the short story project


Joseph Pooler

A Drinking Tale


     Once I was at a certain friend’s home in Larissa for a dinner. He was a wealthy fig merchant, with uncertain origins in Tomis, by the name of Dionysodorus. After a long meal, our evening turned to the drink. With the wine mixed and poured around, it was decided by the symposiasts that each bout of imbibing would follow, as a toast, an extemporaneous speech given by each symposiast about whatsoever they would. Several members of the party gave uneventful encomia about women and young men, another told a longwinded tale of his twenty-year wanderings at sea, and yet another spewed, primarily, leftovers from his meal, letting loose intermittent ramblings of a madman about witches and sorcery. I myself gave a trifle of a speech about a dream I once had. When it came time for our host’s speech, the only one worth relating in full, he presented a rather interesting anecdote, difficult perhaps to believe, from his younger years. I will attempt to relate his tale for you all; or at any rate, I will relate what I remember clearly of it.

     “While journeying homewards, alone, after a long night spent at a friend’s home enjoying many bowls of joy-bringing beer, I was suddenly confronted by a blinding light! A woman of most radiant appearance, with rosy-red cheeks, and as a goddess in both stature and form, stood before me. ‘I am Wine’ she began in her luminance, ‘and I have come to bring you away from your barbarically brewed beverage into a world made sweet by the fruit of the vine.’ Immediately, of course, I was ready to accompany shining Wine down whatever path she might point out and experience the pleasure of her nectar. Before I go any further, I suppose it should be noted that I had indeed consumed fine wines before that night—bold, round-bodied Chian vintages, and those bubbly, sea-dark Lesbian ferments, and even the hot and rarely tempered Naxian wines; yet, I remained quite impartial to my beverages. Never, by Zeus, had I truly, I think, given any consideration to what my choice in drink said about me. I enjoyed all, indiscriminately!

     “But suddenly, before I could proceed with this lovely female, a hoarse and deep voice called out ‘Wait! Don’t make a bad decision!’ Another large woman rushed onto the scene. Though also of godly size and comparable in that respect to the other, this new woman was to the first as Hephaestus is to Phoebus with respect to beauty. She had an unseemly face and a less-than-proportioned body. She had no luminescence to speak of, but an odor of some pungent meat did ooze from her breath. She began speaking to try to persuade me, hiccupping between her slurred words. ‘Don’t go off with Wine! Remain with me here, Beer! My beverage is much cheaper than hers, mind you, and serves one just as well in getting drunk. Wine simply makes you sleepy. In addition, there are many more flavors for my beverage. You can make it with honey and other fruits to increase its flavor. She’s all grape! And besides, since my beverage is just as good as her own in its ability to intoxicate, to give pleasure, to taste good, and since you’ve already been drunk with it tonight and many times before, why not remain with it?’ So the large drunken woman spoke, and so I, too sloshed to speak, let the other speak in her turn.   

     “‘The wonders of wine,’ Wine said, ‘are not limited to base drunkenness, nor simply to good flavor, as this one here might suggest about any particular beverage. Beer and her kind are foreign to us Hellenes. They are the barbarians who, whenever they do indulge in wine, never think to taste lightly. They do not drink good wine mixed with some water, but drink rather whatever wine they can get their hands on without any mixing at all! These beer drinkers are all fools. For proof, simply you need look at the kind of individuals who partake’ said Wine, accusingly raising a lithe finger towards drunken Beer, then distracted by a small hare darting across the road.

     “Wine continued, ‘Wine is the social lubricant of good discussion. Consider Socrates himself. Though never drunk, the man would often drink while philosophizing, as it is clear from what Plato tells us. And many great playwrights and statesmen too enjoy wine. Even salvific Hippocrates recommends dosages of wine for bringing about recovery in the case of many ailments, even such as the sacred disease! So healthful wine goes quite well not just with meats, cheeses, and figs, but also with elevated company. This company, in turn, will elevate you to a level of social competency, and achieve for you many a powerful friend. Hearing for yourself the speeches of wise and cultured Hellenic men, and emboldened with the confidence found at the bottom of a bowl of wine, you too will make good speeches about whatever sorts of matters deserve to be spoken. And it is much easier to be moderate in drinking wine, by mixing and temperance. Whereas with beer, there is never enough and not a drop is mixed appropriately. It is clear to me that the comparison is much like comparing the sounds of a well-tuned lyre to the erratic beating of the hand drum. With me, you have the ability to be wise and cultured, to be moderate in consumption, and to drink in a Hellene’s mode. With this other, you will be resigning yourself to a life of little thought, excessive drunkenness, and barbarism.’

     “So Wine finished her speech. I was convinced, certainly, of the logic in her words. Though, I must admit, in my soporific stupor, the potential for drinking quite a bit more seized me and pushed me towards Beer, who I supposed, as Wine had said, would encourage further wanton drunkenness. But behold! By Heracles, I tripped as I was approaching Beer and fell rather securely into the bosom of Wine! Thereafter my lust for Wine’s shapely figure prompted my remaining with her. And now, having made the wiser decision inadvertently I am able to give clever speeches such as this, with elevated guests such as you all, and maintain sufficient sobriety until late into the night, as is appropriate for a Hellene. As a final word, I offer this drink and toast to Dionysus’s lovely handmaiden Wine and her gifts to all of us.”

     Everyone clapped and cheered in good measure at the noble speech of our good host and his wise decision. Thenceforth and forthwith, I too gave myself over as a devotee of lovely Wine and enjoyed banquets with wise and well-spoken individuals. She has given me many of the capabilities that today I now possess, such as the ability to convey this information clearly to you, my dear audience. And Wine will allow you too to keep high company and experience the many graces of cultured entertainment, especially those of you with the good fortune of living in Hellenic lands. Perhaps my tale has provided entertainment for some of you, in which case it has been a success. But if it provides wisdom for any young men exploring their first banquets as to with which beverage they might choose to associate, then it is an even greater success, since, to add to Alcaeus’ maxim, it is good to “plant no tree sooner than the vine” in the minds of young men.


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