). One of the principal branches into which the
ancients divided the art and science of medicine. 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 which cures
diseases by means of regimen and diet. 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 later times the comic poet Nicomachus (Fr. 1, 30M. ap.
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
Il. xi. 507
) and forced to quit the field, as taking a draught composed
of wine, goat's-milk cheese, and flour, which probably no surgeon in later times would have
prescribed in such a case. 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.
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, so that in this article only
such particulars are mentioned as may be supposed to have some interest for the classical
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. Beef and mutton were of
course eaten, but the meat most generally esteemed was pork (see Oribas. Coll.
i. p. 585, Daremberg). A morbid taste for human flesh appears to have been
secretly indulged in the time of Xenocrates (first century A.D.); so that the unnatural
practice was forbidden by an imperial edict, which decree serves to illustrate the
“strange and revolting anecdote,” as Milman calls it, 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 carni
, Zosim. vi. 11).
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 first 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.
ii. 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 recommends wine to be mixed with an equal quantity of water, and Galen approves of the
proportion. 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 the patient after great fatigue
is recommended to get himself drunk once or twice, in 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 (ii. 10) and the
Septuagint (Gen. xliii. 34; Cant. v. 1; and perhaps Gen. ix. 21).
Exercises 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
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
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. Celsus
considers it more beneficial in the winter than in the summer (De Medic.
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. In the first century B.C. this practice was so commonly
abused that Asclepiades rejected the use of emetics altogether. See Plin.
H. N. xxvi. 17.
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.
xiii. 52), says, “Accubuit, ἐμετικὴν
agebat (he was meditating an emetic
itaque et edit et bibit ἀδεῶς
et iucunde”; 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
7.21). 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; 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”
(Dio Cass. lxv. 2). It might truly be said, in the strong language of Seneca, Vomunt,
ut edant; edunt, ut vomant
(Cons. ad Helv.
9.10; cf. De
). By some, the practice was thought so effectual for
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, 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. See Saalfeld,
Küche und Keller in AltRom (Berlin, 1883)
; and the