The Greek gods partake of nectar and ambrosia. The two words are sometimes used interchangeably. Some Greek authors say the nectar was the drink and ambrosia the food. Some reverse it, so that ambrosia is the drink and nectar the food.
Despite the homologous nature of the divine substances, both nectar and ambrosia were known to imbue longevity or even immortality upon the consumer. They were the mediums of eternal life. In truth, nectar and ambrosia were really one consumed by the gods, and when mortals received it it was at the hands of the gods.
One great scene in the Illiad shows Thetis filling Patroclus’s nostrils with nectar as a way to transform him with strength and life (19.38–49). Curiously enough, this scene has led a few scholars to suggest that the Greek nektar descended from the Egyptian natron, or salt substance inserted through the nostrils and into the body as a way to preserve eternal life in the Egyptian tradition.
Supporting this idea is the fact that when Greeks opened their barrels of wine the liquor had to be consumed or it would spoil (no corks had been invented). There was a way, however, to prolong the life of the opened wine, and that was by salting it. Wine, seen as a substance of transformation given mortals by the gods, was itself given life by natron or salts which preserved the wine from turning into vinegar. This fact may have led to the idea that the wine of the gods was the giver of long lasting life, called nectar, a loan word from the Egyptian natron.
According to R. Drew Griffith in his book Mummy Wheat, the word nektar originally signified the ability to be “carried across death” and may have originally meant “song” (67). That may be a strange connection, but I have shown in my book Mythos and Cosmos, song and dance were an essential part of the funerary rites in both the Egyptian tradition and in the Greco-Roman mysteries. The song itself was a token or symbol that allowed one to make the passage through death.
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