Monday, July 25, 2011


A flask of wine, a book of verse and thou….
Scene from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Artist: René Bull (1872-1942)
Wine lies at the heart of Persia's culture. The sipping and enjoyment of wine laces the verses of classical romantic Persian poetry as exemplified by Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of a verse from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131 CE):
Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough,
A flask of wine, a book of verse – and thou,
Beside me singing in the wilderness -
And wilderness is paradise now.

Achaemenian gold drinking rhyton
Several Greek writers document the Persians’ fondness for drinking filtered beer (barley wine) and wine during public banquets. They drank through straws with filters or out of deep bowls or rhytons. Serving wine to guests was a mark of hospitality. In the fifth century BCE, Greek playwright and satirist Aristophanes writes in The Acharnians (72-3) that the returning Greek ambassador to Persia complained of the lavish hospitality he has had to ‘endure’ from his Persian hosts, hospitality that included being ‘compelled’ to drink undiluted wine from gold and glass cups. Other classical writers talk about a profusion of gold and silver drinking cups that were given away by the Persians as gifts.

In Agesilaus 9.3, Xenophon talks about Persian kings sending vintners scouring every land for a new or exotic beverage. In Babylon, wine was made from dates and a ‘sour drink made the same by boiling.’ From Eastern Turkey came old wines with a fine bouquet and barley wine (Xenophon Anabasis 1.5, 2.3, 4.4-5).

Despite Herodotus’ account of the Persians being ‘very fond of wine’ (Histories 1.133), Persian texts speak of moderation as the rule and excess as being deviant.

The making and drinking of wine has been associated with Persia and the regions surrounding Persia from the earliest times. The name Shiraz, today the capital of Iran’s Pars Province is indelibly associated with wine now produced around the world – everywhere except in Shiraz, where its manufacture is now banned by Iran’s Islamic regime. Shiraz is located in the southern Zagros Mountain region. There is evidence of wine-making in Hajji Firuz and Godin Tepe located in the Zagros mountain region of Western Iran from around 5,400 BCE (see note 10) – a date that far precedes the making of wine in France in the sixth century BCE - by about five thousand years.

Dr. McGovern, University of Pennsylvania Museum, said in an interview with the New York Times that the fact that the farmers at Hajji Firuz had learned to preserve their wine with (Terebinth tree) resin indicated they had already had many years of wine-making experience. But 7,000 or 7,400 years ago, he said, "is about as far back as we're going to be able to establish the origin of wine."

Zagros wine was being made when the rest of the world was in the Stone Ages.

Ferdowsi’s predecessor, Tajik poet Daqiqi (935 or 942 - 980 CE), wrote these poignant lines before he was murdered by his servant – enraged because Daqiqi admired the Zarathushtrian faith and lamented the loss of his native Aryan culture after the Arab hordes had overrun Iranshahr:
Of all that's good or evil in the world,
Four things suffice to meet Daqiqi's needs.
Ruby-coloured lips, the harp's lament,
Blood-red wine and Zoroaster's creed.

A legacy of ancient Zoroastrian-Iranian cuisine is it accompanying culture of sophistication, good manners, moderation and romance.

[For a further discussion on wine and historic Persian values before the Arab invasion of Iranshahr (Greater Iran), see our article on the Legacy of Ferdowsi]


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