Note: this is the fifth part of a weekly series, discussing Seneca’s Moral letters to Lucilius. A new post will be released every Thursday morning (GMT).
If you follow the path of philosophy, should you be dintinguishable as a philosopher? According to Seneca, the answer is no. Our aim must be our own improvement, and begging for attention is not exactly a stoic thing to do. This means we shouldn’t dress too extravagantly, nor too shabby. As is often the case, the best way is in the middle.
Do not wear too fine, nor yet too frowzy, a toga (…) Our motto, as you know, is “Live according to Nature”; but it is quite contrary to nature to torture the body, to hate unlaboured elegance, to be dirty on purpose, to eat food that is not only plain, but disgusting and forbidding. Just as it is a sign of luxury to seek out dainties, so it is madness to avoid that which is customary and can be purchased at no great price. Philosophy calls for plain living, but not for penance; and we may perfectly well be plain and neat at the same time.
Beside the fact that begging for attention is nothing for a stoic, Seneca presents another argument to dress normally: we shouldn’t seperate ourselves too much from people that don’t practice philosophy. This is part of our social duty and our world citizenship:
The first thing which philosophy undertakes to give is fellow-feeling with all men; in other words, sympathy and sociability. We part company with our promise if we are unlike other men.
Should we then do and be the same as any other man? Of course not, since we must follow the path of stoicism. On a closer look, people will see in you the advantages (or disadvantages) of that path. Yet we should appear normal to the outside:
Inwardly, we ought to be different in all respects, but our exterior should conform to society.
It should be noted that, although I believe this advice to be valuable and sincere, it is given by a man who was considered to be one of the richest people in Rome. From the letter, I think I sense a small desire to subtly show his status and a bit of condescending. Perhaps even the great Seneca is human, after all. Then again, maybe I’m seeing things that don’t exist. Live with nature, dress accordingly, and keep going on your Stoic Journey.