Epictetus
Epictetus


Women and Men

Well, let us omit the great works of nature and contemplate her smaller acts. Is there anything less useful than facial hair? Nature has used this hair in the most suitable manner possible. It distinguishes the male from the female. The nature of every man is proclaimed from a distance, "I am a man. Approach me as a man. Speak to me as a man. Look for nothing else. See the signs!" Again, in the case of woman, nature has mingled something softer in her voice. So nature has also deprived her of hair on the chin. You may believe that the human animal ought to have been left without marks of distinction. But is not the sign beautiful and becoming and venerable? How much more beautiful than the cock's comb, how much more becoming than the lion's mane? For this reason we ought to preserve the signs which God has given. We ought not to throw them away, nor to confound as much as we can the distinctions of the sexes.

Here is a paragraph to spark controversy! Epictetus tells us to let men be men and women be women. Might we even understand him to mean that men should wear beards! To shave would take away this gift of God.

In the Old Testament there is a very strict rule about shaving laid down in Leviticus (19:27), "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard." Leviticus is the book of the Old Testament that listed all the rules that were (are) so strictly followed by the Pharisees.

Of course, Paul tells us that, if we accept the New Covenant, we are not bound by the Old Covenant, relieving us of the duty of following the minute laws set down in Leviticus. But we can see that there is deeper meaning here than an argument over whether men should shave their chin whiskers. In the modern world there is an effort by various groups to obliterate the differences between men and women. It is thought by some that to recognize physical differences is to also recognize legal differences. Of course, one assumption need not follow the other. A close reading of the Bible reveals that God views all people (regardless of gender) with equal love.

Epictetus, then, is not proposing unequal treatment under the law. Truthfully, Epictetus sees no controversy at all in his observation. We only labor over it because political correctness has become such an intricate part of our intellectual world. His ultimate point is that the physical world was created by God, and that men and women are constructed differently for a reason. There is purpose in the world, and we only ignore these differences at our cost.

Chapter 16:

  1. Providence Provides
  2. The Self-sufficient Earth (16a)
  3. Women and Men (16b)
  4. Praise God with Your Intellect (16c)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus


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