Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter II.—Against Embellishing the Body.
Chapter II.—Against Embellishing the Body.
It is not, then, the aspect of the outward man, but the soul that is to be decorated with the ornament of goodness; we may say also the flesh with the adornment of temperance. But those women who beautify the outside, are unawares all waste in the inner depths, as is the case with the ornaments of the Egyptians; among whom temples with their porticos and vestibules are carefully constructed, and groves and sacred fields adjoining; the halls are surrounded with many pillars; and the walls gleam with foreign stones, and there is no want of artistic painting; and the temples gleam with gold, and silver, and amber, and glitter with parti-coloured gems from India and Ethiopia; and the shrines are veiled with gold-embroidered hangings.
But if you enter the penetralia of the enclosure, and, in haste to behold something better, seek the image that is the inhabitant of the temple, and if any priest of those that offer sacrifice there, looking gave, and singing a pæan in the Egyptian tongue, remove a little of the veil to show the god, he will give you a hearty laugh at the object of worship. For the deity that is sought, to whom you have rushed, will not be found within, but a cat, or a crocodile, or a serpent of the country, or some such beast unworthy of the temple, but quite worthy of a den, a hole, or the dirt. The god of the Egyptians appears a beast rolling on a purple couch.
So those women who wear gold, occupying themselves in curling at their locks, and engaged in anointing their cheeks, painting their eyes, and dyeing their hair, and practising the other pernicious arts of luxury, decking the covering of flesh,—in truth, imitate the Egyptians, in order to attract their infatuated lovers.
But if one withdraw the veil of the temple, I mean the head-dress, the dye, the clothes, the gold, the paint, the cosmetics,—that is, the web consisting of them, the veil, with the view of finding within the true beauty, he will be disgusted, I know well. For he will not find the image of God dwelling within, as is meet; but instead of it a fornicator and adulteress has occupied the shrine of the soul. And the true beast will thus be detected—an ape smeared with white paint. And that deceitful serpent, devouring the understanding part of man through vanity, has the soul as its hole, filling all with deadly poisons; and injecting his own venom of deception, this pander of a dragon has changed women into harlots. For love of display is not for a lady, but a courtesan. Such women care little for keeping at home with their husbands; but loosing their husbands purse-strings, they spend its supplies on their lusts, that they may have many witnesses of their seemingly fair appearance; and, devoting the whole day to their toilet, they spend their time with their bought slaves. Accordingly they season the flesh like a pernicious sauce; and the day they bestow on the toilet shut up in their rooms, so as not to be caught decking themselves. But in the evening this spurious beauty creeps out to candle-light as out of a hole; for drunkenness and the dimness of the light aid what they have put on. The woman who dyes her hair yellow, Menander the comic poet expels from the house:—“Now get out of this house, for no chaste
Woman ought to make her hair yellow,”
nor, I would add, stain her cheeks, nor paint her eyes. Unawares the poor wretches destroy their own beauty, by the introduction of what is spurious. At the dawn of day, mangling, racking, and plastering themselves over with certain compositions, they chill the skin, furrow the flesh with poisons, and with curiously prepared washes, thus blighting their own beauty. Wherefore they are seen to be yellow from the use of cosmetics, and susceptible to disease, their flesh, which has been shaded with poisons, being now in a melting state. So they dishonour the Creator of men, as if the beauty given by Him were nothing worth. As you might expect, they become lazy in housekeeping, sitting like painted things to be looked at, not as if made for domestic economy. Wherefore in the comic poet the sensible woman says, “What can we women do wise or brilliant, who sit with hair dyed yellow, outraging the character of gentlewomen; causing the overthrow of houses, the ruin of nuptials, and accusations on the part of children?” 1580 In the same way, Antiphanes the comic poet, in Malthaca, ridicules the meretriciousness of women in words that apply to them all, and are framed against the rubbing of themselves with cosmetics, saying:—p. 273“She comes,
She goes back, she approaches, she goes back.
She has come, she is here, she washes herself, she advances,
She is soaped, she is combed, she goes out, is rubbed,
She washes herself, looks in the glass, robes herself,
Anoints herself, decks herself, besmears herself;
And if aught is wrong, chokes [with vexation].”
Thrice, I say, not once, do they deserve to perish, who use crocodiles excrement, and anoint themselves with the froth of putrid humours, and stain their eyebrows with soot, and rub their cheeks with white lead.
These, then, who are disgusting even to the heathen poets for their fashions, how shall they not be rejected by the truth? 1581 Accordingly another comic poet, Alexis, reproves them. For I shall adduce his words, which with extravagance of statement shame the obstinacy of their impudence. For he was not very far beyond the mark. And I cannot for shame come to the assistance of women held up to such ridicule in comedy.
Then she ruins her husband.“For first, in comparison with gain and the spoiling of neighbours,
All else is in their eyes superfluous.”
“Is one of them little? She stitches cork into her shoe-sole.
Is one tall? She wears a thin sole,
And goes out keeping her head down on her shoulder:
This takes away from her height. Has one no flanks?
She has something sewed on to her, so that the spectators
May exclaim on her fine shape behind. Has she a prominent stomach?
By making additions, to render it straight, such as the nurses we see in the comic poets,
She draws back, as it were, by these poles, the protuberance of the stomach in front.
Has one yellow eyebrows? She stains them with soot.
Do they happen to be black? She smears them with ceruse.
Is one very white-skinned? She rouges.
Has one any part of the body beautiful? She shows it bare.
Has she beautiful teeth? She must needs laugh,
That those present may see what a pretty mouth she has;
But if not in the humour for laughing, she passes the day within,
With a slender sprig of myrtle between her lips,
Like what cooks have always at hand when they have goats heads to sell,
So that she must keep them apart the whilst, whether she will or not.”
I set these quotations from the comic poets 1582 before you, since the Word most strenuously wishes to save us. And by and by I will fortify them with the divine Scriptures. For he who does not escape notice is wont to abstain from sins, on account of the shame of reproof. Just as the plastered hand and the anointed eye exhibit from their very look the suspicion of a person in illness, so also cosmetics and dyes indicate that the soul is deeply diseased.
The divine Instructor enjoins us not to approach to anothers river, meaning by the figurative expression “anothers river,” “anothers wife;” the wanton that flows to all, and out of licentiousness gives herself up to meretricious enjoyment with all. “Abstain from water that is anothers,” He says, “and drink not of anothers well,” admonishing us to shun the stream of “voluptuousness,” that we may live long, and that years of life may be added to us; 1583 both by not hunting after pleasure that belongs to another, and by diverting our inclinations.
Love of dainties and love of wine, though great vices, are not of such magnitude as fondness for finery. 1584 “A full table and repeated cups” are enough to satisfy greed. But to those who are fond of gold, and purple, and jewels, neither the gold that is above the earth and below it is sufficient, nor the Tyrian Sea, nor the freight that comes from India and Ethiopia, nor yet Pactolus flowing with gold; not even were a man to become a Midas would he be satisfied, but would be still poor, craving other wealth. Such people are ready to die with their gold.
And if Plutus 1585 is blind, are not those women that are crazy about him, and have a fellow-feeling with him, blind too? Having, then, no limit to their lust, they push on to shamelessness. For the theatre, and pageants, and many spectators, and strolling in the temples, and loitering in the streets, that they may be seen conspicuously by all, are necessary to them. For those that glory in their looks, not in heart, 1586 dress to please others. For as the brand shows the slave, so do gaudy colours the adulteress. “For though thou clothe thyself in scarlet, and deck thyself with ornaments of gold, and anoint thine eyes with stibium, in vain is thy beauty,” 1587 says the Word by Jeremiah. Is it not monstrous, that while horses, birds, and the rest of the animals, spring and bound from the grass and meadows, rejoicing in ornament that is their own, in mane, and natural colour, and varied plumage; woman, as if inferior to the brute creation, should think herself so unlovely as to need foreign, and bought, and painted beauty?
Head-dresses and varieties of head-dresses, and elaborate braidings, and infinite modes of dressing the hair, and costly specimens of mirrors, p. 274 in which they arrange their costume,—hunting after those that, like silly children, are crazy about their figures,—are characteristic of women who have lost all sense of shame. If any one were to call these courtesans, he would make no mistake, for they turn their faces into masks. But us the Word enjoins “to look not on the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.” 1588
But what passes beyond the bounds of absurdity, is that they have invented mirrors for this artificial shape of theirs, as if it were some excellent work or masterpiece. The deception rather requires a veil thrown over it. For as the Greek fable has it, it was not a fortunate thing for the beautiful Narcissus to have been the beholder of his own image. And if Moses commanded men to make not an image to represent God by art, how can these women be right, who by their own reflection produce an imitation of their own likeness, in order to the falsifying of their faces? Likewise also, when Samuel the prophet was sent to anoint one of the sons of Jesse for king, and on seeing the eldest of his sons to be fair and tall, produced the anointing oil, being delighted with him, the Lord said to him, “Look not to his appearance, nor the height of his stature: for I have rejected him. For man looketh on the eyes, but the Lord into the heart.” 1589
And he anointed not him that was comely in person, but him that was comely in soul. If, then, the Lord counts the natural beauty of the body inferior to that of the soul, what thinks He of spurious beauty, rejecting utterly as He does all falsehood? “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 1590 Very clearly the Lord accordingly teaches by Abraham, that he who follows God must despise country, and relations, and possessions, and all wealth, by making him a stranger. And therefore also He called him His friend who had despised the substance which he had possessed at home. For he was of good parentage, and very opulent; and so with three hundred and eighteen servants of his own he subdued the four kings who had taken Lot captive.
Esther alone we find justly adorned. The spouse adorned herself mystically for her royal husband; but her beauty turns out the redemption price of a people that were about to be massacred. And that decoration makes women courtesans, and men effeminate and adulterers, the tragic poet is a witness; thus discoursing:—“He that judged the goddesses,
As the myth of the Argives has it, having come from Phrygia
To Lacedæmon, arrayed in flowery vestments,
Glittering with gold and barbaric luxury,
Loving, departed, carrying away her he loved,
Helen, to the folds of Ida, having found that
Menelaus was away from home.” 1591
O adulterous beauty! Barbarian finery and effeminate luxury overthrew Greece; Lacedæmonian chastity was corrupted by clothes, and luxury, and graceful beauty; barbaric display proved Joves daughter a courtesan.
They had no instructor 1592 to restrain their lusts, nor one to say, “Do not commit adultery;” nor, “Lust not;” or, “Travel not by lust into adultery;” or further, “Influence not thy passions by desire of adornment.”
What an end was it that ensued to them, and what woes they endured, who would not restrain their self-will! Two continents were convulsed by unrestrained pleasures, and all was thrown into confusion by a barbarian boy. The whole of Hellas puts to sea; the ocean is burdened with the weight of continents; a protracted war breaks out, and fierce battles are waged, and the plains are crowded with dead: the barbarian assails the fleet with outrage; wickedness prevails, and the eye of that poetic Jove looks on the Thracians:—“The barbarian plains drink noble blood,
And the streams of the rivers are choked with dead bodies.”
Breasts are beaten in lamentations, and grief desolates the land; and all the feet, and the summits of many-fountained Ida, and the cities of the Trojans, and the ships of the Achæans, shake.
Where, O Homer, shall we flee and stand? Show us a spot of ground that is not shaken!—“Touch not the reins, inexperienced boy,
Nor mount the seat, not having learned to drive.” 1593
Heaven delights in two charioteers, by whom alone the chariot of fire is guided. For the mind is carried away by pleasure; and the unsullied principle of reason, when not instructed by the Word, slides down into licentiousness, and gets a fall as the due reward of its transgression. An example of this are the angels, who renounced the beauty of God for a beauty which fades, and so fell from heaven to earth. 1594
The Shechemites, too, were punished by an overthrow for dishonouring the holy virgin. The grave was their punishment, and the monument of their ignominy leads to salvation.p. 275
[John xvii. 17. “Thy word is truth,” is here in mind; and, soon after, he speaks of the Scriptures and the Word (Logos) in the same way.]273:1582
[He rebukes heathen women out of their own poets; while he warns Christian women also to resist the contagion of their example, fortified by the Scriptures.]273:1583
Prov. ix. 11.273:1584
[This is worth noting. Worse than love of wine, because he regards a love for finery as tending to loss of chastity.]273:1585
1 Thess. ii. 17.273:1587
Jer. iv. 30.274:1588
2 Cor. iv. 18.274:1589
1 Sam. xvi. 7.274:1590
2 Cor. v. 7.274:1591
Iphigenia in Aulis, 71–77.274:1592
[The law was the pædagogue of the Jews (Gal. iii. 24); and therefore, as to Gentiles, they were a law unto themselves (Rom. 2:14, 15), with some truth in their philosophy to guide them.]274:1593
Phaethon of Euripides.274:1594
Gen. 6:1, 2. [It is surprising with what tenacity this interpretation clings to the ancient mind of the Church. The Nephilim and Gibborim need a special investigation. The Oriental tales of the genii are probably connected with their fabulous history.]
Next: Chapter III.—Against Men Who Embellish Themselves.
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: http://St-Takla.org / Contact us at