The Origins and Ancient History of Wine

By Patrick E. McGovern; Stuart J. Fleming et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

Wine: The Food with Two Faces

Louis E. Grivetti


1.

Introduction

Throughout recorded history, the wines produced from Vitis vinifera have been glorified and praised. Writers, as early as the 3rd millennium B.C., have commented upon wine's positive attributes and uses. Characteristics of generic and varietal wines have been examined and their dietary, medical, and social roles have been discussed extensively in all kinds of ancient literature. Wine has been called, among other things, “a chemical symphony, “bottled poetry, and “captured sunshine” (Becker 1979; De Luca 1979). But throughout that recorded history, those same wines have been denounced and vilified; and there is also a vast body of literature which comments upon wine's negative attributes. Oenophobes have likened it to “the destroyer of homes, “the opener of graves, and “the quencher of hopes” (Turnball 1950).

Wine contains energy and nutrients and so by any definition is a food-assuredly, however, a food with two faces. Perhaps no other food can claim wine's unique dichotomy: praised when consumed in moderation, condemned when consumed in excess. That dichotomy has been expressed in so many ways in the past. In Caravaggio's late 16th century depiction of Bacchus in the Uffizi Museum, the god's eyes tantalize the viewer, his outstretched cup draws one nearer and forecasts the joys to follow when the good wine is drunk. But the eyes of Silenus in the Capitoline Museum are wine-maddened and cast down, while the body's slouch foretells the loss of reason and stupor which will follow when wine is consumed to excess. Assuredly here we have one food, two faces.


2.

Early Attitudes

In examining the positive and negative attitudes that have pervaded towards the use of wine in diet, nutrition and medicine, I have followed the culture-historical approach commonly taken by nutritional geographers (Grivetti 1981). The goal of such research is to identify, then compare ancient views with modern socio-scientific and chemical literature of recent decades. What

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