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Raised on Christian MilkFood and the Formation of the Soul in Early Christianity$
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John David Penniman

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780300222760

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300222760.001.0001

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The Symbolic Power of Food in the Greco-Roman World

The Symbolic Power of Food in the Greco-Roman World

Chapter:
(p.23) One The Symbolic Power of Food in the Greco-Roman World
Source:
Raised on Christian Milk
Author(s):

John David Penniman

Publisher:
Yale University Press
DOI:10.12987/yale/9780300222760.003.0002

This chapter highlights some of the foundational philosophical, medical, and moral texts that account for the power of nourishment within the formation of the human person in the Greco-Roman world. Focusing primarily on Hippocratic treatises, Plato, and Aristotle, it first considers how classical anthropological theories about the relationship between body and soul broadly emphasize the importance of food in shaping human nature (both bodily and intellectually). The chapter then turns to the social and political context of the Roman Empire and its explicit program of family values within which breast-feeding and child-rearing were highly politicized—and thus highly theorized—activities. These disparate texts contribute to the discourse of human formation in antiquity. In each attempt to describe or theorize the power of food, such writings are located within a larger ideological constellation about eating and feeding, the result of which is what the book broadly identifies as the symbolic power of nourishment. This symbolic power produces a tension, or at least an ambiguity, between statements about actual nourishment and what it was specifically believed to do, on the one hand, and the symbol of nourishment as a nebulous cultural value, on the other.

Keywords:   Hippocratic Tradition, Aristotle, Plato, Galen, Roman Empire, Ancient Medicine, Pneuma, Augustus Caesar, Wet-nursing, Food

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