Sunday, October 5, 2014
Recently, I found a yellow, wrinkled piece of notebook paper. The three folds of the paper were pulling apart at the seams and barely held together. It looks very old. And so it is, because I wrote excerpts of verses from Epictetus on it about forty-five years ago. I recorded the verses from a tiny book with gold binding I found several years before. I was so impressed with what the verses revealed of a man who wrote them many centuries ago. It was really my first encounter with a philosopher with whom I could relate, Epictetus.
The Epictetus readings became helpful in my second semester english class at Del Mar College. My instructor creatively taught his classes in a manner in which Freshman students could relate. One of his favorite characters in literature was Sir Thomas More, a 16th century chancellor and advisor to King Henry VIII. He assigned the play, A Man of All Seasons, written by Robert Bolt and was a featured film in 1966. It was one of our readings for the class. The play is based on the true story of More who wouldn't give into the demands of King Henry VIII. I used one of the verses from my little book, Epictetus, as a reference when I wrote my essay about the story. My literature instructor was quite impressed with my knowledge of this stoic philosophy by Epictetus.
More was a man with high academic skills as well as high moral ideals. In 1534 More refused the oath which pledged him to approve the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn after divorcing his wife. Because of More's convictions against the King's unlawful actions that defied church law and custom he was imprisoned in the tower and later beheaded. His head was exhibited on London Bridge. More sacrificed an accomplished life and lost his head all because he failed to acknowledge the king's divorce and remarriage. In my essay I quoted Epictetus, "Consider man at what price you sell your freedom of choice-if for no other reason that you not sell it for a trifle". Epictetus was a Greek slave hundreds of years before and apparently dwelt on such matters often. I professed that in addition to More's faithfulness to the pope and the church he could likely have been a student of Epictetus's
philosophy of Stoicism. And he may have viewed his role as one not worthy of retaining, just for a lie. Or the acceptance of the king's marital position too trifle to forfeit his principles and values.
My English teacher was philosophical in his advice. During the semester he suggested that as we read, we might find it enlightening to write down significant quotes from the literature. And reflect upon them from time to time. That is how I came to collect and record some of Epictetus's verses. I carried them around in my wallet and read them at times of boredom or at places I had spare time to wait. Eventually, as I changed wallets and purses the wrinkled paper was lost in a file or drawer, but definitely saved for my reflections. In my next post I will tell you about the other Epictetus verses I like to reflect upon and some I find relevant today.
Today, I think it is quite interesting that reading back to the time of King Henry VIII's reign in England, he was purportedly responsible for the beheading of thousands of people, including two wives. Not to mention he is the one credited with founding The Church Of England that evolved as a result of the separation from Rome. During my Family research I also found that one of my favorite lines in my genealogy, the Edwards, my ancestor, Richard Edwards is linked as an illegitimate son of King Henry VIII's. One must be careful of whom he/she criticizes in history.