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Ambrosia and Nectar - Food and Drink of the Gods

Updated on July 4, 2015
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

The Food and Drink of the Gods

The phrase “food of the gods” is one which is today used in conjunction with any flavoursome dish; in Ancient Greece though, there was actually, food, and drink, of the gods, for gods in Greek mythology would partake of ambrosia and nectar.

Indeed, ambrosia and nectar were the very substances that were thought to give the Greek gods and goddesses their immortality.

Ambrosia or Nectar

Ambrosia is normally considered to be the food of the gods, whilst nectar is the drink, but in antiquity, some writers tell of them being the other way around.

The tales of Ancient Greece though, do not tell of where ambrosia and nectar came from, only that it was taken up to Mount Olympus each morning by a flight of doves. The food of the gods would then be served up by Hebe, the daughter of Zeus, or Ganymede, the abducted Trojan prince, both of these mythological figures appearing as the cupbearer of the gods.

Banquet of the Gods

Wedding Banquet - Raphael (1483–1520) - PD-art-100
Wedding Banquet - Raphael (1483–1520) - PD-art-100 | Source

Other Foods Eaten by the Gods

Reading through ancient sources it might be assumed that ambrosia and nectar were the only things consumed by the gods, but the gods were often also found at banquets, such as that thrown by Peleus and Thetis, where wine was served and other food. At Tantalus’ feast, the king served up his own son, Pelops, so it has to be presumed that the king expected them to eat a “meat” dish.

Another food substance consumed by the gods was honey, and famously the newborn Zeus was fed with honey when hidden in a cave on Crete.

Ganymede Cupbearer of the Gods

Ganymede - Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) - PD-art-100
Ganymede - Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) - PD-art-100 | Source

Ambrosia - Source of Immortality?

The presumption was that the partaking of ambrosia and nectar gave the Greek gods and goddesses their immortality, but it was also said that the gods had to continue to eat and drink it to ensure that they did not fade away. This fading was something that happened to the goddess Demeter, when she refused to eat and drink, whilst she searched for her missing daughter, Persephone.

It was also thought that if a mortal consumed ambrosia and nectar then they would become immortal; the attempted theft of ambrosia was one of the crimes of Tantalus that saw him given eternal punishment.

The consumption of ambrosia though did not necessarily make mortals immortals, for in the famous story of the Wooden Horse at Troy, the Achaean heroes found inside, were fed by the goddess Athena with ambrosia, when they grew hungry.

Hebe Server of Ambrosia

Hebe Daughter of Zeus -  Eden, Janine and Jim  - CC-BY-2.0
Hebe Daughter of Zeus - Eden, Janine and Jim - CC-BY-2.0 | Source

Ambrosia and Nectar in Greek Myths

Ambrosia and nectar though were more than just food and drink and the Greek gods and goddesses put it to other uses.

Ambrosia and nectar could be used as a restorative, and Zeus would give it to the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes after their release from Tartarus; Zeus knew he needed the restored strength of the freed prisoners during the Titanomachy.

Aphrodite would also be fed ambrosia when she was injured fighting the Greek hero Diomedes at Troy; the ambrosia healing the goddess’ wounds.

Also during the Trojan War, the body of the son of Zeus, Sarpedon, was cleansed in ambrosia by Apollo, after the Trojan defender had been killed by Patroclus. In this case, ambrosia was considered to be a fragrant funeral product.

The most famous use of ambrosia though comes from shortly before the Trojan War, and appears in one version of the Achilles myth. Thetis, the mother of Achilles, was attempting to make her son immortal, firstly by covering Achilles in ambrosia, and then burning away the mortal part of his body, when she was interrupted by her husband Peleus. Thetis never completed the job of making her son immortal because of the interruption, and the vulnerable heel area remained.

Honey and Ambrosia

Ever since antiquity it has been normal to associate ambrosia and nectar with honey, although the food of the gods was said to be eight times sweeter than honey. Honey though, can be drunk as a wine, eaten, and used as an anointing fluid.

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  • Colin Quartermain profile image
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    Colin Quartermain 2 years ago

    Many thanks Anne, always good to know people are enjoying, and perhaps learning something new, from my hubs. Colin.

  • Anne Harrison profile image

    Anne Harrison 2 years ago from Australia

    I am learning so much from your hubs about Antiquity - thank you. Voted up

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