Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Stoic Vespers

As a kind of detached prologue to his discussion of how to deal with our illnesses ( Discourses III. 10 ), we find Epictetus citing with approval five lines from the so-called Golden Verses of Pythagoras:

Let not sleep approach your weary eyelids,
before you’ve examined every action of the day gone by:
Where did I go wrong? Doing what? And what was left undone?
Starting from here review your acts and remember:
censure yourself for acts that were base, but rejoice in the good.

Keep these verses on hand, he goes on to say, and actually apply them, not merely recite them.

It is interesting to caught sight of Epictetus recommending evening “offices”, or vespers, to his students. I suspect Epictetus' practice also included at least an important morning office, primes by its monastic name, and perhaps also a midday “How is my day going?”. These kinds of offices are almost indispensable for getting a novice or proficient to refocus on his inner life and let go of his daily battles with the world.

But the Pythagorean examination that Epictetus seems to approve really needs to be considerably adapted to Stoic practice, doesn’t it? Stoic practices is much more about controlling one’s desires and aversions and choices and beliefs than about what one did. So instead of “what did I do,” the salient questions should be things like
“What did I desires today?
What distressed me today?
Were those things in the sphere of choice?
What decisions did I make today?
Did I make them properly? Did I abide by them?
What beliefs did I credit or accept today? Was it reasonable to do so?”

Stoic primes, similarly, would try to anticipate and plan for the decisions of the day, and prepare for any desires and aversions that were likely to occur. I suspect Epictetus was very clear about all of this, but Arrian’s draconic editing here has lost for us much of the distinct flavor of Stoic offices.


Post a Comment

<< Home