Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online


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  1. Why is cleanliness included among the virtues?

  1. Because it is, in reality, one of the most important among them, on account of its powerful influence over the health and preservation of the body. Cleanliness, as well in dress as in residence, obviates the pernicious effects of the humidity, baneful odors, and contagious exhalations, proceeding from all things abandoned to putrefaction. Cleanliness, maintains free transpiration; it renews the air, refreshes the blood, and disposes even the mind to cheerfulness.

From this it appears that persons attentive to the cleanliness of their bodies and habitations are, in general, more healthy, and less subject to disease, than those who live in filth and nastiness; and it is further remarked, that cleanliness carries with it, throughout all the branches of domestic administration, habits of order and arrangement, which are the chief means and first elements of happiness.

  1. Uncleanliness or filthiness is, then, a real vice?

  1. Yes, as real a one as drunkenness, or as idleness, from which in a great measure it is derived. Uncleanliness is the second, and often the first, cause of many inconveniences, and even of grievous disorders; it is a fact in medicine, that it brings on the itch, the scurf, tetters, leprosies, as much as the use of tainted or sour aliments; that it favors the contagious influence of the plague and malignant fevers, that it even produces them in hospitals and prisons; that it occasions rheumatisms, by incrusting the skin with dirt, and thereby preventing transpiration; without reckoning the shameful inconvenience of being devoured by vermin-- the foul appendage of misery and depravity.

Most ancient legislators, therefore, considered cleanliness, which they called purity, as one of the essential dogmas of their religions. It was for this reason that they expelled from society, and even punished corporeally those who were infected with distempers produced by uncleanliness; that they instituted and consecrated ceremonies of ablutions baths, baptisms, and of purifications, even by fire and the aromatic fumes of incense, myrrh, benjamin, etc., so that the entire system of pollutions, all those rites of clean and unclean things, degenerated since into abuses and prejudices, were only founded originally on the judicious observation, which wise and learned men had made, of the extreme influence that cleanliness in dress and abode exercises over the health of the body, and by an immediate consequence over that of the mind and moral faculties.

Thus all the individual virtues have for their object, more or less direct, more or less near, the preservation of the man who practises them and by the preservation of each man, they lead to that of families and society, which are composed of the united sum of individuals.

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