Ancient Philosophy; or, The Enchiridion of Epictetus, and Chrusa Epe of Pythagoras; translated into prose and verse by the Honorable Thomas Talbot; printed and published by John Lovell, Montreal, 1872.
Such is the title given to a work, the authorship of which belongs to a member of the Newfoundland government. The land of fog can at length boast the possession of an accomplished classical scholar, and we, as brother colonists, share with the Newfoundlanders in the reflected honor that attaches to those countries celebrated for the genius and culture of their authors.
The first part of the work consists of a translation of the Enchiridion, divided into 88 sections, with analytical illustrations, in prose turned into metre; we are thus presented for the first time with a faithful version in English of the reputed teachings of the renowned Greek.
Interspersed throughout the pages of this work will be found copious notes referring to extracts from the Old and New testament, establishing an identity of thought and sentiment between the Enchiridion and the inspired writers; in fact the resemblance in the idiomatic phrases is so close that, though we are told Epictetus was but a teacher in a school of philosophy long established, we might be inclined to suspect that he borrowed largely from the Talmud, or had listened to the teachings of the Apostles.
In his opening preface, Mr. Talbot describes Epictetus as drawing his philosophical precepts and moral axioms from schools in which Thales, Solon, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Antisthenes taught; yet he admits that “the precepts, beautiful and sublime, embraced in the Enchiridion are in an eminent degree calculated to promote the peace and happiness of social life; they contain the essentials of rational liberty and social happiness; they find an echo in God’s own Book.”
“Here we find inculcated in direct terms, as well as induced by a consecutive train of reasoning, the two-fold basis on which all Christian Divines repose the happiness of man, namely purity of conscience and contentment with our condition.”
The moral reflections of Epictetus, and his pointed references tot eh Deity, naturally suggest the idea, that he blended the doctrines of St. Paul with the traditional teachings of the Stoics, while, in order to escape persecution, or out of deference to the prejudices of his countrymen, or because unwilling to violate the laws and the religion of the state, he avoided any repudiation of Polytheism.
On the other hand there is abundant proof that, like Socrates, he constantly referred to one Supreme cause, and had adopted the monotheistic views of the Semitic tribes, amongst which ancient Israel must be reckoned. Our readers can form their estimate of the religious convictions of Epictetus, so far as he divulged them, from the following passages:
“The Great Creator of the Universe never wills evil to man, for whatever miseries we encounter in this life are of our own creation, and it is within our province to evade them.”
“When annoyance comes to us from sources whence we least expect it we should bear it with submission and deference to the Divine will.”
“It is evidently the interest of all, as it is a most assuredly our duty*** to worship and obey the Divine will in all things.”
“In all our supplications to Heaven we should be governed by a sense of that which appertains to our particular state, nor in seeking the light and aid of the Divine will should we allow our thoughts to wander.***We should not display a fearful anxiety in preferring our wishes to the Celestial throne,***ever resolved to walk in the path Heaven points out to us.”
“He who yields willing and decorous obedience to the will of Providence, is wise amongst us; and the sense and knowledge of Divine things exists within him. Even as Socrates had felt, so should we feel;--at the moment he was condemned to death by his false accusers, he gave utterance to the ever memorable exclamation; ‘True, my enemies may deprive me of life; but it is not within their power to injure me.’”
Mr. Talbot tells us in his preface that Zeno was the founder of the sect of Stoic philosophers in whose footsteps Epictetus followed; but in the interval that elapsed between the appearance of these celebrated sages the world was stirred by the advent of the Messiah, and Epictetus may possibly have heard St. Paul.
It is admitted by skeptics who question even the authenticity of some portions of the New Testament, how St. Paul was learned in all the subtleties of the dialecticians, an accomplished orator and master of the Greek tongue; and we shall be able to show that it was possible for Epictetus to have this champion of the Christian faith.
Zeno, or Zenon, who flourished 260 years B.C., was the founder of the Stoic school. A native of Cyprus, he settled in Athens to devote himself to the study of the Socratic philosophy.
He taught in the porch known as the Stoa Poecile, famous in earlier times as the resort of poets, and adorned with painting by Polygnotus, one of the most celebrated of Greek painters, who came to Athens 463 B.C.
Epictetus of Herapolis in Phrygia, whose Enchiridion we are discussing, was a freedman of Epaphroditus, who was himself a freedman of Nero, expelled from Rome by Domitian; he took up his residence at Necopolis, a city at the S.W. extremity of Epirus, opposite Actium, built by Augustus in memory of the battle of Actium which he gained over Antony and Cleopatra. Epictetus did not leave any works behind him, and the short manual Enchiridion which bears his name was compiled from his discourses by Arrian. Arrian, or arrianus, a greek historian, was orn at Nicomedia in Bithynia about A.D. 90; he was a pupil and friend of Epictetus, whose letters he published at Athens. He, one of the best writers of his time, died at an advanced age in the reign of M. Aurelius.
We have thus two important historical facts to guide us; first, that Epictetus fled from Rome to escap persecution under Domitian; secondly, that the Enchiridion comes to us as a synopsis or manual of the lectures delivered by Epictetus early in the second century. Plavius Domitianus Augustus was not permitted to take any part in public affairs during the reign of his father Vespasian, A.D.69-79, of his brother Titus, 79-81. Titus concluded the siege of Jerusalem on 8th Sept., 70, returned to Rome, was in 71 associated with his father Vespasian as Emperor, and died 13 Sept., 81, poisoned , as it was believed, by his brother Domitian.
It is manifest from these dates that the explusion of Epictetus from rome must have occurred more than eighty years after the introduction of Chritianity, and the presumption is that he fled from Rome to escape the tyranny and vices of he court of Domitian, so vividly traced in the seventh satire of Juvenal.
It is impossible to assign the precise year when Arrian wrote the Enchiridion; the only clue we have to guide us is that he was born in 90, received from Hadrian in 124 the Roman citizenship with the name of Flavius, and died during the reign of Aurelius, who became Emperor on the death of Antonius in 161. Arrian must consequently have been 71 years of age when Aurelius was proclaimed Emperor.
“Paganism,” we are told [by Dr. Irons, Prebendary of St. Paul’s] “had, from the time of Socrates to Marcus Aurelius been subjected to the free handling of philosophers, and people had dropped all real faith in the old traditions;” and as Arrian was born 90 years after the introduction of Christianity, he must have become familiar with the doctrines of the new faith, in fact he must have resided in Rome rather more than half a century after the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul.
One legend represents St. Peter as following Simon Magnus into divers countries, and finally defeating him at Rome; another makes the Apostle travel only with St. Paul to Rome, where they established a Church in friendly co-operation, and suffered martyrdom under Nero. Dr. Dollinger, in his “fables respecting the Popes,” committed himself to the opinion that St. Peter visited Rome, though Lepsins, in his investigations, rejects the legend.
Nero’s reign as Emperor lasted from 54 to 68, consequently within that period the Apostles must have suffered the alleged martyrdom, hence Arrian must have composed the Enchiridion at a period when religious controversies engaged the keenness intellects at Rome and Athens. This inference is fairly deducible from the following facts: In the year Aurelius died Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, A.D. 160, speaks of John as the author of the Apocalypse, and before the close of the second century, the writings of Irenoeus, Clement of Alexandria, ad Tertullian show that the Apocalypse was the work of the Apostle John.
Retracing our steps up the stream of time, we find that Theophilus of Antioch, A.D. 175, cites the gospel by name; Tatian, A.D. 165, a pupil of Justin’s, wrote an address to the Greeks containing undisputed quotations from the Gospel; Heraellion, A.D. 150, wrote a commentary on the fourth Gospel; Justin Martyr in A.D. 140 (that is 16 years after Arrian had received from Hadrian the Roman citizenship and 21 years before Arrian could have died) quoted several passages bearing a close affinity to the words of the fourth Gospel, while, according to the earliest distinct trace of any allusion to the same work, we reach the writing of this heretic, Basilides, A.D. 120-130.
Whatever form our speculations may take whether we assume that Epictetus and Arrian had imbibed the new faith and had become almost Christians; or fearing persecution, masked their religious opinions and adhered to the school of Zeno, it must be confessed that the Enchiridion inculcates the purest morality and the loftiest conception of human virtue.
We cannot conclude our comments on this interesting contribution to our literary treasury without awarding Mr. Talbot the merit of having conscientiously adhered to the original in his prose translations, while the following extracts will enable our readers to appreciate his graceful poetic renderings of the Greek sages.
The mechanical part of the work is a credit to the press of Canada, and will compare favorably with the best productions of the English publishing houses.
Those of our readers who cannot refer to the Greek version can now, thanks to Mr. Talbot, be brought into communion with a writer “who was himself a model and pattern in the practice of every virtue which he taught and every principle which he inculcated.”
The following are a few extracts from the work:--
We should always guard against oaths and unnecessary appeals to Heaven; they should never pass from our lips, except when Truth, Justice, and Right demand them.”
Forbear all oaths, those dread appeals to Heaven,
Nor let the solemn plight be lightly given;
The awful sounds ne’er from thy lips should steal,
Save when Truth, Justice, Right demand th’ appeal.
It argues a weak and foolish mind to indulge immoderately in such grief or sorrow; knowing, as we should, that it is the nature of all earthly things to pass away; and that we possess only the privilege of using them for a while.
‘Tis folly all; what matters how they’ve flown,
Since ‘tis the Giver who has taken his own,
Enjoy all blessings while the power is thine,
And when once gone, nor grumble nor repine.
The fool looks abroad for happiness; but, the wise man seeks it at home.
How great the space that parts the sage and fool!
The Sphere of Folly and fair Wisdom’s school!
Our chief attention should be directed to the improvement of the mind.
Our first, our last, our greatest care should be
To train the soul from Folly’s ways to flee;
And all our efforts to one end combin’d—
To tend, improve, enrich, enlarge the mind.
Young females, instead of adorning their faces in order to attract the admiration of men, should cultivate the virtues of prudence, discretion, and modesty.
Ah, let her pause, and learn this truth to know,
All female worth from Virtue’s font must flow;
Discretion, Prudence, Modesty, alone,
Can stamp the price which Virtue’s sons will own;
None without these may true regard sustain;
And miss puts on her flaunting robes in vain!
Let nothing dissuade you from that which is right; and be not turned aside from the path of honour and of justice by the censures or derisions of the senseless crowd.
From righteous acts let naught thy mind dissuade;
Of vulgar censures be thou ne’er afraid;
Pursue the task which justice doth decree,
E’en tho’ the crowd think different from thee.