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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

The drunkenness begets deformed creatures

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The philosopher, politician and writer Henri-Benjamin Constant, Swiss-born French (1767-1830) wrote in 1816 a famous speech or treatise entitled 'The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns' (1819).

His thesis is that the the Ancients (naturally  the citizens) had the freedom and obligation to participate in the political life of the polis or state, but instead their freedom in private life was limited by law. The opposite occurs for the Moderns: the law protects the privacy, which is not operated by the government, but hinders their participation in public life, especially because modern societies are very broad and extensive.

Constant had an important influence on the liberal movements of his time; it is worth reading his speech, the nuances that today we would do to their claims.

Well, as it is known,  Plato seeks above all in its two dialogues " Republic or Justice" and "Laws  or Legislation" design an ideal city-state in which the rulers are the best citizens, that identifies with philosophers. His proposed laws regulate aspects of privacy, as said Constant. Citizens only ask today that laws and state protect them from interference from others or the state itself.

Now, some of the rules that Plato proposes, result from his philosophical speculation rather than experience, are now extremely curious for us. For example in “ Laws 774a (Book VI)” indicates that  citizens have to marry enter them 25 and 35 years old;  after, in 735b, says that the age of marriage for girls must be between sixteen and twenty years old and the of the boys between thirty and thirty-five: likewise indicates that  they should be fined in proportion to their social class if they  violate a rule so  interesting  to the survival of the city itself.

But I will quote verbatim a paragraph referring to the requirement that citizens have to beget healthy children for the good of society. Known is the fans that the Greeks gave the feast or banquet, in which the wine flows abundantly. Well, says Plato in Laws, 775B-775E. (Book VI):

"Drinking to excess is a practice that is nowhere seemly—save only at the feasts of the God, the Giver of wine,—nor yet safe; and certainly it is not so for those who take marriage seriously; for at such a time above all it behoves both bride and bridegroom to be sober, seeing that the change [775c] in their life is a great one, and in order to ensure, so far as possible, in every case that the child that is begotten may be sprung from the loins of sober parents: for what shall be, with God's help, the night or day of its begetting is quite uncertain. Moreover, it is not right that procreation should be the work of bodies dissolved by excess of wine, but rather that the embryo should be compacted firmly, steadily and quietly in the womb. But the man that is steeped in wine moves and is moved himself in every way, writhing both in body and soul; [775d] consequently, when drunk, a man is clumsy and bad at sowing seed, and is thus likely to beget unstable and untrusty offspring, crooked in form and character. Wherefore he must be very careful throughout all the year and the whole of his life—and most especially during the time he is begetting—to commit no act that involves either bodily ailment or violence and injustice; for these he will inevitably stamp on the souls and bodies of the offspring, [775e] and will generate them in every way inferior. From acts of such a kind he must especially abstain on the day and night of his marriage; for the Beginning that sits enshrined as a goddess among mortals is the Savior of all, provided that she receives the honor due to her from each one who approaches her."  (Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 10 & 11 translated by R.G. Bury. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967 & 1968.)

This text, these ideas impressed at the time the Ancients, as also impress us today, 2400 years later, and also allow us to imagine again how our society would be today if the old thinking would not have remained hidden in the long medieval night. In any case they are still these tips on drunkenness and alcohol very suitable for today's youth consuming too  at an early age excessive amounts of alcohol and other substances as a means to achieve a certain condition  of “pseudohappiness” or false happiness.


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