“This is the reason why the most divine Plato rightly legislated in his second book of Laws that boys should not taste wine at all until they are 18 years old. For it is not right to heat fire with fire! It is permissible to taste a limited amount of wine up to thirty, but a young man should completely refrain from being drunk or drinking a lot. When a man is forty years old he can pray to the rest of gods in the common mess and then may appeal to Dionysus and the rites of the elders and the games they have. Wine is the drug which Dionysus granted to humans as a companion for harsher old age, so we might recover ourselves and forget our despair.”
I don’t care for the man
who talks about strife,
and about fights that make you cry,
while he’s drinking his wine
right by the full mixing bowl.
instead, give me the man
who mixes the splendid gifts
of Aphrodite with those of the Muses
and reminisces about darling good times.
Phocylides Fr. 11
it’s only right that when men get together to drink and talk,
and the wine cups are going around,
you sit there peaceably and drink your wine,
and you make small talk, pleasantly.
A sweet force overcomes
The heart in the dances of the cups.
And hope for Aphrodite courses through the thoughts
All mixed up with the gifts of Dionysus.
It raises people’s thoughts to the highest points:
And suddenly: a man seems to sack city walls
And to rule over all men as king.
His homes shine with gold and ivory,
And grain-bearing ships lead home the greatest wealth
From Egypt over the shining sea—
That’s how the mind of a drinker leaps…”
Sophokles says that “drinking is a pain-reliever” and other poems add “pleasant wine, fruit of the earth’ (Il. 3.246). And the king of the poets even has his Odysseus say “whoever fills himself with wine and food may fight all day long with a full heart…” etc.
This is why Simonides says that the origin of wine and music is the same. From drinking, as well, came the discovery of comedy and tragedy in Ikarion in Attica in the season of the grape-harvest [trugês], which is why comedy was first called trug-oidia.
“He gave mortals the pain-relieving vine.
But when there is no more wine, there is no Aphrodite
Nor any other pleasure left for human beings.”
That’s what Euripides says in the Bacchae (771). Astyadamas also says
“He also showed to mortals
The vine, wine-mother, and cure for pain.
If someone fills with wine endlessly, he becomes careless.
If he drinks only a bit, he becomes deeply reflective”.
And then Antiphanes says:
“I am not too drunk to think, but just enough that
I can’t pronounce letters clearly with my mouth.”
Plutarch’s “Table-talk” stands alongside Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists and Petronius Satyricon as presenting a wide variety of fragments and subjects discussed within a somewhat fragile narrative frame. When compared to the other works, Plutarch’s seems to offer even less of an effort to unite the various topics as “Table-talk”. Over nine books, Plutarch presents 90 topics for discussion by a rotating case of characters (often including himself).
Below I have excerpted all of the questions without any of the answers. For a dinner party or get-together with classical or philosophical themes, or just any gathering you might fear will lack good cheer and exciting conversation, I suggest putting each question on a card and distributing them randomly for hilarity.
[PS: if you do this, take notes or record it and share it with the world]
Plutarch Table Talk, [Moralia]
1.1  “Is it right to practice philosophy while drinking?
Εἰ δεῖ φιλοσοφεῖν παρὰ πότον
1.2  “Should the host assign seats to his guests or should they arrange themselves?”
Πότερον αὐτὸν δεῖ κατακλίνειν τοὺς ἑστιωμένους τὸν ὑποδεχόμενον ἢ ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιεῖσθαι;
1.3  “Why the position called the ‘consul’s’ gained honor?”
Διὰ τί τῶν τόπων ὁ καλούμενος ὑπατικὸς ἔσχε τιμήν
1.4  “What sort of person should be in charge of drinking?”
Ποῖόν τινα δεῖ τὸν συμποσίαρχον εἶναι;
1.5  “Why do people say that “Love teaches the poet”?
Πῶς εἴρηται τὸ “ποιητὴν δ᾿ ἄρα Ἔρως διδάσκει”;
1.6  “On Alexander the Great’s excessive drinking”
Περὶ τῆς Ἀλεξάνδρου πολυποσίας;
“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos.
Why would you say that once you cross the great eddying
River of Acheron you will see the pure light of the sun again?
Come on, don’t hope for great things.
For even the son of Aiolos, Sisyphos used to claim
He was better than death because he knew the most of men.
Even though he was so very wise, he crossed
The eddying river Acheron twice thanks to fate
And Kronos’ son granted that he would have toil
Beneath the dark earth. So don’t hope for these things.
As long as we are young, now is the time we must
Endure whatever of these things the god soon grants us to suffer.”
Why are those who are actually drunk, less messed up than those we call tipsy?
“Since we have hassled Aristotle,” my father said, “Shouldn’t we also try to say something particular about those who are called “tipsy”. For even though he was the sharpest in these kinds of explorations, he seems to me to have insufficiently examined the cause of this. For he says, I think, that it is possible for a sober man to make a judgment well and in line with reality while one who is pretty drunk is too wrecked to have control over his perception even as one who is only tipsy remains strong in imagination but has compromised logic. For this reason, he makes judgments and does it badly because he following imaginary things. What do you think about these things?” He said.
“When I was reading this,” I said, “the argument was fine regarding the cause. But if you want me to work up some contribution of my own, look first at whether we should credit the difference you have mentioned to the body. For, the tipsy mind alone is messed up, the body is still capable of serving impulses because it is not yet completely permeated. But when the body is overcome and soaked, it betrays its movements and ignores them and it does not move on to actual deeds. Those who have a body that still responds to them are reproved not by their lack of logical thought but by their greater strength.”
Then I said, “And, if we were to consider it from another principle, nothing stops the strength of wine from being variable and from changing alongside its amount. In the same way, fire, if it is measured, gives strength and hardness to pottery; but if it strikes it too much, it melts it and makes it liquid. In another way, spring revives and increases fevers as it begins while the heat of summer settles them and makes them desist.
Therefore, what prevents the mind, once it is moved by wine naturally, when it has been disturbed and excited, from calming and settling down as drinking increases? Hellebore has at its onset of purging pain for the body. But if less then the right amount is given, it disturbs but does not cleanse. And some people are made a little manic when they have a smaller dose of sleeping medicine, but sleep once they take more.”
“For, just as those who believe it a type of exercise when they dance in the middle of feasts will chase away companions who dare them to footrace or box because it is better exercise, in the same way when at the table a fool is given some space by the alacrity of his companion, it is permitted that one can philosophize at dinner but in the appropriate manner, since you temper the bowl which is mixed for happiness not just with the Nymphs but with the Muses too.”
nam sicut inter illos qui exercitii genus habent in mediis saltare conviviis, si quis ut se amplius exerceat vel ad cursum vel ad pugilatum sodales lacessiverit, quasi ineptus relegabitur ab alacritate consortii, sic apud mensam quando licet aptis philosophandum est, ut crateri liquoris ad laetitiam nati adhibeatur non modo Nympharum sed Musarum quoque admixtione temperies.
“Men who drink a lot of wine are rather sluggish at intercourse and they ejaculate semen not at all strong or good for fertilization; instead their attempts at sex with women are cursory and incomplete because of the weakness and frigidity of their seed.
Indeed, however much men suffer because of the cold occurs to them when they are drunk: tremors, heaviness, paleness, sudden jumps in the limbs, senseless speech, a lack of feeling in the joints and extremities. For most men, being drunk results in paralysis, whenever the wine totally expels and defeats the heat.”
“Friend, come and drink! For this itself is also a virtue,
Whenever someone drinks the most wine at the feast
Using the best techniques, and also encourages his friends.
Yes, the man who is fast at the feast is equal to one in war,
Working through the grievous battles, where few people
Are actually brave and withstand the rushing war.
I think that his glory is equal when someone delights in
Being there at the feast and encourages the rest of the band too.
For a mortal does not seem to me to live or to have the life
Of a mortal who knows pain, if he sits there
Restraining his heart from wine—no, he’s an idiot.
For wine is a blessing for mortals equal to fire,
A fine armor against evil and companion for song.
It has its own share of the feast and of reward,
It has the power of dance, of bewitching love,
And is a shelter from worry and sadness.
So, you need to drink to the dedication at the feast
With a happy spirit—don’t sit with a full stomach,
Sated like a vulture who has forgotten happiness.”
I will come to dinner, but I am making request beforehand: it must be quick and sparse and it should only overflow in Socratic discussions. Let this be moderate too. There will be visitors early tomorrow, people not even Cato would be allowed to reject, even though Caesar praised him as much as he criticized him. For he describes the people Cato met were flushed with embarrassment when they realized who was drunk: “you would have imagined they were caught by Cato not that Cato was caught by them!”
Is it possible to pay a better tribute to Cato than to say he was still so venerable when drunk? But our meal needs a limit for preparation and cost as well as time. We are certainly not the types of people our enemies can’t fail to blame without praising us too!
Plinius Catilio Severo Suo S.
Veniam ad cenam, sed iam nunc paciscor, sit expedita sit parca, Socraticis tantum sermonibus abundet, in his quoque teneat modum. Erunt officia antelucana, in quae incidere impune ne Catoni quidem licuit, quem tamen C. Caesar ita reprehendit ut laudet. Describit enim eos, quibus obvius fuerit,
cum caput ebrii retexissent, erubuisse; deinde adicit: “Putares non ab illis Catonem, sed illos a Catone deprehensos.” Potuitne plus auctoritatis tribui Catoni, quam si ebrius quoque tam venerabilis erat? 4Nostrae tamen cenae, ut adparatus et impendii, sic temporis modus constet. Neque enim ii sumus quos vituperare ne inimici quidem possint, nisi ut simul laudent. Vale.