How long shall we weary heaven with petitions for superfluous luxuries, as though we had not at hand wherewithal to feed ourselves? How long shall we fill our plains with huge cities? How long shall the people slave for us unnecessarily? How long shall countless numbers of ships from every sea bring us provisions for the consumption of a single mouth? An ox is satisfied with the pasture of an acre or two; one wood suffices for several elephants. Man alone supports himself by the pillage of the whole earth and sea. What! Has Nature indeed given us so insatiable a stomach, while she has given us such insignificant bodies? No, it is not the hunger of our stomachs, but insatiable covetousness which costs so much - Epistola, 1x
In the simpler times there was no need of so large a supernumerary force of medical men, nor of so many surgical instruments or of so many boxes of drugs. Health was simple for a simple reason. Many dishes have induced many diseases. Note how vast a quantity of lives one stomach absorbs ... Insatiable, unfathomable, gluttony searches every land and every sea. Some animals it persecutes with snares and traps, with hunting nets, with hooks, sparing no sort of toil to obtain them . . . There is no peace allowed to any species of being . . . No wonder that with so discordant diet disease is ever varying. . . Count the cooks you will no longer wonder at the innumerable number of human maladies. - Epistola, xcv
If these maxims are true, the Pythagorean principles as to abstaining
from flesh foster innocence; if ill-founded they at least teach us frugality,
and what loss have you in losing your cruelty? I merely deprive you of
the food of lions and vultures ... We shall recover our sound reason only
if we shall separate ourselves from the herd - the very fact of the approbation
of the multitude is a proof of the unsoundness of the opinion or practice.
Let us ask what is best, not what is customary. Let us love temperance
- let us be just - let us refrain from bloodshed. None is so near the
gods as he who shows kindness. - Epistola, cviii
SENECA [5 B.C.- 65 A.D.] One of the most eminent of the Roman Stoics, Tutor of young Nero and his chief advisor, an ardent vegetarian, created a vegetarian cult in the Court at the time of the most voluptuous period in history. But since the early Christians were vegetarian, the Emperor's suspicions were aroused that Seneca also was a Christian, and so Seneca returned to flesh-eating. Later still Nero condemned him to death through jealousy of his musical performances in which Nero alone wished to excel, so his martyrdom might have come the sooner and in a better cause. However, some of the finest passages written on this subject have been by Seneca :
"Since I have begun to confide to you," he writes in a letter, "with what exceeding ardour I approached the study of philosophy in my youth, I shall not be ashamed to confess the affection with which Sotion [his preceptor] inspired me for the teaching of Pythagoras. He was wont to instruct me on what grounds he himself, and after him, Sextius. had determined to abstain from the flesh of animals. Each had a different reason, but the reason in both instances was a grand one. Sotion held that man could find a sufficiency of nourishment without blood-shedding, and that cruelty became habitual when once the practice of butchering was applied to the gratification of the appetite. He was wont to add that it is our bounden duty to limit the materials of luxury : that moreover a variety of foods is injurious to health, and not natural to our bodies. If these maxims are true: then to abstain from the flesh of animals is to encourage and foster innocence; if ill-founded. at least they teach us frugality and simplicity of living. And what loss have you in losing your cruelty? I merely deprive you of the food of lions and vultures.
"Moved by these arguments, I resolved to abstain from flesh-meats, and at the end of a year the habit of abstinenco was not only easy but delightful. You ask then, 'Why did you go back and relinquish this mode of life?' I reply that the lot of my early days was cast in the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. Certrtin foreign religions (Christianity) became the object of the imperial suspicion and amongst the proofs of adherence to the foreign culture or superstition was that of abstinence from the flesh of animals. At the earnest entreaty of my father, therefore I was induced to return to my former dietetic habits."
All the above, while showing us the weakness of Seneca, gives us the habits of the early Christians. who were known for their harmlessness and compassion for all, to such an extent that someone likewise showing compassion to the lower kingdoms was liable to the suspicion of being a Christian - but all these days were very near to those of the gentle Jesus who is so often depicted as being surrounded by all animals - wild and tame, carrying a lamb in his arms, and very far from the days that associate the very birthday of Christ with a Saturnalia of animal slaughter. But if we had lived in the days of Seneca. would we have been willing to die for our convictions? Of such times. he writes :
"How long shall we weary heaven with petitions for superfluous luxuries as though we had not at hand the wherewithal to feed ourselves. How long shall we fill our plains with huge cities? How long shall the people slave for us unnecessarily? How long shall countless numbers of ships from every sea bring us provisions for the consumption of a single mouth? An ox is satisfied with the pasture of an acre or two ; one wood suffices for several elephants. Man alone supports himself by the pillage of the whole earth and sea. What! Has Nature indeed given us so insatiable a stomach, while she has given us such insignificant bodies? No: it is not the hunger of our stomachs, 'but insatiable covetousness (ambitio) which costs so much ...
"The slaves of the belly (as say Sallust ) are to be counted in the number of the lower animals, not of men. Nay not of them but rather of the dead... You might inscribe on their doors: 'These have anticipated death.'. . .
"I now turn to you, whose insatiable and unfathomable gluttony searches every land and every sea. Some animals it persecutes with snares and traps, with hunting-nets, with hooks ; sparing no sort of toil to obtain them. Excepting from mere caprice or daintiness there in no peace allowed to any species of beings. Yet how much of all these feasts which you obtain by the agency of innumerable hands do you even so much as touch with your lips, satiated as they are with luxuries? How much of that animal, which has been caught with so much expense, or peril, does the dyspeptic and bilious owner taste? Unhappy even in this! that you perceive not that you hunger more than your belly. Study not to know more but to know better,..
"If the human race would but listen to the voice of reason, it would recognize that (fashionable) cooks are as superfluous as soldiers... In the simpler times there was no need of so large a supernumerary force of medical men, nor of so many surgical instruments, or of so many boxes of drugs. Health was simple for a simple reason. Many dishes have induced many diseases. Note how vast quantity of lives one stomach absorbs - devastator of land and sea. No wonder that with so discordant a diet disease is ever varying .. Count the cooks; you will no longer wonder at the innumerable number of human maladies."
Of simplicity in diet, Seneca writes :
"You think it a great matter that you can bring yourself to live without all the apparatus of fashionable dishes; that you do not desire wild boars of a thousand pounds weight, or the tongues of rare birds, and other portents of a luxury which now despises whole carcasses, and chooses only certain parts of each victim. I shall admire you then only when you scorn not plain bread, when you have persuaded yourself that herbs exist not for other animals only, but for man also - if you shall recognize that vegetables are sufficient food for the stomach into which we now stuff valuable lives, as though it were to keep them for ever. For whist matters it what it receives, since it will soon lose all that it has devoured? The apparatus of dishes, containing the spoils of sea and land, gives you pleasure, you say.. .The splendour of all this, heightened by art. gives you pleasure. Ah! those very things so solicitously sought for and served up so variously - no sooner have they entered the belly then one and the same foulness shall take possession of them all. Would you contemn the pleasures of the table? Consider their final destination."