Henry Peacham (1638) The Valley of Varietie, Chapter IV, pp. 26-36.

Other Texts Home
Sir Thomas Browne Home
Peacham Home


Of those Locusts, which the Scripture saith John Baptist did eate: where beside, many admirable things are reported of strange and unaccustomed meats.

Many do wonder what the Evangelist S. Matthew might meane, where hee saith, Saint Johns meat (in the Wildernesse) were Locusts; supposing it to have beene a most absurd thing, and in a manner impossible: withall taking the word ακρίδες, which the Evangelist useth, either for the tender tops of Herbes, Crabbes, or wilde Peares, but by their leaves they are farre deceived. For no Greeke Author hath said, or example can be brought, that ever ἄκρις was taken for any thing else then a Locust, and so named, as Grammarians and Etymologists say; παρά τὸ ἄκραι τῶν ἀσαχύων καὶ τῶν φυτῶν νέμεϑος.

But some may say, the nature of man abhorreth from the eating of Locusts; indeed no, if the Taste may be judge: but it may be (as also all other meats) they may be loathed of some; be it so. In the Law of Moses,1 Locusts were allowed of to be eaten, which surely had not beene done, except they had beene good, and fitting for meat. The Parthians (as Plinie tels us) fed upon them, as dainties among their other meats. Also Strabo affirmeth,2 That the Æthiopians lived most upon Locusts. And our Countryman, venerable Bede,3 tels us out of Archulphus, who had travelled all Palæstina over, That Locusts were most common there, being in shape of body small and short, not much unlike to a mans little finger, which being taken and found among Herbes, and boiled in Oyle, proved excellent meat among the poorer sort.

And they that doubt hereof, will lesse wonder, when they shall know that the Ægyptians did eate Vipers and Adders, as familiarly as wee now adaies eate Eeles. If any make question hereof, let him reade Gallen, lib. 3. de aliment. facultat. The like doe our Travellers testifie of the Indians at this day. Beside, Saint Hierome affirmeth,4 That in Pontus and Phrygia, they usually eate those white Wormes with blacke heads, that lye in wood, and betweene the barke of Trees; and that by Tenants they were presented to the Landlords, as especiall dainties, and some tooke them in lieu of Rent. And as among us the Pheasant, Moor-cock, Finch, Mullet, and Rochet, &c. are accounted for delicate dishes; so were these ξυλοφάγοι, or Wood-wormes among them. Hee addeth moreover, The Assyrians were wont to eate land Crocodiles; and the Africans, greene Lizards. Plinie in like manner affirmeth,5 That the aforesaid Wood, Magots or Wormes grew to be the principall Dish at everie riotous and luxurious Feast; and those which bred in Oakes of the bigger sort, to be the best and daintiest: moreover, saith hee, They were kept in Meale to be fed, untill such time as they were to be used. Among others, Dormise were accounted the daintiest meat; here the Laws of the Censors tooke order6 they should not be admitted any ordinary Table, no more then shall Fish, or Birds transported out of another Country. Some liquorish Belly-gods in France, eate of them continually; and rather then they will want them, they will (saith mine Author7) throw downe Cottages, and poore mens houses, to make search for them. In Cozumella and Iucatana, Ilands8 of the East Indies, and other places thereabouts, they fat a kind of Dogs (which cannot barke) as we doe Swine, and eate them. The Ancients also supposed sucking Whelpes to be so cleane and pure, that they offered them their Gods in their sacrifices; and in the Feasts of the Gods, Whelpes flesh was highly esteemed of. The Parian Indians did not onely eate mans flesh,9 but also (as Apes doe) Lice, Frogs, Wormes, and such filthy things. In the country of Mango there are red Ants (wch as we do Crefishes, or the like) so they eat with Pepper.10

The Tartarians eate the Carrion, carcasses of Horses, of Cammels, Asses, Catts, Dogs, yea when they stinke, and are full of Maggots; and hold them as dainty, as wee doe Venison.11

Surely, the reason why we loath many kinds of Food eaten by others, is nothing else but our opinion, thinking them not fit to be eaten; as wee see in our Europe, certaine Countries to affect the eating of Periwinkles, Frogs, fat Cats, which others cannot abide. The Germans loath to eate of a Slinke (or yong Calfe, cut out of the Cowes belly before it be calved;) but in Princes Courts, both in Italy and Spaine, it is accounted one of the daintiest dishes. And there are againe, that account yong Rabbets, before they be kindled, and out of the damms belly; (as also yong sucking ones, the intrals never taken out) to be of as great esteeme: these are called Haurices.

Plinie in his 19. book, c. 36. speaking of Thistles,12 which began then to be eaten, finds great fault, that the strangest things growing out of the Earth, should serve our riot and gluttonie; yea such as foure-footed Beasts refuse to touch; yet now, these in most places, are usuall dishes, pleasing to the taste, and very wholesome. I omit, how above all meats, the Matrix of a Sow after her pigging, was commended among the old Romanes, as Horace and Martiall testifie. See further hereof in Plinie lib. 11. cap. 37.

There are divers other things from which wee abstaine, not because they are not good to be eaten, but because the commoditie wee receive by them, and the raritie of them in diet withholds us. Of which sort you may reckon Horses and Asses flesh, which our common people doe loath, as if Nature her selfe abhorred them; yet being well dressed and prepared, they oft times prove better then many other meats wee commonly feed upon. The Arabians (as also Iewes) eate no Swines flesh, but the flesh of Cammels is their ordinary food. And in some places (as Saint Hierome testifieth) it was esteemed a most hainous offence to kill a Calfe, not for that it was not allowed for good meat, but because when it was growne great, it was so many waies usefull to man.

What should I say now, of those things which men may be by necessitie compelled to feed upon? Surely, that extreme hunger those of Sancerre felt, when that Towne was besieged, constrained the miserable Inhabitants to eate, not onely Mice and Catts, (which above the rest were dainties) but which is horrible to relate, they were driven to eate all manner of Leather, as upper Leathers of Shoes, Gloves, Purses and Girdles, &c. Beasts hornes, and Horses hoofes boiled in water, Straw, that stone which they call in France, Ardes; and even Mans dung. See the Historie of this Siege, Anno 1573. In a word, the Stomacke of Man is a monster, which being contained in so little a bulke as his Body, is able to consume and devoure all things.


1. Levit. 11. 22.

2. Strabo, lib. 16. [XVI.4]

3. Bede de locis Sanctis. c. 24.

4. Hieron. Contra Iovintanum. lib. 2.

5. Plin. l. 17. cap. 24.

6. l. 8. cap. 57.

7. Boding. in Theatro Natura. lib. 3.

8. Scaliger Exercit. 202.

9. Benzo de novo orbe. lib. 1. c. 3.

10. Scaliger Exercit. 196.

11. Vadianus in Melam. lib. 3.

12. He meaneth Artichocks.

This page is by James Eason.