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Drinking Culture

In all cultures of the world, there was and is not only an eating culture but also a drinking culture with certain rituals and ceremonies as part of society. Wine in particular has always been more than just a stimulant, but also a medicine, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, preservative, comforter, source of strength, medium of inspiration, sacrificial symbol, part of rituals, celebrations and contracts, and in many religions a sacred medium with which a relationship to God or the gods was established in a mystical way.

oldest wine law "Codex Hammurabi

In the "Codex Hammurabi", a collection of laws written by the Babylonian king Hammurabi (1728-1686 B.C.), which according to Sumerian tradition is based on an inspiration of the sun god Šamaš: Wine is one of the most precious gifts on earth. So he demands love and respect, we have to show him respect. However, beer was probably the first alcoholic beverage even before wine, which was brewed in the early advanced civilizations at least over 6,000 years ago. Mesopotamia, Transcaucasia and/or, according to the latest research, Southeast Anatolia in today's Turkey are considered the cradle of viticulture.

 Stele mit dem Codex - Hammurabi vor Gott Šamaš - Ausschnitt des Textes

In Vino Veritas

The popular saying about wine "In vino veritas" (In wine lies the truth), which originates from the Greek poet Alcaeus (7th century B.C.), expresses superficially that one tells the truth under the influence of wine (alcohol), because it is connected with the dismantling of barriers. Wine (enjoyed in moderation) simply helps to change one's attitude. One is much more willing to give in to one's emotions and is more open and communicative, which (always provided that one enjoys wine with understanding) can have a very positive effect in the interpersonal sphere. There is, however, a cross-cultural rule, namely the social rejection of lonely drinking. Positively understood alcohol consumption is considered a social activity for establishing human contacts and communication. However, anyone who drinks or enjoys alcohol alone is usually considered antisocial and is also suspected of being a drunkard.

In Vino Veritas

Intoxication as a source of inspiration

The consumption of alcohol was often excessive. For many ancient peoples, intoxication was regarded as a special state of mind that enabled direct contact with a higher world and thus had a religious and mystical character. In Egypt, for example, pharaohs and priests drank to intoxication on feast days, and the unconsciousness that occurred after excessive consumption was considered holy and pleasing to God. The prophets appearing in Israel gave oracles in an ecstatic state according to 1 Samuel 10.5. In the mysticism of Islamic Sufism and shamanism, the intoxication of the priest plays an important role. The Greek Pythia gave oracles to intoxication caused by earth vapors. The wine of Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.) was mixed with raw opium and nightshade plants (henbane, mandrake) and was considered an aphrodisiac.

Griechisches Symposion - Fresko 475 v. Chr.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus (482-425 B.C.), the Persians under the Achaimenid dynasty (559-331 B.C.) deliberately used alcoholic intoxication to discuss and judge important issues and to decide accordingly. They wanted to eliminate reason, promote creativity, and discuss arguments and counter-arguments in a casual manner; intoxication served to disinhibit. However, the decisions made had to be confirmed again in a sober state (or vice versa). Only then did they attain validity and legal force. Herodotus also reports on the Greek symposia (drinking bouts), which also had a certain degree of drunkenness as their goal. However, this was done in a moderate and controlled manner by serving limited quantities of wine mixed with water.

Wine in religion

Even in early antiquity, Greeks and Romans produced an astonishing variety of wines. In Greece, in the 5th century B.C., the festivals held in honour of the god Dionysus were introduced, which were characterised by exuberance and licentiousness combined with stylised and heavy drinking. The aim was considered to be intoxication as a purifying ceremony with psycho-hygienic effects. The Romans took over this from the Greeks with the exuberant celebrations named after the wine god Bacchus as Bacchanalia. A colourful depiction of the eating and drinking culture of the Roman upper class in the first century is described by the Roman poet Petronius (+66) in his famous work Satyricon. The ancient food and drink culture is also described in Geoponika, which dates from around 950. The consumption of alcoholic beverages is still regulated in many religions with rituals and ceremonies and finds its climax in the Christian churches at the Eucharist with the transformation of the bread into Christ's body and the measuring wine into Christ's blood. The central importance of viticulture and wine in the Christian religion is attested to by 979 references to it in the Bible.

Trinkultur - Messweinbecher und Brot / Übergabe der Hostie

Alcohol abuse

The balance or rather the borderline between pleasure (lust) and vice(alcoholism) has always moved people and even in ancient times many well-known personalities warned against abuse. The Roman poet Seneca (4 BC - 65 AD) writes As in freedom, so in wine moderation is beneficial. And in the book "Of Calm" he remarks: "Sometimes we may even hear a noise, not that it drowned us, but that it went into hiding. For this chases away sorrows, shakes up the soul in its depths, and is a remedy against many illnesses, as well as against sadness. In the early Middle Ages, one intoxication per month was seen as a means to cleanse the body from spent spirits, to renew itself and thus to serve health. Because of the poor quality of the water, much more alcohol was drunk than today. Wine and beer were considered food, and regular consumption of alcohol was considered normal.

However, even in the early Middle Ages there were efforts to curb excessive mining, which often went hand in hand with violent conflicts. This was not only limited to the simple classes of the people, apart from that often only the nobility could afford alcoholic beverages. Significantly, every German emperor was asked the question before the coronation in Rome: "Will you, with God's help, keep yourself sober? Charlemagne (742-814) issued bans against the obligation to drink at parties. The Church in particular railed against excessive consumption of alcohol, not so much for health reasons but mainly because of the associated decline in morals. The custom of drinking was very popular among all classes of the population. Prominent clergymen such as the reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), as well as Johann Rasch (1540-1612) and Abraham a Sancta Clara (1644-1709) fought against it in word and writing.

Alcohol Prohibitions

In many countries it is common to drink alcohol on festive occasions. In some, such as France, Greece, Italy and Spain, this is even part of everyday life, which means that alcohol is served even without a special occasion. Within the sphere of influence of Islam, however, there is an absolute ban on alcohol. But also in the western cultural area, there have been and are repeated attempts to curb consumption through various prohibition measures. Alcohol consumed with reason, i.e. in moderation, also has positive effects. Wine has always inspired artists in their work. There are countless poems, songs and quotations about wine.

Trinkkultur - Prohibition in den USA mit Vernichtung von Bierfässern

The big difference between moderate wine enjoyment with a stimulating effect and excessive alcohol abuse is described in an impressive essay by the Austrian regional poet Peter Rosegger (1843-1918), which is tantamount to a prosaic declaration of love for wine. The opposite, with some anecdotes and true incidents of excessive consumption of alcohol as well as of "famous drinkers" is reported under the keyword intoxication. A list of relevant keywords in connection with rituals, celebrations and other customs "around wine" is included under customs in viticulture.

Hammurabi Stele: From Mbzt - Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link
Hammurabi stele headboard: From I, Sailko, CC BY 2.5, Link
Messwein cups: demarco / 123RF Royalty free images
Symposium: Public domain, Link
Prohibition: Authentic History

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