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Diaetetece


(διαιτητική). 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 Fr., 30M. 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.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. 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, so that 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. 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 (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 humanae, 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 and Gymnasium 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).

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. i. 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. 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 ( Pro Deiot. 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 Provid. 3. 11; Ep.95. 21). 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.


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