The Pythagorean Philosophy
[8 CE] Ovid, "The Pythagorean Philosophy" in book 15 of Metamorphoses, trans. by Various Authors, Published by Sir Samuel Garth (1717; London, 1826; Online at Archive.org) 376-407.
Of these, and things beyond the common reach,
He spoke, and charm'd his audience with his speech.
He first the taste of flesh from tables drove,
And argu'd well, if arguments cou'd move:
O mortals, from your fellows' blood abstain,
Nor taint your bodies with a food profane:
While corn, and pulse by Nature are bestow'd,
And planted orchards bend their willing load;
While labour'd gardens wholesom herbs produce,
And teeming vines afford their gen'rous juice;
Nor tardier fruits of cruder kind are lost,
But tam'd with fire, or mellow'd by the frost;
While kine to pails distended udders bring,
And bees their hony redolent of Spring;
While Earth not only can your needs supply,
But, lavish of her store, provides for luxury;
A guiltless feast administers with ease,
And without blood is prodigal to please.
Wild beasts their maws with their slain brethren fill;
And yet not all, for some refuse to kill;
Sheep, goats, and oxen, and the nobler steed,
On browz, and corn, and flow'ry meadows, feed.
Bears, tygers, wolves, the lyon's angry brood,
Whom Heav'n endu'd with principles of blood,
He wisely sundred from the rest, to yell
In forests, and in lonely caves to dwell;
Where stronger beasts oppress the weak by might.
And all in prey, and purple feasts delight.
O impious use! to Nature's laws oppos'd,
Where bowels are in other bowels clos'd:
Where fatten'd by their fellow's fat, they thrive;
Maintain'd by murder, and by death they live.
'Tis then for nought, that Mother Earth provides
The stores of all she shows, and all she hides,
If men with fleshy morsels must be fed,
And chaw with bloody teeth the breathing bread:
What else is this, but to devour our guests,
And barb'rously renew Cyclopean feasts!
We, by destroying life, our life sustain;
And gorge th' ungodly maw with meats obscene.
Not so the Golden Age, who fed on fruit,
Nor durst with bloody meals their mouths pollute.
Then birds in airy space might safely move,
And tim'rous hares on heaths securely rove:
Nor needed fish the guileful hooks to fear,
For all was peaceful; and that peace sincere.
Whoever was the wretch (and curs'd be he)
That envy'd first our food's simplicity,
Th' essay of bloody feasts on brutes began,
And after forg'd the sword to murder Man.
Had he the sharpen'd steel alone employ'd
On beasts of prey; that other beasts destroy'd,
Or Man invaded with their fangs and paws,
This had been justify'd by Nature's laws,
And self-defence: but who did feasts begin
Of flesh, he stretch'd necessity to sin.
To kill man-killers, Man has lawful pow'r,
But not th' extended licence, to devour.
Ill habits gather by unseen degrees,
As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.
The sow, with her broad snout, for rooting up
Th' intrusted seed, was judg'd to spoil the crop,
And intercept the sweating farmer's hope:
The covetous churl, of unforgiving kind,
Th' offender to the bloody priest resign'd:
Her hunger was no plea: for that she dy'd.
The goat came next in order to be try'd:
The goat had cropt the tendrils of the vine:
In vengeance laity, and clergy join,
Where one had lost his profit, one his wine.
Here was, at least, some shadow of offence;
The sheep was sacrific'd on no pretence,
But meek, and unresisting innocence.
A patient, useful creature, born to bear
The warm, and wooly fleece, that cloath'd her murderer;
And daily to give down the milk she bred,
A tribute for the grass on which she fed.
Living, both food and rayment she supplies,
And is of least advantage, when she dies.
How did the toyling ox his death deserve,
A downright simple drudge, and born to serve?
O tyrant! with what justice canst thou hope
The promise of the year, a plenteous crop;
When thou destroy'st thy lab'ring steer, who till'd,
And plough'd with pains, thy else ungrateful field?
From his yet reeking neck, to draw the yoke,
That neck, with which the surly clods he broke;
And to the hatchet yield thy husbandman,
Who finish'd Autumn, and the Spring began!
Nor this alone! but Heav'n it self to bribe,
We to the Gods our impious acts ascribe:
First recompence with death their creatures' toil;
Then call the bless'd above to share the spoil:
The fairest victim must the Pow'rs appease
(So fatal 'tis sometimes too much to please!),
A purple fillet his broad brows adorns,
With flow'ry garlands crown'd, and gilded horns:
He hears the murd'rous pray'r the priest prefers,
But understands not, 'tis his doom he hears:
Beholds the meal betwixt his temples cast
(The fruit and product of his labours past);
And in the water views perhaps the knife
Uplifted, to deprive him of his life;
Then broken up alive, his entrails sees
Torn out, for priests t' inspect the Gods' decrees.
From whence, o mortal men, this gust of blood
Have you deriv'd, and interdicted food?
Be taught by me this dire delight to shun,
Warn'd by my precepts, by my practice won:
And when you eat the well-deserving beast,
Think, on the lab'rour of your field you feast!