Chapter 3

Proper Food and Medicine


Food and Medicine are Connected

Glaucon What about their food?

The men are training for the great contest of all. I am afraid that their bodily habits are rather perilous to health. These athletes:

  • sleep away their lives, and
  • are liable to the most dangerous illnesses if they depart from their customary regimen.

A finer sort of training will be required for our warrior athletes, who are:

  • to be like wakeful dogs, and
  • to see and hear with the utmost keenness amid the many changes of water and food, of summer heat and winter cold, which they will have to endure when on a campaign.

No to Sugar (Sweets)


They must not be liable to break down in health. Excellent gymnastic is the twin sister of that simple music which we were just now describing. I am thinking of a military gymnastic which, like our music, is simple and good.

Homer feeds his heroes at their feasts on soldiers’ fare, when they are campaigning.

  • They have no fish even if they are on the shores of the Hellespont.
  • They are only allowed to roast meats but not boil them.
    • Roasted meat is the most convenient food for soldiers.
    • They only need to light a fire without carrying pots and pans.
  • They do not use sweet sauces.

All professional athletes know that men in good condition should take no sweets. I will not approve of:

  • Syracusan dinners,
  • Athenian confectionary,
  • the refinements of Sicilian cookery, or
  • a man having a Corinthian girl as his fair friend.

All such feeding and living may be rightly compared to melody composed in the panharmonic style, and in all the rhythms. There, complexity engendered licence, and here disease. Whereas simplicity in music was the parent of temperance in the soul, and simplicity in gymnastic of health in the body.

But when intemperance and diseases multiply in a State, halls of justice and medicine are always being opened. The arts of the doctor and the lawyer give themselves airs. They find the interest of the slaves and freemen in them.

The greatest proof of a bad education is when:

  • the artisans and the meaner sort of people need the skill of first-rate physicians and judges, and
  • those physicians and judges have had a liberal education.

It is disgraceful and a lack of good-breeding, that:

  • a man should have to go abroad for his law and physic because he has none of his own at home.
  • he must surrender himself into the hands of other men whom he makes lords and judges over him.

There is a further stage of the evil in which a man is a life-long litigant.

  • He spends all his days in the courts, either as plaintiff or defendant.
  • His bad taste prides himself on his litigiousness.
  • He imagines that he is a master in dishonesty, able to take every crooked turn and wriggle in and out of every hole, bending like a twig and getting out of the way of justice.
  • He does this to gain small points not worth mentioning.

It is also a disgrace for people to require medicine to cure a disease caused by indolence and bad habits. They compel the ingenious sons of Asclepius to find more names for diseases, such as flatulence and catarrh.


I do not believe that there were such diseases in the days of Asclepius. I think those diseases came when the hero Eurypylus, after being wounded in Homer, drinks Pramnian wine sprinkled with barley-meal and grated cheese, which are certainly inflammatory. Yet the sons of Asclepius who were at the Trojan war do not:

  • blame the damsel who gives him the drink, nor
  • rebuke Patroclus, who is treating his case.

Our present system of medicine educates on diseases. Before the time of Herodicus, the guild of Asclepius did not practise our medicine. But Herodicus was a sickly trainer. Through training and doctoring, he found out a way to torture himself first and then the rest of the world.


He invented the lingering death. He had a mortal disease which he perpetually tended. Recovery was out of the question. He passed his entire life as a sickly person. He was in constant torment whenever he departed from his usual regimen. By the help of science, he struggled on to old age. He would have had better health had he been employed and was not idle.

In well-ordered states, every individual has an occupation. Not having an occupation causes people to be indolent and sick. This sickness then has to be cured by medicine, such as the sickly arts taught by Asclepius.


Laziness applies to artisans. But, ludicrously enough, it does not apply the same rule to rich people.

When a carpenter is ill, he asks the physician for a rough and ready cure. His remedies are an emetic, a purge, a cautery, or the knife. If someone prescribes a diet and tells him that he must swaddle his head, he replies that he has no time to be sick and that he sees no good in a life spent in nursing his disease to the neglect of his employment.

He says good-bye to this sort of physician and resumes his ordinary habits. He either gets well and lives and does his business, or dies and has no more trouble.

Glaucon Yes, a man in his condition of life should use the art of medicine thus far only.

He has an occupation. What profit would there be in his life if he were deprived of his occupation?

But with the rich man this is otherwise as he generally has nothing to do. Phocylides says that a man should practise virtue as soon as he has a livelihood.

Glaucon No, I think that he had better begin somewhat sooner.
Socrates Is the practice of virtue obligatory on the rich man, or can he live without it? This dieting of disorders impedes the application of the mind in carpentering and the mechanical arts. If the practice of virtue is obligatory, then this dieting stands in the way of Phocylides’ policy.
Glaucon Such excessive care of the body, when carried beyond the rules of gymnastic, hinders most the practice of virtue.

Yes, it is equally incompatible with the management of a house, an army, or an office of state. Most importantly, it is irreconcileable with any kind of study or self-reflection.

Headache and giddiness are suspected to come from philosophy. Therefore, all practice of virtue in the higher sense should be absolutely stopped.

A man always imagines that he is being made ill. He is in constant anxiety about the state of his body. That’s why our politic Asclepius showed the power of his medicine only to healthy persons who had a real ailment. He cured these by purges and operations. He consulted the interests of the State.

But he does not attempt to cure bodies penetrated through and through by disease. He did not want to lengthen good-for-nothing lives or to have weak fathers begetting weaker sons. If a man was not able to live in the ordinary way, he had no business to cure him. Such a cure would have been of no use either to himself, or to the State.

Glaucon Then you regard Asclepius as a statesman.

Yes, his character is further illustrated by his sons who were heroes in the days of old.

He practised the medicines at the siege of Troy. When Pandarus wounded Menelaus, they ‘Sucked the blood out of the wound, and sprinkled soothing remedies’. But they never prescribed what the patient was afterwards to eat or drink, both in the case of Menelaus and that of Eurypylus. They thought that the remedies were enough to heal any man who was healthy and regular in his habits. Even though Menelaus drank Pramnian wine, he might get well all the same.

But they would have nothing to do with unhealthy and intemperate subjects, who were as rich as Midas and whose lives were of no use either to themselves or others. The art of medicine was not designed for their good. The sons of Asclepius declined to attend them.

Glaucon Those sons of Asclepius were very acute.

Nevertheless, the tragedians and Pindar disobeyed our behests. They say that Asclepius was:

  • the son of Apollo,
  • bribed into healing a rich man who was at the point of death which was why he was struck by lightning.

But we will not believe them. If he were the son of a god, then he was not avaricious. If he were avaricious, then he was not the son of a god.

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