The Greeks and the Romans were known for their parties. They threw huge ones. Seneca famously owned—not rented—three hundred ivory tables for entertaining. Imagine that. The ancients also knew how to drink. Cato liked to drink. So did Socrates. There’s no evidence that Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus and Seneca didn’t either.
But the accounts of their drinking don’t square one to one with our modern times. You see, the Greeks and the Romans were famous for watering down their wine. In fact, anyone who didn’t water down their wine was considered barbaric—someone who was out of control. The poet Hesoid—a favorite of Marcus and Seneca and many of the Stoics—actually said that three parts water and one part wine was the proper ratio. Nobody but the drunks drank their alcohol neat.
For much of history the symbol of mixing water and wine has been a kind of symbol for that essential Stoic virtue that we talk about so much here: Moderation. Their wine was quite strong in those days, so to take this intoxicating but enjoyable pleasure and dilute it a bit? That was not only necessary, but it was an important metaphor.
It’s one we should think about today. What vices or indulgences do we have that we might “add a little water” to? Maybe if you drink soda, you can start mixing in some diet. Or if you like lemonade or tea, you can mix a little bit of sweetened into your unsweetened—rather than the other way around. Water down your television time by reading during the commercial breaks. Water down your night out with friends by listening to a podcast or an audiobook on the way out. Water down your workout regime with rest days. Water down your whirlwind love affair with time apart.
Moderation is key. Don’t overdo anything. Don’t take virtue or vice in its pure or unadulterated form. Balance. Soften. Enjoy.