Friday, June 07, 2024

The meaning of wine in the Odyssey

There are too many mentions of wine (125) in the Odyssey for a detailed analysis. So, I will start with explaining some concepts and then I'll analyze some key paragraphs which enlighten the reader about the meaning of wine in this story. It's quite unusual that a beverage should have such an important place in a book. And this book isn't just any book, it's one of the oldest and most important Greek classic. Many scholars see the Iliad and the Odyssey as the fundamental works for the the Western world. I will base some of my analysis on the concepts of René Girard which I explained here a couple of months ago. 

A. Some important concepts

1. The concept of libation

The word 'libation' appears 27 times in the Odyssey. It means 'a drink poured out as an offering to a deity'. In the story, the drink that is offered is always wine. The libation is like a toast to a god at the start or at the end of a feast. The libation establishes a link between wine and the sacred, the gods. 

2. The mixing bowl

In this large bowl, the wine is mixed with some water before it's poured in the cups of the guests. In the Iliad, Book IX, verse 202, we read that Achilles asks the mixer to make a strong wine (with little water). So, the water ratio could vary according to the circumstances and the guests. In Book IV, verse 257, we also read that the mixing was an important task, made by the chiefs, and that the normal soldier only received one cup of wine, while the best fighters received as much as they wanted. 

Note: in French, the mixing bowl is called 'cratère' in the Iliad instead of 'bol de mélange', mixing bowl!

3. The 'wine dark ocean' color

It's interesting to see that a beverage can also become a color. In this book, 'wine dark ocean' appears 11 times! My interpretation is that during his way back home, by sea, Ulysses sees in the color of the waves one thing that is often on his mind, wine! It's a sign of obsession.


B. The analysis of key mentions of wine.

1. Book I, page 4: "With them (the suitors) were pages and brisk attendants, the pages mixing wine and water in bowls, the attendants washing tables with pory sponges and setting them in place, or dividing out the abundant meat. (...) The carver lifted from his board the tranches filled with all sorts of meat, put them before guest (Pallas Athene) and host (Telemachus), put goblets of gold before them too, and again and again a page came up to pour the wine.

But now in came the overbearing suitors. They began to take their several places on higher and lower seats : pages poured water on their hands, maids heaped up bread in basketfuls, menservants brimmed their bowls with wine, and the suitors stretched out their hands to the dishes there. When they had eaten and drunk their fill, they turned their thoughts elsewhere, to music and to dancing - these pleasures that crown a feast."

Commentary: In the Odyssey, Ulysses makes a difficult journey home. After 10 years of fighting and laying siege to Troy, Ulysses takes another 10 years to go back to Ithaca. He faces a new challenge at home as we can read in this excerpt. His house is filled with suitors who want to marry his wife, Penelope, and become king of Ithaca. These suitors are partying like young students in a fraternity! They drink plenty of wine, eat lots of meat and then dance with music. This rowdy bunch is not spending their parents' money, but the wealth of Ulysses and his family! The wine, the bread and the meat comes from Telemachus' father estate. The rich suitors are ruining him as they court his mother!

On this page, we can see that sharing a cup is part of being host and guest. So, when Athene and Telemachus drink wine, it feels elegant as they are using gold goblets. However, when the suitors drink, the wine seems to make them even less bearable as they loose their inhibitions.

2. Book II, page 19: Telemachus says: "Instead, they (the suitors) haunt my palace day in, day out ; they slaughter my sheep and oxen and fatted goats ; they make merry here, they selfishly drink the glowing wine, and thus abundance of things is wasted."

Commentary: It was suggested in Book I. In Book II, Telemachus dares to criticize the suitors. He becomes more and more manly as the story unfolds.

3. Book II, page 22. "The men made the tackling fast all over the dark rapid ship, then set in place brimming bowls of wine and poured libations to the eternal, unifying gods - above them all to the daughter of Zeus with her gleaming eyes."

Commentary: Sea travel was dangerous. The fate of the sailors depended on the weather. That's why fishermen pray to Matsu in Taiwan and the Greeks would make libations to their gods. In this case, the wine serves to appease the gods. We can notice that the Greeks made a link between wine and anger. For men, an excess of wine can cause anger, but for the gods, wine is supposed to appease them! The link is reversed.

4. Book III, page 32. "when they were all there, the king himself (Nestor), mixed into the bowl a delicious wine, eleven years old, which only now the housekeeper had unstopped and opened."

Commentary: King Nestor mixes the wine for Telemachus, his guest. Like tea brewing, wine mixing is something to important to be left to the servants! Already 2800 years ago, aged wine was recognized as precious (property of the king) and delicious. It's even a new bottle (jar) that is opened in honor of the son of Ulysses. Serving good wine is a sign of respect and the quality and age of the wine should fit the status of the guest.

5. Book IV, page 40. "Then a thought came to Zeus-born Helen: into the bowl that their wine was drawn from, she threw a drug that dispelled all grief and anger and banished remembrance of every trouble. Once it was mingled in the wine-bowl, any man who drank it down would never on that same day let a tear fall down his cheeks, no, not if his father and mother died, or if his brother or his own son were slain with sword before his eyes."

Commentary: After Nestor, Telemachus pays a visit to Menelaus and his wife, the beautiful Helen (yes, the one that Pâris abducted, which started the war of Troy). It's possible that Helen's drug is opium, since it was already mentioned 3400 BC in Mesopotamia and it later passed to Egypt where Helen is supposed to have received this drug from. Or, 

6. Book IV, page 49. Menelaus says: "Of all the treasures stored in my house, I will give you the loveliest and richest. I will give you a noble mixing-bowl ; it is silver all-through and rimmed with gold ; Hephaestus made it"

Commentary: Wine is so central in Greek royal society that a mixing-bowl is the first gift king Menelaus gives to king Ulysses' son. We can also tell that it's precious, because it's made of pure silver and is rimmed with gold. It's even made by a god! The silver and gold material remind me of the Tang dynasty tea set recovered from the Famen temple in 1985.

7. Book V, page 57. "And with these words the goddess (Calypso) drew up a table by him, heaping it with ambrosia and mixing the rosy nectar. So Hermes began to eat and drink ; when the meal was over and his spirit refreshed with food, he answered Calypso this"

Commentary: The Greek gods are deathless and have supernatural powers, but they live very much like the Greeks. But the wine is so exquisite that it's called ambrosia, a rosy nectar. Like wine, ambrosia is also first mixed before being served. This quote also shows the custom of eating and drinking first and then talking. After this meal, Hermes asks Calypso to let Ulysses leave her island.

8.Book VI, page 74. Nausicaa speaks to Ulysses: "Near her (note: Nausicaa's mother) chair is my father's chair ; he sits in it while he drinks his wine as a god might do."

Commentary: In the previous quote, we observed that the gods' habits are similar to the humans. The imitation goes both ways! This sentence also suggests that kings are almost god-like. Indeed, royalties are honored and revered in a similar manner to gods. They are kind of sacred and linked to violence, because they lead their armies into wars.

9.Book VII, page 79. "He (note: Ulysses) found the Phaeacian lords and rulers pouring libations from their cup to the Radiant One, keen-sighted Hermes, to whom by custom they poured libation last when they turned their thoughts to the night's rest."

Commentary: This example shows that the libation is like a prayer and that each god serves a different function. Sacrificing wine instead of simply praying with words probably was seen as a better way to get the god's attention. Why? Because wine is so central to Greek life and brings so much joy to the people who drink!

10. Book VII, page 80. Alcinous: "Come now, ask your guest to stand up ; give him a seat on a silver-studded chair, and tell the pages to mix more wine ; then we may make libation to Zeus the Thunderer, the patron of venerable suppliants ; and let the housekeeper offer the guest a meal from such things as she has in store."

Commentary: Here another example of how the Greeks carefully chose to which god they were doing the libation.

11. Book VIII, page 87. "Whenever the sacred bard paused in his song, Odysseus would wipe his tears, draw back the cloak from over his head, take his two-handed goblet and pour a libation to the gods ; but when the bard began once more at the wish of the Phaeacian nobles (for indeed his lay enchanted them), then Odysseus would cover his head again and would groan and weep.

Commentary: Odysseus arrived in the land of the Phaeacians in book VI, but he still hasn't told them his name. During this feast, a bard sings the Iliad war and this causes Odysseus to feel sad and cry, because the dead heroes sung by the bard were his friends. The wine may have taken away his inhibitions and make him cry more easily. This is not becoming for a strong man and he's hiding his pain. Let's also notice that the wine goblet is two-handed. The custom of using both hands to hold the cup is a peaceful gesture, because both hands are exposed and busy. This prevents the drinker from holding a weapon in one hand while drinking.

12. Book IX, page 100. "Then I told the crew we must escape as fast as we could, but in their folly would not listen. Instead there was much drinking of wine and much slaying of sheep and oxen down on the beach".

Commentary: Odysseus tells his the Phaeacians how he journeyed from Iliad to their island. In the Cicones island, his crew sacked a town, but instead of leaving right away, Odysseus' men had a feast. The delayed departure caused a revenge attack by the locals who killed several men from each ship. The excessive wine drinking seems to be the reason for their folly and refusal to leave. Why did they drink too much? Maybe this excess came from the adrenalin rush they must have experienced from the killing and plundering. So, there could be a link between violence and (excessive) wine drinking.

13. Book IX, page 103 "With me I had a goatskin full of dark fragrant wine, given me by Maron (...), he gave me both this and other gifts. They were all noble: seven talents of wrought gold, a mixing-bowl all in silver, and then this wine - he drew twelve jars of it altogether - unmixed and fragrant, a drink for the gods. (...) it was a secret he shared with his wife and with one home-keeper. When they drank this red delicious wine, he would pour just one cupful of it into twenty measures of spring water ; from the mixing bowl there would be a fragrance beyond all words, and no one could find it in his hear to refrain. Of this wine I now carried a great goatskin with me"

Commentary: this excellent wine's quality is going to help Odysseus deal with the cyclops who has imprisoned him and his men, as we can read in the next mention.

14. Book IX, page 107 "And at that I came close to the Cyclops and spoke to him, while in my hands I held up an ivy-bowl brimmed with dark wine: 'Cyclops, look! You have had your fill of man's flesh. Now drain this bowl and judge what wine our ship had in it. I was bringing it for yourself as libation, hoping you would take pity on me and would help to send me home'. (...) He took my present and drank it off and was mightily pleased with wine so fragrant. Then he asked for a second bowlful of it: 'Give me more in your courtesy, and tell me your name here and now - I wish to offer you as my guest a special favor that will delight you. Earth is bounteous, and for my people too it brings forth grapes that thrive on the rain of Zeus and that make good wine, but this is distilled from nectar and ambrosia.'

So he spoke, and again I offered the glowing wine ; three times I walked up to him with it ; three times he witlessly drank it off. When the wine had coiled its way round his understanding, I spoke to him: '(...)My name is Noman."

Commentary: Thanks to this delicious wine, the Cyclops becomes more friendly with Odysseus. He is mesmerized by its quality and thinks it's ambrosia, the nectar of the gods. The wine probably helped to make the Cyclops even more witless and get drunk. The wine has also caused the Cyclops to fall asleep and Odysseus and his men use this opportunity to drive a stake of wood through his unique eye and blind the Cyclops. This is the second time in a row that wine brings harm to those who drink it in excess.

15. Book X, page 118. "The goddess (Circe) ushered them in, gave them all seats, high or low, and blended for them a dish of cheese and of barley-meal, of yellow honey and Pramnian wine, all together ; but with these good things she mingled pernicious drugs as well, to make them forget their own country utterly."

Commentary: Circe used wine and a drug to subdue Odysseus' men and then turn them into swines. Wine is described as 'a good thing' and it's the drug that creates the amnesia. However, the men's strong desire for wine may also explain why they dropped their guard and ingested the dangerous substance. Odysseus will be more careful and won't eat and drink what Circe serves him. This Circe story is very modern as we have all heard of women drugged in bars with pills diluted in their alcoholic beverages.

16.Book X, page 127 and book XI, page 129. "There was one of them called Elpenor, the youngest of all, neither brave in battle, nor firm in mind ; he had left the rest of my company and had lain down on the top of Circe's house, heavy with wine and seeking the cool. (...) he fell headlong from the roof ; his neck was wrenched away from the spine, and his soul went down to the house of Hades."

(...) ""Son of Laertes, subtle Odysseus, I (Elpenor) was led astray by the cruel sentence of some divinity and the excess of wine."

Commentary: The first ghost Odysseus meets in the house of Hades (where the deads' souls go) is Elpenor who just died as he fell from Circe's roof. Elpenor says that his death was caused by the whim of a god and by his excess of wine. Indeed, this young lad wasn't firm in mind. This probably means that his mind couldn't handle the wine well, that he often drank one cup too many. Like many drunks, Elpenor doesn't take full responsibility and blames the gods. Again, gods and wine and death (violence) are connected in this story. This gives me now enough evidence to introduce René Girard's theory about violence and the sacred. For this anthropologist, sacrifices (like libations) are ways to reproduce a symbolic violence that replaces real violence. So, since wine caused lots of drunken men to fight or to do dangerous things (like climbing on roofs), wine had to become a sacred beverage. And to make it less dangerous, it made sense to mix it with water, so that the people would stop being thirsty before they became drunk. The libations also serve to limit the use of wine to formal, sacred occasions. 

17. Book XII, page 151. "They had no wine to make libation over the burning sacrifice, but instead poured water as they set roasting the inward parts."

Commentary: Odysseus' crew has decided, against his will and against the warning of the gods to slaughter and eat the Sun god's cattle. To add insult to injury, they perform their libation with water instead of wine. No wonder they will soon all perish in a tempest between Charybdis and Scylla!

18. Book XIII, page 155. "'Pontonous, mix wine in the bowl and serve it to everyone in the hall, so that first we may pray to Father Zeus and then send forth our guest on his way to his own country.'

And at the command the page began mixing the fragrant wine, the stood by them all in turn to pour it ; and they in their places made libation to the blessed gods whose home is wide heaven itself."

Commentary: After listening to Odysseus' story, king Alcinous agrees to help him go back to Ithaca. In this quote, we see an example of how wine is drunk in a very orderly manner. The king decides a libation to Zeus, the gods and everybody follows his order. It's also worth noting that Homer never mentions Dionysos, the god of wine, dance and chaos despite all the mentions of 'wine' in the book. Homer, on the other hand, often speaks of Apollo, the god of music, poetry and order. This shows that Homer favors the values Apollo.

19. Book XIV, page 176. Odysseus says: "I am about to make a wish. It is wine that prompts me, wine that crazes a man's wits and urges even the sage to burst into song and feeble laughter and tempts him to dance and to utter words best left unspoken."

Commentary: Odysseus acknowledges that wine makes you say and do foolish things. It's noteworthy that he's not blaming it on any god, but directly and justifiably points to the alcohol. This is clearly a criticism of wine. It shows that you lose your rationality when you drink. The fact that these words are spoken by Odysseus carry special weight, because he's always 'shrewd' and 'subtly speaking'. He was careful not to carried away by the wine he drank during his journey.

20. Book XV, page 184. "It was the son of this Polypheides - Theoclymenys was his name - who came up to Telemachus and found him by his swift dark vessel praying and offering libation. (...) Friend, since I find you offering sacrifice in this place, I implore you by that sacrifice and by the god you are worshipping"

Commentary: Telemachus is about to return to Ithaca and he heard that the suitors want to kill him. That's why we find him praying and offering libations. The religious character of the libation is underlined by the prayers and by the fact that Theoclymenys describes the libation as a sacrifice.

21 Book XVI, page 193. Odysseus says "Or if I, one man, must fall by the hands of that mass of men, why then, I would rather perish, rather meet death in my own palace, than look on perpetually at things as detestable as these - guests being set upon, serving-maids dragged in shame down the noble halls, wine drawn to waste, food devoured in folly and recklessness, all for a purpose that never shall be achieved."

Commentary: Odysseus is filled by rage and attempts to convince Telemachus, who doesn't yet know that father is talking to him, to take revenge on the suitors. 'Wine drawn to waste' is one of the reasons for their anger. Again, there's a link between wine and anger, which leads to violence. But here it's not the alcohol in the wine that makes them violent, but the waste of a precious and even sacred beverage. Indeed, wine has become sacred, so that it would be drunk reasonably, in small amounts. These suitors are guilty of drinking too much !

22. Book XVII, page 214. Penelope tells Odysseus, disguised as beggar "they slaughter our sheep and oxen and fatted goats ; they make merry here, they selfishly drink the glowing wine and thus abundance is wasted."

Commentary: Penelope is angry at the suitors for the same reasons as her son and as Odysseus. She describes the suitors as 'selfish'. It's also a question of a conflict between the obligation a host has to his guest and the principle of private property. A host is supposed to offer a free meal to all the people who come along, even to Odysseus dressed as a beggar. However, a guest isn't supposed to come back every day for several years, like the suitors, never bring gifts, but eat and drink what belongs to the host.

23. Book XVIII, page 227. Odysseus, the beggar, insults Eurymachus who answers: "Wretch, I will make you suffer for this (...) Either the wine has befuddled you or your mind is already set that way. (...) 

So Mulius of Dulichium, the noble attendant of Amphitonomus, mixed wine for them all, then stood by them each in turn and poured the draught. They made libation to the Blessed Ones, then drank the delicious wine. Having made libation and drunk to their heart's content, they went their way back to rest, each in his own house."

Commentary: Eurymachus, the main suitor, wonders if the beggar (Odysseus) insults him, because he had too much wine and can't control what he says. This is an example of wine use that almost led to violence. Luckily, Prince Telemachus found a solution to diffuse the tension: he proposes a libation to the gods and that everybody go back to his own home to sleep. This is a perfect reversal of the role of wine. At first, tt almost triggered violence, then it became the tool to bring back harmony in the palace, between the suitors and the beggar. How? Through a libation, through a religious way of using wine. These two pages exactly describe the link of violence and the sacred, just as René Girard explained.

24. Book XX, page 249. "Telemachus, for his own purposes, gave Odysseus a seat in the hall close to the stone threshold, setting down a humble stool and a meagre table there. He put beside him a portion of the inwards and poured him wine in a golden cup, saying to him: 'Now sit there, and drink your wine with this company. I myself will give you protection from the taunts and violence of the suitors, because the wealth of this house is not any and every man's: Odysseus won it, and I am his heir. And as for you, suitors, control your passions. No gives, no blows, or there may be bad blood and contention here.'"

Commentary: Telemachus has grown more confident. His words are defiant towards the suitors. The tension is building, vengeance is approaching and both Odysseus and the suitors are drinking wine...

25. Book XXI, page 260. "They (the suitors) were all enraged, because they feared he might string the bow, Antinous turned on him and reviled him: "Miserable stranger, you are out of your wits. Are you not content to dine at ease in our lofty company, never grudged your share in the feast, able to hear all the words that pass between us? No other stranger, no other beggar listens to us discoursing. Wine is crazing you, fragrant wine. Wine is many a man's undoing, when he gulps his draught and will never drink discreetly. Wine it was that darkened the wits of Eurytion the centaur in the palace of bold Peirithous. The centaur had come to the Lapith's country, and now with wine he clouded his understanding and in his frenzy did monstrous things in the very hall of Peirithous."

Commentary: Odysseus has asked to participate in the contest of the bow. It consists of putting a string on Odysseus' bow and then shoot through axes with it. The suitors all failed to even string the bow! They must be quite drunk themselves to fear that an old beggar could complete what their young muscles were unable to perform. They are angry and Antinous makes an reverse accusation on the beggar by telling him that the wine is crazing him and will be his undoing. He's about to find out how right and prophetic his words are concerning his own fate!

26. Book XXII, page 265. Odysseus: "'I mean to find out if I can strike it and if Apollo will grant me glory.'

So he spoke, and aimed the keen arrow at Antonious. The youth had almost raised to his lips a fine two-handled golden goblet, indeed he had it between his hand, ready to taste the wine. No fear of slaughter was in his heart. Who, with his friends feasting around him, would think that one man among so many, let his prowess be what it might, would bring grim death and black doom upon him?"

Commentary: As Odysseus starts his revenge killings, he invokes Apollo, the god of order and rationality. His goal is to restore himself to the position of king of Ithaca and husband of Penelope. This confirms (see #18) that Homer is much prefers civilized Apollo to barbaric Dionysos. The fact that Odysseus strikes at the unarmed Antonious (who holds the golden goblet with both hands) seems unbecoming of a civilized hero. This is explained by the fact that Odysseus faces so many foes in the same hall. He only has his son, a swineherd and a cowherd against all the suitors. Odysseus was be moved by vengeance, but he waited for the best moment to strike his enemies in order to maximize his chances of success. 

This concludes my commentaries of the Odyssey concerning wine. These 26 quotes have shed a lot of light on the links between wine, the violence it produces, the Greek gods and how libations, the sacrifice of wine can help bring harmony among the drinkers. This is textbook example of what René Girard has described in 'Violence and the Sacred'. This article is too long already, so I will write what all this can mean for tea in another post!

Note: the blog's 20 years anniversary is coming soon. In order to thank all of you who have supported my work with your tea purchases, I have created a promotion of -20% on 20 teas and 20 accessories for 20 days (until the end of June)! Order soon while there's enough inventory! 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Test du Shan Lin Xi du printemps 2024

Je vous montre le réchaud à gaz et la bouilloire en inox au pied du Chaxi pour vous montrer qu'il suffit de peu d'accessoires pour pouvoir préparer son thé dans la nature. A Taiwan, quand je vais dans les montagnes de thé, ce n'est pas chez le fermier, mais directement dans la plantation que je préfère boire mon Oolong! Ce n'est plus une connexion avec la nature, mais une immersion!! On sent cette nature printanière qui embaume l'atmosphère, on entend le oiseaux gazouiller et le soleil vient illuminer monts et forêts de bambou entre deux passages de nuages.
L'infusion désaltérante après mon escalade de la plantation et la prise de nombreuses photos récompense mes efforts. J'ai beau y avoir été de nombreuses fois, chaque visite permet de nouvelles découvertes. C'est aussi une manière de tester le thé : les arômes de l'infusion correspondent-ils aux arômes du terroir autour de moi? Le thé parle un langage qui ne triche pas. Contrairement au discours du fermier, il n'essaie pas de se vendre. Il est lui-mê en harmonie avec son environnement.
Toutes ces vertes feuilles sont si reposantes pour la vue. J'en cueille quelques dizaines pour en décorer mon Chaxi. Et je le ramène chez moi pour en faire du thé blanc (donc simplement séché).
Les bambous entourent la plantation et lui confèrent un ombrage rafraichissant. Ces bambous suggèrent de  la vigueur, de la jeunesse et de la flexibilité. J'associe ces qualités à cet Oolong de Shan Lin Xi avec la finesse en plus.
Après plusieurs jours de pluie, je redéguste cet Oolong chez moi et suis instantanément transporté dans mes souvenirs au sommet de la montagne par la même magie que la madeleine et le thé de Marcel Proust. Le plus beau, c'est que cette gorgée ne recrée pas un endroit du passé, mais une belle plantation de thé, bien entretenue et bien réelle. Elle vit pour elle-même, mais aussi pour nous en donnant ces boules vertes de fraicheur. Un peu d'eau bouillante suffit pour créer un feu d'artifices dans le gaiwan et le palais!
Ci-dessous, vous pouvez constater que le temps peu changer extrêmement vite en montagne. Le soleil éclatant est remplacé par des nuages bas laiteux. Mais c'est justement cela qui fait la fraicheur de ces feuilles. Elles ne restent pas trop longtemps exposées à de trop fortes températures. La haute élévation est synonyme de fraicheur et de lenteur dans la croissance des feuilles.
Taiwan, ce n'est pas que la micro-électronique qui vous permet de voir ces photos. C'est aussi des Oolongs printaniers magnifiques issus de jeunes montagnes qui tremblent parfois, mais il en faut plus pour me faire peur!

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Wine in the Iliad and in the Odyssey

My love of tea has led me to pay special attention to the meaning of beverages in art, history and literature. So, when I read the Iliad and then the Odyssey, I counted the number of times Homer mentioned drink related words. Spoiler: he never mentions 'tea', but mostly 'wine'! Still, it's interesting to analyze, because tea and wine are very much interchangeable in Chinese culture. They often even used the same porcelain wares to drink wine or tea!

I already did the analysis about Iliad here, in French Iliad here, in French. A good online translator should be able to translate the text if you wish to read it. I'm going to do a similar analysis about the Odyssey in English, because I read this book translated by Walter Shewring (1906-1990).

However, before I write this detailed article about the meaning of wine in Homer's Odyssey, I think it's interesting to compare the 2 books for the vocabulary related to wine. Let's do an arithmetic analysis:

First we need to keep in mind that the Iliad is 15,693 lines long vs 12,109 lines for the Odyssey (-23%). This means that if 'wine' had the same importance in both stories, its mention should drop by 23% in the Odyssey. However, they go from 37 mentions to 125! 

Likewise, the word 'libation' goes from 8 mentions to 27 in the Odyssey! 

Ambrosia had 2 mentions in the Iliad, here 5.

How does the wine taste in the Odyssey? It's described as 'sweet' (11 times), 'glowing' (10), 'delicious' (6), 'fragrant' (5), 'pleasant' (2), 'honey sweet' (2), 'good' (1) and 'lovely' (1)

What's also interesting is that the word 'water' was mentioned 9 times. Other liquids are also mentioned: 'dark blood' (4 at least*), 'nectar' (3), liquor (1), elixir (1), milk (1), olive oil (1). 

And the expression 'wine dark ocean' is used 11 times.

* So, Homer is giving us much more material to analyze! I probably forgot to count some words that had a connection with wine. I quickly stopped to count 'cups' for instance, because there were just too many! Now, with all this wine flowing, we would expect a lot of 'drunkenness'! This word is only mentioned once, though! However, my analysis will make the case that this problem is one of the core messages of the book.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Are all Oolongs from a tea mountain the same?

The word 'Shan Tou Qi', energy of the mountain, is the equivalent of the word terroir in French. It refers to common characteristics shared by produces coming from the same region. Indeed, it's possible to distinguish a Bordeaux red wine from a Napa Valley red and a Shan Lin Xi Oolong from an Alishan. But does it mean that all high mountain Oolongs from a specific mountain taste the same? That they are of the same quality? No, just like with wine, there are still great differences within the same mountain. For instance, you can experience the difference between these 2 AliShan Oolongs from 2 different plantations. Or 2 Ali Shan from the same plantation and 2 different days (organic 1 and 2). Or you can taste the difference in Shan Lin Xi, with Qingxin Oolong harvested from this plantation on May 3rd (Day 1) and May 4th (Day 2). The difference is larger than what I expected and shows how both the weather on the day of harvest and slight changes in the process can have great impact on the flavors of high mountain Oolong.

The next picture shows how plantation management also matters:

Side by side plantations in Shan Lin Xi
A simple red rope separates 2 plantation in the middle of the picture. The plantation on the right is where I get my Shan Lin Xi high mountain Oolongs. What is amazing is how much darker and greener the color of the leaves in the field on the left. (Both fields have already been harvested.) This is evidence that the way the trees are treated, which kind of fertilizer is used and if pesticides are used or not does matter a lot. My farmer's only property and source of income is this field, so he tells me that he uses only the most natural fertilizer and that he didn't spray any pesticides. For him, this explains the color difference in the leaves with the adjacent field. We don't know how the other farmer manages his field and I'm not saying that yellow is better than dark green. But this is evidence that not even from the same tea mountain there are differences from one plantation to another.

And that's why tasting is fun and interesting. Tea isn't a commodity, but it's the most sensitive product I know. Everything has an impact on its flavors: the mountain, the field management, the weather during harvest, the time of the harvest, the season, the cultivar, the process... and the brewing!!

Monday, May 20, 2024

Démonstration du thé des Tang

C'est mon cours le plus important de l'année! Dans la vidéo ci-dessus, je réalise un thé à la manière des Tang (618-907) en suivant les instructions de Lu Yu dans son Cha Jing. Pour ce faire, j'ai utilisé un thé vert compressé de Corée appelé Ddok Cha, que m'avait offert Matt en 2008! (Merci à lui.). Cette démonstration résume donc le livre et montre comment les Chinois cuisaient le thé vert il y a plus de 1000 ans. Je trouve que cela permet de mieux comprendre comment on a pu passer de cette méthode à celle des Song.

Friday, May 17, 2024

The organic Alishan Oolong plantation

July 2022
In the summer of 2022, I stumbled upon this organic plantation by design. How can you tell which plantation isn't using chemicals as weed killer? One way is to visit the tea growing region unannounced and see for yourself in which plantation there are people taking care of the weed with their hands or simple mechanical means. 
July 2023
That's how I found this beautiful Qingxin Oolong, which also happens to be one of the highest in the Chang Shu Hu area. This is important detail, because this means that chemicals sprayed on neighboring plantations are less likely to flow or upstream or fly upwards to its trees!

May 2024
2 years ago, I selected this red tea from this plantation. I was also interested in tasting the spring 2023 Oolong, but it sold out almost as soon as it was produced! This is another lesson I learned: when a farmer works hard in his tea field, he often doesn't have to work much selling the tea. Quality and reputation are the best marketing.
This year, I called him beforehand and was able to snatch 2 batches of his spring high mountain Oolong: May 1st and May 6th. I liked the fact that each batch has a distinctive personality and that both tasted very pure. I also drove to the plantation and could see that there's work right after the harvests.
We can see these workers trimming the Qingxin Oolong trees so that they don't grow too tall. Instead of trees, I should use the name 'bushes', which better describes them. By the way, I also like how this plantation is surrounded by bamboo and pine trees. It protects the field from the cold in winter and from wind.
This trimming may look unnatural, but it helps keeping the plantation organic. See below, the cut leaves and stems remain on the soil. This protect the ground from erosion and provides natural nutrients to the soil as they decompose. It also helps to retain moisture for dry days and stops weed from growing for a while.   

So, these leaves were harvested by hand on May first 2024. This is rather late for this area, but this is normal if you consider that this is the highest field in this region and that organic tea is growing slower, because it isn't overfed with fertilizer. 

I brew this fresh high mountain Oolong on a dark green Chabu to underline the spring feeling of this tea. It's so fresh, mellow and well balanced! The leaves have fully expanded in the gaiwan. That's how you get them to release all their natural high mountain flavors. 
The power and beauty of Alishan is in the cup and soon it will be dancing in my throat and exhilarate my nose! Spring has arrived!

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Le thé est baroque comme la musique de Sven Schwannberger

Comme un bon thé dont le goût vous reste longtemps en bouche, la joie de certaines rencontres continue de résonner plusieurs jours après qu'elle a eu lieu. C'est le cas avec Sven Schwannberger, un musicien allemand passionné par la période Baroque. J'écoute son exécution de Il Vero Modo, des sonates pour 'flauto e cembalo' de Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759). (On trouve ce CD sur Spotify avec la recherche 'Handel flauto', mais pas avec le nom du musicien!)
Grâce à son généreux cadeau, j'ai le plaisir d'infuser un Oolong de ShiZhuo tout en écoutant ces magnifiques sonates. Je suis aux anges! Ce ne sont pas que les arômes frais et légers du Oolong de haute montagne qui répondent aux notes claires et enjouées de la musique. En lisant le livret, je me rends compte de combien le thé et la musique sont universelles et ne connaissent pas les frontières.

Avec Händel, nous avons un compositeur allemand qui habite et compose à Londres, fortement inspiré par un voyage d'étude en Italie (où il rencontra notamment Gasparini, Corelli, Scarlatti...) et qui joue avec de nombreux instruments français! L'art Baroque était déjà Européen. Et même si chaque pays y mettait son style, il y avait un dialogue et des influences croisées, se répondant les unes aux autres.
Pour arriver à retrouver toute la justesse, la finesse et la force de l'époque, cela demande un travail de recherche immense. L'utilisation d'instruments d'époque n'est pas une mince affaire non plus. Il faut retrouver des instruments d'époques, obtenir l'autorisation de les utiliser, mais aussi s'assurer qu'ils sonnent juste et qu'ils conviennent à la partition.
Sven me dit que ce CD fut le fruit de beaucoup de travail et de recherche. Il y a tellement de travail dans cette musique que c'est impayable, car ce n'est pas rentable. C'est un travail de jeunesse, de passion et de recherche de perfection. Et en musique, la perfection c'est d'arriver à faire sonner simplement et naturellement des notes qui demandent une grande technicité dans le jeu. 
Quelle joie et quelle harmonie dans ces notes! Danke!
Pour notre rencontre, j'ai infusé mon Zhengjian Tie Guan Yin d'Anxi dans une théière Yixing de la fin de la dynastie Qing décorée de falangcai (utilisant une technologie importée d'Europe!). Cette théière est contemporaine de la Maison Lin et de ses jardins où nous nous rencontrâmes. Les tasses en porcelaine De Hua (du Fujian) réhaussent la couleur du Oolong torréfié par un maitre de thé Taiwanais. Les soucoupes et le zafang (le bol à eaux usées) proviennent du Japon, comme Sven l'a reconnu! Et l'assiette qinghua est également ancienne, mais chinoise. 

Ainsi, pour ma préparation de thé dans ce cadre Taiwanais de la fin du XIXe siècle, j'essaie également d'utiliser des accessoires d'époque (ou avec du vécu) et d'origines diverses. Mais je fait bien attention que ces accessoires respectent au mieux les feuilles de thé. Elles agissent comme la partition et il s'agit de les dénicher à la source, là elles sont le plus authentiques!
Sven Schwannberger
Quelques moments plus tôt, j'avais débuté notre dégustation par un BiLuoChun de SanHsia, le thé vert le plus connu de Taiwan. Inspiré par un thé de Suzhou dans la province du Jiangsu, ces feuilles proviennent d'une plantation située à moins de 20 km de ce jardin! Et ce fut la première récolte de l'année, la plus fine.
Pour ce thé, je choisis une méthode très pratique et élégante: l'infusion et la dégustation en gaiwan!
Cela permet de bien voir l'ouverture des feuilles et de remplir trois gaiwan d'un coup, un par personne. Puis, chacun déguste à sa guise. En effet, si porcelaine refroidit vite, cela permet au thé vert de ne pas trop infuser. Et l'émaille de la porcelaine n'absorbe pas les fins arômes du thé vert.
Chaque feuille demande le bon instrument! 
Thé et beauté baroques, éternelles. Leur inspiration est le monde raffiné. 
Mais cette éternité est comme une flamme. Elle a besoin d'être chérie et transmise.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Purple Da Yi 2003 vs loose Gushu from early 2000s

This is yet another comparison featuring the purple Da Yi. It's a useful tea, since it's quite a standard and most drinkers have tried it. This time, I'm comparing it to a no name loose gushu puerh from roughly the same time. Actually, according to the darker dry leaves and brew of the Da Yi, it seems that the Da Yi is a little bit older than the loose raw gushu.  
Both have aged dry scents, but storage smells are still more prevalent on the loose puerh, because it has spent less time in my own (relatively) dry Taiwanese storage. The Da Yi smells more woody, while the loose puerh smells more of camphor.

The taste also has lots of similarities, but I find the loose gushu a little bit thicker in taste and more harmonious. So, the Da Yi has some strong points, but the loose gushu still comes on top if your focus is purity and a thick gushu taste. And the price of the loose puerh also makes it a winner!