Tuesday, July 07, 2015


The Origin of Falernian Wine

Silius Italicus 7.166-211 (tr. J.D. Duff):
In the good old days before swords were known, Falernus, a man in years, used to plough the high ground of Mount Massicus. Then the fields were bare, and no vine-plant wove a green shade for the clusters; nor did men know how to mellow their draught with the juice of Lyaeus, but were wont to slake their thirst with the pure water of a spring.

Massica sulcabat meliore Falernus in aevo,
ensibus ignotis, senior iuga. pampinus umbras
nondum uvae virides nudo texebat in arvo,
pocula nec norant sucis mulcere Lyaei.
fonte sitim et pura soliti defendere lympha.        170

But when Lyaeus was on his way to the shore of Calpe and the setting sun, a lucky foot and a lucky hour brought him hither as a guest; nor did the god disdain to enter the cottage and pass beneath its humble roof.

attulit hospitio pergentem ad litora Calpes
extremumque diem pes dexter et hora Lyaeum,
nec pigitum parvosque lares humilisque subire
limina caelicolam tecti:

The smoke-grimed door welcomed a willing guest; the meal was set, in the fashion of that simple age, in front of the hearth; nor was the happy host aware that he entertained a god; but, as his fathers used to do, he ran hither and thither with kindly zeal, tasking his failing strength. At last the feast was set—fruit in clean baskets, and dainties dripping dew which he hastened to cull from his well-watered garden. Then he adorned the toothsome meal with milk and honeycomb, and heaped the gifts of Ceres on a chaste board which no blood defiled. And from each dish he first plucked a portion in honour of Vesta, and threw what he had plucked into the centre of the fire.

                                           cepere volentem
fumosi postes et ritu pauperis aevi        175
ante focos mensae; laetus nec senserat hospes
advenisse deum; sed enim de more parentum
grato cursabat studio instabatque senectae,
donec opes festas puris nunc poma canistris
composuit, nunc irriguis citus extulit hortis        180
rorantes humore dapes. tum lacte favisque
distinxit dulces epulas nulloque cruore
polluta castus mensa cerealia dona
attulit, ac primum Vestae detersit honorem
undique et in mediam iecit libamina flammam.        185

Pleased by the old man’s willing service, Bacchus decreed that his liquor should not be lacking. Suddenly a miracle was seen: to pay the poor man for his hospitality, the beechen cups foamed with the juice of the grape; a common milk-pail ran red with wine; and the sweet moisture of fragrant clusters sweated in the hollow oaken bowl. "Take my gift," said Bacchus; "as yet it is strange to you, but hereafter it will spread abroad the name of Falernus, the vine-dresser";

deesse tuos latices, hac sedulitate senili
captus, Iacche, vetas. subito, mirabile dictu,
fagina pampineo spumarunt pocula suco,
pauperis hospitii pretium; vilisque rubenti
fluxit mulctra mero, et quercu in cratera cavata        190
dulcis odoratis humor sudavit ab uvis.
"en cape," Bacchus ait, "nondum tibi nota, sed olim
viticolae nomen pervulgatura Falerni

and the god was no longer disguised. Straightway ivy crowned his brows that glowed and flushed; his locks flowed down over his shoulders; a beaker hung down from his right hand; and a vine-plant, falling from his green thyrsus, clothed the festive board with the leaves of Nysa.

              —et haud ultra latuit deus. inde nitentem
lumine purpureo frontem cinxere corymbi,        195
et fusae per colla comae, dextraque pependit
cantharus, ac vitis, thyrso delapsa virenti,
festas Nysaeo redimivit palmite mensas.

Falernus found it hard to strive against the cheerful draught: when he had drunk once again of the cup, his stammering tongue and staggering feet roused mirth. With splitting head he tried, though he could not speak plain, to render thanks and praise to Father Lyaeus; and at last Sleep, who goes ever in the train of Bacchus, closed his reluctant eyes.

nec facilis laeto certasse, Falerne, sapori,
postquam iterata tibi sunt pocula, iam pede risum,        200
iam lingua titubante moves, patrique Lyaeo
tempora quassatus grates et praemia digna
vix intellectis conaris reddere verbis,
donec composuit luctantia lumina Somnus,
Somnus, Bacche, tibi comes additus.        205

And when the sun rose and the hoofs of Phaethon’s horses dispelled the dews, all Mount Massicus was green with vine-bearing fields, and marvelled at the leafage and the bunches shining in the sunlight. The fame of the mountain grew, and from that day fertile Tmolus and the nectar of Ariusia and the strong wine of Methymna have all yielded precedence to the vats of Falernus.

                                            hic ubi primo        205
ungula dispersit rores Phaëthontia Phoebo,
uviferis late florebat Massicus arvis,
miratus nemora et lucentes sole racemos.
it monti decus, atque ex illo tempore dives
Tmolus et ambrosiis Ariusia pocula sucis        210
ac Methymna ferox lacubus cessere Falernis.
For "which no blood defiled" (an accurate translation of 7.183), the digital Loeb Classical Library has introduced an error: "which no blood denied".

The story (probably made up by Silius) has a certain charm and recalls Ovid's tale of Baucis and Philemon in the Metamorphoses. For analysis see D.W.T.C. Vessey, "The Myth of Falernus in Silius, Punica 7," Classical Journal 68.3 (February-March, 1973) 240-246.


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