What food do the Gods of Olympus eat in Greek mythology?

Dionysus, the God of wine, is surrounded by his lion robed and ecstatic dancers.

Dionysus, the God of wine, is surrounded by his lion robed and ecstatic dancers.

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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9 comments to What food do the Gods of Olympus eat in Greek mythology?

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  7. John says:

    Very interesting etymology for the word nectar: a magical funeral song! I noticed recently that the word ‘enchantment’ and its Spanish equivalent ‘encantado’ both contain singing. In the Stone Age, music must have seemed far more magical than it does now, and it’s still pretty magical.

    Well, the real reason I’m commenting here is that I wanted to suggest you write a blog in defense of Joseph Campbell as a serious scholar. I have my doubts about him, but I’m curious and willing to consider a more detailed argument than what you provided in the intro to your ‘Mythos and Cosmos’ book. This is something that someone with your credentials needs to do, if it can be done.

    Also, can you elaborate on what you see as the clearly-stated thesis of HERO? For what it’s worth, my reading of HERO is that the young Campbell was a true believer in Advaita Vedanta or at least some kindred form of “Romantic gnosticism,” and he was trying to arbitrarily paint over all of religious history in that one mystical color (tyrant=ego/materialism, hero=self-erasure/spirit). It seems highly unlikely to me that every ancient hero myth was secretly about submission to self-erasure, and I sense that over the remainder of his career Campbell gradually retreated from his youthful fervor toward this idea, but without ever coming to another firm conclusion and thus never quite disavowing his earlier work. What is your take?

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