BEER AND WINE IN ANTIQUITY: BENEFICIAL REMEDY OR PUNISHMENT IMPOSED BY THE GODS?
Different types of alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer were used in ancient times for various medicinal purposes. Being the oldest and probably the most widely used drugs, they were known to have some therapeutic value, in addition to the vital part they played in the daily life of people. Ethanol is produced by fermentation of a variety of plants and consumed either in a diluted form or concentrated by distillation to concoct alcoholic beverages. Beer made of fermented barley is an alcoholic drink that was believed to contain a spirit or a god. It is a drink of relatively low alcohol content with supernatural properties. The same was believed for wine. Considered to be divine, these beverages were the long-sought elixirs of life and appeared in religious ceremonies, in mythology, and in social meals, such as the Greek symposia. In addition, these alcoholic drinks were considered to be a remedy for practically every disease and, therefore, were a common ingredient in ancient prescriptions. They were used as anaesthetics that dull the pain, as stimulants, as analgesics, as antiseptics to cleanse wounds and relieve pain, as emetics, as digestives, as antidotes for plant poisoning, for bites and stings, and as purifiers. However, we should not overlook the harmful effects of alcohol abuse such as drunkenness, chronic liver disease and, in modern terminology, infirmities that included pancreatitis, cardiomyopathy, peripheral neuropathy, dementia, and central nervous system disorders.
Key words: beer, wine, antiquity, supernatural properties, remedies, alcohol abuse