Want to Make Friends at Holiday Parties? Plutarch on Why Drinking is Useful

Plutarch, Moralia 644e: Table-Talk, On the Usefulness of Drinking for Getting to Know People

“When the Poet Simonides, my Sossios Senecios, saw a stranger at a drinking party sitting there in silence and talking to no one he said “Man, if you are a fool, you are doing something wise; but if you are wise, you are doing a foolish thing.” For, as Heraclitus says, “it is better to hide ignorance” and it is really hard to do this while drinking “which makes even a very wise man sing / and causes him to laugh gently and dance /and then to speak whatever word which was unsaid” [Hom. Od. 14.464-6).

In this, it seems to me, the poet demonstrates the differences between being a little tipsy and drunkenness. For song, merriment, dancing and dancing are coming to those who have drunk moderately. But talking too much and saying what is better kept silent is the work of too much wine, of being drunk. For this reason also, Plato believes that we can see the character of most men while drinking, as Homer said, “those two did not learn one another’s nature even at the table”.

It is clear that Homer knows the talkativeness of wine and how it creates much conversation. For it is not possible to know people who sit eating and drinking in silence. Drinking leads to chatting, and by chatting someone emerges and much that is otherwise hidden is disclosed—drinking together provides some way of getting to know each other.

For this reason, it is not wrong to chastise Aesop, “Why are you searching out these gateways, sir, through which different people can gaze upon the mindset of one another? This lays waste our well made modes of behavior, from the most basic custom by which we were trained, as if by a teacher.” This is why drinking is useful to both Aesop and Plato, and for anyone else looking for a method of inquiry.

Image result for Ancient Greek drinking party

Σιμωνίδης ὁ ποιητής, ὦ Σόσσιε Σενεκίων, ἔν τινι πότῳ ξένον ἰδὼν κατακείμενον σιωπῇ καὶ μηδενὶ διαλεγόμενον, “ὦ ἄνθρωπ᾿,” εἶπεν, “εἰ μὲν ἠλίθιος εἶ, σοφὸν πρᾶγμα ποιεῖς· εἰ δὲ σοφός, ἠλίθιον.” “ἀμαθίην γὰρ ἄμεινον,” ὥς φησιν Ἡράκλειτος, “κρύπτειν,” ἔργον δ᾿ ἐν ἀνέσει καὶ παρ᾿ οἶνον

ὅστ᾿ ἐφέηκε πολύφρονά περ μάλ᾿ ἀεῖσαι,
καί θ᾿ ἁπαλὸν γελάσαι καί τ᾿ ὀρχήσασθαι ἀνῆκεν,
καί τι ἔπος προέηκεν, ὅπερ τ᾿ ἄρρητον ἄμεινον·

οἰνώσεως ἐνταῦθα τοῦ ποιητοῦ καὶ μέθης, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ, διαφορὰν ὑποδεικνύντος. ᾠδὴ μὲν γὰρ καὶ γέλως καὶ ὄρχησις οἰνουμένοις μετρίως ἔπεισι· τὸ δὲ λαλεῖν καὶ λέγειν, ἃ βέλτιον ἦν σιωπᾶν, παροινίας ἤδη καὶ μέθης ἔργον ἐστίν. διὸ καὶ Πλάτων ἐν οἴνῳ μάλιστα καθορᾶσθαι τὰ ἤθη τῶν πολλῶν νομίζει, καὶ Ὅμηρος εἰπὼν

οὐδὲ τραπέζῃ / γνώτην ἀλλήλων

δῆλός ἐστιν εἰδὼς τὸ πολύφωνον τοῦ οἴνου καὶ λόγων πολλῶν γόνιμον. οὐ γὰρ ἔστι τρωγόντων σιωπῇ καὶ πινόντων γνῶσις· ἀλλ᾿ ὅτι τὸ πίνειν εἰς τὸ λαλεῖν προάγεται, τῷ δὲ λαλεῖν ἐμφαίνεται καὶ τὸ ἀπογυμνοῦσθαι πολλὰ τῶν ἄλλως λανθανόντων, παρέχει τινὰ τὸ συμπίνειν κατανόησιν ἀλλήλων· ὥστε μὴ φαύλως ἂν ἐπιτιμῆσαι τῷ Αἰσώπῳ· “τί τὰς θυρίδας, ὦ μακάριε, ζητεῖς ἐκείνας, δι᾿ ὧν ἄλλος ἄλλου κατόψεται τὴν διάνοιαν; ὁ γὰρ οἶνος ἡμᾶς ἀνοίγει καὶ δείκνυσιν οὐκ ἐῶν ἡσυχίαν ἄγειν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀφαιρῶν τὸ πλάσμα καὶ τὸν σχηματισμόν, ἀπωτάτω τοῦ νόμου καθάπερ παιδαγωγοῦ γεγονότων.” Αἰσώπῳ μὲν οὖν καὶ Πλάτωνι, καὶ εἴ τις ἄλλος ἐξετάσεως τρόπου δεῖται, πρὸς τοῦτο χρήσιμον ὁ ἄκρατος·

 

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