‘Bring me wine… so I do not struggle against the god of desire’ Anacreon
These words from the Greek poet Anacreon appear on a Roman mosaic which I came across last summer in the French city of Autun in Burgundy, previously an important Roman provincial capital. Certainly a celebration of the joys of drinking, and of intoxication, the poem also invokes the power of wine to relax inhibitions and arouse sexual desire. So nothing ever changes does it? Isn’t this what happens every Saturday night when young men and women go out drinking and clubbing in Hoxton or Clapham?
Walter F Otto, a German classicist who died in 1958, famously (and controversially) suggested that the Greeks and Romans thought rather differently. For them, he argued, there was no separation between the physical world as they experienced it, and the world of the gods. Their forests and their waterfalls, their hot water springs and their domestic shrines were literally inhabited by the gods. And wine in particular was a direct manifestation of Dionysus in the world. Without our habit of scientific deracination, they regarded the vine and its product as so self-evidently miraculous that it could only be explained by an annual visitation of the god. The role of wine growers in creating the wine did nothing to diminish this sense of wonder. They were, in a sense, merely acting as the priests and acolytes of the wine cult. That the wine itself had intoxicating properties merely confirmed the fact that it was a divine gift, specifically designed to release human beings from the everyday and allow them to indulge in orgiastic revelries. With erotic and priapic imagery adorning everything from the wall of their atrium to tableware, the Greeks and Romans were surrounded by sexual imagery. Otto would explain this by saying that sex and fertility too were licensed by the gods.
The mosaic featuring Anacreon’s poem made me think about this undifferentiated approach to the soil, the vine, and the gift of wine. Surely we feel some vestiges of this even today? As I cycle amongst the vines in France, I still experience a sense of wonder at a craft and at an industry which produces something as sophisticated, complex and culturally significant as wine. Oenologists, wine growers and wine dealers at the hard commercial end of the business would still agree that wine is much more than just a drink. It is an important product of human civilisation, and as such carries a heavy burden of symbolic meanings. These include images of sharing, celebration and happy intoxication, but also darker images of blood and soil, human sacrifice, release and forgetting. And this is where poetry and wine enjoy a special connection. It is poetry today that is best placed to delve into the sacred soil and divine providence of the vine, describe the uses of wine as a release from the everyday and as an aphrodisiac, and explore our complex and on-going relationship with the god of the grape.
Chief Executive – Poet in the City
HOW TO BOOK FOR POETRY AND WINE
Tickets cost £35 and can be book via https://poetryandwine.eventbrite.co.uk/
Poetry and Wine takes place from 6.30pm on Tuesday 22 October 2013
Clyde and Co
St Botolph Building
EC3A 7AG London
For further information on this event please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 014 2812