Meat Heads in Antiquity

An interesting passage in a book I’m reading:

“The morality of meat was, furthermore, an elaborated topic in late antiquity. White it may initially strike us as an odd preoccupation, late antiquity was attuned to the moral qualities of certain foodstuffs. The anonymous Jewish author of the Letter of Aristeas, living in Alexandria in the first century before our era, expatiated at some length upon the moral qualities of animals. Whoever ate a weasel, he averred, was ingesting the very essence of malicious, backbiting slander. Those who ate foxes, dogs, lions or donkeys, were likely to become like them, according to Galen. And Philo opined that Moses had forbidden the eating of carnivorous animals lest ‘the savage passion of anger should turn [people] unawares into beasts.’ Sea creatures without fins and scales were similarly disallowed lest those who ate them find themselves passive when caught in the undertow of pleasure.”

-Blake Leyerle, “Monks and Other Animals” in The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies: Gender, Asceticism, and Historiography (eds. Dale B. Martin and Patricia Cox Miller)

1 Comment

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One response to “Meat Heads in Antiquity

  1. Lucian

    Similar reasonings are to be found in the Letter of Barnabas, but with a Christian twist: it is by abstaining from all sorts of sins and passions that we rightly fulfill the Law of Moses, because the various animals whose flesh was forbidden for consumption therein were spiritual symbols of these iniquities (hyenas for lesbianism, rabbits for fornication, etc).

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