Bear and Forbear

Epictetus is considered the most influential philosopher of Stoicism in the Roman Empire. His favourite saying was “Bear and Forbear.”

This, simply stated, means to bear all that befalls you, and forbear, that is, refrain from replying in any emotional or vengeful manner. In our time, this school of acting has been parodied as,”grin and bear it.”

Origen relates an anecdote about Epictetus which, if true, illustrates the fortitude of Epictetus. When his master was twisting his leg one day, Epictetus smiled and quietly said, "You will break it"; and when his master did break it, only observed, "Did I not tell you that you would do so?"

A More Profound View

The starting point for Epictetus is that we cannot control what happens to us. Nor can we control our responses to what happens to us, not our actions, not our feelings. But we can, with practice, control the way we feel about what happens, and what we do.

So often, in the Sayings, we meet images of attending a feast, and are admonished to accept what is offered as a good guest. Or we are presented life as in a play, and directed to play our roles. Or he discusses not to strive, take what comes, for what value is the laurel wreath of Caesar?

In a world of slavery, in many ways not unlike our own, is not the only place free of torture the very secret recesses in ourselves?

Another View

In another example of the fallacy of composition, what is good for the individual, is not good for the collective. As with most religions, or indeed any philosophy or world view that promises an afterlife, Stoicism tends to vitiate any revolutionary activity now, in this world.

Maybe now, at the end of history, extolled not only by apologists for the political status quo, but also those for the singularity, maybe only a view of life offerring some solace from the subjugation from the forces of either economics, or technology is rational? Especially for those masses that do not benefit from the riches of the new Romans, whether of capitalism, or technology.

Maybe Stocism is the worldview for today. Certainly no rational individual would cavil at this best of all possible worlds that we live in, and that we are constantly moving towards.


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