Moralia: Why Salt Was Regarded As Divine

In Iliad, Homer writes, “He sprinkled with salt divine”. Plato says in Timaeus that by the custom of mankind salt is regarded as of all substances the one most favoured by the gods. Egyptian priests, on the other hand, made it a point of religion to abstain completely from salt.

Perhaps the Egyptians from motives of purity avoid salt on account of the aphrodisiac properties sometimes attributed to it. But it is just as probable that they protest against salt because it is delicious as a seasoning; some even call it charites (joys), because it makes needful food enjoyable.

Men consider divine the common things which most completely supply their practical needs, like water, light, and the seasons, and they conceive of the earth as not merely divine but as actually a goddess. Salt is inferior to none of these in usefulness. It serves as a kind of finishing touch or coping to the meal for the body, and adapts the food to our appetite.

Salt is the opponent of death, for it preserves bodies uncorrupted for a long time, and does not allow the dead to decay completely. As the soul, our most divine element, preserves life by preventing dissolution of the body, just so salt, when bodies are laid in it, closely parallel in its effect, intervenes, controls and checks the process of decay, by harmonizing and reconciling the constituent parts.

Birth of Venus
Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Generation is divine, since the beginning of anything is always a god. Salt contributes not a little to generation. The Egyptians, whenever their dogs are sluggish towards copulation, feed them salty meat and other briny food. For the saltiness stimulates and intensifies the sexual members and serves to stimulate copulation. For this reason, perhaps, womanly beauty is called “salty” and “piquant” when it is not passive nor unyielding, but has charm and provocativeness. The poets called Aphrodite “born of the brine” and have spread the fiction of her origin in the sea by way of alluding to the generative property of salt. For they also represent Poseidon himself and the sea gods in general as fertile and prolific.

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