In ancient Greece, the gods of Mount Olympus enjoyed a fragrant snack called Ambrosia. Some think it was a drink, others a food, either way it seemed to confer immortality, health and good hygiene upon its consumers. Fact: Menelaus mentions that after he and his men disguised themselves in untanned seal skins, the goddess held ambrosia under their noses to help them get over the smell. Homer also describes raiments, sandals and hair as being “ambrosial”. Okay – clothes and hair I get, but who goes around sniffing sandals? Oh, Menelaus. You’re weird.
One can draw parallels between ambrosia and other sacred foods in other mythologies. This desire for immortality is pervasive cross-culturally: in Hinduism, the gods drank amrita; in greater Persian and Indian cultures, it was soma; there’s Idunn’s (or Ydun) apples in Norse mythology; peaches of immortality, in Chinese culture; and of course the collectively celebrated elixir of life, made popular by Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Where does this leave us today? You might think that this quest for immortality is ancient history – but you’d be wrong, as just one glance at your Facebook news feed will tell you. Ads for super foods and other longevity producing drinks – or should I say elixirs – clutter my news feed anyway. Perhaps it’s because I am a woman of a certain age, but I think most people would be hard-pressed to go through the day without being bombarded by messages promising youth and vitality. We haven’t changed much.
And yes, we eat to stay alive in general, although here in my middle-class world we don’t really think about it that way. But we add kale and matcha to our smoothies, we get drawn to the click bait of yet another ad promising us eternal youth by eating these seven foods! (always with the bloody exclamation points). We are like the ancients. If we could eat Idunn’s apples, the Chinese peaches of immortality, down it all with a shot of amrita or soma, and follow it all up with a bath in ambrosia, you know we would.
Just imagine how great our sandals would smell…