Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/250

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
240
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Turning from Greece to Rome, we find the same general course of events. At first the Romans were a band of fierce banditti, fighting first for life, then for conquest, against the surrounding tribes. During the few hundred years that this struggle continued the Romans were a temperate, a painfully temperate race. We read that wine was scarce and poor, and, such as it was, reserved exclusively for the men, and for men over thirty. Women were forbidden to use it under pain of death, for the alleged reason that it was an incentive to licentiousness. According to Pliny, this last law was by no means a dead letter. Women were obliged to greet all their male relatives with a kiss on the mouth, so that it could be told if they had been at the wine cellar. He quotes the case of one Ignatius Mecenius, who cudgeled his wife to death for this offense, about b. c. 700, and was

PSM V51 D250 Delivering wine from a wall painting at pompeii.png
Delivering Wine. (From a wall painting at Pompeii.)

pardoned by Romulus for the deed; and he tells of another case, four hundred years later, where a Roman dame was starved to death by her relatives for similar reasons.

Later on, when they had conquered most of Italy, wine became more common, and when the Roman arms reached Greece and Asia Minor the country was flooded with it. We learn from contemporary writers that manners and customs changed within one generation. Old Cato used to tell how, at his father's table, only common Italian wine was served, and. that sparingly, while the Greek wine was handed round as a great luxury in small glasses at dessert. And before his death one general, Lucullus, returning from the East, distributed one hundred thousand gallons of fine Chian wine to the populace.

The later Romans cared more for their wine than for any other natural or artificial product of land or sea. Pliny mentions that there were one hundred and ninety-five varieties in general use, of which about eighty were of fine quality. Common wine was extraordinarily cheap and abundant, so much so that it was a jest of the poets that it was less expensive than water. Fine sweet dessert wines were imported in large quantities from the Grecian isles, Chios, Samos, Lesbos, Mitylene, and the rest. And