Hermes, Trojan, Rubicon—for the Classically-minded, brand names can be a major source of amusementby Charlotte Higgins / June 10, 2019 / Leave a comment
A minor but amusing pastime of mine is looking out for the way that Latin, Greek and other traces of the classical world are co-opted to give brands a bit of gravity and glamour. Sometimes this has a pleasing appropriateness. Of course Hermes is a courier firm, since the monster-slaying son of Zeus was in charge of relaying messages between the gods. The logo has a nice stylised wing detail too, to remind you of Hermes’s winged boots. On the other hand, he was also the deity who conducted the souls of the dead to the Underworld. I’m not sure about you, but I’m not delighted with the idea of being unloaded at the gates of Hades from a branded van in exchange for an electronic signature, but who knows, maybe it does work out like that.
At times, this kind of inappropriateness is surely deliberate and arch. I remember a friend telling me about a guest-house near Mycenae in Greece that was named after Clytemnestra, who killed her husband as he abluted when he returned from the Trojan war. “Hotel Clytemnestra,” read the sign outside. “Every room with bath.”
On occasion the association with the chosen brand name might be hilariously inapposite. Take Trojan condoms, recently tweeted about most amusingly by classicist Edith Hall. As she pointed out: it would be difficult to regard the mythical city’s great king, Priam, as much of an advertisement for birth control—he had 50 sons and 50 daughters. Trojan is also the name of a firm of scaffolders, its logo a natty little Greek-style crested helmet. Also, not a wildly encouraging choice given that Troy was famously sacked and burned, with nothing left standing. But here both brands are drawing on an opposite association, not of the city’s vulnerability, but its impregnability. Which it famously was for a decade, when under siege by the Greeks—right up until when it wasn’t.
Sometimes the choice of brand name is utterly mysterious. Take Rubicon fruit drinks for example. Did Julius Caesar in any way have lychee juice on his mind when marching his army into northern Italy in 49BC, setting off a bloody and ugly civil war? He did not. Do any of us…