Lecture XVIIIA

◄Lecture XVII - Lecture XVIIIB►

On food

On the subject of food he used to speak frequently and very emphatically too, as a question of no small significance, nor leading to unimportant consequences; indeed he believed that the beginning and foundation of temperance lay in self-control in eating and drinking. Once, putting aside other themes such as he habitually discussed, he spoke somewhat as follows. As one should prefer inexpensive food to expensive and what is abundant to what is scarce, so one should prefer what is natural for men to what is not. Now food from plants of the earth is natural to us, grains and those which though not cereals can nourish man well, and also food (other than flesh) from animals which are domesticated. Of these foods the most useful are those which can be used at once without fire, since they are also most easily available; for example fruits in season, some of the green vegetables, milk, cheese, and honey. Also those which require fire for their preparation, whether grains or vegetables, are not unsuitable, and are all natural food for man. On the other hand he showed that meat was a less civilized kind of food and more appropriate for wild animals. He held that it was a heavy food and an obstacle to thinking and reasoning, since the exhalations rising from it being turbid darkened the soul. For this reason also the people who make larger use of it seem slower in intellect. Furthermore, as man of all creatures on earth is the nearest of kin to the gods, so he should be nourished in a manner most like the gods. Now the vapors rising from the earth and water are sufficient for them, and so, he said, we ought to be nourished on food most like that, the lightest and purest; for thus our souls would be pure and dry, and being so, would be finest and wisest, as it seemed to Heraclitus when he said, " The clear dry soul is wisest and best." But now, he said, we feed ourselves much worse than the unreasoning brutes. For even if they, driven by appetite as by a lash, fall upon their food, nevertheless they are not guilty of making a fuss about their food and exercising ingenuity about it, but they are satisfied with what comes their way, seeking satiety only, nothing more. But we contrive all kinds of arts and devices to give relish to eating and to make more enticing the act of swallowing. We have come to such a point of delicacy in eating and gourmanderie that as some people have written books on music and medicine, so some have even written books on cooking which aim to increase the pleasure of the palate, but ruin the health. It is at all events a common observation that those who are luxurious and intemperate in food have much less vigorous health. Some, in fact, are like women who have the unnatural cravings of pregnancy; these men, like such women, refuse the most common foods and have their digestion utterly ruined.[1] Thus, as worn-out iron constantly needs tempering, their appetites continually demand being sharpened either by neat wine or a sharp sauce or some sour relish. But no such man was the Laconian who, on seeing a man refuse to eat a young peacock or other expensive bird that was placed before him, and complain that he could not eat because of lack of appetite, remarked, "But I could eat a vulture or a buzzard." Zeno of Citium even when he was ill thought that no unusually delicate food should be brought him, and when the attending physician ordered him to eat squab, he would not allow it, and said, "Treat me as you would treat my slave Manes."[2] For I imagine that he thought there should be nothing more delicate in his treatment than for one of his slaves if he were ill; for if they can be cured without receiving more delicate fare, so can we. Surely a good man should be no more delicate than a slave; and for that reason Zeno very likely thought he ought to beware of delicacy in diet and not yield to it in the least, for if he once yielded he would go the whole way, since in the matter of food and drink, pleasure accelerates its pace alarmingly. The words spoken on that occasion concerning food and nourishment seemed to us more unusual than the customary discourses day by day.

◄Lecture XVII - Lecture XVIIIB►

1 He has in mind Apicius, a celebrated gourmet. Cf. Seneca Ad Helviam X, 8 and Columella De Re Rustica Praef. 5.

2 Manes was a stock name for a slave. Cf. Epictetus Disc. III, 26, 37.