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A cup-bearer was an officer of high rank in royal courts, whose duty it was to serve the drinks at the royal table. On account of the constant fear of plots and intrigues, a person must be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold this position. He must guard against poison in the king's cup, and was sometimes required to swallow some of the wine before serving it. His confidential relations with the king often gave him a position of great influence.
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A cup-bearer was an officer of high rank in royal courts, whose duty it was to serve the drinks at the royal table. On account of the constant fear of plots and intrigues, a person must be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold this position. He must guard against poison in the king's cup, and was sometimes required to swallow some of the wine before serving it. His confidential relations with the king often gave him a position of great influence. The position of cup bearer is greatly valued and given to only a select few throughout history. Qualifications for the job were not held lightly but of high esteem valued for their beauty and even more for their modesty, industriousness and courage.
Egyption hieroglyph for a cup-bearer

The cup-bearer as an honorific role, for example with the Egyptian hieroglyph for a cup-bearer, was used as late as 196 BC in the Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek...

 for the Kanephoros
The Kanephoros was an honorific office given to unmarried young women in ancient Greece, which involved the privilege of leading the procession to sacrifice at festivals; the highest honour was to lead the pompe at the Panathenaic Festival...

 cup-bearer Areia, daughter of Diogenes
Diogenes is a Greek name shared by several important historical figures:*Diogenes of Sinope , better known as Diogenes the Cynic or simply Diogenes, philosopher...

; each Ptolemaic Decree
Ptolemaic Decrees
The Hellenistic Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 305 BC to 30 BC, issued these series of decrees over the course of their reign. The Rosetta Stone is a well-known example of one of the decrees....

 starting with the Decree of Canopus
Decree of Canopus
The Decree of Canopus is a bilingual inscription in two languages, and in three scripts. It was written in three writing systems: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian Demotic, and Greek, on an ancient Egyptian memorial stone stele, the Stone of Canopus...

 honored a cup-bearer. A much older role was the appointment of Sargon of Akkad
Sargon of Akkad
Sargon of Akkad, also known as Sargon the Great "the Great King" , was an Akkadian emperor famous for his conquest of the Sumerian city-states in the 23rd and 22nd centuries BC. The founder of the Dynasty of Akkad, Sargon reigned in the last quarter of the third millennium BC...

 as cup-bearer in the 23rd century BC
23rd century BC
The 23rd century BC is a century which lasted from the year 2300 BC to 2201 BC.-Events:*2334 BC – 2279 BC: Sargon of Akkad's conquest of Mesopotamia....


Cup-bearers in the Bible

Cup-bearers are mentioned several times in the Bible.

This officer is first mentioned in Genesis 40:1, where the Hebrew word elsewhere translated "cup-bearer" is rendered "butler." The phrase "chief of the butlers" (Genesis 40:2) accords with the fact that there were often a number of such officials under one as chief (compare Xen. Hellen. vii.1, 38). Nehemiah
Nehemiah ]]," Standard Hebrew Nəḥemya, Tiberian Hebrew Nəḥemyāh) is the central figure of the Book of Nehemiah, which describes his work rebuilding Jerusalem and purifying the Jewish community. He was the son of Hachaliah, Nehemiah ]]," Standard Hebrew Nəḥemya, Tiberian Hebrew Nəḥemyāh) is the...

 (compare Nehemiah 1:11) was the little captive Jewish boy exiled in Persia until the Medes and Persians defeated King Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar was the name of several kings of Babylonia.* Nebuchadnezzar I, who ruled the Babylonian Empire in the 12th century BC* Nebuchadnezzar II , the Babylonian ruler mentioned in the biblical Book of Daniel...

 and took control of his empire including all the war captives. Nehemiah rose to the high ranking palace position of cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, the new King of Persia. The position placed his life on the line every day yet gave Nehemiah authority and high pay. , and was held in high esteem by him, as the record shows. His financial ability (Nehemiah 5:8,10,14,17) would indicate that the office was a lucrative one.

Cup-bearers are mentioned further in 1 Kings 10:5; 2 Chronicles 9:4, where they, among other evidences of royal splendor, are stated to have impressed the Queen of Sheba with Solomon's glory. The title Rabshakeh (Isaiah 36:2), once thought to mean "chief of the cupbearers," is now given a different derivation and explained as "chief of the officers," or "princes" (BDB under the word).

See further on cupbearers: Herod. iii.34; Xen. Cyrop. i.3, 8, 9; Josephus, Ant, XVI, viii, 1; Tobit 1:22.

Cup-bearers in Greek myth

In Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, Hêbê
Hebe may refer to:*Hebe , the goddess of youth in Greek mythology*Hebe , a genus of plants native to New Zealand*Hebe , a comics character in the Marvel Comics universe*6 Hebe, a main-belt asteroid...

 the Goddess of youth was the original cup-bearer to the Greek Gods of Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece, located on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, about 100 kilometres away from Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city. Mount Olympus has 52 peaks. The highest peak Mytikas, meaning "nose", rises to 2,917 metres...

 serving them nectar and ambrosia. Hêbê is the daughter of Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 and Hera
Hera was the wife and one of three sisters of Zeus in the Olympian pantheon of Greek mythology and religion. Her chief function was as the goddess of women and marriage. Her counterpart in the religion of ancient Rome was Juno. The cow and the peacock were sacred to her...

 and is shown doing her cup-bearer duties in Homer's
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...


"The gods were seated near to Zeus in council,
upon a golden floor. Graciously Hebe
served them nectar, as with cups of gold
they toasted one another, looking down
toward the stronghold of Ilion."
(Homer, Iliad 5.1-5)

Hêbê’s role of cup bearer ended when she married war hero Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

 who joined Hêbê amongst the Gods and Goddesses and started a family.

Hêbê was then replaced by Ganymede
Ganymede (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Ganymede is a divine hero whose homeland was Troy. Homer describes Ganymede as the most beautiful of mortals. In the best-known myth, he is abducted by Zeus, in the form of an eagle, to serve as cup-bearer in Olympus. Some interpretations of the myth treat it as an allegory of...


Cup-bearers as palatine officers in Visigothic Spain

One of the palatine officers who was at the services of the Visigothic kings was called COMES SCANCIORUM or Count of the Cup-bearers. The count headed the SCANCIA, which in English would be called cellars or buttery and échansonnerie in French, which is a cognate to the latinized Gothic term used in Spain. The count would have poured the king's wine or drink personally while the other cup-bearers served other distinguished guests at the royal table.

Cup-bearers as a Great Office in the Holy Roman Empire

The King of Bohemia ranked as Arch-Cupbearer of the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

. His duties were normally performed only on the most special occasions. At other times, the Count of Althann served as Cupbearer for the Emperor
An emperor is a monarch, usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife or a woman who rules in her own right...


The Roman Gods
Roman mythology
Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans...

 are also closely related to Greek Mythology with the Goddess of Youth Juventa being the Roman counterpart to Hêbê.

Cup-bearer in Shakespeare

Camillo in The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale is a play by William Shakespeare, originally published in the First Folio of 1623. Although it was grouped among the comedies, some modern editors have relabelled the play as one of Shakespeare's late romances. Some critics, among them W. W...

is cupbearer to Leontes the King of Sicily and Polixenes King of Bohemia, when Leontes becomes convinced of his wife Hermione's infidelity with Polixenes he entreats Camillo to use his privileged position as his cupbearer to poison Polixenes;

'Ay and thou
His cupbearer,whom I from meaner form

Have benched and reared to worship, who mayst see

Plainly as heaven sees earth sees heaven,

How I am galled, Might bespice a cup

To give mine enemy a lasting wink

Which draft to me were cordial.'

(Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale 1.2)

See also

  • Cześnik
    Cześnik was a court office in Poland and Lithuania until the end of the 13th century. The holder was responsible for the wine-cellar of the King and for serving him cups with wine at banquets...

  • Pinkernes
    Pinkernes was a high Byzantine court position. The term, deriving from the Greek verb , signified the Byzantine emperor's cup-bearer. The position is attested in Philotheos's Kletorologion of 899, where a pinkernes of the Byzantine emperor and of the Augusta are listed amongst the eunuchs of...

  • Bartender
    A bartender is a person who serves beverages behind a counter in a bar, pub, tavern, or similar establishment. A bartender, in short, "tends the bar". The term barkeeper may carry a connotation of being the bar's owner...

  • Cup-Bearer of Lithuania
  • Food taster
    Food taster
    A food taster is a person that takes food to be served to someone else to confirm that it is safe to eat and does not contain toxins or poisons. The person to whom the food is going to be served is usually an important person, like an emperor or monarch, or anyone that could possibly be under...

  • Sommelier
    A sommelier , or wine steward, is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, commonly working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food matching...

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