By Andrew Jotischky
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Extra resources for A Hermit's Cookbook: Monks, Food and Fasting in the Middle Ages
Another Skete monk, Isaiah, was criticized for adding water and salt to his food, on the grounds that this created a sauce, which was unnecessarily complicating the basic ingredients. Aphrodisias, a monk at the monastery founded by Theodosius, imposed a penance on himself for once having killed a mule in a blind rage. From that time on, he would only eat the leftovers of the other monks’ food, which he mixed together in a single bowl, and of which he permitted himself to eat just a little each day.
Athanasius’ biography is thus in many ways an intellectual study rather than a ‘life story’, and although the outlines of Anthony’s long life do emerge, Athanasius’ chief concern is to give a portrait of monastic spirituality. Thus, many chapters are devoted to Anthony’s advice to other monks and to descriptions of the fantastic and terrifying visions of demons that he experienced in his solitude. For Athanasius, the inner man was more important than the details of how or where Anthony lived, and although he locates 24 A Hermit’s Cookbook the biography in the physical geography of the Egyptian desert, it was the mental geography of Anthony’s journey towards God that really interested him, and that proved so inﬂuential.
They devoted their lives to prayer, worship and simplicity of living, eschewed marriage and sexual relations, and maintained a strict bodily austerity that included dietary restrictions beyond the Mosaic law. Whether Christian monks consciously modelled themselves on the Essenes is highly debatable. Josephus’ works became very well known in the Middle Desert fathers, pillar-saints and fasting 45 Ages, and in the fourteenth century, when religious orders began to develop complex theories about the origins of monasticism, the Essenes were indeed seen as precursors by one such order, the Carmelite friars.
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