Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade

By Tim Unwin | Go to book overview
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THE ORIGINS OF VITICULTURE: SYMBOLS AND MYSTERIES

The and the bestial incarnations reveal Dionysus as something much more significant and much more dangerous than a wine-god. He is the principle of animal life, and , the hunted and the hunter-the unrestrained potency which man envies in the beasts and seeks to assimilate. His cult was originally an attempt on the part of human beings to achieve communion with this potency. The psychological effect was to liberate the instinctive life in man from the bondage imposed on it by reason and social custom: the worshipper became conscious of a strange new vitality, which he attributed to the god's presence within him.

(Dodds, 1960:xx)

By the end of the Tertiary era plants belonging to the genus Vitis were to be found scattered throughout Japan, eastern Asia, north America, and Europe (Billiard, 1913). During the subsequent cold and warm spells of the Quaternary this wide extent was reduced, so that all of its species came to lie approximately within the latitudinal band between 30° and 50° north (Figure 6) (Amerine and Wagner, 1984). At the same time it seems that the predecessor of most modern wine grape varieties gradually evolved under the influence of human selection from wild vines, with early evidence for its existence being found in various parts of southern France, Italy, Greece and the eastern Mediterranean (Billiard, 1913; Younger, 1966; Núñez and Walker, 1989). However, as Levadoux (1956) has argued, it is not easy to differentiate between the wild silvestris and the cultivated sativa forms of vine by morphology alone. Consequently, it is extremely difficult to identify the place, or places, within their extensive natural distribution where people first began to cultivate vines for the production of wine. Negrul (1938, 1960) has suggested that the hearth of the domestication of the grape vine was probably Asia Minor

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