Chocolate was first introduced into Europe in the sixteenth century by the Spaniards, who brought back the cocoa beans and chocolate drink to their home nation following the defeat of the Aztec Empire. The chocolate drink soon became popular in Europe but also provoked considerable controversy over whether consumption of the chocolate drink constituted breaking the fast during fast-days. In 1664, Francesco Maria Brancaccio- a cardinal of the Catholic Church- wrote a short work entitled De Chocolatis Potu Diatribe ('Essay Concerning The Drinking Of Chocolate'), in which he concluded that drinking chocolate did not mean breaking the fast. At the end of the essay is an ode composed by a Jesuit called Aloysius Ferronius. The Jesuits, it should be noted, were supporters of the idea that drinking chocolate did not break the fast.
The ode consists of two parts: the first in praise of the chocolate tree and the chocolate drink derived from it, the second in praise of Brancaccio and his willingness to break free of tyrannical dogmatism on the issue of drinking chocolate during fast-days. The ode is striking for its combination of elements from the Bible (e.g. the story of Adam) and references to Roman and Greek mythology.
I first came across an excerpt of this ode in the book 'Cocoa: All About It' by 'Historicus', who was actually Richard Cadbury, the son of the founder of the Cadbury company that is renowned around the world today. But I felt that the translation was too free in nature, and this was also true of other translations I observed. Moreover, the other translations have tended to leave out the second part of the ode. I therefore present the ode in full and a translation of my own that adheres closer to the original words of the text. I also include some explanatory notes.
Feel free to contact me for any suggested improvements or amendments.
To the most eminent and revered sire, Cardinal Franciscus Maria Brancaccio, author of the Essay Concerning the Drinking of Chocolate: An Ode, by Aloysius Ferronius of the Society of Jesus.
Oh tree born in the furthest lands,
And glory of the Mexican shore,
Fertile with juice, in which the heavenly nectar of Chocolate takes pride.
May every wood and the offspring of all flowers yield to you;
The Laurel binding crowns of valour in triumphs, the Oak, the Alder,
And the precious Cedar of Mount Lebanon.
They say that Adam, the origin of people,
After being driven from the blessed seats[i] carried the tree
To the Indians. Having found hospitable soil,
It made the noble seeds of life grow from its trunk.
I assign to Bacchus[ii] the gifts of Liber Opimianus,[iii]
The wines known for many lustra,[iv]
Through which the white-old age of time has destroyed their renown and homeland,
The Cretan wines and the Massic[v] wines;
While my heart is moistened by the vigorous shower,
The source of the nourishing mind, and the vein of ingenuity.
Oh liquid sent from the stars, and renowned drink of the gods!
Adieu from afar, Castalian[vi] dews, and may this liquid flow
In a perpetual stream for the poets.
Oh glory of the shining purple,[vii]
And star of the Vatican crown of valour,
Franciscus, how much this juice owes to your ventures and reed-pen!
Rumour had it that the laws of fast-days were causing harm in their bites of pain:
You relax the reins of tyranny, oh red-lit torch of truth, and champion of the gods.
You gently sink in the deep sea of opinions: from different directions resounds the sparkling wave.
Either you should bear down upon the Latin lands, or the open spaces of the Greeks.
Rather constrained, having no mastery over the boundary, you traverse more freely the realms of Minerva,[viii]
As you lay open the riches overflowing in gold like the Hydaspes[ix] and the treasures of the mind.
Oh splendour of the world, the grace of the men of Mercury![x]
If you had been present as a companion at the side of Ada, with you as patron,
The grave anger of the gods would be overcome,
The Seine with war-like motions and the Tiber not knowing how to be swayed
Would not weary the Italian angers,
But carried on its four-horse chariot, nurturing peace would join together the high peoples.
But the days of a happier thread of life will come, the golden days of Leo,
With you as king of the sacred rites, ruling the pious lands.
[i] Referring to Adam's expulsion from Eden by God.
[ii] A Roman god of wine equated with Dionysus.
[iii] A Roman deity of agriculture and wine, equated with Bacchus.
[iv] A lustrum was originally a sacrifice of purification supposed to be offered by a censor for the Roman people. It then came to acquire a general meaning of a period of five years or even several years (cf. Lewis and Short Latin dictionary).
[v] Massic: referring to Monte Massico in Campania in southern Italy. It is mentioned multiple times in the poetry of Horace.
[vi] Referring to Castalia: a fountain sacred to Apollo and the Muses.
[vii] The ode now turns to Brancaccio.
[viii] Roman goddess of wisdom, arts, sciences etc. She is identified with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.
[ix] A river in the Indian subcontinent.
[x] Viri Mercuriales: referring to Mercury's status as the guardian of scholars and poets.