cupbearer n : the attendant (usually an officer of a nobleman's household) whose duty is to fill and serve cups of wine
Etymologycup + bearer
- One whose profession in general, or role in a particular event,
is to carry a cup.
- For I was the king's cupbearer. -Nehemiah 1:11
- Finnish: juomanlaskija
A cup-bearer was an officer of high rank in royal courts, whose duty it was to serve the wine at the king's 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.
Cup-bearers in Greek myth
In Greek mythology, Hêbê the Goddess of youth was the original cup-bearer to the Greek Gods of Mount Olympus serving them nectar and ambrosia. Hêbê is the daughter of Zues and Hera and is shown doing her cup-bearer duties in Homer's Iliad:
"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, Book IV, 1-5)
Hêbê’s role of cup bearer ended when she married war hero Heracles who joined Hêbê amongst the Gods and Goddesses and started a family.
Hêbê was then replaced by Ganymede, the handsome Prince and mortal hero. Ganymede was the son of King Tros of Dardania and became the eromenos of Zeus after Zeus fell in love with him and took him away from his father. This position was in high demand in which only the deserving boys would get, much like the position of cup bearer. They were expected to be ruled by the principles of self-mastery and self-restraint. In Plato's Symposium, eromenoi are described as the "best" boys. According to Homer’s Illiad, Zeus sent Hermes to repay King Tros after abducting his son to assure him that Ganymede was now immortal and would be the cup-bearer for the gods, “a position of much distinction.”.
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 "cupbearer" 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 (compare Nehemiah 1:11) was the little captive Jewish boy exiled in Persia until the Medes and Persians defeated King Nebuchadnezzar 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.
Cupbearers 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).
According to the Bible, everyone can be considered as a cup bearer as well:
1 Corinthians 10:21 tells us there are two cups, we are bearing and drinking from one of those cups. The choice of cups is ours, the choice of cups will determine how high we go or how low we sink.
See further on cupbearers: Herod. iii.34; Xen. Cyrop. i.3, 8, 9; Josephus, Ant, XVI, viii, 1; Tobit 1:22.
Cup-bearers as a Great Office in the Holy Roman EmpireThe King of Bohemia ranked as Arch-Cupbearer of the Holy Roman Empire. His duties were normally performed only on the most special occasions. At other times, the Count of Althann served as Cupbearer for the Emperor.
The Roman's Gods are also closely related to the Greek's Mythology with the Roman Goddess of Youth Juventa being the Greek counterpart to Hêbê.
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia public-domain article
- Walton, O.F. (2005). The King's Cup-bearer.
- Manguel, Alberto. The Iliad. book IV, 1-5. Atlantic Monthly Press.
- (The Holy Bible: 1 Kings 10:3-7 RSV)
- (The Holy Bible: Nehemiah 1:11-2:6 RSV)
- (The Holy Bible: 1 Corinthians 10:21)
- "Ganymede, the cup-bearer of the Gods"
- "Mythography- The Greek Goddess Hêbê in Myth and Art"
- Note: this article is adapted from an article in the 1915 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is now in the public domain
cupbearer in German: mundschenk
cupbearer in French: Échanson
cupbearer in Norwegian: Munnskjenk