Exercises Of The Body and Exercises Of The Soul

05.07.2020

Image Source: Flickr – Dimitris Kamaras

Translation from the French: Nicolas Lecerf

‘Even though many texts allude to it, there is no systematic treatise codifying, in an exhaustive manner, a theory and a technic (askesis) of the philosophical exercise. One can guess that these practices were part before everything else of an oral teaching and were linked to the field of spiritual guidance. We will only notice that there were some treatises ‘About exercise’ that are now lost. We only have left under this title a little treatise of the Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus*.

After having declared that those engaged in the activity of philosophy needed to exercise, he distinguished some exercises proper to the soul and exercises common to the soul and body. The first one consist of ‘always having at disposal’ for meditation, the demonstrations that illustrate the fundamental dogmas that rule action, also by representing to oneself the other perspectives of things, so to only want and seek  the true good, that is the purity of the moral intention. We will practice the exercise common to the soul and body, ‘if we get used to cold, to heat, to thirst, to hunger, to scarcity of food, to the hardness of the bed, to the abstinence of pleasant things, to bare distressing things.’ The body will then become impassible to pain and eager to action, and the soul itself, through these exercises, will be strengthened in becoming brave and balanced.

These remarks from Musonius are precious because they let us see that the representation of a philosophical exercise is rooted in the athletic ideal and the usual practice of physical education in the gymnasium. In the same way, through repeated body exercises, the athlete provides to his body a new strength and shape, similarly, the philosopher develops his soul strength and transforms himself. The analogy could seem all the more obvious since it was precisely in the gymnasium, that is the place were physical exercises were practiced, that the philosophical teaching was often given. Exercises of the body and exercises of the soul compete to help shape the true man, free and independent.’

* Gaius Musonius Rufus – C. AD 30 -100 – was one of the four great Roman Stoic Philosophers; the others being Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.

Note: We will publish soon Musonius Rufus’ lecture on ‘practicing philosophy’, Pierre Hadot was mentioning in the above excerpt. Blessings, Nalan and Nico.

Source: From Pierre Hadot, ‘Qu’est-ce que la Philosophie Antique’, page 289 and 290.

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