Tuesday, June 24, 2014


"The Compass of Pleasure" by David J. Linden says that the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius took a small amount of opium in his morning wine each day.  Every day?  Morning wine?  This was an emperor of the Roman empire, a man famous for his Meditations which show him to be a balanced thinker with an open mind.  What is he doing taking opium every day?

The idea of Stoic philosophy was to remain calm and accepting of life, not to get all hot and bothered about either difficulties or good fortune.  I have never tried opium but it may be that such a goal is easier to reach if you take a little opium with your day.

Linden's book makes clear that all societies use drugs for recreation and to alter moods.  Not only that, but so do animals.  When berries get naturally fermented and therefore contain alcohol, various animals consume them with gusto.  Reindeer like hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Even insects consume plants that alter their nervous systems.

What interests me is the way societies modify the context of taking a drug.  I read in an Andrew Weil book that coffee was thought to be a stimulant, which it is at certain dosage levels but as a result, Arab countries banned it at one point, Later, Germany banned it.  If you look up the words to the sung parts of Bach's "Coffee Cantata", you can read a father determined to keep his daughter from the evil liquid while she searches to find a man to marry who will not interfere with her coffee drinking.  Something can be completely evil and low at one point and then be quite commonplace and acceptable at another.

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