Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Drinking at School with Plato

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Drinking at School with Plato

Article excerpt

Rugby and Ampleforth schools have decided to give their charges experience of sensible drinking by introducing a little alcohol, under close staff supervision, at dinner. But, as Plato realised, what they actually need is experience of senseless drinking.

Plato's last work, Laws (c. 350 bc), depicts a new utopia, quite unlike that of the Republic with its philosopher-kings. Called Magnesia, it lays down a detailed code of laws which its inhabitants must obey without question because the code will inculcate moral goodness. A key feature of that is self-control, which the speaker ('the Athenian') proposes to achieve by means of symposia, or drinking parties. For, as the Athenian avers, 'Drunkenness is a science of some importance... and I am not speaking about taking or abstaining from wine: I do mean drunkenness .'

Plato spoke whereof he knew. Symposia had a nasty habit of turning into drunken riots, the symposiasts rampaging through the streets in public displays of their excitingly daredevil defiance of conventional behaviour. …

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