May 10

DO you think you deserve to have an unpleasant odour? Be it so. But do those deserve to suffer by it who sit near you, who are placed at table with you, who salute you? Either go into a desert, as you deserve, or live solitary at home, and smell yourself; for it is fit you should enjoy your nastiness alone. But to what sort of character doth 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? Now, consider your body as committed to you instead of a horse. Wash it, rub it, take care that it may not be anyone's aversion, nor disgust anyone. Who is not more disgusted at a stinking, unwholesome-looking sloven, than at a person who hath been 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.

EPICTETUS. DISCOURSES. Book iv. §11. ¶3.


  1. Epictetus is rebuking the popular teachers of the day who were purporting that followers were holier if they had no concern for their appearance. They would be filthy and stinking and wear their filth like a badge of office.

    We must strive to take care of our body to be as fit as we can and clean and attractive. We must care for our body, not to obsess over it, but to be in balance and to care for it so as to have a long life.

  2. Summary: Consider your body as a responsibility. Take care of it so that it may not disgust anyone. Outer neglect is a form of inner rot.

    It is not appearances that matter, but rather the evidence of proper care. Deliberate neglect belies the mind that does not care for the things under it's responsibility. Not enough care is a sign of imbalance in the mind, as much as obsession over personal appearance. This is a surprising assertion for those of us who are used to the Platonic/Augustinian derision of all things physical. To Stoics, only matter exists. While this small cloud of atoms and energy that form my body and mind is under my hands, I will care and tend them, as I would a garden, that it might bear good fruit.