Symposiacs, by Plutarch

Book IV.

Polybius, my Sossius Senecio, advised Scipio Africanus never to return from the Forum, where he was conversant about the affairs of the city, before he had gained one new friend. Where I suppose the word friend is not to be taken too nicely, to signify a lasting and unchangeable acquaintance; but, as it vulgarly means, a well-wisher, and as Dicearchus takes it, when he says that we should endeavor to make all men well-wishers, but only good men friends. For friendship is to be acquired by time and virtue; but good-will is produced by a familiar intercourse, or by mirth and trifling amongst civil and genteel men, especially if opportunity assists their natural inclinations to good-nature. But consider whether this advice may not be accommodated to an entertainment as well as the Forum; so that we should not break up the meeting before we had gained one of the company to be a well-wisher and a friend. Other occasions draw men into the Forum, but men of sense come to an entertainment as well to get new friends as to make their old ones merry; indeed, to carry away anything else is sordid and uncivil, but to depart with one friend more than we had is pleasing and commendable. And so, on the contrary, he that doth not aim at this renders the meeting useless and unpleasant to himself, and departs at last, having been a partaker of an entertainment with his belly but not with his mind. For he that makes one at a feast doth not come only to enjoy the meat and drink, but likewise the discourse, mirth, and genteel humor which ends at last in friendship and good-will. The wrestlers, that they may hold fast and lock better, use dust; and so wine mixed with discourse is of extraordinary use to make us hold fast of, and fasten upon, a friend. For wine tempered with discourse carries gentle and kind affections out of the body into the mind; otherwise, it is scattered through the limbs, and serves only to swell and disturb. Thus as a marble, by cooling red hot iron, takes away its softness and makes it hard, fit to be wrought and receive impression; thus discourse at an entertainment doth not permit the men that are engaged to become altogether liquid by the wine, but confines and makes their jocund and obliging tempers very fit to receive an impression from the seal of friendship if dexterously applied.


Whether Different Sorts of Food, or One Single Dish Fed Upon at Once, is More Easily Digested.


The first question of my fourth decade of Table Discourses shall be concerning different sorts of food eaten at one meal. When we came to Hyampolis at the feast called Elaphebolia, Philo the physician gave us a very sumptuous entertainment; and seeing a boy who came with Philinus feeding upon dry bread and calling for nothing else, he cried out, O Hercules, well I see the proverb is verified,

They fought midst stones, but could not take up one,

and presently went out to fetch him some agreeable food. He stayed some time, and at last brought them dried figs and cheese; upon which I said: It is usually seen that those that provide costly and superfluous dainties neglect, or are not well furnished with, useful and necessary things. I protest, said Philo, I did not mind that Philinus designs to breed us a young Sosastrus, who (they say) never all his lifetime drank or ate anything beside milk, although it is probable that it was some change in his constitution that made him use this sort of diet; but our Chiron here — quite contrary to the old one that bred Achilles from his very birth — feeding his son with unbloody food, gives people reason to suspect that like a grasshopper he keeps him on dew and air. Indeed, said Philinus, I did not know that we were to meet with a supper of a hundred beasts, such as Aristomenes made for his friends; otherwise I had come with some poor and wholesome food about me, as a specific against such costly and unwholesome entertainments. For I have often heard that simple diet is not only more easily provided, but likewise more easily digested, than such variety. At this Marcion said to Philo: Philinus hath spoiled your whole provision by deterring guests from eating; but, if you desire it, I will be surety for you, that such variety is more easily digested than simple food, so that without fear or distrust they may feed heartily. Philo desired him to do so.

When after supper we begged Philinus to discover what he had to urge against variety of food, he thus began: I am not the author of this opinion, but our friend Philo here is ever now and then telling us, first, that wild beasts, feeding on one sort only and simple diet, are much more healthy than men are; and that those which are kept in pens are much more subject to diseases and crudities, by reason of the prepared variety we usually give them. Secondly, no physician is so daring, so venturous at new experiments, as to give a feverish patient different sorts of food at once. No, simple food, and without sauce, as more easy to be digested, is the only diet they allow. Now food must be wrought on and altered by our natural powers; in dyeing, cloth of the most simple color takes the tincture soonest; the most inodorous oil is soonest by perfumes changed into an essence; and simple diet is soonest changed, and soonest yields to the digesting power. For many and different qualities, having some contrariety, when they meet disagree and corrupt one another; as in a city, a mixed rout are not easily reduced into one body, nor brought to follow the same concerns; for each works according to its own nature, and is very hardly brought to side with another’s quality. Now this is evident in wine; mixed wine inebriates very soon, and drunkenness is much like a crudity rising from undigested wine; and therefore the drinkers hate mixed liquors, and those that do mix them do it privately, as afraid to have their design upon the company discovered. Every change is disturbing and injurious, and therefore musicians are very careful how they strike many strings at once; though the mixture and variety of the notes would be the only harm that would follow. This I dare say, that belief and assent can be sooner procured by disagreeing arguments, than concoction by various and different qualities. But lest I should seem jocose, waiving this, I will return to Philo’s observations again. We have often heard him declare that it is the quality that makes meat hard to be digested; that to mix many things together is hurtful, and begets unnatural qualities; and that every man should take that which by experience he finds most agreeable to his temper.

Now if nothing is by its own nature hard to be digested, but it is the quantity that disturbs and corrupts, I think we have still greater reason to forbear that variety with which Philo’s cook, as it were in opposition to his master’s practice, would draw us on to surfeits and diseases. For by the different sorts of food and new ways of dressing, he still keeps up the unwearied appetite, and leads it from one dish to another, till tasting of everything we take more than is sufficient and enough; as Hypsipyle’s foster-son,

Who, in a garden placed, plucked up the flowers,
One after one, and spent delightful hours;
But still his greedy appetite goes on,
And still he plucked till all the flowers were gone.
(From the “Hypsipyle” of Euripides, Frag. 754.)

But more, methinks, Socrates is here to be remembered, who adviseth us to forbear those junkets which provoke those that are not hungry to eat; as if by this he cautioned us to fly variety of meats. For it is variety that in everything draws us on to use more than bare necessity requires. This is manifest in all sorts of pleasures, either of the eye, ear, or touch; for it still proposeth new provocatives; but in simple pleasures, and such as are confined to one sort, the temptation never carries us beyond nature’s wants. In short, in my opinion, we should more patiently endure to hear a musician praise a disagreeing variety of notes, or a perfumer mixed ointments, than a physician commend the variety of dishes; for certainly such changes and turnings as must necessarily ensue will force us out of the right way of health.

Philinus having ended his discourse, Marcion said: In my opinion, not only those that separate profit from honesty are obnoxious to Socrates’s curse, but those also that separate pleasure from health, as if it were its enemy and opposite, and not its great friend and promoter. Pain we use but seldom and unwillingly, as the most violent instrument. But from all things else, none, though he would willingly, can remove pleasure. It still attends when we eat, sleep, bathe, or anoint, and takes care of and nurses the diseased; dissipating all that is hurtful and disagreeable, by applying that which is proper, pleasing, and natural. For what pain, what want, what poison so quickly and so easily cures a disease as seasonable bathing? A glass of wine, when a man wants it, or a dish of palatable meat, presently frees us from all disturbing particles, and settles nature in its proper state, there being as it were a calm and serenity spread over the troubled humors. But those remedies that are painful do hardly and by little and little only promote the cure, every difficulty pushing on and forcing Nature. And therefore let not Philinus blame us, if we do not make all the sail we can to fly from pleasure, but more diligently endeavor to make pleasure and health, than other philosophers do to make pleasure and honesty, agree. Now, in my opinion, Philinus, you seem to be out in your first argument, where you suppose the beasts use more simple food and are more healthy than men; neither of which is true. The first the goats in Eupolis confute, for they extol their pasture as full of variety and all sorts of herbs, in this manner,

We feed almost on every kind of trees,
Young firs, the ilex, and the oak we crop:
Sweet trefoil fragrant juniper, and yew,
Wild olives, thyme — all freely yield their store.

These that I have mentioned are very different in taste, smell, and other qualities, and he reckons more sorts which I have omitted. The second Homer skilfully refutes, when he tells us that the plague first began amongst the beasts. Besides, the shortness of their lives proves that they are very subject to diseases; for there is scarce any irrational creature long lived, besides the crow and the chough; and those two every one knows do not confine themselves to simple food, but eat anything. Besides, you take no good rule to judge what is easy and what is hard of digestion from the diet of those that are sick; for labor and exercise, and even to chew our meat well, contribute very much to digestion, neither of which can agree with a man in a fever. Again, that the variety of meats, by reason of the different qualities of the particulars, should disagree and spoil one another, you have no reason to fear. For if Nature takes from dissimilar bodies what is fit and agreeable, the diverse nourishment forces many and sundry qualities into the mass and bulk of the body, applying to every part that which is meet and fit; so that, as Empedocles words it,

The sweet runs to the sweet, the sour combines
With sour, the sharp with sharp, the salt with salt;

and after being mixed it is spread through the mass by the heat, the proper parts are separated and applied to the proper members. Indeed, it is very probable that such bodies as ours, consisting of parts of different natures, should be nourished and built up rather of various than of simple matter. But if by concoction there is an alteration made in the food, this will be more easily performed when there are different sorts of meat, than when there is only one, in the stomach; for similars cannot work upon similars and the very contrariety in the mixture considerably promotes the alteration of the weakened qualities. But if, Philinus, you are against all mixture, do not chide Philo only for the variety of his dishes and sauces, but also for using mixture in his sovereign antidotes, which Erasistratus calls the gods’ hands. Convince him of absurdity and vanity, when he mixes herbs, metals, and animals, and things from sea and land, in one potion; and recommend him to neglect these, and to confine all physic to barley-broth, gourds, and oil mixed with water. But you urge farther, that variety enticeth the appetite that hath no command over itself. That is, good sir, cleanly, wholesome, sweet, palatable, pleasing diet makes us eat and drink more than ordinary. Why then, instead of fine flour, do not we thicken our broth with coarse bran? And instead of asparagus, why do we not dress nettle-tops and thistles; and leaving this fragrant and pleasant wine, drink sour, harsh liquor that gnats have been buzzing about a long while? Because, perhaps you may reply, wholesome feeding doth not consist in a perfect avoiding of all that is pleasing, but in moderating the appetite in that respect, and making it prefer profit before pleasure. But, sir, as a mariner has a thousand ways to avoid a stiff gale of wind, but when it is clear down and a perfect calm, cannot raise it again; thus to correct and restrain our extravagant appetite is no hard matter, but when it grows weak and faint, when it fails as to its proper objects, then to raise it and make it vigorous and active again is, sir, a very difficult and hard task. And therefore variety of viands is as much better than simple food, which is apt to satisfy by being but of one sort, as it is easier to stop Nature when she makes too much speed than to force her on when languishing and faint. Besides, what some say, that fullness is more to be avoided than emptiness, is not true; but, on the contrary, fullness then only hurts when it ends in a surfeit or disease; but emptiness, though it doth no other mischief, is of itself unnatural. And let this suffice as an answer to what you proposed. But you sparing men have forgot, that variety is sweeter and more desired by the appetite, unless too sweet. For, the sight preparing the way, it is soon assimilated to the eager receiving body; but that which is not desirable Nature either throws off again, or keeps it in for mere want. But pray observe this, that I do not plead for variety in tarts, cakes, or custards; — those are vain, insignificant, and superfluous things; — but even Plato allowed variety to those fine citizens of his, setting before them onions, olives, leeks, cheese, and all sorts of meat and fish, and besides these, allowed them some comfits.


Why Mushrooms are Thought to Be Produced by Thunder, and Why It is Believed that Men Asleep are Never Thunderstruck.


At a supper in Elis, Agemachus set before us very large mushrooms. And when all admired at them, one with a smile said, These are worthy the late thunder, as it were deriding those who imagine mushrooms are produced by thunder. Some said that thunder did split the earth, using the air as a wedge for that purpose, and that by those chinks those that sought after mushrooms were directed where to find them; and thence it grew a common opinion, that thunder engenders mushrooms, and not only makes them a passage to appear; as if one should imagine that a shower of rain breeds snails, and not rather makes them creep forth and be seen abroad. Agemachus stood up stiffly for the received opinion, and told us, we should not disbelieve it only because it was strange, for there are a thousand other effects of thunder and lightning and a thousand omens deduced from them, whose causes it is very hard, if not impossible, to discover; for this laughed-at, this proverbial mushroom doth not escape the thunder because it is so little, but because it hath some antipathetical qualities that preserve it from blasting; as likewise a fig-tree, the skin of a sea-calf (as they say), and that of the hyena, with which sailors cover the ends of their sails. And husbandmen call thunder-showers nourishing, and think them to be so. Indeed, it is absurd to wonder at these things, when we see the most incredible things imaginable in thunder, as flame rising out of moist vapors, and from soft clouds such astonishing noises. Thus, he continued, I prattle, exhorting you to inquire after the cause; and I shall accept this as your club for these mushrooms.

Then I began: Agemachus himself helps us exceedingly towards this discovery; for nothing at the present seems more probable than that, together with the thunder, oftentimes generative waters fall, which take that quality from the heat mixed with them. For the piercing pure parts of the fire break away in lightning; but the grosser windy part, being wrapped up in cloud, changes it, taking away the coldness and heating the moisture, altering and being altered with it, affects it so that it is made fit to enter the pores of plants, and is easily assimilated to them. Besides, such rain gives those things which it waters a peculiar temperature and difference of juice. Thus dew makes the grass sweeter to the sheep, and the clouds from which a rainbow is reflected make those trees on which they fall fragrant. And our priests, distinguishing it by this, call the wood of those trees Iris-struck, fancying that Iris, or the rainbow, hath rested on them. Now it is probable that when these thunder and lightning showers with a great deal of warmth and spirit descend forcibly into the caverns of the earth, these are rolled around, and knobs and tumors are formed like those produced by heat and noxious humors in our bodies, which we call wens or kernels. For a mushroom is not like a plant, neither is it produced without rain; it hath no root nor sprouts, it depends on nothing, but is a being by itself, having its substance of the earth, a little changed and altered. If this discourse seems frivolous, I assure you that such are most of the effects of thunder and lightning which we see; and upon that account men think them to be immediately directed by Heaven, and not depending on natural causes.

Dorotheus the rhetorician, one of our company, said: You speak right, sir, for not only the vulgar and illiterate, but even some of the philosophers, have been of that opinion. I remember here in this town lightning broke into a house and did a great many strange things. It let the wine out of a vessel, though the earthen vessel remained whole; and falling upon a man asleep, it neither hurt him nor blasted his clothes, but melted certain pieces of silver that he had in his pocket, defaced them quite, and made them run into a lump. Upon this he went to a philosopher, a Pythagorean, that sojourned in the town, and asked the reason; the philosopher directed him to some expiating rites, and advised him to consider seriously with himself and go to prayers. And I have been told, upon a sentinel at Rome, as he stood to guard the temple, burned the latchet of his shoe, and did no other harm; and several silver candlesticks lying in wooden boxes, the silver was melted while the boxes lay untouched. These stories you may believe or not as you please. But that which is most wonderful, and which everybody knows, is this — the bodies of those that are killed by thunderbolt never putrefy. For many neither burn nor bury such bodies, but let them lie above ground with a fence about them, so that every one may see the they remain uncorrupted, confuted by this Euripides’s Clymene, who says thus of Phaeton,

My best beloved, but now he lies
And putrefies in some dark vale.

And I believe brimstone is called [Greek omitted] (DIVINE), because its smell is like that fiery offensive scent which rises from bodies that are thunderstruck. And I suppose that, because of this scent, dogs and birds will not prey on such carcasses. Thus far have I gone; let him proceed, since he hath been applauded for his discourse of mushrooms, lest the same jest might be put upon us that was upon Androcydes the painter. For when in his landscape of Scylla he painted fish the best and most to the life of anything in the whole draught, he was said to use his appetite more than his art, for he naturally loved fish. So some may say that we philosophize about mushrooms, the cause of whose production is confessedly doubtful, for the pleasure we take in eating them. . . .

And when I put in my suggestion, saying that it was as seasonable to dispute about thunder and lightning amidst our banquets as it would be in a comedy to bring in machines to throw out lightning, the company agreed to omit all other questions relating to the subject, and desired me only to proceed on this head, Why men asleep are never struck with lightning. And I, though I knew I should get no great credit by proposing a cause whose reason was common to other things, said thus: Lightning is wonderfully piercing and subtile, partly because it rises from a very pure substance, and partly because by the swiftness of its motion it purges itself and throws off all gross earthy particles that are mixed with it. Nothing, says Democritus, is blasted with lightning, that cannot resist and stop the motion of the pure flame. Thus the close bodies, as brass, silver, and the like, which stop it, feel its force and are melted, because they resist; whilst rare, thin bodies, and such as are full of pores, are passed through and are not hurted, as clothes or dry wood. It blasts green wood or grass, the moisture within them being seized and kindled by the flame. Now if it is true that men asleep are never killed by lightning, from what we have proposed, and not from anything else, we must endeavor to draw the cause. Now the bodies of those that are awake are stiffer and more apt to resist, all the parts being full of spirits; which as it were in a harp, distending and screwing up the organs of sense, makes the body of the animal firm, close, and compacted. But when men are asleep, the organs are let down, and the body becomes rare, lax, and loose; and the spirits failing, it hath abundance of pores, through which small sounds and smells do flow insensibly. For in that case, there is nothing that can resist and by this resistance receive any sensible impression from any objects that are presented, much less from such as are so subtile and move so swiftly as lightning. Things that are weak Nature shields from harm, fencing them about with some hard, thick covering; but those things that cannot be resisted do less harm to the bodies that yield than to those that oppose their force. Besides, those that are asleep are not startled at the thunder; they have no consternation upon them, which kills a great many that are no otherwise hurt, and we know that thousands die with the very fear of being killed. Even shepherds teach their sheep to run together when it thunders, for whilst they lie scattered they die with fear; and we see thousands fall, which have no marks of any stroke or fire about them, their souls (as it seems), like birds, flying out of their bodies at the fright. For many, as Euripides says,

A clap hath killed, yet ne’er drew drop of blood.

For certainly the hearing is a sense that is soonest and most vigorously wrought upon, and the fear that is caused by an astonishing noise raiseth the greatest commotion and disturbance in the body; from all which men asleep, because insensible, are secure. But those that are awake are oftentimes killed with fear before they are touched; the fear contracts and condenses the body, so that the stroke must be strong, because there is so considerable a resistance.


Why Men Usually Invite Many Guests to a Wedding Supper.


At my son Autobulus’s marriage, Sossius Senecio from Chaeronea and a great many other noble persons were present at the same feast; which gave occasion to this question (Senecio proposed it), why to a marriage feast more guests are usually invited than to any other. Nay even those law-givers that chiefly opposed luxury and profuseness have particularly confined marriage feasts to a set number. Indeed, in my opinion, he continued, Hecataeus the Abderite, one of the old philosophers, hath said nothing to the purpose in this matter, when he tells us that those that marry wives invite a great many to the entertainment, that many may see and be witnesses that they being born free take to themselves wives of the same condition. For, on the contrary, the comedians reflect on those who revel at their marriages, who make a great ado and are pompous in their feasts, as such who are taking wives with not much confidence and courage. Thus, in Menander, one replies to a bridegroom that bade him beset the house with dishes, . . .

Your words are great, but what’s this to your bride?

But lest I should seem to find fault with those reasons others give, only because I have none of my own to produce, continued he, I will begin by declaring that there is no such evident or public notice given of any feast as there is of one at a marriage. For when we sacrifice to the gods, when we take leave of or receive a friend, a great many of our acquaintance need not know it. But a marriage dinner is proclaimed by the loud sound of the wedding song, by the torches and the music, which as Homer expresseth it,

The women stand before the doors to see and hear.
(Iliad, xviii. 495.)

And therefore when everybody knows it, the persons are ashamed to omit the formality of an invitation, and therefore entertain their friends and kindred, and every one that they are anyway acquainted with.

This being generally approved, Well, said Theo, speaking next, let it be so, for it looks like truth; but let this be added, if you please, that such entertainments are not only friendly, but also kindredly, the persons beginning to have a new relation to another family. But there is something more considerable, and that is this; since by this marriage two families join in one, the man thinks it his duty to be civil and obliging to the woman’s friends, and the woman’s friends think themselves obliged to return the same to him and his; and upon this account the company is doubled. And besides, since most of the little ceremonies belonging to the wedding are performed by women, it is necessary that, where they are entertained, their husbands should be likewise present.


Whether the Sea or Land Affords Better Food.


Aedepsus in Euboea, where the baths are, is a place by nature every way fitted for free and gentle pleasures, and withal so beautified with stately edifices and dining rooms, that one would take it for no other than the common place of repast for all Greece. Here, though the earth and air yield plenty of creatures for the service of men, the sea no less furnisheth the table with variety of dishes, nourishing a store of delicious fish in its deep and clear waters. This place is especially frequented in the spring; for hither at this time of year abundance of people resort, solacing themselves in the mutual enjoyment of all those pleasures the place affords, and at spare hours pass away the time in many useful and edifying discourses. When Callistratus the Sophist lived here, it was a hard matter to dine at any place besides his house; for he was so extremely courteous and obliging, that no man whom he invited to dinner could have the face to say him nay. One of his best humors was to pick up all the pleasant fellows he could meet with, and put them in the same room. Sometimes he did, as Cimon one of the ancients used to do, and satisfactorily treated men of all sorts and fashions. But he always (so to speak) followed Celeus, who was the first man, it is said, that assembled daily a number of honorable persons of distinction, and called the place where they met the Prytaneum.

Several times at these public meetings divers agreeable discourses were raised; and it fell out that once a very splendid treat, adorned with all variety of dainties, gave occasion for inquiries concerning food, whether the land or sea yielded better. Here when a great part of the company were highly commanding the land, as abounding with many choice, nay, an infinite variety of all sorts of creatures, Polycrates calling to Symmachus, said to him: But you, sir, being an animal bred between two seas, and brought up among so many which surround your sacred Nicopolis, will not you stand up for Neptune? Yes, I will, replied Symmachus, and therefore command you to stand by me, who enjoy the most pleasant part of all the Achaean Sea. Well, says Polycrates, the beginning of my discourse shall be grounded upon custom; for as of a great number of poets we usually give one, who far excels the rest, the famous name of poet; so though there be many sorts of dainties, yet custom has so prevailed that the fish alone, or above all the rest, is called [Greek omitted], because it is more excellent than all others. For we do not call those gluttonous and great eaters who love beef as Hercules, who after flesh used to eat green figs; nor those that love figs, as Plato; nor lastly, those that are for grapes, as Arcesilaus; but those who frequent the fish-market, and soonest hear the market-bell. Thus when Demosthenes had told Philocrates that the gold he got by treachery was spent upon whores and fish, he upbraids him as a gluttonous and lascivious fellow. And Ctesiphon said pat enough, when a certain glutton cried aloud in company that he should burst asunder: No, by no means let us be baits for your fish! And what did he mean, do you think, who made this verse,

You capers gnaw, when you may sturgeon eat?

And what, for God’s sake, do those men mean who, inviting one another to sumptuous collations, usually say: To-day we will dine upon the shore? Is it not that they suppose, what is certainly true, that a dinner upon the shore is of all others most delicious? Not by reason of the waves and stones in that place — for who upon the sea-coast would be content to feed upon a pulse or a caper? — but because their table is furnished with plenty of fresh fish. Add to this, that sea-food is dearer than any other. Wherefore Cato inveighing against the luxury of the city, did not exceed the bounds of truth, when he said that at Rome a fish was sold for more than an ox. For they sell a small pot of fish for as much as a hecatomb of sheep and all the accessories of sacrifice. Besides, as the physician is the best judge of physic, and the musician of songs; so he is able to give the best account of the goodness of meat who is the greatest lover of it. For I will not make Pythagoras and Xenocrates arbitrators in this case; but Antagoras the poet, and Philoxenus the son of Eryxis, and Androcydes the painter, of whom it was reported that, when he drew a landscape of Scylla, he drew fish in a lively manner swimming round her, because he was a great lover of them. So Antigonus the king, surprising Antagoras the poet in the habit of a cook, broiling congers in his tent, said to him: Dost thou think that Homer was dressing congers when he writ Agamemnon’s famous exploits? And he as smartly replied: Do you think that Agamemnon did so many famous exploits when he was inquiring who dressed congers in the camp? These arguments, says Polycrates, I have urged in behalf of fishmongers, drawing them from testimony and custom.

But, says Symmachus, I will go more seriously to work, and more like a logician. For if that may truly be said to be a relish which gives meat the best relish, it will evidently follow, that that is the best sort of relish which gets men the best stomach to their meat. Therefore, as those philosophers who were called Elpistics (from the Greek word signifying hope, which above all others they cried up) averred that there was nothing in the world which concurred more to the preservation of life than hope, without whose gracious influence life would be a burden and altogether intolerable; in the like manner that of all other things may be said to get us a stomach to our meat without which all meat would be unpalatable and nauseous. And among all those things the earth yields, we find no such things as salt, which we can only have from the sea. First of all, without salt, there would be nothing eatable which mixed with flour seasons bread also. Neptune and Ceres had both the same temple. Besides, salt is the most pleasant of all condiments. For those heroes who like athletes used themselves to a spare diet, banishing from their tables all vain and superfluous delicacies, to such a degree that when they encamped by the Hellespont they abstained from fish, yet for all this could not eat flesh without salt; which is a sufficient evidence that salt is the most desirable of all relishes. For as colors need light, so tastes require salt, that they may affect the sense, unless you would have them very nauseous and unpleasant. For, as Heraclitus used to say, a carcass is more abominable than dung. Now all flesh is dead and part of a lifeless carcass; but the virtue of salt, being added to it, like a soul, gives it a pleasing relish and a poignancy. Hence it comes to pass that before meat men use to take sharp things, and such as have much salt in them; for these beguile us into an appetite. And whoever has his stomach sharpened with these sets cheerfully and freshly upon all other sorts of meat. But if he begin with any other kind of food, all on a sudden his stomach grows dull and languid. And therefore salt doth not only make meat but drink palatable. For Homer’s onion, which, he tells us, they were used to eat before they drank, was fitter for seamen and boatmen than kings. Things moderately salt, by being pleasing to the mouth, make all sorts of wine mild and palateable, and water itself of a pleasing taste. Besides, salt creates none of those troubles which an onion does, but digests all other kinds of meat, making them tender and fitter for concoction; so that at the same time it is sauce to the palate and physic to the body. But all other seafood, besides this pleasantness, is also very innocent for though it be fleshly, yet it does not load the stomach as all other flesh does, but is easily concocted and digested. This Zeno will avouch for me, and Crato too, who confine sick persons to a fish diet, as of all others the lightest sort of meat. And it stands with reason, that the sea should produce the most nourishing and wholesome food, seeing it yields us the most refined, the purest and therefore the most agreeable air.

You say right, says Lamprias, but let us think of something else to confirm what you have spoken. I remember my old grandfather was used to say in derision of the Jews, that they abstained from most lawful flesh; but we will say that that is the most lawful meat which comes from the sea. For we can claim no great right over land creatures, which are nourished with the same food, draw the same air, wash in and drink the same water, that we do ourselves; and when they are slaughtered, they make us ashamed of what we are doing, with their hideous cries; and then again, by living amongst us, they arrive at some degree of familiarity and intimacy with us. But sea creatures are altogether strangers to us, and are born and brought up as it were in another world; neither does their voice, look, or any service they have done us plead for their life. For this kind of creatures are of no use at all to us, nor is there any necessity that we should love them. But that place which we inhabit is hell to them, and as soon as ever they enter upon it they die.


Whether the Jews Abstained From Swine’s Flesh Because They Worshipped that Creature, or Because They Had an Antipathy Against It.


After these things were spoken, and some in the company were minded to say something in defence of the contrary opinion, Callistratus interrupted their discourse and said: Sirs, what do you think of that which was spoken against the Jews, that they abstain from the most lawful flesh? Very well said, quoth Polycrates, for that is a thing I very much question, whether it was that the Jews abstained from swine’s flesh because they conferred divine honor upon that creature, or because they had a natural aversion to it. For whatever we find in their own writings seems to be altogether fabulous, except they have some more solid reasons which they have no mind to discover.

Hence it is, says Callistratus, that I am of an opinion that this nation has that creature in some veneration; and though it be granted that the hog is an ugly and filthy creature, yet it is not quite so vile nor naturally stupid as a beetle, griffin, crocodile, or cat, most of which are worshipped as the most sacred things by some priests amongst the Egyptians. But the reason why the hog is had in so much honor and veneration amongst them is, because as the report goes, that creature breaking up the earth with its snout showed the way to tillage, and taught them how to use the ploughshare, which instrument for that very reason, as some say, was called HYNIS from [Greek omitted], A SWINE. Now the Egyptians inhabiting a country situated low and whose soil is naturally soft, have no need of the plough; but after the river Nile hath retired from the grounds it overflowed, they presently let in all their hogs into the fields, and they with their feet and snout break up the ground, and cover the sown seed. Nor ought this to seem strange to anyone, that there are in the world those that abstain from swine’s flesh on such an account as this; when it is evident that in barbarous nations there are other animals had in greater honor and veneration for lesser reasons, if not altogether ridiculous. For the field-mouse only for its blindness was worshipped as a god among the Egyptians, because they were of an opinion that darkness was before light and that the latter had its birth from mice about the fifth generation at the new moon; and moreover that the liver of this creature diminishes in the wane of the moon. But they consecrate the lion to the sun, because the lioness alone, of all clawed four-footed beasts, brings forth her young with their eyesight; for they sleep in a moment, and when they are asleep their eyes sparkle. Besides, they place gaping lions’ heads for the spouts of their fountains, because Nilus overflows the Egyptian fields when the sign is Leo: they give it out that their bird ibis, as soon as hatched, weighs two drachms, which are of the same weight with the heart of a newborn infant; and that its legs being spread with the bill an exact equilateral triangle. And yet who can find fault with the Egyptians for these trifles, when it is left upon record that the Pythagoreans worshipped a white cock, and of sea creatures abstained especially from mullet and urtic. The Magi that descended from Zoroaster adored the land hedgehog above other creatures but had a deadly spite against water-rats, and thought that man was dear in the eyes of the gods who destroyed most of them. But I should think that if the Jews had such an antipathy against a hog, they would kill it as the magicians do mice; when, on the contrary, they are by their religion as much prohibited to kill as to eat it. And perhaps there may be some reason given for this; for as the ass is worshipped by them as the first discoverer of fountains, so perhaps the hog may be had in like veneration, which first taught them to sow and plough. Nay, some say that the Jews also abstain from hares, as abominable and unclean creatures.

They have reason for that, said Lamprias, because a hare is so like an ass which they detest; for in its color, ears, and the sparkling of its eyes, it is so like an ass, that I do not know any little creature that represents a great one so much as a hare doth an ass; except in this likewise imitating the Egyptians, they suppose that there is something of divinity in the swiftness of this creature, as also in its quickness of sense; for the eyes of hares are so unwearied that they sleep with them open. Besides, they seem to excel all other creatures in quickness of hearing; whence it was that the Egyptians painted a hare’s ear amongst their other hieroglyphics, as an emblem of hearing. But the Jews do hate swine’s flesh, because all the barbarians are naturally fearful of a scab and leprosy, which they presume comes by eating such kind of flesh. For we may observe that all pigs under the belly are overspread with a leprosy and scab; which may be supposed to proceed from an ill disposition of body and corruption within, which breaks out through the skin. Besides, swine’s feeding is commonly so nasty and filthy, that it must of necessity cause corruptions and vicious humors; for, setting aside those creatures that are bred from and live upon dung, there is no other creature that takes so much delight to wallow in the mire and in other unclean and stinking places. Hogs’ eyes are said to be so flattened and fixed upon the ground, that they see nothing above them, nor ever look up to the sky, except when turned upon their back they turn their eyes upwards contrary to nature. Therefore this creature, at other times most clamorous’ when laid upon his back, is still, as astonished at the unusual sight of the heavens; while the greatness of the fear he is in (as it is supposed) is the cause of his silence. And if it be lawful to intermix our discourse with fables, it is said that Adonis was slain by a boar. Now Adonis is supposed to be the same with Bacchus; and there are a great many rites in both their sacrifices which confirm this opinion. Others will have Adonis to be Bacchus’s paramour; and Phanocles an amorous love-poet writes thus,

Bacchus on hills the fair Adonis saw,
And ravished him, and reaped a wondrous joy.


What God is Worshipped by the Jews.


Here Symmachus, greatly wondering at what was spoken, says: What, Lamprias, will you permit our tutelar god, called Evius, the inciter of women, famous for the honors he has conferred upon him by madmen, to be inscribed and enrolled in the mysteries of the Jews? Or is there any solid reason that can be given to prove Adonis to be the same with Bacchus? Here Moeragenes interposing, said: Do not be so fierce upon him, for I who am an Athenian answer you, and tell you, in short, that these two are the very same. And no man is able or fit to bring the chief confirmation of this truth, but those amongst us who are initiated and skilled in the triennial [Greek omitted] or chief mysteries of the god. But what no religion forbids to speak of among friends, especially over wine, the gift of Bacchus, I am ready at the command of these gentlemen to disclose.

When all the company requested and earnestly begged it of him; first of all (says he), the time and manner of the greatest and most holy solemnity of the Jews is exactly agreeable to the holy rites of Bacchus; for that which they call the Fast they celebrate in the midst of the vintage, furnishing their tables with all sorts of fruits while they sit under tabernacles made of vines and ivy; and the day which immediately goes before this they call the day of Tabernacles. Within a few days after they celebrate another feast, not darkly but openly, dedicated to Bacchus, for they have a feast amongst them called Kradephoria, from carrying palm-trees, and Thyrsophoria, when they enter into the temple carrying thyrsi. What they do within I know not; but it is very probable that they perform the rites of Bacchus. First they have little trumpets, such as the Grecians used to have at their Bacchanalia to call upon their gods withal. Others go before them playing upon harps, which they call Levites, whether so named from Lusius or Evius — either word agrees with Bacchus. And I suppose that their Sabbaths have some relation to Bacchus; for even now many call the Bacchi by the name of Sabbi, and they make use of that word at the celebration of Bacchus’s orgies. And this may be discovered out of Demosthenes and Menander. Nor would it be out of place, were any one to say that the name Sabbath was given to this feast from the agitation and excitement [Greek omitted] which the priests of Bacchus display. The Jews themselves witness no less; for when they keep the Sabbath, they invite one another to drink till they are drunk; or if they chance to be hindered by some more weighty business, it is the fashion at least to taste the wine. Some perhaps may surmise that these are mere conjectures. But there are other arguments which will clearly evince the truth of what I assert. The first may be drawn from their High-priest, who on holidays enters their temple with his mitre on, arrayed in a skin of a hind embroidered with gold, wearing buskins, and a coat hanging down to his ankles; besides, he has a great many little bells depending from his garment which make a noise as he walks. So in the nocturnal ceremonies of Bacchus (as the fashion is amongst us), they make use of music, and call the god’s nurses [Greek omitted]. High up on the wall of their temple is a representation of the thyrsus and timbrels, which surely suits no other god than Bacchus. Moreover, they are forbidden the use of honey in their sacrifices, because they suppose that a mixture of honey corrupts and deads the wine. And honey was used for a libation in former days and with it the ancients were wont to make themselves drunk, before the vine was known. And at this day barbarous people who want wine drink metheglin, allaying the sweetness of the honey by bitter roots, much of the taste of our wine. The Greeks offered to their gods these temperate offerings or honey-offerings, as they called them, because that honey was of a nature quite contrary to wine. But this is no inconsiderable argument that Bacchus was worshipped by the Jews, in that, amongst other kinds of punishment, that was most remarkably odious by which malefactors were forbid the use of wine for so long a time as the judge thought fit to prescribe. Those thus punished. . . .

(The remainder of the Fourth Book is wanting.)


Why the Days Which Have the Names of the Planets are Not Arranged According to the Order of the Planets, But the Contrary. There is Added a Discourse on the Position of the Sun.


Why Signet-Rings are Worn Chiefly on the Fourth Finger.


Whether We Ought to Carry in Our Seal-Rings Effigies of Gods, or Those of Wise Personages.


Why Women Do Not Eat the Middle Part of Lettuce.

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24