Most modern adults know what intoxication looks like, and it should not come as a surprise that the Greeks, famous as they were for their obsession with wine, were well acquainted with the sight as well.  Intoxicated individuals were depicted in art in all activities from drunken games, to dancing or even vomiting.


Wine was both simultaneously beneficial and potentially detrimental (Lissarague 1990; 5). It loosened the tongue, uncovered truth (Lissarague 1990; 8), and revealed the character of men (Lissarague 1990; 9).  However this freedom could only be experienced under the protective control of the symposiarch, who prescribed the alcohol consumption.  Without the balance and control of the symposiarch, the symposium could move from entertaining and pleasurable to dangerous and shameful.


Under the influence of excessive alcohol, anything could happen.  One of the most famous instances of drunken revelry is Alcibiades bursting into Plato’s symposium drunk. The other members of the symposium look at him and laugh, as he questions, “Are you going to laugh at me drunk? Well, you may laugh, but I’m sure I’m right, all the same” (Plato Symposium 212e).  Beyond just receiving ridicule, over-enthusiastic drinkers, like Alcibiades, could “offend the god of wine” and risk headaches and remorse in the morning.

This Intoxication and over-consumption is all part of the balance that begins with the krater and the symposiarch. The number of kraters of wine consumed, as Eubulus points out, can tip the balance between pleasure and disaster:

I mix three kraters only for those who are wise.

One is for good health, which they drink first.

The second is for love and pleasure.

The third is for sleep, and when they have drunk it those who are wise wander homewards.

The fourth is no longer ours, but belongs to arrogance.

The fifth leads to shouting.

The sixth to a drunken revel.

The seventh to black eyes.

The eighth to a summons.

The ninth to bile.

The tenth to madness, in that it makes people throw things.

(Eubulus Fragment 94 trans.)


Intoxication can be beneficial to any gathering, but only in moderation, lest excessive drunkenness take hold and result in shameful displays and social isolation.

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Wine and Drinking