PlutarchOnEatingFlesh-Notes

 

PDF pages used.  (PDF page number minus 10 is the book page number.)

p. 13

Refers to Pythagoreans not eating meat.  Immediately paints a ghastly image of eating meat… the lows of cows, eating sores, the smells of death, etc.

The question isn’t who first became a vegetarian, but who first started eating flesh?

p. 14

Probably due to hunger. 

… he goes off on the olden times quoting a hypothetical person who comments at how plentiful things are now, but in my day it was hard.  In the old days there wasn’t much to eat.  He describes a world of “thickened air” which obscured view of the heavens, the stars had not yet coalesced and were “a disorderly huddle of fire and moisture and violent fluxions of winds.”  “sun not fixed to … a certain course”  [day and night not defined regularly] seasons not regulated and therefore harvests in chaos.  Rivers flooded willy nilly.  unfertile forests, marshes, no “tames” fruits, nor “instruments of art or wit” 

The early humans were always hungry and cultivation just wasn’t happening because the world was in such flux and chaos. 

They had no choice but to eat the flesh of the beasts.  They were driven to eating mud and bark.  A blade of grass was a luxury.  Flesh was the only option.

p. 15

Acorns, when in season, were the greatest, they virtually worshipped the oak tree.  [ref to Virgil and others with this acorn theory of a golden age.]  But this was only for short part of the year.

This hypothetical early human asks why the moderns would choose to eat flesh when vegetable foods are so abundant?  Why insult Ceres and Bacchus by eating flesh and not their products?  Do you not feel shame mixing blood with “tame fruits?”

You call leopards and snakes savage, but you too kill and eat flesh.  But they kill by their nature, you kill for unnecessary food.

p. 16

But we eat flesh for no reason.  We deprive a “soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.”  We pretend that their screams are just inarticulate sounds with no meaning.

p. 17

The animals are actually asking if we really are hungry or if we are wantonly killing for a luxury.

Plutarch chastises the rich with their banquet tables “with dead corpses.” 

Mamock= ??, but I assume it is the scraps not eaten.  More is left uneaten and is thrown away.  Many people don’t want to be bothered with cutting and dissecting the corpses and also end up throwing away much flesh … because they are lazy or squeamish.  Squeamish! And yet they eat flesh… and are Squeamish!?!

Clearly the human body is not designed to eat flesh.  It in no way resembles the bodies of meat eaters.  It has no sharp talons or the bill of a hawk, or sharp teeth, or strong stomachs… we have to cook meat in order to digest it! for gods sake!  We lack “heat of digestion, as can be sufficient to convert or alter such heavy and fleshy fare.” [Suggests a furnace that digests food.]

Plutarch asks this rhetorical question: Do you kill the flesh that you eat?  Do you do it without a tool like an axe or a mallet, but like a bear or a lion?  Certainly not.  We do it in the most unnatural way.  [Tricky argument here.  Should we only do things that don’t require tools?] Do we eat a lamb like a wolf does… on the spot?

p. 18

Why do you eat an animate thing contrary to Nature?  Nobody eats a living thing without first killing it and then cooking it and then saucing it up. 

The extravagance of it all.  The sauce can contain more actual food in it than the meat.

Plutarch points out how dead flesh is abstracted and called “meat” ocon. 

Mentions “Syrian” and “Arabian” spices. [Trade obviously].  Mentions embalming, suggesting that he was aware of perhaps Egyptian practices of using spices (salt) for preservation of dead bodies. 

“pourcontrel” from the context must be a fish.  Story of Diogenes eating raw fish.  [Unsure what it means.]

p. 19

Meat makes the mind weak.  It clogs it. 

reference to wrestlers… [perhaps they are known to eat lots of meat]

Boetians have a reputation of being fat and slovenly.  

empty containers resound when hit, full ones don’t as much…. too much of a vision like looking at the sun through humid vapors makes it unclear and obscure.  Similarly, an overstuffed body is dull and obscure and inhibited… it won’t resound. 

p. 20

Plutarch comments on a man who flayed a ram alive.  He thinks this is horrible, “torments a poor creature while living…”

Plutarch distinguished what is “against custom” from what is “against nature.”  [This is a good point for class discussion.  Collateral damage.  Slavery.  Prostitution.  Drug policy.  What is the state of nature?  Is there one.  Is there innate knowledge?]

“comedian a machine” probably refers to stage machines

Cites Empedocles (mid 5th c. Pythagorean… love and strife… etc.) for suggesting that there will be a final judgment for those who murder and eat flesh and the flesh of humans….

 

Tract II

He continues using Egyptian mummification factoids.. stomachs drawn out of dead bodies. 

If we eat flesh it should be out of need, not gluttony.  Only kill an animal with sorrow and pity, without tormenting it. 

Examples of nasty methods

red-hot spits through a pig

jumping on the udders of sows ready to give birth… mashing it up inside the sow into one nasty mess.

sewing up the eyes of cranes and swans, putting them in the dark to fatten them up

p. 22

Just like some people cannot sate their sexual desires, some crave flesh in nasty ways. 

He suggests that once you start becoming accustomed to unnatural “measures”, a person becomes used to “distempers” and across the senses distempers are made palatable.  “Thus a distempered ear first debauched music, the soft and effeminate notes of which provoke immodest touches and lascivious tickling…”  produced people who no longer find Pyrrhic dances (dance based on military stuff… performed in festivals and competitions by men in armor and with weapons… thought to have been first performed by Athena herself.) and movements to be refined and beautiful… also lose sense of good painting and sculpture. 

Plutarch appears to be criticizing the games… “slaughtering and death of mankind in wounds and duels the most sumptuous of shows and spectacles.”  He goes on in a similar vein…

 

Very interesting list of woodworking tools: saw, axe, augers, planes.  Augers and planes are more likely to make luxurious furnishings and slovenly lifestyles.

 

p. 23

Luxury items beget more luxuries. 

 

He suggests that animals have souls: feeling, seeing, hearing, imagination, intellection.  Pleasure/pain consciousness.  Self preservation instincts.

How can you take seriously a philosopher who promotes eating children, friends, fathers, wives when they are dead.  Pythagoras and Empedocles promote respect for life.

 

Who started this idea that “dumb animals” do not deserve justice?

 

p. 24

Once Athenians put their first base knave to death, it got easier and easier.  Now philosophers are put to death.  Similarly, at first people ate a savage animal or a little bird or fish… but now we eat the sheep that clothe us and the cock that guards the house.  Little by little we now go to war and slaughter wholesale. 

Interesting ref. to reincarnation of souls and some sort of collective world soul.  He suggests that if you believe in this sort of situation then killing for food will be unacceptable. [I think he is suggesting that you might come back as a chicken and be slaughtered… how would you like that.  Life is life in whatever form you find it.] 

Killing for revenge… ref to some play in which the father/mother accidentally kills the son thinking it is the son’s murderer.  And we can slaughter an animal coldly…. [I don’t fully follow this analogy.]

p. 26

Finds Stoic practice to be hypocritical. They are so stoic and moral and against the pleasures of the flesh and yet they promote eating meat?  How can this work?