Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Rik George writes

Adapted from Anacreon # 47

I am old, but I drink more 

than young men can, and when I dance 
I take the center of the floor, 
using my jeroboam for crutch
since my cane’s too short to serve. 

If anybody wants a fight, 
bring him over; I’ll whip him, sure. 
Barkeep, bring me bourbon and seven, 
not too heavy on the seven. 
 Anacreon. Marble. Roman copy of the 2nd century CE after a Greek original of the 5th century BCE. Inv. No. 491. Copenhagen, New Carlsberg Glyptotek


  1. Anakreon was a 5th-century BCE Greek poet, regarded as one of the “nine lyric poets” who were worthy of critical study; according to an epigram, ascribed his religion as the worship of the Muses, Wine, and Love. When the Persian general Harpagus attacked Teos (near modern Sığacık, Turkey), his birthplace, he fled with the rest of the inhabitants , who founded a new colony at Abdera on the Thracian coast. He then became the tutor of Polykrates of Samos. When Polykrates gave him 5 talents, the poet was unable to sleep and returned the gift, telling him, "However considerable the sum might be, it's not an equal price for the trouble of keeping it." The tyrant’s daughter dreamed that he would hang in the air, washed by Zeus, and anointed by Helios, but he ignored her warnings and was impaled and crucified by the Persian satrap Oroetus of Lydia; he was washed by Zeus during the rain that followed his assassination and anointed by Helios as the moisture was sweated from him. Then Hipparchus, the tyrant of Athens, sent a special embassy on a 50-oared ship to Samos to retrieve the famous poet. But Hipparchus fell in love with Harmodius, who was already the lover of Aristogeiton; Harmodius rejected Hipparchus’ advances and then revealed them to Aristogeiton; in revenge Hipparchus invited Harmodius’ sister to carry the ceremonial offering basket at the Panathenaic festival but publicly humiliated her by disqualifying her because she was not a virgin. In response Hermodius and Aristogeiton organized a revolt in which Hipparchus was slain, but his brother Hippias assumed power. Harmodius was killed in the revolt and Aristogeiton was arrested and tortured to reveal his co-conspirators. Enraged that Hippias hadn't killed him, Aristogeiton offered more names in exchange for his hand in pledge. When Hippias put his hand on Aristogeiton's, Aristogeiton berated him for giving his hand to his brother's murderer, and Hippias stabbed Aristogeiton to death. Anakreon and his friend Simonides (another of the nine lyric poets, who invented some of the letters of the Greek alphabet and a mnemonic system) traveled to the court of Echekrates of Thessalia before he returned to Teos. He died after choking on a grape seed. When Perikles had the Akropolis constructed he had a statue of a drunken Anakreon placed next to that of his friend Xanthippus, Perikles’ own father. Despite his fame, however, only a few fragments of his five books of lyrics survive in the form of later writers’ citations.

  2. In the late 18th century Scots-Irish and other settlers began to populate what is now the American state of Kentucky (then part of Virginia). One of the original counties was named Bourbon, named after the French royal family. When this vast county was reorganized into 34 smaller units the area continued to be known as “Old Bourbon,” a name that was stenciled onto the barrels of corn whiskey shipped from Limestone (Maysville), the region’s principal port on the Ohio river. However, in popular local tradition, Jacob Spears was the first distiller is credited with being the first to label his product “Bourbon” whiskey, and his distant neighbor Elijah Craig the first to age it in charred oak casks, the process which gives it its reddish color and distinctive taste. Another theory is that the whiskey was named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where Kentucky whiskey was sold as a cheap alternative to French cologne. Whatever its origins, “Bourbon” has been the designation for this particular kind of whiskey since the 1820s. A century later Charles Leiper Grigg, who had earlier invented an orange-flavored soft drink (Whistle), formed The Howdy Corporation. In 1929 he formulated the Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda, which contained lithium citrate, a mood-stabilizing drug. Later it was renamed 7 Up Lithiated Lemon Soda (since 7 is the approximate atomic number of lithium) and then, in 1936 it was marketed as 7 Up. The lithium was removed from the product in 1948.

  3. A Jeroboam is a large bottle; in Champagne and Burgundy a Jeroboam holds 3 liters (4 regular 750 ml bottles), and in Bordeaux 4.5 liters (6 bottles). It is named after the first king of Israel after the 10 northern Jewish tribes seceded from their unified kingdom, which the two remaining tribes continued to support the rump stae, Judah. Like other large-format bottles, jeroboams are collectibles, usually only available at auctions; according to conventional wisdom, the wine inside ages more slowly than in smaller bottles.

  4. Although Anakreon wrote about universal themes of love, infatuation, disappointment, and the observations of everyday people and life, he became especially associated with revelry, parties, festivals, and carousing. All of it was composed for musical accompaniment. Millennia after his death a gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians in London named themselves the Anacreontic Society. In the 1770s John Stafford Smith composed the society’s constitutional song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” (Ironically, at 86, Smith died from a grape seed lodged in his windpipe, just as Anackreon himself had done.) After the club opened its meetings with a concert and meal, it would retire to less formal proceedings in which the members would participate in songs, catches and glees, miniature puppet shows, and "everything that mirth can suggest,” and “To Anacreon in Heaven” would be sung solo to open the session, with all the members joining in the refrain. It was a difficult song because of its wide range, an octave and a fifth. Due to its bawdy nature it became popular beyond the confines of the club. After witnessing the British bombardment of Ft. McHenry in the harbor of Baltimore, Maryland, in 1814, Francis Scott Key memorialized his observations in a poem, “Defence of Fort McHenry. It was set to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven” and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which became the national anthem of the US in 1931. (The tune was also used as the national anthem of Luxemburg until it was replaced by “Ons Heemecht” in 1895.)


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