The world’s first sommelier was a woman.

The goddess Hebe as portrayed by the 19th-century Franco-German painter Louis Fischer (image via Wikipedia Creative Commons). In paintings and sculptures from that era, she is often seen serving wine to her father Zeus, who appears in the form of an eagle.

Bacchus is the ancient figure that most point to when they speak of the “god of wine.”

But when we dig a little bit deeper, we find that the first deity associated with wine and — more significantly — wine service was Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera.

I was reminded of Hebe when I was browsing recently through the “Barbarous Odes” of Giosuè Carducci, the 19th-century Italian poet and first Italian Nobel laureate.

(The odes were written in Italian using ancient Greek meter. That’s why Carducci ironically called them “barbarous”: they would sound outlandish or “foreign” to the ancient Greeks if they could hear them. Prosody in Carducci was a focus during my graduate student years.)

In his ode “Ideale” (“Ideal”), Hebe and the ambrosia she pours are an allegory for the revival of classical learning of his time.

Inspired by the image of the proto-sommelier, who poured wine for the gods, I have translated the first four stanzas here.

Happy Friday and happy reading!

Oh Hebe, wrap me in the aroma of ambrosia flowing from your cup and make me drunk with the ancient knowledge! Renew me in your soft glow!

*****

“Ideal”
an excerpt

As the serene aroma of ambrosia
Wraps itself around me, flowing from your cup,
Oh Hebe, with the gait of a goddess,
You glide by smiling all the while.

Neither the shadow of time nor the icy
Cures are what I feel on my head. I feel,
Oh Hebe, the serene Hellenic
Life flow through my veins.

And the ruined days, fallen from the slope
Of the sorrowful time, have arisen anew.
Oh Hebe, they are yearnful to
Be renewed in your soft glow.

And the new years gladly pull
My face out of the fog.
Oh Hebe, your rising, trembling,
Ruby splendor greets them!

4 thoughts on “The world’s first sommelier was a woman.

  1. Good stuff. Please add my name as an enrollee when you decide to teach a class on Italian Renaissance Literature.

  2. Pingback: The world's first sommelier was a woman - Drinks

  3. Pingback: Liquor Industry NewsThe Wonderful World of Wine (WWW) Liquor Industry NewsThe Wonderful World of Wine (WWW)

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