chapter  7
16 Pages


Although the mysterious philosopher Pythagoras (6th century BCE) is regularly cited as antiquity’s most passionate advocate of the vegetarian lifestyle and is accorded a kind of veneration in the literature of the modern animal rights movement, little is in fact known for certain about the nature, limit and reasons for his support for abstinence, as the passage below from Diogenes Laertius’ life of the philosopher makes clear. Since Pythagoras seems to have made some version of the doctrine of metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls, a central feature of his system (see pp. 4-5), it is possible, as Diogenes implies in his mention of the philosopher’s belief in the commonality of souls, that Pythagoras opposed the eating of flesh because of the possibility that one might consume a fellow-human whose soul had passed into an animal. In that case, abstinence becomes primarily a matter of spiritual purity, with, as Diogenes notes, the secondary advantage of improving the mental and spiritual health of the abstinent. One might argue that a vegetarian regimen is in the final analysis self-interested and anthropocentric.