"But if you consider what is proper for a man, examine your store-house, see with what faculties you came into the world."

— Epictetus (c. 55-c.135)

Work Title
"But if you consider what is proper for a man, examine your store-house, see with what faculties you came into the world."
Metaphor in Context
How, then, is there left any place for fighting, to a man who has this opinion? Is he surprised at anything which happens, and does it appear new to him? Does he not expect that which comes from the bad to be worse and more grievous than what actually befalls him? And does he not reckon as pure gain whatever they may do which falls short of extreme wickedness? "Such a person has reviled you." Great thanks to him for not having, struck you. "But he has struck me also." Great thanks that he did not wound you "But he wounded me also." Great thanks that he did not kill you. For when did he learn or in what school that man is a tame animal, that men love one another, that an act of injustice is a great harm to him who does it. Since then he has not to him who does it. Since then he has not learned this and is not convinced of it, why shall he not follow that which seems to be for his own "Your neighbour has thrown stones." Have you then done anything wrong? "But the things in the house have been broken." Are you then a utensil? No; but a free power of will. What, then, is given to you in answer to this? If you are like a wolf, you must bite in return, and throw more stones. But if you consider what is proper for a man, examine your store-house, see with what faculties you came into the world. Have you the disposition of a wild beast, Have you the disposition of revenge for an injury? When is a horse wretched? When he is deprived of his natural faculties; not when he cannot crow like a cock, but when he cannot run. When is a dog wretched? Not when he cannot fly, but when he cannot track his game. Is, then, a man also unhappy in this way, not because he cannot strangle lions or embrace statues, for he did not come into the world in the possession of certain powers from nature for this purpose, but because he has lost his probity and his fidelity? People ought to meet and lament such a man for the misfortunes into which he has fallen; not indeed to lament because a man has been born or has died, but because it has happened to him in his lifetime to have lost the things which are his own, not that which he received from his father, not his land and house, and his inn, and his slaves; for not one of these things is a man's own, but all belong to others, are servile and subject to account, at different times given to different persons by those who have them in their power: but I mean the things which belong to him as a man, the marks in his mind with which he came into the world, such as we seek also on coins, and if we find them, we approve of the coins, and if we do not find the marks, we reject them. What is the stamp on this Sestertius? "The stamp of Trajan." Present it. "It is the stamp of Nero." Throw it away: it cannot be accepted, it is counterfeit. So also in this case. What is the stamp of his opinions? "It is gentleness, a sociable disposition, a tolerant temper, a disposition to mutual affection." Produce these qualities. I accept them: I consider this man a citizen, I accept him as a neighbour, a companion in my voyages. Only see that he has not Nero's stamp. Is he passionate, is he full of resentment, is he faultfinding? If the whim seizes him, does he break the heads of those who come in his way? Why, then did you say that he is a man? Is everything judged by the bare form? If that is so, say that the form in wax is all apple and has the smell and the taste of an apple. But the external figure is not enough: neither then is the nose enough and the eyes to make the man, but he must have the opinions of a man. Here is a man who does not listen to reason, who does not know when he is refuted: he is an ass: in another man the sense of shame is become dead: he is good for nothing, he is anything rather than a man. This man seeks whom he may meet and kick or bite, so that he is not even a sheep or an ass, but a kind of wild beast.
Epictetus, The Discourses of Epictetus, with the Encheridion and Fragments. George Long, trans. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1890). <Link to Perseus>
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The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.