ὡς γὰρ ἡ κρόκη τὸ ὀστέον πρίει τέφρᾳ καὶ ὄξει διάβροχον γενόμενον, καὶ τὸν ἐλέφαντα τῷ ζύθει μαλακὸν γενόμενον καὶ χαλῶντα κάμπτουσι καὶ διασχηματίζουσιν, ἄλλως δ᾽ οὐ δύνανται: οὕτως ἡ τύχη τὸ πεπονθὸς ἐξ αὑτοῦ καὶ μαλακὸν ὑπὸ κακίας προσπεσοῦσα κοιλαίνει καὶ τιτρώσκει.
For as a thread cuts bone that has been moistened with ash and cheap wine, and workers bend and mold ivory that is softened with beer, [ivory] which otherwise is unable to be bent: then Fortune, coming upon that which has suffered from itself and made soft by Vice, hollows and injures it [i.e. Vice].
This is a fragmentary philosophical text. Plutarch considers the effect of vice on unhappiness.
We can add ivory-softening to the list of uses for beer! The immorality and unlawfulness of the ivory trade make it very unlikely that BCS will test Plutarch’s description.
The simile employed in this section equates beer – the “softening” agent – with Vice. Similarly, beer is even equated with a mixture of ash and cheap wine! The association in this text is yet another negative portrayal of beer in antiquity.
Plutarch refers to beer in several texts. This, however, is the only extant one of these in which he uses the word “zythos” to describe beer. Originally, zythos described the Egyptian beer (although, it comes to refer to “beer” more broadly), and his use of this specific word may, thus, reflect the practices of ivory workers in Egypt.
Nelson (2001, 199) believes that Dioscorides may have been the original source for this text. Supporting this assertion is that Dioscorides often uses the word zythos in his texts.
Plutarch (46-120 CE)
Best known for his “Parallel Lives” (biographic sketches of famous Greeks and Romans), Plutarch was a prolific writer of a diverse array of texts.
Nelson, M.C. 2001. “Beer in the Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. diss., U. British Columbia.
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