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Title: Gluttony
Original Title: Gourmandise
Volume and Page: Vol. 7 (1757), p. 754
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: Sean Takats [George Mason University,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Gluttony." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Sean Takats. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2006. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Gourmandise," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 7. Paris, 1757.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Gluttony." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Sean Takats. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2006. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Gourmandise," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 7:754 (Paris, 1757).

Gluttony. Refined and inordinate love of good food. Horace called it ingrata ingluvies . [1] This was also Callimachus' definition which added this reflection: "All that I have given to my stomach has disappeared, and I have retained all the fodder that I gave to my spirit."

Irritated by one of the Curtilluses of his century, who had set about combining the opposition, the harmony, and the proportions of different flavors in order to make from this mixture an excellent dish, Varron said to him: "If of among all the pains you endured to make yourself a good cook you devoted some to studying philosophy, you would have made yourself good, too."

Varron's remark corrected neither this sensual rich man nor others like him. On the contrary they held up for ridicule the most instructed of Romans on the subject of rustic life, the most studied on the subject of Grammar, History, and so many other subjects. We should not be surprised, since gluttony is considered to be a merit in countries of luxury and vanity, where vices are held up as virtues. Such is the fruit of opulent softness: it forms in the chest, is perfected by habit, and finally becomes so delicate that it requires all the genius of the cook to satisfy its requirements. See Cuisine.

The Romans succumbed to the weight of their grandeur when temperance fell into disdain, and the frugality of Curius and Fabricius was seen to be succeeded by the sensuality of Catius and the Apicius. Three men of this last name made themselves famous through their research in gluttony . It was necessary that their tables be covered with Phasis birds [2] which were sought despite the perils of the sea and that peacock and nightingale tongues appeared there deliciously prepared. It is, if I am not mistaken, the second of these three that Pliny calls nepotum omnium altissimus gurges . [3] He ran a school on the theory and practice of his art and spent five million livres in today's money to excel at it. Considering himself ruined because he was left with a fortune of only five hundred thousand livres, he poisoned himself out of fear that he might die of hunger with so little money.

At that time Rome fed gourmets who claimed to have palates so fine that they could determine whether the fish called loup-de-mer had been caught in the Tiber between the two bridges or near the mouth of this river: they only valued the one caught between the two bridges. They rejected goose livers fattened with dried figs and only esteemed them when the livers had been fattened with fresh figs.

We will not speak of the excesses of the table of Antiochus Epiphanes, of dissolute behavior in the style of Vitellius, and of that of a certain Elagabalus. Nor will we recall the shameful research of the ancient Sybarites, who granted an exemption of all taxes to fishermen of I do not remember which fish, because they were such gourmets. We will not review our modern Sybarites, who devour in one meal enough to feed a hundred families. The consequences of this vice are cruel: those who with excess hand themselves over to it are revealed to experience evil in every form.

Homer made his contemporaries understand it by covering the tables of his heroes with only roast beef and by making no exception to this rule for the weddings, the feasts of Alcinous, the old age of Nestor, or even the debauches of Penelope's suitors.

It seems that Agesilas, king of Sparta, constantly followed Homer's precepts because his table was the same as that of those Greek captains immortalized in the Iliad. One day when the Thassians brought him a gift of expensive delicacies, he distributed them on the field to the Helots in order to prove to the Spartans that the simplicity of his life, similar to that of the citizens of Sparta, had not changed.

Even Alexander profited from the lesson of his favorite poet. Plutarch reports that Adda, queen of Crete, having obtained the protection of this prince against the Persian lord Orondonbate, thought she could demonstrate her gratitude by sending him all sorts of exquisite dishes and the best cooks that she could find. But Alexander sent everything back to her and replied that he had no need of dishes so delicate and that Leonidas his governor had earlier provided the best cooks in the whole universe by teaching him that to dine with pleasure it is necessary to rise in the morning and exercise and to sup with pleasure it is necessary to take a sober dinner.

The most delicious food is that which appetite alone affords. You will find no bisque as good as a bit of bacon appears to one of our workers or as excellent as Gayette onions [4] seemed to Pope Julius III.

Do you want to prove to yourself that the best cooking is hunger? Offer bread to a difficult and sensual man: he will push it away. But wait until the evening: panem illum tenerum et siligineum fames ipsi reddet . [5]

We conclude that chasing after fine dining is far from one of life's assets. Instead we can regard the study of fine dining as pernicious to health. The vivacity and fortunate old age of the Persians and Chaldeans was an asset they owed to their barley bread and spring water. All that goes beyond nature is useless and usually harmful: we must not always follow nature as far as she permits us to go. It would be better to keep on this side of the limits she has prescribed for us than to go past them. Finally, taste weakens and dulls with even the most delicate dishes, and infirmities without number avenge an outraged nature. Fitting punishment for the excesses of a sensuality that has had too many delicacies!


1. "Unpleasant voraciousness."

2. Otherwise known as pheasants, these birds took their name from the Phasis river on the Black Sea.

3. "The most insatiable of all of our epicures." This quote comes from Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia , 10:67.

4. Onions prepared with pork liver and garlic sausage.

5. "Hunger will render that bread soft and wheaty." This quote derives from Seneca's Moral Epistle CXXIII.