The Origins and Ancient History of Wine

By Patrick E. McGovern; Stuart J. Fleming et al. | Go to book overview
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The Earliest History of Wine and Its Importance in Ancient Egypt

T.G.H. James



It seems to be a function of philosophers and wise men to encourage moderation in all activities of life. There are some even, the real spoil-sports of the dolce vita, who would counsel not just moderation but positive restraint to the point of denial of any level of physical gratification. In Egypt, there has always been a tradition of puritanism which fits well into the strict tenets of Islam in respect of eating and drinking. A quick consideration of the lives led by the early Christian anchorites who swarmed in the Thebaid and in the region just to the west of the Delta-good, potential wine-producing land (Waddell 1936) would soon indicate a general desire on their part to renounce the pleasures of life. How typical was the so-called sage who addressed advice to the vizir Kagemni supposedly, and perhaps actually, in the early 6th Dynasty, about 2300 B.C.? 1

When you sit with company
Shun the food you love;
Restraint is a brief moment,
Gluttony is base and is reproved.
A cup of water quenches thirst,
A mouthful of herbs strengthens the heart;
One good thing stands for goodness,
A little something stands for much.

The last line, in a sense, points to the rather differently intentioned saying: “A little of what you fancy does you good.” How can a few words bear such contrary senses? Easily, it would seem, according to the purpose of the speaker and the nature of the audience.

There is plenty of evidence from the New Kingdom in Egypt (see chapters 14 by Lesko and 1 by Grivetti, this volume) that excess in matters of eating and drinking was thought to be


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