I recently went to a family get-together and everyone was gathered in the kitchen talking, sampling the cheese platter & drinking red wine. I was ushered in and handed a ruby red glass of wine but before I sipped, I topped off my wine with some water… Needless to say, those who caught me in the act thought I was committing a huge faux pas!
But I can assure you; diluting wine with water had been an important ancient Greek practice to which my own grandfather employed at the dinner table.
Ironically, the ancient Greeks (and later the Romans) would have never considered drinking undiluted wine. This would be frowned upon as crude or boorish behavior. But what was the real reason for watering the wine down?
Back in Plato’s day, Greeks loved to celebrate every aspect of life. They celebrated weddings, births, deaths, religious festivals & sports events and wine was always part of the festivities. It was said that “passing time over wine, guided with gracious behavior ended up in friendship.” This was particularly true at the Symposiums, where men would organize intellectual & philosophical gatherings to talk about life while drinking wine.
The wine was always diluted with water to help achieve “greater clarity & spiritual awareness” and to ensure an atmosphere that promoted good cheer. The Symposium Master would decide on the water-to-wine ratio and also how many cups to be consumed for the evening. This rule was meant to keep attendees to maintain approximately the same degree of inebriation!
In the Dionysian cult we see that the god has a dual nature which is also represented through the use of wine. Those wise enough to drink it in moderation will always experience merriment, clarity, warmth and divine ecstasy. But those who drink it without control, will find anger, fear, chaos and dangerous behavior. Just as the god is known to impart bliss or maddening frenzy onto his followers, so is the power of the wine to turn drinkers into new friends or drunken fools!
So next time you’re entertaining friends or visiting a local wine festival, make sure you set the tone for a cordial engagement so when the questions are asked, the tongues freed by wine will speak!
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