Evolution of milk drinking

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ Κύκλωψ μεγάλην ἐμπλήσατο νηδὺν
ἀνδρόμεα κρέ᾽ ἔδων καὶ ἐπ᾽ ἄκρητον γάλα πίνων,
κεῖτ᾽ ἔντοσθ᾽ ἄντροιο τανυσσάμενος διὰ μήλων.
Hom. Od. 9.281

But when Cyclops had filled his great stomach by eating the flesh of men and then drinking pure milk he lay down stretching himself in the cave among the sheep.

I saw this when browsing the internet recently.

“Ancient Europeans were incapable of drinking milk until about 3,000 years ago, a new research report has discovered. Studying a DNA investigative study, ancient humans were lactose intolerant. This means that their bodies did not have the ability to take in the normal sugar of the milk of animals. That would have led to bloating, flatulence and diarrhea.”


Well almost 3,000 years ago, there is an example of milk drinking in the Odyssey. The Cyclops is a milk drinker as shown above. The Greeks themselves did not drink milk directly but used it for cheese. However they did come into contact with people who did drink milk (for example the Scythians) which they saw as a sign of of a savage and primitive people such as exemplified by the Cyclops. It would seem strange that we have a reference to milk drinking so soon after lactose tolerance evolved. My guess would be that this evolved at an earlier date.

Another view of the same thing is given by Euripides in the Cyclops.

ἦ καὶ γάλακτός εἰσι κρατῆρες πλέῳ;
ὥστ᾽ ἐκπιεῖν γέ σ᾽, ἢν θέλῃς, ὅλον πίθον.
μήλειον ἢ βόειον ἢ μεμιγμένον;
ὃν ἂν θέλῃς σύ: μὴ ‘μὲ καταπίῃς μόνον.
Eur. Cycl. 216

Are the mixing bowls full of milk
Enough for you to drink a whole jar if you want
Sheep or cow’s milk or a mixture?
Whatever you want. Just don’t drink me up.

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