A friend mentioned her surprise at how lush the vineyards along the Mosel in northern Germany are. I flashed immediately on Ausonius‘ Mosella, a 4th century Latin poem I once set out to translate, until I found Christopher Kelk’s version, which does the job well. Though Mosella is about the river and its environs, the aura and lure of wine can be felt throughout its playful verses.
I taught at the University of Bordeaux in 1979-1980. This was just before I entered the wine business, a refugee, that time, from academia. Ausonius, like Montaigne, was bordelais. He is remembered in the illustrious St. Emilion grand cru Château Ausone, which sits on the site of his nidus senectitus, nest of old age, to which he retired once his patron the Emperor Gratian was assassinated in 383. Montaigne and Ausonius were both local cult objects of attention for the scholar I had wanted to be, as were to be sure the wines of Bordeaux themselves.
I had first learned of Ausonius in a 1969 graduate seminar in Edmonton by Ted Blodgett, of whom the poet was a favourite. In the memorial piece I wrote for Ted I opined
I owe Ted almost everything I know about Latin and medieval literature, in particular Virgil, Catullus, Ovid, Propertius, and even Ausonius, whose poem on the vineyards of the Mosel, Mosella, Ted demonstrated dans le texte was a worthy successor to Ovid, at least the latter’s secondary works, Tristia.
I recalled as well Ted’s dwelling…
… on what the coming of Christian cultural hegemony meant to the late Latin world, in particular how frustrating Ausonius found the “defection” of his dear friend Paulinius of Nola, who converted to Christianity in the 380s and cut himself off from classical Latin culture.
Ted found a similar tension within Augustine of Hippo, whose Confessions, of which we had to read extracts, recounts his ambiguous feelings for the passionate image of Dido in Virgil’s Aeneid once the good Father had renounced the world of sensual desire. So when I came to explain to Ted why in 1976 I admired Mao Zedong’s prescriptions for post-revolutionary literature, I compared Mao to Augustine, both writing from the other side of a cultural gulf in which the old high classical culture was to be sealed off for ethical reasons, but by someone who had mastered it. (https://alteritas.net/GXL/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/A_Tribute_to_Ted_Blodgett-1.pdf)
I was not a Maoist, in fact being a certifiable petty bourgeois intellectual I often suffered rhetorical slings and arrows from that quarter in the political trench warfare of the 70s. But I was a child of my times and bought into the illusion of revolutionary change.
Funny, now, that I bolstered that belief with a thread that began with Ausonius.