JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pythagoras' food theorem

Talk at breakfast turned to maths. Horatio produced a copy of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy, and read us the following, amazing, passage about Pythagoras:

He founded a religion, of which the main tenets were the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans. His religion was embodied in a religious order, which, here and there, acquired control of the State and established a rule of the saints. But the unregenerate hankered after beans, and sooner or later rebelled.

Some of the rules of the Pythagorean order were:

1. to abstain from beans
2. not to pick up what was fallen
3. not to touch a white cock
4. not to break bread
5. not to step over a crossbar
6. not to stir the fire without iron
7. not to eat from a whole loaf
8. not to pluck a garland
9. not to sit on a quart
10. not to eat the heart
11. not to walk on highways
12. not to let swallows share one's roof
13. when the pot is taken off the fire, not to leave the mark of it in the ashes, but to stir them together
14. do not look in a mirror beside a light
15. when you rise from the bedclothes, roll them together and smooth out the impress of the body.

Russell explains the transmigration of souls with a little quotation from Twelfth Night:

Clown: what is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wildfowl?
Malvolio: that the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.

On the question of food, it's a little puzzling: no beans, and very difficult to eat bread (essentially, it seems you have to get someone who is not a Pythagorean to give you some), not to mention no offal, difficulty picking salad and herbs, and problems with cooking because of all the rules about fires and cooking pots.

Or do you think he was making a wider point about religion and rational thought?


Anna said...

Hi Joanna,
I just wanted to say thank you for your fabulous blogg - I just wish I had known about it sooner! I now read it almost every day and have passed it on to lots of my foodie friends too!
I have made the Claudia Rodan orange cake three times in the last month - once with blood oranges - which oddly dont alter the colour at all but it was still very yummy.
Anna McG

Anonymous said...

Hi Joanna,

I've been enjoying all your fantastic healthy eating ideas...

I remember hearing (ages ago) that the likely reason behind the prohibition on eating beans was that some people believed that beans contained the souls of the dead. All the "unregenerate" probably didn't (or couldn't!) stick to it because beans were one of the few good protein sources for all those people who couldn't afford meat. I'm not sure if that's a comment on religion and rational thought though :-)

Joanna said...

Anna - thank you for such kind words - I LOVE that Claudia Roden cake, and, as you say, very odd that the blood oranges don't change the colour. SO glad you're back, come and see us soon, we long to see you

Sophie - thank you. I wonder if your idea about beans comes from Pythagoras, as it's a sort of cross of both his main tenets.

Here's a new idea - Janet, who is staying with her husband Robert, suggested this morning that Pythagoras' list was all about being a good guest (as an itinerant philosopher might often find himself): wait to be offered something to eat, don't get in the way of the cook (not sitting on the quart pot), make your bed. She thinks there should be another rule: don't forget to write your thank you letter!

Ros said...

I have always thought Pythagoras was trying to make a point about rational thought and was quietly chuckling to himself wheneveer someone took on his religion. Kind of like an ancient (and less obvious) version of this.