Safe Dinner Topics From Antiquity: Why Are Wolf-Bitten Sheep so Sweet?

Plutarch, Moralia: Table-Talk Book 3, Question 9—Why wolf-bitten sheep have sweeter meat but a lice-ridden wool

“After that, we considered the problem of wolf-bitten sheep which are said to have the sweetest meat while furnishing wool filled with lice. Patrokleas, my brother-in-law, seemed to propose a not altogether foolish idea about the sweetness, namely that the bite of the beast tenderizes the flesh. For the breath of the wolf is really hot and on fire—which makes the hardest parts of bones melt and liquefy in its belly.

For this reason wolf-bitten sheep dissolve more speedily than others. We were less certain about the wool—perhaps it does not breed the lice but attracts them as it separates the flesh by the effect of the rough ripping or that special heat. This ability develops in the wool thanks to the wolf’s bite and the breath of the wolf as the hair of the slaughtered sheep changes…”

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Διὰ τί τὰ λυκόβρωτα τῶν προβάτων τὸ κρέας μὲν γλυκύτερον τὸ δ᾿ ἔριον φθειροποιὸν ἴσχει

Μετὰ τοῦτο περὶ τῶν λυκοβρώτων ἐζητεῖτο προβάτων, ἃ λέγεται τὸ μὲν κρέας γλυκύτατον παρέχειν τὸ δ᾿ ἔριον φθειροποιόν. οὐ φαύλως οὖν ἐδόκει Πατροκλέας ὁ γαμβρὸς ἐπιχειρεῖν περὶ τῆς γλυκύτητος, ὡς τοῦ θηρίου τῷ δήγματι τὴν σάρκα τακερὰν ποιοῦντος· καὶ γὰρ εἶναι τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ λύκου περίθερμον οὕτω καὶ πυρῶδες, ὥστε τὰ σκληρότατα τῶν ὀστῶν ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ τήκειν καὶ καθυγραίνειν· διὸ καὶ σήπεσθαι τὰ λυκόβρωτα τῶν ἄλλων τάχιον. περὶ δὲ τῶν ἐρίων διηποροῦμεν, μήποτ᾿ οὐ γεννᾷ τοὺς φθεῖρας ἀλλ᾿ ἐκκαλεῖται, τραχύτητός τινος ἀμυκτικῆς ἢ θερμότητος ἰδιότητι διακρίνοντα τὴν σάρκα· ταύτην δὲ τοῖς ἐρίοις τὴν δύναμιν ἐγγίγνεσθαι πρὸς τὸ τοῦ λύκου δῆγμα καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα μεταβάλλοντος ἄχρι τῶν τριχῶν τοῦ σφαττομένου.

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