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The Humor of Wine

Symmetry in the humors
of classical medicine

Within this framework of four-fold humors, wine was characterized as cold. Medicinally, it was placed a notch below narcotics such as mandrake and opium, which were ultra-cold in the sense that they reduced the patient's fever and quite abruptly induced a state of torpor. By contrast, wine dulled the senses gradually and, some would argue, in a far more pleasant way. By a similar token, wine's coldness would inspire drunken sleep by overwhelming the human body's natural heat; and it would induce sexual inadequacy by chilling the burning energy of love-making.

At a convivium, no one would debate the observation:

"Old men certainly have a cold nature, and drunkards especially resemble old men." (Plutarch, Table TalkIII.652)

In the Classical World that would have come under the heading of "common knowledge." Yet such concepts were not without their anomalies. For example, the early 1st century A.D. physician, Cornelius Celsus (On Medicine II.27) regarded wine as a "heating food," yet he spoke of vinegar as a "cooling food," in fact the coolest of them all.