Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings - by Musonius Rufus

A person who has not studied letters, music, or sports does not say that he knows them. Nor does he pretend to possess these skills if he is unable to name also the teacher to whom he went. So why, by the gods, do we all declare that we have virtue? A human being has no claim by nature to any of those other skills, and no one comes into life with a natural ability for them.

Musonius thought that practice was more important than theory. "How would knowing the theory of a thing be better than practicing that theory and doing things in accordance with its guidelines? Although understanding the theory behind the action enables one to speak, it is practice that enables one to act. Theory which teaches how one must act assists action and logically precedes practice, for it is not possible for something good to be accomplished unless it is accomplished in accordance with theory. But as a matter of fact, practice if more important than theory, because it more effectively leads humans to actions than theory does."

Practicing each virtue always must follow learning the lessons appropriate to it, or it is pointless for us to learn about it. The person who claims to be studying philosophy must practice it even more diligently than the person who aspires to the art of medicinge or some similar skill, inasmuch as philosophy is more important and harder to grasp than any other pursuit. Pople who study skills other than philosophy have not been previously corrupted in their souls by learning things contrary to what they are about to learn, but people who attempt to study philosophy, since they have been already in the midst of much corruption and are filled with evil, pursue virtue in such a condition that they need even more practice in it. How, then, and in what way must they be trained? Since a human being happens to be neither soul alone nor body alone, but a composite of these two things, someone in training must pay attention to both. We will train both soul and body when we accustom ourselves to cold, heat, thirst, hunger, scarcity of food, hardness of bed, abstaining from pleasures, and enduring pains. Through these methods and others like them, the body is strengthened, becomes inured to suffering, and strong and fit for every task; the soul is strengthened as it is trained for courage by enduring hardships and trained for self-control by abstaining from pleasures.

Those who do not know what is really good and what is really shameful, and who are overly concerned with their own fame--these people think that they are being injured if someone glares at them, laughs at them, hits them, or mocks them. But a man who is thoughtful and sensible--as a philosopher should be--is disturbed by none of these things. He believes that the shame comes not in being insulted but in behaving in an insulting manner. What wrong does the person who experiences wrong do? The person who does wrong, however, is thereby shamed. But since the person who is wronged does not thereby do wrong, he is not thereby shamed. Consequently, a sensible person would not resort to lawsuits or indictments since he would not think that he had been insulted. Indeed, it is petty to be vexed or put out about such things. He will calmly and quietly bear what has happened, since this is appropriate behavior for a person who wants to be magnanimous. Plotting how to bite back someone who ites and to return evil against the one who first did evil is characteristic of a beast, not a man. A beast is not able to comprehend that many of the wrongs done to people are done out of ignorane and a lack of understanding. A person who gains this comprehension immediately stops doing wrong. It is characteristic of a civilized and humane temperament not to respond to wrongs as a beast would and not to be implacable towards those who offend, but to provide them with a model of decent behavior.

One should seek protection for the body that is modest, not expensive and excessive. One should use clothing and footwear in the same way as one uses armor: to defend the body, not to show off. What is being used to provide protection must make the thing that is being protected better than itself and stronger, not weaker and worse. Those who dress to keep their skin smooth and soft, though, harm themselves, inasmuch as an enervated and soft body is inferior to one that is tough and work-hardened. Only those who dress to strengthen and build up the parts of the body they protect benefit themselves. It is a mistake for people to dress so that they never experience cold and heat. To the contrary, they should be somewhat cold in winter, get out in the sun in summer, and stay in the shade very little.


It is not possible to live well today unless you treat it as your last day.

Why do we criticize tyrants, when in fact we are much worse than they are? We have the same inclinations as they do; we just lack opportunities to act on them.

If you work hard to do what is right, do not be upset by roadblocks; think about how many of the things in your life haven't turned out as you wanted them to, but as they should have.

Choose to die well while you can; wait too long, and it might become impossible to do so.

You will deserve respect from everyone if you will start by respecting yourself.

If you accomplish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly, but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly, but the shame endures.

Of the things that exist, Zeus has put some in our control and some not in our control. In our control is the most beautiful and important thing, the thing because of which even the god himself is happy--namely, the proper use of our impressions. Such use brings freedom, prosperity, serenity, and stability; it also brings justice, law, self-control, and complete virtue. All other things he did not put in our control. Therefore, we must agree with the god: after we have divided matters in this way, we must concern ourselves absolutely with the things that are under our control, and entrust the things not in our control to the universe. And whether it be our children, our fatherland, our body, or anything else that the universe demands, we must yield them readily.