Monday, 24 October 2011

Cicero on the pleasures of farming and the vine

     "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart."

Psalm 104:14-15

In his famous essay "Cato the elder: On old age" (published 44 BC), Cicero eloquently describes the delights of farming and gives us a beautiful declaration of love for the vine.

In these times of  "production quotas", "modulation", "direct payments", "decoupling" and "compensatory allowances", it is not difficult to feel a certain sympathy for the European farmers and wine producers, who try to eke out a living within the jungle of regulations and bureaucracy.

Hopefully Cicero´s words can give some comfort to the often struggling farmers and producers - and, more generally, perhaps contribute to an increased understanding of their profession:

Now I come to the pleasures of farming. These give me an unbelievable amount of enjoyment. Old age does not impede them in the least, and in my view they come closest of all things to life of true wisdom. The bank, you might say, in which these pleasures keep their account is the earth itself. It never fails to honour their draft; and, when it returns the principal, interest invariably comes too - not always very much, but often a great deal.

But what delights me is not only the product, but the productivity and nature of the earth herself. First, the scattered corn-seed is taken within her soft, subjugated lap. For a time it remains hidden - occaecatum is our word, from which comes occatio, harrowing. Then, warmed by the moist heat of her embrace, the seed expands and brings forth a green and flourishing blade. Supported by the fibres of its roots, this blade gradually matures. Within its sheath it stands firm upon a jointed stalk; this is its adolescent stage. Then, bursting out from the sheath, the blade puts forth the ears of corn, the ordered rows of grain with their palisade of spikes porotecting them from the beaks of the smaller birds of the sky.

To give an account of the vine - itse beginnings, its cultivation, its expansion - would be out of place here. But I must tell you that this is the recreation and satisfaction of my old age: my delight in the vine is insatiable. First, a general point, which I pass over briefly. In every product of the earth there is an inborn power. This is the power by which a minute fig-seed, or a grape-stone, or the tiniest seeds of any crop or root, are transformed into vast trunks and branches. Cuttings of vines or trees, young twigs springing from a branch, plants formed by dividing roots and lodging an unsevered shoot - who could fail to be amazed and delighted by the products that emerge from these? The natural disposition of vines is to fall to the earth; but give them a prop, and they will embrace it with hand-like tendril to raise themselves aloft. Far and wide they twist and turn, until the farmer´s skilful knife lops them in case they turn to wood and spread too luxuriantly.

When spring has started, the branches that have been left on a vine put forth their buds at every joint, and these buds are transformed into freshly growing grapes. At first very bitter to the taste, the moisture of the earth and the rays of the sun mature them, so that they sweeten to ripeness, wrapped round by young foliage which tempers the heat and keeps away the too powerful rays of the sun. What could be more delicious to the taste or more attractive to the eye?

Nor, I repeat, is the usefulness of the vine all that delights me. There is also the the manner of its cultivation and the very nature of the vine itself; the rows of stakes, the joining of the vine-tops to trellises, the tying down of the shoots, their propagation by slips; as well as the pruning of certain branches, such as I have already mentioned, and the liberation of others.

Cornfields, meadows, vineyards, woods, all give added pleasure to the cultivator´s life. And so do orchards, cattle-pastures, been in their swarms, and flowers in their infinite variety. Planting, too, is a delight, and so is agriculture´s most ingenious operation, grafting.

For an efficient and industrious farmer keeps his wine-cellar, his oil-store, and his larder always full. His whole house has a prosperous appearance: within its rooms are stored generous supplies of pork, goat´s meat, lamb, poultry, milk, cheese and honey. There is also his garden, which farmers call their ´second leg of pork´. The relish of all these good things is sharpened by labours for time of leisure, such as hawking and hunting.

Here are some nice grapes for you to enjoy:

1 comment:

  1. Nice and educational post about farmimg was just looking to the exact information given here and I Internal factors depend upon the kind of mercantilism appropriate to the farm.