The Lowly Fish

Philo. On the Creation. XXI. 65-66.

“Of the forms of life, the most undeveloped and least formed is the race of fish, and the most complete and the best in all respects is the race of humans. Situated between the two (fish and men) are animals which live on land and in the air, for these have souls which are more perceptive than those found in fish but less sharp than those found in humans.

Of living things, God created fish first. Their essence, however, is more that of a body than that of a living thing. In a way they are alive and not alive. They are capable of movement yet lacking in life. The principle of life is scattered in them as if by chance and solely for the preservation of their bodies–just as they say salt is put on meat to prevent it easily spoiling.”

φυχής γάρ ή μέν άργοτάτη καΐ ήκιστα τετυπωμένη τω γένει τών Ιχθύων προσκεκλήρωται, ή δ ‘ ακριβέστατη και κατά πάντα άριστη τω τών ανθρώπων, ή δ’άμφοΐν μεθόριος τω τών χερσαίων και αεροπόρων αύτη γάρ αίσθητικωτέρα μέν έστι τής έν Ιχθύσιν, αμυδρότερα δέ τής έν άνθρώποις. διό τών έμφύχων πρώτους έγέννησεν ιχθύας, πλέον μετέχοντας σωματικής ή φυχικής ουσίας, τρόπον τινά ζώα καΐ ού ζώα, κινητά άφυχα, προς αυτό μόνον τήν τών σωμάτων διαμονήν παρασπαρέντος αύτοΐς του φυχοειδοΰς, καθάπερ φασι τούς άλας τοις κρέασιν, Ινα μή ραδίως φθείροιντο.

Still life with white table cloth and whole fish in the upper right hand corner. To the right are oysters. To the left are a copper pot and a lemon
Edouard Manet. Fish (Still Life). 1864.
Art Institute of Chicago.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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