Epictetus part 18: Bad omens

This article is part of the weekly Epictetus series. New articles will be published every Monday.

We know by now that our worry is only in our mind. Moreover, we are not disturbed by external events, but only by our opinions about them. In line with these lessons, Epictetus takes a look at fortune-telling and good or bad omens. In ancient Greece, it was very common to consult an oracle or to observe the flight of birds in order to predict the future. Good and bad omens were taken very seriously. Even though most of us do no longer belief in prophecies, oracles and omens, we can still be disturbed by them. When was the last time you thought ‘this doesn’t predict much good’ after something happened? Without realizing it, good or bad omens still affect us. The advice of Epictetus: don’t worry about it, for it doesn’t concern you. If it is at all relevant, then it only concerns external circumstances like property or opinion.

When a raven croaks as a bad omen, don’t be carried away by the appearance. Instead, distinguish directly for yourself and say: ‘none of these things are marked for me, but either for my body, for my property, for my opinions, for my children or for my wife’. For me, everything is marked as a good omen, if only I want it. Because whatever of these things arises, it is up to me to benefit from it.

So, how should we deal with omens? First of all, realize that they can’t harm you if you don’t let them. You are in control of your happiness. Second, look favourably upon every event. Instead of thinking ‘this does not predict much good’, think ‘if anything, then this is natural and therefore good’.

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