We haven’t read claims of the Roman origins of toasting — especially that once-common, and spurious, claim about putting a piece of burnt bread in wine to make it taste better — for a while, but it seems that the latter-day mythologizers persist in wanting to somehow connect toasting to the Romans. The latest is a piece at NPR (for shame) which has a couple of questionable (perhaps) claims:
“There’s a thin line between history and folklore,” says historian Paul Dickson. He should know. He wrote a book about toasting called Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings and Graces. “But toasting definitely goes back to the ancient world.”
Ulysses drank to the health of Achilles in The Odyssey, he says. And in Rome, drinking to someone’s health was so important that the Senate demanded that all diners drink to their emperor, Augustus, before every meal.
… thin line indeed, and it seems to be crossed here. Near as I can tell, Achilles’ only appearance in the Odyssey is in book 11 and it’s as a shade of the dead. There is no toasting by Odysseus (why is he always Ulysses in US newspapers) … does Achilles appear elsewhere in a toast-worthy situation? As for the drinking to Augustus, I’d love to hear a source for that … so vague as to be meaningless and if thought about for even a few seconds, it makes no sense (enforceable? penalties? What about folks who couldn’t afford wine with their meal? Did it apply to drunks in tabernae?).
If you’re wondering about the ‘burnt toast’ thing:
- A Toast! (2005)
- The Toast Thing (2009)