Please note, this article was written before the Prime Minister delayed the lifting of lockdown.
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On 21 June, alarms and alarums allowing, the all clear will sound and Great Britain will declare Victory over Virus. There will be celebration; there will be commemoration; there will undoubtedly be libation as the country returns in relief to “normalcy”.
Of course, it will be not quite over nor normal; much mopping up of any final pockets of resistance will be necessary, whilst more defence scholarship and spending against new viral enemies will be needed.
The pharmo-industrial complex needs be fed. But we may allow ourselves, to borrow from Churchill’s ringing oration, a brief period of rejoicing. And when it comes to rejoicing the Romans are the race to beat.
In June alone they managed to fit in four festivals: the Vestalia where women offered up an unborn calf to Vesta and her virgins; the Minores in which flautists skipped and tripped around the city walls making music for Minerva; the festival of Summanus when gladiators made their ritual blood sacrifice in the Circus Maximus to the god of thunder; and then there was the goddess Bellona, the original deity of war, in whose temple the senate debated the orders of battle, threw the symbolic javelin toward the lands of them enemy and welcomed victorious generals returning for their triumph.
Bellona’s festival was the greatest of them all. The Bellonari, her devoted priesthood, wounded themselves in an orgy of dea sanguinis whilst the masses self-harmed by more traditional alcoholic means in salutation of her name.
The modern roman can still keep this festival if he wishes, especially if he can lay his hands on a bottle of Latour-Bellona, preferably a Merlot, possibly a 2009 vintage, that is baptised in her honour. The wine, made in the traditional Bordeaux method by which the inky-blue Merlot grapes are harvested early to ensure a more medium bodied fermentation, is ripe with raspberry and strawberry flavours. Yet it retains a freshness and vitality which the heavier late harvested fruits struggle to convey.
Summery berries play around the mouth and tickle the tongue with a gentle astringency to make it an ideal accompaniment to a light lunch
The colour is a blend of bright cherry and garnet, the nose insinuates just a touch of acidity but the real pleasure, of course, is in the taste. And what a taste. Summery berries play around the mouth and tickle the tongue with a gentle astringency to make it an ideal accompaniment to a light lunch. Yet as the draw is short but by no means sharp and with little or no aftertaste, this red is perfectly agreeable without any lunch at all. Elegant, sophisticated and as cool as the coastal climate, the Latour-Bellona can be relied on to bring your afternoon or evening to life.
For in the lives of the ancients wine was the great leveller — in the democratic rather than the supine sense. Patricians drank it, plebeians drank it, even the slaves and the combatants in the Coliseum drank it. They all did so to guard against that other great leveller, the grim reaper; booze in the blood was far safer than the cholera vibrio.
Today, thanks to vaccines and antibiotics, we can enjoy vino for more rarefied and recreational reasons. But the Roman spirit remains for us all to relish. You can find it in the bottles of Latour-Bellona, for she was not only the first lady of war, but a goddess of the grape too.
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