Plutarch, Quaestiones Convivales 4.5
After these things were spoken, and some in the company were minded to say something in defence of the contrary opinion, Callistratus interrupted their discourse and said: Sirs, what do you think of that which was spoken against the Jews, that they abstain from the most lawful flesh? Very well said, quoth Polycrates, for that is a thing I very much question, whether it was that the Jews abstained from swine’s flesh because they conferred divine honor upon that creature, or because they had a natural aversion to it. For whatever we find in their own writings seems to be altogether fabulous, except they have some more solid reasons which they have no mind to discover.
Hence it is, says Callistratus, that I am of an opinion that this nation has that creature in some veneration; and though it be granted that the hog is an ugly and filthy creature, yet it is not quite so vile nor naturally stupid as a beetle, griffin, crocodile, or cat, most of which are worshipped as the most sacred things by some priests amongst the Egyptians. But the reason why the hog is had in so much honor and veneration amongst them is, because as the report goes, that creature breaking up the earth with its snout showed the way to tillage, and taught them how to use the ploughshare, which instrument for that very reason, as some say, was called HYNIS from [Greek omitted], A SWINE. Now the Egyptians inhabiting a country situated low and whose soil is naturally soft, have no need of the plough; but after the river Nile hath retired from the grounds it overflowed, they presently let in all their hogs into the fields, and they with their feet and snout break up the ground, and cover the sown seed. Nor ought this to seem strange to anyone, that there are in the world those that abstain from swine’s flesh on such an account as this; when it is evident that in barbarous nations there are other animals had in greater honor and veneration for lesser reasons, if not altogether ridiculous. For the field-mouse only for its blindness was worshipped as a god among the Egyptians, because they were of an opinion that darkness was before light and that the latter had its birth from mice about the fifth generation at the new moon; and moreover that the liver of this creature diminishes in the wane of the moon. But they consecrate the lion to the sun, because the lioness alone, of all clawed four-footed beasts, brings forth her young with their eyesight; for they sleep in a moment, and when they are asleep their eyes sparkle. Besides, they place gaping lions’ heads for the spouts of their fountains, because Nilus overflows the Egyptian fields when the sign is Leo: they give it out that their bird ibis, as soon as hatched, weighs two drachms, which are of the same weight with the heart of a newborn infant; and that its legs being spread with the bill an exact equilateral triangle. And yet who can find fault with the Egyptians for these trifles, when it is left upon record that the Pythagoreans worshipped a white cock, and of sea creatures abstained especially from mullet and urtic. The Magi that descended from Zoroaster adored the land hedgehog above other creatures but had a deadly spite against water-rats, and thought that man was dear in the eyes of the gods who destroyed most of them. But I should think that if the Jews had such an antipathy against a hog, they would kill it as the magicians do mice; when, on the contrary, they are by their religion as much prohibited to kill as to eat it. And perhaps there may be some reason given for this; for as the ass is worshipped by them as the first discoverer of fountains, so perhaps the hog may be had in like veneration, which first taught them to sow and plough. Nay, some say that the Jews also abstain from hares, as abominable and unclean creatures.
They have reason for that, said Lamprias, because a hare is so like an ass which they detest; for in its color, ears, and the sparkling of its eyes, it is so like an ass, that I do not know any little creature that represents a great one so much as a hare doth an ass; except in this likewise imitating the Egyptians, they suppose that there is something of divinity in the swiftness of this creature, as also in its quickness of sense; for the eyes of hares are so unwearied that they sleep with them open. Besides, they seem to excel all other creatures in quickness of hearing; whence it was that the Egyptians painted a hare’s ear amongst their other hieroglyphics, as an emblem of hearing. But the Jews do hate swine’s flesh, because all the barbarians are naturally fearful of a scab and leprosy, which they presume comes by eating such kind of flesh. For we may observe that all pigs under the belly are overspread with a leprosy and scab; which may be supposed to proceed from an ill disposition of body and corruption within, which breaks out through the skin. Besides, swine’s feeding is commonly so nasty and filthy, that it must of necessity cause corruptions and vicious humors; for, setting aside those creatures that are bred from and live upon dung, there is no other creature that takes so much delight to wallow in the mire and in other unclean and stinking places. Hogs’ eyes are said to be so flattened and fixed upon the ground, that they see nothing above them, nor ever look up to the sky, except when turned upon their back they turn their eyes upwards contrary to nature. Therefore this creature, at other times most clamorous’ when laid upon his back, is still, as astonished at the unusual sight of the heavens; while the greatness of the fear he is in (as it is supposed) is the cause of his silence. And if it be lawful to intermix our discourse with fables, it is said that Adonis was slain by a boar. Now Adonis is supposed to be the same with Bacchus; and there are a great many rites in both their sacrifices which confirm this opinion. Others will have Adonis to be Bacchus’s paramour; and Phanocles an amorous love-poet writes thus,
Bacchus on hills the fair Adonis saw, And ravished him, and reaped a wondrous joy.
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