Some of the lesser known figures of Greek mythology are also the most delicious. These were the Oenotropae, the three sisters who had the power to change water into wine, fields into grain and berries into olives. Between them, they ruled the Mediterranean world from their island of Delos, where their father Anius, a priest of Apollo, had been favoured by Dionysus for services rendered. And what better reward than the gift of wine, wheat and olive oil, the three pillars of Mediterranean living?
The gift of a special power was never a one-way street, an ingenuous blessing bestowed on a protagonist in a happy-ending drama. King Midas had been granted the power to change everything into gold, and drowned in sorrow and misery. Daedalus had been given the gift of science but he lost his son to it. Phaeton jumped in a Formula1 cart without a driving licence.
The licence granted to the Oenotropic (literally ‘wine-changing’) sisters got them into trouble, as Agamemnon, on his way to Troy, kidnapped them so as he could use their power to feed his invading army. The superheroines escaped, dispensing an important lesson which was to percolate through all the layers of history. The gift of wine cannot be abused with impunity, force is useless when it comes to metabolising raw nature into life-giving juices. Anius’ daughters must be courted and allowed to practise their transformative art on a bewildered world. The magic of wine, the enchantment of baking, the oozing theurgy of olive ointment.
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