Enchiridion by Epictetus, chapter 4 – Keeping your cool while bathing

Know what you are getting in to

Chapter 4 by Enchiridion is all about knowing what you get in to and being ready for what it is.

“When going about any action, keep in mind what the nature of that action is”

Know what kind of thing it is. As in “I am going to do X and X has these qualities, sometimes thing X goes like this”.

Don’t go to things without thinking about what comes with them, without understanding what you are involving yourself with. Isn’t it wonderfully insane that people do engage frequently in activities, expecting them to be something else than what they and everyone knows it is?

Sometimes we just wish things were the way we would like them to be and mistake that for reality.

V0020035 Men bathing in a public bath. Engraving.
V0020035 Men bathing in a public bath. Engraving. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Men bathing in a public bath. Engraving. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Epictetus talks about going to the baths. Back in his day that was a thing, going to wash yourself in a public bath where there was a lot of people, some not behaving well. Sometimes people would push and shove, splash water, call you names or steal your stuff.

When you go there, what is it really like? You don’t just say to yourself: “I am going to the bath, it’s going to be great”. Remind yourself of what you already know about it, or what you can imagine happening. Have correct expectations and brace yourself for what will go on there.

Some common examples

  • If you go to drive on a public road, you must know there’s going to be traffic jams, drivers who make choices that displease you, cars and drivers of different ages, with different abilities, etc.
  • If you decide to work on your computer, you know pretty well that software sometimes has bugs and hardware breaks once in a while.
  • If you go on a date, you are going there to get to know a new person. They might not always be exactly as you expected or hoped.
  • If you go out to eat, sometimes the food or service turns out to be a disappointment. Has happened and will happen.
  • If you go to a concert, you already know there will be a crowd.

Now, you can go to all these things expecting something else, but you’d be a fool to do so.

The fault would be yours.

What can we do?

Nothing dramatic, it’s really pretty simple.

You should just be realistic about what you are getting in to and what it will entail.

If you can’t accept the deal, don’t take it. Try to work around it somehow, find another way, do something else. If you take the deal, prepare yourself for the expected (and some unexpected) problems.

When out in the field doing your thing, remind yourself that you went to this thing on your own choice.

If you can do this, “you will go about you undertaking more securely”.


Epictetus means that you will feel secure about yourself, knowing that you are not going to lose it while there.

You will want to “To keep your moral purpose in harmony with nature”.

That is keeping the faculty of choice. Keeping your moral compass. Your Prohairesis. You will keep in harmony with nature, natural being what is genuinely good for us, what fulfils us as humans.

  • If you think you can not go to the bath and deal with everyone’s nonsense and all the while keep your peace, then don’t go there. Bathe in private.
  • If you decide to go, keep in mind all the things that it involves. Do not cheat yourself by believing that it is something else than what it is. This would make you weaker.

When the unpleasant thing happens, say:

“It was not only to bathe that I desired, but to keep my mind in a state conformable to nature; and I will not keep it if I am bothered at things that happen”


Epictetus, the Enchiridion – Commentary chapter 4 – by Dr. Sadler

Enchiridion by Epictetus
Enchiridion by Epictetus

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