Ancient advice for drinking at home during coronavirus self-quarantine

How do we find drinking partners while staying at home? What are the happy hour rules? Here are some advice from a German wine enthusiast 500 years ago.

Ancient advice for drinking at home during coronavirus self-quarantine

Bars, pubs, and clubs are all shut. In a time of social distancing, getting drinks means drinking at home. It sounds like no fun.

Ironically, says one expert, home is the best place to enjoy your drinks.

Five hundred years ago, a German wine enthusiast wrote a treatise called "The Art of Drinking." The author, Vincent Obsopoeus, presents a total system — complete with special tricks, hacks, and algorithms — for enjoying the fruit of the vine sustainably and with discrimination.

And he knew what he was talking about. In his time, Obsopoeus witnessed the birth of binge drinking as a socially and professionally acceptable behavior. He lived near an important wine region, and in those days per capita consumption was six times what it is today. The allowance in hospitals — for patient and doctor alike — was an astonishing seven liters a day.

Worse, binge culture was taking over college and work life. Obsopoeus wrote his book, in part, to try to put a stop to it. The key to lasting dignity and sobriety, he insists, is not total abstinence, but moderation.

A glass of Bordeaux red wine.

For centuries Obsopoeus’ book was banned, and eventually, it was forgotten. I recently rediscovered the Latin text while combing through hundreds of dusty tomes, and the advice it offers couldn’t be timelier for our current moment when we’re suddenly all stuck at home.

For example, says Obsopoeus, home beats going out because it spares you the drama to be found in bars — the buzzkills, the snubbing, the snitting, the beer tears and the fights.

Virtual happy hour in the modern era

Of course, drinking at home can be a tricky thing. It’s easy to drink too much, and drinking because you’re bored is a bad idea. Drinking all by yourself is worse. As Obsopoeus warns us, drinking alone is a roadmap to dark thoughts: “You end up brooding on this single, unforgettable thought: I don’t like anyone. I don’t have any real friends. Being with no one is the only way my life is happy.”

Given this warning, it’s not surprising that Obsopoeus advocates for marriage. He says that the very best part of drinking at home is that it lets you spend quality time with your significant other.

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But what if you don’t have a partner? Well, don’t despair! In 2020, drinking at home doesn’t necessarily mean drinking alone. The rise of the virtual happy hour means we can drink with friends — including new friends — all around the world.

And in that connection, Obsopoeus’ advice on choosing drinking buddies remains as timely as ever. He tells us just what to do: “In the final analysis, everyone should seek out a peer — that is, a person who suits them and their character — and make that person their drinking buddy.”

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In other words, he says, we need to find people who share our values, not just people who look like us. And, he adds, we should steer clear of certain types of people, types that sound eerily familiar to our 21st-century ears. Ever met anyone like this, especially online?

► Buzzkills

► Belligerents

► Blowhards

► Gossips

► Badmouthers

► Hypocrites

► Bloviators

Obsopoeus's wisdom

Choosing drinking partners wisely can also open doors, Obsopoeus points out. “Befriend the rich and powerful,” he counsels us: “Through them, you’ll attain great wealth and high public appointments, and you’ll head for the dizzying heights of great affairs.” Even if you’re not into social climbing, an online happy hour really could lead to your next job interview.

Finding drinking partners isn’t the end of Obsopoeus’s good advice. Once you have your new buddies, how should you act in order to keep them as friends and possibly advance your career?

Simple, he says. Keep it happy. We all have problems.

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That advice might not be so easy right now, with most of us sequestered at home and a pandemic raging. Still, Obsopoeus cautions that happy hour is the wrong time and place for rage, sadness, or anxiety.

Hence, he says, Happy Hour Rule No.1 is to be a model of diplomacy in your behavior and speech. In practice, this means:

► Do follow the conversation

► Don’t try to win arguments

► Don’t try to impress people with your intelligence

► Do be careful with your jokes

► Do say nothing rather than something stupid

► Don’t use foul language

► Don’t make jokes at other people’s expense

► Don’t pressure other people to drink.

Even after 500 years, his tips are solid.

So let’s all raise our Quarantini glasses to Obsopoeus, in moderation and without guilt, as we all drink #AloneTogether.

Michael Fontaine is a professor of classics and associate vice provost of undergraduate education at Cornell University. His translation of Obsopoeus’ book "How to Drink: A classical guide to the art of imbibing" is out April 14, 2020, from Princeton University Press.


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