The Pythagorean diet the term

The Pythagorean diet 1)↓ officially changed its title to vegetarianism in 1847, when a meeting was held at Northwood Villa, Ramsgate, a hydropathic infirmary run by William Horsell, from which emerged the Vegetarian Society. Horsell, who edited a magazine called the Truth Tester, responded to a letter from a vegetarian reader suggesting that a society should be formed…
 The term `vegetarian’ was current in the 1840s but became official at the birth of the society. Later, a future President of the society, Professor Mayor, was to say the name derived from the Latin vegetus, meaning vigorous and lively.This etymological explanation has never seemed very convincing. From the earliest times a vegetarian seemed to signify someone passive and serene, though such figures as Tolstoy and Shaw were hardly characteristic of this public perception.
Colin Spencer Vegetarianism: A History

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1. This name [Pythagorean diet] of the diet which precludes meat was used throughout the Mediterranean countries and across Europe until the middle of the nineteenth century; it was used in Christian medieval Europe as a term of abuse and by the poet Shelley to describe an ideal way of life. The Pythagorean diet came to mean an avoidance of the flesh of slaughtered animals, but it was no more precise than that. It may originally have been vegan – what evidence we have suggests that Pythagoras’ own diet was – but historically it often included dairy products and may also have included fish. At times historical records are vague on the actual ingredients of some diets, giving merely an impression of them.

Sylvester Graham from "Vegetarianism: A History"

Sylvester Graham (1794-1851), who was an earnest advocate of the health regimen (similar to the Alcott House routine) of temperance and vegetarianism. He was a major force of the times. He was ordained a minister in 1826 and lectured widely on his subjects with particular emphasis on the use of wholemeal wheat flour in bread and baking. His health plan was Spartan – hard mattresses and cold showers and a vegetarian diet with home-baked bread. Graham was a believer in consuming as great a proportion of`raw’ food as possible. His theory was that we should eat what Adam and Eve ate before the Fall. Great emphasis, therefore, was placed on berries, nuts, seeds and fruit. He maintained that to give the best health food should be uncooked, undressed, unprocessed and unrefined. It is astonishing that Graham’s imprint in wholemeal flours and breads is so clearly seen still today in bakers’ and health food shops throughout the country 1)↓.
from “Vegetarianism: A History” by Colin Spencer


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1. and that in the USA wholemeal flour is referred to still as Graham flour… [w Polsce chleb z ciemnej mąki też ciągle nazywany jest grahamem…- przyp – Amin]

anarchic aspect of vegetarianism

Not to eat meat, or to frown on the captivity and killing of animals, went to the heart of society…

It is not difficult to see how the man who collected the largest herds would become the most influential and most powerful in the community. One can also see how, in a community structured around the number of cattle owned by its inhabitants, the idea that their meat was unnecessary to human survival would seem heretical – it would be not simply a criticism of meat-eating but a criticism of power. Power itself would also come to mean moral worth and therefore to deserve reverence. Not to eat meat, or to frown on the captivity and killing of animals, went to the heart of society.

…vegetarianism becomes inevitably a lifestyle which at times is impossible to keep private. Such views may seem quite harmless to the ruling classes and the whole apparatus of statecraft, yet the lifestyle is an unspoken criticism. But, more than that, vegetarianism is one of the signs of a radical thinker, the individual who criticises the status quo, who desires something better, more humane and more civilised for the whole of society. It makes meat-eaters uneasy and they often react aggressively.

from “Vegetarianism: A History” by Colin Spencer

Ancient Greek Diet from "Vegetarianism: A History"

The Greeks of the Golden Age are only forty-eight generations ago; compared to the time human beings have taken to evolve that is a brief second.

When examining food in past cultures we tend only to look at the food of the elite, for that small minority is the one that has left records. However, we should not forget the millions who slaved and worked the soil for their diet is highly informative too. The majority of peoples in the Ancient World were farmers cultivating land which was bordered by wild forest, mountains and sea and these places teemed with life that could be caught and eaten. By the time of the Golden Age much of the forests of Attica had been cut down for ships and the heavy rains of winter now washed the top soil away. Good pasture for livestock grazing was a problem. The majority of people were poor, eating meat only perhaps twice a year at the major festivals, they depended on foods from the wild to flavour and augment their diet. From the wild they ate seeds, lupins are mentioned, nuts and bulbs, iris rhizomes were a favourite and a host of green leaves and herbs. Wild foods were a larder of myriad flavours and textures. It is these foods with their thousands of trace minerals which enriched the diet and which we lack today.


The olive tree, its fruits and oil, was central to the cuisine and agricultural economy of Greece.We cannot now imagine eating a Greek meal without its presence, it was the same then. The audience for the Attic comedies were certainly not farmers, they were all city people, not just the elite, but the tradesmen and shopkeepers, the craftsmen, potters and armourers. So the frequent food references were appreciated by an audience of all classes. They were as food obsessed as we are now.
 They loved fish more than any other food. There was a great range eaten, mentioned in the literature are shellfish, tunny, pike and carp, grey mullet, blue fish, catfish, conger eel, dogfish (types of shark), skate, ray, sturgeon and swordfish. Tunny was the most important economically, its route of annual migration known to fishermen since prehistory. It would have been sliced in steaks, fried on iron skillets in olive oil and while cooking be sprinkled with aromatic herbs and cumin. To be served only with a green salad, according to Archestratus. How very contemporary they sound, and so they should; people do not change overmuch, the human condition remains the same and so do our palates, our sense of flavour and good taste. The Greeks of the Golden Age are only forty-eight generations ago; compared to the time human beings have taken to evolve that is a brief second.
from “Vegetarianism: A History” by Colin Spencer

Vegetarianism: A History Colin Spencer

Humans were not kings or lords of everything that moved. The very concept of metempsychosis implies that all creatures are equal.

There can be little doubt then that Pythagorean vegetarianism, through its Orphic influences, also has its roots deep in Ancient Egypt itself.

Certainly Pythagoras’ abstention from meat was stimulated by Zoroaster as well as by the Egyptians.

We know that the Pythagorean diet is ultimately the most healthy one, while the Pythagorean maxim, `know yourself’ has become the foundation stone of modern psychotherapy. There is a case for re-evaluating Pythagoras as the father of western philosphy. […] Much of what we regard as Platonism we find, upon analysis, to be in essence Pythagorean.

Though the desert fathers were undoubtedly vegetarian it was again only because of the struggle of the early Christians for pre-eminence over their own flesh, and not out of any respect for other creatures.

Clement 1)↓, of course, did not believe in the transmigration of souls, so his abstention from meat is based on ascetic rationalism, on the linking of flesh-eating with the stimulation of passion which would disrupt the stability of Christian commitment: `If any righteous man does not burden his soul by the eating of flesh, he has the advantage of a rational motive. `Pythagoras seems to me to have derived his mildness towards irrational animals from the Law’

God’s law required Jew and Christian alike to eat some meat as part of the holy scheme of things. Vegetarian Christians like Clement could only get away with their behaviour on the grounds of pure asceticism. The ethics of non-violence towards animals or metaphysical doctrinesvegetarianism on animal souls were never given as reasons for a vegetarian mode of life. To eat a taboo creature was to break the Mosaic law, to sunder all ties with the one living God; hence how much more heinous a crime would it have been for an orthodox Jew to be a vegetarian and refuse to consume any meat from either list. The very act of being vegetarian suggests that Mosaic law is entirely irrelevant, that the vegetarian lives in a state of greater purity and is therefore closer to God than the orthodox Jew by representing the era before the Fall was an heretical idea. The Christian vegetarian was also breaking with these traditions, that holy sanction whereby God provides for humankind out of his munificence. For Christians, it was only acceptable to renounce meat-eating if you called it asceticism and, better still, went off into the desert to practise it.

In Manicheanism… Continue reading

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1. Aleksandryjski -przyp. Amin