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Wine Studies in Pliny’s Natural History XIV


According to Pliny, Italy was famous for its wine. Wine can be used for various purposes, including medicinal ones, such as what he calls the heating effect of wine on the human body. Pliny also mentions that Alexander the Great called wine the earth’s blood, pointing to the fact that, apart from its propensity to cause emotional upheaval, wine may also be quite dangerous. Pliny addresses the intoxicating effects that wine may have on the person drinking it and stresses the importance of drawing the line between having a light drink and getting drunk.

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Pliny lays out the history of winemaking with great attention to detail and giving credit to the people that contributed to the art of making wine extensively. In particular, he mentions Aristaeus, who was the first to suggest combining wine and honey. Furthermore, Pliny explores the geography of winemaking, specifying that the Greek wine from the Adriatic Gulf had outstanding qualities and was viewed as a prime example of an exceptional drink. Finally, Pliny addresses the effects of drinking wine.

He emphasizes that, while causing people to feel more relaxed and satisfied, wine may also lead to inappropriate behavior and body weakness, even though it has a strengthening effect when consumed in small portions. For this reason, Pliny persuades his readers to drink responsibly.

Background and Methodology

Gaius Plinius Secundus, also known as Pliny, the Elder, was a Roman scholar who lived in 23 A.D.–79 A.D.2 He was a Roman savant and a natural philosopher.3 Pliny explored natural phenomena and developed an entirely new approach toward researching them. He studied extensively to understand the nature of things and contributed to science development by writing about his observations and assumptions.

As a rule, Pliny is viewed as one of the key authorities on the issues related to natural sciences in the ancient era and up to the Middle Ages.4 The specified topic fits the range of issues that Pliny discusses quite naturally. Indeed, the philosopher addresses a wide range of problems in his work, with some of the choices that he makes when selecting a particular topic for discussion being quite random.

For this reason, the choice of wine as the object for further exploration and analysis does not seem out of place in Pliny’s work. Quite the opposite, the author’s ability to link different elements of the environment, including artificial objects and natural ones, allows for embracing the diversity of nature and studying it. Furthermore, the choice of wine as the subject for a vast exploration and discussion can be viewed as an attempt to handle the nature-vs.-nurture argument.

Indeed, wine is a natural product from grapes, yet it needs to undergo certain processes to be produced. Therefore, the specified item can be viewed as the link between the observation of natural phenomena and the description of the humankind’s progress. For this reason, the selection of wine as the subject for a discussion seems very natural in Pliny’s work. Compared to the norm that Pliny established for his writing, the excerpt about wine seems to be of an average length.

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In the excerpt, Pliny manages to provide the essential information about the people that contributed to the development of winemaking, the most notable sorts of wine, the methods of making it, and the effects that wine has on people. At the same time, the description is not lengthy, which helps keep the readers’ attention on the subject matter. The paper’s topic addresses the approach that Pliny used to explore the nature of the world around him.

In particular, it covers how he combined his naturalistic observations with the social aspects of a certain object or phenomenon. Pliny manages to engage readers into caring about the subject of his discussion. His description of the art of winemaking is insightful, even though some of the assumptions are very outdated. Having been interested in the process of winemaking and the history of wine, Pliny manages to pass his enthusiasm onto readers, therefore, making the narration more than simply a list of facts. As a result, readers have an opportunity to gain an understanding of how wine became a part of the cultural legacy of Ancient Rome.


It seems that Pliny is quite accurate in his endeavor to analyze the history of wine and understand what significance it holds for people. The colorful descriptions of the methods of using wine apart from drinking it and the symbolic meanings that wine has for people shed a lot of light on the culture of Ancient Rome. For instance, the weight of winemaking as an industry is stressed extensively throughout the excerpt. Naturally, some of the statements that Pliny makes and the information to which he refers, are beyond outdated.

This is quite easy to understand; indeed, it would be absurd to expect that a book written nearly two thousand years ago would easily fit into the context of the modern world. However, even given the lack of consistency between the ancient realities and the ones of the present-day world, the book provides vivid and believable descriptions of winemaking, its history, the people that contributed most to the development of winemaking, and the types of wine that were created and produced most frequently at the time.

The cultural perspective on wine is fascinating. Pliny explains that wine should be viewed as an essential element of culture and that it should be consumed during a banquet. The exploration of the effect that wine has on people, though admittedly outdated and not aligning with the current understanding, is quite interesting to read. Pliny should be credited for his attempt to study the effects that wine has on people and their behavior.

By viewing the problem from a chemistry-related perspective, as he states that “wine has the property of heating the parts of the body inside when it is drunk and of cooling them when poured on them outside”, Pliny makes an attempt to understand the nature of both the physical and the psychological changes that individuals experiences while they are under the influence of alcohol. Also, the psychological perspective provided by the author is a rather unexpected addition to his work. Yet, it is a very welcomed change of pace since it shows the propensity toward analyzing people’s behavior. In other words, the foundation for the crucial principles of a psychological analysis can be tracked down in Pliny’s statement concerning the effects of wine on people.

Furthermore, one must give Pliny credit for being especially meticulous about the sources that he used when writing his book. According to sources, Pliny scrutinized all of the information that he used for writing his books. In particular, he mentions original authorities whose notes he used to produce his work, including the book on wine. As a result, the extensive information that he gathers gives a detailed and rather vivid picture.

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Despite the fact that most of the information that Pliny provides about wine was gathered from other people and sources, the part where he talks about the effects of wine can be regarded as his personal opinion about the issue, which makes the book all the more exciting to read. In his own, admittedly limited, way Pliny advances collective knowledge on the subject of wine. Instead of simply giving a full account of the current state of winemaking, he also provides information about the possible development of the industry, as well as opportunities for studying the effects of wine, improving the winemaking process, and other possible steps forward.

Additionally, when considering the outcomes of consuming wine, Pliny approaches the exploration of psychological effects thereof on people, thus, paving the way for the further development of psychology as a science. The description provided by Pliny, as well as his own analysis of the effects that winemaking has on the state economy, offers a deep insight into the culture of Ancient Rome.

Although some of the statements made by the philosopher are outdated according to current understanding, most of his work is profound and insightful. The book sheds light not only on wine as a substance but also on the people that were linked to the development of winemaking, its effects on the economy and its impact on culture. Thus, Pliny provides its readers with another puzzle piece for creating the picture of Ancient Rome in all its glory.


Bhattacharjee, An analysis of classification techniques in data mining for determining quality of wine product: Red & white. Vidyaniketan Journal of Management and Research, 4(1), 161-177. Pliny (1) the Elder, 23/24–79 CE. (2017). Web.

Pliny the Elder. (2004). The natural history, book XIV: Wine. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Stannard, J. (2017). Pliny the Elder. Web.

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