That isn’t quite what Ovid said, but it certainly captures how alcohol, and in particular wine, was viewed in the ancient world. In Rome, wine was the most prevalent alcoholic beverage by a considerable margin, and the reasons of this were twofold: socially and culturally, wine was an integral part of daily life, as it was consumed with meals, a compulsory daily addition to a Roman soldier’s diet, viewed as a form of medicine, and actually was safer to drink than water (the acid would kill much of the bacteria present in water). Secondly, purely as a consequence of the climate and lack of refrigeration, grape juice would ferment and become strong, sweet wine in a matter of days.

Wine was notoriously concentrated in the ancient world, and this is reflected in the sheer volume of drunken and debauched scenes on Roman vases. As a people, the Romans were far more conservative and controlled in terms of their conduct and attitudes towards sex and promiscuity than their Greek counterparts, and so it is perhaps surprising that they diluted wine to a similar concentration (3 parts water to 1 part wine versus 5 parts water to 2 parts wine).

Whilst in today’s world, we are often warned about the perils of drinking, the ancients were somewhat more lax, with tombstones including remarks such as “Mix wine, place garlands around your head, and drink deep. Furthermore, don’t deny pretty girls the sweets of love.”, and graffiti on overly diluted wine, “May cheating like this trip you up as a bartender!”. Applicants to study Classics may want to ask themselves what the consumption of wine can tell us about the ancient Greek and Roman world. History applicants could think about the role of alcohol in ideas of public health and well-being.

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