On Falernian

Very interesting item from the Wine Spectator which actually answers some long-held questions I’ve had about wines from Mt Massico:

Our image of ancient Roman drinking—bloated patricians, slurry sophists and jezebels washing down coarse wine from jars—is only part of the story. Ample evidence exists that ancient Rome had a fine wine culture much like today’s, with prestige regions, cult wines and a love of bold, rich styles meant to be aged for decades. Within this rarefied wine community, one wine stood above the rest, the toast of poets and senators alike.

The origins of Falernian wine are the stuff of legend. The story goes that an old Roman farmer (that would be Falernus) eked a humble existence from the soil of Mt. Massico, about 30 miles north of Naples, when one day he was visited by Bacchus in disguise. Falernus prepared him a simple meal, and in gratitude for the hospitality, the god of wine caused the cups at the table to fill. When a hungover Falernus awoke the next day, Bacchus was gone, and the whole mountain was blanketed with healthy vines.

Probably a varietal wine made from a grape the Romans called Aminea Gemina, Falernian was grown in three vineyards on the slopes of Mt. Massico. (Today, the area encompasses the Falerno del Massico DOC, where the primary grapes grown are Falanghina, Aglianico and Piedirosso.)

Numerous “domaines” held stakes in the three vineyards, but the one midway up the Massican slope was considered to have the best terroir, and it was, at least for a time, owned by one man, named Faustus—think Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and the La Romanée-Conti and La Tâche grands crus.

If the partitioning of the vineyards mirrored a Burgundian system, the hype surrounding Falernian was all Bordeaux. Falernian from 121 B.C. (the vintage of a lifetime!) was celebrated for decades; multiple ancient sources mention having the chance to taste the wine 200 years after its vintage date. (Writing in the first century, Pliny the Elder acknowledges that the wine was a bit past its peak by then.) Gaius Trimalchio, the new-money buffoon of Petronius’ comedy Satyricon, acts the big shot when he serves this vintage—by this time 180-year-old vinegar—at a dinner party.

As Falernian became a byword for luxury, inevitably, the demand for it spurred spurious “Falernians” into the market, another ancient practice still alive today. On one tavern wall preserved at Pompeii, the wine list can be seen: “For one as [a unit of currency; a loaf of bread cost two] you can drink wine; for two, you can drink the best; for four, you can drink Falernian.” This is suspicious, though, the equivalent of your local Sizzler pouring Pétrus.

What was this wine like? Author, philosopher and polymath Pliny identified three types of Falernian—“the rough, the sweet and the thin.” Falernian may have been either white or red—or both, we don’t know. Some people believe Aminea could either be today’s Greco di Tufo (a white) or Aglianico (a red), but so far no one has extracted ancient grape DNA to conclusively identify it.

However, says Dr. Patrick McGovern, author of Ancient Wine and Uncorking the Past, “Roman writings seem to point toward white being more special, which is interesting because white grapes represent a mutation that occurs relatively infrequently.”

The grapes were harvested late and, like many ancient wines, left to dry before being fermented to 15 or 16 percent alcohol—though the Romans cut their wines with water when drinking. The Vin Santo and Amarone we drink today are made much the same way.

“These ancient techniques really stand the test of time,” says McGovern, scientific director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory. “When you read these [wine] treatises from the Roman period, it’s almost like you’re reading a modern handbook on viticulture. They follow a lot of the same principles we do of trying to train the vines to grow in certain ways, protecting them from the sun or getting them enough sun, plus managing watering and irrigation issues.”

Falernian likewise stood the test of time, ranking among Rome’s top wines for at least five centuries, through the vagaries of many emperors’ tastes. Not every regent preferred Falernian, though; some even rolled their eyes at the hype. Marcus Aurelius, an emperor who usually shrugged at the finer things, kept a sense of perspective about this luxury: After all, he wrote, even “Falernian wine is just juice from a bunch of grapes.”

Irene Hahn had an appropriate post under this rubric a few years ago:

Philipp(in)ics in Togas?

I’m not familiar with Philippine customs, so I don’t know if donning a toga for an impeachment proceeding is tradition or theatre … coming into the incidents in medias res isn’t helpful for interpretation either, so FWIW:

SEN. PANFILO Lacson reported for work Monday, after going AWOL (absent without leave) for more than 13 months. He kept a step ahead of a posse by boarding the luxurious Orient Express, then basking in sunny Portugal. Lisbon doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Manila.

“If you have money, even the spirits will turn the mills for you,” says a Chinese proverb. The Court of Appeals, in the event, quashed a warrant for Lacson’s arrest in connection with the murder of publicist Salvador Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito.

Dacer was set to brief former President Fidel Ramos on the Best World scam. He never made it. Two Cavite farmers saw Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force agents “strangle Dacer and driver with an electrical cord… Their bodies were burned in a gasoline drenched fire in Indang,” notes University of Wisconsin’s Alfred McCoy.

Justice has been denied to Dacer’s daughters for a decade now. They will appeal the CA ruling.

Lacson, meanwhile, will get a “toga” that fits. All 23 senators will put on ceremonial 6-meter robes when Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile bangs the gavel on May 9 to start the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Magistrates of old donned togas, specially at the Circus Maximus and Forum. To “receive appropriately” senate couriers, Cincinnatus first put on a toga, the apocryphal story goes. Only then did he listen to their message that he had been named ruler.

“The apparel oft proclaims the man,” Polonius counsels in “Hamlet.”

“[We would] look more dignified in togas,” Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago opined. The senators agreed, including Sen. Jinggoy Estrada.

In a 2009 brutal exchange of privilege speeches with Lacson, Estrada charged his now toga-clad fellow juror Panfilo Lacson with gruesome crimes. Will this color the Gutierrez impeachment, toga or no toga? […]

What Michael Gagarin is Up To

They’re having a conference to mark his retirement at UT Austin:

The Department of Classics at The University of Texas at Austin will host  a conference on “Greek Law in the 21st Century” to celebrate the career and retirement of Professor Emeritus Michael Gagarin, March 31-April 2. The event is free and open to the public with a reception on Thursday, March 31.

The conference, held in Room 116 of Waggoner Hall, will explore the current state and future directions of research on ancient Greek law. The goal of the conference is not consensus, but a constructive discussion of central issues and controversies in the field.

The study of ancient Greek law has tended to divide along national lines, with scholars from common-law countries studying Athenian law as social history and those from the civil-law countries of continental Europe more engaged in systematic analysis of Greek law along the lines of Roman law.

This conference will bring together the leading scholars in the field from the United States and Europe for an in-depth investigation of many of the fundamental issues raised by these different approaches and will explore directions for future research.

Among the issues to be raised include: What are the boundaries of the field? Does it include oral law, soft law or sacred law? How should we study law in the post-classical period? How did the Athenians define and organize their laws? How does Athenian law shed light on contemporary issues in commercial law or penal law? What direction should future work in the field take: systematic analysis, sociological investigation, or rhetorical study?

Information about the conference, including the schedule and speakers, can be viewed on the conference Web site.

An internationally recognized scholar in ancient Greek law, Gagarin taught at the university for 37 years, from 1973 to 2010. During his tenure,  Gagarin was twice the chair of the Classics Department. In addition to teaching courses in the College of Liberal Arts, he taught an ancient Greek law seminar in the School of Law. He is the James R. Dougherty Jr. Centennial Professor of Classics Emeritus.

Gagarin has been president of the American Philological Association and the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, and has been awarded fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities (three times) and the Guggenheim Foundation.

He has written or edited 13 books and dozens of articles, primarily in the area of ancient Greek law and oratory. Gagarin’s most recent book, published just two weeks ago by the University of Texas Press, is “Speeches from Athenian Law,” a collection of source materials. Gagarin was also the editor-in-chief of the seven-volume “Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome,” and is the series editor of “The Oratory of Classical Greece,” in which 12 volumes have appeared to date.

Richard Thomas Defends Latin Program

Nice when the big guns step in … from the Harvard Crimson:

Classics Professor Richard F. Thomas joined students, parents, and other Massachusetts professors yesterday evening at a public hearing at F.A. Day Middle School, urging the Newton Public School Committee to reconsider the implementation of a proposed budget that would eliminate Latin courses at the middle school level.

Besides Latin, the school committee is also considering cuts in the arts, foreign languages, and special education programs.

“What is important here is that it is the middle school Latin experience that sets up the value of Latin and however much or little the student will pursue in the following years,” Thomas said.

Addressing the superintendent, committee members, and concerned parents, Thomas said that, as the father of two children, he and his family moved to Newton because of the exceptional public school system in 1987.

“It should be a source of pride that some 300 of our seventh and eighth grade students are allowed to take Latin,” he said. “We should see this as one of the real jewels of our educational system and preserving this experience should be, in my opinion, a priority.”

The School Committee voted initially last Thursday in a straw poll to support the proposed $171.6 million budget, which requires more than 30 positions to be cut. The public hearing was aimed to gauge the reaction of residents prior to a formal vote, which will take place within the next month.

School Committee Chairperson Claire Sokoloff told the audience that these cuts were difficult, but were the best options to address anticipated budget increases in the next fiscal year.

“There was a $4.4 million gap that the superintendent did manage to close, but not without program cuts and other losses,” she said. “We have been able to preserve a lot in our schools given the magnitude of the cuts that we have had to make.”

Audience members volunteered in advance to address the committee members and superintendent, advocating against the elimination of middle school Latin courses. A Newton North High School student stood and read a letter from her friend in college, who could not attend the meeting in person.

“The greatest benefit that I received from taking Latin was that it gave me something to be passionate about,” she read. “It made me feel like I was special. There aren’t many ways that you can stand out in middle school, but here I was a crusader and a protector of a higher level of learning.”

Sherley Blood Thom, a Latin teacher at Newton North High School, told the committee and superintendent that although many people were surprised that Latin was still taught in schools, the benefits from the courses were indisputable.

“Middle school enrollments are critical to the survival of Latin departments in high schools,” she said. “Do you want to be the ones who break the link between these children and an ancient legacy that has done so much good?”