XL. There is a third way of looking at this subject, which depends chiefly on the exceeding plausibility of an argument derived from etymology. For some persons think that drunkenness (metheµ) derives its name not merely from the fact of its being admitted after sacrifice, but also because it is the cause of relaxation (methesis) to the soul. (166) But the reason of foolish men is relaxed so as to get strength for many sins; while that of those inclined to be sensible is relaxed, so as to enjoy freedom from care, and cheerfulness, and lightness of heart. For the wise man, when he is intoxicated, becomes more good-humoured than when he is sober; so that in this respect we should not be at all wrong in saying that he may get drunk. (167) And besides all this, we must likewise add, that we are not speaking of a stern-looking and sordid kind of wisdom, contracted by profound thought and ill-humour; but, on the other hand, of that wisdom which wears on tranquil and cheerful appearance, being full of joy and happiness, by which men have often been led on to sport and divert themselves in no inelegant manner, indulging in amusements suitable to their dignified and earnest character, just as in a well-tuned lyre one may have a combination uniting, by means of opposite sounds, in one melodious harmony. (168) At all events, according to the most holy Moses, the end of all wisdom is amusement and mirth, not such mirth as is pursued by foolish people, uncombined with any prudence, but such as is admitted even by those who are already grey, not only through old age alone, but also through deep thinking. Do you not see that he speaks of the man who has drunk deeply of that wisdom which is to be derived from a man’s own hearing and learning, and study; not as one who partakes of mirth, but who is actually mirth in itself? (169) This is Isaac, for the name Isaac being interpreted means “laughter,” with whose character it is very consistent that he should have been sporting with “perseverance,” which the Hebrews call Rebekkah.
XLI. But it is not lawful for a private individual to behold the divine instruction of the soul, but the king may behold it, as one with whom wisdom has dwelt for a very long time, if we may not rather say that it dwells with him all his life. His name is Abimelech, who, looking out through the window with the well-opened and radiant eye of the mind, saw Isaac sporting with Rebekkah his wife. (170) For what employment is more suitable for a wise man than to be sporting, and rejoicing, and diverting himself with perseverance in good things? From which it is plain that he will become intoxicated, since intoxication contributes to good morals, and also produces relaxation and advantage; (171) for unmixed wine seems to increase and render more intense all the natural qualities, whether they be good or the contrary, as many other things do too. For money is to a good man a cause of good things, and to a bad man, as some one has said, it is a cause of bad things. And again, high rank makes the wickedness of a fool more conspicuous, but it renders the virtue of the just man more glorious. So also unmixed wine, being poured forth in abundance, makes the man who is the slave of his passions, still more subservient to them, but it renders him who has them under control more manageable and amiable. (172) Who, indeed, is there who does not know that of two opposite things, when one kind is suitable to most people, the other kind must of necessity be suited to some? As, for instance, white and black are two opposite colours: if white is suitable both to good and to bad things, then black must also be necessarily equally suitable to both, and not to one of the two alone. And, again, to be sober and to be drunk are two opposite things; accordingly, both bad men and good, as the ancient proverb says, partake of sobriety; therefore, also, drunkenness is suitable to both classes. Therefore the virtuous man will get drunk without losing any of his virtue by it.