Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Rik George writes

Midsummer’s Night
(Horace, Carmina III, xxviii, “Festo quid potius die...”)

Midsummer’s Night, my friend. 

I’ve stashed a Sonoma Merlot 
in the cellar for tonight. 
Fetch it, amigo. 
The afternoon’s wound down. 
Dusk unwinds it shadows. 
I’ll get some ice and a bucket 
to cool the wine. 
While it chills we’ll sing 
songs for the holiday. 
I’ll do songs of the sea. 
You warble laments. 
We’ll end with a duet for lovers, 
uncork the wine and drink 
a toast to fermented grapes 
and drowning sorrows.
Greek Wine -- Lawrence Alma-Tadema


  1. What better thing is there to do,
    on Neptune’s festive day? Lyde, brisk now, bring up
    Caecuban wine, from my reserve,
    and apply some pressure to wisdom’s defences.

    You can see the day is dying,
    and yet, as if the flying hours were standing still,
    you’re slow to fetch from the cellar
    that wine-jar put down in Bibulus’ Consulship.

    We’ll sing, one after the other,
    I, of Neptune, I, the Nereids’ sea-green hair:
    you reply on the curving lyre
    with Latona, and Cynthia’s speeding arrows:

    we’ll end the song with she who holds
    Cnidos, the shining Cyclades, she who visits
    Paphos: Venus, drawn by her swans:
    and we’ll celebrate night too, with a fitting song.

    --A. S. Kline

  2. Quintus Horatius Flaccus was the son of a freed slave. After the assassination of Gaius Iulius Caesar in 44 BCE he served as tribunus militum under his killer Marcus Iunius Brutus, but after Brutus was defeated at Philippi in 42 BCE by Caesar's heir Octavian, his property was confiscated. However, Octavian (the future emperor Caesar Augustus) issued a general amnesty in 39 BCE, and Horace became 1 of the 36 scribae quaestorii (treasury clerks). In 38 BCE he met Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, a poet who became Octavian's closest advisor and began writing poetry himself. In 23 BCE he published his 3 volumes of Carmina (Odes) that dealt with personal experiences, love, friendship, philosophy, and poetry itself, but they were not well received. However, at some point Augustus offered him the post of private secretary, which he declined due to ill health. By 13 BCE he finished a 4th book of "Carmina," and by then was regarded as the empire's leading poet. In 8 BCE Maecenas, whose influence had declined somewhat after his brother-in-law had plotted to murder Augustus in 23 BCE, died; one of his last requests to the emperor was, “Remember Horace as you would remember me.” A month or two later, however, Horace himself died, after naming Augustus as his heir. He was buried on the Esquiline Hill near Maecenas’ grave.

  3. Merlot (French for "the little blackbird") is the 2nd-most popular red grape in the US. It was 1st recorded in 1784 as "Merlau" as an ingredient in a Bordeaux wine blend. In combination with Cabernet Sauvignon (which, incidentally, is the #1 Aerican red wine), it was the main ingredient for the most popular Bordeaux blend. (The Gironde river cuts through the Bordeaux region; wineries on the left bank use more Cabernet Sauvignon than Merlot, while those on the right bank use more Merlot.) Franciscan friars established their Mission San Francisco Solano in the "Valley of the Moon" in 1823, the northernmost of the 21 missions they established in California, but the Mexican government secularized it and Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo had the Pueblo de Sonoma laid out 50 miles north of San Francisco. In 1840 Mokcsai Haraszthy Ágoston became the 1st Hungarian to ettle permanently in the US; as Agoston Haraszthy he founded the town that eventually became Sauk city, Wisconsin, and established the 2nd-oldest winery in the US at Roxbury, on the other side of the Wisconsin river; in 1849 he went to California to find gold, and in 1857 in Sonoma he founded Buena Vista, the state's oldest commercial winery. Jacob Gundlach founded Rhinefarm (now the Gundlach Bundschu Winery), the state's 2nd winery, a year later. Almost immediately California vintners began making pure Merlot wine instead of mixing it with Cabernet Sauvignon.

  4. Neptunus was the Roman god of springs, lakes and rivers and, later, of the sea. The Neptunalia festival was held on July 23, at the height of summer, a time of general, free, and unrestrained merrymaking during which men and women mixed without the traditional Roman social constraints. To escape the heat, celebrants drank spring water and wine in branch huts in a woods between the Tiber river and the Via Salaria, the road that extended to Castrum Truentinum (Porto d'Ascoli); its name was derived from "sal," the Latin word for salt. (Neptunus' consort was Salacia, whose name had the same derivation.)


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