restricted access Dogs, Vines, and the Invention of Wine (Hecataeus 1 F 15 FGrHist)
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Dogs, Vines, and the Invention of Wine (Hecataeus 1 F 15 FGrHist)

Of Deucalion’s son, Orestheus of Aetolia, Hecataeus of Miletus (born ca. 550 bc) writes, “his dog gave birth to a stick (literally, the crown of a root), and he ordered it to be buried” (κύων αὐτοῦ στέλεχος ἔτεκε• καὶ ὃς ἐκέλευσεν αὐτὸ κατορυχθῆναι, Athen. 2.35a-b = 1 F 15 FGrHist, cf. Paus. 10.38.1).1 Happily, once the portent was under ground, “there sprouted from it a grape-rich vine” (ἐξ αὐτοῦ ἔφυ ἄμπελος πολυστάφυλος),2 so the story continues, and Orestheus became the first inventor (πρῶτος εὑρετής) of wine. That Hecataeus should have found this, of all possible means of Orestheus’ finding the honey-sweet dew of the vine, less than ridiculous (“I write these things”—he begins his Genealogies—“that seem to me to be true, for Greeks have many and ridiculous stories, it appears to me,” τάδε φράφω, ὥς μοι δοκεῖ ἀληθέα εἶναι• οἱ γὰρ Ἑλλήνων λόγοι πολλοί τε καὶ γελοῖοι, ὡς ἐμοὶ φαίνονται, εἰσίν, 1 F 1 FGrHist) is strange indeed. Though Hecataeus’ tale conforms to his apparently rationalist project of explaining events without recourse to divine machinery,3 and though it has a vague precedent in his fellow Milesian, Anaximander’s (ca. 610 - ca. 546) idea that humans were originally born from animals of a different species (κατ᾿ ἀρχὰς ἐξ ἀλλοειδῶν ζῴων ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐγεννήθη, [Plut.] Stromat. 2, by which he seems to mean “fish”),4 it does stray from common experience far into the realm, if not of the risible, at least of the very marvelous.

The present note asks why a dog has any role to play in this tale, much less such a strange one. (Why, for example, did Orestheus not merely chance upon a root-crown, which when planted produced the vine, or even upon the primordial vine already in fruit?) The method I shall bring to bear on this question is broadly speaking anthropological: searching early λόγοι [End Page 429] (both mythic and historical accounts) and rituals to try to find the core meaning hidden in Hecataeus’ tale. (I grasp that this ironically involves the very multiplication of stories to which Hecataeus so strenuously objects.)5 I shall consider four things, each in some way parallel to Hecataeus’ tale: the rival Athenian story of the invention of wine; an account of an “animal of a different species” giving birth to a vine; the story that is to bread what Orestheus’ is to wine; and the ritual sacrifice of a goat to the ultimate giver of wine—whom Hecataeus is at such pains to expunge from the record—the god Dionysus.

Let us look first at the story of wine’s origin that is canonical for Athenocentric moderns, since it coincidentally gives the aetiology for the Attic swing-festival (αἰώρα).6 Here too a female dog figures, though in quite a different role. In this tale Dionysus himself taught viticulture to a farmer named Icarius. The man generously shared his find with his neighbours, who drank it neat, and, thinking from the resulting, unfamiliar stupor that he had poisoned (or bewitched, πεφαρμάχθαι) them, slew him (Apollod. Bibl. 3.14.7).7 We cannot say from the tattered remains of Eratosthenes of Cyrene’s (ca. 276 - ca. 195) Erigone (frr. 22–27 = Powell 1925: 64–65)8 what part, if any, Icarius’ dog, Maera,9 played in his discovery of the vine, but she touchingly helped his daughter, the poem’s title-character, search for him by sniffing out his murdered corpse, in return for which the gods transformed her into either Sirius, the dog-star (Nonn. Dion. 47.253, Columella Rust. 10.400) or Procyon (Hyg. Poet. Astr. 2.4), thus actualizing the meaning of her name (<μαρμαίρειν, “to flash, sparkle, gleam”, cf. Nonn. Dion. 47.253).10 Erigone, meanwhile, finding herself an orphan, hung herself;11 once a year the [End Page 430] Athenians would propitiate her ghost by pushing their unmarried daughters on swings. Before Icarius was killed—here Eratosthenes follows the Parian Marble (FGrHist 239 A 43)—he sacrificed a goat to Dionysus (“At Icarion ... men first danced round [or for] a goat,” Ἰκαριοῖ τόθι πρῶτα περὶ [Viré; MSS Hygini: στρλγον vel στρλτον; Rosokoki: περ εἰς] τράγον ὠρχήσαντο, Hygin. de astr. 2.4 = Eratosth. fr. 22 Powell [1925: 64], 4 Rosokoki [1995: 85]).12 Icarius had no wife, nor Erigone a mother (Nonn. Dion. 47.186),13 and by tending her in life and death Maera seems...