Let's Read Epictetus: Enchiridion #5

Reading straight through from chapter four the first sentence of chapter five seems natural. Epictetus insists that events do not disturb us, but rather our judgments of events disturb us. But in the next sentence Epictetus cuts deep when he insists that death is nothing frightening. He calls attention to the fact that Socrates didn't fear death. Socrates represents the ideal sage, and thus if he didn't fear death, then neither should we.

Death itself isn't frightening, but instead the judgment that death is frightening is what hurts us. If in the case of death, so in the case of everything else. Epictetus insists that we never hold other people responsible if we are unhappy, frustrated, or angry. If we blame others then we don't understand what is in and outside of our control. If we blame ourselves that is better. Better still is to make the correct judgments of events so that we blame neither others or ourselves for anything. 

In his discourses Epictetus says somewhere that no man is ever unhappy because of someone else. This is true, and yet we recoil against it. But we don't ever have anyone else to blame! If we really didn't fear death or poverty or disrepute, then we would be untouchable. So we must look to ourselves.

Are we clearly discerning between what is in our control and outside it? Do we truly only desire virtue? Do we direct our aversion against those things that lead us away from excellence? Are we reminding ourselves that everything is temporary and we must be parted from our possessions and loved ones? 

If we find ourselves disturbed by events, then we know that we are not doing these things consistently in our lives. Thus, taking stock of our emotions about the circumstances that we find ourselves in provides us with a good test of whether we are living in accordance with nature. Then we must work backwards to find where we are out of step with these practices.