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The Discourses of Epictetus, tr. by P.E Matheson, [1916], at



Some men raise the question whether the social faculty is a necessary element in man's nature: nevertheless even they, I think, would not question that cleanliness at any rate is essential to it, and that this, if anything, divides him from the lower animals. So when we see one of the other animals cleaning itself, we are wont to say in our surprise, 'He does it like a man.' And again, if some one finds fault with an animal for being dirty we are wont to say at once, as if in defence, 'Of course he is not a man.' So true is it that we think the quality to be distinctive of man, deriving it first from the gods. For since the gods are by nature pure and unalloyed, just in so far as men have approached them by virtue of reason, they have a tendency to purity and cleanliness. But since it is impossible for their nature to be entirely pure, being composed of such stuff as it is, the reason which they have received endeavours, so far as in it lies, to make this stuff clean.

The primary and fundamental purity is that of the soul, and so with impurity. You cannot find the same impurity in a soul as in a body: the soul's impurity you will find to be just this—that which renders it unclean for its own functions; and the functions of a soul are: impulse to act and not to act, will to get and will to avoid, preparation, design, assent. What is it then which renders the soul foul and unclean in these functions? It is nothing but its evil judgements. And so the soul's impurity consists in bad judgements, and purification consists in producing in it right judgements, and the pure soul is one which has right judgements, for this alone is proof against confusion and pollution in its functions.

And one ought to endeavour, as far as may be, to achieve a similar cleanliness in one's body too. Man's temperament is such that there must needs be mucous discharge: for this reason nature made hands, and the nostrils themselves like channels to cleanse his humours. If he swallows them I say that he does not act as a man should. It was impossible for men's feet not to be made muddy and dirty when they pass

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through mud and dirt; for this reason nature provided water and hands to wash with. It was impossible that some impurity should not stick to the teeth from eating. Therefore we are bidden to wash our teeth. Why? That you may be a man and not a beast or a pig. It was impossible that sweat and the pressure of our clothes should not leave some defilement clinging to the body, and needing to be cleansed. Therefore we have water, olive-oil, hands, towel, strigils, soap, and on occasion every other sort of apparatus, to make the body clean.

'Not for me', you say.

What! The smith will clean his iron tool of rust, and will have instruments made for the purpose, and even you will wash your plate when you are going to eat, unless you are absolutely foul and dirty, and yet you will not wash nor make clean your poor body? 'Why should I?' says he. I will tell you again: first, that you may act like a man, next, that you may not annoy those you meet. You are doing something very like it even here, though you are not aware of it. You think you deserve to have a scent of your own. Very well, deserve it: but do you think those who sit by you deserve it too, and those who recline by you, and those who kiss you? Go away then into a wilderness, where you deserve to go, and live by yourself, and have your smell to yourself, for it is right that you should enjoy your uncleanness by yourself. But if you are in a city, what sort of man are you making yourself, to behave so thoughtlessly and inconsiderately? If nature had trusted a horse to your care, would you have left it uncared for? Imagine that your body has been committed to you as a horse: wash it, rub it down well, make it such that no one will shun it or turn from it. But who does not turn from a man who is dirty, odorous, foul-complexioned, more than from one who is bespattered with muck? The smell of the latter is external and accidental, that of the former comes from want of tendance; it is from within, and shows a sort of inward rottenness.

'But Socrates rarely washed.'

Why, his body was clean and bright, nay, it was so gracious and agreeable that the handsomest and noblest were in love with him, and desired to recline by him rather than by those who were perfect in beauty. He might have never washed or bathed, if he had liked: I tell you his ablutions, if rare, were powerful. If you will not wash in hot water, wash in cold.

But Aristophanes says:

I mean the pallid folk, that shoeless go.
                                [Aristophanes, Clouds, 103]

[paragraph continues] True, but he also says he trod the air and stole clothes from the Gymnasium. The fact is, that all who have written about Socrates bear

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witness to just the opposite: he was not only pleasant to hear, but pleasant to look upon. They write the same again about Diogenes.

You must not scare away the masses from philosophy by your bodily appearance, but show yourself cheerful and unruffled in the body as in other things. 'Men, look at me, I have nothing, I need nothing; without house, without city, an exile, if it so chance, and without a hearth, behold how I live a life more tranquil and happy than all the noble and the rich: but you see also that my poor body is not disfigured by my hard living!' But if a man says this to me, and wears the face and figure of one condemned, no god will ever persuade me to come near philosophy, if that is the sort of men she makes. Far be it from me: though it were to make me wise, I would not.

By the gods, when the young man feels the first stirrings of philosophy I would rather he came to me with his hair sleek than dishevelled and dirty: for that shows a sort of reflection of the beautiful, and a longing for the comely, and where he imagines these to be, there he spends his effort. It only remains then to point him the way and say, 'Young man, you are in search of the beautiful, and you do well. Know then, that it is to be found where your reason is. Seek for it in the region of impulses to act and not to act, in the region of the will to get and the will to avoid. This is your distinctive possession, your body is born to be but clay. Why do you toil for it in vain? Time, if nothing else, will teach you that it is nothing.' But if he comes to me befouled, dirty, with a beard trailing to his knees, what can I say to him, what similitude can I use to attract him? To what is he devoted that has any likeness to the beautiful, that I may change his direction and say, 'The beautiful is not here, but here'? Would you have me say to him, 'The beautiful is to be found not in filthiness but in reason'? Does he want the beautiful? Does he show any sign of it? Go and reason with a pig, that he wallow no more in the mire! That was why Xenocrates’ discourses laid hold on Polemo, for he was a young man of taste; he had come with glimmerings of devotion to the beautiful, though he sought it elsewhere.

Why, nature did not make even those lower animals dirty who associate with men. Does a horse or a well-bred dog wallow in mire? No, it is only the pig, and greasy geese, and worms and spiders, creatures the furthest removed from human society. Do you then, being a man, choose to be a wretched worm or spider, lower even than the animals that associate with men? Will you never wash, be it how you will? Will you not cleanse yourself? Will you not come clean among us that you may give pleasure to your companions? What! do you enter our temples, where custom forbids spitting or wiping the nose, in this condition, a man of filth and drivel?

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'What?' you ask. 'Do you call on us to adorn ourselves?'

Far from it, if it be not with our natural adornment of reason, judgements, activities, and the body only so far as to be cleanly and give no offence. If you hear that you must not wear scarlet, must you needs go off and spread filth on your cloak, or tear it in half?

'But how am I to have a beautiful cloak?'

Man, you have water, wash it. Here is a young man worthy to be loved, here is an old man worthy to love and to be loved, one to whom a man is to hand over his son to be instructed: daughters and young men will come to him, if it so chance, and for what? That he may discourse to them on a dunghill? God forbid. All eccentricity springs from some human source, but this comes near to being inhuman altogether.

Next: Chapter XII. On Attention