Artistic License

"The Tambourine Player"
Mosaic from Cicero's villa at Pompeii
Late 1st century A.D.

Playwrights and poets of old were notorious drunkards. Among them was Alcaeus of Lesbos who, in the 7th century B.C., was said to have offered good reasons for drinking heavily in every season; and Aeschylus of Athens, who was blamed for introducing the spectacle of drunken men into drama in the 5th century B.C. Some Romans credited that condition for the originality of the plays which were created, and some minor wordsmiths justified their drinking excesses through the example set by their literary heroes:

"He drenched such wits as he had with frequent and large beakers, saying that it was a kind of touchwood and tinder to the intellect and the faculties, if mind and body were inflamed with wine." (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights XV.3)

These playwrights often used the device of the drunken servant who causes all sorts of problems for his master in comic routines that have echoes many centuries later; for example, in Shakespeare's portayal of Sir Toby Belch's circle of friends in Twelfth Night. Thus:

"It's the voice of a consummate villain that brings me out! But what's this? How is this? What do I see? Man with a garland...soused, your own slave Pseudolus." (Plautus, Pseudolus Act V)