This page is part of the
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
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
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
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.
the passages below
you will find the much quoted text:
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.
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?
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.
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...
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.
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
"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.
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.
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
Excerpt from a
Translation by Harold Cherniss and William C Helmbold
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
Flesh Translation by Harold Cherniss and William C
important please note:
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
accreditations and other matters, please read