We may have first learned the secret of drinking alcohol from animals. The ancient Greeks believed thus, and a legend told that people first learned to drink from the apes. Studies show that chimpanzees and other apes do indeed like alcohol, and get drunk. Many animals seek out intoxicants, and most will partake of them to excess, given the chance. Perhaps the most common example in temperate zones is birds drunk on fermented berries, wheeling about, crashing into the ground, and generally making fools of themselves. And while recent experiments by Ronald Siegel suggest that some or all of the intoxication may be due to secondary substances in the berries rather than alcohol, anyone witnessing the event might thereafter try the berries for themselves.

David Livingstone reported how African elephants sought out fermented palm fruits, sometimes traveling unusual distances to find and ingest them. And they did get intoxicated, staring off, trumpeting loudly, and separating out from the group.

The Romans reported that the Gauls were so fond of wine that they would trade their children for it. That they went crazy when they drank it, running about in frenzy and fighting each other. The early Romans themselves were on the temperate side, and women were completely forbidden to drink on grounds that it led to lust and adultery.

In later Roman history, both sexes seem to have embraced excess in wine — twenty-five million gallons a year — for exactly the same reasons.

The Greeks, by classical times, appear to have been heavy drinkers, despite their reputation for moderation. When the Scythian philosopher Anacharsis visited Athens in 600 BC he was somewhat repelled by the behavior he witnessed. He said that there were three kinds of grapes, one for pleasure, one for drunkenness, and one for disgust.

When asked how to avoid excess in wine, Anacharsis advised observing those who did not. The Scythians themselves had no wine. They smoked hemp.

From: Pharmako/Poeia – Plant Vowers, Poisons, and Werb craft by Dave Pendell, 1995.

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