Asubstance, like a person, may have distinct and even contradictory aspects to its personality. Today ethyl alcohol, the drinkable species of alcohol, is a multifaceted entity; it may be social lubricant, sophisticated dining companion, cardiovascular health benefactor or agent of destruction. Throughout most of Western civilization's history, however, alcohol had a far different role. For most of the past 10 millennia, alcoholic beverages may have been the most popular and common daily drinks, indispensable sources of fluids and calories. In a world of contaminated and dangerous water supplies, alcohol truly earned the title granted it in the Middle Ages: aqua vitae, the “water of life.”