The Iliad "Inflaming Wine, Pernicious To Mankind"

Simone Weil

"Inflaming Wine, Pernicious To Mankind"

Context: Book VI of The Iliad relates how, for a time, the gods leave the field of battle, and the Greeks prevail over the Trojans. Hector, the Trojan leader, advised by Helenus, the chief seer of the Trojans, leaves his men to return to the city. He has a two-fold purpose in taking this course: he wishes to have his mother, Hecuba, Queen of Troy, take her women to the temple of Minerva, there to offer sacrifice to gain the goddess' help in removing Diomed, a great Greek warrior, from the fighting; he also hopes to persuade Paris, his brother, to return to the battles, where he has not been seen since his own luckless battle with Menelaus. During Hector's absence the fighting abates between the armies, and Homer describes how Diomed, a Greek, and Glaucus, a Trojan, meet and talk between the two forces. Hector, returning to the royal palace in Troy, finds his mother. She embraces her son, who is weary from the fighting, and tells him she will bring him wine, partly to be used as an offering to the gods, and partly to be used as a refreshing drink for Hector. But Hector refuses the wine, saying it is bad for men and should be used rather as an offering to the gods. He asks his mother, since his hands are stained with blood, and he is impure, to go make offering on behalf of Troy to Minerva:

Far hence be Bacchus' gifts; (the chief rejoin'd:)
Inflaming wine, pernicious to mankind,
Unnerves the limbs, and dulls the noble mind.
Let chiefs abstain, and spare the sacred juice
To sprinkle to the gods, its better use.
By me that holy office were profaned;
Ill fits it me, with human gore distain'd,
To the pure skies these horrid hands to raise,
Or offer heaven's great Sire polluted praise.
You, with your matrons, go! a spotless train,
And burn rich odours in Minerva's fane.