25 they describe drinking stronger wine, the Greeks say, “to drink in the Scythian fashion” (episkuthizein). The Scythians, having no longstanding vineyards of their own, are new to wine’s delights, and so they drink too much. 18 Is this because of the savage nature of the Scythian people or because wine is corrupting? Wine is seen as a civilized drink in The Histories, but it is sometimes a mark of overcivilization and decadence. In Egypt, we know that their alcohol of choice was beer, but wine was also drunk, primarily by the wealthy and the priests. In Book One Herodotus links those who drink wine to acts of invasion, corruption and underhandedness. Trying to overcome the Massagetae, Cyrus takes Croesus’ advice to present to the them a grand feast with many different foods and “endless flagons of undiluted wine,” after which the Massagetae will overindulge and drink themselves silly and lie vulnerable (1.208). This works because the Massagetae drink milk and are not familiar with wine, and so drink it neat without dilution. After the son of the queen of the Massagetae, Tomyris, is captured, she sends a fiery message to Cyrus: “You bloodthirsty man, Cyrus! What you have done should give you no cause for celebration. You used the fruit of the vine- the wine which you swill until it drives you so mad… I swear by the sun who is the lord of the Massagetae that for all your insatiability I will quench your thirst for blood” (1.212). Cyrus pays the price after the enraged queen of the Massagetae fights a furious battle in which the Persian king is killed. The queen completes her oath subsuming Cyrus’ head in a wineskin filled with blood (1.214). It is a revenge symbolic of Cyrus’ use of wine to trick her people as well as his bloodlust. Hartog writes, “In Tomyris’ eyes, Cyrus the drinker of wine is in truth a drinker of blood, so he will be served blood just as if it were 18 Quote from Athenaeus 10.441d in Hartog, F. The Mirror of Herodotus, 169.
26 undiluted wine.” 19 This equation is a grisly illustration of Herodotus’ view of wine as a corrupting drink, not necessarily evil in itself, but used in evil ways. It is also the drink the Persians, in the reign of Cambyses, bring to the Ethiopians, in the midst of Cambyses’ failed Ethiopian campaign. The Ethiopians are milk drinkers and have never tasted wine. It is the only one of the presents Cambyses’ spies give to him that he finds to his liking. In this certainly fictional account, Herodotus gives the just Ethiopians the trait of milkdrinkers to contrast with the wine-drinkers, the sneaky Persians who are led by their unstable and cruel king (3.20-23). The Argippae are similar to the Ethiopians in this respect. They too are located in the far reaches of the world, and like the Ethiopians, they drink milk, and even seem to be vegetarians, “living off trees” (4.23). They are considered to be very just, are said to be arbitrators for their neighbors, and have no weapons. This is ostensibly because of their distance from more “civilized” peoples and their corrupting influence. The Royal Scythians who are Herodotus’ main focus in Book Four, drinking both milk and wine, have the complication of being between the Greeks and the Scythian-like tribes of the north. They are not far enough from central civilizations to be ignorant of wine, which, since the Scythians have no vineyards of their own, must have come from the Greeks. They sometimes drink to excess and are not a peace-loving society like the Argippae or Issedones, but they are still at enough of a distance to retain their milk-drinking and simple lifestyle. It leads one to wonder just how long this far-flung nation can remain “uncorrupted” by the civilizing influences of its southern neighbors. 19 Hartog, F. The Mirror of Herodotus, 167.
76 Romm, J.S. The Edges of the Eart