It is not uncommon to think of ancient Greco-Roman society as a precursor to modern Western civilization. Hailed as the cradle of democracy, ancient Greece and Rome are often presumed to have not only maintained a government structure philosophically similar to ours, but also to have shared our views on social issues, from drug regulation to sexuality and ethics. Author D.C.A. Hillman smashes this assumption in The Chemical Muse, a meticulously researched book detailing the many ways in which great ancient minds and commoners alike used drugs for recreational, medicinal, and celebratory purposes. Far from our current ideological "War on Drugs," Greeks and Romans would hotbox marijuana by throwing it on heated stones and inhaling the fumes; wine laced with nectar from the poppy plant (a.k.a. opium) was a common happy-hour beverage; and consumption of hallucinogenic fungi was often enjoyed by all classes of people. Some of the philosophical battles of the time are still hot topics today: Physician-assisted suicide and abortion were as highly debated then as they are now. Regardless, based on Hillman's research, it seems unlikely that ancient civilization "just said no."
Tue., Sept. 23, 4 p.m., 2008