Book Review: A History of Wine as Therapy

A History of Wine As Therapy is a book written by Dr. Salvatore P. Lucia that, as the title says, is a historical account of wine used as medicine. Why did I pick this book up and write a review about it? In short, I was interested to see if ancient civilizations saw wine as a panacea as I do. What can't wine cure? Well, aside from hangovers...and maybe head lice. Anyway, it cures a lot! This book also happened to be only $5 from my local used book store. The price probably had something to do with the fact that it was written in 1963. Anyway, onto the review!

This book is chronologically ordered by dominant civilizations for that time period. While each civilization had its own spin on how to actually make wine, similar themes present themselves throughout this book that show how versatile wine is as medicine. Check out this exerpt about ancient Chinese use:
Not more than one pint [of wine] was taken as a cure for apoplexy, fistula, stomach or heart pain, colic, hemorrhoids, worm toxemia, flatulence and bleeding from the bowel, and miscellaneous other complaints. Another, employing a mixture of lizard's liver, skin of the cicada locust, and wine, was rubbed on the navel to produce abortion. Other mystical mixtures included donkey's placenta compounded in wine as a cure for alcoholism; the liver of a black cat, taken in wine at midnight, for tuberculosis; the flesh of the macaque monkey, pickled in wine, to prevent or cure malaria; and the excrement of the eatle, ashed and taken with wine, to dislodge bone obstructions in the throat. (p.32)

I should have pointed out that one caveat listed early in the book is that medical doctors as we know then didn't really exist. Instead, folks claiming mystical powers would concoct stuff like donkey placenta and wine to cure alcoholism in an order to make a quick buck. It's also important to point out that many of these mystical-sounding ingredients were picked solely out of their scarcity.

Here's a little something from the ancient Romans:
[Asclepiades (124-40 B.C.)]...gave wine to patients with fever and filled his insane patients with it to the point of drunkenness in order to produce sleep. In cases of lethargy, wine was prescribed to excite and awaken the senses. (p.47)

I don't know if I'd feel comfortable seeing Dr. Asclepiades, but I like his style.

Here's a final quote I'll leave you with from Avicenna of ancient Arabia:
Wine must not be allowed [to children]...because the injurious effect of wine readily influences the child. The advantage in wine is that it excites the secretion of urine,...and that it moistens the joints. Neither of these effects is necessary at this age...To give wine to youths is like adding fire to a fire already prepared with matchwood. (p.82)

In short, giving wine to a child will turn them into a pee machine.

I should point out again that this book goes over many ancient civilizations and references wine in countless ancient texts. While I've mostly gone over some of the more ridiculous examples, there are surprisingly a lot of very accurate observations of what wine can be used for (wound dressing, pain killer) and cannot (cure alcoholism). It's definitely the most unique account on wine I have ever read and would highly recommend picking up a copy if you're a nerd like me. It's pretty dry, but Dr. Rick would suggest three glasses of wine to cure dryness and boredom.


Christine Collier said...

This book does sound pretty awesome. I just need to find some time to actually read.