Friday, November 19, 2010

Don't Mess with the Hangover God

Once upon a time, there was a king named Lycurgus of Thrace (not to be confused with Lycurgus of Sparta, Athens, Arcadia or Nemea – those are completely different Lycurguses). This Lycurgus thought his people spent too much time partying and not enough time fighting or plowing or doing other ancienty stuff, so he enforced his own version of the prohibition.

This posed a bit of a religious issue: since a major god, Dionysus, was in charge of drinking, his cult had to be banned as well. Not cool, and Dionysus was not happy. He made Lycurgus go mad (apt punishment, I could never understand how people who don't drink manage to stay sane), mistake his own son for a trunk of vines and kill him while trying to destroy all vineyards in the country. People of Thrace were fed up with the prohibition thing anyway, so they had Lycurgus dismembered by wild horses.

Bacchus - Statue from the Baths of Faustina, in Miletus.

In the 1st century BC, the tribes of Getae and Dacians were united under the centralized rule of a man named Burebista. He employed the help of a wizard-priest from Egypt, Decaeneus, who also had a personal vengeance against vineyards. Figures. Egyptians adopted wine at some point in their history, but, deep in the their hearts, they remained beer people. According to Strabo, Burebista and Decaeneus managed to convince people to cut down vines and stop drinking wine voluntarily (probably some weird Egyptian mind-controlling techniques were used there). A few years later, they were assassinated by political opponents; the state dissolved, and the Getae were happily drunk once more.

In the 1st century AD, Domitian ruled Rome with an iron fist. Pissed because the entire Italian peninsula depended heavily on grain imports, he ordered all vines to be uprooted from the provinces, and banned the plantation of new ones. The measure was never actually enforced, partly because it was massively unpopular and caused protests everywhere, partly because Domitian suddenly remembered what happened to other rulers, and didn't want to upset the god of drinking, now called Bacchus. Too late – Domitian was killed, his memory banned by the Roman Senate, and he went down in history as one of the worst emperors.

Ok, I understand that Dionysus / Bacchus kills those who disrespect him. What I don't get is why he punishes the rest of us with hangovers.