The typology of wine

July 10, 2007

“In fact, if I may be permitted an excursus, it is conceivable that a theological answer to Nietzsche could be developed entirely in terms of the typology of wine. After all, the wine of Dionysus is no doubt of the coarsest vintage, intended to blind with drunkenness rather than enliven whimsy; it is fruit of the same vine with which Dionysus bridged the Euphrates, after flaying alive the king of Damascus, so that he could conquer India for viniculture (so we know from Plutarch, Pausanias, Strabo, Arrian, Diodorus, Siculus, and others); and of the same vine for which Lycurgus mistook his son Dryas when driven mad for offending the wild god, causing him to cut Dryas down for ‘pruning’ (as Homer and Apollodorus report); the vine that destroyed the pirates who would not bear Dionysus to Naxos (so say Homer, Apollodorus, and Ovid); it is the wine that inflamed the maenads to rend Pentheus limb from limb, led by his own mother Agave (as Euripides and others record); the wine repeatedly associated with madness, anthropophagy, slaughter, warfare, and rapine (one need consider only the Dionysian cult at Orchomenus—with its ritual act of random murder—and the story of the daughters of Minyas—frenzy, infanticide, cannibalism—from which it sprang).

The wine of Christian Scripture, on the other hand, is first and foremost a divine blessing and image of God’s bounty (Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14; Psalms 104:15; Proverbs 3:10; Isaiah 25:6; 65:8; Jeremiah 31:12; Joel 2:19-24; 3:18; Amos 9:13-14; Zechariah 9:17), and an appropriate thank offering by which to declare Israel’s love of God (Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5-10; 18:12; 28:14; Deuteronomy 14:23; 15:14; 18:4); it is the wine that ‘cheers the hearts of gods and men’ (Judges 9:13), to be drunk and shared with those for whom nothing is prepared on the day holy to the Lord (Nehemiah 8:10), the sign of God’s renewed covenant with his people (Isaiah 55:1-3), the drink of lovers (Song of Solomon 5:1), and the very symbol of love (7:2, 9; 8:2), whose absence is the eventide of all joy (Isaiah 24:11); it is, moreover, the wine of agape and the feast of fellowship, in which Christ first vouchsafed a sign of his divinity, in a place of rejoicing, at Cana—a wine of the highest quality—when the kingdom showed itself ‘out of season’ (John 2:3-10); the wine, again, forsaken with all the good things of creation, when Christ went to his death, but promised to be drunk anew at the banquet table of his Father’s kingdom, and from which—embittered with myrrh—he was forced to turn his lips when on the cross (Mark 15:23; Matthew 27:34); the wine, finally, whose joy is imparted to the Church again, and eternally, with the fire of Pentecost (Acts 2:13), and in which the fellowship of Christ and his flock is reborn with every celebration of the Eucharist.

Of course, Nietzsche was a teetotaler and could judge the merit of neither vintage, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that his attempts at oino-theology should betray a somewhat pedestrian palate.”

– David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite.

2 Responses to “The typology of wine”


  1. […] it was still a great pleasure to read, if only for Hart’s brilliant rhetorical flourishes.  (Try this one.)  Millinerd agrees that it is a great book, and he says […]


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