Ancient Greek and Roman Explanations for Drunkenness (Article)

Courtesy of Steve Thompson, Avondale College, Cooranbong NSW Australia

How did ancient Greeks and Romans explain drunkenness? Recent close scrutiny of relevant Greek and Roman literature has turned up three explanations for drunkenness brought about by wine consumption. 

The first was that it was cased by something in the drinker's nature. The second was that there was something present in wine. These two explanations could be considered precursors to contemporary scientific explanations of drunkenness as a physiological response to a chemical cause. 

The third and most widely-expressed explanation for drunkenness among Greeks and Romans however was spiritual--the drinker "took in" the god, or spirit of wine, which then assumed control of the drinker's life for a time. This view was expressed by a wide range of highbrow as well as lowbrow Greek and Roman authors, and crops up in every phase of Greek and Roman literature. 

For details see Steve Thompson, "Daimon Drink: Ancient Greek and Roman Explanations for Drunkenness," Christian Spirituality and Science 8/1 (2010): 7-24. Full text available at the following link:

Posted by Cynthia on July 29, 2010 at 01:10 PM in Alcohol (general), Greece, Literature, Religion | Permalink


PhD dissertation by Allan G. Borst, Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009.  The author's abstract follows.
"This project examines literary and cultural narratives of addiction in order to show how addict-subjects have been defined according to American beliefs about willpower, productivity, morality, racial and economic disparity, and social health.  In the contemporary world of American consumerism and late capitalist expenditure, addiction signifies everyday life and normative American identity as much as it names the criminality, self-destruction, or disease associated with drug addicts and alcoholics.  Historically speaking, literary and cultural representations of alcoholics and drug users from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries produce distinct photonegatives of normative American values.  The addict-subject thereby demonstrates the limits of permissible behavior to the rest of society.  This study covers a broad range of literature, including Temperance-era speeches and sermons, Harlem Renaissance novels depicting underground jazz and nightclub culture, memoirs and autobiographical fiction that promise an insider’s view of addiction and its impact on everyday life, and novels of the 1980s that illumine potent connections between contemporary drug use and capitalist consumerism.  The American addict-subject has been a romanticist, a naturalist, a modernist, and a postmodernist, and thus offers invaluable ways of approaching the problems of representation and traditional narrative forms like the bildungsroman, the fallen woman narrative, and the first-person confessional.  Ultimately, addiction has left as many indelible marks on American literary history as it has on American culture and American identity."

Borst is holding release of this dissertation while in the process of turning it into a book manuscript. However, he has two articles derived from the project that are or will soon be in print. "Signifyin(g) Afro-Orientalism: The Jazz-Addict Subculture in Home to Harlem and Nigger Heaven" is in the November 2009 16.4 issue of Modernism / Modernity (Johns Hopkins U Press). Also, "Managing the Crisis: James Frey's A Million Little Pieces  and the Addict-Subject Confession" will appear in issue 75 of Cultural Critique (Spring 2010).

Posted by Dave Trippel on March 4, 2010 at 07:18 AM in Addiction, Literature, United States | Permalink

The Role of Mobility and Intoxication in Constructing Human Subjectivity

Readings of Aldous Huxley, William Burroughs, Alex Garland, Hunter S. Thompson, and Robert Sedlack  are investigated in Lindsey Banco's Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature, Routledge, Nov 2009. Here is the publishers webpage.

Posted by Dave Trippel on September 1, 2009 at 09:28 PM in Books, Drugs (general), Literature, Travel | Permalink

Two Philosophical Compilations

Allhoff, Fritz, (Ed.). Wine and Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking. Malden, MA : Blackwell Pub., 2008., 308 p. Publisher's link is here.
    About twenty articles under the following sections - The Art & Culture of Wine, Tasting & Talking about Wine, Wine & Its Critics, The Beauty of Wine, The Metaphysics of Wine, and The Politics and Economics of Wine.

Hales, Steven, (Ed.). Beer and Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn't Worth Drinking. Malden, MA : Blackwell Pub., 2007., 248 p. Publisher's link is here.
    About fifteen articles under the following sections - Part I: The Art of the Beer, Part II: The Ethics of Beer: Pleasures, Freedom, and Character, Part  III:  The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Beer, Part IV: Beer in the History of Philosophy

Posted by Dave Trippel on April 5, 2009 at 02:55 PM in Alcohol (general), Beer, Books, Food and Drink, Literature, Wine | Permalink

A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction

Bauer, Mark S., ed. A Mind Apart: Poems of Melancholy, Madness, and Addiction. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 404 p.

Some of the older addiction inclusions are:

Edward Ward (1667-1731) - The Extravagant Drunkard's Wish
William Harrison (1685-1713) - In Praise of Laudanum
Anonymous (published 1751) - Strip Me Naked, or Royal Gin for Ever. A Picture
Boston Musical Miscellany (published 1815) - Nancy and Gin
Muse, or The Flowers of Poetry (published 1827) - Soliloquy on Smoking

As well as being a poet, Mark Bauer is Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Harvard South Shore Psychiatry Residency Training Program.

Posted by Dave Trippel on April 1, 2009 at 10:32 PM in Books, Literature | Permalink

David Foster Wallace Obituary

Author David Foster Wallace was found dead in his California home Friday night, an apparent suicide. The many obituaries and retrospectives that will be extruded from the bowels of the mainstream media over the next week or so will make much of Wallace’s pyrotechnic intellect and incendiary postmodern prose style. They will pay scant attention, however, to the thing that makes his death relevant to readers of the ADHS Blog: Wallace was one of the most insightful and innovative writers about addiction and recovery—particularly about Alcoholics Anonymous—that we have seen.

Writing about Wallace’s 1996 opus Infinite Jest typically begins by mentioning that the novel resists summation—probably a wise move, given that it is over a thousand pages long and contains 388 endnotes, some of which have their own footnotes. Authors then go on to talk about some of the book’s flashier and more hilarious elements: the intergenerational struggles of the Incandenza family of avant-garde filmmakers and sports phenoms; the plot by quadriplegic Quebecois separatists to terrorize the U.S. with a samizdat videotape so entertaining it literally paralyzes its viewers; the corporate sponsorship of anything and everything, such that different years are no longer denominated by numerals but by brands—the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken, etc. Most mention in passing that the novel also touches on addiction and recovery, but those elements are treated as part of its larger interest in the detritus of late 20th-century popular culture; they are rarely seen as central to its aesthetics or thematics.

In fact, depicting the nature of addiction—to alcohol, drugs, sex, consumer goods, fame, and so on—is one of the novel’s central concerns. The other is an investigation of how 12-Step recovery, of the specific “black belt” style long associated with certain Boston AA groups, can break the cycle of addiction and return the addict to full and functional humanity. At the novel’s moral and narrative center is Don Gately, a recovering narcotics addict and petty criminal, and much of its action unfolds at the residential facility Ennet House, where the novel’s various addicts cross paths, all hoping to achieve “some thin pie-slice of abstinent time, till they can start to get a whiff of what’s true and deep, almost magic, under the shallow surface” of meetings, chores, and the daily repetition of AA slogans. In the few interviews in which he was asked about Infinite Jest’s depiction of addiction and recovery, Wallace talked about the emotional power of AA meetings, and of the simultaneous sense of sadness and love that he felt there. For these reasons, as Brooks Daverman has argued in his prescient thesis on Infinite Jest, AA became for Wallace a “narrative solution” to postmodernism’s fetish of distance and irony, pushing his work beyond the formal boundaries of precursors like Thomas Pynchon or Robert Coover.

Wallace’s meditations on addiction and 12-Step culture cannot be easily shoehorned into the standard fiction and non-fiction genres through which most Americans grapple with those topics. Both his conceptualizations of addiction and recovery and his prose style were too subtle and thoughtful to lend themselves to hackneyed formulas of the downward spiral and that-much-more-inspirational-for-being-so-hard-fought climb back into “normalcy.” The loss of someone who thought with such originality and insight about being high and being sober—the nature of those states, how they work on the individual psyche, why we value them—is one that will echo for a long time.

By Trysh Travis for the ADHS Daily Register.

Posted by Cynthia on September 14, 2008 at 03:55 PM in Addiction, Literature | Permalink

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

David Foster Wallace, one of America's most insightful chroniclers of addiction and recovery, has died. For The New York Times obituary click here.

Posted by Cynthia on September 14, 2008 at 10:35 AM in Addiction, Literature | Permalink

Allen Ginsberg and the 'politics of ecstasy'

An essay by Tobias Peterson for Popmatters entitled "Allen Ginsberg: The Politics of Ecstasy" can be found here.

Posted by Cynthia on September 30, 2007 at 10:29 AM in Ecstasy, Literature, LSD, United States | Permalink

London pubs done write

Historian Guy Cuthbertson of Oxford University says a lot can be said of writers by their choice of pub.

Read more here.

Posted by Cynthia on April 26, 2007 at 07:26 AM in Britain, Drinking Spaces, Literature | Permalink

On the whole, literature tends to concentrate on the before, rather than the after

What has "struck me most in the past week," writes Michael Gove, Conservative MP for Surrey Heath, "is the relatively lowly place that the sacred hangover enjoys in our literature. Having had to re-acquaint myself with Burns’s verse I was struck by how lyrically he could write about drink, getting drunk, the infectious joy of drinking with friends, and even the trouble into which drink can lead one, without ever allowing himself to pay tribute to the special state of wretchedness inseparable from enthusiastic enjoyment of Scotland’s finest export."

Read more here.

Posted by Cynthia on January 31, 2007 at 09:24 AM in Alcohol (miscellaneous), Literature | Permalink