Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cicero grows grapes

Natural dignity: is this then a duck, because both swim in ponds?

I suspect that men and women will devise new marriage rituals; they will dispense perhaps with the ring on the fourth finger, or the white gown and the large attending party. So long as human dignity exists, it will quietly rebel at being told that up is down, or that a giraffe and a lamppost are the same thing, because both are tall.

I have a great fondness, you know, for old bits of knowledge that peep out of anywhere. Here is Miss Marple, in her old world garden, internally lamenting the behavior, the deep moral laziness, of her gardener:

"He was all in favour of syringing roses for green-fly, but was slow to get around to it, and a demand for deep trenching for sweet peas was usually countered by the remark that you ought to see his own sweet peas! A proper treat last year, and no fancy stuff done before hand" (Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack'd, 1962).

So it seems you must "deep-trench" your sweet peas. Also you must read Cicero.
Need I mention the starting, planting, and growth of vines? I can never have too much of this pleasure -- to let you into the secret of what gives my old age repose and amusement. For I say nothing here of the natural force which all things propagated from the earth possess -- the earth which from that tiny grain in a fig, or the grape-stone in a grape, or the most minute seeds of the other cereals and plants, produces such huge trunks and boughs.

Mallet-shoots, slips, cuttings, quicksets, layers -- are they not enough to fill any one with delight and astonishment? The vine by nature is apt to fall, and unless supported drops down to the earth; yet in order to keep itself upright it embraces whatever it reaches with its tendrils as though they were hands. Then as it creeps on, spreading itself in intricate and wild profusion, the dresser's art prunes it with the knife and prevents it growing a forest of shoots and expanding to excess in every direction.

Accordingly at the beginning of spring in the shoots which have been left there protrudes at each of the joints what is termed an "eye." From this the grape emerges and shows itself; which, swollen by the juice of the earth and the heat of the sun, is at first very bitter to the taste, but afterwards grows sweet as it matures; and being covered with tendrils is never without a moderate warmth, and yet is able to ward off the fiery heat of the sun.

Can anything be richer in product or more beautiful to contemplate? It is not its utility only, as I said before, that charms me, but the method of its cultivation and the natural process of its growth: the rows of uprights, the cross-pieces for the tops of the plants, the tying up of the vines and their propagation by layers, the pruning, to which I have already referred, of some shoots, the setting of others. I need hardly mention irrigation, or trenching and digging the soil, which much increase its fertility.

As to the advantages of manuring I have spoken in my book on agriculture. The learned Hesiod did not say a single word on this subject, though he was writing on the cultivation of the soil; yet Homer, who in my opinion was many generations earlier, represents Laertes as softening his regret for his son, by cultivating and manuring his farm. Nor is it only in cornfields and meadows and vineyards and plantations that a farmer's life is made cheerful. There are the garden and the orchard, the feeding of sheep, the swarms of bees, endless varieties of flowers. Nor is it only planting out that charms: there is also grafting -- surely the most ingenious invention ever made by husbandmen.

I might continue my list of the delights of country life; but even what I have said I think is somewhat overlong ....

Cicero, On Old Age

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