Was it, in fact, a grape and not an apple that Adam and Eve ate in Paradise? It is worth thinking about. At least that is the opinion of Arthur George, historian and winemaker. In the conveniently small book “The Mythology of Wine” he guides us through the mythology of wine, from the beginning around 8000 years ago and onwards in time. Wine has been more important to mankind than one might think.
The ancient world and all its gods are an inexhaustible source for finding inspiring names. The Greek goddess of agriculture Demeter has given her name to the biodynamic certification body. Nysa was the name of the mountain where the Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, grew up and it is also the name of a chain of excellent wine shops in France.
The vine, the grapes and the wine have accompanied humans ever since they first learned to make wine, presumably somewhere close to present-day Georgia around 6000 BCE. The wine was used in religious rituals, as sacrifices to the gods, for medical use. The wine could make you drunk, but it was also a healthier drink than water.
The knowledge of wine spread from Mesopotamia and Anatolia, across the Levant to Egypt. Here detailed tomb paintings from 1500 BCE show how they grew and made their wines. From Egypt, the wine came to Greece and from there to the Romans. The different civilizations inspired one another’s gods and myths. Typical to all was that the vine came to symbolize birth, death and rebirth. The wine and the vine were seen as symbols of eternal life.
In the Old Testament, we can read about Noah who planted vines after the Flood, in what is today eastern Turkey, not far from wine’s origin. Was the wine a gift from God and the plantings of vines the start of civilization? For both Jews and Christians, wine plays a significant role. In Christianity, wine is the blood of Jesus, and sometimes the cross is depicted as a vine.
The ancient Greeks worshipped Dionysus, the wine god. The book tells us about the fascinating cult around him. Wine is intoxicating, yes, but for the Greeks, it was important not to drink too much. Their symposium was organized events. The wine mythology is full of stories about barbarians, who cannot handle their drinking, and the sophisticated, those who can.
Mythology is very much about interpretations, and the book brings to life many different ones, not least about the stories in the Bible. In the Gospel of John, we can read about how Jesus turns water into wine (and not only wine but good wine) during the wedding in Cana. John is believed to have written his gospel in the first century CE. Did he invent this miracle to compete with the worship of Dionysus, who, of course, had been said to have performed similar wonders?
Arthur George is a knowledgeable and entertaining cicerone even though one’s head sometimes spins from all the gods and their intricate interrelationships. The Mythology of Wine is well worth reading for the wine lover who wants to follow the common thread of civilization back in time.