Heroic Drinking Feats

Pliny, Natural History 14.143:

Forty years ago, when Tiberius was the emperor, it became common practice to drink while fasting, and for wine to precede food – a practice derived from foreign arts and the recommendations of doctors always making themselves popular by the introduction of some novelty. The Parthians look for glory in this virtuous activity, and Alcibiades earned his glory among the Greeks for drunkenness, and among us Romans Novellius Torquatus Mediolanensis, who held offices from praetor to proconsul, earned his cognomen Tricongii when he drank three congii in a single chug, as Tiberius looked on to witness the miracle, though he was in other respects a severe and even savage man in his old age. Tiberius’ youth had been somewhat too prone to drunkenness, and it was owing to that commendation that they believe that Lucius Piso was selected by him for the care of the city, because he had kept a drinking bout going with Tiberius for two days and two nights. They say that Drusus Caesar took after his father Tiberius chiefly in his skill in drinking.

Torquatus possessed the rare glory (since this skill, too, has its own laws) of never slipping up in a speech, nor easing himself with vomit (or any other bodily discharge) while he was drinking, of staying up until morning without any injury to his health, of drinking as much as possible in one shot, and to have added up his consumption with more small cups than others, and never to have taken a breath or spit while drinking, and never to have left enough of his wine in the cup to make a sound on the pavement, knowing damn well of the rules against deception in drinking.

Tiberio Claudio principe ante hos annos XL institutum, ut ieiuni biberent potiusque vinum antecederet cibos, externis et hoc artibus ac medicorum placitis novitate semper aliqua sese commendantium. gloriam hac virtute Parthi quaerunt, famam apud Graecos Alcibiades meruit, apud nos cognomen etiam Novellius Torquatus Mediolanensis, ad proconsulatum usque praeturae honoribus gestis, tribus congiis — unde et cognomen illi fuit — epotis uno impetu, spectante miraculi gratia Tiberio principe, in senecta iam severo atque etiam saevo alias.

et ipsi iuventa ad merum pronior fuerat, eaque commendatione credidere L. Pisonem urbis curae ab eo delectum, quod biduo duabusque noctibus perpotationem continuasset apud ipsum iam principem. nec alio magis Drusus Caesar regenerasse patrem Tiberium ferebatur.

Torquato rara gloria, quando et haec ars suis legibus constat, non labasse sermone, non levatum vomitione nec alia corporis parte, dum biberet, matutinas obisse sine iniuria vigilias, plurimum hausisse uno potu, plurimum praeterea aliis minoribus addidisse, optima fide non respirasse in hauriendo neque expuisse nihilque ad elidendum in pavimentis sonum ex vino reliquisse, diligenti scito legum contra bibendi fallacias.

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