Classical Quarterly 38 (1):264-265 (1988)

For a defence of ‘crudum’ against Courtney's strictures, see the reviews by Goodyear and Reeve. I am presently concerned not with the unresolved crux in verse 144, but with the medical reason for the death of the glutton. Galen, quoted by Mayor, warned that one should not bathe after eating να μ μραξις κατ νερς κα παρ γνηται. More recently, Courtney ad loc. has quoted Persius 3.98ff. and has attributed the death to ‘apoplexy’, which in more modern parlance is called a ‘stroke’ or a ‘cerebral haemorrhage’. What Persius and Juvenal are actually describing is not a stroke but what was formerly known as ‘acute indigestion’ and is now called a ‘heart attack’, as indeed ought to have been obvious from ‘nescio quid trepidat mihi pectus’ at Persius 3.88, and ‘tange, miser, uenas et pone in pectore dextram’ at 3.107. As Duff says, ‘the natural and ordinary time for bathing was just before the cena, but the gluttons of this time had discovered that digestion was temporarily promoted by the unhealthy practice of bathing in very hot water immediately after the meal’. Modern medical research has shown why this practice was very unhealthy indeed. As a meal is digested, the pulse rate is elevated, and bathing in hot water increases it even further. The consumption of alcohol, such as that described at Persius 3.92–3 and 99–100, would further accelerate the heart beat. The synergistic effect of these three circumstances, digesting a heavy meal, metabolising a large dose of alcohol, and bathing in hot water, was liable to cause a heart attack in an overweight man whose arteries were clogged with cholesterol.
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