In ancient Greek mythology, ambrosia is sometimes the food, sometimes the drink, of the gods, often depicted as conferring ageless immortality upon whomever consumes it. It was brought to the gods in Olympus by doves (Odyssey xii.62), so may have been thought of in the Homeric tradition as a kind of divine exhalation of the Earth.
Ambrosia is very closely related to the gods' other form of sustenance, nectar. The two terms may not have originally been distinguished; though in Homer's poems nectar is the drink and ambrosia the food of the gods; it was with ambrosia Hera "cleansed all defilement from her lovely flesh" (Iliad xiv.170), and with ambrosia Athena prepared Penelope in her sleep (Odyssey xviii.188ff) so that when she appeared for the final time before her suitors, the effect of the years had been stripped away and they were inflamed at the sight of her. On the other hand, in Alcman, nectar is the food, and in Sappho (fragment 45) and Anaxandrides, ambrosia is the drink. When a character in Aristophanes' Knights says, "I dreamed the goddess poured ambrosia over your head— out of a ladle", the homely and realistic ladle brings the ineffable moment to ground with a thump.
Both nectar and ambrosia are fragrant, and may be used as perfume: in Odyssey (iv.444-46) Menelaus and his men are disguised as seals in untanned seal skins, "and the deadly smell of the seal skins vexed us sore; but the goddess saved us; she brought ambrosia and put it under our nostrils." Homer speaks of ambrosial raiment, ambrosial locks of hair, even the gods' ambrosial sandals.
Among later writers, ambrosia has been so often used with generic meanings of "delightful liquid" that such late writers as Athenaeus, Paulus and Dioscurides employ it as a technical terms in contexts of cookery, medicine and botany.
The classical scholar Arthur Woollgar Verrall denied that there is any clear example in which the word ambrosios necessarily means immortal, and preferred to explain it as "fragrant," a sense which is always suitable. If so, the word may be derived from the Semitic MBR, giving "amber", which when burned is resinously fragrant (compare "ambergris") to which Eastern nations attribute miraculous properties. In Europe, honey-colored amber, sometimes far from its natural source, was already a grave gift in Neolithic times and was still worn in the 7th century as a talisman by druidic Frisians, though St. Eligius warned "No woman should presume to hang amber from her neck."
W. H. Roscher thinks that both nectar and ambrosia were kinds of honey, in which case their power of conferring immortality would be due to the supposed healing and cleansing power of honey, which is in fact anti-septic, and because fermented honey (mead) preceded wine as an entheogen in the Aegean world: on some Minoan seals goddesses had bee faces: compare Merope and Melissa.
Propolis, a hive product, cures sore throats, and there are many modern proprietary medicines which use honey as an ingredient.
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