From forbidden fruit to the blood of Christ, grapevines and our beloved wine have been the subjects of myths and religion since the beginning of time. Ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamun’s tomb contained 26 wine jars made with wines by 15 winemakers (pg. 59). Dionysus had many names and ruled several vegetative subjects, but reined supreme over cultivated crops, including viticulture. He had a myriad of married women followers who would meet for one night during winter, leave their regular lives behind, and join together in ecstatic dance in a ritual called thiasos, where they would experience the presence of this wine god–not unlike our modern-day “girls night,” I’m sure (pg. 89). Even Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding. But was this mystical story simply a way for the gospel writer to illustrate Christ’s superiority over the godly wine competition (Dionysus)? (pg. 127)
In his new book, author, mythologist, and winemaker, Arthur George, takes us on a journey of sorts, a magic carpet ride, if you will, through the mythology of wine. It’s quite fascinating if you are into history and the stories that have accompanied religion and spirituality over millennia, as he draws parallels between cultural characters and bridges the gap between wine lovers and worshipers in all ancient civilizations.
As someone who had extensively studied the Christian Bible at one point in my life, I found the verses related to wine long forgotten, or never really committed to memory. This is likely because, in the church youth group, they don’t teach you that wine is the most talked-about food or beverage in the Bible, mentioned 280 times (pg. 37), or that Yahweh was worshipped as a wine god of sorts, as recalled in verse Psalm 104:15 and other verses (pg. 38). I did know that Noah was the first “winemaker” according to Biblical wine scholars, as I wrote about in a much earlier post, but I was never told by teachers in Christian school that the forbidden fruit that caused Adam & Eve’s original sin was likely a grape (pg. 11), and how Emporer Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313, which legalized Christianity as a religion and allowed Christians to proclaim their teachings free of persecution, was actually what stimulated viniculture and brought the act of cultivating grapes specifically for wine into the religious and, eventually, secular culture throughout Europe (pg. 138).
In only 155 pages, George condenses the complexities of creation and civilization stories as they relate to wine and viniculture from the most ancient of ancients to the Monasteries of “modern” Europe. His book is a welcomed text for those of us who have been studying the scientific aspects of winemaking and intricacies of sight, smell, and taste, to take a step back from the science and lean into the mystery. It’s time we all share a bottle and toast to The Mythology of Wine.