SHALLUM THE WINE-SELLER
 "THINGS are growing worse and worse; only three customers
yesterday, and not a single one to-day, though it must
be at least an hour past noon. One would think that all
the world had become Nazarites. Then, though there is
next to nothing coming in, there is no stop to the
going out. First comes the rascally tax-gatherer, and
squeezes one as dry as a grape-skin in a press. And if,
by chance, there happens to be a drop left, some
snuffling priest is sure to turn up, and talk about
one's duty as a patriot and a Jew till he drags the
shekel out of one."
The speaker was one Shallum, a Benjamite, who kept a
little wine-shop in the Lower City. When he had
his grumble, he thrust his hand into an empty wine-jar,
drew from it a little leathern bag, untied the string
which was round the neck, poured out the scanty
contents on the counter and counted them. He knew the
perfectly well, for he
 had gone through the counting process at least ten
times before that day. But when a man is desperately
to make two ends meet, he will measure them again and
again, though he may know exactly by how much they are
"Twelve shekels and ten annas! And old Nahum will be
here to-morrow, asking for his thirty shekels!"
Nahum was a Lebanon wine-grower, whose long-suffering
had been already tried to the utmost by the delays of
At this moment his meditations were interrupted by the
entrance of two visitors, who had been standing,
listening and watching outside the door. They were
traders in a small way, who had migrated from Joppa
they heard that Greek wares were becoming the fashion
"Ho! Shallum," cried one of them, "two cups of your
best Lebanon; and make haste, for we have important
business on hand."
"Shall I draw some water fresh from the well? This is a
little too warm to be used."
"Water!" said the man. "Jew, don't blaspheme. Mix water
with our wine to-day, of all days in the year!"
"And why not to-day?" said Shallum.
"Because it is the feast of Dionysus, the wine-giver;
and it would be the grossest impiety to profane his
bounty with any mixture of meaner
 things. Commonly his godship winks at human weakness;
but to-day it is different. May he confound me if I do
him such dishonour!"
"He will certainly confound you if you drink this heady
wine undiluted," muttered Shallum to himself, as he set
the two cups before his guests.
"Excellent! excellent!" cried Lycon, the elder of the
two Greeks, as he set down his goblet, half empty. "But
why the god vouchsafes such capital drink to these
unbelieving dogs of Jews puzzles me beyond expression."
His companion broke out into a drinking-song:
"Fill the cup with ample measure,
Dionysus' gift divine;
Earth and sea hold no such treasure
As the gleaming, sparkling wine.
All for youth are love's caressings,
Gold and gems for princes shine;
All may share the wine-god's blessings,
Rich and poor are glad with wine."
Shallum was fairly tolerant, as indeed a tavern-keeper
can hardly fail to be, of the ways and manners of his
customers; but to hear this praise of a false god, one
of the odious demons that were worshipped by the
heathen, was too much for his patience. He muttered a
curse under his breath, and emphasized this expression
disgust by spitting on the floor.
"Don't talk to me of your gods and goddesses!" cried
Shallum, goaded beyond all endurance, "a
 lewd, drunken crew that no respectable person would
have anything to do with!"
"Come, my friend," said the Greek, "this is not the
sort of talk which one expects to hear from a loyal
of the pious Antiochus. We Greeks are not such bigots
as you are, cursing every man, woman, or child that
not go exactly in our own way; but you must treat us
and our belongings with respect. We are not going to
barbarians scoffing at what we think fit to worship. I
have heard of men being crucified for less than you
said to-day. But hearken, Shallum, we did not come here
to-day to quarrel with you. You are a good fellow,
after all, and keep as capital a tap of wine as any
that I know, King Tmolus
only excepted. We want you to come with us and have a
jolly day. What is the good of quarrelling about words?
You and we are quite agreed that there is something in
wine that makes it one of the finest things under the
sun. Suppose that we choose to call that something
Dionysus the Wine-god, and you choose to say that your
has to do with it, what is the difference? We are
really agreed. It is the goodness in wine that we both
and I'm sure that a really honest fellow like you, that
we can always rely on to give us the right stuff,
 the first to acknowledge it. Well, can't we show an
agreement? That is why we want you to come with us. A
crowd of your countrymen are coming, I understand. It
will be a pretty sight, and there will be some of the
finest music that you ever heard, and dancing, and fun
of all kinds, and, of course, as much wine as ever you
want. Of course you will come, my dear Shallum?"
"I come?" growled the wine-seller. "Not I! What do I
care about your dancing and singing? And as for wine, I
can have as much as I want at home, and better stuff,
too, than any that I am likely to get elsewhere."
Lycon, who was evidently bent on getting his way, did
not suffer his good humour to be disturbed by the Jew's
churlishness. "Ah!" said he, "that reminds me. Stupid
fellow that I am, I quite forgot the matter of business
that really brought me here. To tell the truth,
business and this old Lebanon don't very well agree.
listen; Neocles, who is manager-in-chief of the whole
festival, has quite made up his mind to have your wine,
and none but yours, for all the better sort of people.
He was to get some skins for the common folks from
Zadok—do you know him?"
"Know him?" said Shallum; "I should think I
did—hasn't got a drop of sound wine in his shop."
"So the Chief said. But we were to come to you for the
good wine. What can you let us have?
 Mind that it must be the very best. We were not to
haggle about the price, Neocles said, so long as we got
And Lycon pulled out of his pocket a money-bag that was
evidently much better furnished than Shallum's lean and
hunger-bitten purse. Untying the neck, he poured into
his hand, with an air of careless profusion, some ten
twelve gold pieces.
Shallum's keen eyes glistened at the sight. Here was
enough to pay not only Nahum but all his creditors, and
leave him a handsome sum over wherewith to tide over
the hard times. His somewhat brusque manner changed in
moment. He was now the most obsequious of tradesmen.
"Everything in my stores is at your disposal. And I
have a better wine than this in my cellar, and only ten
shekels a skin," he went on, adding about three to the
utmost he expected to get. "But wait a moment,
gentlemen, you shall taste it for yourselves."
He took a small flagon from beneath the counter and
disappeared. The two Greeks smiled to each other. "We
the fish fast," one of them said; "after all there is
nothing like a golden bait."
Shallum shortly reappeared with the wine, which was
tasted and approved.
"Well," said Lycon, "we will say ten skins of this at
ten shekels a piece, and five of the other sort at
eight—that is the price; is it not?"
 Shallum nodded assent. As a matter of fact he would
never have expected more than seven. But if these
were so free with their money why should not an honest
Jew have the benefit of it?
"Of course you will come with us?" said Lycon. "You may
take my word for it, there will be nothing to offend
Shallum hesitated for a moment, and then muttered an
"And you won't mind wearing this little twig of ivy,
just twisted round your head? It means
This was more than the wretched man was prepared for.
"Not I," he said; "I am not going to wear any of your
Lycon put the money-bag into his pocket again. "Then,
my dear Shallum, I am afraid we shall not be able to do
any business. 'Give and take' is our motto. We put a
nice little bargain in your way; and you must humour
However, if you are obstinate, there must be an end of
it. I dare say Zadok can find us what we want. Come,
Callicles," he went on, turning to his companion, "we
must be going."
Shallum saw his dreams of deliverance from his
money-troubles vanishing into air, and grew desperate.
he said to his guests, "let me think for a moment. You
won't ask me to do anything else. A few leaves can't
make much odds
 either way. I don't remember ever hearing anything in
the Law against wearing ivy. It isn't like eating
flesh, or those detestable scaleless eels that you
Greeks are so fond of. Yes, I'll wear the thing, if you
me to so much."
"That's right, Shallum; I thought a sensible man like
you would not throw away a good chance for a mere
So saying, Lycon stepped outside the shop, and
whistled. In a minute or so a cart, which had been
the corner, was driven up. The skins of wine were
stowed away in it, and the two Greeks, with Shallum
them, all wearing the ivy-wreath, took their seats, and
started for the Valley of the Cheesemongers, where it
had been arranged that the festival should be held.
The festival was scarcely a success, if it was meant,
as it certainly was, to attract the Jewish population.
few hundreds, indeed, had been persuaded or compelled
to be present. Most of them belonged to the lowest and
most degraded class, wretched creatures whom any
purchaser might secure for any purpose with a shekel or
flagon of wine. To-day they were "hail fellow well met"
with their Greek neighbours, but to-morrow they would
be perfectly ready to tear them in pieces. A few of
somewhat better character had been bribed, as Shallum
been bribed, to come. These had little of the air
of genuine holiday-makers. Their
 bursts of simulated gaiety did not conceal the shame
which they really felt. Others, again, did not make
this pretence of hilarity. They had been actually
compelled to come, and they had all the air of
in the triumphant procession of a victorious general.
Their faces were ghastly pale. Some, with their teeth
firmly clenched, seemed to be forcibly keeping in the
curses which struggled to find utterance. Others, of a
gentler temper, were weeping silently; and others,
again, preserved a look of dogged indifference. The
part of the spectators, who could have enjoyed the
humours of the scene with a good conscience, were
by the presence of these unwilling guests. In
consequence, everything seemed to fail. The jesters,
grotesque garb and faces hideously smeared with
wine-lees, could scarcely get a laugh from their
singing lacked heartiness, the dancing was dull and
spiritless. It is only natural that revellers, who find
time passing slowly, should try to quicken its
movement. There was little brightness or gaiety in this
the wine-god, and there was therefore all the more
excess. Some seized the rare opportunity of
themselves without expense, while others drank to drown
their shame or their anger. Shallum, whose occupation
had somewhat seasoned him against the effects of wine,
remained comparatively sober, but his Greek companions
were less discreet
 or less strong-headed. They became, by a rapid
succession of moods, boisterously gay, foolishly
and provokingly quarrelsome. It was not long before
things came to a crisis. Lycon taunted the wine-seller
the quality of his wines; that did not affect him, for
he was used to such complaints from his customers, and
took them as part of his day's work. He scoffed at the
subjection of his nation to Greek rule; Shallum still
kept his temper. The tipsy Greek was only encouraged to
further insults by his companion's self-restraint. He
attempted to daub the Jew's face with the dregs from a
broken flagon. Shallum angrily shook him off, and he
reeled back just saving himself from a fall by catching
at the trunk of an olive tree. "Hog of a Jew!" he
cried, "do you lay hands on a free-born Greek? Come,
Callicles," he went on, turning to his companion, "let
teach the beast how to behave himself." The two rushed
at the Jew, aiming blows at his head with the staves
which they carried in their hands. One of them stumbled
against the stones of a ruined house, and fell so
heavily that he was unable or unwilling to raise
himself again. Shallum easily evaded the attack of the
dealing him at the same time so fierce a stroke of the
fist that it stretched him senseless on the ground. The
deed done, he looked hastily round to see whether any
spectator had witnessed it. To his great relief, he
 found himself alone. From the lower city came the
sounds of furious revelry and the strains of the
"Comrades, crown the bowl with wine,
Round your locks the ivy twine,
Deeper drink and join again
Bacchus and his reeling train."
His first impulse was to tear the ivy-wreath from his
head. Then he reflected that if he could endure to wear
it for a few moments longer, it might serve him as a
passport. The event proved that he was right. He passed
unquestioned through the crowd of revellers, left the
precincts of the valley, and striking on an
path, hurried on at the top of his speed, not pausing
till he had put at least six miles between himself and
the scene of his late adventure. Then he threw himself
on the ground and bewailed his grievous fall in an
of shame and remorse. After a while the fatigue and
excitement of the day, helped by the fumes of the wine,
which his rapid movements had sent to his brain,
overpowered him, and he sank into a heavy sleep.
His slumbers lasted late into the day. When he woke,
his head aching with the excess of the day before, he
even more wretched, more hopeless. To return to the
city was out of the question. But where was he to go?
he was debating this question with himself, and could
find nothing in the
 least resembling an answer, he caught the sound of
approaching footsteps. Mingled feelings of shame and
suggested to him that he should hide himself, and he
plunged into the bushes which lined the side of the
The traveller approached. He was a renegade Jew, and
Shallum recognized him as one who had taken an active
in the festivities of the preceding day. Just as he
passed Shallum's hiding-place an unlucky impulse made
burst forth into a snatch of the Bacchic chant—
"Deeper drink and join again
Bacchus and his reeling train."
His listener heard the words with mingled feelings of
disgust and rage, and leaping down into the road felled
him senseless to the ground.
At first it seemed as if what he had done did not make
his way plainer before him. But as he stood by the
prostrate man a thought occurred to him. He took the
purse which the man, in the usual traveller's fashion,
wore by way of girdle round his waist, and examined its
contents. It held three gold pieces and some ten
shekels. The gold he left; but half of the shekels he
transferred to his own keeping, One of the shekels
sufficed to purchase some bread and dried flesh at the
neighbouring village. Thus recruited in strength the
fugitive made his escape to the mountains.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics