Hyperion to Bellarmin: On Vegetable Preparation

A short passage from Holderlin’s Hyperion, a work of the early Romantic period full of swooning lovers and classical allusions and more swooning over the beautiful and the sublime, gives some hope, perhaps, to those of us who feel that the preparation of food is indeed a thing to enjoy, and needn’t detract from our delight in philosophy or the search for the good, the beautiful, and the true, and who might (most traditionally) like to have some support from the old authorities in so arguing:

A thousand times I have laughed with joy in my heart at men who imagine that a sublime spirit could not possibly know how to prepare a vegetable.  At the proper time, Diotima could speak quite spiritedly of the hearth, and there is surely nothing nobler than a noble maiden who tends the all-beneficent flame and, akin to nature, prepares the heart-delighting meal.

There are, I admit, a whole serious of more problematic assumptions in this passage.  Diotima, for instance, appears to be beautiful but otherwise quiet (she sings); her only speech appears to be most traditionally of the hearth.  She is called after Socrates’ teacher in love and philosophy, though, and I’m only partway through the book, so there is hope for her.  But even without that — and I think this an important but — at least the preparation of the feast, and not just the feast, is acknowledged (at least elliptically) to be heart-delighting.

Because, you know, it is.  My baked beans tonight were, though humble as the hearth-flame, nevertheless a thing of beauty.


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