Monday, April 06, 2009

Alcohol and ancient Greeks

now reading: Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron

And don't those two things go so well together?

Well, there is no shortage of alcohol in this book as one of our main characters, Milton Loftis, is totally lost in whiskey and his drinking pretty much ruins his family. Well, that and his betrayal and his just general inability to be good and/or deal with reality. But I really relate to him sometimes on the alcohol.

"At the age of fifty he was beginning to discover, with a sense of panic, that his whole life had been in the nature of a hangover, with faintly unpleasant pleasures being atoned for by the dull unalleviated pain of guilt. Had he the solace of knowing that he was an alcoholic, things would have been brighter, because he had read somewhere that alcoholism was a disease; but he was not, he assured himself, alcoholic, only self-indulgent, and his disease, whatever it was, resided in shadier corners of his soul -- where decisions were reached not through reason but by rationalization, and where a thin membranous growth of selfishness always seemed to prevent his decent motives from becoming happy actions." -- pp. 152-153

Of course that obviously doesn't describe me, right? Everybody knows I'm not fifty.

Also interesting to consider is that Styron later wrote a memoir about his descent into depression. And we all know about how many of us self-medicate with alcohol, etc. Not that I think that's any worse than big-pharma-medicating, but I digress. I still don't really care for the memoir genre, but the fact that Styron is a good writer, that he wrote Darkness Visible late in an accomplished life and actually had something to remember in his memoir, plus now the idea that it might contain some insight into grappling with our good friend Al(cohol), make me want to maybe check out that book, too.

This also makes thinks about the whole creative genius/madness issue again, and makes me sad to again think about other writers who haven't been able to write about and/or work through their depression, notably in the last year David Foster Wallace, who hanged himself.

Meanwhile, speaking of writers who allude to all kinds of obscure things, Styron totally busts out this reference, in the middle of talking about Milton's wife's counseling sessions with Carey, their minister:

"Then at times they would talk of Milton, of the sad vanishing of love and passion, and why, Carey explained, using Diotima's discourse as a point of departure, it was necessary, after the falling away of years and the dissolution of the object of love on earth, to search for the lasting, the greater, the eternal love." --p.142

I mean, really? "Oh, you know, just talking to the minister about love, marital strife, and Diotima's infinite wisdom." Hello, had to look that one up. Sometimes I feel woefully ignorant about my ancient Greeks. And then I am sad.

So what this has all taught me is that I clearly need to spend less time fretting about law school and more time reading great novels such as Styron's, studying my classics, and pondering alcohol. Which I will now go do at the bar where we are watching Michigan State in the National Championship game. Hmmm, and I just read the chapter where Loftis really screws up by getting all sloppy drunk and going to the big, exciting Virginia football game in search of his daughter/a friend/elusive happiness while his other, handicapped daughter is dying in the hospital down the street ... what are you trying to say, Styron?


Kim Diaz said...

OK - I've read the Iliad and am more than 2/3 of the way through the Odyssey, read about 2 plays each of Euripides and Sophocles, read Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War in college, pored over Edith Hamilton's "Mythology", and read most of Plato's dialogues, though obviously not Symposium because I didn't know who in the hell Diotima was either.
It ain't you.
Yes - there sure is a lot of wine in the Greeks. And now, especially since I'm reading about a voyager, there's an AWFUL lot about "mixing" wine for the guests. Apparently, Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples (such as my Spanish grandparents) have always mixed their wine with water. In this way it is refreshing and close to a soft drink. Plus you can drink more goblets of it. Much is made in Homer, especially the Odyssey, of mixing and mixing bowls (they were used to mix wine for entire parties of people), which could be quite elaborate and artfully made out of precious metals and often given away as gifts for parting guests and prizes at sporting competitions.
As for depression - I read somewhere long ago that depressed people are actually more cognizant of realty than your average Joe; this may be precisely what makes them depressed. I don't know if I would qualify that as madness. I think perhaps a lot of humans with brains need a small dose of denial to get through the day. I know I probably do.


linda said...

Oh my! There is a wealth of wisdom and information in your comment (thanks!) but I am BLOWN AWAY by the water/wine thing. Hello! Making it not totally bizarre at all to have Jesus "turning water into wine." More rational explanations for Bible mythology = I love it. Have you read Ishmael? Probably not, you are too busy tearing up the ancient Greeks. Maybe that will be my next project. I've just done the most basic basics -- like, whatever I read in AP English. But I did just buy a used copy of The Iliad.