Animal Rights:

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Plutarch

The Deeper Minds Of All Ages Have Had Pity For Animals
Friedrich Nietzsche

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This page is part of the section: Animal Rights:A History

Plutarch

Plutarch was a Greek historian, who later became a Roman citizen,  a biographer and essayist, he was born 46 -120 CE into a prominent family in Chaeronea, Boeotia, a town about twenty miles east of Delphi.

He married Timoxena and had four sons.  Plutarch was educated at Athens and there studied Mathematics, physics, medicine, natural science, Greek and Latin literatures and rhetoric. He travelled extensively in  Greece and Asia Minor and visited Alexandria and Rome.

His literacy accomplishments were enormous, but he was most known for his biographical studies of Greek and Latin Statesmen and philosophers, entitled Parallel lives, consisting of 46 biographies planned to be ethical examples in pairs, one Greek figure

Plutarch

 

 

and one similar Roman, though the last four lives are single.  

 

He also authored a number of treatises on matters of ethics, on topics such as education, marriage, religious observances and reason in non human animals and the practice of ethical vegetarianism. This collection of about 60 in fifteen volumes is Known as the "Moralia" Or moral essays.

Of particular note is  Plutarch's essay  On the Eating of Animal Flesh, Volume 12 The Moralia, from which the quotations below were taken.

In this essay Plutarch challenges the idea that man is naturally carnivorous; an excuse so often used today to justify the eating of meat appears to have been used for its justification in ancient times. Also In his discussion against meat eating Plutarch maintains that animals deserve ethical consideration because they possess the attributes of intelligence and sentience.

included in the passages below you will find the much quoted text: for the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of the sun, of the light, of the duration of life to which they are entitled by birth and being.

Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstaining from flesh? For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of soul or mind the first man did so, touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, he who set forth tables of dead, stale bodies and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb? How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with the sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds?

You call serpents and panthers savage and lions savage , but you yourselves , by your own foul slaughter, leave them no room to outdo you in cruelty; for their slaughter is their living yours is a mere appetizer.

It is certainly not lions and wolves that we eat out of self defence; on the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter the harmless , tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us, creatures that, I swear, Nature appears to have produced for the sake of their beauty and grace...

But nothing abashes us, not the flower-like tinting of the flesh, not the cleanliness of their habits or the unusual intelligence that may be found in these poor wretches. No, for the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of the sun, of the light, of the duration of life to which they are entitled by birth and being.

The following section of the essay is indeed a very persuasive argument against meat being a natural food for man and will often leave even the most ardent meat eater lost for words.

We declare, then, that it is absurd for them to say that the practise of flesh-eating is based on nature . For that man is not naturally carnivorous is, in the first place, obvious from the structure of his body.   A mans frame is in no way similar to those creatures who were made for flesh-eating; he has no hooked beak or sharp nails or jagged teeth, no strong stomach or warmth of vital fluids able to digest and assimilate a heavy diet of flesh. It is from the very fact, the evenness of our teeth, the smallness of our mouths, the softness of our tongues, our possession of vital fluids too inert to digest meat that nature disavows our eating of flesh. If you declare that you are naturally designed for such a diet, than first kill for yourself what you want to eat. Do, it however, only through your own resources, unaided by cleaver or cudgel of any kind or axe. Rather, just as wolves and bears and lions themselves slay what they eat, so you are to fell an ox with your fangs or a boar with your jaws, or tear a lamb or hare in bits. Fall upon it and eat it still living, as animals do. But if you wait for what you eat to be dead, if you have qualms about enjoying the flesh while life is still present, why do you continue, contrary to nature, to eat what possesses life? Even when it is lifeless and dead, however, no one eats the flesh just as it is; men boil it and roast it, altering it by fire and drugs, recasting and diverting and smothering with countless condiments the taste of gore so that the palate may be deceived and accept what is foreign to it.

Plutarch also argued that the eating of meat made the consumer "spiritually course"

"Note that the eating of flesh is not only physically against nature, but it also makes us spiritually course and gross by reason of satiety and surfeit.

The eye when it is flooded by an excess of moisture grows dim and weakened for its proper task. When we examine the sun through dank atmosphere and a fog of gross vapours, we do not see it clear and bright, but submerged and misty, with elusive rays. In just the same way, then, when the body is turbulent and surfeited and burdened with improper food, the lustre and light of the soul inevitably come through it blurred and confused, aberrant and inconstant, since the soul lacks the brilliance and intensity to penetrate to the minute and obscure issues of active life.

Furthermore argued Plutarch the cruelty by which meat is acquired brutalises the human character which not only makes it callous to the suffering of non human animals but also to human beings.

But apart from these considerations, do you not find here a wonderful means of training in social responsibility? Who could wrong a human being when he found himself so gently and humanely disposed toward other non-human creatures?

Excerpt from a Translation by Harold Cherniss and William C Helmbold

If you would like to read the entire essay there are a number of translations available on the internet. I prefer the one above. The following translations are available on-line for you to read and indeed it is very worthwhile doing so as this essay by Plutarch provides many insightful and thought provoking reasons why human beings should not eat meat.

On Eating of Flesh, by Plutarch

On Eating Flesh Translation by Harold Cherniss and William C Helmbold

archive.org/stream/moraliainfifteen12plutuoft/moraliainfifteen12

 

important please note:

I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.

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