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“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Wise Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 186-213.



Oxyporian Wines.*

WE have received from our esteemed friend, and valued correspondent, whose paper on the champagne wines of the ancients excited so much surprise and curiosity in literary circles, another article upon kindred topics, which will no doubt prove even more interesting than the former one. Embracing, as it does, a wider range of inquiry, it exhibits more clearly than the other paper, unusual stores of scholarship, at once comprehensive, familiar, and accurate; a vigorous and telling style — in itself a model of good English writing; a curious and technical knowledge of wines in general, beyond that of any modern writer with whom we are familiar, an exact knowledge of chemistry, and a happy vein of humor, as original as it is genuine. It is not surprising that the authorship of the last paper should have been ascribed to several of the most profound scholars in the country. But we can safely predicate of this one that it will excite a still wider range of speculation as to the name of the writer, which, for the present, 187 we shall withhold until such time as we are permitted to print it.


——, October 5, 1800.

MY DEAR EDITOR: — I have been much amused in learning through the press, as well as from the more sprightly narrative of your private letter, that such and so very odd claims and conjectures had been made as to the authorship of my late hasty letter to you, in proof that the poets and gentlemen of old Greece and Rome drank as good champagne as we do. You know very well that the letter which you published was not originally meant for the public, and the public have no right at all to inquire who the author may be; nor, indeed, has the said impertinent public to inquire into the authorship of any anonymous article which harms nobody, nor means to do so. I have not sought concealment in this matter, nor do I wish notoriety. If any one desires the credit of the communication, such as it is, he or she is quite welcome to it until I find leisure to prepare for the press a collection of my Literary Miscellanies under my own name. I intend to embody in it an enlarged edition of this essay on the antiquity of champagne mousseaux, with a regular chain of Greek and Latin authorities defending and proving all my positions.

To this future collection of my critical and philological writings I look forward with a just pride as a fit gift 188 to the few in our country who occupy their leisure, not with light and trifling literature, but on grave and solid studies (like the investigation of the Champagne question), and with the culture of high and recondite learning; or, as this thought is admirably expressed by Petrarch, in one of his epistles, announcing to a learned friend the completion of one of his Latin prose works, in a passage which I have selected for the motto of my own Collectanea: “Munus hocce prebeo, non iis qui levibus et ludicris nugis assueti sunt, sed lis quibus cordi est, gravis et severus bonarum literarum et doctrinæ reconditæ cultus.”

You tell me that you have every day personal inquiries or written communications to the Wine Press, desiring information as to the meaning of the word Oxyporian, which I used as characterizing the effects of certain wines. It seems that the word is in neither of the rival American dictionaries, nor in any English one in present use. Of this I was not aware, but if it is not in their dictionaries, so much the worse for the learned lexicographers. It ought to have been there; they have no excuse for omitting it. On the other hand, you and I deserve all such honor as the literary and scientific public can bestow, for restoring the word Oxyporian to the present generation. It is a good word, and one — as Corporal Bardolph phrases it — “of exceeding good command.” But I shall not imitate the gallant corporal in his style of definition and explanation: “Accommodated! 189 that is, when a man is, as they say, accommodated; or when a man is — being — whereby — he may be thought to be accommodated, which is an excellent thing.” That is not my fashion. This word OXYPORIAN is of great antiquity and high descent. It was first used by Hippocrates, and from his medical use passed to that of the philosophers, thence into the Latin, and thence to the old English medical and philosophical writers down to Sydenham, since whose day it has not been used for near two centuries. It is from the Greek Oξυποριος and means simply that which is of speedy operation and as quick in passing off — first used as a substantive name of such a medicine, then as an adjective with a broader sense. I am sorry that it has gone out of fashion, for no other word can supply its place, either for scientific or literary use. The philosophy of the word, especially as applied to wines, is nowhere better illustrated than by one of the old lost poets in a fragment preserved by my favorite Athenæus. The Athenian dramatist Philyllius thus describes the Oxyporian character and effects of certain wines: —

Take Thasian, Chian, Mendian wine,
Lesbian old or new Biblyne,
Differing all, but all divine —

Straight to the brain all swift ascend,
Drive out black thoughts, bright fancies lend,
Glad the whole man — then pass away
Nor make to-morrow mourn its yesterday.


That last line cost me more labor than I have often bestowed upon a whole lecture, and though it is hyper-catalectic with redundant syllables, expressive enough, I think of the metre and feeling of the original, it has not done full justice to the crowded thought, the practical philosophy of the gay and wise old heathen.

I never read Athenæus without renewed gratitude to kind Professor Schweighauser, who first opened to me that treasure-house of the remains of ancient bards, “with whom (justly says a modern critic) perished so much beauty as the world will never see again.” How fortunate it was that the old Greek philosophical diner-out was as much given to quotation as Montaigne, Jeremy Taylor, or myself. As for the learned French-German or German-Frenchmen, Schweighauser — the recollections of my brief acquaintance with him rise in my mind like “a steam of rich distilled perfumes,” fraught with the memory of refined classical criticism, and the flavor of the world-renowned culinary product of his own beloved city of Strasbourg, the pâté de foies gras.

But I must not forget to call your attention to the very curious parallel between this fragment of an Athenian dramatic author and Falstaff’s eulogy on the virtues of his favorite sherris-sack. “It hath a twofold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain, drives me forth all the foolish, dull and crudy vapors which overrun it, makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery and delectable shapes.” “The second property of 191 your excellent sherris is the warming of the blood, which before cold and settled left the liver white and cold, but the sherris-sack warms it” — Yet why need I quote any more of what you and half your readers have by heart. Now there is not the slightest ground for attributing this resemblance of thought and expression to imitation. No (as I remarked in one of my lectures on the resemblances to be traced between Shakspeare and the Greek tragedies), the great ancients and this greater modern coincide in thought because they alike draw their thoughts from truth and nature and the depths of man’s heart. The comparison of the passage cited from Falstaff and that of which I have above given my feeble version, affords ample evidence of this. They agree marvelously in describing the immediate operation of the lighter Greek wines, resembling our best Bordeaux and champagne, and that of Falstaff’s more powerful and grave sherry. In this they are equally true. But the Greek goes on to insist on the Oxyporian worth of his favorite wines in gladdening the whole man “with mirth which after no repentance draws.” Not so the great English poet. He, with a dietetic and physiological philosophy as profound and as accurate as was his insight into the affections and passions of man, passes over in profound silence this point on which the Greek bard dwells. This Shakspeare does, not from ignorance, but to lead the reader to infer from Falstaff’s own infirmities, that such was not the after-operation of Falstaff’s “inordinate 192 deal of sack” — that his drink was not Oxyporian — that did not pass away “like the baseless fabric of a vision” (and, to use the words of the great bard in a sense which he might not immediately have intended, but which was, nevertheless, present to his vast intellect:) —

—— “Leave not a rack behind.”

The fat knight experienced to the end of his days the slow but sure operation of his profuse and potent beverages, in results from which the judicious drinker of the more delicate wines of modern France as well as of ancient Ionia is and was wholly exempt.

But a truce to ideas of past ages. Let me come down to our own day, and give you a practical example of the use and value of this word Oxyporian, and the immense benefit which we have conferred upon our own countrymen, in having thus followed the precept of Horace, so happily paraphrased and adapted to modern speech by Pope: —

“Command old words that long have slept to wake,
 Words that wise Bacon or brave Raleigh spake.”

Such a word was this same Oxyporian. Now mark its application.

Suppose that by way of aiding and embellishing my 193 Thanksgiving family festivities, you present me with a basket or two of sparkling native wine prepared according to the recently improved method. Thereupon I send you a brief certificate thus worded: —

“I certify that I have tried (number of bottles left blank) of improved Sparkling Catawba on self, family, and friends, and find the same truly Oxyporian.”

These few words speak volumes — a whole encyclopædia in that one word Oxyporian. Even with my humble name thereto subscribed, what an effect would this produce! But if in addition you could prevail on our mutual friend, Dr. Holmes, to concur with a similar attestation, how that effect would be multiplied a hundred fold! The Professor, upon the exhibition of a proper quantum of the last edition of our best brands, would, doubtless, in the Macbeth spirit of his late anniversary discourse against chemicals and Galenicals, certify to this effect: —

“After repeated experiments of the wine to me exhibited by F. S. C., being native Sparkling Catawba, with last improvements, I certify the same to be eminently Oxyporian. Take this quant. suffi. Repeat the draught next day. ‘Throw physic to the dogs.’”

“O. W. H.”

I shall be much mistaken if such certificates, thus clear, strong, brief; inspiring public confidence and public thirst, would not at once compel our native cultivators to put hundreds of thousands of acres more into grape cultivation, 194 and oblige the sole agent in New York to hurry A. T. Stewart higher up Broadway, leaving that marble palace to be converted into an Oxyporian Hall for the exclusive sale of Catawba and other Oxyporian liquids, domestic and foreign.

The same experiments might with great propriety, and, doubtless, with equal success, be repeated upon Dr. Holmes and myself with the Dido brand of French Champagne when it arrives!

I have just said that I am determined not to enter at present into verbal controversy on the accuracy of my translations and citations on the great question of the champagne of antiquity. I leave all that till my proposed publication, which I trust will settle the question, even against the authority of Eustathius and Gladstone as to the word οἴνοπα, though the one was a Greek Archbishop eight hundred years ago, and the other is the present Chancellor of the Exchequer of the British Empire, and has just achieved the triumph of abolishing the duties on champagne and other wines of France.

But I learn that two other arguments have been advanced against my doctrine, both from distinguished quarters, and both founded, not upon the authority of scholiasts and lexicons, but upon the principles and reasoning of the higher criticism.

The first of these is advanced by President King of your New York Columbia College. His objection to my argument is briefly this: If either the Greeks or the 195 Romans had champagne, Horace must have taken his share, and luxuriated in recounting its merits and glories. As Horace makes not even a distant allusion to any wine of this kind, no such can have been in use in his days. I have a great respect for President King’s judgment, both in respect to champagne and to Horace; and his argument is logical in form and plausible in reasoning. Still this must have been an obiter dictum of his (as the lawyers say), not a formal decision, such as he would have given on full argument and examination of the authorities. I think that I can convince the President of the error of his argument; and considering the magnitude of the question, and the responsibilities of his position, I am confident that he has too much candor to persist in his error after duly weighing my reasoning.

I object entirely to Horace’s testimony — to his competence — if he is offered as an expert in wine; but if he is regarded as an ordinary witness to facts, then to the credibility, weight, or value of his negative testimony. This objection arises from no general disrespect to his character or talent. I am far from agreeing with an accomplished professor of your city, whom I might address in the words of Horace,

“Docte sermones utriusque linguæ.”

as master alike of the tongue of Shakspeare and of that of Schiller. I cannot agree with him in vilipending 196 Horace — to use a word of Charles Fox’s, which I fancy has not been used since his days. I was told lately, at a literary party in Boston, by an eminent fellow-citizen of yours, that this accomplished New York professor had pronounced Horace to be “a mediocre old fogy.” So do not I.

As a keen-sighted observer and describer of men and manners, full of shrewd good sense and worldly wisdom, Horace has no rival; and the unanswerable proof of it is that his thoughts and maxims, and even language, on such topics, have been incorporated into the thoughts, language, and best literature of all modern nations. In pure poetry, his patriotic pride and ardent love of country often raise him to the noblest strains of lyric declamation. Above all, he has an unrivaled power of natural but condensed expression, compressing whole pages of thought, or of description of nature, of form or of manner, into a short phrase or a brilliant word or two. On some other points I nearly agree with your professor, who is as polyglot in knowledge as he is in languages. Horace’s love-verses I hold very cheap. In these he is indeed graceful, courtly, airy, elegant; but he has little passion and no tenderness. If he ever approaches to any semblance of either passion or affection, it is when he translates or imitates the Greek, to which source late German critics have traced not a few of his minor lyric beauties, and made it probable that he owed more than can now be clearly ascertained. The other line, in which I hold 197 him to be still more clumsy and out of his element, is that which specially relates to our present purpose. It is that which he often affects, and affects with little success, the gaiety of the Bacchanalian songster. In nearly every one of his convivial odes he is as far as possible from the light gaiety or the broad jollity of such poets as Burns or Béranger, and a dozen Scotch and Irish songsters of far less name but of scarcely less merit. In his desperate attempts at jollity, his constant incentive to festivity — which seems to mean, with him, nothing but hard drinking — is the shortness of human life and the black prospect of death, so that his festive odes may be condensed into the thought of Captain Macheath in the Beggar’s Opera:

“A man will die bolder with brandy.”

Much as in his “Moriture Delli,” etc., he is inferior to the gay songsters of later times, he appears still worse when any of his scenes of conviviality are compared with those of Shakspeare, of Cervantes, or of Scott, with the feasts of Falstaff, of Sancho, or of Friar Tuck.

If I compare Horace with these moderns, it is because the contrast is more striking from our familiarity with the latter. But the same thing might be shown to scholars by placing him by the side of Plutus, or of the remains of Greek comedy. The truth is, that Horace, with all his love of company, his shrewd observation of life, his keen perception of the ridiculous, was decidedly a melancholy man. I do not believe that in his most 198 convivial hours, he ever rung out that hearty peal of laughter for which Walter Scott was celebrated; nor was Horace, in those solitary rambles of his about the shops, markets and by-places of Rome, which he so agreeably relates, ever seen smiling and chuckling to himself, over his own thick-coming pleasant fancies, like your Halleck, when amusing himself in the same fashion in his frequent visits to Boston or New York.

Yes, Horace was clearly as melancholy a man, when by himself, as Lord Byron was, and for the same reason, a stomach performing its functions badly, and stimulated in the one case by Falernian, in the other by strong gin and water.

Horace himself, unconsciously, shows us the philosophy of all this, in the account which he gives here and there of his own history. He had led a pretty hard, promiscuous sort of a life in his early days of inglorious and disastrous military rank. Afterward he got up in the world, and became the holder of a comfortable office, of more profit than honor; and then, by the favor of his friends in power, became a well-to-do country gentleman. Next we find him suffering the certain penalties of an early debauched and chronically debilitated stomach. He had weak eyes, and a deranged digestion, the first being the natural result of the other malady. He at times resorted to total abstinence and cold water, and became a great critic in good water, in which last particular he showed his usual practical good sense. He was 199 constantly running about, as he tells us, from the plain fare of his Sabine farm to Rome, where he shared the luxurious table of Mæcenas. Thence he galloped off to Baiæ, the Newport of that day; then from one mineral spring to another; now dosing himself with chalybeate, now with sulphur water. But all this water regimen is interspersed with frolic after frolic in old Falernian. His love of Falernian flashes the whole truth upon us. What was this famed Falernian wine? It was, unquestionably, a rich, high-flavored wine, but as unquestionably most highly brandied, decidedly fortified with an enormous proportion of alcohol, nearly bringing it up to the proof of our most approved old Cognac. The commentators and compilers of antiquities do not let us into the secret of this same famed Falernian. But I speak on the very best authority. It is that of Pliny the naturalist.

In speaking of the strong Roman wines, he says of the Falernian varieties, in a customary phrase of his, that there is no wine of higher authority, “Nec ulli in vino major auctoritas.” He then adds, that it was inflammable! and the only wine that was so: “Solo vinorum flamma accenditur.” “It is the only kind from which flame can be kindled.” The ancients had no more precise test than this one, that of burning with a flame, to ascertain the proportion of alcohol in these liquors. They had nothing similar to the various beautiful modes of modern chemistry, to ascertain the alcoholic proportions of wine as the eboulliscope of the French chemists, the 200 halymetric method used by Fuchs and Zieri, and the ingenious aerometer of Tabaric, all which give such elegant precision to the alcoholic tables, digested and enlarged by our exact Dutch friend, Professor Mulder. But Pliny’s statement is enough to prove that the strength of Falernian did not arise from “combined alcohol” formed in the natural process of fermentation of the grape juice, but from added “uncombined alcohol” (as the chemists term it) produced by distillation. On this very question, I cannot refrain from quoting the opinion of Dr. Watson, of New York, in his most agreeable, learned and instructive work on “The Medical Profession in Ancient Times,” a volume which, if it had been published in London, would have been reprinted in the United States, and had a circulation of thousands. I copy from the volume on my table which I have just read with much gratification to myself, and the highest respect for the author’s science and scholarship.

After quoting Pliny, he says, “modern wines with only their natural supply of alcohols are not of strength equal to this. That is the Falernian.” It is therefore reasonable to infer that the art of distillation must have been known to the vintners of antiquity. If so, it must have been confined to some fraternity and practiced by them as one of their secret mysteries, for the purpose of fortifying their wines, and thus kept secret until alcohol was discovered anew by the alchemists of the middle ages.”

Such was Falernian, differing only from our Cognac 201 brandy from having a full vinous body with a luscious fruity flavor.

This exposition of the true character of Falernian at once explains and is confirmed by the fact that Horace often in his exhortations to the hardest drinking, speaks of some rules of mixing water with the Falernian, which no Greek or Roman author mentions as usual as to other wines, excepting only certain Greek wines of a similar potency.

All the above stated considerations prove to my satisfaction (and I trust also to that of President King) that Horace, with all his matchless merits, was exactly in the state of certain of our mutual acquaintances, some of whom, men of the prairie or of the plantation, alternated between “total abstinence” and unquenchable thirst for Bourbon and Monongahela; others, again, habitués of city clubs and hotels, vibrate between soda or congress water, and old Otard, or Geneva, more or less diluted with water; generally less than more, and every day becoming more and more less.

Now to the inference from this statement of facts: Would you, Mr. President, or you, Mr. Editor, take the opinion or the evidence of any such, of our acquaintance, though we should receive it with all respect on any other point, political, commercial, or financial — upon any question touching champagne. You would not? Neither do I accept Horace’s testimony on the same subject.

I learn that I have to meet another argument, leveled 202 at my Homeric interpretation, of the word commonly rendered “dark,” which I hold to mean “champagne-faced,” or covered with foam like champagne. This is from another dignitary of learning, not of your city, whose high scholarship is everywhere admitted. He is armed with the authority and clothed with the dignity of Jupiter, yet I cannot say with the Italian chief, —

“Dii me terrent, et Jupiter hostis.”
“The powers above I dread, and hostile Jove.”

No, even against Jupiter, I reply, —

“Thrice is he armed, who hath his quarrel just.”

and I am thrice armed in the cause of truth and of Homer.

As in respect to Horace, so in this Homeric question, I defer for the present all mere verbal and lexicographical disquisition. My future readers will have quite enough of it in my forthcoming volumes. But I willingly meet the great argument of my very learned and eminent critic, as it claims to rest upon broad, historical, and critical grounds.

He boldly maintains that Homer could not have known personally anything of champagne — even supposing that there was anything resembling it in his day — that throughout his two epics he never intimates in himself or in his heroes any taste or connoisseurship in wine, though he describes the drinking of a good deal of it, to which he gives various indiscriminating epithets, as “pleasant,” 203 “sweet,” “divine,” “dark,” or “red.” Above all, it is asserted that he betrays the grossest ignorance on its use in making his venerable Nestor (who should have known better) mix grated cheese with his old Pramnian wine.

Before entering on the wider field of discussion, I must briefly refute this last wholly unsound objection. It is easily and quickly done. Any reader who will carefully read the whole of the eleventh book of the Iliad, either in the original or in any tolerably faithful translation — even in Pope’s brilliant but commonly loose paraphrase — will see at once that this preparation of old wine, thickened with goat’s milk cheese, and flour, which Nestor took with his wounded friend after their escape from battle, was clearly a medical prescription prepared under the professional direction of Machaon, who was surgeon-general of the Greek allied army, as well as commanding colonel of his own and his brother’s contingent. Machaon had a flesh wound; Nestor, a very old man, was prostrated by fatigue and fright.

The word used is κὺκεων, meaning a compound potion, and Pope with far more precision than is usual with him, renders it “the draught prescribed.” I cannot help thinking that this happy version was suggested to the poet by his scholarly medical friend Dr. Arbuthnot, to whom he and Swift often expressed their warm acknowledgments for services, medical, literary, and social: —

“—— the kind Arbuthnot’s aid,
  Who knows his art, but not his trade.”


Dr. Holmes may very probably sneer at the prescribed mixture, and I will not pretend to defend it, for that is not in my line. But Machaon was a physician of great eminence in his day, and seems to have anticipated the doctrines of Brown or of Broussais, and to have been inclined to a bold practice in stimulants. As a surgeon, he stood at the very head of his profession. Besides, this was his prescription for himself, as well as for his friend; and when the physician thus shares with his patient the risk or the benefit of his potion, even Dr. Holmes, heretic in medical faith as he is, will allow that the patient may venture boldly to swallow whatever may be ordered. I trust that Dr. Watson will discuss this whole question in the next edition of his Medical Profession in Ancient Times. In the meanwhile, enough has been said to exonerate both Homer and the Pylian sage from the charge of heathenish ignorance in regard to wine.

Indeed as to Nestor, even if the poet’s frequent testimonials in the Iliad to his wisdom and vast knowledge earned by old experience, are not enough to exempt him from any suspicion of gross ignorance in respect to good wine, he himself has given ample proof of his taste and judgment in such matters in the Odyssey. When the son of Ulysses, in that epic, visits Nestor at his home in Pylos, he finds the aged chief presiding at a grand sacrifice and banquet. Before Nestor knows who his guest is he greets him kindly, and besides ordering for him and 205 his friend a choice portion of the feast, gives them a goblet bumper of Malmsey Madeira.

Here I must pause and explain, to prevent the barking of small critics. Homer calls the wine μελίεθης — “honey-sweet” — which proves it to have been a luscious, sweet, fruity wine; and all who are at all learned in the history of grape culture know that the Malmsey of Madeira is the product of a vine in Madeira, originally imported from the district of Malvasia, in the Peloponesus, which lay within Nestor’s own territory. From Malvasia came the Spanish and Portuguese name of the wine, Malvasio; thence the old French Malvoisie, and thence Malmsey. Pardon this apparent pedantry; the digression is forced upon me. Nestor gives his unknown guests, with all the rest of the crowd, plenty of new, pleasant, and sweet Malmsey of his own growth; but afterward, when he knew that the son of his old friend was his guest, he gives him a more select entertainment with his family: —

——“Filling high the cups
With wine delicious, which the butler-dame
Who kept his stores, in its eleventh year,
Now first did broach.

In that compound of my own manufacture, “Butler-dame,” I have aimed at clearly defining the office confided to confidential old ladies in well-regulated households in Greece, like Nestor’s. Homer in his original Greek expresses the office, here and in seven or eight other places by the female substantive Tαμίη. The English 206 and French translators all omit or slur it over, as if it was not genteel to have a female butler. The German translators on the contrary, honestly used the resources of their noble language, as copious and flexible as the Greek, in its compounds, but give a rather broader sense, by die haus-hof meisterin. But I was not aware till after I had made my translation that the best Dutch translator, — the illustrious Vondel, the Dryden of Holland, had formed a word of his own precisely parallel to my own, though more sonorous and musical, “de schenckster-vrouw.” But I must restrain myself on these tempting verbal digressions (as I have done in my classical quotations), lest I should incur the Shakspearean sarcasm, he “has been at a great feast of languages and stolen the scraps.” Let us return to Nestor.

Nestor never dreamed of giving his guests wine-whey, such as he had taken, according to the prescription, nor does he offer them any grated cheese to mix with their new Malmsey, or their eleven years’ old Pylian Particular.

Then, as to Homer’s personal opportunities of becoming practically familiar with the good wines of his times, is it possible that my erudite critic imagines Homer to have led a straggling beggar-like life, like an Italian organ-grinder? The great bard has himself described his own status and habitual life in the picture he gives of the blind bard Domodoius, and the respect with which he is received, and the luxury he shares in at the sumptuous court of the good king Alcinous. Like him Homer 207 himself passed from the table of one king, prince, potentate or laird to that of another, faring sumptuously every day, and thus becoming as familiar with the qualities of the several Chian, Lesbian, Thrasian, Pramnian and Pylian vintages, as our acquaintance Thackeray did with the old Madeiras of Boston, Salem, Richmond, and Charleston, or the choice Bordeaux and Rhine wines of recherché tables in New York.

I might quote an hundred scattered lines in the Iliad to prove this. But why dwell upon minor points of evidence? “The greatest is behind.” While Homer ascribed this good taste and knowledge of good wine to his wisest old man, had he not distinguished that hero, who is second only in rank to Achilles, by his taste and judgment in the same line? Do not the plot and the interest of the second great epic depend mainly upon this characteristic of its hero, and the just pride he feels in his good cellar?

Alas! I ask these questions as if the answer was familiar to all who read Homer even in the translations of Pope or Cowper. Alas! alas! I do not know that a single critic, or annotator, has explained — any Greek instructor or professor here or even in Germany has made his students familiar with this great feature of Homer’s domestic epic, the Odyssey, and of its hero Ulysses.

Nevertheless, the filial piety of Virgil’s Æneas — the deep melancholy love of Tasso’s Tancredi — the “noble mind,” ”the courtier’s, scholar’s, soldier’s eye, tongue, sword,” of the accomplished Hamlet are none of them 208 so essential a part of these several characters and of their eventful stories, as are to the character and story of Ulysses, his taste and skill in wine, his judgment in its management and use, and the deep interest which he manifests in his own fine and carefully selected stock.

In the very beginning of the Odyssey, before Ulysses himself appears on the scene, the poet, to make his reader acquainted with his hero’s character, introduces him into the wine-room of the long-absent chief. It is quite worthy of remark that he is the only king or chief mentioned in either great epic, except Nestor, who had a regular, well-ordered wine-room, or cellar. These few chiefs, I must remind my readers, are repeatedly designated by the great poet, as the wisest of all the Greeks, so adjudged by the common voice — Nestor, from his varied experience and the collected wisdom he had gathered during the few generations of men among whom he had lived. Ulysses, from his own native sagacity. No other Greeks compared with them either in general wisdom, or in judgment in the choice or care of their wines.

Achilles, for instance, was a model of gentlemanly hospitality, carved beautifully, and gave his guests the best wine that force or money could get; but he had no stock of it, and did not know how to manage it, if he had it. Not so the “much-contriving” Ulysses.

Before Ulysses enters upon the scene, his son, Telemachus is described as preparing for a secret voyage in search of his long-absent father, and this affords Homer 209 an opportunity to paint in anticipation, though indirectly, the most striking peculiarities of his hero. His cellar, or wine-room (for it appears to have been above ground, though on the ground-floor), is superintended like that of Nestor, by an aged female butler. I am not quite satisfied with any translator, and I render the lines thus: —

“Down to a broad, high room, the youth descends,
  His father‘s store-room, where his treasures lay
  There stood against the wall, in order ranged,
  Casks of age-ripened wine, fit for the gods,
  The grape‘s pure juice, from every mixture free.”

The good young man, who had been well brought up by his mother, according to his father‘s precepts and example, thus gave order touching the providing for his ship: —

“Fill up these demijohns; draw off bright wine —
  Our best, next after that thou dost reserve
  Hapless Ulysses, still expecting home;
  If, death escaping, he shall e‘er return,
  Fill twelve, then fit them all with stoppers tight.”

I translate as literally as metre will permit, in honest, “English verse, without rhyme” (as Milton phrases it), in the hope of preserving these minutely graphic touches of the great poet, who always narrates to the eye, and in turn displays “la terribil via,” the grand and terrible manner of Michael Angelo, or the grace, dignity and 210 expression of Raphael, and then rivals the most painstaking Dutch or Flemish painter in his careful details of the butchery, the barn-yard, the market, the kitchen or the wine cellar.

I flatter myself that in spite of the obvious difficulty of such passages, I have, in the above and my other scraps of Homeric versions, succeeded in expressing some exquisite details which Pope‘s rhymes have polished into vague smoothness, and Cowper‘s more faithful, but too uniformly Miltonic, blank verse has failed to render.

After this preliminary sketch of the “many planning” Ulysses, we find him everywhere taking his wine like a gentleman, never in any excess, but always with good taste, whether at the table of the magnificent king of Pharacia or at the humble fireside of the keeper of his own hogs. He avoids the snare of Circe by refusing to drink her brewed and drugged liquor. When he explored the land of the Cyclops, he took with him a goatskin of high proof brandy, given him by the priest of Apollo, which he used only in case of accidents. I say “BRANDY;” for though Homer calls it wine, that must have been from delicacy toward the reverend gentleman, for the poet expressly says that the worthy priest and his wife were wont: —

“Whene‘er they quaffed that dark, delicious juice.
  To slake each cup with twenty from the fount,
  Yet the slaked bowl sweet odor shed around,
  Divine, enticing.”


Another proof of the true nature of this “wine,” as Homer delicately calls it, is to be seen in the care with which the good priest kept it out of the way of all his servants, reserving it for the private drinking of himself and wife, of course in all moderation.

“Of that pure drink, fit for the gods, no one
  Of all his household, male or female knew,
  Save only he, his wife and butler-dame.”

By the way, this priest of Apollo seems to have been a sort of prince-bishop, keeping a large establishment of men and women servants. Yet he, too, like Nestor and Ulysses, put his choice liquors and stores under the care of a butleress, or, as I have preferred to render it in a more Homeric compound, a Butler-dame.

But Ulysses took none of this brandy himself, nor gave it to his men, but when he got into a scrape with the giant Cyclops, he dosed the huge cannibal with it quite raw, which soon made him tipsy (or, as the original expresses it with philosophical accuracy “came around his brain,”) then puts him to sleep, when Ulysses puts out his great single eye, and escapes.

When he reaches home incog., he learns with indignation the suit of the petty chiefs of Ithaca to his supposed widow, their wasteful depradations upon his goods and chattels, especially his cattle and hogs, and their insults to his only son; but he does not explode in full wrath till he hears of the wasteful abuse of his wines — the οἴνον 212 διαφυσσόμενον (as he says with the precision of a careful wine merchant), his good wine “drawn off.” This he denounces as the “unkindest cut of all.” He successively recounts his wrongs from the suitors of his wife: —

“Their shameless acts, guests roughly drawn away
  Through all the house, gross insults to the maids,
  Provision gormandized day after day:
  The wine drawn off! drunk up with monstrous waste,
  Enormous, without stint, or taste, or end.”

Od. XVI.

I have not time nor space to note his other expressions of wrath on the same topic.

It is, therefore, with admirable fitness that the poet makes Ulysses defer the hour of his final vengeance till he sees his palace filled with revelry, and the wine cup crowned with his own best vintages, lifted high and passed around by the insolent invaders of his home and his honor. Then it is, when the loudest and boldest of these revelers lifts to his head a huge two-handled goblet of choice “Ithaca Reserve,” that he, who had long watched these scenes in suppressed wrath, and in the guise and garb of a beggar, now “throws off his patience and his rags together,” rises from the mendicant into the monarch, and from his mighty bow showers around winged arrowy vengeance upon the wretches who had essayed to win the affections of his wife, who had plundered his possessions, who had wronged and insulted his darling only son, and who had swilled, without appreciating it, 213 pipe are pipe of his much prized wine, all of it carefully selected, in splendid condition, and most of it more than twenty years old.

And this is the Homer who had no taste, judgment, feeling, or knowledge of wine!

But I have said more than enough on these topics. Those who wish to know still more on them must be content to wait until the publication of my “Lectures on Homeric Literature,” unless, indeed, I should find time to comply with the urgent solicitudes of your great publishers — the Appletons — and supply the article Ulysses for the American Cyclopædia. I have done with all journalistic controversy. I have floored my adversaries, and may now say like Virgil’s veteran pugilist: —

“Hic victor cestus artemque, repono;“

or, as I have rendered the line in my yet unpublished translation of Virgil: —

“Still Victor, Champion, now with pride
  My science and my gloves I lay aside.”

Very truly your friend.


  Proferet in lucem, speciosa vocabula rerum,
          Quæ priscis memorata Catonibus atque Cethegis,
          Nunc situs informis premit et deserta vetustas.

Horat. Epist. ii, L., v. 116.

  Dr. Francis Lieber. Ed.

*  See Preface.

Elf.Ed — Although this footnote is in the text of Sayings, Wise and Otherwise, it has no preface and was clearly copied from The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Learned Men. In that Preface, Cozzens states, on p. 5, ‘The articles “Was Champagne known to the Ancients,” and “Oxyporian Wines,” are from the pen of Mr. Verplanck,’ which were both originally published in his magazine The Wine Press. The dedication of The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Learned Men is to the same man, see the Preface for the reason why Cozzens did so.


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