the Hellenes in oratory, Odysseus and Phoenix? how he stopped their mouths?

This is all that I have to say to you; and I say even this not willingly. "Why?" Because you have not roused me. For what must I look to in order to be roused, as men who are expert in are roused by generous horses? Must I look to your body? You treat it disgracefully. To your dress? That is luxurious. To your behavior to your look? That is the same as nothing. When you would listen to a philosopher, do not say to him, "You tell me nothing"; but only show yourself worthy of hearing or fit for hearing; and you will see how you will move the speaker.