Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.03.06

Luca Della Bianca, Simone Beta, Oinos, Il vino nella letteratura greca.   Rome:  Carocci, 2002.  Pp. 108.  ISBN 88-430-2151-6.  EUR 14.50.  



Reviewed by N.G. Wilson, Lincoln College Oxford
Word count: 905 words

[[For a response to this review, see BMCR 2003.03.26.]]

This slim volume is the fruit of collaboration between friends of long standing who first met as students at the State University of Milan some twenty years ago. Pages 53-98 are due to Beta, 13-52 and 99-101 to Della Bianca. Pages 107-08 offer an essential bibliography. In this one is very surprised to see mention of C. Seltman's book of l957, which was not good when it was published and has certainly not improved in the meantime. The text is written without footnotes, but each chapter concludes with an appendix of sources, occupying up to four pages and printed in a smaller typeface. Here key texts are listed with some discussion, part of which is enclosed in square brackets, the purpose of which is not clear. All Greek is transliterated, which raises the question, not answered by the authors, of who the book is aimed at. The paper is of rather modest quality and there are no illustrations apart from a small one on the front cover showing part of a Greek vase, which is not commented on in the text.

Chapter 1 is entitled Vinosus Homerus. In conformity with Horace's description Homer is full of references to wine but his rare mentions of Dionysus do not associate the god with wine; so the conjecture is put forward that the Homeric period witnessed a transition: the god Dionysus gradually absorbed the characteristics of an unknown deity whom the authors call for convenience (V)oinos; he makes further appearances on pages 23,30,51,55,65 and in the title of Chapter 6. One would like to see positive evidence adduced in support of the hypothesis.

What Homer says about the god needs a little more analysis. At lIiad 6.132 his epithet is μαινομένοιο, while in Odyssey 24.74, an admittedly suspect passage, an amphora is said to be the gift of the god. These points are not made, and it would have been sensible to take account of Janko's note on Iliad 14.323-5: 'the rarity of Homer's allusions to the god may only reflect his personal preferences, or his genre's.' The chapter gives an account of the contexts in which wine is spoken of in Homer, but it appears not to mention what might be reckoned the most interesting fact about wine to emerge from Homer, namely that by the palace of Alcinous wine is made from dried grapes (Odyssey 7.121ff.).

Chapter 2 on the symposium is much concerned initially with Homeric precedents. We get to the point on p.31 with Xenophanes and 'il contesto sacrale'. Theognis and Plutarch are discussed. One is slightly taken aback on p.35 to find hetaerae described as 'incantevoli figure, che non poco contribuiscono alla nostra irrimediabile nostalgia per il rituale'. The discussion of the tag In vino veritas would have been better if it had exploited fully the data in R. Tosi, Dizionario delle sentenze latine e greche, p.343 no.732, a valuable and easily accessible work of reference. In connection with Alcibiades' appearance in Plato's Symposium we are told that the daimon Oinos makes his last great appearance and shows himself more generous than ever before; it was not clear to me what this means.

Chapter 3 is entitled 'L'oblio degli affanni' and begins with discussion of Alcaeus and Archilochus. Inevitably one is dealing with very small fragments and the reader ought to be advised of the difficulty of interpretation that results from this fact. I am not at all sure that one can conclude that Archilochus as a mercenary soldier took his drink in a disciplined fashion (p.46). And it ought certainly to have been made clear that the translation of ἐν δορί as 'sulla nave' is not that preferred by most scholars (p.47). The treatment of Anacreon has a rather wordy conclusion, and I found the transition from him to Pentheus in Euripides' Bacchae so abrupt that I wondered if one or more sentences had fallen out of the text.

Chapter 4 is about wine in Greek drama and 5 is mainly about the epigrams in the Greek Anthology, with a translation of a small selection that will no doubt be welcome to readers with little or no knowledge of the original language.

Chapter 6 'Oinos dimenticato' 'Oinos forgotten' begins with an account of the drink called κυκεών in which wine was an optional ingredient. I did not follow pp. 84-5 with their speculations on the significance of this fact. Then follows an account of various topics in Plutarch and the pseudo-Aristotelian Problems. Sybaris duly earns a mention, even if the most entertaining fact alleged about the Sybarites, namely that they had wine piped to their houses, is relegated from the main text to the list of sources. Demosthenes and Alexander the Great are dealt with as contrasting figures of abstemiousness and alcoholism.

A brief conclusion on pp. 99-101 (Il volto di Oinos) narrates the myth of Orion visiting Chios where he fell in love with Merope the daughter of the king Oenopion. It is claimed that in this myth there are prominent features to remind us of the power exercised by Oinos before Dionysus came to power. I have to confess to being unable to follow this or the thoughts that follow on p.100.

With regret I am forced to conclude that this book is not a contribution to knowledge and not a very safe guide for those who may use it.

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