Monday, 3 February 2014

Martial on the sin of mixing good wine with bad wine.

Few things can be as disgusting as bad wine. Years ago I went to a befriended couple with a female friend of mine for an evening playing cards with the four of us. The man, who was still a student or had just finished his study – had got a various bottles of wine from a widow, who found these in some shed of her long deceased husband.  After tasting the first glass it was immediately clear that these were not exquisite wines, but cheap supermarket wines long over date. The ladies just sipped and decided to continue with the wine we had brought with us. We men did not give up that easily and tried bottle after bottle, that is to say: we drank a glass of wine, came to the conclusion that it was rubbish and did not drink a further glass from that bottle. After five glasses or so I suddenly felt terribly sick, feeling the wine reaching my head with no intention of leaving soon and I was hardly capable of cycling back home. The same happened to my companion in testing, but he had to go only one stair upwards to reach his bed. My female friend was so kind to guide me home…
This is what Martial warns us against in epigram 1.18: Tucca, a friend of his, is so greedy that he mixes expensive wine with cheap wine and serves this poisonous mixture to his guests. For the guests the results must have been like my experience, but that is not what Martial is most indignant about. No, it is the very fact that Tucca dared to kill the good wine with bad wine in the first place!

Martial 1.18

Quid te, Tucca, iuvat vetulo miscere Falerno
     in Vaticanis condita musta cadis?
Quid tantum fecere boni tibi pessima vina?
     aut quid fecerunt optima vina mali?
De nobis facile est, scelus est iugulare Falernum               5
     et dare Campano toxica saeva mero.
Convivae meruere tui fortasse perire:
     amphora non meruit tam pretiosa mori.

vetulus: diminutive of vetus `rather old’
Falernum (vinum): Falernian wine was considered as the best wine of Italy.
In Vaticanis cadis: in Vatican jars i.e. jars containing Vatican wine or rather musta (young, still unfermented wine, the cheapest wine available. (The Vatican hill is a hill near Rome on the western bank of the Tiber.)
Quid tantum fecere boni (iuvat)
fecere = fecerunt
De nobis facile est: regarding us (your guests) it is easy, i.e. a trivial matter.
iugulo: to slaughter
Campano mero:  Campanian wine (merum is unmixed wine). As Falernus is situated in Campania, Campanum merum = Falernum merum.
toxicum: poison (from Greek τοξικόν, a poison in which arrows (τόξον `arrow’) were dipped.)
conviva (m. and f.): guest
mereo merui meritum: to deserve (meruere = meruerunt)

Anonymous translation of 1897 (anonymous because the collection contains the `obscene’ epigrams too.)

What pleasure can it give you, Tucca, to mix with old Falernian wine new wine stored up in Vatican casks? What vast amount of good has the most worthless of wine done you? or what amount of evil has the best wine done you? As for us, it is a small matter; but to murder Falernian, and to put poisonous wine in a Campanian cask, is an atrocity. Your guests may possibly have deserved to perish: a wine-jar of such value has not deserved to die.

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