was a Roman custom. Thus, in Plautus, we read of a man drinking to his mistress with these words: “Bene vos, bene nos, bene te, bene me, bene nostrum etiam Stephanium ” (Here's to you, here's to us all, here's to thee, here's to me, here's to our dear—). (Stich. v. 4.) Persius (v. l, 20) has a similar verse
“Bene mihi; bene vobis, bene amicæ nostræ ” (Here's to myself, here's to you, and here's to I shan't say who). Martial, Ovid, Horace, etc., refer to the same custom.
The ancient Greeks drank healths. Thus, when Theramenes was condemned by the Thirty Tyrants to drink
hemlock, he said “Hoc pulcro Critiæ '”—the man who condemned him to death. The ancient Saxons followed the same habit, and Geoffrey of Monmouth says that Hengist invited King Vortigern to a banquet to see his new levies. After the meats were removed, Rowena, the beautiful daughter of Hengist, entered with a golden cup full of wine, and, making obeisance, said, “Lauerd kining, wacht heil '” (Lord King, your health). The king then drank and replied, “Drinc heil” ' (Here's to you). (Geoffrey of Monmouth, book vi. 12.)
Robert de Brunne refers to this custom:
This is ther custom and hev gest When they are at the ale or fest; Ilk man that levis gware him drink Salle say `Wosseille' to him drink, He that biddis sall say `Wassaile,' The tother salle say again `Drinkaille.' That says `Woisseille' drinks of the cup, Kiss and his felaw he gives it up.
Robert de Brunne.
In drinking healths we hold our hands up towards the person toasted and say, “Your health . .” The Greeks handed the cup to the person toasted and said, “This to thee,” “Græci in epulis poculum alicui tradituri, eum nominare solent.” Our holding out the wine-glass is a relic of this Greek custom.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894