Hymn to Ninkasi

Beer

One of the oldest pieces of literature we have is the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi.  It is a hymn but it is also a recipe.  It is an instruction on how to make beer.

In a pre-literate society poetry, song and prayer were all useful mnemonic forms.  Encoding a recipe in a prayer makes it into a duty.   The woman of the house is bound to supply her husband with his daily bread and beer.

The beer in question was not a sparkling Czech Pilzner lager.  It probably looked more like a bowl of porridge.  Still, beer is beer, and beer is the oldest drink made by mankind.  Made by womankind more like.  In primitive tribal societies it falls to the women to make the bread and the beer.

The archaeological record demonstrates that the arrival of farming led to arthritis in knees and hips, elbows and wrists, particularly for women.  They spent a good part of every day on hands and knees with a quern stone grinding wheat and barley.

The men became priests and were clever enough to turn the production of Bread and Beer into religious duties.  That made a reluctant wife into a blasphemer.  It was a control mechanism to keep women in line.

However if its’s blasphemy you want deny beer to a poet.  The pen is mightier than the sword and hell hath no fury like a thirsty poet.

 

A Glass of Beer ; by James Stephens

The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there
nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer:
may the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair
and beat bad manners out of her skin for a year.

That parboiled imp, with the hardest jaw you will ever see
on virtue’s path, and a voice that would rasp the dead,
came roaring and raging the minute she looked at me,
and threw me out of the house on the back of my head.

If I asked her master he’d give me a cask a day;
but she with the beer at hand, not a gill would arrange!
May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten and may
the high king of glory permit her to get the mange.

 

 

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