Seneca, the famous Roman stoic philosopher, tutor of two Roman emperors, successful businessman, regent, playwright, and inspiration for many of the exercises in From Rebel to Ruler, describes an interesting visit he had to Scipio Africanus's villa.
Scipio had lived about one hundred years before Seneca (who lived 2000 years ago). He was the general who finally defeated Hannibal. Scipio was a hero to Romans.
Seneca pays close attention to Scipio's bathhouse; it was small, cramped, and dark. The bathhouses of his time were luxuriously appointed with fine marble, precious stones, elaborate fountains, and huge windows. He says that many visitors found Scipio's bathhouse shockingly "primitive" and were appalled that he used cloudy rainwater to bathe.
Seneca mocks the modern Roman as too luxurious. People went to bathhouses several times a day, were overly concerned with their personal hygiene, and "stunk of perfumed oils."
Seneca contrasts that life with Scipio's simplicity. Scipio would work the land on his farm all the way into his old age. Seneca praises the fact that Scipio would wash only his arms and legs daily, leaving the rest untouched. Responding to criticism that Scipio must have smelled bad, he snorted, "What do you think he stank of? Hard soldiering, hard work, and manliness."
We seem to always look at the world of our grandparents as more pure and governed by stronger values. It is jarring to realize that they did the same thing. Is "the old school" - a simpler time of quality and courage - an illusion?
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