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Wine Literature of the World

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Grapes and Wines of the World
Oz Water into Wine
The SA Story
Sip and Sup
Salute to the Consumer
Design on Wine
Wine Lore and Laughter
About Wine Literature of the World



From Mesopotamian clay tablets dating back almost five thousand years, through the classical Greek and Roman writers, to the Bible, then by way of Shakespeare, down to the great writers and artists of our time, wine has been a potent source of inspiration.

This theme takes a humorous look at some of the creative literature surrounding wine drinking with a selection of cartoons (including 12 especially commissioned for the State Library), stories, verse and songs, from the solemnity of the Bible and the wit of Shakespeare, to the bawdiness of the eighteenth century, to nineteenth century books for children, and the traditions of today.

Wine, the most delightful of drinks, whether we owe it to Noah,
who planted the vine, or to Bacchus, who pressed juice from the
grape, goes back to the childhood of the world.

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The physiology of taste

Ancient times

According to Persian mythology, wine was discovered by a woman. She drank the fermented juice from grapes stored in a jar, went to sleep, and surprisingly woke up cured of a headache, instead of suffering from the world's first hangover as one might have expected.

Wine became the drink of the gods, whether they were Egyptian, Sumerian, or Greek, and the early deities of wine were often women, since they were also associated with fertility. The symbolism of wine, as well as its effect, became potent as it was adopted into religious ritual.

The modern Egyptian papyrus illustrated here reproduces ancient Egyptian winemaking techniques, and was a recent donation to the Library.

Another source of potent images, the sea, which was crucial to early transport and communication, was given the feminine gender by the Greeks. When the ancient Greek poet Homer sang of "the wine-dark sea" he was linking two forces central in Mediterranean life to create an image which continues to have great emotive power.

In the musical comedy Roman Scandals, produced in 1933, Eddie Cantor finds himself in Imperial Rome where he is employed as the food taster for the evil emperor Valerius (Edward Arnold). Could the last glass of the emperor's favourite wine have been poisoned by his wife Agrippa? Eddie is just about to find out!

The Bible

The Bible has many references to the vine and wine. The first recorded mention is in Genesis, in the ninth chapter, where we learn that Noah planted a vineyard, and that "he drank of the wine and was drunken". This incident was sometimes featured in illustrated versions of the Bible, including an English manuscript of around 1320 known as the Holkham Bible. The State Library's facsimile edition of this manuscript, published in 1954, shows Noah and his sons harvesting grapes, followed by a vivid portrayal of the first recorded drunkard.

The Book of Proverbs has several things to say on the subject of wine:

Proverbs: Wine is a mocker

Look not upon the wine when it is red

Forsake not on old friend

Wine is as good as a life to a man

Neither do men put old wine into new bottles

Drink no longer water

Hans Sachs

Die vier Wunderberlichen Eygenschafft und Würckung des Weins…, by Hans Sachs. Nuremberg : Georg Merckel, 1553.

This very scarce pamphlet describes 'the four wondrous properties of wine and their effects'. The opening paragraph, here translated by Professor Ralph Elliott, gives an indication of the tenor of this entertaining work:

One day I asked a doctor to tell me whence derives the power of wine to affect in four different ways whomever it overcomes so that his mood changes. The first he makes peaceful, benevolent, mild and kind. Others he arouses to anger, so that they storm and quarrel and rage. The third he makes crudely childish and shameless, while the fourth is led by the wine to fantasies and follies.

He said, I will tell you. The wise pagans describe how after the Flood had passed, Lord Noah began to plant vines before anything else. But the soil was unfruitful, so old Noah cleverly fertilized it with manure which he took from different animals, namely sheep, bears, pigs, and monkeys. With this he manured his vineyard all over, and when the wine was ready it had acquired the natures of the four animals, properties which it still possesses. Now God made all men of four elements, air, fire, water, and earth, as Philosophy confirms, and according to each man's nature, so does wine affect him.

Hans Sachs, who died in Nuremberg in 1576, was a member of the Meistersinger Guild there, and the subject of Wagner's opera, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg.


The works of William Shakespeare contain many references to wine and drinking. The first two come from the Norton facsimile edition of The first folio of Shakespeare, prepared by Charlton Hinman and published in 1968.

"Can a weake emptie Vessell beare such a huge full Hogs-head?" Doll Tearsheet in 2 Henry IV Act II Scene IV

"A good Sherris-Sack hath a two-fold operation in it: it ascends me into the Braine, Dryes me there, all the foolish, and dull, and cruddie Vapours, which environ it: makes it apprehensive, quicke, forgetive, full of nimble, fierie, and delectable shapes; which deliver’d o’er to the Voyce, the Tongue, which is the Birth, becomes excellent Wit." Falstaff in 2 Henry IV Act II Scene III

"Give me a bowl of wine. In this I bury all unkindness, Cassius." Brutus from Julius Caesar Act IV Scene III.

"But in faith you have drunk too much canaries, and that’s a marvellous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood ere one can say, ‘What’s this’?" Mistress Quickly in 2 Henry IV Act II Scene IV

"[Drink]: it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance." Porter in Macbeth Act II Scene III

"…good wine is a good familiar creature if it is well used." Iago in Othello Act II Scene III

Songs and verse

The classic verse from Omar Khayyam, "…A flask of wine, a book of verse – and thou".

In the 1690s Richard Ames wrote several books of satirical verse about wine. . Fatal friendship; or, the drunkards misery is an early tirade against the drinking of spirits:

"There are some few of that most mighty Train,
Of his hard Drinking, brings on wretched Man;
Yet in the Cafe it is but plain and clear,
The Body is the smallest sufferer:
Too often the Estate the Damage feels, 
And a House totters while its Master reels"

Henry Aldrich gives us five reasons why we should drink: 

The anonymous compiler of the 1775 work, The buck’s bottle companion has assembled a riotous collection of drinking songs, unfortunately lacking the music.

"O, for a draught of vintage! That hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim.

John Keats. Ode to a nightingale.

Was Keats referring to a sparkling red when he wrote of "beaded bubbles" and "purple-stained mouth"?

Songs of the vine, edited by W.G. Hutchison (1904) includes: 

"We care not for money, for riches, for wealth;

Old sack is our money, old sack is our health." - Thomas Randolph

and "The epicure", by Abraham Cowley

An unusual collection, Wine songs and verses, by the choir members of the Federal Viticultural Congress, Sydney Ocober 2nd 1929, includes "Come brothers fill your glasses". 

G.K. Chesterton adds a little morality to "The song of right and wrong", in his Wine, water and song.

Playing cards

This image of Bacchus comes from Playing cards of various ages and countries, selected from the Collection of Lady Charlotte Schrieber. 1892


The message from Paracelsus is that there is a fine line between wine being good or bad for us.

L’eloge de l’Yvresse, or, The praise of drunkenness, by Albert-Henri de Sallengre. 1714.

The further subtitle gives the reader a vivid insight into the subject: "wherein is authentically, and most evidently proved, the necessity of frequently getting drunk, and that the practice of getting drunk is most ancient, primitive, and catholic".

The Fireside book of wine (New York : Simon and Schuster, 1977) is a selection of work from notable writers on their thoughts or experiences with wine. Montaigne ends his article on "Fastidiousness in wine" with the motto, "we should never refuse an opportunity to drink, and should have that desire always in our minds".

Dr Johnson gives us his interpretations of "in vino veritas".

Mon docteur le vin, with text by Gaston Derys and water colours by renowned artist Raoul Dufy from 1936 includes the following quotes:

"Wine is indispensable for writers. "

"One of the best ways of comparing the intellectual worth of the citizens of different countries is to examine the lists of winners of the Nobel Prize." – Professor Cambiaire

And, texts in hand , Professor Cambiaire demonstrates that they have been awarded in the majority to the scholars or authors who hail from countries where wine is drunk. 

"If wine were to disappear from human production, I believe it would cause an absence, a failure in health and intellect, a void much more terrifying than all the recesses and the deviations for which wine is regarded as responsible." – Charles Baudelaire

"Wine, when taken without excess, is a tonic for the muscles and a stimulant for the mind". – Dr Widal

Sydney socialite, extravagant party-giver and one-time cookery school proprietor, Sue du Val, has been described by journalist, Daphne Guiness, as "Australia’s answer to Jennifer Paterson (from the television series, ‘Two Fat Ladies’)". She died in June 2000 at the age of 83 after a very ‘full’ life. Her experiences are typified in these wonderful words.


Australian humourist, Keith Dunstan, together with Jeff Hook, the cartoonist, have produced a hilarious series of definitions for Wine: the wine dictionary, of which that for ‘Tanker’ is a good example.

Winedot. A rather curious word, now teetering on the obsolete, is explained in various dictionaries as an Australianism for someone who drinks too much. It transpires that it was adapted from the name of an American breed of fowl, the Wyandotte. These handsome birds would no doubt not have been impressed at their name being used in such a text.

Hugh Johnson

Hugh Johnson’s pop-up wine book by Hugh Johnson with paper design by Ron Van der Meer (London : Pyramid Books, 1989).

Leading English wine writer, Hugh Johnson, has produced a pop-up book to complement his more serious writings. Here, he is wine waiter at the dinner he would like to have hosted. The guests are from left to right: Ludwig van Beethoven, Sir Winston Churchill, Cleopatra, Napoleon Bonaparte, Sir Thomas Jefferson, and an anonymous pair of feet under the table.

Another section has illustrations of a typical Bordeaux chateau, here seen at different angles.

Squashed between the entries for St Huberts and Saltram in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket wine book is one for St Sheila’s, a pink sweet sparkling wine with interesting best vintages.

Cartoons & illustrations

This image of Bacchus comes from Playing cards of various ages and countries, selected from the Collection of Lady Charlotte Schrieber. 1892. 

Not quite cartoons, but some charming illustrations by Jim Bancks from a book of Exclusive cocktails (Sydney: Usher's, 1933).

Ronald Searle, the eminent British cartoonist, has produced a whole book on the humour of wine. Something in the cellar-- : Ronald Searle's wonderful world of wine, including one on "how to open a bottle of wine".

Punch magazine covers a wine variety of subjects. Here are a few related to drinking from The Punch cartoon album : 150 years of classic cartoons.

George Aldridge has been a freelance artist and cartoonist for nearly 30 years. His commissions have ranged from community and industry-based issues such as failing commodity prices in South Australia’s Riverland and rabbit control across the nation, to designing and installing major exhibitions in the State Library of South Australia including "Eating out: a menu retrospective" and "Oenography: words on wine in the State Library". In 2000 George was a prizewinner in the international cartoon competition in Portugal.

Since drawing these cartoons for the State Library, George says that his awareness of the finer points of wine tasting has increased dramatically.

Children's material on wine

The State Library of South Australia's Children's Literature Research Collection is a world-renowned collection of children's books and other material. Some items such as songbooks, educational material and even picture books have images relating to wine.

In the first half of the nineteenth century there were few subjects that were not freely communicated to children. Books of mathematics and alphabet books were popular means of both education and entertainment, and what better way to impart a great deal of information about wine and drinking?

Marmaduke Multiply's merry method of making minor mathematicians; or, The multiplication table, published by John Harris in 1816-17, celebrated a recent victory by toasting the Hero of Waterloo (or was it a pub?), while Merry multiplication and Grandmamma Easy's Alderman Feast. A new alphabet land published in the1840s were full of exuberance in depicting feasting and drinking.

The arrival of the Temperance Movement in the mid-nineteenth century saw attitudes change. Drink was a curse, and the downfall of many a parent was redeemed only by the efforts of the children. 

By the late nineteenth century attitudes to drinking wines and spirits had softened somewhat. Pan-pipes, a book of songs, illustrated by Walter Crane (1883) included a song about a lover pledging his sweetheart not with wine but with a look, while a song mimicking inebriation was among the French Vieilles chansons pour les petits enfants, illustrated by M.B. de Monvel. 

For the very young and romantic, fairies gather nectar and dewdrops in their cups in a scene from In Fairy Land (1870). Richard Doyle, the illustrator of this work, was Sir Conan Doyle's uncle.

"Blot out every book in which wine is praised and you blot out the world’s great literature, from the Bible and Shakespeare to the latest best-seller. Blot out the wine-drinkers of the world and you blot out history, including saints, philosophers, statesmen, soldiers, scientists, and artists."

Julian Street. Table topics, 1959.

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