Four ancient legends about wine
Wine is such an integral part of worldwide culture and history, it’s no surprise that scores of books, scholarly articles and theses have been written on the many stories – true or otherwise – surrounding its inception and legacy. Here, we look at four of the most curious wine tales to emerge from ancient legend.
1. Bacchus’ three bones
The Roman god Bacchus is perhaps the most well-known deity associated with wine, with humanity allegedly having him to thank for their understanding of grapes and vines. According to Roman legend, he would share the following fable with men keen to hear his teachings.
It is said that while on an important journey, Bacchus noticed an unusual plant growing from the ground. He pulled it up and took it with him, placing it within a hollow bird bone where it grew quickly and its roots became exposed. In searching for a more acceptable home for the plant, he then found a hollow lion bone and placed the plant within, but the same thing happened – it grew rapidly, and its roots became exposed. Finally, when he was returning home, he found a hollow donkey bone for the plant, where upon it eventually became a vine.
According to Bacchus, then, should mankind drink moderately, they will be happy, singing like birds. Drinking more will turn them into lions, and they would seek out trouble. Drink too much, and men would become donkeys, committing all kinds of stupidities.
2. The tragedy of Ampelos
In Greek mythology, Dionysus reigns supreme as the god of wine, and it is said that he was responsible for discovering viticulture and introducing it to Asia. According to Nonnus’s etiology, Dionysus took a beautiful lover, Ampelos, who was tragically gored to death by a bull after he mocked the moon goddess Selene. On his death, a vine grew from his body which Dionysus nurtured until it produced grapes, which he then turned into wine. Interestingly, ampelography is the name given nowadays to the science that studies the varieties and characteristics of grapevines.
3. The Epic of Gilgamesh
According to the Epic of Gilgamesh – a tome originating from ancient Persia – it was a woman who actually first discovered wine. According to the legend, the woman – sadly nameless – was a member of the harem in the palace of King Jamshid, and she suffered from terrible migraines.
One day, the king found that a jar of his favourite grapes had inexplicably gone bad, and in the belief that they had become unsafe to eat – and possibly even poisoned – demanded they were put to one side. Our nameless lady, meanwhile, decided to drink the questionable mixture in the hopes it would grant her death and swift release from the migraines that pained her.
Instead, she found that she enjoyed the drink, and that it improved her mood considerably. Upon witnessing the change in his mistresses’ demeanour, the king ordered that more be made, and soon wine became widespread in Persia.
4. Noah’s drunken goat
Wine makes numerous appearances throughout the Bible, but one of the most famous Biblical stories – that of Noah and his ark – is said to have a subplot that accounts for the mainstream arrival of wine in Christendom.
According to legend, an unruly goat somehow found its way into the ark’s store of grapes and, after filling its belly, began running amok on the ship, clearly intoxicated and rowdy. Once the goat had calmed down, Noah was struck by a desire to find out why the goat had behaved the way it had. As such, following Noah’s epic voyage, he experimented with winemaking on Mount Ararat, creating a vineyard later seen as a gift from God.
The legend is perhaps born of Armenia’s ancient relationship with wine, hosting as it does the world’s oldest known winery in the Vayots Dzor Province. Archaeologists believe the winery dates back to 4100BC, and have found evidence of items such as wine vats and presses that suggest winemaking in the country existed even long before that.