Wine and civilization

Most of us consider wine to be a civilized drink. Professor John J. Mahoney, PhD asserts wine was “the catalyst that created civilization” in his book Wine: The Source of Civilization.

Humans began to make wine after the end of the last Ice Age 8,000 years ago, the demarcation line between hunter-gatherer cultures and the dawn of civilization. Mahoney’s thesis: Growing of grapes to make wine was a driving force in the movement to settle in one place, form villages, and turn to human-directed agriculture as a source of food. From that, civilization flowed.

Mahoney’s doctorate is in linguistic philology—study of literary texts and written records—and he bases much of his argument on writings of cultures around the world. In particular, how many different sources connect their civilization’s origins to wine.

In Genesis, Noah planted a vineyard as soon as he released animals from the ark. In the earliest surviving literature, the Sumarian 11th Tablet of Gilgamesh, Upnapishtim—a precursor to Noah—builds an ark, survives a flood, seeks immortality by savoring wine from a godly vineyard.

“We have accounts of wine making and drinking from nearly every Bronze Age society,” Mahoney writes. “During the Bronze Age even China, from the Shang through the Chou Dynasties, used wine in their religious practices.”

In Greek mythology, Zeus causes a great flood. One family survives. Their daughter, Hellen, left her name to the Greek race: Hellenic. Their son, Orestheus, plants vines as soon as waters recede.

Many of the oldest surviving written texts involve trade and accounting, with wine a central element. Egyptians left elaborately complete instructions on wine; wines with vintage dates were found in their tombs.

Mahoney notes civilization arose around the world in latitudes where wine grapes flourish. It did not emerge where grapes do not grow.

“One thing is for certain; whenever and wherever wine was made and traded, art, literature, music, architecture, and science soon followed,” Mahoney writes.

“It was mankind’s quest for wine that led him to end a hunter-gathering existence, and settle to plant grapevines, harvest, then ferment the grapes he grew into wine. He drank it to ease his pain, and as a medicine; he enhanced his clay pots and artwork with grapevines, and he traded wine to obtain all the materials necessary to advance and build civilizations.”

Mahoney makes a compelling case. His book is an enlightening, fun, easy read. It is available online.

Last round: I have found meals served without wine are rarely worth eating.