The role of dietary restriction in the construction of identity in the Graeco-Roman world
Beer, Michael John
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
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This thesis will attempt both to explore the phenomenon of dietary restriction within the context of Graeco-Roman antiquity and to prove that it existed in an intimate and causal relationship with the construction, maintenance and perception of cultural, political and religious identity. It will be the contention of this thesis that in the same way as social and ethnic groups may seek to utilise indigenous cuisines and particular modes of food consumption as social markers to define and negotiate notions of identity and as a way of asserting these notions within the context of a period of social transition, population migration and cultural hybridisation, so too may forms of dietary restriction serve an analogous function. The thesis will examine this phenomenon primarily through the literature of the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. Its geographical background will be the Italian peninsula and the Greek speaking East. Chronologically the scope of the study will focus predominantly upon the first and second centuries A.D, a period rich in both cultural interaction and tension, but, owing to the particular cultural and philosophical strands that were current during this period, and the specific concerns of authors writing during this period, the material under contemplation will in fact range from the Homeric texts to Porphyry. These tensions throw into sharp relief the problems of defining the nature and limits of group and individual identity within a sprawling and heterogeneous ethnic melting pot. The thesis will examine such phenomena as vegetarianism, the taboos and anxieties surrounding the bean, the ambiguous status of fish, the dietary legislation of the Jewish people and the restrictions that were placed upon the consumption of alcohol. These particular instances of dietary restriction serve as examples of dietary flash points, when differing dietary ideologies act as potent illustrations of the simmering undercurrents of ethnic, racial and cultural tensions that existed in the ancient world.