1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ambrosia

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AMBROSIA, in ancient mythology, sometimes the food, sometimes the drink of the gods. The word has generally been derived from Gr. ἀ-, not, and μβρότος, mortal; hence the food or drink of the immortals. A. W. Verrall, however, denies that there is any clear example in which the word ἀμβρόσιος necessarily means “immortal,” and prefers to explain it as “fragrant,” a sense which is always suitable; cf. W. Leaf, Iliad (2nd ed.), on the phrase ἀμβρόσιος ὔπνος (ii. 18). If so, the word may be derived from the Semitic ambar (ambergris) to which Eastern nations attribute miraculous properties. W. H. Roscher thinks that both nectar and ambrosia were kinds of honey, in which case their power of conferring immortality would be due to the supposed healing and cleansing power of honey (see further Nectar). Derivatively the word Ambrosia (neut. plur.) was given to certain festivals in honour of Dionysus, probably because of the predominance of feasting in connexion with them.

The name Ambrosia was also applied by Dioscorides and Pliny to certain herbs, and has been retained in modern botany for a genus of plants from which it has been extended to the group of dicotyledons called Ambrosiaceae, including Ambrosia, Xanthium and Iva, all annual herbaceous plants represented in America. Ambrosia maritima and some other species occur also in the Mediterranean region.

There is also an American beetle, the Ambrosia beetle, belonging to the family of Scolytidae, which derives its name from its curious cultivation of a succulent fungus, called ambrosia. Ambrosia beetles bore deep though minute galleries into trees and timber, and the wood-dust provides a bed for the growth of the fungus, on which the insects and larvae feed.