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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883

  • Antonio Cocchi M.D. 1695-1758
    (text from the 1st edition, 1883)

It might justly provoke expression of feeling stronger than that of astonishment, when we have to record that in South Europe (where climate and soil unite to recommend and render a humane manner of living (1) still more easy than in our colder regions) the followers, or, at all events, the prophets of the Reformed Diet have been conspicuously few. Since , by the à fortiori argument, if abundant experience and teaching have proved it to be more conducive to health in higher latitudes, much more is it evident that it must be fitting for the people of those parts of the globe nearer to the equator.

Italy, which has produced Seneca, Cornaro, and Cocchi, is less obnoxious to the reproach of indifferentism in this most vitally-important branch of ethics than the western peninsula. But the "paradise of Europe" has yet to deserve the more glorious title of "the paradise of peace," and to atone (if, indeed, it be possible) for the cruel shedding of innocent, and in an especial degree superfluous, blood.

An eminent professor of medicine and surgery, Antonio Cocchi distinguished himself also as a philologist. He was born at Benevento. Before giving himself up to the practice of medicine he devoted several years to the study of the old and modern languages of Europe. His knowledge of English helped to bring him into contact with many men of science in England, some of whom he met on his visit to London. Returning to Italy he was named Professor of Medicine at Pisa. He soon left that University for Florence, where he held the chair of Anatomy as well as Philosophy. To him Florence was indebted for its Botanical Society, with which, in conjunction with Micheli, he endowed it.

He was a voluminous writer. (2) His Greek Surgical Books (3) contain valuable extracts from the Greek writers on medicine and surgery not before published. Amongst other writings may be distinguished his Treatise on the Use of Cold Baths by the Ancients (4) The treatise which gives him a place in this work was published at Florence under the title of The Pythagoras Diet: for the Use of the medical Faculty. (5)

Dr. Cocchi begins his little treatise with a eulogy and defence of the great reformer of Samos, and of his radical revolution in food. He cites the Greek and Latin writers, and especially the earlier Roman Laws, the Fannian and the Licinian. He proceeds :-

"True and constant vigour of body is the effect of health, which is much better preserved with watery, herbaceous, frugal, and tender food, than with vinous, abundant, hard, and gross flesh (che col carneo vinoso ed unto abundante e duro). And in a sound body, a clear intelligence, and desire to suppress the mischievous inclinations (voglie dannose); and to conquer the irrational passions, produces true worth."

Cocchi cites the examples of the Greeks and of the Romans as proof that the non-flesh diet does not diminish courage or strength :-

"The vulgar opinion, then, which, on health reasons, condemns vegetable food and so much praises animal food, being so ill-founded, I have always thought it well to oppose myself to it, moved both by experience and by that refined knowledge of natural things which some study and conversation with great men have given me. And perceiving now that such my constancy has been honoured by some learned and wise physicians with their authoritative adhesion (della autorevole sequela), I have thought it my duty publicly to diffuse the reasons of the Pythagorean diet, regarded as useful in medicine, and, at the same time, as full of innocence, of temperance, and of health. And it is none the less accompanied with a certain delicate pleasure, and also with a refined and splendid luxury (non è privo memmeno d'una certa delicate voluttà e d'un lusso gentile e splendido ancora), if care and skill be applied in selection and proper supply of the best vegetable food, to which the fertility and the natural character of our beautiful country seem to invite us. For my part I have been so much the more induced to take up this subject, because I have persuaded myself that I might be of service to intending diet-reformers, there not being, to my knowledge, any book of which this is t he sole subject, and which undertakes exactly to explain the origin and the reason of it."

His special motive to the publication of his treatise, however, was to vindicate the claims of the reformer of Samos upon the gratitude of men :-

"I wished to show that PYthagoras, the first founder of the vegetable regimen, was at once a very great physicist and a very great physician; that there has been no one of a more cultured and discriminating humanity; that he was a man of wisdom and of experience; that his motive in commending and introducing the new mode of living was derived not from any extravagant superstition, but from the desire to improve the health and the manners of men." (6)


    1. Cf. Virgil's "Magna parens frugum."
    2. See the Nouvelle Biographie Universelle. Didot, Paris.
    3. Græcorum Chururgici Libri. Firenze, 1754.
    4. Dissertazione sopra l'uso esterno appresso gli Antichi dell'acqua fredda sul corpo umano Firenze, 1747
    5. Del Vitto Pithagorico Per Uso Della Medicina: Discorso I Antonio Cocchi. Firenze, 1743. A translation appeared in Paris in 1762 under the title of Le Regime de Pythagore.
    6. Del Vitto Pithagorico. Amongst the heralds and forerunners of Cocchi deserve to be mentioned with honour Ramazzini (1633-1714), who earned amongst his countrymen the title of Hippokrates the Third; Lessio (in his Hygiastricon, or Treatise on Health), in the earlier part of the 17th century; and Lemery, the French physician and Member of the Académie, author of A Treatise on all Sorts of Food, which was translated into English by D. Hay, M.D., in 1745.

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index