Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XI.: OF PURITY. - The Works of Epictetus. Consisting of His Discourses, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments
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CHAPTER XI.: OF PURITY. - 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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SOME doubt whether the love of society be comprehended in the nature of man; and yet these very persons do not seem to me to doubt but that purity is by all means comprehended in it; and that by this, if by anything, it is distinguished from brute animals. When, therefore, we see any animal cleaning itself, we are apt to cry with wonder, that it is like a human creature. On the contrary, if an animal is censured, we are presently apt to say, by way of excuse, that it is not a human creature. Such excellence do we suppose to be in man, which we first received from the Gods. For as they are by nature pure and uncorrupt, in proportion as men approach to them by reason, they are tenacious of purity and incorruption. But since it is impracticable that their essence, composed of such materials, should be absolutely pure, it is the office of reason to endeavor to render it as pure as possible.
The first and highest purity or impurity, then, is that which is formed in the soul. But you will not find the impurity of the soul and body to be alike. For what stain can you find in the soul, unless it be something which renders it impure in its operations? Now the operations of the soul are its pursuits and avoidances, its desires, aversions, preparations, intentions, assents. What, then, is that which renders it defiled and impure in these operations? Nothing else than its perverse judgments. So that the impurity of the soul consists in wicked principles, and its purification in forming right principles; and that is pure which has right principles, for that alone is unmixed and undefiled in its operations.
Now we should, as far as possible, endeavor after something like this in the body, too. It is impossible but that in such a composition as man, there must be a discharge of superfluous phlegm. For this reason, Nature has made hands, and the nostrils themselves as channels to let out the moisture; nor can this be neglected with propriety. It was impossible but that the feet should be bemired and soiled from what they pass through. Therefore Nature has prepared water and hands. It was impossible but that some uncleanness must cleave to the teeth from eating. Therefore, she says, rinse your teeth. Why? That you may be a man, and not a wild beast, or a swine. It was impossible but that, from perspiration and the pressure of the clothes, something dirty and necessary to be cleaned should remain upon the body. For this there is water, oil, hands, towels, brushes, soap, and other necessary apparatus for its purification. But no; a smith indeed will get the rust off his iron, and have proper instruments for that purpose; and you yourself will have your plates washed before you eat, unless you are quite dirty and slovenly; but you will not wash nor purify your body. “Why should I?” say you. I tell you again, in the first place, that you may be like a man; and, in the next, that you may not offend those with whom you converse. Do you think it fitting to smell offensively? Be it so. But is it fitting as regards those who sit near you? Who are placed at the table with you? Who salute you? Either go into a desert, as you deserve, or live solitary at home, and be the only sufferer. But to what sort of character does it belong to live in a city, and behave so carelessly and inconsiderately? If Nature had trusted even a horse to your care, would you have overlooked and neglected him? Yet now, without being sensible of it, you do something like this. Consider your body as committed to you, instead of a horse. Wash it, rub it, take care that it may not be any one’s aversion, nor disgust any one. Who is not more disgusted at a foul, unwholesome-looking sloven, than at a person who has been accidentally rolled in filth? The stench of the one is adventitious, from without; but that which arises from want of care is a kind of inward putrefaction. “But Socrates bathed but seldom.” Yet his person looked clean, and was so agreeable and pleasing, that the most beautiful and noble youths were fond of him, and desired rather to sit by him than by those who had the finest persons. He might have omitted both bathing and washing, if he had pleased; and yet his amount of bathing had its effect. Cold water may supply the place of the warm bath. “But Aristophanes calls him one of the pallid, barefooted philosophers.”* Why, so he says, too, that he walked in the air, and stole clothes from the Palæstra. Besides, all who have written of Socrates, affirm quite the contrary; that he was not only agreeable in his conversation, but in his person too. And, again, they write the same of Diogenes. For we ought not to frighten the world from philosophy by the appearance of our persons; but to show our serenity of mind, as in all other ways, so in the care of our persons. “See, all of you, that I have nothing; that I want nothing. Without house, without city, and an exile (if that happens to be the case), and without a home, I live more easily and prosperously than the noble and rich. Look upon my person, too, that it is not injured by coarse fare.” But if any one should tell me this, bearing the habit and the visage of a condemned criminal, what God should persuade me to come near philosophy, while it renders men such figures? Heaven forbid! I would not do it, even if I was sure to become a wise man for my pains. I declare, for my own part, I would rather that a young man, on his first inclination to philosophy, should come to me finically dressed, than with his hair spoiled and dirty. For there appears in him some idea of beauty and desire of decency; and where he imagines it to be, there he applies his endeavors. One has nothing more to do but to point it out to him, and say, “You seek beauty, young man, and you do well. Be assured, then, that it springs from the rational part of you. Seek it there, where the pursuits and avoidances, the desires and aversions, are concerned. Herein consists your excellence; but the paltry body is by nature clay. Why do you trouble yourself, to no purpose, about it? You will be convinced by time, if not otherwise, that it is nothing.” But if he should come to me soiled and dirty, with moustaches drooping to his knees, what can I say to him? By what similitude allure him? For what has he studied which has any resemblance to beauty, that I may transfer his attention, and say that beauty is not there, but here? Would you have me tell him that beauty consists not in filth, but in reason? For has he any desire of beauty? Has he any appearance of it? Go, and argue with a hog not to roll in the mire.
It was in the quality of a young man who loved beauty, that Polemo was touched by the discourses of Xenocrates. For he entered with some incentives to the study of beauty, though he sought in the wrong place. And, indeed, Nature hath not made the very brutes dirty which live with man. Does a horse wallow in the mire? Or a good dog? But swine, and dirty geese, and worms, and spiders, which are banished to the greatest distance from human society. Will you, then, who are a man, choose not to be even one of the animals that are conversant with man; but rather a worm or a spider? Will you not bathe sometimes, be it in whatever manner you please? Will you never use water to wash yourself? Will you not come clean, that they who converse with you may have some pleasure in you? But will you accompany us, in your uncleanness, even to the temples, where all unclean ways are forbidden?
What, then, would anybody have you adorn yourself to the utmost? By no means, except in those things where our nature requires it, in reason, principles, actions; but in our persons, only so far as neatness requires, so far as not to give offence. But if you hear that it is not right to wear purple, you must go, I suppose, and roll your cloak in the mud, or tear it. “But how can I have a fine cloak?” You have water, man; wash it. What an amiable youth is here! How worthy this old man, to love and be loved! A fit person to be trusted with the instruction of our sons and daughters, and attended by young people as occasion may require, — to read them lectures from a dunghill! Every deterioration takes its origin from something human; but this almost dehumanizes a man.
[* ]Clouds, I. 103. — H.