Posts Tagged ‘Maenads’

I’ve mentioned before in my piece on Trannies and Puffs that I’m a long-time devotee of satellite radio. A natural consequence of this is that I am constantly stumbling across classic tracks from way back – and by “way back” I’m now talking anything in the 20th century. Only a few days ago, I was skipping though the channels and stopped when I heard George Thorogood and the Destroyers playing their 1985 classic I Drink Alone, an encomium to alcoholism and probably on the “banned” list of the AA[1] movement.

Thorogood, by the way, is a prolific performer, with over 15 albums out with the Destroyers, 5 live albums, and 6 compilation. Born in 1950, the first album, simple called George Thorogood and the Destroyers, was released in 1977. He started off as a baseball player in the minor leagues but switched to music in 1970, forming the Destroyers in 1973.

Social drinking has been around probably as long as prostitution, and both of them have proved equally hard to legislate against. Drinking alone, however, is one of the hallmarks of severe alcoholism when it happens to excess. I mention the “to excess” part because I am not averse of an evening to sip an alcoholic beverage when the rest of the family are either out or abed, but I don’t think this would classify me as alcoholic. [2]

The word dipsomania is defined by the OED as;

A morbid and insatiable craving for alcohol, often of a paroxysmal character. Also applied to persistent drunkenness, and formerly to the delirium produced by excessive drinking.

It was first defined by Alfred Swaine Taylor in the 1844 Manual of Medical Jurisprudence as;

…drunkenness. This state, which is called in law frenzy, or ‘dementia affectata’, is regarded as a temporary form of insanity.

The word is Greek in origin. The first part, dipso-, is the combining form of the word dipsa (δίψα) meaning thirst. The second piece, mania, is from the Greek μανία  meaning madness. And mania is also the base of the Greek word maenesthai (μαίνεσθαι ) meaning to rage or to be in a frenzy. In Greek mythology, the Maenads are a group of frenzied followers of Bacchus who gang up on Orpheus, tearing him apart and leaving his head and lyre to float down a river. This is possibly a warning to stay away from groups of drunken women.

In Greek mythology, dipsas (δίψας) is the name of a snake that would cause anyone it bit to have a raging, extreme thirst. Dipsas is also a character found in Ovid’s Amores (Love Poems) who is a drunken brothel keeper:

There’s a certain madame – if your interests run in this direction,
read on – I’ll tell you about Dipsas,
an old bawd who lives up to her name – she’s yet to be sober enough
to see Memnon’s mother [3] and her rosy steeds.
But she does know her magic and all the secret spells of Circe;
she can make strong rivers run backwards.
She’s an expert when it comes to herbs and the tools of sorcery;
she distills a rare poison from a mare in heat.

Dipsomania is different from polydipsia, which is used to describe a state of excessive thirst but not specific to alcohol. The poly- element is from the Greek poli (πολυ) meaning, in this case, much or “a lot of.”

As a final diversion, you might want to check out another George Thorogood song, One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, a cover of the original by Amos Milburn from 1953, and also covered in 1966 by John Lee Hooker.

[1] For my UK readers, I need to point out that the acronym “AA” in the US stands for “Alcoholics Anonymous” and not “Automobile Association.” When I first moved to the US and mentioned my wanting to join the local “AA,” the looks I got were enough to tell me that something was very wrong. The US equivalent of the UK’s AA is “AAA” or “triple-A” as it is referred to. The UK’s AA was formed in 1905 (apparently to help motorists avoid speed traps!) whereas the US’ AAA was started earlier in 1902.

[2] Once more, for my European readers, having an alcoholic drink at any time under the age of 21 will class you as alcoholic if you’re living in the US. The drinking habits that I, and all my fellow students at university, took part in as 18-year-olds would be seen as alcoholism in the US. The entire UK student population would be fined and marched off for formal counseling to “correct” their “illness.”  So if you’re under 21 and thinking of flying to California or Florida  for a wild summer holiday, remember that you can be arrested for even holding an empty can of beer.

[3] In his day, Ovid would assume that everyone would know who “Memnon’s mother” would be, but since most people experience classical mythology via movies such as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, I’ll reveal that she’s Hemera, goddess of the day, also known as Eos. Thus, in the poem, Ovid is saying that Dipsas is such a drunk that she’s never up in the morning early enough to see the day!

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