Mead is a long story between men and gods. And bees too. And also birds: in the Vedas (sacred books of the Hindus, -1500 to -200) Indra's eagle steals honey from heaven. For Greeks it is Zeus' eagle and for Vikings it is Odin himself in the shape of a bird who did it [hist1 p. 18].

In the Vedas in India, in Hesiod (VIIIth century) and Aristotle (IVth century) in Greece as well as Virgil (-70 - -19) in Rome, honey comes from heaven as dew that bees gather from flowers; this is also used in the bible [hist1 p. 17].

The famous nectar and ambrosia of the gods on Olympus were honey and mead. Gayre shows that depending on the source, mead was either called nectar or ambrosia. It will eventually be abandoned by the gods when men switch to wine.

In Valhalla, the heaven of Vi­kings warriors, Valkyries gave mead to the newcomers. In the celtic heaven ran a river of mead [hist1 p. 26].

Honey was seen as a panacea [hist1 pp. 22-23], so it was used for healing. Historically, some kinds of mead have also been medicines and the choice of the herbs was related to their medicinal properties. Greeks made mead using seawater (thalassiomel) and egg white (clionomel). Who would drink such things if they were not "medicines"?


The celt and Viking societies were made of warriors. Thus it was important to be able to remain capable of mastering one's weapon and one's tongue at any time: life of those drinking too much could stop suddenly because another fighter who he insulted got a revenge. So even though they drank a lot, there were warnings, as excess could be lethal. This is shown in an anglo-saxon riddle cited in MLD 924 by Dan McFeeley:

"I am cherished by men, found far and wide, brought from the groves and from the city-heights, from the dales and from the downs. By day wings bore me in the air, carried me with skill under the shelter of the roof. Afterwards men bathed me in a tub. Now I am a binder and a scourger; straightway I cast a young man to the earth, sometimes an old churl. Straightway he who grapples with me and struggles against my strength discovers that he needs seek the earth with his back, if he forsakes not his folly ere that. Deprived of strength, doughty in speech, robbed of might, he has no rule over his mind, feet, nor hands. Ask what is my name, who those on the earth in daylight bind youths, rash after blows."

Excerpts form the Anglo-Saxon poem « The fortunes of men » also cited in MLD 924:

"... though the hand of the cup bearer become drunk; then he finds that he cannot check his temper with his mouth, but has to pitifully give up his life, must suffer great mis­fortune, deprived of joys, and men call him a suicide and caution against the drink of the drunken man."
"Some angry ale-tippler, some man satiated with wine on the mead-bench is deprived of life by the edge of the sword; his words before were too hasty."


January 25 th 2003