Syllabus [HoST Fall 2008]

For the Week of 9/24/08

Assignment 4

Lucretius and Plutarch’s Diet



On the left is a painting by Goya, ca. 1800, and on the right is one by Peter Paul Rubins from the 1630s.


1-Read Lucretius: pp. 39-66 (lines 62 to the end of Book II) and pp. 67-94 (lines 31 to the end of Book III). 52pp

2-Read the following excerpts from:

Plutarch’s Morals: selected excerpts for this class:



2a-Read over pp. iii-xiii (the first 14 PDF-pages – the outline/table of contents) from Plutarch’s Morals, Volume 5.  You will notice that he writes on all sorts of topics, from critiques of atomism to the proper behavior of women, to the evils of usury.


Then I’d like you to …


2b-Read pp. 3 -15, the section titled “On Eating Flesh.”  (PDF-pages15-28)  This reading is included in order to humanize this period and give you something a bit more concrete rather than all those spheres with singing sirens and numbers floating in some ideal world that exists beyond the senses… Here is an essay on meat and the boundaries of the human diet that is somewhat similar to arguments for vegetarianism you might hear now-a-days.  Notice the type of world he describes back in the old days.  There is much more information in this reading than just trivia about food. 


…and also…


2c-Read pp. 270(bottom) – 284 in a section called “On the Face Appearing in the Orb of the Moon.”  (PDF-pages. 65-79) Pay special attention to section #26 that starts on p. 281.  This section describes some lands and islands to the west and north of Britain. You may find it interesting to look up the story of Cronus/Saturn and his relationship to his son Zeus/Jupiter just to have some background for reading this section.



Plutarch (ca. 46 AD - 127 AD), born in the region of Boeotia, in Greece, in a small town near Delphi. He became a Roman citizen later in life. Among other things, he wrote a work about Plato’s Timaeus.  The book we call Morals, is thousands of pages long and is more like a huge collection of essays.  It is in this work that the chicken and egg problem is supposedly “first” mentioned.  [Always be suspicious of the word “first.”]  Keep in mind that he was a pagan, although his references to God can be quite provocative and make you wonder where he is coming from.


Ideas that you might consider:

-Draw a map including Britain, Ogygia, and the “three other islands.”  Include some distances as given by Plutarch.  [Keep in mind that this may not make sense in relation to our modern geographic ideas.]

-What is the period of Cronus/Saturn according to Plutarch? [In other words how many earth years to a Saturnian year?] 

-Find parallels to the Enuma elish or Genesis or Timaeus or another ancient story in this passage and write about them.

-Who lives where?  What islands are inhabited and by whom?

-What sorts of people go to the island of Cronus/Saturn?  What sorts of things do they learn?  Do these people remind you of anything from other myths?

- Vegetarianism then and now.

-Find recipes or methods for food preparation in the Plutarch.

-Discuss swerve and why it was proposed.

-atomic shape and perception

-finite or infinite number of atoms

-Lucretius’ definition of god or gods.

-post death for Lucretius?

-how old is the earth?

-what is the spirit made of?

-wine’s effect on the spirit

-maggot theory

-implications of infinite time and space and matter


Write: Write a 1.5 (+-) page, single-spaced essay on one or several of the above readings.  Try to make observations across the readings we have done so far.  You could compare and/or contrast some point in Lucretius with Plato or the Enuma elish or Plutarch or something that caught your eye in the secondary sources.  I would recommend that you write on some issue that got you to think or reminded you of something familiar or something that made you mad or confused or moment of déją vu. Write about it in some detail and think it through. Then think about how that issue might be addressed by another author from our readings.  As always, pictures and diagrams are welcome as are stylistic alterations to this assignment.  So long as you do about 1.5 pages worth of work and refer to the materials to which I asked you to refer, I should be happy.  Cite all sources and give evidence that you read the assignment.


Advice on how to read: In general I suggest that you jot stuff down in the margins as you read. (Or jot down the page number and a comment on a separate sheet of paper.)  If you think of some movie you saw, jot it down, if you thought of what you had for lunch… jot it down.  Start to let your mind make connections, not just obvious ones, but ones that may be a bit more cryptic.  Generally speaking, this stuff cannot be skimmed.   The devil is generally in the details.  If you are already familiar with a text, skimming it will refresh your memory.  But stuff like Lucretius requires full attention on the first pass otherwise you probably won’t retain much.  Try to have enough time to get into it.  Otherwise it is just painful and/or dull and meaningless, then school is a bore and you become a bore and a drone… etc.  School is what you make of it.


Citations to the readings.


Lucretius Carus, Titus, R. E. Latham, and John Godwin. On the Nature of the Universe. Translated by R. E. Latham and with Introduction and Notes by John Godwin. Penguin Classics. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.


Plutarch. Plutarch's Morals. Trans. From the Greek by Several Hands. Boston,: Little, Brown & Co., 1870.  [This is what I’m calling the Roman-centric version.]

News of Note:


See Assignment 3 page for information on the Dürer show.


Wilford_Antikythera_Collection.htm – Here are a few very short articles on an ancient astronomical computer.


DePalma-Weather History- data collection for over a century in New Paltz.


Svenvold-Wind-Power_Politics – Wind power and how it meshes with the old boys network.


Angier-Gut_Instinct’s_Surprising_Role_in_Math – Take the circle test 25 times and send me a screen shot of your result and get an extra credit bonus.  I won’t post or show your result.  I just want to get a statistical sample.






Back to Syllabus [HoST Fall 2008]


Me –

Lecture on Peutinger’s (Agrippa’s) map. Galenic Physiology, and Aristoelian matter theory.

Review Materials – Posted 10/10/08


PeutingerMapLectureNotes.htm (This is a link to information on Agrippa’s or Peutinger’s Map.)