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Our National Anthem Came from an Old English Drinking Song

To Anacreon!
by The Drink Nation on Oct 25, 2011 in Culture
Our National Anthem Came from an Old English Drinking Song

World Series games are likely top the list of occasions that see the greatest number of Americans simultaneously raise a glass to our country while listening to the national anthem. Having a drink with friends goes well with baseball, but – perhaps surprisingly – is even more fitting for The Star Spangled Banner: author Francis Scott Key lifted the tune for this patriotic homage from an old English drinking song.

The melody originated in an 18th Century London gentleman’s club, as the accompaniment to a verse entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven.” The song, along with the Anacreonatic Society (as the group of British men was known) celebrated the Greek poet Anacreon, who was known to weave tales of Bacchanalia for the early Hellenic court. A few example lyrics:

Away to the Sons of Anacreon we'll fly,
And there, with good Fellows, we'll learn to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.

While Key was most certainly not tossing back spirits during his detainment on a British ship during the War of 1812, his was already a fan of the Anacreon-touting tune. As soldiers at Fort McHenry successfully defended Baltimore Harbor, he was inspired to give the song new verse, and wrote the poem that eventually became the official song of our nation.

Check out the Anacreonatic Song here (mp3), and sing the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner as you listen. Next time you hear the soaring words about the land of the free and the home of the brave, remember the song also celebrates a good drink with friends.

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