GREAT DRUNKS OF OUR TIMES

Pythagoras called sobriety ‘the strength of the soul’. Originally published in Issue 38 of The Rake, Nick Scott writes that he was also a vegetarian who believed the mysteries of the universe could be unravelled using maths, so we suggest you spurn his prudish mewing and raise a glass to the 20th century’s greatest grog-addled hellraisers.

Dean Martin circa 1964 (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

'Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle, Hobbes was fond of his dram, And René Descartes was a drunken fart, I drink therefore I am.'

Monty Python's Philosopher's Song - a ditty penned by Eric Idle, which alluded to the capacity of history's great thinkers to sup from the cup of Bacchus - was a moment of cerebral comedy genius. Not only was it packed with lyrical virtuoso (the line 'There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya 'bout the raisin' of the wrist' is a poetic peach), but it also managed to incorporate the schools of thought expounded by the savants it cheekily lampooned (Immanuel Kant being 'very rarely stable', for example, alludes to any inebriate's wobbling gait, but more subtly to the German ethicist's theory of a stable universe).

Given the Pythons' intellectual credentials, Idle's feat in injecting such academia into his daft-yet-deep masterpiece is no surprise. But the song is endowed with extra comic resonance for the fact that it is apposite, for there is an unequivocal correlation between intellect, competence and influence (most of the philosophers were the A-listers of their time) and a predilection for the bottled magic with which mankind has enjoyed a heady relationship ever since some serendipitous Neolithic first noticed the mind-bending effects of fermented berries.

If you're not content with the proof that can be found in ancient history - Alexander the Great built an empire stretching from Greece to India in just a decade while practising a deeply dipsomaniacal devotion to the cult of Dionysus, the God of wine - then what about modern science? In 2013, Finnish researchers gathered data on 3,000 fraternal and identical twins and found that the sibling who first developed verbal ability also tended to be the first to experiment with, and subsequently form a relationship with, alcohol.

Published

January 2021

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