Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: OF PERSONAL ADORNMENT. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER I.: OF PERSONAL ADORNMENT. - Epictetus, The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments [100 AD]
The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments. A Translation from the Greek based on that of Elizabeth Carter, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1865).
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OF PERSONAL ADORNMENT.
A CERTAIN young rhetorician coming to him with his hair too elaborately ornamented, and his dress very fine; tell me, said Epictetus, whether you do not think some horses and dogs beautiful; and so of all other animals?
Are some men, then, likewise beautiful, and others deformed?
Do we pronounce all these beautiful the same way then, or each in some way peculiar to itself? You will judge of it by this; since we see a dog naturally formed for one thing, a horse for another, and a nightingale, for instance, for another, therefore in general, it will be correct to pronounce each of them beautiful, so far as it is developed suitably to its own nature; but, since the nature of each is different, I think each of them must be beautiful in a different way. Is it not so?
Then what makes a dog beautiful makes a horse deformed; and what makes a horse beautiful makes a dog deformed; if their natures are different.
“So it seems.”
For, I suppose, what makes a good Pancratiast* makes no good wrestler, and a very ridiculous racer; and the very same person who appears well as a Pentathlete, might make a very ill figure in wrestling.
What, then, makes a man beautiful? Is it on the same principle that a dog or a horse is beautiful?
What is it then, that makes a dog beautiful?
“That excellence which belongs to a dog.”
What a horse?
“The excellence of a horse.”
What a man? Must it not be the excellence belonging to a man? If then you would appear beautiful, young man, strive for human excellence.
“What is that?”
Consider whom you praise, when unbiassed by partiality; is it the honest or dishonest?
The sober, or the dissolute?
The temperate, or the intemperate?
Then, if you make yourself such a character, you know that you will make yourself beautiful; but, while you neglect these things, though you use every contrivance to appear beautiful, you must necessarily be deformed.
I know not how to say anything further to you; for if I speak what I think, you will be vexed, and perhaps go away and return no more. And if I do not speak, consider what I am doing. You come to me to be improved, and I do not improve you; and you come to me as to a philosopher, and I do not speak like a philosopher. Besides, how could it be consistent with my duty towards yourself, to pass you by as incorrigible? If, hereafter, you should come to have sense, you will accuse me with reason: “What did Epictetus observe in me, that, when he saw me come to him in such a shameful condition, he overlooked it, and never said so much as a word about it? Did he so absolutely despair of me? Was I not young? Was I not able to hear reason? How many young men, at that age, are guilty of many such errors? I am told of one Polemo, who, from a most dissolute youth, became totally changed.* Suppose he did not think I should become a Polemo, he might nevertheless have set my locks to rights, he might have stripped off my bracelets and rings, he might have prevented my depilating my person. But when he saw me dressed like a — what shall I say? — he was silent.” I do not say like what; when you come to your senses, you will say it yourself, and will know what it is, and who they are who adopt such a dress.
If you should hereafter lay this to my charge, what excuse could I make? “Ay; but if I do speak, he will not regard me.” Why, did Laius regard Apollo? Did not he go and get intoxicated, and bid farewell to the oracle? What then? Did this hinder Apollo from telling him the truth? Now, I am uncertain, whether you will regard me, or not; but Apollo positively knew, that Laius would not regard him, and yet he spoke.† And why did he speak? You may as well ask, why is he Apollo; why doth he deliver oracles; why hath he placed himself in such a post as a prophet, and the fountain of truth, to whom the inhabitants of the world should resort? Why is know thyself inscribed on the front of his temple, when no one heeds it?
Did Socrates prevail upon all who came to him, to take care of themselves? Not upon the thousandth part; but being, as he himself declares, divinely appointed to such a post, he never deserted it. What said he even to his judges? “If you would acquit me, on condition that I should no longer act as I do now, I would not accept it, nor desist; but I will accost all I meet, whether young or old, and interrogate them in just the same manner; but particularly you, my fellow-citizens, since you are more nearly related to me.” — “Are you so curious and officious, Socrates? What is it to you, how we act?” — “What say you? While you are of the same community and the same kindred with me, will you be careless of yourself, and show yourself a bad citizen to the city, a bad kinsman to your kindred, and a bad neighbor to your neighborhood?” — “Why, who are you?” Here one ought nobly to say, “I am he who ought to take care of mankind.” For it is not every little paltry heifer that dares resist the lion; but if the bull should come up, and resist him, would you say to him, “Who are you? What business is it of yours?” In every species, man, there is some one quality which by nature excels; in oxen, in dogs, in bees, in horses. Do not say to whatever excels, “Who are you?” If you do, it will, somehow or other, find a voice to tell you; “I am like the purple thread in a garment. Do not expect me to be like the rest; nor find fault with my nature, which has distinguished me from others.”
“What then, am I such a one? How should I be?” Indeed, are you such a one as to be able to hear the truth? I wish you were. But however, since I am condemned to wear a gray beard and a cloak, and you come to me as a philosopher, I will not treat you cruelly, nor as if I despaired of you; but will ask you, Who is it, young man, whom you would render beautiful? Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.
You are a human being; that is, a mortal animal, capable of a rational use of things as they appear. And what is this rational use? A perfect conformity to Nature. What have you, then, particularly excellent? Is it the animal part? No. The mortal? No. That which is capable of the mere use of these things? No. The excellence lies in the rational part. Adorn and beautify this; but leave your hair to Him who formed it as he thought good.
Well; what other appellations have you? Are you a man, or a woman? A man. Then adorn yourself as a man, not as a woman. A woman is naturally smooth and delicate; and, if hairy, is a monster, and shown among the monsters at Rome. It is the same thing in a man, not to be hairy; and, if he is by nature not so, he is a monster. But if he depilates himself, what shall we do with him? Where shall we show him; and how shall we advertise him? “A man to be seen, who would rather be a woman.” What a scandalous show! Who would not wonder at such an advertisement? I believe, indeed, that these very persons themselves would; not apprehending, that it is the very thing of which they are guilty.
Of what have you to accuse your nature, sir, that it has made you a man? Why, were all to be born women then? In that case what would have been the use of your finery? For whom would you have made yourself fine, if all were women? But the whole affair displeases you. Go to work upon the whole then. Remove your manhood itself, and make yourself a woman entirely, that we may be no longer deceived, nor you be half man, half woman. To whom would you be agreeable? To the women? Be agreeable to them as a man.
“Ay; but they are pleased with fops.”
Go hang yourself. Suppose they were pleased with every debauchery, would you consent? Is this your business in life? Were you born to please dissolute women? Shall we make such a one as you, in the Corinthian republic for instance, governor of the city, master of the youth, commander of the army, or director of the public games? Will you pursue the same practices when you are married? For whom, and for what? Will you be the father of children, and introduce them into the state, such as yourself? O what a fine citizen, and senator, and orator! Surely, young man, we ought to pray for a succession of young men disposed and bred like you!
Now, when you have once heard this discourse, go home, and say to yourself, It is not Epictetus who has told me all these things, — for how should he? — but some propitious God through him; for it would never have entered the head of Epictetus, who is not used to dispute with any one. Well; let us obey God then, that we may not incur the Divine displeasure. If a crow has signified anything to you by his croaking, it is not the crow that signifies it, but God, through him. And, if you have anything signified to you through the human voice, doth He not cause that man to tell it to you, that you may know the Divine power which acts thus variously, and signifies the greatest and principal things through the noblest messenger? What else does the poet mean, when he says,
Hermes, descending from heaven, was to warn him; and the Gods now, likewise, send a Hermes the Argicide as messenger to warn you, not to invert the well-appointed order of things, nor be absorbed in fopperies; but suffer a man to be a man, and a woman to be a woman; a beautiful man, to be beautiful, as a man; a deformed man, to be deformed, as a man; for your personality lies not in flesh and hair, but in the Will. If you take care to have this beautiful, you will be beautiful. But all this while, I dare not tell you, that you are deformed; for I fancy you would rather hear anything than this. But consider what Socrates says to the most beautiful and blooming of all men, Alcibiades. “Endeavor to make yourself beautiful.” What does he mean to say to him? “Curl your locks, and depilate your legs?” Heaven forbid! But rather, “Regulate your Will; throw away your wrong principles.”
“What is to be done with the poor body then?”
Leave it to nature. Another hath taken care of such things. Give them up to Him.
“What, then, must one be a sloven?”
By no means; but act in conformity to your nature. A man should care for his body, as a man; a woman, as a woman; a child, as a child. If not, let us pick out the mane of a lion, that he may not be slovenly; and the comb of a cock, for he too should be tidy. Yes, but let it be as a cock; and a lion, as a lion; and a hound, as a hound.
[* ]These are the names of combatants in the Olympic games. A Pancratiast was one who united the exercises of wrestling and boxing. A Pentathlete, one who contended on all the five games of leaping, running, throwing the discus, darting, and wrestling. — C.
[* ]By accidentally visiting the school of Xenocrates. — H.
[† ]Laius, king of Thebes, petitioned Apollo for a son. The oracle answered him, that if Laius became a father, he should perish by the hand of his son. The prediction was fulfilled by Œdipus. — C.
[* ]Homer, Odyssey, I. 37.