Aulus Cornelius Celsus, De Medicina 2.18.11-12

Ex potionibus vero quaecumque ex frumento facta est, itemque lac, mulsum, defrutum, passum, vinum aut dulce aut vehemens aut mustum aut magnae vetustatis valentissimi generis est. At acetum et id vinum, quod paucorum annorum vel austerum vel pingue est, in media materia est; ideoque infirmis numquam generis alterius dari debet. Aqua omnium inbecillissima est; firmiorque ex frumento potio est, quo firmius est ipsum frumentum; firmior ex eo vino, quod bono solo quam quod tenui, quodque temperato caelo quam quod nimis aut umido aut nimis sicco nimiumque aut frigido aut calido natum est. Mulsum, quo plus mellis habet, defrutum, quo magis incoctum est, passum, ex quo sicciore uva est, eo valentius est. Aqua levissima pluvialis est, deinde fontana, tum ex flumine, tum ex puteo, post haec ex nive aut glacie; gravior his ex lacu, gravissima ex palude. Facilis etiam et necessaria cognitio est naturam eius requirentibus. Nam levis pondere apparet, et ex is, quae pondere pares sunt, eo melior quaeque est, quo celerius et calfit et frigescit, quoque celerius in ea legumina percoquuntur.

From these drinks, the strongest type is whatever is made from grain, then milk, honey-wine, must, raisin wine, wine – either sweet, strong, unfermented, or greatly aged. And, then, vinegar and wine which are of a few years old – both thin and rich – are in the middle. Drinks from the previous classes should not be given to the sick.

Water is the weakest of all [the drinks]; a drink from grain is the more powerful, because grain itself is more powerful. Wine that is from good soil is stronger than wine from poor soil; wine made in a temperate climate is also better – neither too humid nor too dry, neither to cold or too warm. Honey-wine which has more honey, must which is cooked more, raisin wine which is from drier grapes – are all stronger. Water from the rain is the lightest, then from a spring, then from a river, then from a well, and after [all] these [water] from snow or ice; heavier still is water from a lake. But, the heaviest is [water found in] a swamp. For those needing to know the nature of these things, it is easy and indispensable to understand. For, in weight the lightness is apparent. Whatever from these things that are equal in weight [to water] is better – also, that which heats or cools quicker and that which can cook pulses quicker.

Celsus discusses the medicinal and health qualities of the various foods that were commonly consumed in the ancient world. Food helped to treat diseases and maintain health.

Grain-based drinks (e.g. beer) are the strongest beverages. According to Celsus, the strength of the individual consuming the foods should correspond to the “strength” of the foods itself (2.18.13). As a result, it is suggested that the ill not consume grain-drinks; such beverages are best reserved for only the healthy and strong. Even among the strong, moderation must be practiced when indulging in these strongest foods.

The strength of the drinks is determined by the qualities of the ingredients and its environment. Because grain is the “strongest” drink-based ingredient, the drinks are also “strong.” This description also seems to refer to the drinks’ mouth-feel. This suggests that the grain-based drinks were more heavy and thick relative to milk, aged wine, mead, etc. We cannot determine the specific variety of grain-based drink that Celsus may be referencing, but this suggests significant residual sugars and/or proteins in the beer.

This also offers another potential pulse-beer connection. Unfortunately, I can’t really get much out of the passage that may shed more light on my obsession.

Author’s Note
Aulus Cornelius Celsus (ca. 25 BCE-50 CE)
Roman encyclopaedist. De Medicina is his only extant work.

Image Source
Wikimedia Commons, Pierre Roch Vigneron –
Public Domain



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