The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Practical Wine Jokes or Educational Tool? The Pythagorean Cup

Posted on | October 20, 2014 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

From the Wikipedia page on the Pythagorean Cup

From the Wikipedia page on the Pythagorean Cup

The name Pythagoras likely brings to mind geometry class. After all, this Greek mystic, philosopher and mathematician devised the theorem that holds his name, the Pythagorean theorem that states the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. But the teaching of Pythagoras the Samian, 570-494 BCE, wasn’t limited to just math.

He was also keen to teach people proper etiquette—wine etiquette, in fact. To this end, Pythagoras likely also invented a drinking vessel that bears his name, the Pythagorean cup. Shaped more or less like a bundt pan with a central spoke, the Pythagorean cup has an ingenious design that enforces wine politesse. If you’re greedy and pour too high, past the central spoke that leads from the foot of the cup to just below the cup’s rim, wine fills the two channels in the cup and spills onto the lap of the unsuspecting glutton. Click here to see the Pythagorean cup in action.

It might be simple physics—hydrostatic pressure creates a siphon that draws the wine continually out of the cup and out the hole in the foot of the glass—but it’s also ingenious. While there’s not a lot of historical writing that directly connects Pythagoras with the vessel, cups showing this ingenious design date back more than 2,500 years, and location suggests a strong correlation between Pythagoras and the cup that bears his name.

While enterprising souvenir sellers in Greece continue to replicate and sell the cup to tourists, you can actually fashion your own from a plastic wine glass, a straw, silicone glue, a plastic test tube and a box cutter. While IWM doesn’t condone the spillage of fine wine, we also believe in pouring wine to a polite level—and one that allows the wine to breathe. If, however, education through practical jokes is not your thing, you probably want to invest in some basic Brunello or Burgundy glasses for your wine consumption. You can always choose to educate through a superlative example.


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