Ambrosia And Nectar
The Food and the Drink of the Greek Gods
Ambrosia was the food of the gods and goddesses in Greek mythology. It was often accompanied by the drink nectar in celebrations, and indeed, ambrosia and nectar both appear in myth and literature as divine confections that were guaranteed to satisfy the hunger and/or thirst of any immortal resident of Mt. Olympus.
While scholars are not entirely certain what the ancient Greeks thought the composition of ambrosia (or its liquid counterpart, for that matter) actually was, it is believed that these mythical items had some connection to a sweet treat enjoyed by mortals throughout the ages - honey. Honey was highly regarded by the people of ancient Greece, so this suggestion makes sense.
Ambrosia made more than just a delightful meal, however. There are several episodes in Greek myth in which ambrosia is used by the gods and goddesses as a sort of balm, to confer grace or even immortality (in the case of mortals) onto the recipient. One such incident that demonstrates how ambrosia was used to beautify involves Aphrodite, the enchanting goddess of love. In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, the goddess prepares herself for some serious seduction with the assistance of eau de ambrosia:
"...there the Graces bathed her and anointed her
with ambrosian oil such as is rubbed on deathless gods,
divinely sweet, and made fragrant for her sake."
And while this may have been an example of gilding the lily (Aphrodite already being irresistible), ambrosia played a more serious part in other myths. In one poignant and memorable scene from Homer's Iliad, the sea-nymph Thetis uses ambrosia and nectar to preserve the body of the dead warrior Patroclus. In the same epic, Zeus calls upon Apollo to anoint another fallen hero - this time, Sarpedon - with ambrosia.
The connection that has derived ambrosia from the Greek prefix a- ("not") and the word brotos ("mortal"), hence the food or drink of the immortals.
Nectar is derived from Greek nectar, the favored drink of the gods, which in turn is the Latinized version of its current meaning, "sweet liquid in flowers", established in AD 1600.
In more detail...
Ambrosia and Nectar were the food and drink of the gods in Greek mythology, and the names of these two food substances live on today, as does the concept of “food of the gods”, meaning any divine meal.
THE FOOD AND DRINK OF THE GODS
Ambrosia and Nectar were commonly spoken of in ancient texts, with the general consensus being that Ambrosia was a food, whilst Nectar was the drink, but it was not uncommon to see Nectar named as the food and Ambrosia the drink.
Now as to where Ambrosia and Nectar came from, or how they were produced, is not elaborated upon, with it simply being said that both were delivered to Mount Olympus each morning by doves.
On Mount Olympus, the Ambrosia and Nectar would then be served to the other residents by firstly Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera, and then later by Ganymede, the abducted Trojan prince.
AMBROSIA AND NECTAR AND ICHOR
Partaking of Ambrosia and Nectar gave to the Greek gods and goddesses their immortality, and it was said that by some that the consumption of Ambrosia and Nectar turned the blood of the Greek deities into the more heavenly life force, Ichor.
There was a downside though to having consumed Ambrosia and Nectar for the gods and goddesses would have to continue to partake of the food and drink of the gods, or else would have their life force fade away.
This fading of powers and immortality was said to have occurred to Demeter when the Olympian goddess searched the earth for her missing daughter Persephone.
MORTALS PARTAKE OF AMBROSIA AND NECTAR
There was an underlying belief that if a mortal partook of Ambrosia and Nectar then they too would become immortal like the gods; and certainly induced Tantalus to try and steal the food and drink from the gods.
Although the Greek king did not succeed in his attempt, he did receive an immortality of sorts, for he was thereafter punished for eternity in Tartarus.
Tales from antiquity though, also give examples of mortals eating Ambrosia and not becoming immortal, for it was said by some that Athena gave to each of the heroes hidden within the Wooden Horse of Troy Ambrosia to eat when they grew hungry.
AMBROSIA AND NECTAR AS RESTORATIVES
Amongst the Greek gods and goddesses Ambrosia and Nectar were used as restoratives, for the goddess Aphrodite was given some to restore her strength, and to cleanse her wounds, after she was injured by the Achaean hero, Diomedes.
Zeus also Ambrosia and Nectar as restoratives, giving the food and drink to the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires, after Zeus had freed the giants from their long imprisonment in Tartarus.
AMBROSIA AND NECTAR AS ANOINTING FLUIDS
Ambrosia and Nectar though were not simply food and drink, for individuals could also be anointed in the substances.
During the Trojan War, when Sarpedon, the son of Zeus was killed by Patroclus, Apollo would cleanse the body with Ambrosia. Similarly, when Patroclus himself died, Thetis would cleanse the body with Ambrosia to ensure the body did not decompose prior to its placement upon the funeral pyre.
The most famous case of Ambrosia being used as an anointing fluid occurs when Achilles was just a baby. Achilles’ mother, Thetis, would seek to make her son immortal by covering him in Ambrosia, before the mortal elements of Achilles were burnt away. Thetis though, never got to complete her work, for she was discovered by her husband Peleus, who believed his wife intended to do their son harm.
AMBROSIA AND NECTAR OR HONEY
Ambrosia and Nectar might have been the food and drink of the gods, but it was also not the only things consumed by the Greek deities.
Famously, the baby Zeus, hidden away in a cave upon Mount Ida drank milk from a goat, and ate honey.
Some would say that Ambrosia and Nectar were actually honey, for honey can be eaten, drunk as a wine, and also used in anointing bodies; but at the same time, some ancient writers specifically tell of Ambrosia and Nectar being eight or nine times sweeter than honey.
There is also tales of Greek gods and goddesses drinking wine at various banquets, including the famous wedding banquet of Peleus and Thetis, and at these banquets other foods were being served. Food which must have included meat dishes, for during the banquet of Tantalus, the king served up his own son Pelops as a main course, so there must have been occasion when the gods ate of other meat dishes.
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