Friday, April 11, 2008


Epicurean Fare

Sydney Smith's epicure was satisfied with a potato salad. Epicurus himself, according to St. Jerome (Against Jovinian 2.11, tr. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace), praised a vegetarian diet:
And, strange to say, Epicurus, the defender of pleasure, in all his books speaks of nothing but vegetables and fruits; and he says that we ought to live on cheap food because the preparation of sumptuous banquets of flesh involves great care and suffering, and greater pains attend the search for such delicacies than pleasures the consumption of them.

quodque mirandum sit Epicurus voluptatis assertor omnes libros suos replevit holeribus et pomis et vilibus cibis dicit esse vivendum, quia carnes et exquisitae epulae ingenti cura ac miseria praeparentur maioremque poenam habeant in inquirendo, quam voluptatem in abutendo.
The Roman poet Horace called himself a "pig from Epicurus' sty" (Epistles 1.4.16, a passage also quoted by St. Jerome, Against Jovinian), and in a couple of passages mentioned a diet of vegetables which Epicurus would have approved.

The first passage is Horace, Satires 1.6.111-115 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Wherever the fancy leads, I saunter forth alone, I ask the price of greens and flour; often toward evening I stroll round the cheating Circus and the Forum. I listen to the fortune-tellers; then homeward betake me to my dish of leeks and peas and fritters.

                            quacumque libido est,
incedo solus, percontor quanti holus ac far,
fallacem circum vespertinumque pererro
saepe forum, adsisto divinis, inde domum me
ad porri et ciceris refero laganique catinum.
The second is Odes 1.31.15-16 (tr. Theodore Martin):
Let olives, endives, mallows light
  Be all my fare.

                me pascunt olivae,
me cichorea levesque malvae.

15 pascant Faber
George Meason Whicher and George Frisbie Whicher, On the Tibur Road: A Freshman's Horace (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1912), p. 59, anachronistically take cichorea to be a cheap substitute for coffee, in this amusing bit of light verse titled "Horace's Diet":
O Quintus Horatius! O can it be true
  That you spurned the Falernian flagon,
And quaffed, in its place, this chicory brew,
  Refusing to get a good jag on?

If for dinner, instead of a New England boiled,
  You preferred but an olive or mallow,
I'm surprised your digestion so long was unspoiled,
  And your verses not morbid or shallow.

So, Horace, if feeding on fodder like this
  You fancied that you were in clover,
I'll never blame Pyrrha for shunning your kiss,
  Or Chloe for throwing you over.
The reference to St. Jerome comes from Nisbet and Hubbard's commentary on Odes 1.31.

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