A History of the World in 6 Glasses Themes

Tom Standage

A History Of The World In 6 Glasses

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A History of the World in 6 Glasses Themes


Almost all of the drinks discussed in this book have some religious significance. Ancient civilizations attributed the discovery of beer and wine to their gods, which made them fitting religious tributes. Given than beer and wine made water nutritious and safe to drink, not to mention the pleasure of gentle intoxication, it is easy to see why people from Mesopotamia to Ancient Greece thought that alcohol was a gift from the gods.

The use of beer as a religious offering played a key part in the development of civilization, as Standage explains. Storing surplus grain and beer in communal buildings provided food for the emerging priest-class, who not only oversaw the religious life of their community, but also building projects and a rudimentary tax system.

Both Greek and Roman civilizations worshipped a god of wine, Dionysus and Bacchus, respectively, who were “associated with wine-making miracles and resurrection after death” (85). Christianity continued this tradition in a somewhat different form. Jesus Christ also performed miracles with wine and was himself resurrected, while the ritual of Catholic mass uses wine as a symbol of Christ’s blood. However, as Standage points out, the Greek and Roman traditions involved wine drunk to excess, whereas Christianity made use of the potent symbolism of wine, more so than its intoxicating effects.

The significance of wine to Greek and Roman cultures, and to Christianity, might account, in part, for the Islamic proscription of alcohol. Islamic tradition has it that Muhammad prayed for guidance when two of his companions engaged in a drunken altercation and was advised by Allah to ban the consumption of alcohol. However, as Standage notes, the cultural significance of wine to the Roman Empire and to Christianity meant that such a ban also functioned to distinguish the Islamic Arab world from Europe and European values. Much like the quality of wine a person drank reflected their status in society, the Islamic proscription of alcohol worked as a tool of religious and cultural differentiation.

Both tea and coffee were used as aids to meditation or religious rituals before they became commonplace beverages. Similarly, one of the reasons spirits…

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