A Medical Justification for Taking Part in a Feast

Some helpful advice for all our friends taking part in feasts this week

Plutarch, Table Talk 662 c–d

“He said, ‘We only unwillingly and rarely use pain as a tool for treatment because it is the most violent. No one could expel pleasure from all the other medical interventions even if he wanted to—for pleasure accompanies food, sleep, baths, massages, and relaxation, all of which help to revive a sick person by wearing away foreign elements with a great abundance of what is natural.

What pain, what deprivation, what kind of poisonous substance could so easily and quickly resolve a disease that it, once it is cleansed at the right time, wine may also be given to those who want it? Food, when it is delivered with pleasure, resolves every kind of malady and returns us to our natural state, just as a clear sky returning after a storm.’”

“σμικρὰ γάρ,” ἔφη, “καὶ ἄκοντες ὡς βιαιοτάτῳ τῶν ὀργάνων ἀλγηδόνι προσχρώμεθα· τῶν δ᾿ ἄλλων οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ βουλόμενος ἀπώσαιτο τὴν ἡδονήν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τροφαῖς καὶ ὕπνοις καὶ περὶ λουτρὰ καὶ ἀλείμματα καὶ κατακλίσεις ἀεὶ πάρεστιν καὶ συνεκδέχεται καὶ συνεκτιθηνεῖται τὸν κάμνοντα, πολλῷ τῷ οἰκείῳ καὶ κατὰ φύσιν ἐξαμαυροῦσα τὸ ἀλλότριον. ποία γὰρ ἀλγηδών, τίς ἔνδεια, ποῖον δηλητήριον οὕτω ῥᾳδίως καὶ ἀφελῶς νόσον ἔλυσεν, ὡς λουτρὸν ἐν καιρῷ γενόμενον καὶ οἶνος δοθεὶς δεομένοις; καὶ τροφὴ παρελθοῦσα μεθ᾿ ἡδονῆς εὐθὺς ἔλυσε τὰ δυσχερῆ πάντα καὶ κατέστησεν εἰς τὸ οἰκεῖον τὴν φύσιν, ὥσπερ εὐδίας καὶ γαλήνης γενομένης.

Image result for medieval manuscript banquet
Le Banquet des Vœux du Paon, Jean Wauquelin, Les faits et conquêtes d’Alexandre le Grand, Flandre, atelier de Mons, 1448-1449, Paris, BnF

What Color Will the Child Be?

“[There were] concerns and conversations about how dark [Archie’s] skin might be when he’s born.”–Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

“I was a bit shocked. That was right at the beginning . . . ’What will the kids look like?’”–Harry, Duke of Sussex

Aristotle. History of Animals. VII.6

“Children look like their parents or their ancestors, though in some instances they look like none of them at all. Parents even pass their features through multiple generations, as was the case with the woman in Sicily who committed adultery with a black man: her daughter was not born black, but her daughter’s child was.”

Καὶ ἐοικότες δὲ τοῖς γεννήσασιν ἢ τοῖς ἄνωθεν γονεῦσιν, ὁτὲ δ’οὐδὲν οὐδενί.
Ἀποδίδωσι δὲ καὶ διὰ πλειόνων γενῶν, οἷον ἐν Σικελίᾳ ἡ τῷ Αἰθίοπι μοιχευθεῖσα· ἡ μὲν γὰρ θυγάτηρ ἐγένετο οὐκ Αἰθίοψ, τὸ δ’ ἐκ ταύτης.

Asclepiades. Greek Anthology. 5.210

Didyme grabbed me with her eyes.
I melt, wax near fire, seeing her beauty.
So what if she’s black!
Coals are too, but we heat them
And they glow like rosebuds!

Τὠφθαλμῷ Διδύμη με συνήρπασεν: ὤμοι, ἐγὼ δὲ
τήκομαι, ὡς κηρὸς πὰρ πυρί, κάλλος ὁρῶν.
εἰ δὲ μέλαινα, τί τοῦτο; καὶ ἄνθρακες: ἀλλ᾽ὅτε κείνους
θάλψωμεν, λάμπους᾽ ὡς ῥόδεαι κάλυκες.

Picture of Meghan and Harry and their baby.
Getty Images

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 featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Forget Plagues, Running Can Kill You!

Hippocrates of Cos, Epidemics 48

“A young man who had run on a rough road developed pain in his heel, especially close to the bottom. The area did not permit any draining of liquid because it was still producing moisture. On the fourth day, after his run, the whole area started turning dark right up to the joint of the ankle and below to the arch of the foot. It did not break out completely, instead he died first. He lived twenty full days after his run.”

Νεηνίσκος ὁδὸν τρηχείην τροχάσας ἤλγει τὴν πτέρνην, μάλιστα τὸ κάτω μέρος, ἀπόστασιν δὲ ὁ τόπος οὐκ ἐλάμβανεν οὐδεμίαν ὡς ξυνάγων ὑγρόν. ἀλλὰ τεταρταίῳ τε ἐόντι αὐτῷ ἐμελαίνετο πᾶς ὁ τόπος ἄχρι τοῦ ἀστραγάλου καλεομένου καὶ τοῦ κοίλου τοῦ κατὰ τὸ στῆθος τοῦ ποδός, καὶ τὸ μελανθὲν οὐ περιερράγη, ἀλλὰ πρότερον ἐτελεύτα· τὰς πάσας δὲ ἐβίου ἡμέρας εἴκοσιν ἀπὸ τοῦ δρόμου.

File:Greek vase with runners at the panathenaic games 530 bC.jpg
These men are running to their doom. A vase for the Panathenaic games

Hippocrates’ Cutting Edge Women’s Health for the Supreme Court

Hippocrates, On Girls

“Blood returns only slowly from the heart and mind because the veins there are transverse and the place is really important and is inclined toward madness and anger. Whenever these parts are filled, a wandering shiver moves about with a fever. When the situation is like this, a woman goes into a rage because of the inflammation. She wants to murder because of the rotting. And because of the depression, she is frightened and afraid. The compression around the heart cause them to want to self-harm and because of the evil state of the blood, her mind is sad and sorrowful and longs for evil.

She also names weird and frightening things that push women to leap or to throw themselves in wells or hang themselves. Even when there are no visions, there’s some strange pleasure that makes her long for death as if it is a kind of good thing. When a woman is sensible again, women will dedicate many different things to Artemis, including really expensive women’s cloaks all because they are tricked by prophets.

Relief from this disease comes whenever there is nothing impeding the flow of blood. I tell young women who are suffering this kind of thing to live with a man as soon as possible, since, if they are pregnant, they become healthy. Otherwise, a girl will be overtaken by this disease or another in puberty or a little latter on.  Barren married women sometimes suffer these things.”

ἐκ δὲ τῆς καρδίης καὶ τῶν φρενῶν βραδέως παλιρροεῖ· ἐπικάρσιαι γὰρ αἱ φλέβες καὶ ὁ τόπος ἐπίκαιρος ἔς τε παραφροσύνην καὶ μανίην ἕτοιμος. ὁπόταν γὰρ πληρωθέωσι ταῦτα τὰ μέρεα, καὶ φρίκη ξὺν πυρετῷ ἀναΐσσει πλανήτης. ἐχόντων δὲ τούτων ὧδε, ὑπὸ μὲν τῆς ὀξυφλεγμασίης μαίνεται, ὑπὸ δὲ τῆς σηπεδόνος φονᾷ, ὑπὸ δὲ τοῦ ζοφεροῦ φοβέεται καὶ δέδοικεν, ὑπὸ δὲ τῆς περὶ τὴν καρδίην πιέξιος ἀγχόνας κραίνουσιν, ὑπὸ δὲ τῆς κακίης τοῦ αἵματος ἀλύων καὶ ἀδημονέων ὁ θυμὸς κακὸν ἐφέλκεται.

ἕτερον δὲ καὶ φοβερὰ ὀνομάζει· καὶ κελεύουσιν ἅλλεσθαι καὶ καταπίπτειν ἐς φρέατα ἢ ἄγχεσθαι, ἅτε ἀμείνονά τε ἐόντα καὶ χρείην ἔχοντα παντοίην. ὁκότε δὲ ἄνευ φαντασμάτων, ἡδονή τις ἀφ᾿ ἧς ἐρᾷ τοῦ θανάτου ὥσπερ τινὸς ἀγαθοῦ. φρονεούσης δὲ τῆς ἀνθρώπου, τῇ Ἀρτέμιδι αἱ γυναῖκες ἄλλα τε πολλὰ καὶ τὰ ἱμάτια τὰ πολυτελέστατα καθιεροῦσι τῶν γυναικείων, κελευόντων τῶν μάντεων ἐξαπατεώμεναι. ἡ δὲ τῆσδε ἀπαλλαγή, ὁκόταν μὴ ἐμποδίζῃ τι τοῦ αἵματος τὴν ἀπόρρυσιν. κελεύω δὴ τὰς παρθένους, ὁκόταν τι τοιοῦτο πάσχωσιν, ὡς τάχιστα ξυνοικῆσαι ἀνδράσιν· ἢν γὰρ κυήσωσιν, ὑγιέες γίνονται.  εἰ δὲ μή, ἢ εὐθέως ἅμα τῇ ἥβῃ ἢ ὀλίγον ὕστερον ἁλώσεται, εἴπερ μὴ ἑτέρῃ νούσῳ. τῶν δὲ ἠνδρωμένων γυναικῶν στεῖραι ταῦτα πάσχουσιν.

Hippocrates sticks to this logic elsewhere too.

Joseph Mallord William Turner – Vision of Medea, 1828

Animal Perception and Understanding

Plutarch, The Cleverness of Animals Moralia 961 a-b

“And here is the argument of Strato the Natural Philosopher demonstrating that it is not possible to sense anything at all without the power of thought. It is true that we may travel over letters with our sight and words fall on our ears which escape us since we are paying attention to other things. But later the mind returns, changes, and pursues each of the details which were overlooked. And this is what the saying means “the mind sees and the mind hears, but the rest is deaf and blind.” And so experiences which impact the eyes or ears do not yield understanding unless thought is present.

This is why Kleomenes the king, when a performance was applauded at a symposium and he was asked whether it seemed fine to him, he said that others should think about it, since he was worrying about the Peloponnese. From this it is necessary that all creatures who have perception also have understanding, if we are able to perceive through understanding.”

Καίτοι Στράτωνός γε τοῦ φυσικοῦ λόγος ἐστὶν ἀποδεικνύων ὡς οὐδ᾿ αἰσθάνεσθαι τὸ παράπαν ἄνευ τοῦ νοεῖν ὑπάρχει· καὶ γὰρ γράμματα πολλάκις ἐπιπορευομένους τῇ ὄψει καὶ λόγοι προσπίπτοντες τῇ ἀκοῇ διαλανθάνουσιν ἡμᾶς καὶ διαφεύγουσι πρὸς ἑτέροις τὸν νοῦν ἔχοντας· εἶτ᾿ αὖθις ἐπανῆλθε καὶ μεταθεῖ καὶ διώκει τῶν προειμένων ἕκαστον ἀναλεγόμενος· ᾗ καὶ λέλεκται: “νοῦς ὁρῇ καὶ νοῦς ἀκούει, τἄλλα κωφὰ καὶ τυφλά”

ὡς τοῦ περὶ τὰ ὄμματα καὶ ὦτα πάθους, ἂν μὴ παρῇ τὸ φρονοῦν, αἴσθησιν οὐ ποιοῦντος. διὸ καὶ Κλεομένης ὁ βασιλεύς, παρὰ πότον εὐδοκιμοῦντος ἀκροάματος, ἐρωτηθεὶς εἰ μὴ φαίνεται σπουδαῖον, ἐκέλευσεν ἐκείνους σκοπεῖν, αὐτὸς3 γὰρ ἐν Πελοποννήσῳ τὸν νοῦν ἔχειν. ὅθεν ἀνάγκη πᾶσιν, οἷς τὸ αἰσθάνεσθαι, καὶ τὸ νοεῖν ὑπάρχειν, εἰ τῷ νοεῖν αἰσθάνεσθαι πεφύκαμεν

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British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 47r

Writing about the Cause of Madness

Pseudo-Hippocrates. Epist. 17 9.352, 354, 356 

“When I [Hippocrates] was near [Democritus], he happened to be writing something eagerly and forcefully when I arrived. So I said. “First, tell me what you are writing about.” And, after he paused for a bit, said “madness.”

So I said, “But what are you writing about madness?” He responded, “What would I write except what it may be, how it afflicts human beings, and in what way it may be treated. This is why,” he continued, “I cut up all these animals you are looking at. It is not because I hate god’s works, but because I am researching the nature and the function of the bile.

For you know that the bile is the cause of madness in humans most of the time, since it appears naturally in most people, even though some have less of it and others have more. Illnesses emerge from an unbalanced amount, implying that the material is sometimes helpful and sometimes harmful.”

I added, “By Zeus, Democritus, you are speaking truthfully and prudently and this is why I think you are blessed for having achieving such a sense of peace. This has certainly not been allotted to me.”

Then he asked, “Why, Hippocrates, has it not?” I responded, “Because fields, my home, children, debts, illnesses, deaths, servants, marriages and all these kinds of things cut off any chance for it.”

At this, that man fell into his customary behavior—he laughed deeply and mocked me and then was silent for the rest of the time.”

ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐπλησίαζον, ἔτυχεν ὅτε ἐπῆλθον αὐτέῳ, τι1 δή ποτε γράφων ἐνθουσιωδῶς καὶ μεθ’ ὁρμῆς. [. . .]

[ΙΠ.] “καὶ πρῶτόν γε τί τοῦτο τυγχάνεις γράφων φράζε.” [. . .]

ὁ δ᾽ ἐπισχὼν ὀλίγον, “περὶ μανίης,” ἔφη. [. . .]

[ΙΠ.] “ἀλλὰ τί περὶ μανίης γράφεις;”

“τί γάρ,” εἶπεν, “ἄλλο, πλὴν ἥτις τε εἴη, καὶ ὅκως ἀνθρώποισιν ἐγγίνεται, καὶ τίνα τρόπον ἀπολωφέοιτο· τά τε γὰρ ζῷα ταῦτα ὁκόσα, ἔφη, ὁρῇς, τουτέου μέντοι γε ἀνατέμνω εἵνεκα, οὐ μισέων θεοῦ ἔργα, χολῆς δὲ διζήμενος φύσιν καὶ θέσιν· οἶσθα γὰρ ἀνθρώπων παρακοπῆς ὡς αἰτίη ἐπιτοπολὺ αὕτη πλεονάσασα, ἐπεὶ πᾶσι μὲν φύσει ἐνυπάρχει, ἀλλὰ παρ’ οἷς μὲν ἔλαττον, παρ’ οἷς δέ τι πλέον· ἡ δ’ ἀμετρίη αὐτέης νοῦσοι τυγχάνουσιν, ὡς ὕλης ὅτε μὲν ἀγαθῆς, ὁτὲ δὲ φαύλης ὑποκειμένης.”

κἀγὼ, “νὴ Δία,” ἔφην, “ὦ Δημόκριτε, ἀληθέως γε καὶ φρονίμως λέγεις, ὅθεν εὐδαίμονά σε κρίνω τοσαύτης ἀπολαύοντα ἡσυχίης· ἡμῖν δὲ μετέχειν ταύτης οὐκ ἐπιτέτραπται.”

ἐρεομένου δὲ “διὰ τί, ὦ Ἱππόκρατες, οὐκ ἐπιτέτραπται;” “ὅτι,” ἔφην, “ἢ ἀγροὶ ἢ οἰκίη ἢ τέκνα ἢ δάνεια ἢ νοῦσοι ἢ θάνατοι ἢ δμῶες ἢ γάμοι ἢ τοιαῦτά τινα τὴν εὐκαιρίην ὑποτάμνεται.” ἐνταῦθα δὴ ὁ ἀνὴρ εἰς τὸ εἰωθὸς πάθος κατηνέχθη, καὶ μάλα ἀθρόον τι ἀνεκάγχασε, καὶ ἐπετώθασε, καὶ τὸ λοιπὸν ἡσυχίην ἦγεν.

Dosso Dossi, 1540

Have You Tried Stabbing the Coronavirus?

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 34.151

“There are other medicinal applications of iron beyond surgery. For when a circle is drawn around both adults and infants—or of they carry a sharp iron weapon with them—it is useful against poisonous drugs. Iron nails which have been taken out of tombs are useful protections against nightmares if they are hammered down before a threshold.

A small penetration with an iron weapon which has wounded a man is effective against sudden side and chest pains. Some afflictions are treated by cauterization, especially true for the bite of a rabid dog, since even when the disease has advanced and those afflicted are starting to exhibit fear of water, they experience relief at cauterization. The drinking of water which has been heated with burning iron is good for many symptoms, but especially for dysentery.”

XLIV. Medicina e ferro est et alia quam secandi. namque et circumscribi circulo terve circumlato mucrone et adultis et infantibus prodest contra noxia medicamenta, et praefixisse in limine evulsos sepulchris clavos adversus nocturnas lymphationes, pungique leviter mucrone, quo percussus homo sit, contra dolores laterum pectorumque subitos, qui punctionem adferant. quaedam ustione sanantur, privatim vero canis rabidi morsus, quippe etiam praevalente morbo expaventesque potum usta plaga ilico liberantur. calfit etiam ferro candente potus in multis vitiis, privatim vero dysentericis.

Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1462, Folio 16r

Some Exercise Advice for the Ancient Beach Body

Celsus, 1.2.5-7

“Whether domestic or civic duties occupy you, keep some time of the day for caring for the body. The chief way of caring for the body is exercise and it should always be done before eating. The work should be greater for one who has labored less and digested well and less for one who is tired and has not digested.

Good exercises include reading aloud, drilling, playing ball, running, walking. The last is not the most useful on a level road, since going up or down moves the body with a variety, unless the body is completely weak. It is better to walk out in the open than under a roof. And it is also better, should your head endure it, to walk in the sun instead of the shade. But better still in the shade than under a roof and better a straight than an indirect walk.

The end of exercise, moreover, should come with sweat or some bit of tiring which should still be on this side of fatigue. Sometimes more and sometimes less needs to be done. But one should not follow the model of athletes with their fixed rule and excessive workout.”

Quem interdiu vel domestica vel civilia officia tenuerunt, huic tempus aliquod servandum curationi corporis sui est. Prima autem eius curatio exercitatio est, quae semper antecedere cibum debet, in eo, qui minus laboravit et bene concoxit, amplior; in eo, qui fatigatus est et minus concoxit, remissior.

Commode vero exercent clara lectio, arma, pila, cursus, ambulatio, atque haec non utique plana commodior est, siquidem melius ascensus quoque et descensus cum quadam varietate corpus moveat, nisi tamen id perquam inbecillum est: melior autem est sub divo quam in porticu; melior, si caput patitur, in sole quam in umbra, melior in umbra quam paries aut viridia efficiunt, quam quae tecto subest; melior recta quam flexuosa. Exercitationis autem plerumque finis esse debet sudor aut certe lassitudo, quae citra fatigationem sit, idque ipsum modo minus, modo magis faciendum est. Ac ne his quidem athletarum exemplo vel certa esse lex vel inmodicus labor debet.

Hippocrates, Regimen 2 61

“I will now explore what kind of impact exercises have. For some are natural and some are pretty violent. Natural exercise deals with sight, hearing, voice, and thinking. The power of sight is like this. The soul, when it attends to what can be seen, moves and warms. As it warms it dries because the moisture is extracted. In hearing, when sound strikes, the soul shakes and works and as it exercises, it turns warm and dries.

A person’s soul is moved by however many thoughts it has and it also warms and is dried and it spends its moisture as it works—it can empty the flesh and make a person thin. Whenever people exercise their voice either in speaking, reading or singing, all these things move the soul. When it is moved, it warms and dries and uses up the moisture.”

Περὶ δὲ τῶν πόνων ἥντινα ἔχουσι δύναμιν διηγήσομαι. εἰσὶ γὰρ οἱ μὲν κατὰ φύσιν, οἱ δὲ διὰ βίης· οἱ μὲν οὖν κατὰ φύσιν αὐτῶν εἰσιν ὄψιος πόνος, ἀκοῆς, φωνῆς, μερίμνης. ὄψιος μὲν οὖν δύναμις τοιήδε· προσέχουσα ἡ ψυχὴ τῷ ὁρατῷ κινεῖται καὶ θερμαίνεται· θερμαινομένη δὲ ξηραίνεται, κεκενωμένου τοῦ ὑγροῦ. διὰ δὲ τῆς ἀκοῆς ἐσπίπτοντος τοῦ ψόφου σείεται ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ πονεῖ, πονέουσα δὲ θερμαίνεται καὶ ξηραίνεται. ὅσα μεριμνᾷ ἄνθρωπος, κινεῖται ἡ ψυχὴ ὑπὸ τούτων καὶ θερμαίνεται καὶ ξηραίνεται, καὶ τὸ ὑγρὸν καταναλίσκουσα πονεῖ, καὶ κενοῖ τὰς σάρκας, καὶ λεπτύνει τὸν ἄνθρωπον. ὁκόσοι δὲ πόνοι φωνῆς, ἢ λέξιες ἢ ἀναγνώσιες ἢ ᾠδαί, πάντες οὗτοι κινέουσι τὴν ψυχήν· κινεομένη δὲ θερμαίνεται καὶ ξηραίνεται, καὶ τὸ ὑγρὸν καταναλίσκει

Bikini Mosaic
Villa Romana del Casale

Pliny’s Slightly Less Stupid Treatments for Sickness

Pliny the Elder Natural History, 28.33

“The treatment is for their hands to be washed in water first and then for that water to be sprinkled on patients. However, those who are struck at some point by a scorpion are never attacked again by wasps and bees. Someone who knows that clothes worn at a funeral are never touched by moths or that snakes are only with great labor pulled out out of their holes except by the left hand will not be shocked by this.

Of the discoveries of Pythagoras, this will not prove false: an unequal number of vowels foretells lameness, blindness, or some similar disability on the right side; an even number predicts this on the left. People claim that a difficult birth labor will result in an immediate delivery if a stone or a missile which has killed three animals with a single strike (a human, a boar and a bear) is thrown over the home containing the pregnant woman. This is done with more success with a spear that has been pulled from a human body and has not touched the ground. This works the same if the spear is carried inside.”

remedio est ablui prius manus eorum aquaque illa eos quibus medearis inspergi. rursus a scorpione aliquando percussi numquam postea a crabronibus, vespis apibusve feriuntur. minus miretur hoc qui sciat vestem a tineis non attingi quae fuerit in funere, serpentes aegre praeterquam laeva manu extrahi. e Pythagorae inventis non temere fallere, inpositivorum nominum inparem vocalium numerum clauditates oculive orbitatem ac similes casus dextris adsignare partibus, parem laevis. ferunt difficiles partus statim solvi, cum quis tectum in quo sit gravida transmiserit lapide vel missili ex his qui tria animalia singulis ictibus interfecerint, hominem, aprum,  ursum. probabilius id facit hasta velitaris evulsa corpori hominis, si terram non attigerit. eosdem enim inlata effectus habet.

Image result for medieval manuscript pliny natural history
From Arundel_ms_98_f085v

Weird Uses of Weasels

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 39.16

“There are two kinds of weasels: one is wild and the two differ in size. The Greeks call this one ictis. The gall of both is useful against asps, but poisonous to others. The other weasel, however, wanders in our homes and, as Cicero explains, moves its young on a daily basis and changes its nest, chasing snakes. Its meat, preserved in salt is given in a weight of one denarius and mixed in three cyathi of liquid to those who have been bitten. Otherwise, its stomach is stuffed with coriander and, once dried, drunk with wine. A weasel kitten is even better for this than the weasel itself.”

XVI. Mustelarum duo genera, alterum silvestre; distant magnitudine, Graeci vocant ictidas. harum fel contra aspidas dicitur efficax, cetero venenum. haec autem quae in domibus nostris oberrat et catulos suos, ut auctor est Cicero, cottidie transfert mutatque sedem, serpentes persequitur. ex ea inveterata sale denarii pondus in cyathis tribus datur percussis aut ventriculus coriandro fartus inveteratusque et in vino potus, et catulus mustelae etiam efficacius.

Illustration from “Picture Natural History” – No 8 – The Weasel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel