Drinking with the Ancients: Homer, Anacreon, Theognis and Friends on Imbibing

Just in time for the weekend: drinking advice from the ancient Theognisworld

Horace, Epistulae 1.19.6

“Homer is said to have been a drunkard because of his praise of wine”

laudibus arguitur vini vinosus Homerus

I don’t know that Horace didn’t have the following passage in mind:

Homer, Odyssey 14.464-6

“Wicked wine–which makes even a prudent man sing aloud, giggle, dance and speak some word better left unsaid–compels me.”

 …οἶνος γὰρ ἀνώγει
ἠλεός, ὅς τ᾽ ἐφέηκε πολύφρονά περ μάλ᾽ ἀεῖσαι
καί θ᾽ ἁπαλὸν γελάσαι, καί τ᾽ ὀρχήσασθαι ἀνῆκε,
καί τι ἔπος προέηκεν  περ τ᾽ ἄρρητον ἄμεινον.

So Odysseus in disguise speaks to Eumaios and his fellow swine-herds as they drink during an evening rainstorm. Here’s the full text.

But some ancient authors saw important connections between drinking and inspiration:

Cratinus, fr. 199

“Wine is like a swift horse for a charming poet; you won’t produce anything clever if you’re drinking water.”

οἶνός τοι χαρίεντι πέλει ταχὺς ἵππος ἀοιδῷ,
ὕδωρ δὲ πίνων οὐδὲν ἂν τέκοι σοφόν.

For orators or politicians, not drinking wine might have been an advantage, as Philostratus implies:

Lives of the Sophists, 507-8

“The conflict between Aeschines and Demosthenes began in part because of the fact that the one acted on behalf of the King and the other acted for another—as it seems to me. But there was also a difference of character: and hatred always seems to develop from characters that are strongly opposed to one another without any other cause. And the two were opposed for these reasons. Aeschines was a man who liked to drink, but he was sweet and had kind manners and he had the general charm of Dionysus; indeed, when he was in his youth he played parts for the tragic actors. But Demosthenes had a downcast face, a heavy brow, and he drank water: and for this reason he was assumed a ill-tempered and bad-mannered man….”

διαφορᾶς δ’ ἦρξεν Αἰσχίνῃ καὶ Δημοσθένει καὶ αὐτὸ μὲν τὸ ἄλλον ἄλλῳ βασιλεῖ πολιτεύειν, ὡς δ’ ἐμοὶ φαίνεται, τὸ ἐναντίως ἔχειν καὶ τῶν ἠθῶν, ἐξ ἠθῶν γὰρ ἀλλήλοις ἀντιξόων φύεται μῖσος αἰτίαν οὐκ ἔχον. ἀντιξόω δ’ ἤστην καὶ διὰ τάδε• ὁ μὲν Αἰσχίνης φιλοπότης τε ἐδόκει καὶ ἡδὺς καὶ ἀνειμένος καὶ πᾶν τὸ ἐπίχαρι ἐκ Διονύσου ᾑρηκώς, καὶ γὰρ δὴ καὶ τοῖς βαρυστόνοις ὑποκριταῖς τὸν ἐν μειρακίῳ χρόνον ὑπετραγῴδησεν, ὁ δ’ αὖ συννενοφώς τε ἐφαίνετο καὶ βαρὺς τὴν ὀφρὺν καὶ ὕδωρ πίνων, ὅθεν [ἐν] δυσκόλοις τε καὶ δυστρόποις ἐνεγράφετο…

Theognis of Megara had some things to say about drinking:

Theognis 989-990

“Drink whenever they drink but let no man discover you’re burdened
whenever you’re sick in the heart.”

Πῖν’ ὁπόταν πίνωσιν· ὅταν δέ τι θυμὸν ἀσηθῆις,
μηδεὶς ἀνθρώπων γνῶι σε βαρυνόμενον.

Perhaps Theognis was concerned about a talkative friend:

Anonymous Lyrics (Plutarch, Table-Talk 1)

“I hate the drinking buddy who doesn’t forget.”

μισέω μνάμονα συμπόταν

One might be better served going out with a dedicated drinker like Anacreon:

Anacreon Fr. 356 a (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 10.427ab)

“Bring me a bowl so I can  drink straight without breathing”

ἄγε δὴ φέρ᾿ ἡμῖν ὦ παῖ
κελέβην, ὅκως ἄμυστιν

προπίω…

But he might force others to practice what he thinks is right for himself.  A tragedian we know would object:

Sophocles, Fr. 735 (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 10, 428 A)

“Drinking under compulsion is an evil equal to thirst”

τὸ πρὸς βίαν / πίνειν ἴσον πέφυκε τῷ διψῆν κακόν

But perhaps we should listen to Theognis and take some good advice:

Theognis 627-628

“It is shameful when a man is drunk among the sober
and it is shameful if man remains sober among drunks.”

Αἰσχρόν τοι μεθύοντα παρ’ ἀνδράσι νήφοσιν εἶναι,
αἰσχρὸν δ’ εἰ νήφων πὰρ μεθύουσι μένει

I guess we should always heed the old adage that “like attracts like”.

Just in case you’re still trying to work things out, lots of Greeks had things to say about wine and drinking:

Panyassis fr. 12 (19 W; Stobaeus 3.18.21)

“A mortal who does not draw wine to his heart’s delight does not seem to me to be alive or to live the life of an enduring man—he’s a moron.”

οὐ γάρ μοι ζώειν γε δοκεῖ βροτὸς οὐδὲ βιῶναι
ἀνθρώποιο βίον ταλασίφρονος, ὅστις ἀπ’ οἴνου
θυμὸν ἐρητύσας πίνει ποτόν, ἄλλ’ ἐνεόφρων.

Panyassis fr. 12 (19 W)

“Mortals have a fine gift equal to fire: wine, a defense against evil and companion of any song.”

οἶνος γὰρ πυρὶ ἶσον ἐπιχθονίοισιν ὄνειαρ
ἐσθλόν, ἀλεξίκακον, πάσης συνοπηδὸν ἀοιδῆς.

Cypria, Fragment 17 (18W) (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists)

“Menelaus, the best thing the gods made to scatter the cares of mortal men is wine”

οἶνόν τοι, Μενέλαε, θεοὶ ποίησαν ἄριστον
θνητοῖς ἀνθρώποισιν ἀποσκεδάσαι μελεδῶνας.

Alcaeus 347. 3-4 (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists x 430c-d)

“Wine, the thing Semele and Zeus’ son gave to men
an amnesia from their troubles.”

οἶνον γὰρ Σεμέλας καὶ Δίος υἶος λαθικάδεον
ἀνθρώποισιν ἔδωκ’.

Alcaeus, fragment 335

“Bucchus, the best of all medicine for those who have wine is getting drunk”

ὦ Βύκχι, φαρμάκων δ’ ἄριστον
οἶνον ἐνεικαμένοις μεθύσθην

And when you want to impress with a toast, this one works well:

Drinking Songs, 890 ( schol. Plato Gorg. 451e)

“The best thing for a mortal man is to be healthy
And second, to be pretty.
Third, is to be wealthy without deceit.
And fourth is to be young with friends.”

ὑγιαίνειν μὲν ἄριστον ἀνδρὶ θνητῶ̣

δεύτερον δὲ καλὸμ φυὰν γενέσθαι

τὸ τρίτον δὲ πλουτεῖν ἀδόλως

καὶ τέταρτον ἡβᾶν μετὰ τῶν φίλων

And, finally, some more instructive drinking songs:

Carm. Conv. 17

“I wish I could turn into an ivory lyre
And that beautiful children would carry me to the Dionysian dance.”

εἴθε λύρα καλὴ γενοίμην ἐλεφαντίνη
καί με καλοὶ παῖδες φέροιεν Διονύσιον ἐς χορόν.

Carm. Conv. 6

“What kind of man each person is
I wish I could know by opening his chest and then
Looking at his mind and after closing it again
To recognize a dear friend by his guileless thought”

εἴθ’ ἐξῆν ὁποῖός τις ἦν ἕκαστος
τὸ στῆθος διελόντ’, ἔπειτα τὸν νοῦν
ἐσιδόντα, κλείσαντα πάλιν,
ἄνδρα φίλον νομίζειν ἀδόλωι φρενί.

Some Divergent Greek Views on Heroes: Pluralism in Ancient Poetry

Pindar Olympian 2.2

“What god, what hero and what man will we celebrate?”

τίνα θεόν, τίν’ ἥρωα, τίνα δ’ ἄνδρα κελαδήσομεν;

 

The Greeks have left us some evidence for attitudes about heroes that might surprise some modern readers. The line from Pindar above is a classic account of the hero as a mid-point between man and god, sharing in both worlds but truly part of neither.

One of the things that is different from our usage is that Greek heroes represent, in some readings, a particular generation in time (the race before ours, according to Hesiod in the Works and Days). And this race of heroes whose trials and tribulations give us so many myths included men and women, as the poet Corinna would remind us:

 

Corinna, fr.644 (Apollonius Dyskolus, Pronouns)

“I sing of the virtues of heroes and heroines.”

ἱώνει δ᾿ εἱρώων ἀρετὰς / χεἰρωάδων

 

This ‘race’ of heroes was appropriated to different contexts to different ends. As in our modern world, ‘heroes’ were sometimes portrayed as defenders of men and protectors of the community—and to an extent this is how they feature in the martial poetry of Kallinos of Sparta:

 

Kallinos, Fr. 1.18-21

“The loss is felt by the whole country when a brave man dies,
A man the equal of heroes;
Someone they see as a fortress before their eyes;
Someone who does the work of many even when alone.”

 

λαῶι γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ’ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλὼν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

 

But the Greeks, like everyone throughout time, were far from unanimous in their opinions about heroes. In the fragments of early comedy, for example, heroes are singled out for that which is their nature: being singled out, and different:

 

Myrtilus, fr. 2 (Titan-pans; Scholia to Aristophanes’ Birds)

“Heroes get ornery and mean when people get too close.”

οἵ ἥρωες δὲ δυσόργητοι καὶ χαλεποὶ τοῖς ἐμπελάζουσι γίνονται

 

And even in early epic, what it means to be a hero is at play. The Iliad and the Odyssey give very different versions of what it means to be heroic (and they oscillate among differing visions in the same narrative. Other epic fragments play with the debates offered in the Homeric poems.

 

Panyasis fr. 12K (=16 Benarbe) 8-9

“I would make the fame of the man who enjoys himself at the feast equal to the one earned by commanding the rest of the army.”

τοῦ κεν ἐγὼ θείμην ἶσον κλέος, ὅς τ’ ἐνὶ δαιτὶ
τέρπηται παρεὼν ἅμα τ’ ἄλλον λαὸν ἀνώγῃ

 

In part, the exploration of what it means to be a hero is a further step in the definition of what it means to be a man, to be a human being, and to live together as people in a city. One of the things that both the Iliad and the Odyssey dramatize is the danger that their heroes can both fend off and cause to their people. This was probably a current in the thought of early Greek philosophers and poets.

 

Xenophanes, Fragment 2. 16-19

“Swiftness of feet—the thing honored most in all of man’s acts of strength in the contest—could never make a city governed well.”

οὐδὲ μὲν εἰ ταχυτῆτι ποδῶν, τόπερ ἐστὶ πρότιμον,
ῥώμης ὅσσ’ ἀνδρῶν ἔργ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι πέλει,
τούνεκεν ἂν δὴ μᾶλλον ἐν εὐνομίηι πόλις εἴη·

By the time of Classical Athens, it was clear that the outsized ambitions (and honors) of individuals could be undermining to the state. Herein lies the quandary: cities need great men to protect them, but their very strengths often bring ruin. This is dramatized in the heroic myths from Herakles through Odysseus and explored as well in Athenian tragedy.

 

And to end, some random, confusing samples:

 

 

Euripides, fr. 237 (Archelaus)

 

“A young man ought to be bold always,
Since no laid-back man becomes famous.
Work gives birth to a good reputation.”

 

νεανίαν γὰρ ἄνδρα χρὴ τολμᾶν ἀεί·
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ὢν ῥᾴθυμος εὐκλεὴς ἀνήρ,
ἀλλ’ οἱ πόνοι τίκτουσι τὴν εὐδοξίαν.

 

 

Euripides, fr. 257 (Archelaus)

 

“A rash heart and a limited mind
Has destroyed many men: dual evils for whoever has them.”

 

πολλοὺς δ’ ὁ θυμὸς ὁ μέγας ὤλεσεν βροτῶν
ἥ τ’ ἀξυνεσία, δύο κακὼ τοῖς χρωμένοις.

 

 

Euripides, fr. 275 (Auge)

 

“Pray that all who rejoice in tyranny,
Or in some small monarchy in their city, die terribly.
The name ‘freedom’ is worth everything—
Even if he possesses a little, a man who has this is considered great.”

 

κακῶς δ’ ὄλοιντο πάντες οἳ τυραννίδι
χαίρουσιν ὀλίγῃ τ’ ἐν πόλει μοναρχίᾳ·
τοὐλεύθερον γὰρ ὄνομα παντὸς ἄξιον,
κἂν σμίκρ’ ἔχῃ τις, μεγάλ’ ἔχειν νομιζέτω.