In the mountainous region where the southeast corner of Turkey juts between Iran and Iraq, my good friend, Dr. Dionysus Q. Feinshmekker, has spent the past several summers excavating an archaeological site. Among the most important of his discoveries is a group of clay tablets inscribed with the cuneiform characters of ancient Sumer. These tablets are of interest for several reasons, mainly, and quite unusual for ancient writings, because they are a chronological narrative of the discovery, the invention if you will, of something which is widely used and very popular even today -- wine.
In all there are thirteen tablets divided into seven sets. Each set begins with a ritual introduction in which the time of inscription is indicated; otherwise, except for the seventh, these introductions are identical. Therefore, only the first and last are shown completely.
In translating the tablets we, Dr. Feinshmekker and I, have chosen to use a semblance of archaic English, since this better captures the flavor of the original text, which was written in what might be called archaic Sumerian. [G.B.]
In this, the tenth moon of the fifteenth year of the rein of HimHim O-Hobaal the Mighty, Lion of Tiglath, Spear-Bearer of God, Crusher of Skulls, Impaler of Virgins, Lord of all from Ansur to Goff, I, Tenecereb the Scribe, son of Jamu the Scribe, write thus of the glory which is Gilboab.
It came to pass that a multitude of supplicants, from the valley of Toareth and the slopes of Hararam, came to the castle. A lamentation rose up from them. One was granted audience that he might speak, which came before the throne and prostrated himself, but was so choked with terror that he had no voice. Wherefore the King commanded that he speak or be slain, spake he thus, with fear and trembling, saying, “O Great HimHim O-Hobaal the Mighty, Lion of Tiglath, Spear-Bearer of God, Crusher of Skulls, Impaler of Virgins, Lord of all from Ansur to Goff, hark thou to this, the plea of thy servants who praise thee. The hosts of Jebbolaam are no more for thou hast vanquished there and the plunder thereof resideth under thee. Thy fields and thy orchards, they are fruitful and replete with grain and with grapes and with pomegranates. Yea, thy storehouses and thy castle spill over with plunder and with harvest, the richness of which augmenteth the glory of thy name. But, whereas thy collectors take for themselves as well as for thee, there remaineth for us aught but gleanings, which quench not the emptiness of our bellies. Even more, the fathers, brothers and sons of we, thy subjects who honor thee, have been given unto thee, for their blood drencheth in Jebbolaam. O, Great and Benevolent King, we have labored for thee, we have endured for thee, and we do groan. It is with huge anguish of heart that we come before thee! Behold, thou, the depth of our woe! Be merciful! Heed our plea! Grant sustenance, for our bellies are empty, our limbs are weak and our children cry in the night!”
Whereupon, a darkness, a darkness like unto that of the shadow of the passage of clouds of war, descended upon the brow of the King. He loathed the supplicants for their misery and their pleading, and he was wroth of their complaint, which disturbed him, and of the impertinence of them and their spokesman. Taking his war club to hand, he felled the speaker, slaying him. Then the captains and the Myrmidons were summoned and were bidden, each of them, “Take up thy spears and thy axes and smite thou these wretches of the realm who come thus seeking portion of the bounty which the Lord-God Baal hath deigned unto me!”
The King took part in the slaying. He smote on the left side. He smote on the right side. The ground was red of the blood of the supplicants who were slain for their misery and their impertinence and their protestation. Then he and his hosts betook themselves to the valley of Toareth and the slopes of Hararam, where the villages were set upon and razed. The inhabitants therein, one in ten of them, were slain. And the reek of death lay as a cerement on the land in Hararam and Toareth. Such was the fury of the King.
When he saw what he had wrought, the King pronounced himself well pleased. And, through the breadth of the realm, voices of the mighty and of the mean were raised in praises of him. For it was perceived that voices which praised not and voices which praised faintly were imperiled of being silenced in all things for all time.
In celebration, a feast was decreed.
Amaboam, the Seneschal, was summoned and was bidden, “Look, thou, to the slaughter of lambs and of foul and to the preparation thereof, and to the making of cakes and sweetmeats, and to the burning of incense.”
Rudolah, First of Stewards was summoned and was bidden, “Go, thou, into the orchards and the vineyards. Gather the fruits thereof and also the grapes to be crushed that the juice spill forth as doth the blood of mine enemies. Husband the juice in amphorae and in flasks, that those who come hither to honor me shall partake of it and refresh themselves.”
Jetheriah, High Priest of the Temple, was summoned and was bidden, “Find, thou, three babes, first born man-fruit of their mother’s wombs, and make offering of them to Almighty Baal, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Master of Heaven and Earth, that he look with favor towards thy King and bless this celebration of that which hath been wrought by him.”
And so it was done.
The priests of the temple, the captains of the hosts, the bailiffs and the scribes, the noble and ascendant of the realm, hastened themselves to the castle of the King to honor him and to praise him. With avarice, hope and trepidation came they and partook of the bounty there provided. Each sought, with cunning and with guile, to augment his station and his portion at the best, or to maintain them at the least; but, in the hearts of their hearts, they trembled with dread that for some mere blunder they might lose all, all unto the very throb of life.
However, an affliction had been visited on the juice of the grape which was husbanded in amphorae and in flasks. The sweetness had been taken away! It was as wormwood to the tongue! When the King tasted it, a darkness, a darkness like unto that of the shadow of the passage of clouds of war, descended upon his brow, and he summoned Rudolah, First of Stewards, that he might smite him.
Now, the celebrators, who had partaken of the juice that had been afflicted, were fearful of the King’s wrath! Yea, they were terrified of his wrath! So they lit up their countenances with false smiles; they displayed great enjoyment as they drank it. And they raised up their voices in approbation, saying, “Verily, it were wise and inspired to remove the sweetness from the juice of the grape!” and “Who but the most excellent HimHim O-Hobaal the Mighty, Lion of Tiglath, Spear-Bearer of God, Crusher of Skulls, Impaler of Virgins, Lord of all from Ansur to Goff, could have the wisdom to make such a transformation upon the juice of the grape!” and “Blessed be the procurer of this miracle of Almighty Baal, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Master of Heaven and Earth!”
When the King saw that the congregants were pleased and that they sang his praises and did laud and honor him for the mustiness of the beverage, he rejoiced in the admiration and the acclaim. He smote not Rudolah, First of Stewards, but gave to him twenty torbals of silver, set upon him the office of Husbander of the Juice of the Grapes of the Vine, and charged him that forevermore the sweetness be taken from it.
With the eventide, a lightness of head descended over the celebrators; a blitheness of spirit fluttered about them as do the swallows about the ramparts of the castle. And some among them were heard to whisper that perhaps the lightness of head and the blitheness of spirit bestowed by the afflicted juice were compensation for the unpleasantness of the taste of it.
. . . second moon of the seventeenth year . . .
The enlightened of the realm now drink aught but the juice of the grape from which the sweetness hath been taken, for he who quaffeth not of it suffereth scorn and exclusion. Huge fuss is made over it, with much talk and great show of relish and enjoyment. They contest amongst themselves to make the grandest expressions of appreciation of it: its elegance and richness; its vigor or its serenity; its charm, accessibility, refinement and brilliance; etcetera. It has been given the name “wine”. [NB: It is interesting to note that the Sumerian word is composed of the roots for “grape” and “spoil”. -DQF] The imbibers perceive that they are possessed of a special knowledge and grace and are, therefore, apart from and at a higher station than other men.
The fresh juice of the grape that retaineth sweetness is deemed impure, unhealthy and inelegant. Those who drink it are held in low esteem.
. . . third moon of the eighteenth year . . .
It came to pass, during the performance of the Sacrament of the Wine Troth, as Jetheriah, High Priest of the Temple, sipped of the Sacred Cup, that Nessurab the Bailiff stepped to the fore. With sweated brow and watery eyes, swaying and lurching as a reed in the wind, he pleaded, “Whence cometh this affliction that taketh the sweetness from the juice of the grape and maketh it so vile to the tongue?”
The assembled groaned; they cringed in terror of the wrath that such blaspheme must beget. And a darkness, a darkness like unto that of the shadow of the passage of clouds of war, descended upon the brow of the King, who came down from the throne, war club in hand, to smite the speaker. But the arm of the King had lost its truth. Asurab the Scribe received the blow and fell dead to the floor. Again did the King strike out; Riana, third and most favored wife of GorPhor-Dendurpal, Commander of the Hosts of the North, was slain.
Whereupon, Rudolah, First of Stewards, Husbander of the Juice of the Grapes of the Vine, rose up with righteous anger. He smote the speaker with his fist, threw him to the floor, and stepped on his neck, saying to him, “Fie on thee, O Tongue of Satan! Knowest thou not that that sweetness and that flavor were as an abomination in the eyes of God and of men, and that the juice of the grape is well rid of them?” He kicked the wretch away saying, “Get thee hence and return no more for thou art a pariah, more vile than a leper! And thou stinkest!”
While the cur cowered away and the King glowered from the throne, Rudolah, First of Stewards, Husbander of the Juice of the Grapes of the Vine, continued further, at great length, about the attributes of the wine: its opulence and luxury, its complexity or its simplicity, its robustness, its structure. And all who heard deemed that, verily, he had spoken wisely. Whenceforth, he procured unto himself the appellation, ‘Speaker of Words of Wisdom’. Then others rose to add their own voices, declaiming about the essence, the intensity, the lustiness, the bigness of the beverage.
Thus, it hath since been perceived that honor accrueth unto he who discourseth with authority and knowledge upon the characteristics and merits of the wine, and that the magnitude of the honor waxeth with the certitude and sagacity of the tone of the speaker. Henceforth, the elegant and artful of the realm have set unto themselves the task of inventing astute commentaries about the wine. There is now much learned discussion of it: its personality and sophistication; its hardness or softness; its maturity or youth, and whether, or in what circumstances, maturity is to be preferred over youth or youth over maturity, and whether the subtlety of maturity can possibly be achieved without forsaking the freshness of youth.
But, the toilers of the realm, the dullards, the impure, inelegant and unwashed, quaff not the wine, preferring in its stead the unspoiled juice of the grape, chilled in cool grottoes or in mountain streams. The cultured ones, do fear contamination by them. Whenceforth hath our King decreed that drinking of the fresh juice of the grape shall be forevermore proscribed.
. . . sixth moon of the nineteenth year . . .
Of an eventide, Rudolah, First of Stewards, Husbander of the Juice of the Grapes of the Vine, Speaker of Words of Wisdom, rose up and spake he in such a way, “Behold! Yonder wine! It hath color like unto that of the flesh of the beasts of the field! And yonder wine! It hath color like unto that of the flesh of the fish of the river and the foul of the sky! Ponder well, ye quaffers of the wine! To what purpose? . . . Verily, do I say unto you that there can be but one meaning: the color of the wine in the cup must be the same as the color of the flesh on the plate!” Whereupon, all present, unto the wisest among them, were smitten by the correctness of that which had been spoken. And they praised the speaker, saying of him, “Ho! Such a one!”
Whenceforth, it was promulgated as law throughout Gilboab. Honor was bestowed on the discoverer of it. ‘Maker of Laws Upon the Wine’ was added to the glory of his name. When the vaunted ones saw this honor and this glory, they turned their own brains to the revelation of other immutable laws that might govern the keeping and drinking of the wine. Thus, it was learnt that reddish wine must be taken warm and whitish wine must be chilled, for red is the color of embers and white the color of frost.
With the passage of the seasons, many other laws have been discovered about how this wine or that is to be served or sipped or with which foods it may be taken. He who observeth not of these laws or attendeth not to correctness in the serving or the drinking of the wine, he suffereth denunciation and scorn. But he who knoweth well the laws upon the wine, he raiseth himself up in stature and esteem when he maketh denunciation on he who forgetteth of them.
It is known that there are those in the realm who spurn the wine and, defying the law, they drink in its stead the juice of the grape freshly pressed. They are sought with diligence and vigor that they may be punished for their transgressions.
. . . second moon of the twentieth year . . .
Notwithstanding the great reverence for it, all can see that the wine in one container differeth from that in another. Wherefore great value is accorded to wine that is highly praised, and, wherefore there was not consonance amongst the wine lovers, but confusion and strife -- unto the blackening of eyes and the smashing of noses -- it was perceived that instruction upon the quality of the wine was sorely needed. There are some who have taken this office unto themselves, because it bringeth them honor and glory. And a ceremony hath come to being, which the performer doth practice and execute with care, for well he knoweth that his station among the assembled dependeth much on the quality of the performance and the novelty of the judgment.
Thus! doth he who maketh the rite of The Passage of Judgment Upon the Wine:
- He discourseth with the server and showeth knowledge.
- He declaimeth upon vintages and showeth wisdom.
- He poureth into the cup; observeth color and clarity.
- He saith, “Hmmm.”
- He bringeth the cup under his nose and he sniffeth of it as an
hound sniffeth of offal.
- He saith, “Hmmm.”
- He sippeth of it.
- He looketh afar.
- He looketh downward at the cup.
- He frowneth; or he smileth.
- He pronounceth judgment upon it: upon the color, odor, and texture of it; the definition, symmetry, balance and luster of it; and the lightness or heaviness and the liveliness or dullness of it; and upon such other characteristics of it as provide descriptive nouns and adjectives which exhibit the sophistication, wit and eloquence of the performer of The Passage of Judgment Upon the Wine.
When the ceremony is completed, others among the assembled may seek glory by raising up their own voices in discourse about the wine; expounding on the roundness or squareness of it, the sturdiness and aggressiveness or the suppleness and delicacy of it, and the rusticity of it, and its herbaceousness, grassiness or fruitiness, and the nuttiness of it.
. . . third moon of the twenty-first year . . .
Now, there is Yoroam, scion of the King, the most comely and best loved of his progeny, with the first darkening of manhood on his chin, the first wisps of puberty on his loins and with desire and rebellion awakening in his soul. One day this son, Yoroam, came nigh to the throne and spake he thus, saying, “O father, Great HimHim O-Hobaal, Impaler of Virgins, Etcetera, hear, thou, this plea and allow that the boon which I seek find favor in thy sight.”
Beholding with fondness this, his favorite child, the King replied, “What dost require, my son? Hide not thy wishes from me, for thou art the fairest fruit of my loins, and whatsoever thou desirest it shall be given thee.”
The young prince begged, “O, My Father, grant that it be permitted to partake of the juice of the grape before the sweetness is taken from it, for ‘tis most pleasant in the mouth, as are the juices of other fruits, and it dulleth not the senses!”
Enveloped by a glow of affection, the King understood not the request of Yoroam and he replied, “So, thou wishest to adulterate the wine with the juices of various fruits? Wherefore I see no evil therein, thou mayest.”
Upon which the youth stamped the floor, and spake he with fervor, “O, Great Father, Impaler of Virgins, Etcetera, harken thou to thy son who adoreth thee! Hearest thou not my words? ‘Tis not the wine that we crave, for it refresheth not! Nor is it possessed of that flavor that so delighteth the tongue! And so many are the laws and rules about the taking of it that concern for correctness needs be swallowed with every cup! Therefore do we, my comrades and I, beseech thee! Relent! Rule that the drinking of the juice of the grape be permitted, as in the days of yore, before the coming of the wine!”
Whereupon, a darkness, a darkness like unto that of the shadow of the passage of clouds of war, descended upon the brow of the King, and he made a great bellow, “Arrggg! Dost jest with me? . . . No! ‘Tis no jest!” He rose up to smite Yoroam. But he could not strike, and fell backwards onto the throne. In a voice that trembled with passion and despair, he cried, “O, thou wretch! Thou ungrateful wretch! Thou, to whom I would bequeath this realm; thou, before whom all of Gilboab waiteth to kneel; I have taught thee in war and in governance; I have led thee in the ways of righteousness and greatness; I have imparted thee the fullest blessing of my wisdom and my virtue.”
And, raising his eyes towards heaven, he pleaded, “Behold! O, Almighty Baal, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Master of Heaven and Earth, all these that I have done for him that he might be as I am! And he, this . . . this fiend! he mocketh at me! For those mean friends that have led him into stupidity, folly and evil, he repudiateth me! And squandererth his legacy!”
Then he pointed his finger, like a dagger, at the throat of Yoroam, saying, “Hear well, ingrate! ‘Tis aught but the love that I have born thee, and which abideth yet in my heart, that spareth thee! But I can suffer thee no longer! Thou art banished! Now, get thee from my sight for I am sickened of thee! Lest thou repudiate thy transgressions, return thou not, on pain of death!”
But Yoroam hath not fled from Gilboab. There are, in the hills and in small hidden valleys, bands of rebellious and recalcitrant youth. They perceive that Gilboab hath no place for them. They despise Gilboab and all that which is of Gilboab and all that which is like unto Gilboab. They adore all that which is not of Gilboab and not like unto Gilboab. They clothe themselves in strange garb. They speak of strange things and think in strange ways. They drink not of the wine but of the sweet juice of the grape, the evil juice, chilled in the waters of mountain streams. Yea, they worship it, for the flavor of it beguileth them and pleasureth them. They perceive that they are possessed of a special knowledge and grace and are, therefore, apart from and at a higher station than other men, who are seen by them to be unclean dullards. They deem the wine to be insipid and uncool. The good people of Gilboab fear them and loathe them for they are as traitors unto Gilboab who lead youth of the nation into corruption. And there is clamor for war to be made against them and against the evil juice, for they are as a plague upon the land.
Yoroam hath gone amongst them. He dwelleth amongst them. He doth as they do. He clotheth himself as they are clad. He speaketh as they speak. He quaffeth of the evil juice. And he spurneth his father, the King, who weapeth as he leadeth the Myrmidons and the nation against them.
In this, the fourth moon of the second year of the rein of HimHim Rudolahpal the Great, Steward of the Realm, Keeper of the Wine, Speaker of Words of Wisdom, Maker of Laws, Lord of all from Ansur to Goff, I, Tenecereb the Scribe, son of Jamu the Scribe, write thus of the glory which is Gilboab.
O, my land of Gilboab! Beautiful, shinning Gilboab! Land of my father and of my father’s father! Land of majestic, violet peaks and lush, fruited plains where swayeth the grain in bounteous golden waves! What hath befallen thee? Thou, most blessed of God, whose glory hath blinded in the eyes of men; thou, whose armies have vanquished hither and yon; thou, before whom nations and kings have groveled; thy might doth wane and thy splendor decayeth as do the fallen leaves of Autumn! Thou art poisoned!
Thou drownest in a sea of the evil juice! Thy sons and thy daughters forsake thee for the sweetness of it. They spurn the ways of their fathers and they heed not! neither the law of the land nor the council of elders! Eighty-five in one hundred of them have, at least once, partaken of it. So charmed are they by the flavor of it that but one sip leadeth them to the craving for more and ever more. They spend their all upon it and, when they have ought, they steal that they may have more to spend.
Wickedness stalketh in the land, as hard and evil men vie to be suppliers of it, because they receive much wealth and profit thereby. The righteous of the realm cry out, demanding more and more war against the evil juice, for it sappeth the strength and destroyeth the moral fiber of the nation. It is known that, among those that cry out most loudly and most righteously, there are many who drink it in secret.
And war, endless war, is made upon it. In all the realm there are not dungeons enough to hold those taken for the quaffing of it, or the selling of it, or the preparation of it. The King, HimHim Rudolahpal the Great, Steward of the Realm, Keeper of the Wine, Speaker of Words of Wisdom, Maker of Laws, Lord of all from Ansur to Goff, attendeth only to the war; he looketh not to the governance of the realm.
But the war availeth not! It doth nothing but augment the luster and glamour of the evil juice and increaseth the value of it ten thousand fold!
Chaos surgeth! And thou art doomed, O Beloved Gilboab!
[Of the Kingdom of Gilboab very, very little remains: these tablets and some mere artifacts among the ruins. Until our excavation, it had been completely forgotten by history. But we shall forever be indebted for its great legacy to us, wine. --DQF]