The Homeric Diet

Plato, Republic 404b-c

“One could easily learn all of this sort of stuff from Homer,” I said. “For you know that in the feasts in the camp of the heroes he does not have them dine on fish, and this although they are next to the sea in the Hellespont, nor do they dine on boiled, but only roasted meats, which can be most easily prepared in the camps. For it is, so to speak, everywhere easier to use fire itself than to carry cauldrons around.”

-“To be sure.”

“Nor, I think, did Homer ever mention desserts. Don’t all athletes know this, that one who wishes to have a healthy body should avoid all of those sorts of things?”

Image result for greek athletics


Καὶ παρ’ ῾Ομήρου, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, τά γε τοιαῦτα μάθοι ἄν τις. οἶσθα γὰρ ὅτι ἐπὶ στρατιᾶς ἐν ταῖς τῶν ἡρώων ἑστιάσεσιν οὔτε ἰχθύσιν αὐτοὺς ἑστιᾷ, καὶ ταῦτα ἐπὶ θαλάττῃ ἐν ῾Ελλησπόντῳ ὄντας, οὔτε ἑφθοῖς κρέασιν ἀλλὰ μόνον ὀπτοῖς, ἃ δὴ μάλιστ’ ἂν εἴη στρατιώταις εὔπορα· πανταχοῦ γὰρ ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν αὐτῷ τῷ πυρὶ χρῆσθαι εὐπορώτερον ἢ ἀγγεῖα συμπεριφέρειν.
-Καὶ μάλα.
Οὐδὲ μὴν ἡδυσμάτων, ὡς ἐγᾦμαι, ῞Ομηρος πώποτε ἐμνήσθη. ἢ τοῦτο μὲν καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι ἀσκηταὶ ἴσασιν, ὅτι τῷ μέλλοντι σώματι εὖ ἕξειν ἀφεκτέον τῶν τοιούτων ἁπάντων;


5 thoughts on “The Homeric Diet

    1. Yeah, I had another post lined up (now posted!) on this topic after I saw how popular it was on Twitter. I like your idea of a series. You should turn the ‘Grill Meat with Achilles’ thing into a post – only a few weeks of summer grilling left!

  1. I feel like this could be a series: learn to grill meat with Achilles:

    Il. 9.206–217
    “He put a large meat block on a burning fire
    And placed on top of it the back of a sheep and a fat goat
    And a slab of succulent hog, rich with fat.
    As Automedon held them, Achilles cut.
    Then he sliced them well into pieces and put them on spits
    While the son of Menoitios, a godlike man, built up the fire.
    But when the fire had burned up and the flame was receding,
    He spread out the coal and stretched the spits over it.
    Once he put the meat on the fire he seasoned it with holy salt.
    When he cooked the meat and distributed it on platters,
    Patroclus retrieved bread and placed it on a table
    In beautiful baskets. Then Achilles gave out the meat.”

    αὐτὰρ ὅ γε κρεῖον μέγα κάββαλεν ἐν πυρὸς αὐγῇ,
    ἐν δ’ ἄρα νῶτον ἔθηκ’ ὄϊος καὶ πίονος αἰγός,
    ἐν δὲ συὸς σιάλοιο ῥάχιν τεθαλυῖαν ἀλοιφῇ.
    τῷ δ’ ἔχεν Αὐτομέδων, τάμνεν δ’ ἄρα δῖος ᾿Αχιλλεύς.
    καὶ τὰ μὲν εὖ μίστυλλε καὶ ἀμφ’ ὀβελοῖσιν ἔπειρε,
    πῦρ δὲ Μενοιτιάδης δαῖεν μέγα ἰσόθεος φώς.
    αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ κατὰ πῦρ ἐκάη καὶ φλὸξ ἐμαράνθη,
    ἀνθρακιὴν στορέσας ὀβελοὺς ἐφύπερθε τάνυσσε,
    πάσσε δ’ ἁλὸς θείοιο κρατευτάων ἐπαείρας.
    αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ’ ὤπτησε καὶ εἰν ἐλεοῖσιν ἔχευε,
    Πάτροκλος μὲν σῖτον ἑλὼν ἐπένειμε τραπέζῃ
    καλοῖς ἐν κανέοισιν, ἀτὰρ κρέα νεῖμεν ᾿Αχιλλεύς.

  2. This is a bit off-topic, but your post reminds me of something that has long fascinated me. Reading about the diet of ancient people, I’ve wondered about several related issues.
    First, there is how culture, worldviews, and mentalities have changed over time and diverge across societies; and the study of language, from philology to linguistic relativity, tells us much about this. (E. R. Dodds, Eric Havelock, Walter J. Ong, Marshall McLuhan, Michel Foucault, Julian Jaynes, Iain McGilchrist, Paul Shepard, David Lewis-Williams, Philippe Descola, Eduardo Kohn, etc).
    Second, there is how diets have changed over time as part of food systems and social orders, as diet in its specific sense as food and in its more general sense as lifestyle is closely linked to culture, such that social control has often been enforced through control of diet; e.g., the use of Galenic humoral theory through food bans in Medieval Europe (Food Matters by Carolyn Nadeau, Food and Faith in Christian Culture ed. by Albala and Eden, and The Jane Austen Diet by Bryan Kozlowski; also Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, etc).
    And, third, how changes in diet might contribute to changes in neurocognitive functioning, mental health, and psychological identity, an area of nutritional studies that is quickly expanding in research and theory (Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, The Hacking of the American Mind by Robert Lustig, Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan, and Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride; also Georgia Ede, Ann Childers, Chris Palmer, Paul Saladino, etc).
    So, what does not only Homeric language and behavior but the Homeric diet indicate about the Homeric mind and society? This might be entirely beyond the scope of your writings in this blog. I just thought it was worth bringing up, in case someone had thoughts about any of this. I’ve yet to come across any scholar that covers all of these territories in combination.

Leave a Reply