Wine and Philosophy in History: Is There Truth in Wine?

In vino, veritas, an old proverb attests. If there is truth in wine, what did the philosophers of the past think of the beverage? Plato’s work, Symposium, translates to a drinking party where wine was imbibed, and philosophy was discussed. Epicurus praised the pleasure of discussing philosophy over a plate of cheese and a moderate amount of wine. David Hume said that drinking wine was an antidote to philosophical depression. Horace said of Cato that “his virtue was strengthened by wine.”

Not all philosophers found truth in wine, though. Many criticized drunkenness and others thought wine shouldn’t be consumed.

The history of wine is long and complex, stretching back thousands of years to the first fermented grape juice. Wine has been used for religious ceremonies, social gatherings, and medicinal purposes. But what about philosophy? What role has wine played in the philosophical discussion? Let’s take a brief look at wine and philosophy in history.

The Ancient Greek Philosophers on Wine

Aristotle thought drunkenness was “the most violent of all the vices.” He believed wine should only be drunk in moderation and never in excess. Aristotle also noted that different types of people behave in different ways when they get drunk. For example, he said that men get angry when they drink while women become more sexually promiscuous.

Plato, on the other hand, thought that wine could be a force for good. In his work Symposium, he has Socrates praise the benefits of philosophy and wine. Socrates says that wine helps him to forget his troubles and makes him more open to new ideas. He also claims that it gives him the courage to speak his mind.

Positive (and Negative) Views

In general, most philosophers spoke out against the overindulgence in wine but recognized it aided philosophical discussion.

Seneca was one of the few ancient philosophers who spoke in favor of occasional intoxication. “At times, we ought to drink even to intoxication, not so as to drown, but merely to dip ourselves in wine: for wine washes away troubles and dislodges them from the depths of the mind, and acts as a remedy to sorrow as it does to some diseases. The inventor of wine is called Liber, not from the license which he gives to our tongues but because he liberates the mind from the bondage of cares and emancipates it, animates it, and renders it more daring in all that it attempts.”

Thomas Aquinas stated in the 13th century, “If a man were knowingly to abstain from wine to the extent of molesting nature grievously, he would not be free from sin.”[1] Thomas Aquinas did speak out against drunkenness, though.

More recent philosophers like Kierkegaard in the 19th century wrote an entire treatise on wine. “Wine is a defense of the truth and the truth a defense of the wine.”[2]

Thoreau was one of the few philosophers who was not a big fan of wine, believing it was a luxury that muddled the senses and dulled the intellect. He once wrote, “I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so noble a liquor.” Thoreau believed that wine was a false form of intoxication and that true intoxication came from “being in nature and connecting with the natural world.”

 

So, Is There Truth in Wine?

A few different theories have been put forward about wine. The first is that drinking wine is a way of escaping reality. This is what Aristotle thought, and it’s also what Plato seems to believe in Symposium.

The second theory is that wine can help us to access truths that we wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. This is what David Hume thought, and it’s also what Plato seems to believe in Symposium.[3] The third theory is that wine is a way of bonding with other people. This is what Horace thought, and it’s also what Plato seems to think in Symposium.

It’ss no surprise that wine has played a role in philosophical discussions. After all, what is more, pleasurable than enjoying a good glass of wine with friends while discussing life’s big questions?

So, is there truth in wine? It depends on who you ask. But it seems that, at least for some philosophers, wine has been a source of wisdom and insight. Cheers!

This Day in Wine History

385 BC: Plato’s Symposium was written. The setting of this philosophical work is a drinking party with friends where they drink wine and discuss philosophy.

79 AD: Pliny the Elder died. Pliny the Elder is the first record we have of the phase in vino, veritas. It was likely a common phrase at the time.

Want to read more? Try out these books!

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References

[1] Summa Theologica, Q150. Thomas Aquinas.

[2] Philosophers on Wine. Matt Qvortrup. 2022.

[3] The Oxford Companion to Wine. :Smith, B. (2015)

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