Better Living Through Chemistry, Part Deux: Aristotle on Drunkenness

A couple of weeks ago, I made a note here of my stepping onto the decaffeinated wagon in an attempt to prepare myself for the sleepless nights of fatherhood. That bout of abstinence began shortly after Thanksgiving. Besides the caffeine-free wagon, I have also been riding the alcohol-free wagon for about six weeks now, also in an attempt to mitigate the ghastliness of the sleep-interrupted night. (I will, in all probability, break that fast temporarily on the Superbowl weekend, before clambering back on the wagon; football will be over but childcare responsibilities will endure.)

So in honor of the absent spirit, to make myself appreciate my sobriety a bit more, I want to point to a couple of astute questions and observations that The Philosopher i.e., Aristotle, was able to offer us on alcohol and intoxication a very long time ago. These have little to do with childcare, but everything to do with how children show up in our lives.

(The excerpts below are from the Problems, a member of the corpus aristotelicum whose ‘authenticity has been seriously doubted.’ Here, I draw from Book III: Problems Connected with the Drinking of Wine and Drunkenness, from The Complete Works of Aristotle, Revised Oxford Translation, Ed. Jonathan Barnes, Bollingen Series, LXXI, Princeton University Press, pp. 1340-1350).

First, here is ‘Aristotle’ on the Foster’s Flop or the Drinker’s Droop:

Section 11: Why is it that those who are drunk are incapable of having sexual intercourse? Is it because to do so a certain part of the body must be in a state of greater heat than the rest, and this is impossible in the drunken owing to the large quantity of heat present in the whole body; for the heat set up by the movement is extinguished by the greater surrounding heat, because they have in them a considerable quantity of unconcocted moisture? Furthermore the semen is derived from food and all food is concocted, and those who are satiated with food are more inclined for sexual intercourse. This is why some people say that with a view to the sexual act one ought to take a midday meal but a light supper, so that there may be less unconcocted than concocted matter in the body.

Consider too, ‘Aristotle’ on a related matter:

Section 4: Why is the semen of drunkards generally infertile? Is it because the composition of their body has become full of moisture and the semen is fertile not when it is liquid when it has body and consistency?

The observation contained in Section 11 should be simultaneously reassuring and alarming. Failure to perform after a long night out with the boys at the bar has been a problem ever since a bunch of merry peripatetics found themselves incapacitated after one too many carafes of wine at  the local taverna, but little seems to have been learnt since then. Section 4 seems a little dubious; if anything drunkards seem to cause far too many unplanned pregnancies. And in getting there, an uncomfortably large number of embarrassing encounters. Sometimes the Foster’s Flop can be a deliverance.

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