Words of Wisdom: ‘At home, you can say or do anything’

What buddies could you prefer to a faithful wife? What brothers can you imagine skipping out on her for? A wife’s more trustworthy than friends, more faithful than a brother, and a beautiful bride even beats your mom for loyalty.

Loyalty’s rare among friends, but you can trust your wife completely, always. You can drink with her and pour your heart out on her bosom without fear. She shares your anxiety in times of trouble and her dedication and energy sustain all the home. A wife sympathizes with your worries completely, and she matches the flames of your heart with equal love. She does her chores eagerly as both your servant and your wife. She loves and cherishes you in her breast, heart, and bosom. She cheers you up when you’re upset; she lifts you out of a depression. She shares in your tragedies as an equal partner, always. She pleases you with the chaste gift of Venus, and often enough makes you a father, proud of a new son or daughter.

At home, you can say or do anything; you’re the king in your house. Nobody you could offend is drinking with you. Your wife’s the only one enjoying alcohol’s sweetness with you, and she’s long been used to how you are. She already knows your life, knows how to deal with you; she has the patience of a pro for your sermonizing. And if you’re nice to her, you’ll strengthen your wife’s devotion and love: give her wine, drink with her, and you’ll get greater pleasure from a single drink than from going out and draining dry whole bottles of wine.

What’s more, the woman you love won’t feel like her husband disrespects her; no, she’ll feel like the center of your universe, and she won’t think you’re out living it up on your own while she’s left sitting at home by herself, wishing she could have a drink, too. You can express total happiness, laugh without embarrassment, and say anything and everything that comes to mind.

Vincent Obsopoeus, The Art of Drinking, 1.91-122

Written in Germany some 1,500 years after the Roman poet Ovid penned his Ars Amatoria (‘The Art of Love’), a mock-didactic instructing men how to find wives, De Arte Bibendi (‘The Art of Drinking’) offers advice to the Renaissance Latin-reading gentleman on how to consume wine responsibly in different scenarios. Vincent Obsopoeus (c.1498-1539) advises moderation rather than abstinence to stay in control (no ‘Dry January’ for him) and provides tips on drinking games. While a text that describes the perils of addiction but also how to drink competitively may seem jarring, some issues it discusses – like peer pressure and binge-drinking – still resonate today.

For Obsopoeus, the home is a relaxing environment in which to drink, and, as outlined in this passage, a loving, unoffendable (and one may imagine long-suffering) wife is perfect company for the uninhibited imbiber. Should you need a change a scene, a drinking companion should be a like-minded, dignified friend. Gossips and ex-monks are among those to avoid, as are – when it comes to drinking contests – women who indulge. As the poet writes (3.890): ‘They put Bacchus Himself to shame when they drink wine.’

Further information
This passage from The Art of Drinking comes from How to Drink: A Classical Guide to the Art of Imbibing edited, translated, and introduced by Michael Fontaine. It is published by Princeton University Press as part of their Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers series (ISBN 978-0691192147, price £12.99). The extract is reprinted here by permission.