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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces the Introduction to
De Esu Carnium


published in Vol. XII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1957

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

(Vol. XII) Plutarch, Moralia

 p537  De Esu Carnium


These two badly mutilated discourses, urging the necessity for vegetarianism, are merely extracts from a series (see 996A) which Plutarch delivered in his youth, perhaps to a Boeotian audience (995E).​1 In spite of the exaggerated and calculated rhetoric​2 these fragments probably depict faithfully a foible of Plutarch's early manhood, the Pythagorean or Orphic​3 abstention from animal food. There is little trace of this in his later life as known to us, though a corrupt passage in the Symposiacs (635E) seems to say that because of a dream our author abstained from eggs for a long time. In the De Sanitate Tuenda also (132A) Plutarch excuses flesh-eating on the ground that habit "has become a sort of unnatural second nature."

The work appears, on the whole, rather immature beside the Gryllus and the De Sollertia Animalium, but the text is so poor that this may not be the author's fault. In fact the excerptor responsible for our jumbled text, introducing both stupid interpolations (see especially 998A) and even an extract from an entirely different work (994B‑D) may well have  p538 altered Plutarch's wording in many other places where we have not the means to detect him.

Porphyry​4 (De Abstinentia, III.24) says that Plutarch attacked the Stoics and Peripatetics in many books; in this one the anti-Stoic polemic has only just begun (999A) when the work breaks off. For a more complete assault the reader must turn back to the two preceding dialogues.

It is interesting to learn that Shelley found these fragments inspiring. In the eighth book of Queen Mab (verses 211 ff.) we read:

No longer now

He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,

And horribly devours his mangled flesh,

Which, still avenging Nature's broken law,

Kindled all putrid humours in his frame,

All evil passions, and all vain belief, . . .

The germs of misery, death, disease, and crime.

To this passage the poet appended, more suo, a long note which ended with four quotations from our essay in Greek, untranslated (a compliment to the public of his day, one may suppose). This note he subsequently republished as A Vindication of Natural Diet (1813), omitting the Greek; and in the same year he wrote to Thomas Hogg that he had "translated the two Essays of Plutarch, Περὶ σαρκοφαγίας." But this has been lost; it has not, at least, been found among the unpublished Shelley material in the Bodleian.5

 p539  This is one of the eighteen works of the received Corpus of Plutarch that do not appear in the Lamprias Catalogue. Such a fact is not, however, to be adduced against its genuineness, since the Symposiacs themselves are not to be found there.6

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 This was Hirzel's opinion (Der Dialog, II, p126, n2), which Ziegler (RE, s.v. "Plutarchos," col. 734) combats.

2 F. Krauss, Die rhetorischen Schriften Plutarchs, pp77 ff.

3 Plato, Laws, 782C. Plutarch, Mor. 159C, makes Solon say, "To refrain entirely from eating meat, as they record of Orpheus long ago, is rather a quibble than a way of avoiding wrong diet."

4 It is, of course, possible that Porphyry used some portion of the missing parts of our work; but this cannot be proved and may even be thought unlikely in view of the fact that he makes no use of any extant portion.

5 These facts I owe to the kindness of Professors J. A. Notopoulos of Trinity College and J. E. Jordan of the University of California; see also K. N. Cameron, The Young Shelley, pp224 f.

6 It is important to observe that H. Fuchs, Der geistige Widerstand gegen Rom, p49, n60, athetizes this work. A further discussion by this great critic would be warmly welcomed, especially since Wilamowitz recognized here also "den unverkennbaren Stempel der plutarchischen Art."

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Page updated: 3 Oct 12