Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Epictetus and Slavery Once More

 In a prior post, I discussed some similarities/differences between Epictetus' view of slavery and the Apostle Paul's. I want to share another fascinating passage found in Epictetus' Discourses. This particular passage is found in the section where Epictetus dispenses advice on how to deal with the powerful (1.19.1-29). Namely, Epictetus warns against fear as fear affects the one under the tyrant's control, thus giving the tyrant use of his biggest weapon, once again, fear. The passage I am most interested in is where Epictetus records a fictitious conversation between the slave-owner and the slave. He remarks:

[8] A person's own thoughts unnerve them. If a tyrant threatens to chain our leg, whoever holds his leg in high regard will beg for mercy, whereas the person who cares more for his character will answer back 'Go ahead and chain it, if that's what you want.' 'And you don't care?' 'I don't care.' 'Just wait, I'll show you who's in charge!'
[9] 'How do you propose to do that? Zeus (ὁ Ζεὺς) himself has given me my freedom (ἐλεύθερον ἀφῆκεν); he was not going to allow any son (υἱὸν) of his to be enslaved (καταδουλοῦσθαι). You are master (κύριος)of my corpse, come help yourself to that.'(1.19.8-9; trans. by Robert Dobbin for Penguin Classics).

What I find interesting in this passage is the idea of divine transcendence. The slave in this scenario points to Zeus as being the source of his freedom, which transcends his lot as a slave in this life. Second, the slave, recognized as Zeus' son, is not to be enslaved. Once again, as one who belongs to Zeus, the slave is merely a body that is enslaved; his mind, his soul, his emotions, belong to Zeus and he lives in that realm of freedom. Much like the previous passages that I looked at earlier, the slave is Zeus' "son" (1.19.9; cf. 1.13.3). This idea of belonging to a god, in this case, Zeus, finds certain corollaries in passages like Gal 3:26-29:

26 So in Christ Jesus (ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ) you are all children of God (υἱοὶ θεοῦ) through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free (δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος), nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (γὰρ ὑμεῖς εἷς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ). 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (NIV)

I realize that these passages are not completely analogous, but I am intrigued with the language of sonship in Epictetus (1.13.3; 1.19.9) and Paul (3:26) within the context of slavery. I am also interested in the idea of belonging to G(g)od in both Epictetus and Paul that transcends the slaves social status. There is a leveling that takes place here, that puts the slave and his master on equal footing in terms of their belonging to G(g)od, even if their everyday life does not change substantially.

No comments: