Plutarch, Moralia 653: Table-Talk Book 3, Question 8
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 does of sleeping medicine, but sleep once they take more.”
This complaint is a generic and contextual one: the narrator doesn’t want a mixing of the themes of war with his own, which are love, drinking and the feast. Another fragment of Anacreon makes this clear:
Anacreon fr. 2
“I don’t love the man who while drinking next to a full cup
Talks about conflicts and lamentable war.
But whoever mixes the shining gifts of Aphrodite and the Muses
Let him keep in mind loving, good cheer.”
Such prescriptions against certain content in sympotic entertainment can be serious too. Xenophanes makes similar points, but with a less playful tone:
Xenophanes, fr. B1 13-24
“First, it is right for merry men to praise the god
with righteous tales and cleansing words
after they have poured libations and prayed to be able to do
what is right: in fact, these things are easier to do,
instead of sacrilege. It is right as well to drink as much as you can
and still go home without help, unless you are very old.
It is right to praise a man who shares noble ideas when drinking
so that we remember and work towards excellence. It is not right to narrate the wars of Titans or Giants nor again of Centaurs, the fantasies of our forebears, Nor of destructive strife. There is nothing useful in these tales.
It is right always to keep in mind good thoughts of the gods.”
In Plutarch’s “Table-Talk” we find three books of ten ‘conversation prompts’ followed by an imagined conversation based on them. Below is just the beginning of the discussion about what kind of a man should be named the symposiarch–a office tasked with setting the conversation, number of drinks, and strength of the wine during the symposium.
Table-Talk: Moralia 620: What kind of man should be in charge of drinking?
My brother-in-law Kratôn and my friend Theôn were at a drinking party when everyone was beginning to get tipsy but then calmed down and they began to speak about the symposiarch, because they were of the opinion that I should take up the duty and not allow an ancient custom to be abandoned by everyone. No, they thought I should renew it and reestablish the position’s authority over drinking parties and their rules. This seemed right to the other guests as well to the extent that they raised a shout and called on me to do the job.
Then I said, “Since this is agreed upon by all of you, I select myself as the symposiarch and I order the rest of you to drink as you would want to for the present, but Kratôn and Theôn—the men who introduced this idea and carried it, they must elaborate in brief outline what kind of many should be selected as symposiarch, and what goal he will make the priority of his office, and how he will apply the customs of the symposium. I entrust to them to choose their order of speaking.
They tried a little to deny what they were asked, but when everyone was insisting that they obey the leader and do what he asked. Kratôn first said that it is necessary that the chief of the guards be the most guardianly among them, as Plato says, and therefore the chief symposiast must be the most sympotic. And he explained “He is this kind of a man should he be neither easily overcome by drunkenness nor disinclined to drink, as Kuros used to say when he wrote to the Lakedaimonians that he was more kingly than his brother and could handle a lot of unmixed wine well. For a drunk is arrogant and rude but someone who doesn’t drink at all is a buzzkill and better suited to watching the children than running a drinking party.”
Antiquity has bequeathed us many odd things. Among them, the Attic Dinner attributed to Matro of Pitane, a poet so obscure he does not merit his own wikipedia article. A student of Greek epic–even a rather poor one–should recognize the many allusions to Homer. (Of course, this poet is largely preserved by the gastronome Athenaeus).
“Dinners, tell me, Muse, of dinners, much nourishing and many.
Which Xenokles the orator ate at my house in Athens.
For I went there too, but a great hunger plagued me—
Where I saw the finest and largest loaves
Whiter than snow, tasting like wheat-cakes
The north-wind lusted after them as they baked.
Xenicles himself inspected the ranks of men
As he stopped while standing at the threshold; next to him was the parasite
Khairephoôn, a man like a starving sea-gull,
Hungry, and well-acquainted with other people’s feasts.”
If you experience any lulls in conversation during your holiday meals and gatherings, here’s another topic ready-to-hand.
Plutarch, “Table-Talk”, Moralia 624: Why Do Old Men Prefer Strong Wine?
“Next was examined the issue of old men, in particular why they enjoy drinking stronger wine. Some were supposing that their core, which is rather cold and difficult to warm, appearsto accord well with a stronger proof. This was not at all sufficient, in the light of cause nor in that they said anything true. For, in respect to the rest of the senses, the same thing happens: old men are hard to move, hard to change in regards to experiences of this sort, unless they fall on him with full strength and no subtlety. The reason for this is the decline of his constitution. Because it is weakened and dulled, it prefers to be struck hard.
Therefore stronger flavors are more to the taste of old men. Their sense of smell undergoes similar alterations regarding odors—for it is moved to pleasure by those that are really pure and pressing. Their sense of touch is harmed by scars and while they suffer wounds from time to time, they don’t really feel them. Similar too is their sense of hearing—musicians as they grow old play more sharply and loudly as if trying to wake up their senses with the clash of sound. The treatment that gives steel an edge provides the body’s perception with breath. When this begins to surrender and is weak, the senses are left dull and muddy and needing some shaking—this is what need strong wine fills.”
If I were in this conversation I would add: the older man also needs to urinate more frequently. A stronger drink means less liquid consumed for the desired result. And, therefore, fewer trips to the bathroom.
Plutarch, Moralia 653: Table-Talk—Book 3, Question 8: Concerning the Right Time for Sex
“Some young men who had not spent much time in classical literature were criticizing Epicurus, that it was not noble or necessary that he included a discussion about the right time for sex in his Symposium. For, they claimed that it was the worst kind of impropriety for an older man to talk about sexual matters during dinner when youths were present and to work through whether it was better after dinner or before dinner.
To this, some guests added that Xenophon used to take his dinner companions home after dinner not by foot but by horse to have sex with their wives. Zopyros the doctor—a man very familiar with Epicurus’ arguments, said that they has not read Epicurus’ Symposium very carefully. For, he did not put forth the problem as one based on a certain rule or established practice, and then provide his arguments in its favor. Instead, he roused the youths after dinner for a walk and talked for the reason of instruction, to curb them from their desires, because sex is always a matter which might bring harm and which afflicts those worst who engage after food and drink.
He said, “If, indeed, this discussion were earnestly about sex, would it seem right not to examine the better opportunity and hour for doing these kinds of things? Would it be otherwise right for him to look look for another moment more opportune except at the symposium and the dinner table?”
“But, so I may return to the matter”, he said, “I am not as smart as Themistocles was as to prefer the art of forgetting to the art of memory. And So I am thankful to that Simonides of Ceos who, as they say, first produced an art of memory. For they say that when Simonides was dining at the home of a wealthy aristocrate named Scopas in Thessaly and had performed that song which he wrote in his honor—in which there were many segments composed for Castor and Pollux elaborated in the way of poets. Then Scopas told him cruelly that he would pay him half as much as he had promised he would give for the song; if it seemed right to him, he could ask Tyndareus’ sons for the other half since he had praised them equally.
A little while later, as they tell the tale, it was announced that Simonides should go outside—there were two young men at the door who had been calling him insistently. He rose, exited, and sAW no one. Meanwhile, in the same space of time, the ceiling under which Scopas was having his feast collapsed: the man was crushed by the ruins and died with his relatives. When people wanted to bury them they could not recognize who was where because they were crushed. Simonides is said to have shown the place in which each man died from his memory for their individual burials.
From this experience, Simonides is said to have learned that it is order most of all that brings light to memory. And thus those who wish to practice this aspect of the skill must select specific places and shape in their mind the matters they wish to hold in their memory and locate these facts in those places. It will so turn out that the order of the places will safeguard the order of the matters, the reflections of the facts will remind of the facts themselves, and we may use the places like wax and the ideas like letters written upon it.”
Sed, ut ad rem redeam, non sum tanto ego, inquit, ingenio quanto Themistocles fuit, ut oblivionis artem quam memoriae malim; gratiamque habeo Simonidi illi Cio quem primum ferunt artem memoriae protulisse. Dicunt enim cum cenaret Crannone in Thessalia Simonides apud Scopam fortunatum hominem et nobilem cecinissetque id carmen quod in eum scripsisset, in quo multa ornandi causa poetarum more in Castorem scripta et Pollucem fuissent, nimis illum sordide Simonidi dixisse se dimidium eius ei quod pactus esset pro illo carmine daturum: reliquum a suis Tyndaridis quos aeque laudasset peteret si ei videretur. Paulo post esse ferunt nuntiatum Simonidi ut prodiret: iuvenes stare ad ianuam duos quosdam qui eum magnopere evocarent; surrexisse illum, prodisse, vidisse neminem; hoc interim spatio conclave illud ubi epularetur Scopas concidisse; ea ruina ipsum cum cognatis oppressum suis interiisse; quos cum humare vellent sui neque possent obtritos internoscere ullo modo, Simonides dicitur ex eo quod meminisset quo eorum loco quisque cubuisset demonstrator uniuscuiusque sepeliendi fuisse; hac tum re admonitus invenisse fertur ordinem esse maxime qui memoriae lumen afferret. Itaque eis qui hanc partem ingeni exercerent locos esse capiendos et ea quae memoria tenere vellent effingenda animo atque in eis locis collocanda: sic fore ut ordinem rerum locorum ordo conservaret, res autem ipsas rerum effigies notaret, atque ut locis pro cera, simulacris pro litteris uteremur.
thanks to S. Raudnitz for reminding me of this passage too!
In one topics for “Table-Talk”, Plutarch suggests the effects of love on a poet as a starting point…Of course, if you want debates about Love, the Symposia of Plato and Xenophon are good inspirations too…
Plutarch: “Table-Talk” Moralia 622 Why Do We Say that Eros Teaches a Poet?
“The question “how it can be said truthful that “Love teaches the poet” even though he was songless before, was considered at Sossius’ house after some Sapphic verses were performed. Philoxenos claims that the Kyklops “cured love with well-voiced songs.”
Love is said to be clever at every kind of audacity and at furnishing ingenuity, just as Plato calls love “speedy” and “prepared for everything”. Indeed, love makes a quiet man talkative and the withdrawn man solicitous; it makes the carefree and easygoing person serious and sedulous. And what is especially wondrous, a cheap and miserly man, after he falls in love, becomes soft, compliant, and persuadable just as iron in fire. Thus what seems like a joke is not completely absurd in the proverb “a lover’s purse is locked by an onion leaf”.
It has also been said that being in love is like being drunk. For it makes people hot, happy, and troubled–after they come into this state, they fall into speech that sounds like songs or verse. People claim Aeschylus wrote his tragedies while drinking, even completely drunk. My grandfather Lamprias was himself most innovative and insightful when he was drinking. He was in the habit of saying that just as with incense, he too was activated by warmth.
In addition, people see the ones they want most sweetly—and are no less moved to praise them than to see them. In praise, love, voluble in everything, is the most effusive. When people are in love they want to persuade everyone how beautiful and good are the ones they love, because they believe it themselves.”
Aristophon, The Physician (fr. 5; Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 6.238c)
“I want to announce to him what kind of a man I am.
Whenever someone hosts a meal, I am there first—so much so
That I have been called “Broth-boy” for many years.
When we must carry someone out of the middle of the drinkers,
Know that I will look like an Argive grappler in the act.
If we must assault a house, I’m the ram. Storm it by the roof?
Call me Capaneus. I’m the anvil for enduring all blows.
I make fists like Telamon. I go at the handsome guys