Mesopotamia. Might have been a pretty cool place to be. The birthplace of modern “civilization” as best we can tell. And by that, I mean the transition from nomadic tribal hunter gatherers, to wheat-growing-redneck-tractor-driving Toby Keiths.
Prior to that point, humans weren’t exactly the masters of animal kingdom, though I’m sure a few hunters got a little cocky after taking down a water buffalo and eating it’s warm heart. Still though.
Lots of shit to not fuck with. I still wouldn’t recommend fucking with them. The people of mesopotamia started to not worry about it as much though, because they didn’t have to trek through wild countrysides anymore. They planted some grains, they herded some cattle/sheep/goats/whatever, and kept the fires burning, and for the most part, now only had to worry about defending their homes, rather than getting gutted in the night by a beast who knocked the tent down using just it’s blood thirsty eyes. I’m sure a farming culture seemed like a breath of fresh air comparatively.
As you might imagine, many thanks were given to the harvest of that farming, namely, Grains. Grain lead to all sorts of cool stuff, but the most important were alcohol and bread. Bread and the fields of grains became very early symbols for the various phases of life.
Death and rebirth of the crop.
Forming of the dough. Placing it into the oven. Removing the finished bread.
A constellation can help tell the quick narrative. Virgo, depicted as a virgin holding stalks of grain, that grain is the seed. The seed forms the flour. The flour is mixed with the leavening (known as the "Mother") to form a rising dough. The dough is transformed in the oven, and gives birth to life giving bread.
You’d be forgiven if you thought that was an analogy about eventually eating babies. But in mesopotamia, it meant that bread was synonymous with birth. Bread was new life. Bread was the child. Bread was the flesh.
And have you ever smelled toast? Holy shit toast. It’s a bit astonishing how much a difference a little bit of crispiness can add to a simple slice of bread.
The Greeks and eventually the Romans were super aware of how awesome toasted bread was, and even started using it to improve their wines. They likely weren’t aware of exactly what the charcoal was doing, but what they realized was that if you put burnt bread into your wine, it improved the flavor of the wine, without imparting too many other flavors. Scientifically speaking, this has to do with charcoal’s ability to trap tannins (which are large molecules that can easily get caught in charcoal’s fine, low-volume pore structure). While tannins in modern wine can add complexity and improve the mouthfeel and taste of a wine, in greek and roman times, the wine would have been far less purified, and been riddled with tannins, making it exceedingly bitter and astringent.
The toasted bread would provided a considerable improvement.
This process continued practice all the way into Elizabethan times. The recurring character, Sir John Falstaff, requests toast to be put in his jug of wine during Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. The practice likely fell out of favor after winemaking improved during the 17th and 18th centuries (you’ll remember that Dom Perignon had a major part to play in that).
We’ve finally gotten to the point, I suppose.
Due to the symbolic nature of bread and it’s purifying qualities, the toast in a glass of wine is likely the source of our modern term “toasting”. To toast someone, was to use the bread, as a symbol of your wish of good health, good fortune, prosperity. The bread could symbolize those who were not present. It could symbolize those yet born. It was a gesture of goodwill, unity, and camaraderie.
Tonight, we toast.
Our gang will be drinking champagne, but I suggest that you drink whatever you’d like.
Raise your glasses.
A votre sante!
Za vashe zdorovye!
Wen Lie/Gan bie