On right health and good pleasure

Above: Pope Sixtus IV appoints Bartolomeo Platina prefect of the Vatican Library, fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, c. 1477 (Vatican Museums). That’s Platina kneeling. Click the image for the entire fresco.

The title of today’s post is a play-on-words, a riff on the canonical translation of Bartolomeo Platina’s De honesta voluptate et valetudine, On Right Pleasure and Good Health (as translated, superbly, by Mary Milham in 1998). Italian humanist, gastronome, and literary consultant to some of the most important cultural and political figures of his time, Platina authored a treatise considered by many the earliest printed work on gastronomy. It was overwhelmingly popular in Europe from the time of its initial publication in the late 15th century through the 17th century, by which time it appeared in myriad translations from the Latin. (I know a little about Platina and his book since I translated the 15th-century Italian recipe collection by Maestro Martino from which Platina drew heavily).

In the mind of the Renaissance humanist, good health and right pleasure were inexorably linked. As food historian Ken Albala illustrated so eloquently in his 2002 Eating Right in the Renaissance, inhabitants of 15th-century Italy believed — rightly — that everything you put into your body affected your health, emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

Sumus quales edamus: we are what we produce (äfere), we are what we eat (lèdere).

I’m no Renaissance man but I do believe that right pleasure and good health go hand in hand, so to speak.

That’s why I’m thinking today about “right health”: President Obama’s signing of the new health care legislation (however flawed, however riddled by political posturing) marks for me the fulfillment of a dream (both personal and civic). As David Leonhardt wrote in The New York Times today, “The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago… Speaking to an ebullient audience of Democratic legislators and White House aides at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday, Mr. Obama claimed that health reform would ‘mark a new season in America.’ He added, ‘We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.'”

As a long-time self-employed translator, writer, copywriter, and musician/songwriter, health care has always been a primary issue for me. To my mind and in my heart as a member of American society, the inequality of health care in our country has always represented a tragedy in our affluent nation.

So today I ask you to consider a step forward in our country, toward an inalienable right that is guaranteed, however imperfectly, to citizens in most Western countries.

What’s next? Will we outlaw the death penalty? I’d certainly drink to that.

In other news…

Please read BrooklynGuy’s excellent post today, with its oxymoronic title, How to Buy Excellent Cheap Wine.