Around 1512/1514 in France an illustrated manuscript seemingly made for the heir apparent to the crown shows a number of sayings that use food as a way to talk about morals.  At the time, François I (1494-1547) was between the ages of eighteen and twenty— he would become king of France on January 1, 1515.  The texts in that illustrated manuscript appear to have been chosen by the humanist François du Moulin de Rochefort (died 1526), who had been his précepteur.




French (anonymous), early 16th century. “Do Not Put Food in a Chamber Pot” [fol. 24 recto], c.1512/1515. Woodner Collection. The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.,



As an adaptation of how Erasmus (1469-1536) explains the precept  Σιτίον  εἰς  ἀμίδα  μὴ  ἐμβάλλειν  (Do not put food in a chamber pot) by Pythagoras (c.570 BCE – c.495 BCE), the following Latin text accompanies the above image:

Vinum in matellam immittit

qui sermonem urbanum mittit in

animum hominis improbi.  Nam oratio

cibus animi: Is corrumpitur et putre-

scit, si in animum insyncerum inci-



The book Erasmian Wit and Proverbial Wisdom (1995) by Jean Michel Massing gives the following translation: “Anyone who pours wine into a chamber-pot places courteous words in the mind of a bad man.  For speech is the food of the mind, and it decays and rots if it falls into a mind that is impure” (89).  Massing points out that the fool here is more likely holding a urine flask, which reflects how Erasmus finishes explaining Pythagoras’s precept: “This means, as Epicetus warns us in Gellius, that we must look with great care to see what kind of mind we are making the recipient of our words.  For if we put them into an impure container, he says, they will turn into vinegar or urine.  Horace refers to this with his ‘A dirty bottle sours all you pour in’ ” (Massing 89).




French (anonymous), early 16th century. “Do Not Eat Beans” [fol. 25 recto], 1512/1514. Woodner Collection. The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.,



Deriving from Erasmus’s interpretation of the Pythagorean precept  κυάμων  ἀπέχεσθαι  (Abstain from beans), the following text in Latin accompanies the above image:

A fabis abstinendum. A tractan-

dis reipu[blicae] muneribus : Quia in

creandis magistratibus suffragia,

fabis, vice calculorum ferebantur.

Seu a Luxuria, et testiculus,

quibus fabae sunt similes


Translation: “Avoid beans.  That is avoid holding public office, because when magistrates were to be elected the votes were taken by beans instead of pebbles.  Or again avoid lust and testicles which are similar to beans” (Massing, Erasmian Wit and Proverbial Wisdom 90).  Erasmus’s commentary on this Pythagorean precept cites a line from a poem by Empedocles (c.495–435 BCE) in which the word  κυάμους  figuratively means testicles (instead of a leguminous plant), and so Erasmus concludes: “Thus that line of Empedocles is not intended . . . to deter people from eating beans but from excessive sexual indulgence” (Massing, Erasmian Wit and Proverbial Wisdom 90).


In terms of food, the regular planting of fava beans in Gallic and Frankish lands dates from the time of Charlemagne (c.747-814): “His Capitulare de villis vel Curtis imperii, or decrees regarding the imperial domains, sought to remedy shortages by improving agriculture.  The capitularies listed plants that Charlemagne wanted to be cultivated throughout the empire, such as cucumbers, artichokes, chickpeas, fava beans, mustard, radishes, turnips, beets, cabbages, lettuce, rocket, and various herbs.  He exhorted cooks, bakers, butchers, millers, and makers of garum, cheese, cervoise (ale), hydromel (fermented honey drink), and mustard to work carefully in a clean environment” (Abramson 11).  In the book A History of Food (2009) the author Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat notes that “broad beans were very popular in the Middle Ages, particularly eaten early in the season, when they were called ‘Lendict’ beans in France, referring to the name of a fair held near Paris in June.  They were sautéed with onions, saffron and a small piece of herring or porpoise” (37).  Also, dating from the 1300s in France there is the tradition of the galette des Rois (or gâteau des Rois in southern France) that has a fava bean inside of it for celebrating the Christian feast day of Epiphany.  Nowadays the tiny figurine that is used instead of a fava bean in these cakes is still referred to as a fève.




French (anonymous), early 16th century. “Feed Not Things That Have Sharp Claws” [fol. 38 recto], 1512/1514. Woodner Collection. The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.,



The above image is based on Erasmus’s commentary on the Pythagorean precept  Γαμψώνυχα  μὴ  τρέφειν  (Feed not things that have sharp claws):

Γαμψώνυχα  μὴ  τρέφειν.  Quae uncis sunt unguibus ne nutrias.  Rapacitatem fugito.  Interprete Tryphone.  Equidem arbitror convenire cum illo Aeschyli dicto, quod suo reddemus loco.  Catulum leonis non esse alendum in republica, hoc est non admittendos  δημοβόρους  (ut ait Homerus)  βασιλέας.


Translation: “Feed not things that have sharp claws.  Shun rapacity, explains Tryphon.  For my part I think it agrees with the saying of Aeschylus, which I shall give in its due place, ‘The lion’s cub must not be fostered in the state’, that is, no admittance for ‘people-devouring kings’, as Homer has it” (Massing, Erasmian Wit and Proverbial Wisdom 98-99).




French (anonymous), early 16th century. “A Fool Feeding Flowers to Swine” [fol. 42 recto], c.1512/1515. Woodner Collection. The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.,



The image above draws on the incipit from Les dictz moraux pour faire tapisserie by Henri Baude (1430-c.1496).

Des pourceaulx qui ont repandu ung plain panier de fleurs :

Belles raisons qui sont mal entendues

ressemblent fleurs a pourceaulx estendues…


The illustrated manuscript for François I changes Baude’s words slightly:

Belles raysons, qui sont mal entendues,

Sont comme fleurs, aux pourceaulx



Both of the above are of course related to Matthew 7:6 — “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (King James Version).




References & Suggested Reading



Abramson, Julia. Food Culture in France. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.


Erasmus, Desiderius. Collected Works of Erasmus. Toronto/Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1974 – .


“François du Moulin de Rochefort.” Contemporaries of Erasmus: A Biographical Register of the Renaissance and Reformation, volumes 1-3, AZ. 2003.


Gadoffre, Gilbert, and Jean Céard. La révolution culturelle dans la France des Humanistes : Guillaume Budé et François Ier/Préface de Jean Céard. Vol. 8. Librairie Droz, 1997.


“Henri Baude.” ARLIMA (Archives de littérature du Moyen Age).


Massing, Jean Michel. Du texte à l’image. La Calomnie d’Apelle et son iconographie. Strasbourg: Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 1990.


– – – . Erasmian Wit and Proverbial Wisdom. An Illustrated Moral Compendium for François 1er. London: Warburg Institute, 1995.


– – – . “The Illustrations of Lucian’s Imago Vitae Aulicae.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 50 (1987): 215-16.


– – – . “The Influence of Erasmus: Text and image in a French pre-emblematic manuscript.” Manuscripts in the Fifty Years after the Invention of Printing (Colloquium Paper at the Warburg Institute) 1983: 75-82.


Pierre, Benoist. “Le clergé de cour et la décision politique dans la première moitié du XVIe siècle.” La prise de décision en France (1525-1559) : recherches sur la réalité du pouvoir royal ou princier à la Renaissance, edited by Roseline Claerr and Olivier Poncet, École nationale des chartes, 2008, pp.53-68.


Pitrat, Michel, and Claude Foury. Histoires de légumes : des origines à l’orée du XXIe siècle. Editions Quae, 2003.


The Touch of the Artist: Master Drawings from the Woodner Collections. Exhibition Catalogue. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1995.


Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. A History of Food. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.