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alcoholism, Greek

The ancient Greeks were unfamiliar with modern concepts of alcoholism, but they were well aware of self-destructive drinking and the effects of habitual drunkenness. In the Odyssey, Homer makes a speaker note that wine is a bane to those who drink it excessively, and identify overindulgence as the cause of the Centaur Eurytion's vile behaviour (21. 293–8). In Hades, Homer's Elpenor admits that heavy drinking was a key factor in his fatal plunge from Circe's roof (Od. 11. 61). Pythagoras (1) is credited with the dictum that drinking to achieve drunkenness is a training-ground for madness, and he advises drunkards to take an unflinching look at their inebriate behaviour if they wish to alter it (Stob. Flor. 3. 18. 23, 33). In the Republic, Plato (1) writes about men who welcome any excuse to drink whatever wine is available (475a). Aristotle's treatise On Drunkenness has been lost, but his extant works confirm an abiding interest in wine's pernicious effects. Plutarch's Moralia deplores the vicious cycle exhibited by habitual drunkards who seek wine in the morning to remedy their hangovers, noting that wine not only reveals the character but can alter it as well (127f, 799b–c). The value of abstention was recognized by the ancient Greeks, and Athenaeus (1) devotes considerable attention to water drinkers in The Deipnosophists (2. 44b–f); abstainers, however, were rare in Greek antiquity. Athenaeus and Aelian discuss those groups—the Macedonians, for example—who drank with heroic intensity. Cleomenes (1) I, Alcibiades, Philip (1) II of Macedon, Alexander (3) the Great, Dionysius (2) II, and Demetrius (4) Poliorcetes can be counted among the most renowned topers of the ancient Greek world. In classical antiquity, however, allegations of intemperance often serve as vehicles for character assassination; thus, each case must be considered on its own merits.

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