ὁ βίος βραχὺς, ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρὴ, ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξὺς, ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερὴ, ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.
Life is short; art is long; opportunity [the moment] fugitive; experience delusive; judgment difficult.
—Hippocrates (Aphorisms, 1.1, trans. Thomas Coar, 1822)
Reading some of the Hippocratic writings in the morning, I like to imagine the book proposal for someone seeking to live in line with the Hippocratic regimen for health (in the spirit of better living through ancient wisdom). Much of the advice is sensible (innocuous, platitudinous) – the notion of adjusting one’s activities and diet to the seasons, to the vagaries of one’s individual humours. Walk fast in winter, slow in summer; bathe often in summer, seldom in winter. If you ache while wrestling, the writer says, go ahead and run; if you ache while running, go ahead and wrestle. In either case, it wouldn’t hurt to go for a walk. Don’t be in a hurry to make changes – for changes that occur gradually are best (On Humours, xv).
The project seems less appealing once one tries to consider the specifics. One would need sections on the different humours, I suppose, and the seasons, and so forth. Overall, it could start promisingly enough with roast meat and no vegetables in winter, washed down with unmixed wine, before moving on to light soups and wine cocktails for summer,1 although the recommended thick, greasy enemas (made from milk, for those inclined to ‘dryness and leanness’ – those who are fat and moist should use a salty clyster) in summer would perhaps give many pause. Indeed, that is rather where my interest in the conceit wanes. If one takes a jaundiced (more common in spring) view of publishing, the oddity (which is certainly no greater than any of the other twaddle peddled as self-improvement) would perhaps make it all the more marketable. Still, as the author points out, ‘a wise man will consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit in his illnesses’.
- Supplemented by twice monthly emetics, of course, in a quantity which the editor notes would be ‘heroic’. [↩]