What’s In A Name? I’ll Drink To That

Dionysus NOT Dionysios

Dionysios, I said to myself. Are you sure? Is it not Dionysus?

Sad, I suppose, that the idea for a column can materialise when you're taking your best girl out for a hot date. Early evening at the flickers followed by some leftover chicken stew. Don't tell me that I can't show a lady a good time.

Anyway, (and I don't think this is too much of a spoiler alert) we are in Sicily. When I say we, I mean Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. They seek, and I quote, the cave of Dionysios.

Hold on. The man's name was Dionysus. I don't know how many of you would interrupt your hot date, whether before or after your leftover chicken stew to check this. Ha! Right again. Etymologically, Dionysios is a nominalised adjective. In other words they could call it Dionysios' Cave, but it would be the cave of Dionysus.

If you struggled through that piece of extreme pedantry, you may be wondering what this is all about. Who was Dionysus anyway?

Bacchus by Caravaggio

He was the Greek god of wine. (His other portfolios included vegetation, theatre, fertility and madness.) His Roman equivalent was Bacchus, and in both societies these gods attracted a cult following, with occasional wild rites known as Dionysia or Bacchanalia, with much drink and nonsense. No need for us Scots to adopt such a saint.

Actually the Egyptians got there first, with Hathor, the goddess of love and fertility and Reneunetet, the goddess of the harvest and grapes. The former had an annual Day of Intoxication  in her honour. Coming up to date, both Judaism and Christianity adopt wine in ceremony. We're all familiar with the miracle of transforming water into wine, and St Paul, no less, advised drinking wine for health reasons. Both religions advise moderation.

With such traditions, it's hardly surprising that wines of all types began to find their way into our cooking pots. I wrote an article on Cooking with Wine a few years ago, but reviewing just the last few weeks' output I was surprised how often a drop of this and a splash of that are featured. There was the glug of brandy in last week's lobster bisque.  The leftover chicken stew was a simple variation on a chausseur sauce, where red wine is added to the softened veg then reduced. You then add stock and reduce again. Very simple, but you need to make sure you don't overcook your chook.

Sometimes, of course it's more than a glassful. The king of all stews has to be beef bourgignon, where the best part of a bottle is involved. And let's not forget white wine and vermouth. A very dry muscadet for perfect moules marinière, or a splash of Noilly Prat to add extra flavour to a fish dish such as this halibut with mussels recipe from a couple of years ago. (Couldn't find the link to the mussels recipe - must have been on the old site.)

And let's not forget sherry and marsala and port and all the other things for which we must thank Dionysus and his successors. Your health, sir, - in moderation of course.


  1. Anne Hillerton on 12th July 2023 at 5:53 pm

    Cheers, Tom!
    Yep, I agree that all these additions elevate the dishes mentioned.
    Is this the time to debate whether cooking wine needs to be the good stuff or are my taste buds shot because I buy plonk for cooking and think that’s ok?
    I’m sure you agree that ‘leftover wine’ is either a myth or a handed down memory from previous generations, so I have to buy wine for cooking.

    • Tom Johnston on 12th July 2023 at 7:47 pm

      Depends what you mean by plonk. Don’t use great stuff for cooking, but if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in food. You wouldn’ use mouldy carrots or rotten onions. Totally agree re “leftover wine.”

  2. Janet Hood on 12th July 2023 at 8:57 pm

    When I was at uni much the same time as you Tom – Dad used to send me the occasional letter with a fiver enclosed and the ps would say “For Justinian not Bacchus” never really worked – thanks the Lord there were libraries – to sleep off the effects – oh dear

    • Tom Johnston on 13th July 2023 at 10:27 am

      “For Justinian, not Bacchus.” Love it! A great character, your Dad, as were many solicitors in the old days.

Leave a Comment