Safe Dinner Topics from Antiquity: Chicken or Egg?

Plutarch, Moralia: Table-Talk, Question 3, Book 2—Whether the Bird or the Egg Came First

“I had been refraining from eggs for a very long time because of a certain dream. In this, I meant to test by an egg as a Carian would this dream which had come to me vividly and often. When I was dining at the home of Sossios Senecius, the guests developed some suspicion that I was done in by Orphic beliefs of Pythagorean notions and that I thought the egg should be sacred, like a heart or a brain, because it was the initial principle of creation. Alexander the Epicurean joked “Eating beans is like eating your parents’ heads”.

See, these call eggs ‘beans’, playing on the word for conception (kuêsis) and they believe that eating eggs is not at all different from dining on the creatures who gave birth to the eggs. To tell my dream to an Epicurean was probably a less logical as an explanation than the cause itself. Or this reason, I said nothing against their beliefs but messed with Alexander a little. For he was a charming man and a fine philologist.”

Πότερον ἡ ὄρνις πρότερον ἢ τὸ ᾠὸν ἐγένετο

 Ἐξ ἐνυπνίου τινὸς ἀπειχόμην ᾠῶν πολὺν ἤδη χρόνον παρὰ τοῦτο ποιούμενος, ἐν ᾠ ῷ καθάπερ ἐν Καρὶ διάπειραν λαβεῖν τῆς ὄψεως ἐναργῶς μοι πολλάκις γενομένης· ὑπόνοιαν μέντοι παρέσχον, ἑστιῶντος ἡμᾶς Σοσσίου Σενεκίωνος, ἐνέχεσθαι δόγμασιν Ὀρφικοῖς ἢ Πυθαγορικοῖς καὶ τὸ ᾠόν, ὥσπερ ἔνιοι καρδίαν καὶ ἐγκέφαλον, ἀρχὴν ἡγούμενος γενέσεως ἀφοσιοῦσθαι· καὶ προὔφερεν Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Ἐπικούρειος ἐπὶ γέλωτι τὸ

ἶσόν τοι κυάμους ἔσθειν κεφαλάς τε τοκήων,

ὡς δὴ κυάμους τὰ ᾠὰ διὰ τὴν κύησιν αἰνιττομένων τῶν ἀνδρῶν, διαφέρειν δὲ μηδὲν οἰομένων τὸ ἐσθίειν ᾠὰ τοῦ χρῆσθαι τοῖς τίκτουσι τὰ ᾠὰ ζῴοις. ἐγίγνετο δὴ τὸ τῆς αἰτίας ἀπολόγημα τῆς αἰτίας αὐτῆς ἀλογώτερον, Ἐπικουρείῳ λέγειν ἐνύπνιον. ὅθεν οὐ παρῃτούμην τὴν δόξαν ἅμα προσπαίζων τι τῷ Ἀλεξάνδρῳ· καὶ γὰρ ἦν χαρίεις καὶ φιλόλογος

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