From the Table of the Gods

From the Table of the Gods

Feb 08, 2024Nica Alba

How amazing would it be to find truth in a myth?

Today, we understand that myths are fantastical explanations for phenomena as the people of the distant past tried to make sense of the world around them. Often the divine were involved: lances of lightning and earth-shattering thunder must be born from a war among gods, and the rainbow, after the storm finally quiets down, is taken to heart as the heavens’ promise of peace. To witness something so naturally powerful, early humans must have felt it right to attribute them to equally larger-than-life figures. 

The world is rich in these stories; many of which have been debunked by advancements in science. For some myths, however, each new study would shed light on the golden grains of truth they contain—like in the tales of honey.

Honey was a well-loved sweetener and a delicious treat during ancient times. In fact, it was so valuable that it used to replace gold as payment for taxes in the Roman empire, while the ancient Egyptians considered it sacred and kept bees in their temples. During Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, apple slices dipped in honey continue to be a staple of the holiday’s traditional meal, symbolizing the excitement and hope for a sweet new year ahead.

However, honey’s storied past shows that our ancestors saw more to this sweet and sticky liquid—something divine, putting it on par with the awe-inspiring forces of nature. Of course, scientific research has since lifted this fantastical veil, but it doesn’t diminish the magic of this indulgent elixir.

Honey’s storied past shows that our ancestors saw more to this sweet and sticky liquid—something divine, putting it on par with the awe-inspiring forces of nature.

A heavenly indulgence

In their heavenly house upon Mount Olympus, the greatest gods of Greek mythology had rich dinner tables always laden with honey in the form of ambrosia and nectar. Mortals coveted this overflowing feast as it was said to be the source of their everlasting life, vigor, and beauty. Indeed, the head of the Olympians Zeus was nursed on ambrosia as a baby, cultivating his godhood. Heroes like Heracles and Psyche, after triumphing in their god-given ordeals, were also bestowed immortal life through the gift of ambrosia. 

While honey cannot truly grant immortality, it is not far off the mark. With its numerous health properties, pure honey is a natural superfood that can improve and, ultimately, lengthen one’s life when eaten consistently and in moderation.

Honey is rich in antioxidants that help slow premature aging and protect the body against cell-damaging free radicals that raise the risk of chronic conditions due to the oxidative stress they cause. Heart disease, cancers, and diabetes may become more manageable with the help of honey.

On top of helping one’s well-being, honey is also a natural moisturizer. It’s no wonder that honey has found its way into the beauty industry visible in serums, lotions, lip balms, and shampoo.

See Penelope, the steadfast wife who waited twenty years for the return of her husband, the Trojan war hero Odysseus, as Homer’s epic Odyssey tells it. Her beauty naturally faded in those long years, and her sorrowful waiting further wore her away. But when Athena came to her and prepared her with ambrosia, Penelope was more than restored. She became so lovely and radiant that all who saw her were inflamed with passion.

Even the Greek physician Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine himself, prescribed honey as ancient skincare to prevent baldness.

Its long-recorded history shows how powerful a medicinal honey can be that it has persisted as a cure across ages and cultures.

Natural panacea

As much treatment as treat, honey was also called the “medicine of the gods” by the ancient Egyptians; a sentiment echoed in sacred scriptures such as the Vedas, the Quran, and the Bible. In the Quran, there’s even the Chapter of The Bee, or Surah al-Nahl, wherein honey is put forth as a cure for mankind. Indeed, a panacea, the effective use of honey as medicine has been extensively recorded in history as well.

The Smith Papyrus—an important Egyptian medical treatise and, in fact, the world’s oldest surgical text—describes a mixture of honey and vegetable fibers for treating wounds. Different versions of this healing salve had been independently discovered and used all over—from Roman army surgeons to Nordic warriors. It was even used in World War I, where poultices of honey saved countless soldiers from falling to war injuries and infection.

Honey was also a much-prescribed remedy for illnesses and internal pains, such as stomach ailments, coughs, colds, and ulcers. Another major medical text from ancient Egypt, the Ebers Papyrus lists more than a hundred prescriptions that use honey for a wide range of afflictions. China’s longstanding culture of traditional medicine likewise uses honey in various natural remedies, going hand in hand with their thousands-year-old beekeeping practices. According to Chinese medicine, honey aligns with the Earth element, which acts on the stomach and spleen.

Today, we know honey as naturally antibacterial and antiviral. Its long-recorded history shows how powerful a medicinal honey can be that it has persisted as a cure across ages and cultures.

On the shoulders of giants

Despite its historical health benefits, honey seems to have been forgotten by modern medicine. Though, not without justification, as it was eclipsed by the discovery of antibiotics and their miraculous effects during World War II. The curative use of honey then largely stayed in alternative and folk medicines.  

In recent years, however, interest in honey’s healing qualities has been renewed and growing, alongside the unfortunate rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Research shows that honey’s antibacterial effect is strong enough that bacteria are unable to develop a resistance to it, plus it bolsters the body’s healing and immune response. There are also studies that back honey as a helpful cure for coughs, sore throat, and burns, and can even improve mouth ulcers and diarrhea.

While these findings are promising, truthfully, there are more myths and anecdotes than there is conclusive, scientific data on exactly what honey can do for our health and healing. But the glass is half full—there is merit to the fantastical tales of our forefathers. And they’ve already started the work, too—their ancient studies offering enough groundwork for future research to stand on.

Now, it’s a matter of building up with today’s methods and knowledge to better grasp the amazing truths still waiting within the gilded stories of honey—nature’s divine treat.

Cover photo by Vera Kuttelvaserova. In-article photos by Africa Studio and Olha-Afanasieva.

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