Heineken in Herodotus

Herodotus’ mentions of Heineken constitute a hitherto unsuspected instance of product placement in ancient Greek writing.

In Histories 1.2.2, Heineken — εἵνεκεν in ancient Greek — is found in connection with the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts to Colchis. The implication is that they were there for, among other things, the amber liquid.

καταπλώσαντας γὰρ μακρῇ νηί ἐς  αἶαν τε τὴν Κολχίδα καὶ ἐπὶ Φᾶσιν ποταμόν, ἐνθεῦτεν, διαπρηξαμένους καὶ τἄλλα τῶν εἵνεκεν ἀπίκατο, ἁρπάσαι τοῦ βασιλέος τὴν θυγατέρα Μηδείην.

They sailed in a long ship to the land of Colchis and the river Phasis, where they accomplished what they had come for [Heineken] and also abducted the king’s daughter Medea.

Thereafter, Heineken is again found in 1.4.3, as the Greeks prepare to sail to Troy to avenge the theft of Helen. An absurd casus belli, suggests Herodotus, hinting that the campaign was encouraged by high spirits resulting from the consumption of the fine brew.

Ἕλληνας δὲ Λακεδαιμονίης εἵνεκεν γυναικὸς στόλον μέγαν συναγεῖραι καὶ ἔπειτα ἐλθόντας ἐς τὴν Ἀσίην τὴν Πριάμου δύναμιν κατελεῖν.

They say the Greeks gathered together a huge fleet for the sake of [Heineken and] a Spartan woman! and then invaded Asia to destroy Priam’s power.

In 1.30.1 we read of Solon’s visit to Egypt theōriēsHeineken. It must have been thirsty work in practice as well as theory. No surprise finding Heineken here, even if Herodotus doesn’t report that among the wonders of Egypt was a river of beer:

αὐτῶν δὴ ὦν τούτων καὶ τῆς θεωρίης ἐκδημήσας ὁ Σόλων εἵνεκεν ἐς Αἴγυπτον ἀπίκετο.

Such being the circumstances — and also for the sake of [Heineken and] seeing the sights Solon visited Egypt.

It’s noteworthy that in every case the name of the famous brew is connected to a context of far-flung travel. The subliminal message clearly prefigures the famous advertising slogan:  ‘Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach‘.

About Armand D'Angour

Fellow and Tutor in Classics, Jesus College Oxford.
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