Ever since the time people begun talking, they gave the beautiful and divine ornamental epithets to express their admiration and love. So, anything that touched them or anything that caused them fear or admiration, passed into the realm of the divine, retained divine dimensions and was adorned with many wonderful epithets. All the gods of the ancient Greeks had more than one name, especially Zeus, Aphrodite, Athena and Apollo. This human tendency of adorning gods with epithets was carried also into the Christian religion.

So, Commandaria with its many epithets affirms its position among the divine. Because, only the gods and the divine can have so many names. Remember the ancient gods with the wonderful epithets, but remember particularly Venus of the religion of the ancient Greeks and the Virgin of the Christian religion. Hundreds of names are trying to attribute the importance of Venus for her believers. Hundreds of names adorn the Virgin, trying to define the multidimensional, divine but benevolent role of the mother of Jesus in the Christian world.

The two deities have been associated particularly with Cyprus and its people. From this, the idea for a study to investigate the various epithets of Aphrodite and Mary, was born, and an attempt to verify some relations between them.

Drawing some examples from this research, the name Pandanassa, an epithet of the Virgin Mary, brings to mind the equal word Anassa, a title of the Cypriot Goddess seen in various inscriptions from donations by her priests. In Kouklia, Palaipaphos, the church of the Virgin Mary that is near the temple of Aphrodite, was once known as the Virgin Aphroditissa. Also, the Rose, a flower associated with Venus, is found to be associated with the Virgin Mary with the name Unwithering Rose. The Virgin Mary  Galaktotrophousa reminds of Venus Kourotrophos. In Kouklia, until a few years ago, women with newborns prayed for milk in front of a monolith in the sanctuary of Aphrodite, referring to the Virgin Galatariotissa, and besought her by making the sign of the cross. Before that, they would pray in front of the conical stone idol of Venus. Later the idol was moved to the museum. The word gold featuring various epithets such as Virgin Chrysopolitissa, Chryseleousa, Chrysopantanassa and many others remind us of the adjective Golden, an epithet of Venus found in many ancient Greek texts.

So with these unique deities Commandaria approaches the Divine after assembling a number of adjectives that no other wine in the world rejoices. Let’s not forget that the word wine has a direct relationship with Venus. The name Venus comes from the word wine in Latin evolved into oenus-Venus (Aphrodite) and vinum for wine. So there is such a correlation of wine with the deities that is not surprising that wine has been identified with Aphrodite and later with Christ himself. Especially in Cyprus wine has as deep roots as Venus, so although this Goddess is not being worshiped for many years now, however no one seems to forget her. Let’s name the most important epithets of Commandaria and let’s ponder where they derived from:

  • Sweet wine of Cyprus.
  • Cyprus Nama.
  • Commandaria.
  • The king of wines and the wine of kings.
  • The Apostle of wines.
  • The winner of the first international wine competition.
  • The wine which caused war.
  • The wine of Holy Communion.
  • The wine with the oldest designation.
  • Women opener.
  • The oldest wine in the Mediterranean.
  • Wine with most names and perfumes.

Sweet wine of Cyprus was called before Homer and several years after him, to be distinguished from wines of other origins, a name retained for many years, even after it took its present name. Sweet wine was made in Cyprus 6500 years ago, which was proved by the excavations in Erimi and by the analysis done on pottery, forerunners of the amphora found in the region. The analysis showed that residues at the bottom of the vases came from wine, and actually sweet wine. This fact classifies the wine of Cyprus, the precursor of Commandaria, as the oldest wine in the Mediterranean and Erimi as the birthplace of European wine. Euripides named it the Cypriot Nama, which is synonymous with the manna or the nectar of the gods. With this name and an unknown poet refers to the Cyprus wine (= Koumandaria), in a great poem that was rescued in the “Palatiani Collection”. During the Byzantine period, and when Christianity had prevailed for good on the island of Aphrodite, this wine that was used in the past for libations to the gods, became the wine of the Holy Communion, the blood of Jesus Christ. Richard the Lionheart on his way to Jerusalem in the Third Crusade, conquered Cyprus and bled the island of all its wealth. He got married to Berengaria at the St. George’s Temple in Limassol and celebrated his marriage with the Cypriot Nama thus naming it “the king of wines and wine of kings.” Later on after the occupation of Cyprus by the Lusignans and the creation of the feud of the ‘La Grande Commanderie’(Great Commandery), the Cypriot Nama was renamed Koumandaria (Commandaria) as it was produced within this region, located in Limassol and which included 44 villages. Precisely because it was produced in a specific area with a specific and unchangeable technology it is considered the only wine with the oldest designation of origin which is being produced until nowadays.

At that time, in 1224, the French King Philip Augustus, a great wine-friend, was inspired to organize the first international wine competition, so he instructed and picked wines from around the known world, and of course from Cyprus as well, which was at that time under the rule of the Franks. In this competition Commandaria was crowned the best wine of all; “it first shone like a star,” says the poet Henri d’Adèli, who recorded in every detail this contest in his poem “The Battle of the wines.” So Commandaria was the wine that won the first international competition, while Philip named it the “Apostle of the wines.”

The reputation of Commandaria continued throughout the Middle Ages, even during the Ottoman Occupation although its production was repressed a lot by the Ottoman Empire who imposed heavy taxes. Regardless that, Commandaria was placed on the best tables in Europe, meanwhile the French had devised a recipe that was trying to imitate Commandaria, which was served in taverns and cafes in Paris at the time.

Unfortunately, after the 18th century it was not able to maintain its reputation in the European and global market, as other dessert wines began to gain ground and become beloved first in England and then throughout Europe. England at that time determined most of the wine trade, due to its large market and its colonial empire. Unfortunately the preference of English for the Cyprus Sherry prevented Commandaria from going strong into the English market, something that seemed very negative for its future.

After the proclamation of the Republic of Cyprus, both the production and trade of Commandaria were upgraded, but it was too late to conquer Europe and the world with its quality. Today great efforts are made to promote it, but there is a lot of competition from similar wines that have in the meantime become famous. Commandaria regularly takes part in international wine competitions and there indeed is sweeping awards and earning impressions. In such a contest one of the judges was so excited that during the gold medal award and the festivities that followed, he called it “Women Opener”, explaining that it is such a sweet and ethereal wine that no woman would resist a man after consuming this divine drink

Kyriakos D. Papadopoulos

Oenologist and writer of technical and historical books