Lord Byron (1788-1824) was a poet from England, who later in his life became a national hero in Greece because of his leading role in the revolution against the Ottoman Empire. But most of his fame he probably achieved with his extravagant lifestyle. George Gordon Byron had numerous love affairs and punished his liver severely on a daily basis. Basically he was like Charlie Sheen from the TV-show Two and a Half Men in the early 19th century.
When born in London young Lord Byron got the right genes for trouble. His father John was known as captain “Mad Jack” Byron. He married women for their money and spent it all. He died at age 35. According to his son – who was 3 years old at the time – he took his own life, but the general assumption is that it was more likely the captain died of sickness or an overdose. Now Byron’s mother Catherine had to raise her son alone. She spoiled her kid and spent the rest of her time mostly drinking.
Lord Byron himself was quite the drinker too. Famous was his drinking cup, which was made out of a human scull. He had the following poem engraved in this scull cup:
Start not—nor deem my spirit fled:
In me behold the only skull
From which, unlike a living head,
Whatever flows is never dull.
I lived, I loved, I quaffed like thee;
I died: let earth my bones resign:
Fill up—thou canst not injure me;
The worm hath fouler lips than thine.
Better to hold the sparkling grape
Than nurse the earthworm’s slimy brood,
And circle in the goblet’s shape
The drink of gods than reptile’s food.
Where once my wit, perchance, hath shone,
In aid of others’ let me shine;
And when, alas! our brains are gone,
What nobler substitute than wine?
Quaff while thou canst; another race,
When thou and thine like me are sped,
May rescue thee from earth’s embrace,
And rhyme and revel with the dead.
Why not—since through life’s little day
Our heads such sad effects produce?
Redeemed from worms and wasting clay,
This chance is theirs to be of use.
Later in his life Lord Byron left England because of allegations of sodomy and incest with his half-sister. He settled in Italy and later in Greece, that was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Here he continued the life of a bon vivant. One of his famous phrases from these times is: “Man being reasonable must get drunk; The best of life is but intoxication; Glory, the grape, love, gold – in these are sunk – The hopes of all men and of every nation.”
Lord Byron got really interested in the Greek and Armenian culture and even became a leading figure in the Greek revolution as he fought against the Ottomans. It was even suggested that if he had lived to see the Greek independence he could have been king of Greece. But unfortunately Byron died of a fever, just 36 years old. But until today he lives on through his poetry and in Greek history books. And of course through mythical stories of orgies with lots of women and alcohol.