The Ancient Greek Origins Of Toasting 'To Our Health'

In ancient Greece, wine was such an important part of life that it earned the praise of the glitterati of the day. According to Kukuvaya, Socrates said that it "moistened the soul," while Homer claimed it "gives a man fresh strength when he is wearied." However, Plato warned that "drunkenness is always improper, except at festivals."

But for the ancient Greeks, wine was also a whole lot more than a social lubricant — it could have a deep spiritual significance. For instance, from around 1300 BC, a cult of Dionysus — the Greek god of wine, pleasure, and ecstasy — developed. As explained by Mythology Planet, this god was worshiped by rituals that involved getting heavily sloshed on vino while dancing to drums and pipes.

And according to A Matter of Taste, this cult eventually traveled to ancient Rome, where a secret society would sneak away from the city at sunset to gather in the forest. Once there, they would throw wild parties to Bacchus (their name for Dionysus). This included guzzling huge terracotta pots of strong wine, feasting, and dancing until dawn. The aim was to reach "bakcheia" — a kind of frenzy where you stripped naked and lost your inhibitions.

But while most of us aren't running off to the woods to worship Dionysus these days (although, as investigated by Modern Drunkard, a few still do), we've actually kept up one important Greek drinking habit for thousands of years.

The weird wine drinking ritual of ancient Greece

While "cheers y'all" might be your go-to toast when clanking beer glasses in a dive bar, at more genteel events, you might say "to your health." And in fact, this toast has Greek origins. According to Pure Wow, fear of poisoning by wine was a thing among important officials of the day. So when a host invited guests for dinner, he wanted to avoid everyone glancing at each other shiftily about who would take the first sip. Instead, to prove that he hadn't snuck any hemlock into the vino, the host would be the first to drink, calling "to our health" while doing so.

Yet, at the time, this ritual wasn't called "toasting" — instead, that term goes back to 16th-century Europe. The reason? Because of actual toast. As explained by The Nibble, it was once common to add a piece of toasted bread (known as a "sop") to warm wine. Not only was this a tasty snack, but it was thought that the bread soaked up the acidity of low-quality wines. And according to Merriam-Webster, as the bread tended to be dropped into the wine after goodwill wishes were made, it became known as "a toast."

So next time you raise a glass to the health of your friends, remember that it began as a way to prove you hadn't laced the booze. And that it would once have been totally normal to throw a hunk of bread into your Merlot.