Opsophagos

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Background

Opsophagos was an ancient Greek term used to describe one who exhibited a seemingly uncontrollable desire for fish. This term had extremely negative connotations, as it was a criticism not of one's tastes, but rather of one's character.

To be labeled an opsophagos was to be accused of obsessive and over-indulgent behavior, and this was no small charge in ancient Greek society, since such behavior was understood to imply the corruption of the soul. Proper humans were expected to be rational and exercise moderation, so those who could not control their desires were seen as barbaric and uncivilized.

Tales of infamous opsophogoi (plural form) depicted men who took their obsession and greed to unbelievable levels, training their bodies in various ways to be able to consume massive quantities of fish immediately after they had been prepared, ensuring that they would have the fish to themselves, since they would be too hot for others to even touch, let alone eat. These tales of men with heat-resistant throats and padded fingertips were likely fictional, but they served as reminders to all who heard them that letting the pleasure-driven body overcome the rational soul was not the way to become an ideal human. One could enjoy fish, but one had to be careful not to take this enjoyment too far and become an opsophagos.

Source: Davidson, James (1997). Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens. Great Britain: Harper Collins. Retrieved 2007-02-10.

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