“Pour some water in your wine”, the Greeks usually say when found in an unpleasant situation where someone has to give in, compromise or forget some misunderstanding that led to a quarrel with another person. This popular saying has roots in antiquity, albeit the fact that when ancient Greeks diluted their wine, it had nothing to do with compromising or retreating.

In fact, the ancient Greeks and Romans did not put water in their wine, but wine in their water. And, most of the times, the reason was to avoid the unpleasant smells of often stagnant water they drank. They would mix it with wine and, sometimes, with sea water, spices or even lemon.

For Greeks, drinking “undiluted wine”, i.e. non-diluted wine, was a sign of barbarism. Those who drank undiluted wine became aggressive, shameless and rude. That is why they believed that only Dionysus could drink pure wine without running the risk of going mad, while ordinary mortals would lose their sanity if they would. For the ancient Greeks there was oenos (undiluted wine) and wine (diluted). Today, the word wine prevailed, even if we do not pour water in it.

Water used to dilute the wine was taken from fresh, shady and cold springs, so that it was also cooled at the same time. The right proportion of the mixture depended on the strength of each wine. The one which accepted the greatest quantity of water was that of Ismaros. Having three glasses of that wine, Odysseus got drunk and then blinded Cyclops Polyphemus. The quality of the wine was also taken into account when mixing it with water. In other words, strong wines were diluted with more water. The ratio of the blend was usually three parts water to one part wine but also 2+1 or 3+2 or 1+1. Hesiod, advising his brother Persia during the summer, offered him three parts water in one part of wine.

The current meaning of the expression “pour some water in your wine” came from the advantage of diluted wine, to state that someone showed a compromising mood, making concessions on a particular issue, which would not be possible if he was under the influence of pure, undiluted wine.