Rotting away among the Sirens

Epictetus Discourses 2.234 36-41.  An originally Stoic exhortation but one I redirect along the same lines as Robert Burton’s self-conviction of his reading practices – that “like a ranging spaniel, that barks at every bird he sees, leaving his game, I have followed all, saving that which I should.”

What, then, generally takes place? Men act like a traveller on the way to his own country who stops at an excellent inn, and, since the inn pleases him, stays there. Man, you have forgotten your purpose; you were not travelling to this but through it. “But this is a fine inn.” And how many other inns are fine, and how many meadows—yet simply for passing through. But your purpose is the other thing, to return to your country, to relieve the fear of your kinsmen, to do the duties of a citizen yourself, to marry, bring up children, hold the customary offices. For you did not come into the world to select unusually fine places, I ween, but to live and go about your business in the place where you were born and were enrolled as a citizen. Something like this takes place also in the matter which we are considering. Since a man must advance to perfection through the spoken word and such instruction as you receive here, and must purify his own moral purpose and correct the faculty which makes use of external impressions, and since the instruction must necessarily be given by means of certain principles, and in a particular style, and with a certain variety and impressiveness in the form of these principles, some persons are captivated by all these things and stay where they are; one is captivated by style, another by syllogisms, another by arguments with equivocal premisses, another by some other “inn” of that sort, and staying there they rot away as though they were among the Sirens.

Τί οὖν ἐστι τὸ γινόμενον; οἷον εἴ τις ἀπιὼν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα τὴν ἑαυτοῦ καὶ διοδεύων πανδοκεῖον καλὸν ἀρέσαντος αὐτῷ τοῦ πανδοκείου καταμένοι ἐν τῷ πανδοκείῳ. ἄνθρωπε, ἐπελάθου σου τῆς προθέσεως· οὐκ εἰς τοῦτο ὥδευες, ἀλλὰ διὰ τούτου. “ἀλλὰ κομψὸν τοῦτο.” πόσα δ᾿ ἄλλα πανδοκεῖα κομψά, πόσοι δὲ λειμῶνες· ἁπλῶς ὡς δίοδος. τὸ δὲ προκείμενον ἐκεῖνο· εἰς τὴν πατρίδα ἐπανελθεῖν, τοὺς οἰκείους ἀπαλλάξαι δέους, αὐτὸν τὰ τοῦ πολίτου ποιεῖν, γῆμαι, παιδοποιεῖσθαι,ἄρξαι τὰς νομιζομένας ἀρχάς. οὐ γὰρ τοὺς κομψοτέρους ἡμῖν τόπους ἐκλεξόμενος ἐλήλυθας, ἀλλ᾿ ἐν οἷς ἐγένου καὶ ὧν κατατέταξαι πολίτης, ἐν τούτοις ἀναστραφησόμενος. τοιοῦτόν τι καὶ ἐνταῦθά ἐστι τὸ γινόμενον. ἐπεὶ διὰ λόγου καὶ τοιαύτης παραδόσεως ἐλθεῖν ἐπὶ τὸ τέλειον δεῖ καὶ τὴν αὑτοῦ προαίρεσιν ἐκκαθᾶραι καὶ τὴν δύναμιν τὴν χρηστικὴν τῶν φαντασιῶν ὀρθὴν κατασκευάσαι, ἀνάγκη δὲ τὴν παράδοσιν γίνεσθαι διά τινων θεωρημάτων καὶ διὰ λέξεως ποιᾶς καὶ μετά τινος ποικιλίας καὶ δριμύτητος τῶν θεωρημάτων, ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν τινες τούτων ἁλισκόμενοι καταμένουσιν αὐτοῦ, ὁ μὲν ὑπὸ τῆς λέξεως, ὁ δ᾿ ὑπὸ συλλογισμῶν, ὁ δ᾿ ὑπὸ μεταπιπτόντων, ὁ δ᾿ ὑπ᾿ ἄλλου τινὸς τοιούτου πανδοκείου, καὶ προσμείναντες κατασήπονται ὡς παρὰ ταῖς Σειρῆσιν.

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