December 24, 2007

Pythagoras the Vegetarian

[Pythagoras] was the first to ban the serving of animal food at our tables, first to express himself in such words as these ...

'O my fellow-men, do not defile your bodies with sinful foods. We have corn, we have apples, bending down the branches with their weight, and grapes swelling on the vines. There are sweet-flavoured herbs, and vegetables which can be cooked and softened over the fire, nor are you denied milk, or thyme-scented honey. The earth affords a lavish supply of riches, of innocent foods, and offers you banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter; only beasts satisfy their hunger with flesh, and no even all of those, for horses, cattle, and sheep live on grass. ... Alas, what wickedness to swallow flesh into our own flesh, to fatten our greedy bodies by cramming in other bodies to have one living creature fed by te death of another! In the midst of such wealth as earth, the best of mothers, provides, nothing forsooth satisfies you, but to behave like the Cyclopes, inflicting sorry wounds with cruel teeth! You cannot appease the hungry cravings of your wicked gluttonous stomachs, except by destroying some other life!

'Not content with committing such crimes, men have enrolled the very gods as their partners in wickedness, and suppose that the divinities in heaven take pleasure in the slaying of patient bullocks! ...

'The heavens and everything that lies below them change their shape, as does the earth and all that it contains. We too, who are part of creation, since we are not merely bodies, but winded souls as well, can find a home in the forms of wild beasts, and be lodged in the beasts of cattle. Therefore, let us leave unmolested those bodies, which may contain the souls of our parents or of our brothers, or those of other relatives, or at least the souls of men. Let us not dishonour our kind, or cram our stomachs with feasts like that of Thyestes. What evil habits a man learns, how wickedly does he prepare himself to shed human blood, when he cuts open a calf's throat with his knife, and listens unmoved to its mournful lowing, which he himself has fed! How little short of full-fledged crimes are acts like these! And to what do they lead?

'Let the ox proceed with his ploughing, or blame his death on advancing years: let the sheep supply us with a defence against the biting North wind, and well-fed goats present their udders to be milked. Away with nets and snares, traps and cunning ruses. Cease to trick birds with limed twigs, to make a sport of hunting stags with feather-decked cords, or hiding barbed hooks beneath your treacherous bait. Destroy creatures that harm you, but even in their case, be content to destroy. Do not let their flesh pass your lips; live on some less barbarous diets.'

--Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by Mary Innes

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, anarchism, ecoanarchism