Symposiacs, by Plutarch

Book VI.

Timotheus the son of Conon, Sossius Senecio, after a full enjoyment of luxurious campaign diet, being entertained by Plato in his Academy, at a neat, homely, and (as Ion says) no surfeiting feast (such an one as is constantly attended by sound sleep, and by reason of the calm and pleasant state the body enjoys, rarely interrupted with dreams and apparitions), the next day, being sensible of the difference, said that those that supped with Plato were well treated, even the day after the feast. For such a temper of a body not overcharged, but expedite and fitted for the ready execution of all its enterprises, is without all doubt a great help for the more comfortable passing away of the day. But there is another benefit not inferior to the former, which does usually accrue to those that sup with Plato, namely, the recollection of those points that were debated at the table. For the remembrance of those pleasures which arise from meat and drink is ungenteel, and short-lived withal, and nothing but the remains of yesterday’s smell. But the subjects of philosophical queries and discourses, being always fresh after they are imparted, are equally relished by all, as well by those that were absent as by those that were present at them; insomuch that learned men even now are as much partakers of Socrates’s feasts as those who really supped with him. But if things pertaining to the body had afforded any pleasure, Xenophon and Plato should have left us an account not of the discourse, but of the great variety of dishes, sauces, and other costly compositions that were prepared in the houses of Callias and Agatho. Yet there is not the least mention made of any such things, though questionless they were as sumptuous as possible; but whatever things were treated of and learnedly discussed by their guests were left upon record and transmitted to posterity as precedents, not only for discoursing at table, but also for remembering the things that were handled at such meetings.


What is the Reason that Those that are Fasting are More Thirsty Than Hungry?


I present you with this Sixth Book of Table Discourses, wherein the first thing that cometh to be discussed is an inquiry into the reason why those that are fasting are more inclinable to drink than to eat. For the assertion carries in it a repugnancy to the standing rules of reason; forasmuch as the decayed stock of dry nourishment seems more naturally to call for its proper supplies. Whereupon I told the company, that of those things whereof our bodies are composed, heat only — or, however, above all the rest — stands in continual need of such accessions; for the truth of which this may be urged as a convincing argument: neither air, water, nor earth requires any matter to feed upon, or devours whatsoever lies next it; but fire alone doth. Hence it comes to pass that young men, by reason of their greater share of natural heat, have commonly greater stomachs than old men; whereas on the contrary, old men can endure fasting much better, for this only reason, because their natural heat is grown weaker and decayed. Just so we see it fares with bloodless animals, which by reason of the want of heat require very little nourishment. Besides, every one of us finds by experience, that bodily exercises, clamors, and whatever other actions by violent motion occasion heat, commonly sharpen our stomachs and get us a better appetite. Now, as I take it, the most natural and principal nourishment of heat is moisture, as it evidently appears from flames, which increase by the pouring in of oil, and from ashes, which are of the driest things in nature; for after the humidity is consumed by the fire, the terrene and grosser parts remain without any moisture at all. Add to these, that fire separates and dissolves bodies by extracting that moisture which should keep them close and compact. Therefore, when we are fasting, the heat first of all forces the moisture out of the relics of the nourishment that remain in the body, and then, pursuing the other humid parts, preys upon the natural moisture of the flesh itself. Hence the body like clay becoming dry, wants drink more than meat; till the heat, receiving strength and vigor by our drinking, excites an appetite for more substantial food.


Whether Want of Nourishment Causeth Hunger and Thirst or the Change in the Figures of the Pores.


After these things were spoke, Philo the physician started the first question, asserting that thirst did not arise from the want of nourishment, but from the different transfiguration of certain passages. For, says he, this may be made evident, partly from what we see happens to those that thirst in the night, who, if sleep chance to steal upon them, though they did not drink before, are yet rid of their thirst; partly from persons in a fever, who, as soon as the disease abates or is removed, thirst no more. Nay, a great many men, after they have bathed or vomited, perceive presently that their thirst is gone; yet none of these add anything to their former moisture, but only the transfiguration of the pores causeth a new order and disposition. And this is more evident in hunger; for many sick persons, at the same time when they have the greatest need of meat, have no stomach. Others, after they have filled their bellies, have the same stomachs, and their appetites are rather increased than abated. There are a great many besides who loathe all sorts of diet, yet by taking of a pickled olive or caper recover and confirm their lost appetites. This doth clearly evince, that hunger proceeds from some change in the pores, and not from any want of sustenance, forasmuch as such kind of food lessens the defect by adding food, but increases the hunger; and the pleasing relish and poignancy of such pickles, by binding and straitening the mouth of the ventricle, and again by opening and loosening of it, beget in it a convenient disposition to receive meat, which we call by the name of appetite.

I must confess this discourse seemed to carry in it some shadow of reason and probability; but in the main it is directly repugnant to the chief end of nature, to which appetite directs every animal. For that makes it desire a supply of what they stand in need of, and avoid a defect of their proper food. For to deny what especially makes a living creature differ from an inanimate object as given to us for our preservation and conservation (being as it were the receiver of what supplements and agrees with the nature of our body) is the argument of one who takes no account of natural law, especially when he would add that the characteristic proceeds from the great or small size of the pores. Besides, it is absurd to think that a body through the want of natural heat should be chilled, and should not in like manner hunger and thirst through the want of natural moisture and nourishment. And yet this is more absurd, that Nature when overcharged should desire to disburden herself, and yet should not require to be supplied on account of emptiness, but on account of some condition or other, I know not what. Moreover, these needs and supplies in relation to animals have some resemblance to those we see in husbandry. There are a great many like qualities and like provisions on both sides. For in a drought we water our grounds, and in case of excessive heat, we frequently make use of moderate coolers; and when our fruits are too cold, we endeavor to preserve and cherish them, by covering and making fences about them. And for such things as are out of the reach of human power, we implore the assistance of the gods, that is, to send us softening dews, and sunshines qualified with moderate winds; that so Nature, being always desirous of a due mixture, may have her wants supplied. And for this reason I presume it was that nourishment is called [Greek omitted] (from [Greek omitted]), because it observes and preserves Nature. Now Nature is preserved in plants, which are destitute of sense, by the favorable influence of the circumambient air (as Empedocles says), moistening them in such a measure as is most agreeable to their nature. But as for us men, our appetites prompt us on to the chase and pursuance of whatsoever is wanting to our natural temperament.

But now let us pass to the examination of the truth of the arguments that seem to favor the contrary opinion. And for the first, I suppose that those meats that are palatable and of a quick and sharp taste do not beget in us an appetite, but rather bite and fret those parts that receive the nourishment, as we find that scratching the skin causes itching. And supposing we should grant that this affection or disposition is the very thing which we call the appetite, it is probable that, by the operation of such kind of food as this, the nourishment may be made small, and so much of it as is convenient for Nature severed from the rest, so that the indigency proceeds not from the transmutation, but from the evacuation and purgation of the passages. For sharp, tart, and salt things grate the inward matter, and by dispersing of it cause digestion, so that by the concoctions of the old there may arise an appetite for new. Nor does the cessation of thirst after bathing spring from the different position of the passages, but from a new supply of moisture received into the flesh, and conveyed from thence to them also. And vomiting, by throwing off whatever is disagreeable to Nature, puts her in a capacity of enjoying what is most suitable for her. For thirst does not call for a superfluity of moisture, but only for so much as sufficeth Nature; and therefore, though a man had plenty of disagreeable and unnatural moisture, yet he wants still, for that stops the course of the natural, which Nature is desirous of, and hinders a due mixture and temperament, till it be cast out and the pores receive what is most proper and convenient for them. Moreover, a fever forces all the moisture downward; and the middle parts being in combustion, it all retires thither, and there is shut up and forcibly detained. And therefore it is usual with a great many to vomit, by reason of the density of the inward parts squeezing out the moisture, and likewise to thirst, by reason of the poor and dry state the rest of the body is in. But after the violence of the distemper is once abated, and the raging heat hath left the middle parts, the moisture begins to disperse itself again; and according to its natural motion, by a speedy conveyance into all the parts, it refreshes the entrails, softens and makes tender the dry and parched flesh. Very often also it causes sweat, and then the defect which occasioned thirst ceases; for the moisture leaving that part of the body wherein it was forcibly detained, and out of which it hardly made an escape, retires to the place where it is wanted. For as it fares with a garden wherein there is a large well — if nobody draw thereof and water it, the herbs must needs wither and die — so it fares with a body; if all the moisture be contracted into one part, it is no wonder if the rest be in want and dry, till it is diffused again over the other limbs. Just so it happens to persons in a fever, after the heat of the disease is over, and likewise to those who go to sleep thirsty. For in these, sleep draws the moisture to the middle parts, and equally distributes it amongst the rest, satisfying them all. But, I pray, what kind of transfiguration of the passages is this which causes hunger and thirst? For my part, I know no other distinction of the pores but in respect of their number or that some of them are shut, others open. As for those that are shut, they can neither receive meat nor drink; and as for those that are open, they make an empty space, which is nothing but a want of that which Nature requires. Thus, sir, when men dye cloth, the liquor in which they dip it hath very sharp and abstersive particles; which, consuming and scouring off all the matter that filled the pores, make the cloth more apt to receive the dye, because its pores are empty and want something to fill them up.


What is the Reason that Hunger is Allayed by Drinking, But Thirst Increased by Eating?


After we had gone thus far, the master of the feast told the company that the former points were reasonably well discussed; and waiving at present the discourse concerning the evacuation and repletion of the pores, he requested us to fall upon another question, that is, how it comes to pass that hunger is stayed by drinking, when, on the contrary, thirst is more violent after eating. Those who assign the reason to be in the pores seem with a great deal of ease and probability, though not with so much truth, to explain the thing. For seeing the pores in all bodies are of different sorts and sizes, the more capacious receive both dry and humid nourishment, the lesser take in drink, not meat; but the vacuity of the former causes hunger, of the latter thirst. Hence it is that men that thirst are never better after they have eaten, the pores by reason of their straitness denying admittance to grosser nourishment, and the want of suitable supply still remaining. But after hungry men have drunk, the moisture enters the greater pores, fills the empty spaces, and in part assuages the violence of the hunger.

Of this effect, said I, I do not in the least doubt, but I do not approve of the reason they give for it. For if any one should admit these pores (which some are so unreasonably fond of) to be in the flesh, he must needs make it a very soft, loose, flabby substance; and that the same parts do not receive the meat and drink, but that they run through different canals and strainers in them, seems to me to be a very strange and unaccountable opinion. For the moisture mixes with the dry food, and by the assistance of the natural heat and spirits cuts the nourishment far smaller than any cleaver or chopping-knife, to the end that every part of it may be exactly fitted to each part of the body, not applied, as they would have it, to little vessels and pores, but united and incorporated with the whole substance. And unless the thing were explained after this manner, the hardest knot in the question would still remain unsolved. For a man that has a thirst upon him, supposing he eats and doth not drink, is so far from quenching, that he does highly increase it. This point is yet undiscussed. But mark, said I, whether the positions on my side be clear and evident or not. In the first place, we take it for granted that moisture is wasted and destroyed by heat, that the drier parts of the nourishment qualified and softened by moisture, are diffused and fly away in vapors. Secondly, we must by no means suppose that all hunger is a total privation of dry, and thirst of humid nutriment, but only a moderate one, and such as is sufficient to cause the one or the other; for whoever are wholly deprived of either of these, they neither hunger nor thirst, but die instantly. These things being laid down as a foundation, it will be no hard matter to find out the cause. For thirst is increased by eating for this reason, because that meat by its natural siccity contracts and destroys all that small quantity of moisture which remained scattered here and there through the body; just as happens in things obvious to our senses; we see the earth, dust, and the like presently suck in the moisture that is mixed with them. Now, on the contrary, drink must of necessity assuage hunger; for the moisture watering and diffusing itself through the dry and parched relics of the meat we ate last, by turning them into thin juices, conveys them through the whole body, and succors the indigent parts. And therefore with very good reason Erasistratus called moisture the vehicle of the meat; for as soon as this is mixed with things which by reason of their dryness, or some other quality, are slow and heavy, it raises them up and carries them aloft. Moreover, several men, when they have drunk nothing at all, but only washed themselves, all on a sudden are freed from a very violent hunger, because the extrinsic moisture entering the pores makes the meat within more succulent and of a more nourishing nature, so that the heat and fury of the hunger declines and abates; and therefore a great many of those who have a mind to starve themselves to death live a long time only by drinking water; that is, as long as the siccity does not quite consume whatever may be united to and nourish the body.


What is the Reason that a Bucket of Water Drawn Out of a Well, If It Stands All Night in the Air that is in the Well, Is, More Cold in the Morning Than the Rest of the Water?


One of the strangers at the the table, who took wonderful great delight in drinking of cold water, had some brought to him by the servants, cooled after this manner; they had hung in the well a bucket full of the same water, so that it could not touch the sides of the well, and there let it remain, all night: the next day, when it was brought to table, it was colder than the water that was newdrawn. Now this gentleman was an indifferent good scholar, and therefore told the company that he had learned this from Aristotle, who gives the reason of it. The reason which he assigned was this. All water, when it hath been once hot, is afterwards more cold; as that which is prepared for kings, when it hath boiled a good while upon the fire, is afterwards put into a vessel set round with snow, and so made colder; just as we find our bodies more cool after we have bathed, because the body, after a short relaxation from heat, is rarefied and more porous, and therefore so much the more fitted to receive a larger quantity of air, which causes the alteration. Therefore the water, when it is drawn out of the well, being first warmed in the air, grows presently cold.

Whereupon we began to commend the man very highly for his happy memory; but we called in question the pretended reason. For if the air wherein the vessel hangs be cold, how, I pray, does it heat the water? If hot, how does it afterwards make it cold? For it is absurd to say, that the same thing is affected by the same thing with contrary qualities, no difference at all intervening. While the gentleman held his peace, as not knowing what to say; there is no cause, said I, that we should raise any scruple concerning the nature of the air, forasmuch as we are ascertained by sense that it is cold, especially in the bottom of a well; and therefore we can never imagine that it should make the water hot. But I should rather judge this to be the reason: the cold air, though it cannot cool the great quantity of water which is in the well, yet can easily cool each part of it, separate from the whole.


What is the Reason that Pebble Stones and Leaden Bullets Thrown Into the Water Make It More Cold?


I suppose you may remember that what Aristotle says in his problems, of little stones and pieces of iron, how it hath been observed by some that being thrown into the water they temper and cool it. This is no more than barely asserted by him; but we will go farther and inquire into the reason of it, the discovery of which will be a matter of difficulty. Yes, says I, it will so, and it is much if we hit upon it; for do but consider, first of all, do not you suppose that the air which comes in from without cools the water? But now air has a great deal more power and force, when it beats against stones and pieces of iron. For they do not, like brazen and earthen vessels, suffer it to pass through; but, by reason of their solid bulk, beat it back and reflect it into the water, so that upon all parts the cold works very strongly. And hence it comes to pass that rivers in the winter are colder than the sea, because the cold air has a power over them, which by reason of its depth it has not over the sea, where it is scattered without any reflection. But it is probable that for another reason thinner waters may be made colder by the air than thicker, because they are not so strong to resist its force. Now whetstones and pebbles make the water thinner by drawing to them all the mud and other grosser substances that be mixed with it, that so by taking the strength from it may the more easily be wrought upon by the cold. But besides, lead is naturally cold, as that which, being dissolved in vinegar, makes the coldest of all poisons, called white-lead; and stones, by reason of their density, raise cold in the bottom of the water. For every stone is nothing else but a congealed lump of frozen earth, though some more or less than others; and therefore it is no absurdity to say that stones and lead, by reflecting the air, increase the coldness of the water.


What is the Reason that Men Preserve Snow by Covering It with Chaff and Cloths?


Then the stranger, after he had made a little pause, said: Men in love are ambitious to be in company with their sweethearts; when that is denied them, they desire at least to talk of them. This is my case in relation to snow; and, because I cannot have it at present, I am desirous to learn the reason why it is commonly preserved by the hottest things. For, when covered with chaff and cloth that has never been at the fuller’s, it is preserved a long time. Now it is strange that the coldest things should be preserved by the hottest.

Yes, said I, it is a very strange thing, if true. But it is not so; and we cozen ourselves by presently concluding a thing to be hot if it have a faculty of causing heat, when as yet we see that the same garment causes heat in winter, and cold in summer. Thus the nurse in the tragedy,

In garments thin doth Niobe’s children fold,
And sometimes heats and sometimes cools the babes.

The Germans indeed make use of clothes only against the cold, the Ethiopians only against the heat; but they are useful to us upon both accounts. Why therefore should we rather say the clothes are hot, because they cause heat, than cold, because they cause cold? Nay, if we must be tried by sense, it will be found that they are more cold than hot. For at the first putting on of a coat it is cold, and so is our bed when we lie down; but afterwards they grow hot with the heat of our bodies, because they both keep in the heat and keep out the cold. Indeed, feverish persons and others that have a violent heat upon them often change their clothes, because they perceive that fresh ones at the first putting on are much colder; but within a very little time their bodies make them as hot as the others. In like manner, as a garment heated makes us hot, so a covering cooled keeps snow cold. Now that which causes this cold is the continual emanations of a subtile spirit the snow has in it, which spirit, as long as it remains in the snow, keeps it compact and close; but, after once it is gone, the snow melts and dissolves into water, and instantly loses its whiteness, occasioned by a mixture of this spirit with a frothy moisture. Therefore at the same time, by the help of these clothes, the cold is kept in, and the external air is shut out, lest it should thaw the concrete body of the snow. The reason why they make use of cloth that has not yet been at the fuller’s is this, because that in such cloth the hair and coarse flocks keep it off from pressing too hard upon the snow, and bruising it. So chaff lying lightly upon it does not dissolve the body of the snow, besides the chaff lies close and shuts out the warm air, and keeps in the natural cold of the snow. Now that snow melts by the evaporating of this spirit, we are ascertained by sense; for when snow melts it raises a vapor.


Whether Wine Ought to Be Strained or Not.


Niger, a citizen of ours, was lately come from school, after he had spent some time under the discipline of a celebrated philosopher, but had absorbed nothing but those faults by which his master was odious to others, especially his custom of reproving and of carping at whatever upon any occasion chanced to be discussed in company. And therefore, when we were at supper one time at Aristio’s, not content to assume to himself a liberty to rail at all the rest of the preparations as too profuse and extravagant, he had a pique at the wine too, and said that it ought not to be brought to table strained, but that, observing Hesiod’s rule, we ought to drink it new out of the vessel. Moreover, he added that this way of purging wine takes the strength from it, and robs it of its natural heat, which, when wine is poured out of one vessel into another, evaporates and dies. Besides he would needs persuade us that it showed too much of a vain curiosity, effeminacy, and luxury, to convert what is wholesome into that which is palatable. For as the riotous, not the temperate, use to cut cocks and geld pigs, to make their flesh tender and delicious, even against Nature; just so (if we may use a metaphor, says he) those that strain wine geld and emasculate it, whilst their squeamish stomachs will neither suffer them to drink pure wine, nor their intemperance to drink moderately. Therefore they make use of this expedient, to the end that it may render the desire they have of drinking plentifully more excusable. So they take all the strength from the wine, leaving the palatableness still: as we use to deal with those with whose constitution cold water does not agree, to boil it for them. For they certainly take off all the strength from the wine, by straining of it. And this is a great argument, that the wine deads, grows flat, and loses its virtue, when it is separated from the lees, as from its root and stock; for the ancients for very good reason called wine lees, as we use to signify a man by his head or soul, as the principal part of him. So in Greek, grape-gatherers are said [Greek omitted], the word being derived from [Greek omitted], which signifies lees; and Homer in one place calls the fruit of the wine [Greek omitted], and the wine itself high-colored and red — not pale and yellow, such as Aristio gives us to supper, after all the goodness is purged out of it.

Then Aristio smiling presently replied: Sir, the wine I bring to table does not look so pale and lifeless as you would have it: but it appears only in the cup to be mild and well qualified. But for your part, you would glut yourself with night wine, which raises melancholy vapors; and upon this account you cry out against purgation, which, by carrying off whatever might cause melancholy or load men’s stomachs, and make them drunk or sick, makes it mild and pleasant to those that drink it, such as heroes (as Homer tells us) were formerly wont to drink. And it was not dark wine which he called [Greek omitted], but clear and transparent; for otherwise he would never have named brass [Greek omitted], after characterizing it as man-exalting and resplendent. Therefore as the wise Anacharsis, discommending some things that the Grecians enjoined, commended their coals, because they leave the smoke without doors, and bring the fire into the house; so you judicious men might blame me for some other reason than this. But what hurt, I pray, have I done to the wine, by taking from it a turbulent and noisome quality, and giving it a better taste, though a paler color? Nor have I brought you wine to the table which, like a sword, hath lost its edge and vigorous relish, but such as is only purged of its dregs and filth. But you will say that wine not strained hath a great deal more strength. Why so, my friend? One that is frantic and distracted has more strength than a man in his wits; but when, by the help of hellebore or some other fit diet, he is come to himself, that rage and frenzy leave him and quite vanish, and the true use of his reason and health of body presently comes into its place. In like manner, purging of wine takes from it all the strength that inflames and enrages the mind, and gives it instead thereof a mild and wholesome temper; and I think there is a great deal of difference between gaudiness and cleanliness. For women, while they paint, perfume, and adorn themselves with jewels and purple robes, are accounted gaudy and profuse; yet nobody will find fault with them for washing their faces, anointing themselves, or platting their hair. Homer very neatly expresses the difference of these two habits, where he brings in Juno dressing herself:—

With sweet ambrosia first she washed her skin,
And after did anoint herself with oil.
(“Iliad,” xiv. 170.)

So much was allowable, being no more than a careful cleanliness. But when she comes to call for her golden buttons, her curiously wrought earrings, and last of all puts on her bewitching girdle, this appears to be an extravagant and idle curiosity, and betrays too much of wantonness, which by no means becomes a married woman. Just so they that sophisticate wine by mixing it with aloes, cinnamon, or saffron bring it to the table like a gorgeous-apparelled woman, and there prostitute it. But those that only take from it what is nasty and no way profitable do only purge it and improve it by their labor. Otherwise you may find fault with all things whatsoever as vain and extravagant, beginning at the house you live in. As first, you may say, why is it plastered? Why does it open especially on that side where it may have the best convenience for receiving the purest air, and the benefit of the evening sun? What is the reason that our cups are washed and made so clean that they shine and look bright? Now if a cup ought to have nothing that is nasty or loathsome in it, ought that which is drunk out of the cup to be full of dregs and filth? What need is there for mentioning anything else? The making corn into bread is a continual cleansing; and yet what a great ado there is before it is effected! There is not only threshing, winnowing, sifting, and separating the bran, but there must be kneading the dough to soften all parts alike, and a continual cleansing and working of the mass till all the parts become edible alike. What absurdity is it then by straining to separate the lees, as it were the filth of the wine, especially since the cleansing is no chargeable or painful operation?


What is the Cause of Bulimy or the Greedy Disease?


There is a certain sacrifice of very ancient institution, which the chief magistrate or archon performs always in the common-hall, and every private person in his own house. ’Tis called the driving out of bulimy; for they whip out of doors some one of their servants with a bunch of willow rods, repeating these words, Get out of doors, bulimy; and enter riches and health. Therefore in my year there was a great concourse of people present at the sacrifice; and, after all the rites and ceremonies of the sacrifice were over, when we had seated ourselves again at the table, there was an inquiry made first of all into the signification of the word bulimy, then into the meaning of the words which are repeated when the servant is turned out of doors. But the principal dispute was concerning the nature of it, and all its circumstances. First, as for the word bulimy, it was agreed upon by all to denote a great and public famine, especially among us who use the Aeolic dialect, putting [Greek omitted] for [Greek omitted]. For it was not called by the ancients [Greek omitted] but [Greek omitted], that is, [Greek omitted], much hunger. We concluded that it was not the same with the disease called Bubrostis, by an argument fetched out of Metrodorus’s Ionics. For the said Metrodorus informs us that the Smyrnaeans, who were once Aeolians, sacrificed to Bubrostis a black bull cut into pieces with the skin on, and so burnt it. Now, forasmuch as every species of hunger resembles a disease, but more particularly Bulimy, which is occasioned by an unnatural disposition of the body, these two differ as riches and poverty, health and sickness. But as the word NAUSEATE [Greek omitted] first took its name from men who were sea-sick in a ship, and afterwards custom prevailed so far that the word was applied to all persons that were any way in like sort affected; so the word BULIMY, rising at first from hence, was at last extended to a more large and comprehensive signification. What has been hitherto said was a general club of the opinions of all those who were at table.

But after we began to inquire after the cause of this disease, the first thing that puzzled us was to find out the reason why bulimy seizes upon those that travel in the snow. As Brutus, one time marching from Dyrrachium to Apollonia in a deep snow, was endangered of his life by bulimy, whilst none of those that carried the provisions for the army followed him; just when the man was ready to faint and die, some of his soldiers were forced to run to the walls of the enemies’ city, and beg a piece of bread of the sentinels, by the eating of which he was presently refreshed; for which cause, after Brutus had made himself master of the city, he treated all the inhabitants very mercifully. Asses and horses are frequently troubled with bulimy, especially when they are laden with dry figs and apples; and, which is yet more strange, of all things that are eaten, bread chiefly refreshes not only men but beasts; so that, by taking a little quantity of bread, they regain their strength and go forward on their journey.

After all were silent, I (who had observed that dull fellows and those of a less piercing judgment were satisfied with and did acquiesce in the reasons the ancients gave for bulimy, but to men of ingenuity and industry they only pointed out the way to a more clear discovery of the truth of the business) mentioned Aristotle’s opinion, who says, that extreme cold without causes extreme heat and consumption within; which, if it fall into the legs, makes them lazy and heavy, but if it come to the fountain of motion and respiration, occasions faintings and weakness. When I had said that, some of the company opposed it, others held with me.

At length says Soclarus: I like the beginning of this reason very well, for the bodies of travellers in a great snow must of necessity be surrounded and condensed with cold; but that from the heat within there should arise such a consumption as invades the principle of respiration, I can no way imagine. I rather think, says he, that abundance of heat penned up in the body consumes the nourishment, and that failing, the fire as it were goes out. Here it comes to pass, that men troubled with this bulimy, when they are ready to starve with hunger, if they eat never so little meat, are presently refreshed. The reason is, because meat digested is like fuel for the heat to feed upon.

But Cleomenes the physician would have the word [Greek omitted] (which signifies hunger) to be added to the making up of the word [Greek omitted] without sufficient reason; as [Greek omitted], to drink, is added to [Greek omitted], to swallow; and [Greek omitted] to incline, into [Greek omitted] to raise the head. Nor is bulimy, as it seems, a kind of hunger, but an affection in the stomach causing a faintness on account of the concourse of heat. Therefore as things that have a good smell recall the spirits of those that are faint, so bread affects those that are almost overcome with a bulimy; not that they have any need of food (for the least piece of it restores them their strength), but the bread calls back their vigor and languishing spirits. Now that bulimy is not hunger but a faintness, is manifest from all laboring beasts, which are seized with it very often through the smell of dry figs and apples; for a smell does not cause any want of food, but rather a pain and agitation in the stomach.

These things seemed to be reasonably well urged; and yet it seemed that much might be said for the contrary opinion, and that it was possible enough to maintain that bulimy ariseth not from condensation but rarefication of the stomach. For the spirit which flows from the snow is nothing but the aether and finest fragment of the frozen substance, endued with a virtue of cutting and dividing not only the flesh, but also silver and brazen vessels; for we see that these are not able to keep in the snow, for it dissolves and evaporates, and glazes over the outmost superficies of the vessels with a thin dew, not unlike to ice, which this spirit leaves as it secretly passes through the pores. Therefore this piercing spirit, like a flame, seizing upon those that travel in the snow, seems to burn their outsides, and like fire to enter and penetrate the flesh. Hence it is that the flesh is more rarefied, and the heat is extinguished by the cold spirit that lies upon the superficies of the body; therefore the body evaporates a dewy thin sweat, which melts away and decays the strength. Now if a man should sit still at such a time, there would not much heat fly out of his body. But when the motion of the body doth quickly heat the nourishment, and that heat bursts through the thin skin, there must necessarily be a great loss of strength. Now we know by experience, that cold hath a virtue not only to condense but also to loosen bodies; for in extreme cold winters pieces of lead are found to sweat. And when we see that a bulimy happens where there is no hunger, we may conclude that at that time the body is rather in a fluid than condensed state. The reason that bodies are rarefied in winter is because of the subtility of the spirit; especially when the moving and tiring of the body stir the heat, which, as soon as it is subtilized and agitated, flies apace, and spreads itself through the whole body. Lastly, it is very possible that apples and dry figs exhale some such thing as this, which rarefies and attenuates the heat of the beasts; for some things have a natural tendency as well to weaken as to refresh different creatures.


Why Does Homer Appropriate a Certain Peculiar Epithet to Each Particular Liquid, and Call Oil Only Liquid?


It was the subject once of a discourse, why, when there are several sorts of liquids, the poet should give every one of them a peculiar epithet, calling milk white, honey yellow, wine red, and yet for all this bestow no other upon oil but what it hath in common with all other liquids. To this it was answered that, as that is said to be most sweet which is perfectly sweet, and to be most white which is perfectly white (I mean here by perfectly that which hath nothing of a contrary quality mixed with it), so that ought to be called perfectly humid whereof never a part is dry; and this is proper to oil.

For first of all, its smoothness shows the evenness of its parts; for touch it where you please, it is all alike. Besides, you may see your face in it as perfectly as in a mirror; for there is nothing rough in it to hinder the reflection, but by reason of its humidity it reflects to the eye the least particle of light from every portion. As, on the contrary, milk, of all other liquids, does not return our images, because it hath too many terrene and gross parts mixed with it; again, oil of all other liquids makes the least noise when moved, for it is perfectly humid. When other liquids are moved or poured out, their hard and grosser parts fall and dash one against another, and so make a noise by reason of their roughness. Moreover, oil only is pure and unmixed; for it is of all other liquids most compact, nor has it any empty spaces and pores between the dry and earthy parts to receive what chances to fall upon it. Besides, because of the similitude of its parts, it is closely joined together, and unfit to be joined to anything else. When oil froths, it does not let any wind in, by reason of the contiguity and subtility of its parts; and this is also the cause why fire is nourished by it. For fire feeds upon nothing but what is moist, for nothing is combustible but what is so; for when the fire is kindled, the air turns to smoke, and the terrene and grosser parts remain in the ashes. Fire only preys upon the moisture, which is its natural nourishment. Indeed, water, wine, and other liquors, having abundance of earthy and heavy parts in them, by falling into fire part it, and by their roughness and weight smother and extinguish it. But oil, because purely liquid, by reason of its subtility, is overcome by the fire, and so changed into flame.

It is the greatest argument that can be of its humidity, that the least quantity of it spreads itself a great way; for so small a drop of honey, water, or any other liquid does not extend itself so far, but very often, by reason of the dry mixed parts, is presently wasted. Because oil is ductile and soft, men are wont to make use of it for anointing their bodies; for it runs along and spreads itself through all the parts, and sticks so firmly to them that it is not easily washed off. We find by experience, that a garment wet with water is presently dried again; but it is no easy matter to wash out the spots and stain of oil, for it enters deep, because of its most subtile and humid nature. Hence it is that Aristotle says, that the drops of diluted wine are the hardest to be got out of clothes, because they are most subtile, and run farther into the pores of the cloth.


What is the Reason that Flesh of Sacrificed Beasts, After Being Hung a While Upon a Fig-Tree is More Tender Than Before?


At supper we were commanding Aristio’s cook, who, amongst other dishes that he had dressed very curiously, brought a cock to table just killed as a sacrifice to Hercules, as tender as though it had been killed a day or two before. When Aristio told us that this was no wonder — seeing such a thing might very easily be done, if the cock, as soon as he was killed, was hung upon a fig-tree — we began to inquire into the reason of what he asserted. Indeed, I must confess, our eye assures us that a fig-tree sends out a fierce and strong spirit; which is yet more evident, from what we have heard said of bulls. That is, a bull, after he is tied to a fig-tree, though never so mad before, grows presently tame, and will suffer you to touch him, and on a sudden all his rage and fury cool and die. But the chiefest cause that works this change is the sharp acrimonious quality of the tree. For this tree is the fullest of sap, and so are its figs, wood, and bark; and hence it comes to pass, that the smoke of fig-wood is most offensive to the eyes; and when it is burned, its ashes make the best lye to scour withal. But all these effects proceed from heat. Now there are some that say, when the sap of this tree thrown into milk curds it, that this effect does not arise from the irregular figures of the parts of the milk, which the sap joins and (as it were) sticks together, the smooth and globose parts being squeezed out, but that by its heat it loosens the unstable and watery parts of the liquid body. And we may use as a proof the unprofitableness of the sap of this tree, which, though it is very sweet, yet makes the worst liquor in the world. For it is not the inequality in the parts that affects the smooth part, but what is cold and raw is stopped by heat. And salt help to do this; for it is hot, and works contrary to the uniting of the parts just mentioned, causing rather a dissolution; for to it, above all other things, Nature has given a dissolving faculty. Therefore the fig-tree sends forth a hot and sharp spirit, which cuts and boils the flesh of the bird. The very same thing may be effected by placing the flesh upon a heap of corn, or near nitre; the heat will produce the same that the fig-tree did. Now it may be made manifest that wheat is naturally hot, in that wine, put into a hogshead and placed among wheat, is presently consumed.

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