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For the greater part of men are ignorant even of this most common and ordinary thing, for what reason priests lay aside their hair and go in linen garments. Some are not at all solicitous to be informed about such questions; and others say their veneration for sheep is the cause why they abstain from their wool as well as their flesh, and that they shave their heads in token of mourning, and that they wear linen because of the bloomy color which the flax sendeth forth, in imitation of that ethereal clarity that environs the world. But indeed the true reason of them all is one and the same. For it is not lawful (as Plato saith) for a clean thing to be touched by an unclean; but now no superfluity of food or excrementitious substance can be pure or clean; but wool, down, hair, and nails come up and grow from superfluous excrements. It would [p. 68] be therefore an absurdity for them to lay aside their own hair in purgations, by shaving themselves and by making their bodies all over smooth, and yet in the mean time to wear and carry about them the hairs of brutes. For we ought to think that the poet Hesiod, when he saith,
Not at a feast of Gods from five-branched tree
With sharp-edged steel to part the green from dry,

would teach us to keep the feast when we are already cleansed from such things as these, and not in the solemnities themselves to use purgation or removal of excrementitious superfluities. But now flax springs up from an immortal being, the earth, and bears an eatable fruit, and affords a simple and cleanly clothing, not burdensome to him that is covered with it, and convenient for every season of the year, and which besides (as they tell us) is the least subject to engender vermin; but of this to discourse in this place would not be pertinent.

1 Hes. Works and Days, 740. That is, Do not cut your nails at a banquet of the Gods. The briefer precept of Pythagoras was, Παοὰ θυσίαν μὴ ὀνυχίζου. (G.)

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