Allan Massie

Monks’ Mackerel

A Hermit’s Cookbook: Monks, Food and Fasting in the Middle Ages

By

Continuum 209pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

This book’s subtitle is a more accurate description than the title itself, because some desert hermits did little or no cooking. Many of them indeed ate no more than was necessary to stay alive, mortifying the body to purify the soul. One Theodosius, a Palestinian monk, scolded a follower, who was to accompany him on his annual Lenten wandering around the Dead Sea, for bringing a pot and pan: ‘If he needed to eat cooked food, he should go elsewhere.’ Some lived like beasts by grazing. For seventy years a certain Sophronius ‘went around naked, eating wild plants but nothing else at all’. The example to follow was that of John the Baptist, who lived on locusts and wild honey. Andrew Jotischky suggests both words may have been mistranslated, though he also points out that locusts actually are an acceptable food.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,