How to Drink

2020Vincent Obsopoeus. How to Drink: A Classical Guide to the Art of Imbibing. Princeton University Press. Translations: German, Turkish, Spanish. Pirated in Japan.

The world’s first guide to drinking. “Weirdly time-travelly” — The Daily Beast. What’s the buzz?

Is there an art to drinking alcohol? Can drinking ever be a virtue? The Renaissance humanist and neoclassical poet Vincent Obsopoeus (ca. 1498–1539) thought so. In the winelands of sixteenth-century Germany, he witnessed the birth of a poisonous new culture of bingeing, hazing, peer pressure, and competitive drinking. Alarmed, and inspired by the Roman poet Ovid’s Art of Love, he wrote The Art of Drinking (De Arte Bibendi) (1536), a how-to manual for drinking with pleasure and discrimination. In How to Drink, Michael Fontaine offers the first proper English translation of Obsopoeus’s text, rendering his poetry into spirited, contemporary prose and uncorking a forgotten classic that will appeal to drinkers of all kinds and (legal) ages.

Arguing that moderation, not abstinence, is the key to lasting sobriety, and that drinking can be a virtue if it is done with rules and limits, Obsopoeus teaches us how to manage our drinking, how to win friends at social gatherings, and how to give a proper toast. But he also says that drinking to excess on occasion is okay—and he even tells us how to win drinking games, citing extensive personal experience.

Complete with the original Latin on facing pages, this sparkling work is as intoxicating today as when it was first published.

(For a translation of the original preface, which was too long to include in the book, click here; for a translation of the second preface, also omitted, click here.)

©Michael Fontaine 2020.

For scholars: In line 1.321, Maxwell Hardy suggests verae for vivae (cuius nulla sonant vivae praeconia laudis). This is obviously better than my own desperate suggestion of vitae, and probably right. I ask readers to make the correction in their copies. (Maxwell Hardy, “Notes on the Text of Lygdamus” in Philologus 2022, 166: 210–231.)