Day 6: Dionysus, Bacchus and Sober Girls


Oh hi, Bacchus. Nice grapes.


Gosh, I picked a superb day to watch a documentary about the classical gods of wine and excess, didn’t I? For those of you like me, with access to BBC iPlayer and a nerdy streak a mile wide, you could catch up – if you feel it would be appropriate and non-triggering for you – with Bettany Hughes’ cracking account of the mythology surrounding Bacchus, which travelled from London to Georgia via Ancient Greece to explore the classical world’s approach to wine, merriment and, yes, Bacchanalia. You can read a review here.

B. turned to me with an expressive silence at one point during the show, as Hughes made her way down a Greek street, surrounded by costumed festival-goers quaffing wine and dancing, extolling the praises of ex-stasis, or ecstasy, or “standing beside yourself”, or “getting completely off your tits”, and if I accurately parsed his silence it meant something like this: “Andie, love of my life, companion of my sofa, why are we sitting through an hour of this admittedly foxy historian celebrating the very thing you’ve just decided to quit?”

And yes, there was the part of me that was muttering darkly that any sensible person would have cracked open a bottle of red and quaffed it whilst watching, in mutual celebration of the intoxicating power of wine, foxy historians and song, and that it WASN’T FAIR that we couldn’t join in the fun by taking a deep slug of Malbec and saying “ah yes, that’s the stuff, where do I get my “Team Bacchus” shirt printed up?”

However…there was another part of me that said, hmmm, yes, this makes sense. The Greeks worshipped Bacchus, yes. They revelled in the festival of intoxication, and they seized the freedom it brought to play with sensuality, gender-fluidity and social status. But PART of that worship involved the complex balance between acknowledging that aspect of our shared human natures whilst also keeping it in its box; like any festival, a crucial and often overlooked part of the celebration is that it ends. After all, no one, apart from Slade, actually wishes it could be Christmas – or Bacchanal – every day; no one really want to be soaked in booze, out of control wild or post-indulgence lethargic, aggressively garrulous or sottishly melancholy, as their daily mode of living. It’s why we have the communal urge to straighten up and fly right come January, making resolutions and “detoxing” (which is unscientific bollocks, but the basic notion of “not eating and drinking so much that we feel like a human compost heap” has merit) and Dry January-ing.

The festival is not supposed to be everyday living.

Yesterday, I looked at the way in which we seem to have developed an “alcohol for every occasion” culture where drinking is not rare, celebratory or festive, but just part of the backdrop to all socialising. Today, I’m venturing beyond my house, local park and gym (to which I have confined myself for the better part of this week) and heading out to play with friends in the real world. You know, where the booze is. These are the things I have done to pre-prepare for this evening:

  • I have blogged early, to meet my goals and to avoid excuse-making later in the day
  • I have checked the menu of the restaurant, to decide what I’m going to order, food, soft drinks and all, to avoid feeling overwhelmed by choices later
  • I have arranged to meet up with B. and my friends in a café, not a pub, before we go on to eat
  • I will buy a cold bottle of sparkling water and keep it in my bag, to drink at the interval of the play, which has the added bonus effect of avoiding the horrendous queues at the tiny theatre bars, which then means you have to pound your glass of mediocre white wine in three minutes flat before the bell rings, and then leaves you feeling distinctly woozy during the second half. This is, unless you are watching Tennessee Williams, very much NOT the best way to appreciate what’s going on onstage.

I may even listen to “Lose Yourself” by Eminem on the way into the city, because I’m a massive walking cliché because it makes me feel pretty freakin’ unstoppable.

Knees weak, palms are sweaty…here I go.


(Endnote: if you’re interested in the classical world’s approach to wine, this is a well-referenced and fascinating overview of the ancient practice of watering down wine by Michael Gilleand: “As a rule, the ancient Greeks and Romans did not drink their wine pure, but mixed with water… It was considered barbaric to drink wine neat in ancient times.” )