Some said that Alexander did not drink much, but sat long in company, discoursing with his friends; but Philinus showed this to be an error from the king's diary, where it was very often registered that such a day, and sometimes two days together, the king slept after a debauch; and this course of life made him cold in love, but passionate and angry, which argues a hot constitution. And some report his sweat was fragrant and perfumed his clothes; which is another argument of heat, as we see the hottest and driest climates bear frankincense and cassia; for a fragrant smell, as Theophrastus thinks, proceeds from a due concoction of the humors, when the noxious moisture is conquered by the heat. And it is thought probable, that he took a pique at Calisthenes for avoiding his table because of the hard drinking, and refusing the great bowl called Alexander's in his turn, adding, I will not drink of Alexander's bowl, to stand in need of Aesculapius's. And thus much of Alexander's drinking.
Story tells us, that Mithridates, the famous enemy of the Romans, among other trials of skill that he instituted, proposed a reward to the greatest eater and the stoutest drinker in his kingdom. He won both the prizes himself; he outdrank every man living, and for his excellency that way was called Bacchus. But this reason for his surname is a vain fancy and an idle story; for whilst he was an infant a flash of lightning burnt his cradle, but did his body no harm, and only left a little mark on his forehead, which his hair covered when he was grown a boy; and after he came to be a man, another flash broke into his bedchambers, and burnt the arrows in a quiver that was hanging under him; from whence his diviners presaged, that archers and light-armed men should win him considerable victories in his wars; and the vulgar gave him this name, because in those many dangers by lightning he bore some resemblance to the Theban Bacchus.
From hence great drinkers were the subject of our discourse; and the wrestler Heraclides (or, as the Alexandrians mince it, Heraclus), who lived but in the last age, was accounted one. He, when he could get none to hold out with him, invited some to take their morning's draught, others to dinner, to supper others, and others after, to take a merry glass of wine; so that as the first went off, the second came, and the third and fourth company and he all the while without any intermission took his glass round, and outsat all the four companies.
Amongst the retainers to Drusus, the Emperor Tiberus's son, was a physician that drank down all the court; he, before he sat down, would usually take five or six bitter almonds to prevent the operation of the wine; but whenever he was forbidden that, he knocked under presently, and a single glass dozed him. Some think these almonds have a penetrating, abstersive quality, are able to cleanse the face, and clear it from the common freckles; and therefore, when they are eaten, by their bitterness vellicate and fret the pores, and by that means draw down the ascending vapors from the head. But, in my opinion, a bitter quality is a drier, and consumes moisture; and therefore a bitter taste is the most unpleasant. For, as Plato says, dryness, being an enemy to moisture, unnaturally contracts the spongy and tender nerves of the tongue. And green ulcers are usually drained by bitter injections. Thus Homer:-
He squeezed his herbs, and bitter juice applied; And straight the blood was stanched, the sore was dried. ("Iliad," xi. 846.)
And he guesses well, that what is bitter to the taste is a drier. Besides, the powders women use to dry up their sweat are bitter, and by reason of that quality astringent. This then being certain, it is no wonder that the bitterness of the almonds hinders the operation of the wine, since it dries the inside of the body and keeps the veins from being overcharged; for from their distention and disturbance they say drunkenness proceeds. And this conjecture is much confirmed from that which usually happens to a fox; for if he eats bitter almonds without drinking, his moisture suddenly fails, and it is present death.