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If you want to be healthier, drink sensibly and in moderation.... (Marulić on food, drink and fasting)
Food and drink, on which human existence depends, are always topical themes; in addition, they provide a certain pleasure. In philosophical and religious discourse there has been an endeavour to regulate the narrow bounds between sufficient food for a worthy life and immoderation by various counsels, regulations and customs. In the course of history, food and drink have not been only questions for nutritionists, but also reflect elements of culture, and can be used as a key for the interpretation of society.
The Christian viewpoint about food and drink that is represented by Marulić is in no way unambiguous and history records exaggerations in both directions: both the surrender to pleasure and going beyond the bounds of necessity, and the anathematisation of the satisfaction of corporeal requirements, which has led to anachoritic exaggerations or anorexic mysticism.
We can find the motif of food and drink in many places in Marulić’s oeuvre. He devoted several chapters of the Evangelistary (2,20-25) and the De Institutione bene vivendi (1,1-2) to fasting itself; he summed up his viewpoint about it in The Thirty Second Story. He developed his views of eating and drinking on the basis of literature, but also on a reading of the reality around him, and included these views into his oeuvre as a poetic component, and as occasion for moral lessons. The metaphors and catalogues on the theme of eating and drinking that he uses have two purposes. On the one hand the writer meets the demands of poetic practice, and shows his learning; on the other, the desired situation is vividly illustrated, increasing the degree of persuasiveness and moral instruction, thus reinforcing the ethical tendencies.
In the wish to deter immoderation, in the Croatian poetic works he is more three-dimensional, sharper and more concrete; in the prose works, particularly those in Latin, he is more serious and temperate. Close to the ancient ideal of autarchy, he thinks that being a slave to the maw and the belly is a great shame, and the licentiousness of the wanton flesh should sometimes be restrained with penalties, the body should be inclined to submit to the reason. For immoderation not only deprives the spirit of true understanding but also leads to mortal danger. Thus in food and drink he seeks order and measure, and fasting as redress for sins.
Still, Marulić decisively rejects the purely external fasting of the hypocrite, for, as he says, the purpose of giving up food and drink is to arrive as easily as possible to the spiritual fast that is pleasing in the eye of God, i.e. to abandon vices and to accept virtue. In the matter of fasting, extremes are also vicious as far as he is concerned, and the mean should be observed, so that neither too little nor too much food should be relinquished. For however much it might be useful, corporeal fasting for the Split Humanist did not have a value per se, some other devotional exercises (such as prayer, sacrifice, teaching others) being privileged over it. In any case, fasting should never give rise to boasting. In short, in his vision, restraint and fasting should in fact be a style of life in which one rises in virtues, the ultimate aim being the enjoyment of eternal blessedness.
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