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PLUTARCH’S RULES FOR THE PRESERVATION OF HEALTH. A DIALOGUE. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 1 
Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Vol. 1.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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PLUTARCH’S RULES FOR THE PRESERVATION OF HEALTH.
And you, Zeuxippus, diverted Glaucus the physician from entering into a philosophical discourse with you yesterday.
I did not hinder him in the least, friend Moschio, it was he that would not discourse in philosophy. But I feared and avoided giving so contentious a man any opportunity of discourse; for though in physic the man has (as Homer* expresses it) an excellency before most of his profession, yet in philosophy he is not altogether so candid, but indeed so rude in all his disputations, that he is hardly to be borne with, flying (as it were) at us open mouthed. So that it is neither an easy nor indeed a just thing, that we should bear those confusions in terms he makes, when we are disputing about a wholesome diet. Besides, he maintains that the bounds of philosophy and medicine are as distinct as those of the Mysians and Phrygians. And taking hold of some of those things we were discoursing of, perhaps not with all exactness, yet not without some profit, he made scurrilous reflections on them.
But I am ready, Zeuxippus, to hear those and the other things you shall discourse of, with a great deal of pleasure.
You have naturally a philosophical genius, Moschio, and are troubled to see a philosopher have no kindness for the study of medicine. You are uneasy that he should think it concerns him more to study geometry, logic, and music, than to be desirous to understand
What in his house is well or ill-designed,*
his house being his own body. You shall see many spectators at that play where their charges are defrayed out of the public stock, as they do at Athens. Now among all the liberal arts, medicine not only contains so neat and large a field of pleasure as to give place to none, but she pays plentifully the charges of those who delight in the study of her by giving them health and safety; so that it ought not to be called transgressing the bounds of a philosopher to dispute about those things which relate to health, but rather, all bounds being laid aside, we ought to pursue our studies in the same common field, and so enjoy both the pleasure and the profit of them.
But to pass by Glaucus, who with his pretended gravity would be thought to be so perfect as not to stand in need of philosophy, — do you, if you please, run through the whole discourse, and first, those things which you say were not so exactly handled and which Glaucus carped at.
A friend of ours then heard one alleging that to keep one’s hands always warm and never suffer them to be cold did not a little conduce to health; and, on the contrary, keeping the extreme parts of the body cold drives the heat inward, so that you are always in a fever or the fear of one. But those things which force the heat outwards do distribute and draw the matter to all parts, with advantage to our health. If in any work we employ our hands, we are able to keep in them that heat which is induced by their motion. But when we do not work with our hands, we should take all care to keep our extreme parts from cold.
3. This was one of those things he ridiculed. The second, as I remember, was touching the food allowed the sick, which he advises us sometimes both to touch and taste when we are in good health, that so we may be used to it, and not be shy of it, like little children, or hate such a diet, but by degrees make it natural and familiar to our appetite; that in our sickness we may not nauseate wholesome diet, as if it were physic, nor be uneasy when we are prescribed any insipid thing, that lacks both the smell and taste of a kitchen. Wherefore we need not squeamishly refuse to eat before we wash, or to drink water when we may have wine, or to take warm drink in summer when there is snow at hand. We must, however, lay aside all foppish ostentation and sophistry as well as vain-glory in this abstinence, and quietly by ourselves accustom our appetite to obey reason with willingness, that thus we may wean our minds long beforehand from that dainty contempt of such food which we feel in time of sickness, and that we may not then effeminately bewail our condition, as if we were fallen from great and beloved pleasures into a low and sordid diet. It was well said, Choose out the best condition you can, and custom will make it pleasant to you. And this will be beneficial in most things we undertake, but more especially as to diet; if, in the height of our health, we introduce a custom whereby those things may be rendered easy, familiar, and, as it were, domestics of our bodies, remembering what some suffer and do in sickness, who fret, and are not able to endure warm water or gruel or bread when it is brought to them, calling them dirty and unseemly things, and the persons who would urge them to them base and troublesome. The bath hath destroyed many whose distemper at the beginning was not very bad, only because they could not endure to eat before they washed; among whom Titus the emperor was one, as his physicians affirm.
4. This also was said, that a thin diet is the healthfulest to the body. But we ought chiefly to avoid all excess in meat or drink or pleasure, when there is any feast or entertainment at hand, or when we expect any royal or princely banquet, or solemnity which we cannot possibly avoid; then ought the body to be light and in readiness to receive the winds and waves it is to meet with. It is a hard matter for a man at a feast or collation to keep that mediocrity or bounds he has been used to, so as not to seem rude, precise, or troublesome to the rest of the company. Lest we should add fire to fire, as the proverb is, or one debauch or excess to another, we should take care to imitate that ingenious droll of Philip, which was this. He was invited to supper by a countryman, who supposed he would bring but few friends with him; but when he saw him bring a great many, there not being much provided, he was much concerned at it: which when Philip perceived, he sent privately to every one of his friends, that they should leave a corner for cake; they believing this and still expecting, ate so sparingly that there was supper enough for them all. So we ought beforehand to prepare ourselves against all unavoidable invitations, that there may be room left in our body, not only for the meal and the dessert, but for drunkenness itself, by bringing in a fresh and a willing appetite along with us.
5. But if such a necessity should surprise you when you are already loaded or indisposed, in the presence either of persons of quality or of strangers that come in upon you unawares, and you cannot for shame but go and drink with them that are ready for that purpose, then you ought to arm yourself against that modesty and prejudicial shamefacedness with that of Creon in the tragedy, who says, —
He who throws himself into a pleurisy or frenzy, to avoid being censured as an uncivil person, is certainly no well-bred man, nor has he sense of understanding enough to converse with men, unless in a tavern or a cook-shop. Whereas an excuse ingeniously and dexterously made is no less acceptable than compliance. He that makes a feast, though he be as unwilling to taste of it himself as if it was a sacrifice, yet if he be merry and jocund over his glass at table, jesting and drolling upon himself, seems better company than they who are drunk and gluttonized together. Among the ancients, he made mention of Alexander, who after hard drinking was ashamed to resist the importunity of Medius, who invited him afresh to the drinking of wine, of which he died; and of our time, of Regulus the wrestler, who, being called by break of day by Titus Caesar to the bath, went and washed with him, and drinking but once (as they say) was seized with an apoplexy, and died immediately. These things Glaucus in laughter objected to as pedantic. He was not over-fond of hearing farther, nor indeed were we of discoursing more. But do you give heed to every thing that was said.
6. First, Socrates advises us to beware of such meats as persuade a man to eat them though he be not hungry, and of those drinks that would prevail with a man to drink them when he is not thirsty. Not that he absolutely forbade us the use of them; but he taught that we might use them where there was occasion for it, suiting the pleasure of them to our necessity, as cities converted the money which was designed for the festivals into a supply for war. For that which is agreeable by nature, so long as it is a part of our nourishment, is proper for us. He that is hungry should eat necessary food and find it pleasant; but when he is freed from his common appetite, he ought not to raise up a fresh one. For, as dancing was no unpleasant exercise to Socrates himself, so he that can make his meal of sweetmeats or a second course receives the less damage. But he that has taken already what may sufficiently satisfy his nature ought by all means to avoid them. And concerning these things, indecorum and ambition are no less to be avoided than the love of pleasure or gluttony. For these often persuade men to eat without hunger or drink without thirst, possessing them with base and troublesome fancies, as if it were indecent not to taste of every thing which is either a rarity or of great price, as udder, Italian mushrooms, Samian cakes, or snow in Egypt. Again, these often incite men to eat things rare and much talked of, they being led to it, as it were, by the scent of vain-glory, and making their bodies to partake of them without any necessity of it, that they may have something to tell others, who shall admire their having eaten such rare and superfluous things. And thus it is with them in relation to fine women; when they are in bed with their own wives, however beautiful and loving they may be, they are no way concerned; but on Phryne or Lais they bestow their money, inciting an infirm and unfit body, and provoking it to intemperate pleasures, and all this out of a vain-glorious humor. Phryne herself said in her old age, that she sold her lees and dregs the dearer because she had been in such repute when she was young.
7. It is indeed a great and miraculous thing that, if we allow the body all the pleasures which nature needs and can bear, — or rather, if we struggle against its appetites on most occasions and put it off, and are at last brought with difficulty to yield to its necessities, or (as Plato saith) give way when it bites and strains itself, — after all we should come off without harm. But, on the other hand, those desires which descend from the mind into the body, and urge and force it to obey and accompany them in all their motions and affections, must of necessity leave behind them the greatest and severest ills, as the effects of such infirm and dark delights. The desire of our mind ought no ways to incite our bodies to any pleasure, for the beginning of this is against nature. And as the tickling of one’s armpits forces a laughter, which is neither moderate nor merry, nor indeed properly a laughter, but rather troublesome and like convulsions; so those pleasures which the molested and disturbed body receives from the mind are furious, troublesome, and wholly strangers to nature. Therefore when any rare or noble dish is before you, you will get more honor by refraining from it than partaking of it. Remember what Simonides said, that he never repented that he had held his tongue, but often that he had spoken; so we shall not repent that we have refused a good dish or drunk water instead of Falernian, but the contrary. We are not only to commit no violence on Nature; but when any of those things are offered to her, even if she has a desire for them, we ought oftentimes to direct the appetite to a more innocent and accustomed diet, that she may be used to it and acquainted with it; for as the Theban said (though not over honestly), If the law must be violated, it looks best when it is done for an empire.* But we say better, if we are to take pride in any such thing, it is best when it is in that moderation which conduces to our health. But a narrowness of soul and a stingy humor compel some men to keep under and defraud their genius at home, who, when they enjoy the costly fare of another man’s table, do cram themselves as eagerly as if it were all plunder; then they are taken ill, go home, and the next day find the crudity of their stomachs the reward of their unsatiableness. Wherefore Crates, supposing that luxury and prodigality were the chief cause of seditions and insurrections in a city, in a droll advises that we should never go beyond a lentil in our meals, lest we bring ourselves into sedition. But let every one exhort himself not to increase his meal beyond a lentil, and not to pass by cresses and olives and fall upon pudding and fish, that he may not by his over-eating bring his body into tumults, disturbances, and diarrhoeas; for a mean diet keeps the appetite within its natural bounds, but the arts of cooks and confectioners, with their elaborate dishes and aromatic sauces, do (according to the comedian) push forward and enlarge the bounds of pleasure, and entrench upon those of our profit. I know not how it comes to pass that we should abominate and hate those women that either bewitch or give philters to their husbands, and yet give our meat and drink to our slaves and hirelings, to all but corrupt and poison them. For though that may seem too severe which was said by Arcesilaus against lascivious and adulterous persons, that it signifies little which way one goes about such beastly work;* yet it is not much from our purpose. For what difference is there (to speak ingenuously) whether satyrion moves and whets my lust, or my taste is irritated by the scent of the meat or the sauce, so that, like a part infected with itch, it shall always need scratching and tickling?
8. But we shall perhaps discourse against pleasures in another place, and show the beauty and dignity that temperance has within itself; but our present discourse is in praise of many and great pleasures. For diseases do not either rob or spoil us of so much business, hope, journeys, or exercise, as they do of pleasure; so that it is no way convenient for those who would follow their pleasure to neglect their health. There are diseases which will permit a man to study philosophy and to exercise any military office, nay, to act the kingly part. But the pleasures and enjoyments of the body are such as cannot be born alive in the midst of a distemper or if they are, the pleasures they afford are not only short and impure, but mixed with much alloy, and they bear the marks of that storm and tempest out of which they rise. Venus herself delights not in a gorged, but in a calm and serene body; and pleasure is the end of that, as well as it is of meat and drink. Health is to pleasure as still weather to the halcyon, giving it a safe and commodious birth and nest. Prodicus seems elegantly enough to have said, that of all sauces fire was the best; but most true it is to say, that health gives things the most divine and grateful relish. For meat, whether it be boiled, roasted, or stewed, has no pleasure or gusto in it to a sick, surfeited, or nauseous stomach. But a clean and undebauched appetite renders every thing sweet and delightful to a sound body, and (as Homer expresses it) devourable.
9. As Demades told the Athenians, who unseasonably made war, that they never treated of peace but in mourning, so we never think of a moderate and slender diet but when we are in a fever or under a course of physic. But when we are in these extremities, we diligently conceal our enormities, though we remember them well enough; yet as many do, we lay the blame of our illness now upon the air, now upon the unhealthfulness of the place or the length of a journey, to take it off from that intemperance and luxury which was the cause of it. As Lysimachus, when he was among the Scythians and constrained by his thirst, delivered up himself and his army into captivity, but afterwards, drinking cold water, cried out, O ye Gods! for how short a pleasure have I thrown away a great felicity! — so in our sickness, we ought to consider with ourselves that, for the sake of a draught of cold water, an unseasonable bath, or good company, we spoil many of our delights as well as our honorable business, and lose many pleasant diversions. The remorse that arises from these considerations wounds the conscience, and sticks to us in our health like a scar, to make us more cautious as to our diet. For a healthful body does not breed any enormous appetite, or such as we cannot prevail with or overcome. But we ought to put on resolution against our extravagant desires or efforts towards enjoyment, esteeming it a low and childish thing to give ear to their complaints and murmurings; for they cease as soon as the cloth is taken away, and will neither accuse you of injustice, nor think you have done them wrong; but on the contrary, you will find them the next day pure and brisk, no way clogged or nauseating. As Timotheus said, when he had a light philosophic dinner the other day with Plato in the Academy, They who dine with Plato never complain the next morning. It is reported that Alexander said, when he had turned off his usual cooks, that he carried always better with him; for his journeys by night recommended his dinner to him, and the slenderness of his dinner recommended his supper.
10. I am not ignorant that fevers seize men upon a fatigue or excess of heat or cold. But as the scent of flowers, which in itself is but faint, if mixed with oil is more strong and fragrant; so an inward fulness gives, as it were, a body and substance to external causes and beginnings of sickness. For without this they could do no hurt, but would vanish and fade away if there were lowness of blood and pureness of spirit to receive the motion, which in fulness and superabundance, as in disturbed mud, makes all things polluted, troublesome, and hardly recoverable. We ought not to imitate the good mariner who out of covetousness loads his ship hard and afterwards labors hard to throw out the salt water, by first clogging and overcharging our bodies and endeavoring afterwards to clear them by purges and clysters; but we ought to keep our bodies in right order, that if at any time they should be oppressed, their lightness may keep them up like a cork.
11. We ought chiefly to be careful in all predispositions and forewarnings of sickness. For all distempers do not invade us, as Hesiod expresses it, —
In silence, — for the Gods have struck them dumb;*
but the most of them have ill digestion and a kind of a laziness, which are the forerunners and harbingers that give us warning. Sudden heaviness and weariness tell us a distemper is not far off, as Hippocrates affirms, by reason (it seems) of that fulness which doth oppress and load the spirit in the nerves. Some men, when their bodies all but contradict them and invite them to a couch and repose, through gluttony and love of pleasure throw themselves into a bath or make haste to some drinking meeting, as if they were laying in for a siege; being mightily in fear lest the fever should seize them before they have dined. Those who pretend to more elegance are not caught in this manner, but foolishly enough; for, being ashamed to own their qualms and debauch or to keep house all day, when others call them to go with them to the gymnasium, they arise and pull off their clothes with them, doing the same things which they do that are in health. Intemperance and effeminacy make many fly for patronage to the proverb, Wine is best after wine, and one debauch is the way to drive out another. This excites their hopes, and persuades and urges them to rise from their beds and rashly to fall to their wonted excesses. Against which hope he ought to set that prudent advice of Cato, when he says that great things ought to be made less, and the lesser to be quite left off; and that it is better to abstain to no purpose and be at quiet, than to run ourselves into hazard by forcing ourselves either to bath or dinner. For if there be any ill in it, it is an injury to us that we did not watch over ourselves and refrain; but if there be none, it is no inconvenience to your body to have abstained and be made more pure by it. He is but a child who is afraid lest his friends and servants should perceive that he is sick either of a surfeit or a debauch. He that is ashamed to confess the crudity of his stomach to-day will to-morrow with shame confess that he has either a diarrhoea, a fever, or the griping in the guts. You think it is a disgrace to want, but it is a greater disgrace to bear the crudity, heaviness, and fulness of your body, when it has to be carried into the bath, like a rotten and leaky boat into the sea. As some seamen are ashamed to live on shore when there is a storm at sea, yet when they are at sea lie shamefully crying and retching to vomit; so in any suspicion or tendency of the body to any disease, they think it an indecorum to keep their bed one day and not to have their table spread, yet most shamefully for many days together are forced to be purged and plastered, flattering and obeying their physicians, asking for wine or cold water, being forced to do and say many unseasonable and absurd things, by reason of the pain and fear they are in. Those therefore who cannot govern themselves on account of pleasures, but yield to their lusts and are carried away by them, may opportunely be taught and put in mind that they receive the greatest share of their pleasures from their bodies.
12. And as the Spartans gave the cook vinegar and salt, and bade him look for the rest in the victim, so in our bodies, the best sauce to whatsoever is brought before us is that our bodies are pure and in health. For any thing that is sweet or costly is so in its own nature and apart from any thing else; but it becomes sweet to the taste only when it is in a body which is delighted with it and which is disposed as nature doth require. But in those bodies which are foul, surfeited, and not pleased with it, it loses its beauty and convenience. Wherefore we need not be concerned whether fish be fresh or bread fine, or whether the bath be warm or your she-friend a beauty; but whether you are not squeamish and foul, whether you are not disturbed and do not feel the dregs of yesterday’s debauch. Otherwise it will be as when some drunken revellers break into a house where they are mourning, bringing neither mirth nor pleasure with them, but increasing the lamentation. So Venus, meats, baths, and wines, in a body that is crazy and out of order, mingled with what is vitiated and corrupted, stir up phlegm and choler, and create great trouble; neither do they bring any pleasure that is answerable to their expectations, or worth either enjoying or speaking of.
13. A diet which is very exact and precisely according to rule puts one’s body both in fear and danger; it hinders the gallantry of our soul itself, makes it suspicious of every thing or of having to do with any thing, no less in pleasures than in labors; so that it dares not undertake any thing boldly and courageously. We ought to do by our body as by the sail of a ship in fair and clear weather: — we must not contract it and draw it in too much, nor be too remiss or negligent about it when we have any suspicion upon us, but give it some allowance and make it pliable (as we have said), and not wait for crudities and diarrhoeas, or heat or drowsiness, by which some, as by messengers and apparitors, are frighted and moderate themselves when a fever is at hand; but we must long beforehand guard against the storm, as if the north wind blew at sea.
14. It is absurd, as Democritus says, by the croaking of ravens, the crowing of a cock, or the wallowing of a sow in the mire, carefully to observe the signs of windy or rainy weather, and not to prevent and guard ourselves against the motions and fluctuations of our bodies or the indication of a distemper, nor to understand the signs of a storm which is just ready to break forth within ourselves. So that we are not only to observe our bodies as to meat and exercise, whether they use them more sluggishly or unwillingly than they were wont; or whether we be more thirsty and hungry than we use to be; but we are also to take care as to our sleep, whether it be continued and easy, or whether it be irregular and convulsive. For absurd dreams and irregular and unusual fantasies show either abundance or thickness of humors, or else a disturbance of the spirits within. For the motions of the soul show that the body is nigh a distemper. For there are despondencies of mind and fears that are without reason or any apparent cause, which extinguish our hopes on a sudden. Some there are that are sharp and prone to anger, whom a little thing makes sad; and these cry and are in great trouble when ill vapors and fumes meet together and (as Plato says) are intermingled in the ways and passages of the soul. Wherefore those to whom such things happen must consider and remember, that even if there be nothing spiritual, there is some bodily cause which needs to be brought away and purged.
15. Besides, it is profitable for him who visits his friends in their sickness to enquire after the causes of it. Let us not sophistically or impertinently discourse about lodgements, irruptions of blood, and commonplaces, merely to show our skill in the terms of art which are used in medicine. But when we have with diligence heard such trivial and common things discoursed of as fulness or emptiness, weariness, lack of sleep, and (above all) the diet which the patient kept before he fell sick, then, — as Plato used to ask himself, after the miscarriage of other men he had been with, Am not I also such a one? — so ought we to take care by our neighbor’s misfortunes, and diligently to beware that we do not fall into them, and afterwards cry out upon our sick-bed, How precious above all other things is health! When another is in sickness, let it teach us how valuable a treasure health is, which we ought to keep and preserve with all possible care. Neither will it be amiss for every man to look into his own diet. If therefore we have been eating, drinking, laboring, or doing any thing to excess, and our bodies give us no suspicion or hint of a distemper, yet ought we nevertheless to stand upon our guard and take care of ourselves, — if it be after venery and labor, by giving of ourselves rest and quiet; if after drinking of wine and feasting, by drinking of water; but especially, after we have fed on flesh or solid meats or eaten divers things, by abstinence, that we may leave no superfluity in our bodies; for these very things, as they are the cause of many diseases, likewise administer matter and force to other causes. Wherefore it was very well said, that to eat — but not to satiety, to labor — but not to weariness, and to keep in nature, are of all things the most healthful. For intemperance in venery takes away that by which vigor our nourishment is elaborated, and causes more superfluity and redundance.
16. But we shall begin and treat of each of these, and first we shall discourse of those exercises which are proper for a scholar. And as he that said he should prescribe nothing for the teeth to them that dwelt by the seaside taught them the benefit of the sea-water, so one would think that there was no need of writing to scholars concerning exercise. For it is wonderful what an exercise the daily use of speech is, not only as to health but even to strength. I mean not fleshly and athletic health, or such as makes one’s external parts firm, like the outside of a house, but such as gives a right tone and inward vigor to the vital and noble parts. And that the vital spirit increases strength is made plain by them who anointed the wrestlers, who commanded them, when their limbs were rubbed, to withstand such frictions in some sort, in holding their wind, observing carefully those parts of the body which were smeared and rubbed.* Now the voice, being a motion of the spirit, not superficially but firmly seated in the bowels, as it were in a fountain, increases the heat, thins the blood, purges every vein, opens all the arteries, neither does it permit the coagulation or condensation of any superfluous humor, which would settle like dregs in those vessels which receive and work our nourishment. Wherefore we ought by much speaking to accustom ourselves to this exercise, and make it familiar to us; and if we suspect that our bodies are weaker or more tired than ordinary, by reading or reciting. For what riding in a coach is compared with bodily exercise, that is reading compared with disputing, if you carry your voice softly and low, as it were in the chariot of another man’s words. For disputes bring with them a vehemence and contention, adding the labor of the mind to that of the body. All passionate noise, and such as would force our lungs, ought to be avoided; for irregular and violent strains of our voice may break something within us, or bring us into convulsions. But when a student has either read or disputed, before he walks abroad, he ought to make use of a gentle and tepid friction, to open the pores of his body, as much as is possible, even to his very bowels, that so his spirits may gently and quietly diffuse themselves to the extreme parts of his body. The bounds that this friction ought not to exceed are, that it be done no longer than it is pleasant to our sense and without pain. For he that so allays the disturbance which is within himself and the agitation of his spirits will not be troubled by that superfluity which remains in him; and if it be unseasonable for to walk, or if his business hinder him, it is no great matter; for nature has already received satisfaction. Whether one be at sea or in a public inn, it is not necessary that he should be silent, though all the company laugh at him. For where it is no shame to eat, it is certainly no shame to exercise yourself; but it is worse to stand in awe of and be troubled with seamen, carriers, and innkeepers, that laugh at you not because you play at ball or fight a shadow, but because in your discourse you exercise yourself by teaching others, or by enquiring and learning something yourself, or else by calling to mind something. For Socrates said, he that uses the exercise of dancing had need have a room big enough to hold seven beds; but he that makes either singing or discourse his exercise may do it either standing or lying in any place. But this one thing we must observe, that when we are conscious to ourselves that we are too full, or have been concerned with Venus, or labored hard, we do not too much strain our voice, as so many rhetoricians and readers in philosophy do, some of whom out of glory and ambition, some for reward or private contentions, have forced themselves beyond what has been convenient. Our Niger, when he was teaching philosophy in Galatia, by chance swallowed the bone of a fish; but a stranger coming to teach in his place, Niger, fearing he might run away with his repute, continued to read his lectures, though the bone still stuck in his throat; from whence a great and hard inflammation arising, he, being unable to undergo the pain, permitted a deep incision to be made, by which wound the bone was taken out; but the wound growing worse, and rheum falling upon it, it killed him. But this may be mentioned hereafter in its proper place.
17. After exercise to use a cold bath is boyish, and has more ostentation in it than health; for though it may seem to harden our bodies and make them not so subject to outward accidents, yet it does more prejudice to the inward parts, by hindering transpiration, fixing the humors, and condensing those vapors which love freedom and transpiration. Besides, necessity will force those who use cold baths into that exact and accurate way of diet they would so much avoid, and make them take care they be not in the least extravagant, for every such error is sure to receive a bitter reproof. But a warm bath is much more pardonable, for it does not so much destroy our natural vigor and strength as it does conduce to our health, laying a soft and easy foundation for concoction, preparing those things for digestion which are not easily digested without any pain (if they be not very crude and deep lodged), and freeing us from all inward weariness. But when we do sensibly perceive our bodies to be indifferent well, or as they ought to be, we should omit bathing, and anoint ourselves by the fire; which is better if the body stand in need of heat, for it dispenses a warmth throughout. But we should make use of the sun more or less, as the temper of the air permits. So much may suffice to have been said concerning exercises.
18. As for what has been said of diet before, if any part of it be profitable in instructing us how we should allay and bring down our appetites, there yet remains one thing more to be advised: that if it be troublesome to treat one’s belly like one broke loose, and to contend with it though it has no ears (as Cato said), then ought we to take care that the quality of what we eat may make the quantity more light; and we should eat cautiously of such food as is solid and most nourishing (for it is hard always to refuse it), such as flesh, cheese, dried figs, and boiled eggs; but more freely of those things which are thin and light, such as moist herbs, fowl, and fish if it be not too fat; for he that eats such things as these may gratify his appetite, and yet not oppress his body. But ill digestion is chiefly to be feared after flesh, for it presently very much clogs us and leaves ill relics behind it. It would be best to accustom one’s self to eat no flesh at all, for the earth affords plenty enough of things fit not only for nourishment, but for delight and enjoyment; some of which you may eat without much preparation, and others you may make pleasant by adding divers other things to them. But since custom is almost a second nature, we may eat flesh, but not to the cloying of our appetites, like wolves or lions, but only to lay as it were a foundation and bulwark for our nourishment, — and then come to other meats and sauces which are more agreeable to the nature of our bodies and do less dull our rational soul, which seems to be enlivened by a light and brisk diet.
19. As for liquids, we should never make milk our drink, but rather take it as food, it yielding much solid nourishment. As for wine, we must say to it what Euripides said to Venus: —
For wine is the most beneficial of all drinks, the pleasantest medicine in the world, and of all dainties the least cloying to the appetite, provided more regard be given to the opportunity of the time of drinking it than even to its being properly mixed with water. Water, not only when it is mixed with wine, but also if it be drunk by itself between mixed wine and water, makes the mingled wine the less hurtful. We should accustom ourselves therefore in our daily diet to drink two or three glasses of water, which will allay the strength of the wine, and make drinking of water familiar to our body, that so in a case of necessity it may not be looked on as a stranger, and we be offended at it. It so falls out, that some have then the greatest inclination for wine when there is most need they should drink water; for such men, when they have been exposed to great heat of the sun, or have fallen into a chill, or have been speaking vehemently, or have been more than ordinarily thoughtful about any thing, or after any fatigue or labor, are of the opinion that they ought to drink wine, as if nature required some repose for the body and some diversion after its labors. But nature requires no such repose (if you will call pleasure repose), but desires only such an alteration as shall be between pleasure and pain; in which case we ought to abate of our diet, and either wholly abstain from wine, or drink it allayed with very much mixture of water. For wine, being sharp and fiery, increases the disturbances of the body, exasperates them, and wounds the parts affected; which stand more in need of being comforted and smoothed, which water does the best of any thing. If, when we are not thirsty, we drink warm water after labor, exercise, or heat, we find our inward parts loosened and smoothed by it; for the moisture of water is gentle and not violent, but that of wine carries a great force in it, which is no ways agreeable in the fore-mentioned cases. And if any one should be afraid that abstinence would bring upon the body that acrimony and bitterness which some say it will, he is like those children who think themselves much wronged because they may not eat just before the fit of a fever. The best mean between both these is drinking of water. We oftentimes sacrifice to Bacchus himself without wine, doing very well in accustoming ourselves not to be always desirous of wine. Minos made the pipe and the crown be laid aside at the sacrifice when there was mourning. And yet we know an afflicted mind is not at all affected by either the pipe or crown; but there is no body so strong, to which, in commotion or a fever, wine does not do a great deal of injury.
20. The Lydians are reported in a famine to have spent one day in eating, and the next in sports and drollery. But a lover of learning and a friend to the Muses, when at any time he is forced to sup later than ordinary, will not be so much a slave to his belly as to lay aside a geographical scheme when it is before him, or his book, or his lyre; but strenuously turning himself, and taking his mind off from eating, he will in the Muses’ name drive away all such desires, as so many Harpies, from his table. Will not the Scythian in the midst of his cups oftentimes handle his bow and twang the string, thereby rousing up himself from that drunkenness in which he was immersed? Will a Greek be afraid, because he is laughed at, by books and letters gently to loosen and unbend any blind and obstinate desire? The young men in Menander, when they were drinking, were trepanned by a bawd, which brought in to them a company of handsome and richly attired women; but every one, as he said,
Cast down his eyes and fell to junketing, —
not one daring to look upon them. Lovers of learning have many fair and pleasant diversions, if they can no other way keep in their canine and brutish appetites when they see the table spread. The bawling of such fellows as anoint wrestlers, and the opinion of pedagogues that it hinders our nourishment and dulls one’s head to discourse of learning at table, are indeed of some force then, when we are called upon to solve a fallacy like the Indus or to dispute about the Kyrieuon at a feast. For though the pith of the palm-tree is very sweet, yet they say it will cause the headache. To discourse of logic at meals is not indeed a very delicious banquet, is rather troublesome, and pains one’s head; but if there be any who will not give us leave to discourse philosophically or ask any question or read any thing at table, though it be of those things which are not only decent and profitable but also pleasantly merry, we will desire them not to trouble us, but to talk in this style to the athletes in the Xystum and the Palaestra, who have laid aside their books and are wont to spend their whole time in jeers and scurrilous jests, being, as Aristo wittily expresses it, smooth and hard, like the pillars in the gymnasium. But we must obey our physicians, who advise us to keep some interval between supper and sleep, and not to heap up together a great deal of victuals in our stomachs and so shorten our breath (lest we presently by crude and fermenting aliment overcharge our digestion), but rather to take some space and breathing-time before we sleep. As those who have a mind to exercise themselves after supper do not do it by running or wrestling, but rather by gentle exercise, such as walking or dancing; so when we intend to exercise our minds after supper, we are not to do it with any thing of business or care, or with those sophistical disputes which bring us into a vain-glorious and violent contention. But there are many questions in natural philosophy which are easy to discuss and to decide; there are many disquisitions which relate to manners, which please the mind (as Homer expresses it) and do no way discompose it. Questions in history and poetry have been by some ingeniously called a second course to a learned man and a scholar. There are discourses which are no way troublesome; and, besides, fables may be told. Nay, it is easier to discourse of the pipe and lyre, or hear them discoursed of, than it is to hear either of them played on. The quantity of time allowed for this exercise is till our meat be gently settled within us, so that our digestion may have power enough to master it.
21. Aristotle is of opinion that to walk after supper stirs up our natural heat; but to sleep, if it be soon after, chokes it. Others again say that rest aids digestion, and that motion disturbs it. Hence some walk immediately after supper; others choose rather to keep themselves still. But that man seems to obtain the design of both, who cherishes and keeps his body quiet, not immediately suffering his mind to become heavy and idle, but (as has been said) gently distributing and lightening his spirits by either hearing or speaking some pleasant thing, such as will neither molest nor oppress him.
22. Medicinal vomits and purges, which are the bitter reliefs of gluttony, are not to be attempted without great necessity. The manner of many is to fill themselves because they are empty, and again, because they are full, to empty themselves contrary to nature, being no less tormented with being full than being empty; or rather, they are troubled at their fulness, as being a hindrance of their appetite, and are always emptying themselves, that they may make room for new enjoyment. The damage in these cases is evident; for the body is disordered and torn by both these. It is an inconvenience that always attends a vomit, that it increases and gives nourishment to this insatiable humor. For it engenders hunger, as violent and turbulent as a roaring torrent, which continually annoys a man, and forces him to his meat, not like a natural appetite that calls for food, but rather like inflammation that calls for plasters and physic. Wherefore his pleasures are short and imperfect, and in the enjoyment are very furious and unquiet; upon which there come distentions, and affections of the pores; and retentions of the spirits, which will not wait for the natural evacuations, but run over the surface of the body, so that it is like an overloaded ship, where it is more necessary to throw something overboard than to take any thing more in. Those disturbances in our bellies which are caused by physic corrupt and consume our inward parts, and do rather increase our superfluous humors than bring them away; which is as if one that was troubled at the number of Greeks that inhabited the city, should call in the Arabians and Scythians.
Some are so much mistaken that, in order that they may void their customary and natural superfluities, they take Cnidian-berries or scammony, or some other harsh and incongruous physic, which is more fit to be carried away by purge than it is able to purge us. It is best therefore by a moderate and regular diet to keep our body in order, so that it may command itself as to fulness or emptiness. If at any time there be a necessity, we may take a vomit, but without physic or much tampering, and such a one as will not cause any great disturbance, only enough to save us from indigestion by casting up gently what is superfluous. For as linen cloths, when they are washed with soap and nitre, are more worn out than when they are washed with water only, so physical vomits corrupt and destroy the body. If at any time we are costive, there is no medicine better than some sort of food which will purge you gently and with ease, the trial of which is familiar to all, and the use without any pain. But if it will not yield to those, we may drink water for some days, or fast, or take a clyster, rather than take any troublesome purging physic; which most men are inclined to do, like that sort of women which take things on purpose to miscarry, that they may be empty and begin afresh.
23. But to be done with these, there are some on the other side who are too exact in enjoining themselves to periodical and set fasts, doing amiss in teaching nature to want coercion when there is no occasion for it, and making that abstinence necessary which is not so, and all this at times when nature requires her accustomed way of living. It is better to use those injunctions we lay upon our bodies with more freedom, even when we have no ill symptom or suspicion upon us; and so to order our diet (as has been said), that our bodies may be always obedient to any change, and not be enslaved or tied up to one manner of living, nor so exact in regarding the times, numbers, and periods of our actions. For it is a life neither safe, easy, politic, nor like a man, but more like the life of an oyster or the trunk of a tree, to live so without any variety, and in restraint as to our meat, abstinence, motion, and rest; casting ourselves into a gloomy, idle, solitary, unsociable, and inglorious way of living, far remote from the administration of the state, — at least (I may say) in my opinion.
24. For health is not to be purchased by sloth and idleness, for those are chief inconveniences of sickness; and there is no difference between him who thinks to enjoy his health by idleness and quiet, and him who thinks to preserve his eyes by not using them, and his voice by not speaking. For such a man’s health will not be any advantage to him in the performance of many things he is obliged to do as a man. Idleness can never be said to conduce to health, for it destroys the very end of it. Nor is it true that they are the most healthful that do least. For Xenocrates was not more healthful than Phocion, or Theophrastus than Demetrius. It signified nothing to Epicurus or his followers, as to that so much talked of good habit of body, that they declined all business, though it were never so honorable. We ought to preserve the natural constitution of our bodies by other means, knowing every part of our life is capable of sickness and health.
The contrary advice to that which Plato gave his scholars is to be given to those who are concerned in public business. For he was wont to say, whenever he left his school; Go to, my boys, see that you employ your leisure in some honest sport and pastime. Now to those that are in public office our advice is, that they bestow their labor on honest and necessary things, not tiring their bodies with small or inconsiderable things. For most men upon accident torment themselves with watchings, journeyings, and running up and down, for no advantage and with no good design, but only that they may do others an injury, or because they envy them or are competitors with them, or because they hunt after unprofitable and empty glory. To such as these I think Democritus chiefly spoke, when he said, that if the body should summon the soul before a court on an action for ill-treatment, the soul would lose the case. And perhaps on the other hand Theophrastus spoke well, when he said metaphorically, that the soul pays a dear house-rent to its landlord the body. But still the body is very much more inconvenienced by the soul, when it is used beyond reason and there is not care enough taken of it. For when it is in passion, action, or any concern, it does not at all consider the body. Jason, being somewhat out of humor, said, that in little things we ought not to stand upon justice, so that in greater things we may be sure to do it. We, and that in reason, advise any public man to trifle and play with little things, and in such cases to indulge himself, so that in worthy and great concerns he may not bring a dull, tired, and weary body, but one that is the better for having lain still, like a ship in the dock, that when the soul has occasion again to call it into business, “it may run with her, like a sucking colt with the mare.”
25. Upon which account, when business gives us leave, we ought to refresh our bodies, grudging them neither sleep nor dinner nor that ease which is the medium between pain and pleasure; not taking that course which most men do, who thereby wear out their bodies by the many changes they expose them to, making them like hot iron thrown into cold water, by softening and troubling them with pleasures, after they have been very much strained and oppressed with labor. And on the other side, after they have opened their bodies and made them tender either by wine or venery, they exercise them either at the bar or at court, or enter upon some other business which requires earnest and vigorous action. Heraclitus, when he was in a dropsy, desired his physician to bring a drought upon his body, for it had a glut of rain. Most men are very much in the wrong who, after being tired or having labored or fasted, moisten (as it were) and dissolve their bodies in pleasure, and again force and distend them after those pleasures. Nature does not require that we should make the body amends at that rate. But an intemperate and slavish mind, so soon as it is free from labor, like a sailor, runs insolently into pleasures and delights, and again falls upon business, so that nature can have no rest or leave to enjoy that temper and calmness which it does desire, but is troubled and tormented by all this irregularity. Those that have any discretion never so much as offer pleasure to the body when it is laboring, — for at such times they do not require it at all, — nor do they so much as think of it, their minds being intent upon that employ they are in, either the delight or diligence of the soul getting the mastery over all other desires. Epaminondas is reported wittily to have said of a good man that died about the time of the battle of Leuctra, How came he to have so much leisure as to die, when there was so much business stirring? It may truly be asked concerning a man that is either of public employ or a scholar, What time can such a man spare, either to debauch his stomach or be drunk or lascivious? For such men, after they have done their business, allow quiet and repose to their bodies, reckoning not only unprofitable pains but unnecessary pleasures to be enemies to nature, and avoiding them as such.
26. I have heard that Tiberius Caesar was wont to say, that he was a ridiculous man that held forth his hand to a physician after sixty. But it seems to me to be a little too severely said. But this is certain, that every man ought to have skill in his own pulse, for it is very different in every man; neither ought he to be ignorant of the temper of his own body, as to heat and cold, or what things do him good, and what hurt. For he has no sense, and is both a blind and lame inhabitant of his body, that must learn these things from another, and must ask his physicians whether it is better with him in winter or summer; or whether moist or dry things agree best with him, or whether his pulse be frequent or slow. For it is necessary and easy to know such things by custom and experience. It is convenient to understand more what meats and drinks are wholesome than what are pleasant, and to have more skill in what is good for the stomach than in what seems good to the mouth, and in those things that are easy of digestion than in those that gratify our palate. For it is no less scandalous to ask a physician what is easy and what is hard of digestion, and what will agree with your stomach and what not, than it is to ask what is sweet, and what bitter, and what sour. They nowadays correct their cooks, being able well enough to tell what is too sweet, too salt, or too sour, but themselves do not know what will be light or easy of digestion, and agreeable to them. Therefore in the seasoning of broth they seldom err, but they do so scurvily pickle themselves every day as to afford work enough for the physician. For that pottage is not accounted best that is the sweetest, but they mingle bitter and sweet together. But they force the body to partake of many, and those cloying pleasures, either not knowing, or not remembering, that to things that are good and wholesome nature adds a pleasure unmingled with any regret or repentance afterward. We ought also to know what things are cognate and convenient to our bodies, and be able to direct a proper diet to any one upon any change of weather or other circumstance.
27. As for those inconveniences which sordidness and poverty bring upon many, as gathering of fruit, continual labor, and running about, and want of rest, which fall heavy upon the weaker parts of the body and such as are inwardly infirm, we need not fear that any man of employ or scholar — to whom our present discourse belongs — should be troubled with them. But there is a severe sort of sordidness as to their studies, which they ought to avoid, by which they are forced many times to neglect their body, oftentimes denying it a supply when it has done its work, making the mortal part of us do its share in work as well as the immortal, and the earthly part as much as the heavenly. But, as the ox said to his fellow-servant the camel, when he refused to ease him of his burthen, It won’t be long before you carry my burthen and me too: which fell out to be true, when the ox died. So it happens to the mind, when it refuses that little relaxation and comfort which it needs in its labor; for a little while after a fever or vertigo seizes us, and then reading, discoursing, and disputing must be laid aside, and it is forced to partake of the body’s distemper. Plato therefore rightly exhorts us not to employ the mind without the body, nor the body without the mind, but to drive them equally like a pair of horses; and when at any time the body toils and labors with the mind, then to be the more careful of it, and thus to gain its well-beloved health, believing that it obliges us with the best of things when it is no impediment to our knowledge and enjoyment of virtue, either in business or discourse.
[* ]Il. XI. 514.
[* ]Odyss. IV. 392.
[* ]See Eurip. Medea, 290.
[* ]Eteocles the Theban, in Eurip. Phoeniss. 524.
[* ]Μηδὲν διαϕέρειν ὅπισθέν τινα ἢ [Editor: illegible character]μπροσθεν [Editor: illegible character][Editor: illegible character]ναι κίναιδον.
[* ]Hesiod, Works and Days, 102.
[* ]The text of this passage is uncertain, and probably corrupt. I have given Holland’s version of the doubtful expressions. (G.)