Friday, February 28, 2020


One Garment

In my former life as a corporate drone, I once shared a cubicle with a fellow who wore what looked like the same suit of clothes every day. Some other co-workers spread the rumor that he never changed his clothes, but in fact he had five identical outfits, one for each day of the work week.

I thought of my old cubicle mate when I read J.N. Bremmer, "Symbols of Marginality from Early Pythagoreans to Late Antique Monks," Greece & Rome 39.2 (October, 1992) 205-214 (at 206-207, with notes on 213):
We may begin with physical appearance, limiting ourselves to a discussion of the custom of wearing only a single garment or cloak. This manner of dressing is first attested in 428 B.C., when the Athenians forced the inhabitants of Potidaea to leave their city thus scantily dressed (Diodorus Siculus 12.46.6). Here it serves to mark humiliation. We first find wearing a single garment as a mark of poverty with Antisthenes (c.446-366), precursor of the Cynics, who folded his τρίβων double rather than wear two garments. Antisthenes' precedence, however, was disputed, and the name of Diodoros of Aspendos, a Pythagorean living in the first half of the fourth century, was mentioned as well.6 Since Antisthenes was not yet really a Cynic, we note here an interesting influence of Pythagoreans on Cynics. Both schools propagated a particular lifestyle which contrasted with that of ordinary citizens. It is not surprising, therefore, that the famous Cynic Diogenes and his followers, we are told, went about in a single garment as well. Zeno and Chrysippus, the Stoics, were interested in aspects of Pythagoras too, and again it is no cause for surprise that we find Cleanthes and Cato Minor wearing only a single garment — the latter, moreover, not wearing shoes, not even when performing his duties as praetor.7

In the New Testament, when Jesus sends forth his disciples to preach, he instructs them to wear no more than a single garment.8 In the third century A.D., we then find mention of wearing a single garment in Christian circles as well. Eusebius (H.E. 6.3.9-13) relates that Origen used to live in great austerity and thereby attracted many pupils; wearing a single garment was part of his 'philosophic way of life' (φιλοσόφου βίος). In the Acts of Thomas it is said of the apostle that 'he fasts and prays continually, and eats only bread with salt, and drinks nothing but water [a detail to which we shall return] and wears only a single garment, both when it is hot and in winter' (c. 20). In the second half of the fourth century, we hear of Abba Apollo who dressed in a single sleeveless garment, and around 400 A.D. the hermit Isidore dons only a sort of towel — quite apart from the fact that he never washed or ate meat.9 In the mid-fifth century we hear that Abba Gelasius (152) never had two garments; c. 500 A.D. it is said that brother Aphrodisius, who had joined Abba Sabas, never had two garments; and in the first half of the seventh century, the same comment is made with regard to St. John the Almsgiver.10 The symbolism of the single garment thus kept its force in the ancient world for a millennium and more. We should not, though, conclude our discussion of this point without mentioning the illustrious duo Prohaeresius and Hephaestion. These two sophists of the fourth century A.D. took their poverty to the point of sharing the single garment. When the one appeared in public, the other stayed behind under a few blankets (Eunapius VS 487). Even in poverty and humility there is always someone who goes one better!

6. Antisthenes: Diocles and Neanthes (FGH 84 F 24) in Diog. Laert. 6.13. Diodoros: Sosicrates in Diog. Laert. 6.13, who probably uses Aristoxenus here, cp. Burkert (see n. 2), p. 165 n. 249, and pp. 202 ff., with an enlightening discussion of the relation between Pythagoreans and Cynics in this respect.

7. Diogenes and the Cynics: Diog. Laert. 6.22.104; see also Courtney on Juvenal 13.122. Zeno, Chrysippus, and Pythagoras: Burkert (see n. 2), p. 202. Cleanthes: Diog. Laert. 7.169. Cato Minor: Plutarch Cat. Min. 6.3; 44.1.

8. Matthew 10.10; Mark 6.9 (many thanks to Prof. J.C.M. van Winden). I hope to return to this passage elsewhere, because the versions and commentaries consulted by me claim mistakenly that Jesus encourages going without two undergarments.

9. Apollo: H. Mon. 8.5, cp. A.-J. Festugière, Les moines d'Orient IV/1 (Paris, 1961), p. 48 n. 45. Isidore: Palladius H. Laus. 1.2 Bartelink.

10. Cyril of Scythopolis Vita Sabae 44 (Aphrodisius); Leontius of Neapolis Life of St. John the Almsgiver 21.
Burkert (note 6) is Walter Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972). I don't know if Bremmer ever fulfilled his promise in note 8 ("I hope to return to this passage elsewhere").

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