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  • Writer's pictureRichard Murff

The St. George

Have a cocktail by all means, but don't drink the kool-aid.

St. George

In grade school I told that nun who taught religion that I'd adopted St. George as my patron saint because, as far as I could tell, he was the only saint got the girl in the end. As far a s theology goes, it's pretty (and petty) middle school logicbut St. George kept hanging around my mind despite not killing a dragon or getting the girl. While not much is known about the historical St. George – that medieval story about some damned dragon seems like what we'd now call "fake news" - other than in the end, George was beheaded by his boss.

A Roman soldier with a pedigree from the Levant, George was in the praetorian guard of the Emperor Diocletian at a time when Caesars claimed to be descended from the gods. Few few Romans took it seriously – just a bit of fashionable snobbery on the part of the elites who could afford it. Despite the divine family tree, Emperors weren’t generally officially deified until after they were dead. It tended to end badly when they declared themselves gods while still walking around and apt to be strangled in the bathtub.

Yet Diocletian decided that he was the embodiment of Jupiter himself and didn’t need a funeral to make it official. Great for the ego, but the problem were those Jewish off-shoots, the Christians. Like the Jews, they had a deity who was not only not part of an ensemble cast of hundreds, but faith in whom erased the rest. According to the Christians, there was only one God – and it absolutely wasn’t Diocletian.

The emperor’s reaction was so fierce that even the pagan on the street thought it was over the top. First of all, the average Josephus felt, everyone was entitled to a god or two, so what difference did it make if some weirdos thought theirs was special? Secondly, the worse thing the Christian sect did was tell everyone to pay their taxes and not cheat their neighbors. Regardless, Diocletian killed heaps of Christians and they called him “the Dragon” for it.

Despite being an imperial favorite, George refused to publicly drink the imperial kool-aid that his boss was, in fact a god. And to modern ears that does sound pretty galling. So, the emperor had him tied to a wheel and shredded with knives before having him beheaded. Not much else is known about St. George, but that does put the legend of his slaying the “dragon” in an entirely new light.

This second, decidedly less romantic, tale stayed with me as well. Not as some James Bond of Antiquity – slaying bad guys and baggin’ the local princess - but because he represented the value of standing for something bigger than yourself. Not joining a fashionable movement, but having your own moral compass and sticking to it in the face of fatal social pressure. That’s important in these days when ideological purity of the tribe has poisoned simple human understanding, decency and common sense.

It’s hard not to drink either the kool-aid, red or blue, when your neck or even reputation is on the line. Understand, though, that in the heart of every fanatic there is doubt – that’s what makes them so loud, so angry, so very tribal. In the end, when the time comes to step up and make a choice – and it always does – we have to make our alone. And making a fateful choice alone is harder than the mob realizes. I suppose that’s why so few people do it.

So for St. George's Day, 23 April, we'll do well to remember that and raise a glass. And not of kool-aid, either, To wit:


The St. George

2.5 oz. Hendrick’s gin

½ oz. dry vermouth

1 dash lemon juice

3 olives stuffed with blue cheese.

Pour gin, vermouth and lime into cocktail shaker filled with ice and give it a righteous shake up. Strain into cocktail glass with three olives “on the lance.”


And when they demand that you drink the kool-aid, just say, “No thank you. I’m good.”


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