Epictetan Worms

Seek Ye Stoic Therapy

painting entitled The Worm (2017) by Вадим Олейник

Epistle 25. Posted on 2019-09-16.

Epictetus (55–135 CE) is a famous Stoic philosopher who opened his own school in Nicopolis (Nikopolis) in Epirus (in northwestern Greece), calling it the “healing place for sick souls.” His school acquired a good reputation, attracting many upper-class Romans. One noteworthy student was Flavius Arrian (c.86–c.160 CE), who wrote down many lessons of Epictetus into a work that is referred to now as Epictetus’s Discourses. In his Discourses, Epictetus referred to worms on at least three occasions. In Ancient Greek, the word “worm” (Greek: σκώληξ or skṓlēx) derived from being “bent, crooked.” Pay attention, because chances are that you are an Epictetan worm. This article points the way back to humanity.

Following are Epictetan references to “worms”:

“…off to your couch and sleep, and lead the life of a worm, of which you have judged yourself worthy; eat and drink and copulate and defecate and snore. What do you care how the rest of mankind will think about these matters, or whether their ideas be sound or not?” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.20.10.

“Why, when you are a worm, do you claim that you are a man?” — Epictetus, Discourses, 4.1.140-145.

“Do you, then, who are a human being, wish to be not even an animal of the kind that associates with men, but rather a worm, or a spider?” — Discourses, 4.1.30-305.

Clearly, an Epictetan worm is not restricted to Romans, but is someone who ignores their humanity, which is to say their reason. An Epictetan worm ignores their reason, which governs impulses. Hence, an Epictetan worm is someone who does not govern their impulses with reason, and opts instead to eat, drink, copulate, defecate, and snore. An Epictetan worm cares not for the soundness of another’s ideas.

Strangely to Epictetus, some Epictetan worms claim to be human, even though reason is ignored. Some Epictetan worms also opt not to associate with people, as might some irrational animals. Instead, these strangers to reason live unto themselves, like a worm or a spider.

Whether it is obvious or not, Epictetus is urging someone in each case toward embracing their humanity. One’s humanity is a quality that is made distinct from one’s animality by another quality: one’s rationality — the capacity for reason. Tell me, dear reader, do you embrace reason or do you abandon it and live like an Epictetan worm?

Stoic Therapy

In Stoic therapy sessions, everyone is encouraged at all times to be reasonable. This is not an empty encouragement or a trite taunt. The goal in Stoicism is to live according to nature, and this is synonymous with living according to reason or living consistently. The experience of any passion is living contrary to nature, of assenting to contradiction, to the exact opposite of a reasonable judgment. And yet, everything good such as joy, love, and contentment is not self-contradictory. Formal reason guides every Stoic decision, and katalepsis is a natural place to start. Epictetan worms often want to regard themselves as reasonable; bother that — learn instead how to be reasonable.

Put yourself to this small test. Consider the articles available here on definitions and then katalepsis. This is not much to ask. When finished, some bother themselves with the effort to attempt to practice what they’ve learned. These are the few who go on to make definitions of things encountered, to separate knowledge from opinion. The sparkle leaves my eye as I describe the other type, who treats the obtainment of peace like a one-click shopping experience, as though it is something that should be streamlined and effortless for any consumer of consistency, as though it were something unworthy of effort. These are but casual grazers of philosphical grass; these are doomed to waste everything wonderful as would an Epictetan worm. This small test is but the first challenge of one’s Epictetan wormicity, so to speak.

Stoic therapy, in this context, is about helping one to overcome one’s wormian tendencies. No other philosophy — or academic department for that matter — embraces reason quite like Stoicism. Consequently, no other philosophy offers so much potential for inner peace. Misery loves company, so leave the other worms to the other worms. Perhaps it is not intuitive at first, but the pursuit of reason is the path to lasting happiness. If you quest for the good life, seek ye Stoic therapy.

Vale (pronounced WAH-lay is Latin for “Farewell”),

Ron Hall

Ron Hall



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