The Legends Behind the Drink of the Vine
If there were ever a drink that inspired some stories worth repeating, wine is the beverage that reigns supreme. You may even have a few tales of your own that started with a bottle of your favorite wine. Don’t worry, you don’t have to share those here – we can talk about them later over a glass!
Wine is a beverage that has inspired legendary stories, myths, and is even prominent in a few of the world’s major religions. No other drink in the world has quite captured the mystique and intrigue of wine, and many cultures across the globe have their own legends pertaining to the discovery of this revered beverage. When gods and goddesses are involved, you know that these stories are about to be good.
There are several myths and legends for us to discuss, so let’s get right to it! Let’s travel through cultures all across the earth to learn more about the stories behind our favorite drink – wine.
Legends of the Discovery of Wine
The first stop on our worldly journey of wine legends brings us to Persia – a historic region in southwest Asia in what is now modern-day Iran. Persian legend says that in 4000 B.C., a bird brought seeds to the King’s feet. The king planted the seeds, which grew vines and produced grapes. The grapes were collected and stored in the royal deposit.
Over time, as the grapes aged, they fermented and produced a dark liquid, that liquid being wine. However, at the time, this liquid was thought to be poisonous. One of the King’s wives tried to commit suicide by drinking the liquid, but she didn’t get the result she expected. She was found later singing and dancing happily – becoming the first person to be intoxicated by wine. The King called the drink “Darou ē Shah”, or the King’s remedy, which is thought to be connected to modern-day Shiraz.
Another legend about the discovery of wine comes from China when Yidi, the god of wine and alcohol, created the beverage as a gift for the Emperor. Meanwhile, across the Eurasia landmass, Greek and Roman mythology have their own versions detailing the discovery of wine. These stories tend to surround the legend of the Greek and Roman gods, which have some interesting biographies, to say the least. Let’s dig deeper into the life stories of these gods and goddesses and find out what they have contributed to the lore of wine.
Gods and Goddesses of Wine
If there’s any god out there with an interesting story, it’s certainly Dionysus. He is the Greek god of wine, fertility, grape harvest, winemaking, and ecstasy. Although he is one of the gods that sits at Mount Olympus, Dionysus is not fully divine. He is a demigod, as he is the son of Zeus and the mortal Semele.
Dionysus is said to have spread viticulture throughout Asia to teach mortals the art and science behind winemaking. He did this after his lover, Ampelo, died, and a vine branch grew from his body. Dionysus squeezed the grapes that grew from this vine, creating wine. To this day, Ampelography is the name of the study of varieties and characteristics of vines.
The goddess counterpart of Dionysus, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, so she has a direct hand in the harvest of grapes, and thus the creation of wine. It’s safe to say that she has an important role in the lifecycle of wine!
Varuni is the Hindu goddess of wine and winning ways. While there is not much known about her, writings that have been found say that she would seduce people and make them obsessed with her. How would she do this, you ask? She would use wine, of course!
Liber / Bacchus (Rome)
Liber is a Roman god based on the Greek god Dionysus. He is better known as Bacchus, which is a name that he gained after becoming infamous. Bacchus promoted the freedom to drink and do whatever one pleases, and he did so while being drunk himself. If you’re feeling festive, there is a day of celebration on March 17th called Liberalia that is dedicated to our friend Bacchus.
Sesmu is the Egyptian god of pressing oils and wine. He is responsible for providing people with perfume and oils for embalming practices, and he is also connected to the Egyptian drink Shedeh.
Acan (Mayan, Mesoamerica)
Turning our sights to Mesoamerica, let’s now introduce you to Acan, the Mayan god of mead (or honey wine). It is said that Mayan warriors used to drink mead before going into battle. Acan was responsible for Balché, or a honey-based cocktail that later became the inspiration for mead. Acan was known to make a fool of himself while drunk on the sweet beverage that he created.
Remember our friend Yidi that we mentioned earlier? It’s time to tell his story! Chinese legend says that Yidi, the god of wine and alcohol, helped the Emperor's daughter to make a special gift for her father. Yidi created a spicy, strong beverage from fermented grapes – wine. At first, the Emperor thought that the drink was much too powerful and strong, so Yidi spent years experimenting until he created something delicious, which is the wine that we know and love today.
Wine in Religious Practices
Wine truly is a beverage of the gods, as many of the major world religions mention it in religious texts.
Wine is an important addition to Passover in the Jewish faith. During Passover Seder, it is customary to drink 4 cups of wine while leaning to the left. Wine is a royal drink, and it symbolizes freedom. The number 4 is one that is seen as a recurring theme throughout Jewish religious texts.
There are several sections of the Christian Bible that reference wine. In the story of Noah and the ark, Noah planted a vineyard after the great flood. In these texts, wine is often seen as a gift from God, and an abundance of wine is a sign of blessing. Additionally, wine was used as a symbol of the blood of Christ during Eucharist – or the Last Supper. In modern Christian traditions, wine is used during communion to also symbolize the blood of Christ in reference to the Last Supper.
If you paid attention during history class in school, you may recall that Egyptians were known for preserving their dead through the process of mummification. During this process, they also wanted to properly equip a body for the afterlife with things that they would need, and wine was on that list. King Tutankhamun, better known as King Tut, was buried with red wine so that he would be prepared for the afterlife.There’s no doubt about it, wine is legendary – literally. This beverage of gods has stood the test of time, found its way into cultures around the world, and into the glasses of millions of wine lovers. The next time you pour yourself a glass of wine, you can appreciate the vast range of stories and thousands of years of lore behind this world-renowned beverage. It is definitely a drink that’s worth celebrating! Cheers!