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Quotations on Drunkenness

"A Drunken Noah"
French Book of Hours,15th century A.D.

"For song, laughter, and dancing are characteristic of men who drink wine in moderation; but babbling and talking about what is better left in silence is at once the work of actual intoxication."
(Plutarch, Table Talk III.introduction)

Philosophical thoughts

"We have two fountains beside us, one of which, the fountain of pleasure, one might liken to honey; the other, the sobering and wineless fountain of wisdom, to a well of homely and healthful water; these we must mix in the best possible way." (Athenaeus, Banquet of the Philosophers X.423)

"From the western bounds of the world had come their foe it chanced dawn was coming in and she was still reclining by the table when she heard the hoarse trumpets, and she stepped through the lukewarm cups, her foot slipping as she stepped through pools of wine and perfumes, and trampling on the flowers, and was making her drunken way to the war." (Prudentius, The Poems: Fight for Man's Soul.310)

"Moreover,when the piercing power of wine has penetrated into man, and its fire has been dispersed abroad...." (Lucretius, On the Nature of Things III.476, on how wine effects the soul)

"Then how could you know the whole from just the first taste? There were not the same, but always new things being said on new subjects, unlike wine, which is always the same. So, my friend, unless you drink the whole butt, your tipsiness has been to no purpose; god seems to me to have hidden the good of philosophy right down at the bottom, beneath the lees." (Lucian, Concerning the Sects LX: Lycinus to Hermotimus)

"But it is the drunken who are most inclined to act this way [come to blows and wound one another]. However, it is not the wine that makes them drunk, as it is with us, but pleasure....Two cup-bearers stand at their elbows, one male, the other female; the one of them is called Intelligence and the other Intemperance....But the bowl of Sobriety is smooth not large, and of bronze, to judge by its appearance...." (Dio Chrysostom, Discourses XXX.36, as a metaphor for the banquet of life)


"It is not without occasion that physicians of experience do affirm that such as fill their gorges abundantly with meat and drink shall dream of dire and horrible sights." (Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass I.18)

"Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder." (Proverbs 23.31)

"Nevertheless, some men, though their body itself resists and would fain drag them to their beds and their rest, are led by gluttony and self-indulgence to rush off to the baths and eagerly to join in the drinking-bouts, as if they were laying in provisions for a seige and were fearful lest the fever seize them before they have had luncheon." (Plutarch, Moralia: Advice about Keeping Well.127)

and the consequences of.....

"The one big trouble with wine is it catches you by the feet first, it's a wrestler, wily one...." (Plautus, Pseudolus Act V.1)

"You promise everything when you have drunk all night. In the morning you perform nothing. Drink in the morning, Pollio." (Martial, Epigrams XII.12)

"It is not so true that one of his [Aeschylus'] plays—the Seven against Thebes—is 'full of Ares,' to quote Gorgias, as that all of them are full of Dionysus." (Plutarch, Table Talk VII.10)

"When after seven cups of Opimian I lie thick of speeech from the continual trientes, you bring me some document or other and say: 'I have just given Nasta (he was a slave of my father's) his freedom. Please seal [as a witness].' Tomorrow will be better or that, Lupercus. For now, my ring seals the flagon." (Martial, Epigrams IX.87)

"Unexpectedly, he [Prometheus] was invited out to dinner by Bacchus. There he absorbed a great deal of nectar into his veins and returned home late in the evening with wavering steps. Then, with sleepy head and drunken fumbling, he fastened female parts on bodies of masculine sex and masculine parts on females. Hence lust now gratifies itself with a perverted pleasure." (Phaedrus, The Aesopic Fables IV.16)

Criminal considerations

"Further, we have to seek not merely motives affecting the will, but also causes leading to error, such as drunkenness or ignorance. For just as such considerations lessen the guilt of a crime when regarded from the point of view of its quality, so they tell heavily against the criminal as far as the question of fact is concerned." (Quintilian, Training in Oratory VII.40)

Advice for lovers

While a little wine was generally accepted as a kind flame for romance and even a salve for unrequited love, also was recognized as a dangerous one for lust or ill-timed impotence:

"I had observed which part of the cup she had touched when drinking, and then set my own lips upon that same place when I drank myself, so that as my mouth touched the brim, I seemed to send a kiss by proxy. Presently Satyrus once more stole away the cup and again exchanged them: then I saw her copying my action and drinking from where I had drunk; and indeed for the rest of the evening we were pledging kisses to one another." (Achilles Tatius, Leicippe and Clitophon II.8)

"A couch for three was set out in a garden screened from view. You ask how we were placed? I was between the two. Lygdamus was in charge of the cups; there was a summer glassware service and Lesbian wine of choice vintage." (Propertius, Elegies IV.8)


"Wine prepares the heart for love, unless you take overmuch and your spirits are dulled. By wind is a fire fostered, and by wind extinguished; a gentle breeze fans the flame, a strong breeze kills it. Either no drunkenness, or so much as to banish care; aught between these two is harmful." (Ovid, The Remedies of Love.805)

"Wine ruins beauty, wine spoils youth, wine often causes a mistress to mistake her man." (Propertius, Elegies II.xxxiii)

And some odd logic reminiscent of a famous saying by Marie Antoinette....

"Take the noisy complaints you made to me just now, that they gorged on pork and cakes in the feasting—what do they amount to? Both of them are perhaps sweet and not disagreeable for the moment, but in the aftermath, the matter is turned right round. Then, whereas you will get up on the next day without the headache their drinking gives them and the foul, smoky belching from over-fullness, they not only have the pleasure of all this but having spent most of the night in debauchery with boys or women or in any way their lechery takes them, without difficulty they pick up consumption or pneumonia or dropsy from their excessive indulgence....You paupers never taste or feed on fish, true enough, but don't you see that you've no acquaintance with gout or pneumonia either, or of anything else that they [the rich] catch for some other reason?" (Lucian, Saturnalia.28)