), one of the principal branches into which the ancients
divided the art and science of medicine [MEDICINA
]. The word is derived from δίαιτα,
which meant much the same as our word
diet. It is defined by Celsus (de Medic.
Praef. lib. i.) to
signify that part of medicine quae victu medetur,
“which cures diseases by means of regimen and diet” ; and a
similar explanation is given by Plato (ap. D. L.
). Taken strictly in this sense, it would correspond very
nearly with the modern dietetics,
and this is the
meaning which it always bears in the earlier medical writers. In some of the
later authors it seems to comprehend Celsus's second grand division,
and is used by Scribonius Largus
(de Comp. Med.
§ 200) simply in opposition to
so as to answer directly to the
province of our physician.
In later times the comic poet Nicomachus (fr.
M. ap. Ath. vii. p. 291 c) introduces a cook who, among his other
qualifications, implies that he is a physician; but no attention seems to
have been paid to eating as a branch of medicine before the date of
Hippocrates. Homer represents Machaon, who had been wounded in the shoulder
by an arrow (Il. 11.507
) and forced to quit
the field, as taking a draught composed of wine, goat's-milk cheese, and
flour (ib. 638), which probably no surgeon in later times would have
prescribed in such a case. (See Plat. de Rep.
iii. pp. 405,
406; Max. Tyr. Diss.
.) Hippocrates seems to claim for himself the credit
of being the first person who had studied this subject, and says that
“the ancients had written nothing on it worth mentioning”
(de Rat. Vict. in Morb. Acut.
§ 1, vol. ii. p.
26, ed. Kühn). Among the works forming the Hippocratic collection,
there are four that bear upon this subject, of which, however, only one
(viz. that just quoted) is considered to be undoubtedly genuine. It would be
out of place here to attempt anything like a complete account of the
opinions of the ancients on this point; those who wish for more detailed
information must be referred to the different works on medical antiquities,
while in this article only such particulars are mentioned as may be supposed
to have some interest for the classical reader.
In the works of Hippocrates and his successors almost all the articles of
food used by the ancients are mentioned, and their real or supposed
properties discussed, sometimes quite as fancifully as by Burton in his
Anatomy of Melancholy.
In some respects they appear to
have been much less delicate than the moderns, as we find the flesh of the
fox, the dog, the horse, and the ass spoken of as common articles of food
(Pseudo-Hippocr. de Vict. Rat.
2.46, vol. i. pp. 679, 680).
Beef and mutton were of course eaten, but the meat most generally esteemed
was pork (see Oribas. Coll. Med.
i. p. 585, Daremberg). A
morbid taste for human flesh appears to have been secretly indulged in the
time of Xenocrates (1st cent. A.D.); so that the hateful practice was
forbidden by an imperial edict (τῆς Π̔ωμαϊκῆς
βασιλείας ἀπηγορευκυίας ἀνθρώπους ἐσθίειν,
de Simpl. Med. Temper. ac Facult.
20.1, tom. xii. p.
248). And this decree serves to illustrate the “strange and revolting
anecdote,” as Milman calls it (Lat. Chr.
ch. 1, vol. i. p. 129), of the wild cry that, in a time of scarcity
amounting to famine, assailed the ears of the Emperor Attalus, “Fix
the tariff for human flesh” (pone pretium
With regard to the strength or quality of the wine drunk by the ancients, we
may arrive at something like certainty from the fact that Coelius Aurelianus
mentions it as something extraordinary that Asclepiades at Rome in the 1st
century B.C. sometimes ordered his patients to double and treble the
quantity of wine, till at last they drank half wine and half water
(de Morb. Chron.
2.7, p. 386). From this it appears that
wine was commonly diluted with five or six times its quantity of water.
Hippocrates also in particular cases (Aphor.
7.56, torn. iii.
p. 763) recommends wine to be mixed with an equal quantity of water, and
Galen approves of the proportion (Comment. in Hippocr. Aph.
tom. xviii. A, p. 169). According to Hippocrates, the proportions in which
wine and water should be mixed together vary according to the season of the
year; for instance, in summer the wine should be most diluted, in winter the
least so. In one place (Ps. Hippocr. de Vict. Rat.
) the patient after great fatigue is
recommended μεθυσθῆναι ἅπαξ ἢ δίς,
which passage it has been doubted whether actual intoxication
is meant, or only the “drinking freely and to
cheerfulness,” in which sense the same word is used by St. John
(2.10) and the LXX. (Gen. 43.34; Cant. 5.1; and perhaps Gen. 9.21).
Exercise of various kinds, and bathing, are also much insisted on by the
writers on diet and regimen; but for further particulars on these subjects
the articles BALNEAE
must be consulted.
It may, however, be added that the bath could not have been very common, at
least in private families, in the time of Hippocrates, as he says that
“there are few houses in which the necessary conveniences are to
be found” (de Rat. Vict. in Morb. Acut.
18, tom. ii. p. 62; cf. Galen's Comm.,
t. xv. p. 706).
Another very favourite practice with the ancients, both as a preventive of
sickness and as a remedy, was the taking of an emetic from time to time. In
one of the treatises of the Hippocratic collection the unknown author
recommends it two or three times a month (de Vict. Rat.
tom. i. p. 710). Celsus considers it more beneficial in the winter than in
the summer (de Medic.
1.3, p. 28), and says that those who
take an emetic twice a month had better do so on two successive days than
once a fortnight (ib. p. 29). In the 1st century B.C. this practice was so
commonly abused that Asclepiades rejected the use of emetics altogether.
“Offensus,” says Celsus (ib. p. 27), “eorum
consuetudine qui quotidie ejiciendo vorandi facultatem
moliuntur.” (See also Plin. Nat.
.) It was the custom among the Romans to take an emetic
immediately before their meals, in order to prepare themselves to eat more
plentifully; and again soon after, so as to avoid any injury from repletion.
Cicero, in his account of the day that Caesar spent with him at his house in
the country (ad Att.
13.52), says, “Accubuit, ἐμετικὴν
agebat (he was
meditating an emetic
), itaque et edit et bibit ἀδεῶς
et jucunde;” and this has by
some persons been considered a sort of compliment paid by Caesar to his
host, as it intimated a resolution to pass the day cheerfully, and to eat
and drink freely. He is represented as having done the same thing when he
was entertained by king Deiotarus (Cic. pro
, § 21). The glutton Vitellius is
said to have preserved his own life by constant emetics, while he destroyed
all his companions who did not use the same precaution (Suet.
13); so that one of them, who was prevented by
illness from dining with him for a few days, said, “I should certainly
have been dead if I had not fallen sick” (D.
). It might truly be said, in the strong language of
Seneca, “Vomunt, ut edant; edunt, ut vomant” (Cons. ad
9.10: cf. de Provid.
95.21). By some, the practice was thought so effectual
for [p. 1.625]
strengthening the constitution, that it was
the constant regimen of all the athletae, or professed wrestlers, trained
for the public shows, in order to make them more robust. Celsus, however
p. 28), warns his readers against the too
frequent use of emetics without necessity and merely for luxury and
gluttony, and says that no one who has any regard for his health, and wishes
to live to old age, ought to make it a daily practice.