Ambrosia (from Greek ambrotos = immortal) is the otherworldly food or drink of the Ancient Greek Olympians, sometimes given to mortal heroes and mankind as a salve but usually reserved for the gods. Said to confer the boon of immortality, mortals were punished if they took it uninvited.
Some scholars believe that ambrosia prefigures the Christian Eucharist. It remains unclear as to whether ambrosia has an earthly parallel (i.e. an actual substance found in nature), as does the Soma of the Hindu Vedic pantheon. Some say it’s based on the alleged healing powers of honey, others suggest it may be traced to the hallucinogenic mushroom.
Mythographer Joseph Campbell puts forward an interesting view:
…the drink of the gods, and the distillate of love are the same, in various strengths, to wit, ambrosia (Sanskrit amrta, “immortality”), the potion of deathless life experienced here and now. It is milk, it is wine, it is tea, it is coffee, it is anything you like, when drunk with a certain insight-life itself, when experienced from a certain depth and height.”¹
The Greek epic poet Homer made a clear distinction between ambrosia (food) and nectar (drink). But usually it’s not clear if ambrosia is food or drink. In ancient art it is usually administered by a nymph called Ambrosia.
¹ Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. New York: Penguin Books, 1962: The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, 1976, p. 80.
- The importance of being ancient! (pigsarms.com.au)
- Who Were the Titans? The Legend Behind the Name (titans-table.com)
- The Myths That Mystify, by Devdutt Pattanaik (songofmist.wordpress.com)
- Homer and Hesiod (craigcfisher.wordpress.com)
- Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #65: The Penelopiad (Canongate Myths #2) by Margaret Atwood (cannonballread5.wordpress.com)