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the kitchen of Midas...feast
The extraordinary drinking set, which was used to serve the accompanying mixed fermented beverage of wine, beer, and mead, has an importance that extends well beyond Midas and his funerary feast. Later Greeks would have turned up their noses at such a concoction, but Homer also describes a drink that combines wine, barley meal, honey, and goat's cheese (Iliad 11:628-643; Odyssey 10.229-243). Recent chemical analyses by McGovern's laboratory of numerous Late Mycenaean and Minoan drinking vessels have also shown that they were filled with the same mixed fermented beverage as that in the Midas Tomb.
How could two seemingly disparate culturesLate Bronze Greece (ca. 1400-1200 BC) and Iron Age Phrygiashare the same taste in beverages? The answer may lie farther north in Europe, where a mixed fermented beverage was being enjoyed at least 4000 years earlier than the time of the Vikings, with whom mead-drinking is most closely associated. Grapes grew less well in cold northern climes, but honey was abundant there, and other fruits (especially apples and cranberries) were available to produce what may be called today a punch or toddy. Scholars have long argued that the Mycenaean Greeks were European invaders. The Phrygians are also believed to be of European extraction via the Balkans and northern Greece. Thus, the predilections of the two peoples for mixed fermented beverages might well be explained by their common European origins. As grape vines proliferated and winemaking improved, varietal wines from particular regions became a mark of civilized life and barbaric beer and mead were pushed to the sidelines. Yet, mead remained a speciality of the Phrygians until at least the 1st century of our era.
As a result of a remarkable archaeological discovery and the advent of modern scientific tools, we have been able to put later accounts of King Midas to the test. Of course, many of these tales have long been understood to be highly fanciful. The decomposed body of King Midas, lying in state in his coffin, might be viewed as the just reward for his over-indulgence. Yet, he lived to the ripe old age of 60 or 65, far exceeding the average life expectancy of the time (although those who survived into adulthood sometimes lived to be very old). Contrary to legend, he does not appear to have starved as a result of a putative golden touch or to have poisoned himself. If his funerary feast reflects what he ate and drank in life, Midas benefited from a high-protein diet and the enhanced antioxidant and nutritional content of a fermented beverage.