Falernian, Caecuban, and other Wines - Galen's Opinion - Columella's Receipt - The Roman Banquet - Dessert Wines - The Supper of Nasidienus - Dedication of Cups - Wines mentioned by Pliny made of Figs, Medlars, Mulberries, and other Fruits.
Of Roman wines the Campania Felix boasted the most celebrated growths. The Falernian, Mas-sican, Caecuban, and Surrentine wines were all the produce of this favoured soil. The three first of these wines have been, as the schoolboy (not necessarily Macaulay's) is only too well aware, immortalised by Horace, who doubtless had ample opportunities of forming a matured judgment about them.
The Caecuban is described by Galen as a generous wine, ripening only after a long term of years. The Massican closely resembled the Falernian. The Setine was a light wine, and, according to Pliny, the favourite drink of Augustus, who perhaps grounded his preference on his idea that it was the least injurious to the stomach. Possibly Horace differed from his patron in taste. He never mentions this wine, which is however celebrated both by Martial and by Juvenal
As for the Surrentine, the flat of Tiberias has dismissed it as generous vinegar. Dr. Henderson has no hesitation in fixing upon the wines of Xeres and Madeira as those to which the celebrated Falernian bears the nearest resemblance. Both are straw-coloured, assuming a deeper tint from age. Both present the varieties of dry and sweet. Both are strong and durable. Both require keeping. The soil of Madeira is more analogous to that of the Campania Felix, whence we may conclude perhaps that the flavour and aroma of its wines are similar to those of the Campania. Finally, if Madeira or sherry were kept in earthen jars till reduced to the consistence of honey, the taste would become so bitter that, to use the expression of Cicero (Brut. 83), we should condemn it as intolerable.
The wines of antiquity present disagreeable features; sea water, for instance, and resin already mentioned. Columella advises the addition of one pint of salt water for six gallons of wine. The impregnation with resin has been still preserved, with the result of making some modern Greek wines unpalatable save to the modern Greeks themselves. Columella (De Re Plustica, xii. 19) says that four ounces of crude pitch mingled with certain aromatic herbs should be mixed with two amphorce, or about thirteen gallons of wine.
Ancient wines were also exposed in smoky garrets until reduced to a thick syrup, when they had to be strained before they were drunk. Habit only it seems could have endeared these pickled and pitched and smoked wines to the Greek and Roman palates, as it has endeared to some of our own caviare and putrescent game.
To drink wine unmixed was, it has been said before, held by the Greeks to be disreputable. Those who did so were said to be like Scythians. The Maronean wine of Homer was mixed with twenty measures of water. The common proportion in the more polished days of Greece was three or four parts of water to one of wine. But probably Greece, like Rome, had many a Menenius who loved a cup of hot wine with not a drop of allaying Tiber in it. If the condition of Alcibiades in the Platonic symposium was the result of wine so diluted, the wine must have been strong indeed.
The Grecian and Roman banquet began with the mulsurn, of mingled wine and honey. The dessert wines among the Greeks were the Thasian and Lesbian; among the Romans the Alban, Caecuban, and Falernian, and afterwards the Chian and Lesbian.
In the triumphal supper of Caesar in his dictatorship Pliny says Falernian flowed in hogsheads and Chian in gallons. At the well-known Horatian supper of Nasidienus the Caecuban and indifferent Chian were handed round before the host advised Maecenas that Alban and Falernian were procurable if he preferred them.
Juvenal and Martial tell us of the complaint of clients, that while the master and his friends drank the best wine out of costly cups, they themselves had to put up with ropy liquors in coarse, half-broken vessels. Human nature has changed little in this respect since those satirists wrote.
The old fashion of dedicating cups to divinities led perhaps to our modern system of drinking healths. Sometimes as many cups were drunk to a person as there were letters in the name of the person so honoured.
It was better then for the bibulous to toast the ancient Sempronia or Messalina than the modern Meg or Kate.
Hydromeli, made of honey and five-year-old rain- water; oxymeli, made of honey, sea-salt, and vinegar; hydromelon, made of honey and quinces; hydrorosa-tum, a similar compound with the addition of roses; apomeli, water in which honeycomb had been boiled; omphacomeli, a mixture of honey and verjuice; myr-tites, a compound of honey and myrtle seed; rhoites, a drink in which the pomegranate took the place of the myrtle; oenanthinum, made from the fruit of the wild vine; silatum, taken, according to Festus, in the forenoon, and made of Saxifragia major (Forcellini) or Tordylium officinale (Liddell and Scott); sycites, wine of figs; phoenicites, wine of palms; abrotonites, wine of wormwood; and adynamon, a weak wine for the sick - are most of them mentioned as drinks in Pliny.1 This author also mentions drinks made of sorbs, medlars, mulberries, and other fruits, of asparagus, origanum, thyme, and other herbs. Hippocrates praises wine as a medical agent. In his third book the father of medicine gives a description of the general qualities and virtues of wines, and shows for what diseases they are in his opinion advantageous.
1 Pliny, Nat. Hist. xiv. 19, etc.
For more information on wines the reader may consult Sir Edward Barry, Dr. Alexander Henderson, and Cyrus Redding. Henderson, who was, like Barry, a physician, did not always agree with him. Barry's observations, according to Henderson, are chiefly borrowed from Bacci. Those not so borrowed are for the most part "flimsy and tedious."
The vessels and other drinking cups were commonly ranged on an abacus of marble, something like our sideboard. It was large, if Philo Judeus is to be believed. Pliny, speaking of Pompey's spoils in the matter of the pirates, says the number of jewel-adorned drinking cups was enough to furnish nine abaci. Cicero charges Verres with having plundered the abaci.
When Rome was in the height of her luxury, mur-rhine cups were introduced from the East. What this substance was, the ruins of Pompeii have never revealed; some maintain it was porcelain, others think it was a species of spar.
Dr. Henderson adopts the opinion of M. de Roziere that these cups were of fluor-spar; but this article is not found in Karamania, from which district of Par-thia both Pliny and Propertius agree that they came, though they differ with respect to their nature; its geographic situation seems confined to Europe. The anecdote told by Lampridius of Heliogabalus (502) proves, not the similarity of material, but only the equal rareness and value of vessels of onyx and murrhine.
A writer in the Westminster Review for July, 1825, believes them to have been porcelain cups from China; the expression of Propertius, "cocta focis" proves that they were manufactured In the time of Belon (1555) the Greeks called them the myrrh of Smyrna, from murex, a shell. From this it seems that their name was given to the vases from a resemblance of colours to those of the murex. Stolberg (Travels, ix. 280) says he saw in a collection at Catania a little blue vase, believed to be a vas murrhinum.
Amphorae, Rhytons, Etc. (Brit. Mus.).
The modern jars in any of the wine districts of Italy, such as Asti Montepulciano or Montefiascone, thin earthen two-handled vessels holding some twenty quarts, are almost identical with the ancient amphorae. Suetonius speaks of a candidate for the quaestorship who drank the contents of a whole amphora at a dinner given by Tiberius. This amphora was probably of a smaller size. Wooden vessels for wine seem to have been unfamiliar to the Greeks and Romans; they, however, occasionally employed glass. Bottles, vases, and cups of that material, which may be seen often enough now in collections of antiquities, show the great taste which in these and in other matters they possessed. A few of these are given to illustrate our text. Skins of animals, rendered impervious by oil or resinous gums, were probably the most ancient receptacles for wine after it was taken from the vat. To these there are frequent allusions in Homer and Isaiah. Vessels of clay, with a coating of pitch, were introduced subsequently.