The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Oct 17, 2010

Vegetarian Genius

In medieval Europe, the only people who were vegetarians were most likely the destitutes. It was a matter of taste and honour for everyone to eat meat, and the Catholic among them saw no point in wasting any part of an animal. On the days that the Church prohibited the consumption of meat, the populace got around it by eating fish. And there were always festivals that allowed the indigent to get their share of meat. Even the great Carnival, that great orgy of gluttony ahead of the abstinence and fasting and piety of the Lent, was named so from 'carne vale' - farewell, meat.

There were few people in other words who, of their own accord, preferred to be vegetarians.

St. Francis of Assisi was likely one of them (set caged birds free and all that). Another was Leonardo da Vinci.

By the time Leonardo was in his fifties, he had spent decades eating only fruit, nuts and vegetables. His exposure to the horrors of war rendered him extremely sympathetic to any sort of pain, and he considered it a sin to harm any living creatures. Unlike others of strong conviction, though, he didn't force the view on his followers, and he paid out enough of his hard-earned cash to keep his dependants well-fed with meat.

But his vegetarianism - as his genius - became widely known. Praise came - would you believe it - from as far away as India, from where a Florentine traveller named Andrea Corsali wrote:
a gentle people called Guzzarati who do not feed on anything that has blood, nor will they allow anyone to hurt a living thing, like our Leonardo da Vinci.

Peter Strathern, The Artist, The Philosopher and The Warrior


Anonymous said...

Didn't know da Vinci was a vegetarian. Although medieval vegetarian food for the poor was mainly pottage. Not very appetising!

km said...

Interesting, that bit about the "guzzarati".

he considered it a sin to harm any living creatures.

Clearly Leo wasn't tuned into the suffering caused to fruits, nuts and vegetables.

Fëanor said...

When he dissected animals, it was to draw them, but when he dissected vegetables, he felt a bit peckish. Hence the lack of attention to the latter's suffering, eh?

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Interesting as usual. Was off the grid for sometime. Need to catch up with the backlog here.

Aside: St. Francis of Assisi was there in a recently released Malayalam movie- Pranchiyettan and the Saint. Even this saint did not impose vegetarianism on his followers. That's for sure.



km said...

St. Francis of Assisi starred in a Malayalam movie? What? When did this miracle happen?

//Read a biography of St. Francis a couple years ago. Don't remember him being described as a "vegetarian".

Fëanor said...

NN: welcome back, sir. Was it a good movie?

KM: no, no, St Francis was not a vegetarian. I hedged in the blog by saying 'likely was'. I unhedge now.

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