May 11

DO not say to what 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, or find fault with my nature, which hath distinguished me from others."

What then, am I such a one? How should I? 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 grey beard and a cloak, and you come to me as to a philosopher, I will not treat you cruelly, nor as if I despaired of you, but will ask you—Whom is it, young man, whom you would render beautiful? Know first who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly. You are a man ; that is, a mortal animal, capable of a rational use of the appearances of things. 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 use of the appearances of 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.

EPICTETUS. DISCOURSES. Book iii. §1. ¶4, 5.


  1. Summary: Know first who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly. You are human; beautify your rational part, in accord with nature.

    Balancing yesterday's reading, Epictetus reminds us that it is our ability to reason that should be nurtured and grown. And what is this reasoning ability? Not merely to think, but to act in accord with the very best in us, to support each other, to care for our world, to explore our own personal excellence. That is reason, and that is true beauty.

  2. In reading this I am struck with the purple thread reference. Purple thread was costly and used only by the highest levels of society and the senate. We are only worth what our mind and moral fiber is worth. Appearances are nothing if we are rotting on the inside. I am reminded of the saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were he is talking to the Pharisees and likens them to whitened sepulchers. White and beautiful on the outside, adorned with carvings and statues, yet holding a putrefying corpse inside.

    Let us strive to the highest standards, caring for each other, ourselves and our world above all concerns for outward beauty as defined in our society.