August 11: Dude, get stoic'd for this post!


Epictetus, the Stoic who isn't Marcus Aurelius, concentrates on the only two things a philosopher ought to concentrate on:


1) How best to bear the catastrophic misfortunes that are our fate, and 
2) table manners.

I would say the catastrophe/table manners ratio is about 60:40, and that makes sense if you think about it -- you eat every day, but how many times will your philosophy shop in the stoa be overrun by Macedonians? Twice, maybe?

For point 1, take saying CLXXXVI, which might also be titled How To Drown:
It is hard to combine and unite these two qualities, the carefulness of one who is affected by circumstances, and the intrepidity of one who heeds them not. But it is not impossible: else were happiness also impossible. We should act as we do in seafaring.

“What can I do?”—Choose the master, the crew, the day, the opportunity. Then comes a sudden storm. What matters it to me? my part has been fully done. The matter is in the hands of another—the Master of the ship. The ship is foundering. What then have I to do? I do the only thing that remains to me—to be drowned without fear, without a cry, without upbraiding God, but knowing that what has been born must likewise perish. For I am not Eternity, but a human being—a part of the whole, as an hour is part of the day. I must come like the hour, and like the hour must pass!
Now, you might think, with the knowledge of our drowning ever in front of us, Epictetus wouldn't mind if we cut loose once in a while, like, say, our buddy hooked us up with a case of Cutty that had the labels upside down. Not hardly, says Mr. E., proving that the E does not stand for Excitement:
Take what relates to the body as far as the bare use warrants—as meat, drink, raiment, house and servants. But all that makes for show and luxury reject.
That's point two -- don't let folks catch you not being Stoic.  But if Epictetus, in order to be a killdread, is also a killjoy (he warns against trying to get laughs, says people lose respect for you, but I swear he was looking somewhere else when he said it), at least he's not one of these ostentatious killjoys who's going to tell you how much they lost on Atkins or who raises an eyebrow when you order a beer at lunch:
When you have brought yourself to supply the needs of the body at small cost, do not pique yourself on that, nor if you drink only water, keep saying on each occasion, I drink water! And if you ever want to practise endurance and toil, do so unto yourself and not unto others.
Note it's how to behave at table again; more generally, of course, lots of people aren't like this -- they want everything they do to be known.  Similarly, some people also have great appetites for success, or just feel alive surfing the great bipolar waves of triumph and defeat.  Stoicism, which shuns this, isn't a good philosophy for winners.  In a way it's a philosophy designed to console you after you get the outcomes that arise from following it:
When you visit any of those in power, bethink yourself that you will not find him in: that you may not be admitted: that the door may be shut in your face: that he may not concern himself about you. If with all this, it is your duty to go, bear what happens, and never say to yourself, It was not worth the trouble!
Almost Eeyore-y, really.  

Two more excerpts to close, both of which struck close to home.   The first is about housekeeping:
When Xanthippe was chiding Socrates for making scanty preparation for entertaining his friends, he answered:—“If they are friends of ours, they will not care for that; if they are not, we shall care nothing for them!”
As someone who lives in the House of Stacked-Up Magazines, it's nice to know that we keep house Socratically. And second: 
If death surprise me thus employed, it is enough if I can stretch forth my hands to God and say, “The faculties which I received at Thy hands for apprehending this thine Administration, I have not neglected. As far as in me lay, I have done Thee no dishonour. Behold how I have used the senses, the primary conceptions which Thou gavest me. Have I ever laid anything to Thy charge? Have I ever murmured at aught that came to pass, or wished it otherwise? Have I in anything transgressed the relations of life? For that Thou didst beget me, I thank Thee for that Thou hast given: for the time during which I have used the things that were Thine, it suffices me. Take them back and place them wherever Thou wilt! They were all Thine, and Thou gavest them me.”





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