Adapted from Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995.
1. For additional information on alcohol among the Babylonians, see Lutz (1922, pp. 115-133).
2. Individuals could choose to consecrate themselves to God for a period of time and become Nazarites, after which time they could again drink wine (Numbers 6:1-4; Numbers 6:13-20; Speigel, 1979, pp. 12-13).
3. For additional documentation on the views of Jesus and the early church see Hewitt (1980, pp. 14-19) and Raymond (1927, pp. 27-91). For references to alcohol in the Old Testament categorized into positive and negative and into realms (physical, psychological, social, religious or economic), see O'Brien and Seller (1982).
4. Christianity became the sole and official religion of the Roman Empire in 395 A.D. (Wallbank and Taylor, 1954, p. 230).
5. While hops may have been used in Bavaria as early as around the mid-eighth century, exactly when and where brewing with hops began is unclear (Mathias, 1959, p. 4; Cherrington, 1925, v.l, p. 405). However, hopped beer was actually "a new drink altogether, a product of the technique of precise fermentation using only barley, and in which addition of hops ensured an agreeable taste and the possibility of better conservation" (Claudian, 1970, p. 10; Austin, 1985, p. 87). It might be noted that old recipes added such ingredients as "poppy seeds, mushrooms, aromatics, honey, sugar, bay leaves, butter and bread crumbs" (Braudel, 1967, p. 167).
6. Although some suggest that it was the Chinese who discovered distillation (e.g., Hyams, 1965, p. 226), others believe it was the Italians (e.g., Braudel, 1967, p. 170) and some name the Greeks (e.g., Forbes, 1948, p. 6), most assert that it was the Arabians (e.g., Patrick, 1952, p. 29; Lichine, 1974, p. 6). But if it was indeed the Arabians, was it the physician Rhazer (8527-932?) (Waddell & Haag, 1940, p. 58) or the alchemist Jabir in Hayyan around 800 A.D. (Roueche, 1963, p. 171)? Perhaps it was all of the above:
"That spirit could be distilled from fermented matter was undoubtedly independently discovered (possibly by accident) in many parts of the world" (Doxat, 1971, p. 80). It might be noted parenthetically that alcohol (at kohl or alkuhl) is Arabic in name (Hyams, 1965, p. 198; Roueche, 1963, p. 171).
7. Amaldus of Villanova (d. 1315), a professor of medicine, is credited with coining the term aqua vitae: "We call it [distilled liquor] aqua vitae, and this name is remarkably suitable, since it is really a water of immortality. It prolongs life, clears away ill-humors, revives the heart, and maintains youth" (Amaldus de Villanova, The Earliest Printed Book on Wine, Now/or the First Time Rendered into English, and with an Historical Essay by H.E. Sigerist, with Facsimile of Original Edition, 1478. New York: Schuman's, 1943, cited by Roueche, 1963, p. 172). These were modest claims compared to those made much later by the fifteenth-century German physician, Hieronymus Brunschwig:
It eases the diseases coming of cold. It comforts the heart. It heals all old and new sores on the bead. It causes a good color in a person. It heals baldness and causes the hair well to grow, and kills lice and fleas. It cures lethargy. Cotton wet in the same time and a little wrung out again and so put in the ears at night going to bed, and a little drunk thereof, is of good against all deafness. It eases the pain in the teeth, and causes sweet breath. It heals the canker in the mouth, in the teeth, in the lips, and in the tongue. It causes the heavy tongue to become light and well-speaking. It heals the short breath. It causes good digestion and appetite for to eat, and takes away all belching. It draws the wind out of the body. It eases the yellow jaundice, the dropsy, the gout, the pain in the breasts when they be swollen, and heals all diseases in the bladder, and breaks the stone. It withdraws venom that has been taken in meat or in drink, when a little treacle is put thereto. It heals all shrunken sinews, and causes them to become soft and right. It heals the fevers tertian and quartan. It heals the bites of a mad dog, and all stinking wounds, when they be washed therewith. It gives also young courage in a person, and causes him to have a good memory. It purifies the five wits of melancholy and of all uncleanness." (H. Brunschwig, Liber deArte Distillandi: De Simplicibus, Strasbourg, 1500, quoted by Roueche, 1963, pp. 172-173).
8. The Russians preferred their grain spirit without the juniper flavor, and chose to name it "vodka," or "little water" (Roueche, 1963, p. 174).
9. Alarmist tracts exaggerated the extent of problems and "the popular press was full of terrifying accounts of the woes of prostitution and infanticide . . ." (Sournia, 1990, p. 21). An influential engraving by William Hogarth pictures a society destroyed by gin. Life on "Gin Lane" is portrayed a living hell in which, among other things, an intoxicated mother neglects her child, who is seen falling on its head, and an impoverished man gnaws on the end of a bone (bearing a suspicious resemblance to a human femur) while a hungry dog chews at the other end. A drunken brawl can be seen in the background and a dead woman, who presumably succumbed to gin, is being placed in a coffin. "Gin Lane" has been reproduced in numerous publications, including Sournia (1990, illustration #9), Babor (1986, p. 18), Watney (1974, illustration #2), Watney (1976, illustration #1), and Younger (1966, p. 334).
10. The Act attempted to create a de facto prohibition, especially among the poor, but was far from successful:
As was proved in the U.S.A. in our own times, try to prohibit liquor and you end by encouraging it. The fact that gin was largely illegal made it the more attractive and undoubtedly this fact alone caused some who would not otherwise have touched it to be tempted to try it and possibly thus to become addicted to it. Illicit gin shops flourished, and though some 12,000 persons were found guilty, it was difficult to enforce fines: the prisons were too crowded anyway. Informers, who alone could provide evidence, tended to suffer mysterious and often fatal accidents. The law was brought into contempt, always a bad thing (Doxat, 1972, pp. 99-100).
11. To the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons, heaven was not a place to play harps but a place to visit with other departed and drink plentiful and endless draughts of delicious ale (Watney, 1974, p. 15).
Readings and References
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Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario (booklet), 1961.
Ashton, Thomas S. An Economic History of England: The Eighteenth Century. London: Methuen and Co., 1955.
Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985.
Babor, Thomas. Alcohol: Customs and Rituals. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.
Balazs, Etienne. Chinese Civilization and Bureaucracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964. (Translated by H. M. Wright).
Baron, Stanley. Brewed in America: A History of Beer and Ale in the United States. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1962.
Blacker, Edward. Sociocultural factors in alcoholism. International Psychiatry Clinics, 1966, 3, 51-80.
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Boffeta, Paolo, and Garfinkel, Lawrence. Alcohol drinking and mortality among men enrolled in an American Cancer Society prospective study. Epidemiology, 1990, 1, 342-348.
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Braudel, Femand. Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800. Translated by Miriam Kochan. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1974.
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Hewitt, T. Furman. A Biblical Perspective on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol and other Drugs. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Department of Human Resources, Pastoral Care Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 1980.
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