Greek and Roman gods of wine - I Blame The Wine
bacchus god of wine

Greek and Roman gods of wine

I doubt very much that the Greek or Roman gods of wine worried very much about whether their wine was organic or not, the ozone layer or which modern day vendor they will buy their wine from, however our modern day drinking habits all stem from the myths and legends of the gods and their passion for wine. In this article we are going to unfold the stories from where our enthusiasm for wine drinking began.

Wine drinking as we know it is is enjoyed by the masses today as it was when it first began, its only that we have refined the art of producing, marketing, tasting and drinking that separates us from the first winemakers and drinkers.

A lot of what early humanity was getting up to in Greece, in and around 1500 BC, was expressing their faith in their gods who were themselves very fond of a glass or two along with lavish parties.

The Greek god of wine

dionyssus greek god of wineDionysus or Bacchus, was renowned for being gentle towards his fellow man, an expert of the trade spreading his knowledge of the vineyard to one and all. On the flip side he showed a different, enraged side of his character, expressing this power and strength when he was displeased.

Born from the mighty god Zeus, Dionysus was one of many offspring in a complicated web of wives and siblings. His mother, Semele, daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes, was despised by Hera, the wife of Zeus and jealous of Semele. Hera, challenged Semele that she see the great god Zeus in his real person but the powers of the great god were too much for Semele and she was showered with thunderbolts. Semele was pregnant with Dionysus at the time of this tragic event and the baby boy was only saved by Zeus by sewing him into his thigh until he was ready to be born []

Could we ? I wonder, today have our own gods of wine in the form of the experts of our industry today. We, like the ancient wine revellers need great producers of all today’s popular wines.

While his brothers were galant fighters, Dionysus had the job of spreading the word of the wine, I know where I would rather be.
With his incredible talent, Dionysus would perform miracles including turning water into wine. A far cry from the powers of the great gods but todays great producers are turning water into wine and the grapes are maybe their little miracles.

Wine making on the ancient Greek Islands and mainland has been traced back to 6.500 Bc. The soil, rich in iron and sunny climate has always produced some of the most delicious and superior wines. One of the earliest known ancient Greek islands to produce wine is Rhodes, known for its endless sunshine and very little rain. The picture is a vineyard in Rhodes. Santorini is another island renowned for its deep history of wine production.
Many other countries welcomed the early Greek winemakers as they travelled exporting their wares across Europe [].

It was the god Ikarios who taught Dionysus his winemaking skills though the fate of Ikarios was a grim one. Ikarios would spread his knowledge of the vine to the people far and wide. With his passion to teach, it is said that he approached some shepherds who indulged fairly heavily in his wares, consequently, the shepherds thought he had poisoned them and Ikarios met his fate.

The myth of Dionysus as the god of wine played an important role in the lives of the ancient Greeks in the form of festivals, theatre, grape harvesting and winemaking.

What a joy it must have been to embrace such a cult following around the pleasures of such an enjoyable product. On his travels Dionysus was accompanied by the maenads, a band of women vivacious by nature and carriers of wine. Where many gods were shown to have temples and courtyards for worship, Dionysus held his gatherings out in nature surrounded by the organic world of trees plants and animals.

An extravagant festival for Dionysus was always an annual event for the ancient Greeks. It would take place during spring, a time when the leaves of the vines are first appearing. The festival would host the usual frivolities that Dionysus was accustomed to as well as a focus on theatre.

The Great Dionsia, the name of the festival, featured writers of comedy tragedy and satire, a competitive arena for the best of writers and non stop entertainment for the hungry crowds. Everyone who attended these festivals, including the participants, were doing so in the great honour and spirit of Dionysus, performing, writing and sampling the fruits of the vine. In return for this show of faith they would be protected in the knowledge that they were his sacred servants throughout the festival. It is not known how long the festivals went on for but I can imagine it would be days or even weeks before people got back to work.

There are many great books where you can read up on Greek mythology. Also many wine tours with tastings and no doubt some stories of the ancient world.

The Roman god of wine

temple of bacchus gods of wineThe Roman god of wine is in fact the same Greek god Dionysus but called Bacchus. As the Roman Empire conquered Greece 146 BC the Romans started to adopt the Greek gods as their own but gave them Latin names. The ancient Romans also copied the idea of the god as the Greeks spread their wine trade and teachings throughout Europe. The picture is the Temple of Bacchus in Baalak Lebanon. One of the largest temples ever built by the Roman Empire.

The Romans saw their god as the epitome of the harvesting of the grape, festivals, partying and a bit of chaotic drunken madness. There were probably a few sleepy mornings too but no time for that when you are a Roman soldier.

Pictures and sculptures of Bacchus the god of wine in the early days of his life, showed him as a bearded man, somewhat reserved and sober. In his later years he was portrayed as a flamboyant character, clean shaven, slightly effeminate, often naked and confidant with his happy lot. Nice work if you can it.

Many of the techniques and principles in modern day winemaking have been passed through the ages from the ancient romans and the spirit of their god. They believed that wine was good for the health due to the fermentation, something that has not been disputed in today’s modern medical world. One of the main reasons for the invention of wine in ancient times was the sanitary issues. Sanitary drinking water, especially when kept for long periods of time would become stagnant and fresh water could be hard to come by so the process of winemaking was to prolong the life of water. The transition of fruit to alcohol through fermentation would kill off all bacteria thus creating a safe way of drinking and so began the popularity of wine.

The ancient producers would inscribe slogans on the side of their pots and presses like “ The Gift of Bacchus “ an early sign of product branding.
The best wines were consumed by the richest of ancient Romans where the cheape and diluted wines were widely drunk by the ordinary people, tradesman and Roman soldiers. The drinking of Posca was encouraged in the Roman army which was a mixture of cheap wine, water and herbs and spices to add flavour. The beverage was carried across rugged terrain in barrels by the army and religiously consumed as one of their staple diets. With such a transportation technique, the heat and the long storage time I doubt if the taste would bring much joy to the heart as so many glorious modern wines do but in a soldier faced with fighting a gladiator the next day, I’m sure it was the next best thing to comfort [].

Gods of wine of the world

There are gods of wine from other countries and a few mythical stories about legends of harvesting fertility wine and beer.
The Chinese celebrate Du Kang as their god of wine, as seen in the picture, he is said to be the ancestral teacher of the brewers.

The Hindu and Buddhist religions of India celebrate their god of wine as Varuna goddess of wine and winning ways.

Dionysus, even with his dual character traits seems to come across as a reasonably good god to worship. The Egyptian god of red wine however sounds a little more colourful in his character. Known as Shezmu, the demonic god of blood, execution, oil, perfume and wine. With these many strings to his bow he is said to execute all the wrongdoers. Keeping many of the ancient Egyptians in line I’m sure.

The Greeks with their strong beliefs and worship seem to dominate Europe with the legend of Dionysus. In many of our European countries their gods of wine are an adaptation of the original Greek god of wine such as the Roman god of wine Bacchus.

Interestingly the name Dennis or the French Denis comes from the Greek gods name Dionysus.

There is a lot to be said about the ancient gods and our belief in the myths and legends of the ancient world. But, faith in itself has its place in our world and who knows what our existence would be like if the gods of wine never existed.

For the ancient people of Greece amongst the expanding Roman empire must have given enough uncertainty that their faith was secured in the powers of the gods giving them hope and belief in themselves to carry on and fight another day. Many of the old pictures and ancient murals show people from all walks of life indulging in the exquisite juice of the grape.

Dionysus himself I’m sure would be proud of us today that we have taken great care in nurturing and perfecting our techniques to produce such a fine and abundant array of wines for our pleasure, worldwide.

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