Clarification of Answer by
04 Apr 2003 07:10 PST
Thanks very much for your kind reaction to my answer. I was glad to
be of help.
Here are some thoughts on your clarification request, along with some
more links to assist you in exploring this interesting subject
Amounts of Ingredients:
Information on the amounts of the various ingredients used in the
potion offered to Nestor, and in the version enjoyed by Alexander the
Great, apparently has not come down to us. This is not surprising
because Homer's account of the incident was recorded almost 3000 years
ago and Alexander lived almost 2500 years ago.
Indeed, even if there had been an account of the amounts of the
ingredients used in the potion, it would undoubtedly be argued about
today by the legions of modern scholars and graduate students who
remain fascinated by ancient Greece in general, and Homer's epics in
particular. For example, if a unit of measure of the goat cheese used
was offered by Homer, my guess is that there would endless discussions
at coffee houses around the world about what that unit would amount to
in contemporary terms.
So do we have any relevant information? A little, maybe. Although
it is controversial to say the least, a claim has been made that an
artifact discovered by Heinrich Schliemann is the actual cup
referenced by Homer in the Iliad. Here are links to two images of
that cup, which is in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens:
University of Washington
University of California at Berkeley
However, here is the opinion of one scholar that the discover's claim
for the artifact's authenticity is "impossible:"
"In his discussion of the pre-classical origins of Greek civilization
in Chapter 2 (pp. 36-49), the author draws our attention to the fact
that, for reconstructing their past, the Greeks of the so-called Dark
Age did not have the two major resources available to us, namely
written texts and archaeology. They had to depend on legends and other
orally-transmitted traditional material, although some of the latter
may have been suggested by their familiarity with tombs and other
monuments belonging to earlier times. Placing side-by-side the
description of Nestor's cup in the Iliad with the Mycenaean vase which
Schliemann identified with that description (fig. 10), Purkis reminds
us of the chronological and other arguments which make Schliemann's
University of Natal: Scholia Reviews
Other bits of relevant information:
Although the Butler translation quoted at the beginning of my answer
spoke of "throwing in" a "handful" of "white barley-meal," the other
unattributed translations I provided you above as "Additional Sites"
refer to "sprinkling" or "sifting" grain into the wine. Since these
versions are all deliberately inexact as to the amount to be used, I
suggest that the exact amount is unknown and probably unknowable.
I would draw the same conclusion about the goat cheese, which is
described in all three of my cited accounts as an unstated amount
"grated over [or into]" the wine.
It strikes me that the best approach for making a modern version of
the potion may be to let your palate tell you when to stop
throwing/sprinkling/sifting the barley and grating the cheese.
As a final note, I would mention that some scholars believe that the
onion and honey "on the side" were not critical to the restorative
powers of the potion. Butler himself translates Homer to say that
they were "to give relish to the drink" (see the quoted text above).
A participant in an online forum agrees: "An onion and some honey are
provided as relish (it is not clear whether these are important to the
Ohio State University: Classics Log 97
This forum also includes some general opining, in which you may be
interested, on the perceived medicinal qualities of Greek ceremonial
My Opinion on the Recuperative Powers of the Drink:
Well. Certainly the "vested interests" in the barley and wine
industries and, to a lesser extent, the goat cheese industry believe
their products have restorative and other health-related
characteristics. The same goes for honey, although, as I have noted,
the honey in Nestor's meal was apparently not drunk from his cup.
Here's an example of what the wine folks have to say about studies
demonstrating that red wine has "protective and/or restorative
"In conclusion, these presented papers demonstrated that the
consumption of wine, and in particular red wine, is cardioprotective,
for which there are plausible biological mechanisms."
Alcohol in Moderation: The XXVth World Congress of the Office
International de la Vigne et du Vin
As for barley, this page, located at the interestingly named website,
Covencentral.com, includes a link to a barley-related industry group
and cites various reputed health benefits of the grain:
CovenCentral.com: Barley. A Natural Restorative
Goat cheese also has its advocates. Here is an article touting its
non-allergenic profile and favorable fat and cholesterol profile as
compared with cow's milk cheeses:
Kosher Today Newspaper Archives
Last, but not least, honey, which generally gets good press, is touted
on the South Carolina site for its energy-producing qualities and even
for the notion that it can be used as a healing balm for burns:
The State.com: Food
In my personal opinion, attributing restorative and general health
benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, and maybe red wine
especially, makes sense and has been widely confirmed by scientific
studies. At least to the extent that one's general health is
favorably affected, it makes sense to me that recuperation from
injuries would also be favorably affected. And, of course, in the
short term, moderate alcohol consumption, at least for some, has the
palliative effect of reducing stress, which may not cure disease, but
can increase comfort and elevate one's mood.
As for the other ingredients in combination with the wine, they appear
to provide essential nutrients and have a reputation for having health
advantages over their close substitutes.
Maybe most important, it is not unreasonable to conclude that, like
acupuncture, what was considered to have medicinal value in ancient
times may well have medicinal value today, even if it cannot be
explained or fully understood.
Lots of information on sweet Tokay wine:
IFCA Wine Watch: Hungary
Supplementary Search Strategy:
Google searches, as follows:
red wine health
barley meal nutrients OR nutritional
goat OR goat's cheese nutrients OR nutritional
I hope that this information has been of additional use to you.
Thanks again for your kind reaction to my original answer.