We have just taken a look at Musonius Rufus’ Lectures, as newly translated by Cynthia King (with preface by Bill Irvine). It is then time to turn to the collection of short Sayings that are part of the same book to further our picture of an influential Stoic and teacher of Epictetus.
The Sayings are essentially aphorisms, not the sort of comprehensive essays that we have seen in the Lectures, but they are nonetheless useful to improve our understanding of Musonius and his Stoic worldview.
Here are a few of my favorite, with some accompanying comments:
 “It is not possible to live well today unless you treat it as your last day.”
This is a standard Stoic theme, which will become recurrent in Marcus’ Meditations. We live in the here and now (hic et nunc), because we have control only over what we are doing now, not on our past (which is already behind our reach, so to speak), nor on our future (which is still beyond our reach).
 “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.”
I love this one. It’s a forceful reminder that we shouldn’t be so cocky about how much better things would be if we were running the joint.
 “Choose to die well while you can; wait too long, and it might become impossible to do so.”
Very modern, perfectly applicable to current debates on the right to die, for instance, and part of the Stoic general theory of the acceptability of suicide, if carefully considered — what Epictetus called “the open door.”
Speaking of dying, two more on the same subject:
 “It is not proper for one to die who is helpful to many while he is alive, unless by dying he is helpful to more.”  “Given that all must die, it is better to die with distinction than to live long.”
The latter sentence cannot fail to bring to mind Achille’s famous choice: he tells his mother, the Nereid Thetis, that he’d rather have a short and glorious life than a long one lived in obscurity. Accordingly, he decides to take part in the Trojan War, leading to the well known outcome of his death at the hand of Paris. But I don’t think this is what Musonius had in mind. More likely, he was taking seriously the Stoic doctrine that we are by nature social-rational animals, from which it follows that the point of our lives is to be useful to each other (live with distinction). No point, then, in living long just for the sake of duration.
The first sentence, by contrast, in these days is likely to bring up the cult of suicide bombers, but it has always been the case, across cultures and times, that we have looked favorably toward people who sacrificed themselves for the common good, and I think that’s all one needs to read in Musonius.
 “In order to protect ourselves we must live like doctors and be continually treating ourselves with reason … words of advice and warning administered when a person’s emotions are at their height and boiling over accomplish little or nothing.”
The first part expresses what I think is a beautiful, and quintessentially Stoic, sentiment, while the second one is a wise piece of counsel that we all would do well to heed.
Modern Stoics associate the doctrine of the dichotomy of control most vividly with Epictetus, but here is Musonius’ rendition of it:
 “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 … we must concern ourselves absolutely with the things that are under our control and entrust the things not in our control to the universe.” (Except that Epictetus would have said Zeus, or God, instead of the universe.)
Let me finish with a famous exchange with Epictetus himself (then Musonius’ student, of course), from which Epictetus learned a lesson he would not forget, and which he used with his own students in Nicopolis:
 “[Epictetus:] ‘If I made a mistake in these arguments, I didn’t thereby kill my father, did I?’ [Musonius:] ‘Slave, how was your father involved in this in order for you to kill him? What did you do? There was only one mistake to make in this argument, and you made it.'” Ouch!
Categories: Ancient Stoicism