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Venus In Vinis
November 2013

It was Macbeth's porter who gave the pithiest account of the relation between drink and love when he remarked that "much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to: in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him." But this notion of wine as an equivocator with love seems flat and un-nuanced if we compare it with Ovid's much more detailed and searching ideas about the different kinds of support that lovers can draw from what he calls munus Bacchi, the gift of Bacchus.

In the Artis Amatoriae Ovid is full of good advice on the various roles that wine may play during the different stages of courtship. The lover's first task is to find the object of his love, and here wine can be very helpful. "Banquets too provide opportunities, when the tables are set; you may find more than wine there," Ovid reminds us; for "when wine has sprinkled Cupid's thirsty wings, he abides." It is wine that sets the psychological scene for the onset of love:

Vina parant animos faciuntque caloribus aptos: 

  Cura fugit multo diluiturque mero.

Wine gives courage and disposes men to passion:

  Care takes flight and is drowned in copious wine.

Wine guides our choice, and when it does so (a wonderful line!) Venus in vinis ignis in igne fuit, Venus in the wine was fire in fire.

When wine has helped the lover make his choice it does not desert him. It is also a loyal ally in the conquest. Ovid begins this section of precise advice for the wooer with a beautiful mythological excursion. He recalls that, when Ariadne was deserted by the faithless Theseus on Naxos, she was rescued by Bacchus, who was chasing the Bacchae along the seashore:

Iam deus in curru, quem summum texerat uvis,

  Tigribus adiunctis aurea lora dabat:

Et color et Theseus et vox abiere puellae:

  Terque fugam petiit, terque retenta metu est.

Horruit, ut graciles, agitat quas ventus aristae,

  Ut levis in madida canna palude tremit.

Cui deus "en, adsum tibi cura fidelior" inquit:

  "Pone metum: Bacchi, Cnosias, uxor eris."

Now the god is in his chariot, which he has decked with grapes,

  And he gives the golden reins to his yoked tigers.

Voice, colour, and Theseus — the girl forgot them all.

  Three times she tried to flee, three times fear held her back.

She shuddered, like slender stalks that are ruffled by the wind,

  Or as the light rush that trembles in the boggy marsh.

To whom the god said "Lo, I am here, a more faithful lover.

  "Lay aside your fear, Cretan maid — you shall be the wife of Bacchus."

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