Pythagoras is full of beans!

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights, book 4, chapter 11, we find this curious tale about Pythagoras, the philosopher well-known for his vegetarianism and opposition to eating beans.  It is, perhaps, from an anti-Pythagoras source.

11. The nature of the information which Aristoxenus has handed down about Pythagoras on the ground that it was more authoritative; and also what Plutarch wrote in the same vein about that same Pythagoras.

An erroneous belief of long standing has established itself and become current, that the philosopher Pythagoras did not eat of animals: also that he abstained from the bean, which the Greeks call κύαμος. In accordance with that belief the poet Callimachus wrote:

I tell you too, as did Pythagoras,
Withhold your hands from beans, a hurtful food.

Also, as the result of the same belief, Marcus Cicero wrote these words in the first book of his work On Divination:  “Plato therefore bids us go to our sleep in such bodily condition that there may be nothing to cause delusion and disturbance in our minds. It is thought to be for that reason too that the Pythagoreans were forbidden to eat beans, a food that produces great flatulency, which is disturbing to those who seek mental calm.”

So then Cicero. But Aristoxenus the musician, a man thoroughly versed in early literature, a pupil of the philosopher Aristotle, in the book On Pythagoras which he has left us, says that Pythagoras used no vegetable more often than beans, since that food gently loosened the bowels and relieved them. I add Aristoxenus’ own words:  “Pythagoras among vegetables especially recommended the bean, saying that it was both digestible and loosening; and therefore he most frequently made use of it.”

Aristoxenus also relates that Pythagoras ate very young pigs and tender kids. This fact he seems to have learned from his intimate friend Xenophilus the Pythagorean and from some other older men, who lived not long after the time of Pythagoras. And the same information about animal food is given by the poet Alexis, in the comedy entitled “The Pythagorean Bluestocking.”  Furthermore, the reason for the mistaken idea about abstaining from beans seems to be, that in a poem of Empedocles, who was a follower of Pythagoras, this line is found:

O wretches, utter wretches, from beans withhold your hands.

For most men thought that κυάμους meant the vegetable, according to the common use of the word. But those who have studied the poems of Empedocles with greater care and knowledge say that here κυάμους refers to the testicles, and that after the Pythagorean manner they were called in a covert and symbolic way κύαμοι, because they are the cause of pregnancy and furnish the power for human generation: and that therefore Empedocles in that verse desired to keep men, not from eating beans, but from excess in venery.

Plutarch too, a man of weight in scientific matters, in the first book of his work On Homer wrote that Aristotle gave the same account of the Pythagoreans: namely, that except for a few parts of the flesh they did not abstain from eating animals. Since the statement is contrary to the general belief, I have appended Plutarch’s own words:  “Aristotle says that the Pythagoreans abstained from the matrix, the heart, the ἀκαλήφη and some other such things, but used all other animal food.” Now the ἀκαλήφη is a marine creature which is called the sea-nettle. But Plutarch in his Table Talk says that the Pythagoreans also abstained from mullets.

But as to Pythagoras himself, while it is well known that he declared that he had come into the world as Euphorbus, what Cleanthes and Dicaearchus have recorded is less familiar—that he was afterwards Pyrrhus Pyranthius, then Aethalides, and then a beautiful courtesan, whose name was Alco.


Light on Peregrinus Proteus

The second century philosopher Peregrinus Proteus is best known to us because of a rather vicious satire directed at him by Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus.  The satire has achieved a wide readership because it is one of the early texts which mention the Christians.

But a far more kindly, and probably more accurate, portrait appears in Aulus Gellius, book 12, ch. 11.  It is much less well-known, and I give it here from the Loeb text:

11.  That those are deceived who sin in the confident hope of being undetected, since there is no permanent concealment of wrongdoing; and on that subject a discourse of the philosopher Peregrinus and a saying of the poet Sophocles.

When I was at Athens, I met a philosopher named Peregrinus, who was later surnamed Proteus, a man of dignity and fortitude, living in a hut outside the city. And visiting him frequently, I heard him say many things that were in truth helpful and noble. Among these I particularly recall the following:He used to say that a wise man would not commit a sin, even if he knew that neither gods nor men would know it; for he thought that one ought to refrain from sin, not through fear of punishment or disgrace, but from love of justice and honesty and from a sense of duty. If, however, there were any who were neither so endowed by nature nor so well disciplined that they could easily keep themselves from sinning by their own will power, he thought that such men would all be more inclined to sin whenever they thought that their guilt could be concealed and when they had hope of impunity because of such concealment. “But,” said he, “if men know that nothing at all can be hidden for very long, they will sin more reluctantly and more secretly.” Therefore he said that one should have on his lips these verses of Sophocles, the wisest of poets:

See to it lest you try aught to conceal;
Time sees and hears all, and will all reveal.

Another one of the old poets, whose name has escaped my memory at present, called Truth the daughter of Time.


The duties of the Flamen Dialis

Readers of Lindsay Davis’ “Falco” detective novels, set in Vespasian’s Rome, will remember One Virgin too many.  This novel was the last good one in the series, after which they deteriorated.  It featured murders in the family of the Flamen Dialis, the priest of Jupiter in the state cults.  Much is made of the restrictions on the holder of the office.

While reading Aulus Gellius Attic Nights today — an easy book to dip in and out of, for an invalid of classical tastes — , in book 10, chapter 15, I stumbled across what is probably the source for all that information.  Here it is, from the Loeb translation.  Note that the chapter heading is ancient and authorial.  All of the sources referenced are lost today.

15. Of the ceremonies of the priest and priestess of Jupiter; and words quoted from the praetor’s edict, in which he declares that he will not compel either the Vestal virgins or the priest of Jupiter to take oath.

Ceremonies in great number are imposed upon the priest of Jupiter and also many abstentions, of which we read in the books written On the Public Priests; and they are also recorded in the first book of Fabius Pictor. Of these the following are in general what I remember: It is unlawful for the priest of Jupiter to ride upon a horse; it is also unlawful for him to see the “classes arrayed” outside the pomerium, that is, the army in battle array; hence the priest of Jupiter is rarely made consul, since wars were entrusted to the consuls; also it is always unlawful for the priest to take an oath; likewise to wear a ring, unless it be perforated and without a gem. It is against the law for fire to be taken from the flaminia, that is, from the home of the flamen Dialis, except for a sacred rite; if a person in fetters enter his house, he must be loosed, the bonds must be drawn up through the impluvium to the roof and from there let down into the street. He has no knot in his head-dress, girdle, or any other part of his dress; if anyone is being taken to be flogged and falls at his feet as a suppliant, it is unlawful for the man to be flogged on that day. Only a free man may cut the hair of the Dialis. It is not customary for the Dialis to touch, or even name, a she-goat, raw flesh, ivy, and beans.

The priest of Jupiter must not pass under an arbour of vines. The feet of the couch on which he sleeps must be smeared with a thin coating of clay, and he must not sleep away from this bed for three nights in succession, and no other person must sleep in that bed. At the foot of his bed there should be a box with sacrificial cakes. The cuttings of the nails and hair of the Dialis must be buried in the earth under a fruitful tree. Every day is a holy day for the Dialis. He must not be in the open air without his cap; that he might go without it in the house has only recently been decided by the pontiffs, so Masurius Sabinus wrote, and it is said that some other ceremonies have been remitted and he has been excused from observing them.

“The priest of Jupiter” must not touch any bread fermented with yeast. He does not lay off his inner tunic except under cover, in order that he may not be naked in the open air, as it were under the eye of Jupiter. No other has a place at table above the flamen Dialis, except the rex sacrificulus. If the Dialis has lost his wife he abdicates his office. The marriage of the priest cannot be dissolved except by death. He never enters a place of burial, he never touches a dead body; but he is not forbidden to attend a funeral.

The ceremonies of the priestess of Jupiter are about the same; they say that she observes other separate ones: for example, that she wears a dyed robe, that she has a twig from a fruitful tree in her head-dress, that it is forbidden for her to go up more than three rounds of a ladder, except the so called Greek ladders; also, when she goes to the Argei, that she neither combs her head nor dresses her hair.

I have added the words of the praetor in his standing edict concerning the flamen Dialis and the priestess of Vesta: “In the whole of my jurisdiction I will not compel the flamen of Jupiter or a priestess of Vesta to take an oath.” The words of Marcus Varro about the flamen Dialis, in the second book of his Divine Antiquities, are as follows: “He alone has a white cap, either because he is the greatest of priests, or because a white victim should be sacrificed to Jupiter.”

I find that the Loeb translation is at Perseus, here, in the uncomfortable form that make searching so difficult and reading so hard, but is probably most useful for other purposes.


Aulus Gellius thought of his own work as being divided into “chapters”

Book 11, chapter 9 of the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius is a tale from the lost author Critolaus.  It relates how Demosthenes accepted a bribe not to speak against the Milesians.  Chapter 10 begins as follows:

10.  Quod C. Gracchus in oratione sua historiam supra scriptam Demadi rhetori, non Demostheni, adtribuit; verbaque ipsius C. Gracchi relata.

1. Quod in capite superiore a Critolao scriptum esse diximus super Demosthene, id C. Gracchus in oratione, qua legent Aufeiam dissuasit, in Demaden contulit verbis hisce…

10. That Gaius Gracchus in a speech of his applied the story related above to the orator Demades, and not to Demosthenes; and a quotation of Gracchus’ words.

1. The story which in the preceding chapter we said was told by Critolaus about Demosthenes, Gaius Gracchus, in the speech Against the Aufeian Law, applied to Demades in the following words…

At the end of the preface, we find also these words:

25Capita rerum quae cuique commentario insunt, exposuimus hic universa, ut iam statim declaretur quid quo in libro quaeri invenirique possit.

25Summaries of the material to be found in each book of my Commentaries I have here placed all together, in order that it may at once be clear what is to be sought and found in every book.

We learn a great deal from this about how a second century author with a collection of miscellaneous material organised it.

Caput is being used somewhat flexibly, but here we see it used both to indicate the summary of the content of a self-contained portion of a book — a chapter title, if you like — and also for that self-contained portion itself.  We might say “passage”, but there seems no special reason not to say “chapter” and “chapter title / summary”.

This tells us that Aulus Gellius himself organised his work into capita — chapters.  Also that he composed these capita — chapter summaries.  We may speculate that a literary slave may have been used to compose these, as Cicero had Tiro do work for him, and Josephus used Greek ammanuenses to give polish to his works.  But there seems no need to suppose this.

On reading the Loeb, I thought at first that we also knew that these capita (chapters) were numbered at some point.   If we look at book 8 in the Loeb, we find under the chapter summaries (capita) in a couple of cases small excerpts from the lost text.  These, of course, have been extracted by editors from quotation by later authors, who must have specified the numeral of the chapter.  So chapter 3 has a fragment. 

3. Quem in modum et quam severe increpuerit audientibus nobis Peregrinus philosophus adulescentem Romanum ex equestri familia, stantem segnem apud se et assidue oscitantem.

Et adsiduo oscitantem vidit, atque illius quidem delicatissimas mentis et corporis halucinationes.

3.  In what terms and how severely the philosopher Peregrinus in my hearing rebuked a young Roman of equestrian rank, who stood before him inattentive and constantly yawning.

. . . and saw him continually yawning and noticed the degenerate dreaminess expressed in his attitude of mind and body.

But what does the actual source say?  Well, the Loeb note on the fragment says:

 This fragment is preserved by Nonius, II, p121, 19, s.v. halucinari.

That’s not very helpful, is it?  I must admit that the over-brevity of Loeb references always annoyed me!  What normal person could follow such a reference?  Even I don’t know who “Nonius” is, and I have a better grasp of ancient literature than almost anyone not professionally active.  Which work, which edition, I wonder, is meant? 

But the  mention of a work at the end suggests a dictionary compiler, and a search brings first the Wikipedia article for Nonius Marcellus, a 4-5th century grammarian, then W.M.Lindsay’s 1901 article, and then Muller’s 1888 edition: vol. 1, and vol.2.  Finally Lindsay’s 1903 Teubner, vol. 1vol. 2 and vol. 3.  All I have to do now is track down the reference, and even so, it is still nearly impossible.

After two hours struggle, I find that the correct reference is book 2, which is in vol. 1 of Lindsay, in the section under H (which is NOT in alphabetical order), Lindsay p. 175.  At the head of this page are some gnomic numerals “121. 122 M.”  The “page” is therefore a reference to some elderly standard edition.  This reads:

HALVCINARI, aberrare et non consistere atque dissolvi et obstupefieri atque tardari honeste veteres dixerunt, ut est (cf. Gell. VIII, 3): ‘et adsiduo oscitantem vidit atque illius quidem delicatissimas mentis et corporis alucinationes’.

But this gives no textual link to Aulus Gellius.  So my initial impression here was mistaken.  Possibly some of the other fragments will give us more information, but I lack the time to pursue this now.

There is more we could learn, if we knew more about the textual history of this collection of all the capita, immediately following the preface.  Because book 8 of the Attic Nights is lost.  Yet we do have the capita for book 8.  This means that either the collection of all the capita was transmitted at the correct place; or, that the collection of capita circulated independently.

All this is valuable information on the way in which ancient authors worked.  They did have chapters, if they chose.  They did have chapter titles, if they chose.  They did have chapter numbers, if they chose.

So is there really any case for denying the authenticity of any transmitted chapter divisions, numerals, and headings, unless we find multiple different ones in the manuscripts?  If so, what is it? 


Why the life of men is like a lump of iron, according to Cato “Carmen de Moribus”

Book 11 of Aulus Gellius preserves a delightful remark by Cato the Elder from the lost Carmen de Moribus:

Indeed, human life is very like iron. If you use it, it wears out; if you do not, it is nevertheless consumed by rust. In the same way we see men worn out by toil; if you toil not, sluggishness and torpor are more injurious than toil.

Thanks to Bill Thayer for making this available online.




From my diary

My enquiry about cost of a book cover brought back a quotation of 600 GBP for a cover with plain text on it, and 1200 GBP if some picture research was required.  That’s well outside my budget.  I’ve today posted a job on the Student Gems website for a student doing graphic design for the same job.  Let’s see if I can get something more in line with my expectations.

I’m stuck at home with a virus still, which gives me a blinding headache.  But to stave off boredom I’m reading the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius.  I’ve been turning over the corner on those passages I will want to revisit – a bad habit of mine, but then, what else can one do?  In a way, this is like what Gellius himself did, extracting passages from his reading.  Perhaps the Attic Nights might claim to be the first blog!

Rather surprisingly I cannot find PDF’s of the Loeb translation by the American academic John C. Rolfe online.  It was published in 1927-8, and must be out of copyright in the USA, I would think (unless it was renewed).

After considerable searching online I find that Prof. Rolfe’s death is mentioned in the introduction to the Loeb Quintus Curtius, which I found in a snippet: “John Carew Rolfe October 15, 1859-March 27, 1943 It is with a profound sense of a personal loss that the Editors of the Loeb Classical Library record here the death of Professor Rolfe…”  So he died in 1943, which means his work comes out of copyright in Euroland in 2013.


If only we had a time-machine to take us back to ancient Rome!

Reading in bed can be perilous.  I was just reading this in Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights (book 5, ch. 4), and had to get up and write about it:

4.  On the word duovicesimus, which is unknown to the general public, but occurs frequently in the writings of the learned.

I chanced to be sitting in a bookshop in the Sigillaria 1 with the poet Julius Paulus, the most learned man within my memory; and there was on sale there the Annals of Fabius 2 in a copy of good and undoubted age, which the dealer maintained was without errors.  But one of the better known grammarians, who had been called in by a purchaser to inspect the book, said that he had found in it one error; but the bookseller for his part offered to wager any amount whatever that there was not a mistake even in a single letter. The grammarian pointed out the following passage in the fourth book:  “Therefore it was then that for the first time one of the two consuls was chosen from the plebeians, in the twenty-second (duovicesimo) year after the Gauls captured Rome.”  “It ought,” to read, not duovicesimo, but duo et vicesimo or twenty-second; for what is the meaning of duovicesimo?” . . . 3 Varro in the sixteenth book of his Antiquities of Man; there he wrote as follows: “He died in the twenty-second year (duovicesimo); he was king for twenty-one years.” . . .

1. Quintus Fabius Pictor, who was sent as an envoy to Delphi after the battle of Cannae (216 B.C.), wrote a history of Rome from the coming of Aeneas to his own time. He wrote in Greek, but a Latin version is mentioned also by Quintilian (I.6.12) and was used by Varro and by Cicero.
2.  A street or quarter in Rome where the little images were sold which were given as presents at the festival of the Sigillaria.
3. There is a lacuna in the text which might be filled by “This question might be answered by.”

 Ah, which of us would not wish to be there, back in 160 AD, sitting in that bookshop in the Sigillaria, and looking over the shoulder of Aulus Gellius and Julius Paulus, as they examine the aged copy of the archaic Latin Annals of Q. Fabius Pictor!   What lover of books cannot sigh at the thought of that book, of “undoubted age”.

I wonder just how long it was, after that event, that the very last copy of Pictor’s work vanished from the world?

(Thanks to Bill Thayer for the text here).


The transmission of Aulus Gellius down to our own days

Texts and Transmissions tells me that the fundamental edition of Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights is the editio maior of M. Hertz, Berlin, 1883-5 (2 vols).  This is online in two volumes here(1883) and here (1885), although the title pages in these two PDF’s seem to have been exchanged.  The Teubner text of C. Hosius (1903) involved no new work on the manuscripts, and the most recent full critical edition is the Oxford Classical Texts edition Noctes Atticae by P. K. Marshall (1968), 2 vols.  Rene Marache has produced a Bude edition, Les Nuits Attiques

Some details of the transmission and publication of the text are accessible to all in Google books preview here of Leofranc Holford-Strevens Aulus Gellius: an Antonine scholar and his achievement, which seems to be an excellent volume indeed. 

The Attic Nights are quoted a lot in ancient times, as such a compilation of anecdotes and learning was bound to be.  Apuleius (De Mundo 13-14); Lactantius (Epit. inst. div. 24.5), Nonius and Ammianus Marcellinus and Macrobius in many places, and the Historia Augusta 28.1.1, together with Servius (Commentary on the Aenid 5.738, and on the Georgics 1.260 and Aen. 7.740) and Augustine in the City of God 9.4.

We have a fourth century manuscript, even, a palimpsest, written in rustic capitals and containing large parts of books 1-2 and some of 3-4.  It also has the chapter headings for books 17-18 presented continuously, indicating that when new the codex originally contained all 20 books, with the headings at the front, immediately after the preface.

Incidentally I have complained before about the manner in which the unmeaning non-English word “lemma” is tossed around in classical studies, attached to a range of objects as a jargon word.  In scholia it denotes the couple of words of quotation from the main text, to which the scholion relates.  In dictionaries it means the word in its base form, nominative singular etc.  But it seems that yet another use is found in Aulus Gellius studies, where “lemmata” means the index of chapter titles!   To scholars I say: Enough!  Stop using  this word.  It’s simply a barrier to ordinary people.

Back to the text of Aulus Gellius.  It was transmitted in two halves; but instead of books 1-10 and 11-20, as we might expect, it has reached us in books 1-7 and 9-20.  Book 8 is lost.

Books 1-7 are known to us from four manuscripts from France, of the 12-13th century.  There are also quotations in a couple of anthologies.

Books 9-20 are known to us from three families of manuscripts.  The first of these is a single manuscript written at Fulda in 836, as a group effort, on the orders of Rabanus Maurus for Servatus Lupus.  But no-one ever seems to have copied it.  There is a second family of four manuscripts, 9th, 10th, 12th century, plus one 15th century copy written by the great Florentine collector Niccolo Niccoli himself, probably from a 9th century ms., and which was the parent of all the renaissance copies, presumably because it was the easiest to read and most accessible.  There is a third family of three manuscripts of the 12-13th century.

The two halves of the text were first put back together in the early 15th century.  But one other important event took place then.  Someone, somewhere — we don’t know who or where — found something present in no manuscript now extant.  He found the chapter headings for book 8, the lost book; and he found the ending for book 20.  These were added to the printed edition, and appear first in the edition in Venice in 1493.  Hertz discusses this in vol.1 p.406, note; the italics are Hertz’ words, while the normal text is quotations from somewhat vaguely specified early editions.  All they say is that the material came from an “old copy”.