ON ABSTINENCE FROM ANIMAL FOOD –Porphyry μερος IAteleutaion


14. All of them, however, were forbidden to eat the flesh of swine, or fish without scales, which the Greeks call cartilaginous; or to eat any animal that has solid hoofs. They were likewise forbidden not only to refrain from eating, but also from killing animals that fled to their houses as supplicants. Nor did the legislator permit them to slay such animals as were parents together with their young; but ordered them to spare, even in a hostile land, and not put to death brutes that assist us in our labors. Nor was the legislator afraid that the race of animals which are not sacrificed, would, through being spared from slaughter, be so increased in multitude as to produce famine among men; for he knew, in the first place, that multiparous animals live but for a short time; and in the next place, that many of them perish, unless attention is paid to them by men. Moreover, he likewise knew that other animals would attack those that increased excessively; of which this is an indication, that we abstain from many animals, such as lizards, worms, flies, serpents, and dogs, and yet, at the same time, we are not afraid of perishing through hunger by abstaining from them, though their increase is abundant. And in the next place, it is not the same thing to eat and to slay an animal. For we destroy many of the above-mentioned animals, but we do not eat any of them.

15. Farther still, it is likewise related that the Syrians formerly abstained from animals, and, on this account, did not sacrifice them to the Gods; but that afterwards they sacrificed them, for the purpose of averting certain evils; yet they did not at all admit of a fleshly diet. In process of time, however, as Neanthes the Cyzicenean and Asclepiades the Cyprian say, about the era of Pygmalion, who was by birth a Phoenician, but reigned over the Cyprians, the eating of flesh was admitted, from an illegality of the following kind, which Asclepiades, in his treatise concerning Cyprus and Phoenicia, relates as follows:—In the first place, they did not sacrifice anything animated to the Gods; but neither was there any law pertaining to a thing of this kind, because it was prohibited by natural law. They are said, however, on a certain occasion, in which one soul was required for another, to have, for the first time, sacrificed a victim; and this taking place, the whole of the victim was then consumed by fire. But afterwards, when the victim was burnt, a portion of the flesh fell on the earth, which was taken by the priest, who, in so doing, having burnt his fingers, involuntarily moved them to his mouth, as a remedy for the pain which the burning produced. Having, therefore, thus tasted of the roasted flesh, he also desired to eat abundantly of it, and could not refrain from giving some of it to his wife. Pygmalion, however, becoming acquainted with this circumstance, ordered both the priest and his wife to be hurled headlong from a steep rock, and gave the priesthood to another person, who not long after performing the same sacrifice and eating the flesh of the victim, fell into the same calamities as his predecessor. The thing, however, proceeding still farther, and men using the same kind of sacrifice, and through yielding to desire, not abstaining from, but feeding on flesh, the deed was no longer punished. Nevertheless abstinence from fish continued among the Syrians till the time of Menander: for he says,

“The Syrians for example take, since these
When by intemperance led of fish they eat,
Swoln in their belly and their feet become.
With sack then cover’d, in the public way
They on a dunghill sit, that by their lowly state,
The Goddess may, appeas’d, the crime forgive.”

16. Among the Persians, indeed, those who are wise in divine concerns, and worship divinity, are called Magi; for this is the signification ofMagus, in the Persian tongue. But so great and so venerable are these men thought to be by the Persians, that Darius, the son of Hystaspes, had among other things this engraved on his tomb, that he had been the master of the Magi. They are likewise divided into three genera, as we are informed by Eubulus, who wrote the history of Mithra, in a treatise consisting of many books. In this work he says, that the first and most learned class of the Magi neither eat nor slay any thing animated, but adhere to the ancient abstinence from animals. The second class use some animals indeed [for food], but do not slay any that are tame. Nor do those of the third class, similarly with other men, lay their hands on all animals. For the dogma with all of them which ranks as the first is this, that there is a transmigration of souls; and this they also appear to indicate in the mysteries of Mithra. For in these mysteries, obscurely signifying our having something in common with brutes, they are accustomed to call us by the names of different animals. Thus they denominate the males who participate in the same mysteries lions, but the females lionesses, and those who are ministrant to these rites crows. With respect to their fathers also, they adopt the same mode. For these are denominated by them eagles and hawks. And he who is initiated in the Leontic mysteries, is invested with all-various forms of animals; of which particulars, Pallas, in his treatise concerning Mithra, assigning the cause, says, that it is the common opinion that these things are to be referred to the circle of the zodiac, but that truly and accurately speaking, they obscurely signify something pertaining to human souls, which, according to the Persians, are invested with bodies of all-various forms. For the Latins also, says Eubulus, call some men, in their tongue, boars and scorpions, lizards, and blackbirds. After the same manner likewise the Persians denominate the Gods the demiurgic causes of these: for they call Diana a she-wolf; but the sun, a bull, a lion, a dragon, and a hawk; and Hecate, a horse, a bull, a lioness, and a dog. But most theologists say that the name of Proserpine is derived from nourishing a ring-dove; for the ring-dove is sacred to this Goddess. Hence, also the priests of Maia dedicate to her a ring-dove. And Maia is the same with Proserpine, as being obstetric, and a nurse. For this Goddess is terrestrial, and so likewise is Ceres. To this Goddess, also a cock is consecrated; and on this account those that are initiated in her mysteries abstain from domestic birds. In the Eleusian mysteries, likewise, the initiated are ordered to abstain from domestic birds, from fishes and beans, pomegranates and apples; which fruits are as equally defiling to the touch, as a woman recently delivered, and a dead body. But whoever is acquainted with the nature of divinely-luminous appearances knows also on what account it is requisite to abstain from all birds, and especially for him who hastens to be liberated from terrestrial concerns, and to be established with the celestial Gods. Vice, however, as we have frequently said, is sufficiently able to patronize itself, and especially when it pleads its cause among the ignorant. Hence, among those that are moderately vicious, some think that a dehortation of this kind is vain babbling, and, according to the proverb, the nugacity of old women; and others are of opinion that it is superstition. But those who have made greater advances in improbity, are prepared, not only to blaspheme those who exhort to, and demonstrate the propriety of this abstinence, but calumniate purity itself as enchantment and pride. They, however, suffering the punishment of their sins, both from Gods and men, are, in the first place, sufficiently punished by a disposition [i.e. by a depravity] of this kind. We shall, therefore, still farther make mention of another foreign nation, renowned and just, and believed to be pious in divine concerns, and then pass on to other particulars.

17. For the polity of the Indians being distributed into many parts, there is one tribe among them of men divinely wise, whom the Greeks are accustomed to call Gymnosophists. But of these there are two sects, over one of which the Bramins preside, but over the other the Samanaeans. The race of the Bramins, however, receive divine wisdom of this kind by succession, in the same manner as the priesthood. But the Samanaeans are elected, and consist of those who wish to possess divine knowledge. And the particulars respecting them are the following, as the Babylonian Bardesanes narrates, who lived in the times of our fathers, and was familiar with those Indians who, together with Damadamis, were sent to Caesar. All the Bramins originate from one stock; for all of them are derived from one father and one mother. But the Samanaeans are not the offspring of one family, being, as we have said, collected from every nation of Indians. A Bramin, however, is not a subject of any government, nor does he contribute any thing together with others to government. And with respect to those that are philosophers, among these some dwell on mountains, and others about the river Ganges. And those that live on mountains feed on autumnal fruits, and on cows’ milk coagulated with herbs. But those that reside near the Ganges, live also on autumnal fruits, which are produced in abundance about that river. The land likewise nearly always bears new fruit, together with much rice, which grows spontaneously, and which they use when there is a deficiency of autumnal fruits. But to taste of any other nutriment, or, in short, to touch animal food, is considered by them as equivalent to extreme impurity and impiety. And this is one of their dogmas. They also worship divinity with piety and purity. They spend the day, and the greater part of the night, in hymns and prayers to the Gods; each of them having a cottage to himself, and living, as much as possible, alone. For the Bramins cannot endure to remain with others, nor to speak much; but when this happens to take place, they afterwards withdraw themselves, and do not speak for many days. They likewise frequently fast. But the Samanaeans are, as we have said, elected. When, however, any one is desirous of being enrolled in their order, he proceeds to the rulers of the city; but abandons the city or village that he inhabited, and the wealth and all the other property that he possessed. Having likewise the superfluities of his body cut off, he receives a garment, and departs to the Samanaeans, but does not return either to his wife or children, if he happens to have any, nor does he pay any attention to them, or think that they at all pertain to him. And, with respect to his children indeed, the king provides what is necessary for them, and the relatives provide for the wife. And such is the life of the Samanaeans. But they live out of the city, and spend the whole day in conversation pertaining to divinity. They have also houses and temples, built by the king, in which they are stewards, who receive a certain emolument from the king, for the purpose of supplying those that dwell in them with nutriment. But their food consists of rice, bread, autumnal fruits, and pot-herbs. And when they enter into their house, the sound of a bell being the signal of their entrance, those that are not Samanaeans depart from it, and the Samanaeans begin immediately to pray. But having prayed, again, on the bell sounding as a signal, the servants give to each Samanaean a platter, (for two of them do not eat out of the same dish,) and feed them with rice. And to him who is in want of a variety of food, a pot-herb is added, or some autumnal fruit. But having eaten as much as is requisite, without any delay they proceed to their accustomed employments. All of them likewise are unmarried, and have no possessions: and so much are both these and the Bramins venerated by the other Indians, that the king also visits them, and requests them to pray to and supplicate the Gods, when any calamity befalls the country, or to advise him how to act.

18. But they are so disposed with respect to death, that they unwillingly endure the whole time of the present life, as a certain servitude to nature, and therefore they hasten to liberate their souls from the bodies [with which they are connected]. Hence, frequently, when they are seen to be well, and are neither oppressed, nor driven to desperation by any evil, they depart from life. And though they previously announce to others that it is their intention to commit suicide, yet no one impedes them; but, proclaiming all those to be happy who thus quit the present life, they enjoin certain things to the domestics and kindred of the dead: so stable and true do they, and also the multitude, believe the assertion to be, that souls [in another life] associate with each other. But as soon as those to whom they have proclaimed that this is their intention, have heard the mandates given to them, they deliver the body to fire, in order that they may separate the soul from the body in the purest manner, and thus they die celebrated by all the Samanaeans. For these men dismiss their dearest friends to death more easily than others part with their fellow-citizens when going the longest journeys. And they lament themselves, indeed, as still continuing in life; but they proclaim those that are dead to be blessed, in consequence of having now obtained an immortal allotment. Nor is there any sophist, such as there is now amongst the Greeks, either among these Samanaeans, or the above-mentioned Bramins, who would be seen to doubt and to say, if all men should imitate you [i.e. should imitate those Samanaeans who commit suicide] what would become of us? Nor through these are human affairs confused. For neither do all men imitate them, and those who have, may be said to have been rather the causes of equitable legislation, than of confusion to the different nations of men. Moreover, the law did not compel the Samanaeans and Bramins to eat animal food, but, permitting others to feed on flesh, it suffered these to be a law to themselves, and venerated them as being superior to law. Nor did the law subject these men to the punishment which it inflicts, as if they were the primary perpetrators of injustice, but it reserved this for others. Hence, to those who ask, what would be the consequence if all men imitated such characters as these, the saying of Pythagoras must be the answer; that if all men were kings, the passage through life would be difficult, yet regal government is not on this account to be avoided. And [we likewise say] that if all men were worthy, no administration of a polity would be found in which the dignity that probity merits would be preserved. Nevertheless, no one would be so insane as not to think that all men should earnestly endeavor to become worthy characters. Indeed, the law grants to the vulgar many other things [besides a fleshly diet], which, nevertheless, it does not grant to a philosopher, nor even to one who conducts the affairs of government in a proper manner. For it does not receive every artist into the administration, though it does not forbid the exercise of any art, nor yet men of every pursuit. But it excludes those who are occupied in vile and illiberal arts, and, in short, all those who are destitute of justice and the other virtues, from having any thing to do with the management of public affairs. Thus, likewise, the law does not forbid the vulgar from associating with harlots, on whom at the same time it imposes a fine; but thinks that it is disgraceful and base for men that are moderately good to have any connection with them. Moreover, the law does not prohibit a man from spending the whole of his life in a tavern, yet at the same time this is most disgraceful even to a man of moderate worth. It appears, therefore, that the same thing must also be said with respect to diet. For that which is permitted to the multitude, must not likewise be granted to the best of men. For the man who is a philosopher, should especially ordain for himself those sacred laws which the Gods, and men who are followers of the Gods, have instituted. But the sacred laws of nations and cities appear to have ordained for sacred men purity, and to have interdicted them animal food. They have also forbidden the multitude to eat certain animals, either from motives of piety, or on account of some injury which would be produced by the food. So that it is requisite either to imitate priests, or to be obedient to the mandates of all legislators; but, in either way, he who is perfectly legal and pious ought to abstain from all animals. For if some who are only partially pious abstain from certain animals, he who is in every respect pious will abstain from all animals.

19. I had almost, however, forgotten to adduce what is said by Euripides, who asserts, that the prophets of Jupiter in Crete abstained from animals. But what is said by the chorus to Minos on this subject, is as follows:

“Sprung from Phoenicia’s royal line,
Son of Europa, nymph divine,
And mighty Jove, thy envy’d reign
O’er Crete extending, whose domain
Is with a hundred cities crown’d—
I leave yon consecrated ground,
Yon fane, whose beams the artist’s toil
With cypress, rooted from the soil,
Hath fashion’d. In the mystic rites
Initiated, life’s best delights
I place in chastity alone,
Midst Night’s dread orgies wont to rove,
The priest of Zagreus and of Jove;
Feasts of crude flesh I now decline,
And wave aloof the blazing pine
To Cybele, nor fear to claim
Her own Curete’s hallow’d name;
Clad in a snowy vest I fly
Far from the throes of pregnancy,
Never amidst the tombs intrude,
And slay no animal for food.”

20. For holy men were of opinion that purity consisted in a thing not being mingled with its contrary, and that mixture is defilement. Hence, they thought that nutriment should be assumed from fruits, and not from dead bodies, and that we should not, by introducing that which is animated to our nature, defile what is administered by nature. But they conceived, that the slaughter of animals, as they are sensitive, and the depriving them of their souls, is a defilement to the living; and that the pollution is much greater, to mingle a body which was once sensitive, but is now deprived of sense, with a sensitive and living being. Hence, universally, the purity pertaining to piety consists in rejecting and abstaining from many things, and in an abandonment of such as are of a contrary nature, and the assumption of such as are appropriate and concordant. On this account, venereal connections are attended with defilement. For in these, a conjunction takes place of the female with the male; and the seed, when retained by the woman, and causing her to be pregnant, defiles the soul, through its association with the body; but when it does not produce conception, it pollutes, in consequence of becoming a lifeless mass. The connection also of males with males defiles, because it is an emission of seed as it were into a dead body, and because it is contrary to nature. And, in short, all venery, and emissions of the seed in sleep, pollute, because the soul becomes mingled with the body, and is drawn down to pleasure. The passions of the soul likewise defile, through the complication of the irrational and effeminate part with reason, the internal masculine part. For, in a certain respect, defilement and pollution manifest the mixture of things of an heterogeneous nature, and especially when the abstersion of this mixture is attended with difficulty. Whence, also, in tinctures which are produced through mixture, one species being complicated with another, this mixture is denominated a defilement.

“As when some woman with a lively red
Stains the pure iv’ry—” [Homer, Iliad iv. 141]

says Homer. And again painters call the mixtures of colors, corruptions. It is usual, likewise to denominate that which is unmingled and pure, incorruptible, and to call that which is genuine, unpolluted. For water, when mingled with earth, is corrupted, and is not genuine. But water, which is diffluent, and runs with tumultuous rapidity, leaves behind in its course the earth which it carries in its stream.

“When from a limpid and perennial fount
It defluous runs—” [Hesiod, Works and Days, 595]

as Hesiod says. For such water is salubrious, because it is uncorrupted and unmixed. The female, likewise, that does not receive into herself the exhalation of seed, is said to be uncorrupted. So that the mixture of contraries is corruption and defilement. For the mixture of dead with living bodies, and the insertion of beings that were once living and sentient into animals, and of dead into living flesh, may be reasonably supposed to introduce defilement and stains to our nature; just, again, as the soul is polluted when it is invested with the body. Hence, he who is born, is polluted by the mixture of his soul with body; and he who dies, defiles his body, through leaving it a corpse, different and foreign from that which possesses life. The soul, likewise, is polluted by anger and desire, and the multitude of passions of which in a certain respect diet is a co-operating cause. But as water which flows through a rock is more uncorrupted than that which runs through marshes, because it does not bring with it much mud; thus, also, the soul which administers its own affairs in a body that is dry, and is not moistened by the juices of foreign flesh, is in a more excellent condition, is more uncorrupted, and is more prompt for intellectual energy. Thus too, it is said, that the thyme which is the driest and the sharpest to the taste, affords the best honey to bees. The dianoëtic, therefore, or discursive power of the soul, is polluted; or rather, he who energizes dianoëtically, when this energy is mingled with the energies of either the imaginative or doxastic power. But purification consists in a separation from all these, and the wisdom which is adapted to divine concerns, is a desertion of every thing of this kind. The proper nutriment likewise, of each thing, is that which essentially preserves it. Thus you may say, that the nutriment of a stone is the cause of its continuing to be a stone, and of firmly remaining in a lapideous form; but the nutriment of a plant is that which preserves it in increase and fructification; and of an animated body, that which preserves its composition. It is one thing, however, to nourish, and another to fatten; and one thing to impart what is necessary, and another to procure what is luxurious. Various, therefore, are the kinds of nutriment, and various also is the nature of the things that are nourished. And it is necessary, indeed, that all things should be nourished, but we should earnestly endeavor to fatten our most principal parts. Hence, the nutriment of the rational soul is that which preserves it in a rational state. But this is intellect; so that it is to be nourished by intellect; and we should earnestly endeavor that it may be fattened through this, rather than that the flesh may become pinguid through esculent substances. For intellect preserves for us eternal life, but the body when fattened causes the soul to be famished, through its hunger after a blessed life not being satisfied, increases our mortal part, since it is of itself insane, and impedes our attainment of an immortal condition of being. It likewise defiles by corporifying the soul, and drawing her down to that which is foreign to her nature. And the magnet, indeed, imparts, as it were, a soul to the iron which is placed near it; and the iron, though most heavy, is elevated, and runs to the spirit of the stone. Should he, therefore, who is suspended from incorporeal and intellectual deity, be anxiously busied in procuring food which fattens the body, that is an impediment to intellectual perception? Ought he not rather, by contracting what is necessary to the flesh into that which is little and easily procured, be himself nourished, by adhering to God more closely than the iron to the magnet? I wish, indeed, that our nature was not so corruptible, and that it were possible we could live free from molestation, even without the nutriment derived from fruits. O that, as Homer [Iliad v. 341] says, we were not in want either of meat or drink, that we might be truly immortal!—the poet in thus speaking beautifully signifying, that food is the auxiliary not only of life, but also of death. If therefore, we were not in want even of vegetable aliment, we should be by so much the more blessed, in proportion as we should be more immortal. But now, being in a mortal condition, we render ourselves, if it be proper so to speak, still more mortal, through becoming ignorant that, by the addition of this mortality, the soul, as Theophrastus says, does not only confer a great benefit on the body by being its inhabitant, but gives herself wholly to it. Hence, it is much to be wished that we could easily obtain the life celebrated in fables, in which hunger and thirst are unknown; so that, by stopping the every-way-flowing river of the body, we might in a very little time be present with the most excellent natures, to which he who accedes, since deity is there, is himself a God. But how is it possible not to lament the condition of the generality of mankind, who are so involved in darkness as to cherish their own evil, and who, in the first place, hate themselves, and him who truly begot them, and afterwards, those who admonish them, and call on them to return from ebriety to a sober condition of being? Hence, dismissing things of this kind, will it not be requisite to pass on to what remains to be discussed?

21. Those then who oppose the Nomads, or Troglodytes, or Ichthyophagi, to the legal institutes of the nations which we have adduced, are ignorant that these people were brought to the necessity of eating animals through the infecundity of the region they inhabit, which is so barren, that it does not even produce herbs, but only shores and sands. And this necessity is indicated by their not being able to make use of fire, through the want of combustible materials; but they dry their fish on rocks, or on the shore. And these indeed live after this manner from necessity. There are, however, certain nations whose manners are rustic, and who are naturally savage; but it is not fit that those who are equitable judges should, from such instances as these, calumniate human nature: For thus we should not only be dubious whether it is proper to eat animals, but also, whether we may not eat men, and adopt all other savage manners. It is related, therefore, that the Massagetae and the Derbices consider those of their kindred to be most miserable who die spontaneously. Hence, preventing their dearest friends from dying naturally, they slay them when they are old, and eat them. The Tibareni hurl from rocks their nearest relatives, even while living, when they are old. And with respect to the Hyrcani and Caspii, the one exposed the living, but the other the dead, to be devoured by birds and dogs. But the Scythians bury the living with the dead, and cut their throats on the pyres of the dead by whom they were especially beloved. The Bactrii likewise cast those among them that are old, even while living, to the dogs. And Stasanor, who was one of Alexander’s prefects, nearly lost his government through endeavoring to destroy this custom. As, however, we do not on account of these examples subvert mildness of conduct towards men, so neither should we imitate those nations that feed on flesh through necessity, but we should rather imitate the pious, and those who consecrate themselves to the Gods. For Democrates says, that to live badly, and not prudently, temperately, and piously, is not to live in reality, but to die for a long time.

22. It now remains that we should adduce a few examples of certain individuals, as testimonies in favor of abstinence from animal food. For the want of these was one of the accusations which were urged against us. We learn, therefore, that Triptolemus was the most ancient of the Athenian legislators; of whom Hermippus, in the second book of his treatise on Legislators, writes as follows: “It is said, that Triptolemus established laws for the Athenians. And the philosopher Xenocrates asserts, that three of his laws still remain in Eleusis, which are these, Honor your parents; Sacrifice to the Gods from the fruits of the earth; Injure not animals.” Two of these, therefore, he says, are properly instituted. For it is necessary that we should as much as possible recompense our parents for the benefits which they have conferred on us; and that we should offer to the Gods the first-fruits of the things useful to our life, which they have imparted to us. But with respect to the third law, he is dubious as to the intention of Triptolemus, in ordering the Athenians to abstain from animals. Was it, says he, because he thought it was a dire thing to slay kindred natures, or because he perceived it would happen, that the most useful animals would be destroyed by men for food? Wishing, therefore to make our life as mild as possible, he endeavored to preserve those animals that associate with men, and which are especially tame. Unless, indeed, because having ordained that men should honor the Gods by offering to them first-fruits, he therefore added this third law, conceiving that this mode of worship would continue for a longer time, if sacrifices through animals were not made to the Gods. But as many other causes, though not very accurate, of the promulgation of these laws, are assigned by Xenocrates, thus much from what has been said is sufficient for our purpose, that abstinence from animals was one of the legal institutes of Triptolemus. Hence, those who afterwards violated this law, being compelled by great necessity, and involuntary errors, fell, as we have shown, into this custom of slaughtering and eating animals. The following, also, is mentioned as a law of Draco: “Let this be an eternal sacred law to the inhabitants of Attica, and let its authority be predominant for ever; viz. that the Gods, and indigenous Heroes, be worshipped publicly, conformably to the laws of the country, delivered by our ancestors; and also, that they be worshipped privately, according to the ability of each individual, in conjunction with auspicious words, the firstlings of fruits, and annual cakes. So that this law ordains, that divinity should be venerated by the first offerings of fruit which are used by men, and cakes, made of the fine flour of wheat.”


SOURCE  Project Gutenberg

About sooteris kyritsis

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