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Eating Lupines

On two occasions in the Life of Symeon, the saint eats a legume called θέρμια or “lupines.”[22] Shortly after arriving in Emesa, Symeon is offered a job by the proprietor of a soup stand in the agora. In addition to this humble fare, the proprietor also sold lupines and boiled lentils.[23]

According to God’s plan, a phouska-seller saw [Symeon not knowing] that he was playing the fool [σαλός]. And he said to him (for it seemed that he was sane), “Would you like, my Lord Abba,[24] instead of wandering about, to be set up to sell lupines [θέρμια]?” And he said, “Yes.” (p. 146)

While on the job, Symeon began to give the food away, and he himself began to eat insatiably. The proprietor’s wife observed Symeon eating a whole pot full of lupines, causing her to remark, “Where did you find us this abba? If he eats like this, it’s no use trying to sell anything!” (p. 146). In a second episode, Symeon is sought out by two monks who are debating the reason for Origen’s fall into heresy. They find Symeon in the phouska-seller’s shop “eating lupines like a bear” (p. 153).

Symeon’s robust appetite is less noteworthy in these stories than are the lupines themselves. The lupine is a legume which was known for its ability to induce flatulence.[25] Ostentatious farting was a trademark of Diogenes. Diogenes Laertius relates stories about both Diogenes and Crates which involve lupines, suggesting that lupines held a special place in Cynic lore. Consider the following anecdote about Diogenes:

A young man was delivering a set speech, when Diogenes, having filled the front fold of his dress with lupins [sic], began to eat them, standing right opposite to him. Having thus drawn off the attention of the assemblage, he said he was greatly surprised that they should desert the orator to look at himself.[26]

The significance of the ingestion of lupines as a commentary on the content of the speech in this passage is made clear by an anecdote concerning Crates, a follower of Diogenes the Cynic, related in Diogenes Laertius’s life of Metrocles.

While [Metrocles] was practicing a speech, he farted. Out of desperation, he shut himself up in his house and tried to starve himself to death. On learning of this, Crates came to visit him as he had been asked to do. After having purposely eaten lupines, Crates tried to convince Metrocles that he had done nothing wrong, for it would have been a marvel if he had not answered the winds in accord with nature [κατὰ φύσιν]. But at last Crates also farted, thus lifting Metrocles from his depression, consoled by the similarity of the deeds.[27]

From this moment Metrocles became a student of Crates and a Cynic. This remarkable tale of the conversion of Metrocles makes it clear that lupines were notorious for causing gas. In order to appreciate these stories fully we must consider lupines as the rough equivalent of our baked beans. The anecdote about Diogenes eating lupines at a public lecture depends on the audience’s expectations. In addition to breaking social codes by eating in a public place,[28] Diogenes distracted the audience because of the specific food he was eating. No doubt the audience was fixated on Diogenes, awaiting the result of his ingestion. He therefore provided not only a visual alternative to the speaker, but, in time, could be expected to provide an audible alternative as well. Thus, Diogenes is able to use his bodily functions to comment on the situation at hand. The speech to which Diogenes is listening is nothing more, if you will, than hot air.

Although in these stories about Diogenes and Crates flatulence is intentionally induced, the act of farting is regarded in the passage concerning Crates as completely natural. It is only on account of social convention that one is embarrassed by such natural acts. Farting in public is one of the shameless activities associated with Diogenes the Cynic elsewhere. Julian mentions farting along with defecating as activities which Diogenes performed in the market place.[29] And Diogenes Laertius even attributes to Diogenes a treatise with the title Pordalos, derived from the word πορδή, “a fart.”[30] Epictetus complained that the second-rate Cynics of his day imitated their predecessors in nothing other than producing farts.[31] Thus when Leontius portrayed Symeon as an avid eater of lupines, he was once again drawing a connection between Symeon and Diogenes. Eating legumes which cause one to fart, it should be noted, was a particularly unphilosophical thing to do. Pythagoras is said to have forbidden his followers to eat broad beans (κυάμος), another legume, because they caused gas and interfered with proper breathing.[32] Thus in eating lupines, Diogenes contradicts the practice of more respectable philosophers,[33] and Symeon contradicts the behavior of a good ascetic in that he gorges himself when he should probably be fasting.[34]


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Symeon and the Cynics
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