Mythology Monday: Ambrosia

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“Mmm . . . this is sweet. What is it?” I took a longer sip.

“Yours? Sparkling white grape juice.” He grinned. “Did I mention that I’m afraid of your mother?”

I rolled my eyes and finished the glass. It didn’t taste like any grape juice I’d ever had, but that wasn’t surprising. Everything in the Underworld had a richer flavor. Hades made his way around the room, greeting the souls between dances. I stayed close, keeping an eye on the ballroom for any demigods. When another glass found its way into my hand I smiled. I could get used to having servants.

The next time Hades invited me to dance a grin stretched across my face. My teeth felt tingly, and all the dancing was making me dizzy. As he led me through the simple motions I gave him an appraising look.

“You look nice tonight.”

Surprise flitted across Hades’ face. “Thank you. You look lovely as well.”

“I always kind of figured you’d be ugly.”

Hades blinked. “Excuse me?”

I giggled. “Well, you know, in books and movies you’re always, like, deformed or something crazy. You know, like a reflection of your soul?”

“Ah, I take it you mean my ugly and deformed soul?” Hades kept his voice light. He held me at arm’s length and gave me a quick once-over. I felt a ping of power pulse through me.

“No. That’s not what I meant.” I touched my hand to my forehead, trying to make sense of my jumbled thoughts. “I don’t think you or your soul is ugly. You’re actually pretty hot.”

Hades raised an eyebrow. “I see. Not so fast.” Hades intercepted a champagne glass from a tall Lethian and studied the liquid carefully. After a cautious sniff he took a small sip, and his eyes widened.

“Something wrong?”

I jumped at the sound of Thanatos’ voice. I hadn’t realized he was behind me.

“Somehow Persephone was given ambrosia instead of grape juice,” Hades replied.

Thanatos raised an eyebrow. “How much did she drink?”

“Is this a god thing?” I asked, growing annoyed. “Talking about people like they aren’t standing right there? What’s ambrosia? Some kind of poison?” The thought should have alarmed me, but I found it very difficult to care at the moment. Everyone looked so nice, and the music was so pretty.

“It’s just a divine drink,” Hades assured me. “It’s not poisonous. Well, not in the traditional sense of the word.”

“Do you think someone gave it to me on purpose?”

Hades frowned. “I can’t imagine what purpose it would serve. It was probably just a mix-up, but Thanatos, would you mind interviewing the Lethians who were in charge of our drinks?”

“Sure. Did you want me to take her to her rooms?”

Hades stared at me, considering. “Do you drink? In the living realm, I mean?”

I shook my head. “I’m boring. Mom always asks me to promise her not to drink anytime I go out.”

“Demeter does that?” Hades sounded surprised.

Thanatos let out a low whistle and shook his head.

My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t lie. My mom wasn’t lax. She didn’t trust me. She just knew if I promised not to drink, I physically wouldn’t be able to do it.

“That bitch!”

Thanatos snorted, and Hades raised an eyebrow.

“Water for her.” He motioned to a Lethian for a refill.

When our glasses arrived, Hades tested my drink before passing it to me. “I’ve got her, Thanatos. Go on.”

Thanatos studied me, looking so serious that I giggled. “Hades, she’ll only embarrass herself. Let me get her out of the—”

“She is right here and she doesn’t want to go back to her room. She wants to dance and have fun.”

“Yes, Thanatos, you’re being rude.” Hades’ lips twitched as though he was suppressing a grin. “See to the Lethians.”

“I really don’t think—”

“What exactly are you worried about?” Hades asked.

“You’re a lot taller than Thanatos,” I observed.

Thanatos met Hades’ eyes with an unreadable expression on his face. “If someone got close enough to switch her drink—”

“To what end?”

“Compromise her judgment? Lower her guard? Should I go on? She’s vulnerable.”

“She is right here,” I grumbled.

“Yes, you are.” Hades grinned. “I need you to stay with me until you’re safe in your room. Would you be willing to do that?”

“Sure.”

Hades gave Thanatos a look. “Satisfied?”

Thanatos made a noncommittal noise and signaled a Lethian from the crowd.

Hades shook his head when Thanatos disappeared into the crowd. “He worries too much.”

“You’re not worried?”

Something flickered in Hades’ eyes but it was gone before I could interpret it. “It was probably an innocent mistake. But still . . . I’d rather not have you out of my sight.” He held out his hand. “Still want to dance?”

Time passed in a blur of color and light. People laughed and danced around us, the spinning arcs of the skirts making me dizzy.

“I can’t dance another step.” I giggled, clinging to Hades so I wouldn’t trip and fall.

“Let’s get some air.” Hades led me out of the ballroom. The party was scattered all across the Underworld, but we found privacy in the grove of trees. The trees stretched into the sky, their branches arching and spilling over, sheltering us from view of any of the other souls wandering the Underworld.

“You’re trying to stop me from making a scene.” I stepped away from him into the center of the clearing. I spun around, holding my arms out. “Whoa.” I stopped mid-spin, waiting for the clearing to do the same.

“You should probably eat something.” Hades caught my hand. “Think of something, anything at all.”

I imagined pomegranate seeds and a plastic baggy full of them appeared in my free hand. I put six seeds in my mouth. An owl hooted in the distance.

Hades laughed. “You’re going to need more than that. What’s your favorite type of bread?”

“I’m a goddess. Do I have to worry about hangovers?”

“Your metabolism will change when you come into your powers. As far as alcohol is concerned, right now you’re a human.” He suppressed a grin. “Ambrosia gets even gods drunk, so you’re in trouble.”

I sat down on the cool grass. “Have you ever eaten one of these? They’re delicious.” I offered him a seed, and he took it, sitting down beside me.

“I’ve tried everything. I was there when your mom came up with this one.” He leaned back, studying the sky.

I followed his gaze. The sky was empty, faintly glowing with the same soft light that filled the Underworld. It was never quite dark here, but never bright enough for my tastes. “You guys really need to get a moon.” I tilted my head back further. “Where are the stars?”

“This is the Underworld. The sky is just a decoration.”

“Stars are pretty.”

“Stars are tragic.” Hades turned to face me. “Most of the stars are nothing but reminders of love gone horribly wrong, or men challenging the gods.”

“I thought they were gas giants.”

Hades waved his hand. “Semantics. The constellations they form are nothing but sad stories. Why would anyone want to have a constant reminder of tragedy hanging above their head?”

I thought about that for a minute, studying the blank sky. “Did you play a part in any of those tragedies?”

He met my eyes and something in them set my heart beating uncomfortably hard. “No.”

I smiled. “You’re nothing like I pictured you.”

“Yeah, let’s not go down this road again. If you start talking about how my hair should be on fire, or how evil I should be, I might take Thanatos’ advice.”

“You’re not evil.”

“You don’t think so?” Hades asked, studying my face. “After what I did to you?”

“You saved me.”

“I could have handled it better. I could have taken a second to think, found some way that wouldn’t tie you to me.” He hesitated. “But when I saw you, there was just something about you . . . ” He trailed off and looked at the sky. “Maybe I didn’t want to find another way. What if I wasn’t just impulsive, what if I was selfish? What kind of a person does that make me?”

I burst out laughing. “Do you always over-think things so much? You saved my life. That’s about as selfless as it gets. Being down here isn’t convenient, and being married is a little weird, but it’s just a few months. It’s not like you get anything out of this, and I’ve been such a brat about it.” I shook my head, enjoying the wave of dizziness that accompanied the motion. “Thank you, Hades. For everything. Really.” I leaned over and kissed his cheek, giggling at the surprised look on his face. “I owe you, big time.”

“I don’t think you understand.” He reached toward me. I blinked when he brushed a strand of my hair behind my ear. “It’s not just a few—”

“Hey, Hades! Persephone!” Cassandra called. She laughed when she found the grove. “Oops, hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“Of course not.” Hades stood, brushed himself off, and extended his hand. I lay frozen, hand touching my face where the ghost of his fingers had brushed against my skin.

“Persephone.” His voice was gentle. I looked up and grabbed his hand. “We should get back to the party.”

~@~

Ambrosia was the divine drink (and sometimes food and sometimes perfume for Aphrodite) of the gods. It is sometimes used interchangeably with Nectar, a divine drink. Other times Nectar is the drink and ambrosia is the food. Other times Nectar is the food and Ambrosia is the drink. For my purposes, Ambrosia is the “golden Nectar of the gods.” Persephone drinks a glass in book one, and it gets her very, very drunk very, very fast. In my series it’s the only drink that can actually get gods drunk, and the impact it has on humans is even more pronounced.

Depending on the myth, Ambrosia is either created by the earth in a sort of atmospheric offering to the gods and carried to Olympus by pretty gods, or Ambrosia was a nymph who was assaulted and turned into a grape vine to escape.

In mythology, the drink could turn mortals immortal, heal, and restore youth. It could also keep corpses fresh and life like for all time. Demigods drank it on occasion with no side effects, but the food/drink/perfume was jealously guarded from mortals. Tantalus was sent to a special place in hell because he tried to steal it. More on that in an upcoming Mythology Monday.

That’s not to say that Ambrosia was never given to mortals, just not without a gods approval. Achilles was anointed with Ambrosia (except his heel) in some versions of the myth, and Psyche was annointed with Ambrosia at her wedding so she could marry Cupid.

Liquids like Ambrosia pop up in all kinds of lore. I use it more like fairy wine. There are references to ambrosia on Egyptian statues of Anubis. “I am death…I eat ambrosia and drink blood.” Creepy much?

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