Sacred Vessels and Celestial Connections: The Mythic Legacy of Nestor’s Cup

Nestor, the venerable king of Pylos, stands out in Greek mythology and Homeric literature for his wisdom and experience. Among his many attributes, his legendary cup described in the “Iliad” is particularly intriguing. When Machaon, the son of Asclepius, is wounded by Paris, a healing drink is prepared for him in this cup.

The cup was so big and heavy that only Nestor could lift it. It was adorned with gold and figures of doves.

The Historical Nestor’s Cup from Ischia

The discovery of a real cup on the island of Ischia, inscribed with a playful reference to Nestor, bridges the gap between myth and history. This artifact, dating back to the 8th century BCE, features one of the earliest known examples of the Greek alphabet. The inscription suggests that whoever drinks from it will be seized by the desire:

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“I am the cup of Nestor good for drinking.
Whoever drinks from this cup,
desire for beautifully crowned Aphrodite will seize him instantly.”

Vedic Connections: Nestar and Soma

In the Vedic tradition, a “Nestar” is a priest responsible for preparing and offering soma, a ritualistic drink believed to confer immortality and divine insight.

The parallel between the Greek Nestor and the Vedic Nestar, each holding revered cups containing potent beverages, is compelling.

O Nestar, with thy Dame accept our sacrifice; with Rtu drink,
For thou art he who giveth wealth.
Rigveda (1.15.3)

Bold One, thou who grantest wealth,
drink Soma with the Rtus from the Nestar’s cup.
Rigveda (2.37.3)

Similar Myths: Sacred Vessels in Various Cultures

In Celtic mythology, the Cauldron of Dagda, one of the four treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, provides endless sustenance and rejuvenation.

The Celtic myth has another important parallel to the Greek myth. The Nestor from the Iliad is often called “Nestor the Gerenian horseman” or “Nestor the charioteer,” while Dagda is also known as Eochu or Eochaid Ollathair (“horseman, great father”). In short, both figures are celebrated for their wisdom, leadership, and equestrian skills.

The four great treasures of Tuatha Dé Danann include:

1.  Dagda’s Cauldron - provides endless sustenance.
2.  Sword of Nuada - an unstoppable weapon.
3.  Spear of Lugh - guarantees victory in battle.
4.  Stone of Fal - cries out when touched by the rightful king.

Similarly, the Scythians, as noted by Herodotus, had four treasures. In both cases one of these treasures is a drinking cup.

herodotus-scythians-astronomy-mythology-vedic-minoans
herodotus-scythians-astronomy-mythology-vedic-minoans

Norse and Vedic Parallels: An eagle steals the nectar

In Norse mythology, the mead of poetry grants wisdom and poetic inspiration to those who drink it. In order to steal it, Odin transforms himself into an eagle. Gunnlöð was a lady who guarded it. Odin turns into a snake and enters her chambers. Then, he seduces Gunnlöð and obtains three drinks of the mead, after which he immediately flies himself out of the cavern as an eagle.”

The same episode existed in the Vedic narrative, only with the eagle (Garuda, constellation Aquila):

“O Eagle, thou didst fly to heaven to bring to the human race the Soma, guarded by the fierce seven-headed monster, bringing it through the worlds to make us immortal.” (Rigveda 4.26.4)

The Holy Grail

Similarly, in Christian mythology, the Holy Grail, often depicted as the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, is believed to have mystical properties capable of providing eternal youth, healing, and divine favor.

Also, many Christian depictions portray it with “horn of plenty” symbolism, and with two birds flanking it, just like in the case of Nestor’s cup.

Moreover, the Spear of Destiny in Christianity parallels the Spear of Lugh, with both artifacts thought to grant immense power to their bearers.

Behind these mythological artefacts often lies astronomical symbolism. For example, the Crown of Thorns finds its celestial counterpart in the constellation Corona Borealis, while the Ark of the Covenant is mirrored by the constellation Argo Navis.

Back to India

In Hindu mythology, the Amrita Kalasha, a pot that holds the elixir of immortality, emerged from the churning of the ocean by gods and demons. This pot symbolizes the quest for eternal life and divine power.

However, it was not only the nectar that appeared as a result of this churning. Amongst other creatures, came forth a seven-headed horse called Uchaihshravas. This horse is often considered the king of horses and is typically associated with Indra, the king of the gods.

The name Uchaihshravas is a compound word. The first part, Uchaih is less clear, but sounds similar to one of the names of the Celtic Dagda – who was also known as Eochu (horseman), from Old Irish, “ech” (horse). The second part “shravas” meant “glory, fame” – a cognate with the Slavic word “slava”. In other words, Uchaihshravas probably meant “famous horse”.

The potential common root “yakh” or “jahati,” meaning “to ride,” offers a possible link between the Old Irish “Eochu” and the Sanskrit “Uchchaih.” Both terms likely derive from the Proto-Indo-European root “yek” or “yakh,” which means “to ride” or “to go.”, with similar examples found in Latin (“equus”) and Greek (“hippos”). 

In astronomical symbolism, both Uchaihshravas and Eochu probably represent the constellation Centaurus, whose shape can also be seen as a multi-headed horse. Moreover, in Greek mythology this Centaur was known as Nessos – a name quite similar to Nestor.

Celestial Connections: Crater, Virgo, and Centaurus

The constellation Crater, known as the Cauldron or a Cup, is the central piece of these ancient narratives. Positioned next to Virgo, who is often associated with Aphrodite, it may explain the meaning behind the “desire of Aphrodite” mentioned in the ancient Greek inscription on the Nestors cup.

Moreover, this constellation, representing a sacred vessel, could be the archetype inspiring all of the mythological legends we have covered. 

Crater lies “on” the Hydra constellation, and this is the seven-headed snake / monster from the Vedic myth of the churning of the ocean.

The proximity of Nessos the Centaurus, to Crater constellation is particularly intriguing, as most of these Holy grail myths also include horses or horsemen.

Additionally, the constellation Corvus, the Raven, stands next to the handles of Crater, much like the doves mentioned on the handles of the Nestor’s Cup in the “Iliad.” In the same way, the constellation Corvus could be the same raven from the Norse myth, that steals the mead of poetry.

This symbolic richness is suggesting that these constellations marked auspicious times for important events, such as the preparation and consumption of a sacred drink, such as soma.

Rituals of the Ancients?

During the Neolithic period, when the sunrise of the spring equinox took place between the Gemini and Taurus constellations, the Crater constellation would dominate the night sky of the summer solstice. This aligns with the Vedic narrative that tells us that soma (the moon plant) was gathered at night. Also, most of these myths talk about knowledge and immortality, and soma was seen as the potion that grants those things, as evident in the famous Vedic quote:

We have drunk the soma; we have become immortal;
we have gone to the light; we have found the gods.”
– The Rigveda (8.48.3)

Finally, large stone cups were a common element of the Neolithic passage tombs of Europe. Here are two examples from Ireland. Their function is unknown, but it seems that they contained a liquid that was used in some kind of religious rites. Similar stone basins were discovered in other pre-pottery sites, such as Gobekli Teppe in Turkey (11,000 BC).

The oldest confirmed brewery has been discovered in a prehistoric burial site within a cave near Haifa, Israel. Researchers uncovered 13,000-year-old beer residue, likely used in ritual feasts to honor the deceased. Stone mortars carved into the cave floor contained traces of alcohol made from wheat and barley.

Some suggest that the production of alcoholic beverages preceded agriculture, with the desire for such drinks driving the development of farming and civilization.

Cultural Exchange and Shared Motifs

These mythological connections hint at a broader pattern of cultural exchange in the ancient world. This study emphasizes the importance of examining ancient myths as part of a larger, interconnected web of human culture and knowledge, reflecting millennia-old ideas.

The connections between Vedic Nestra and Greek Nestor remain elusive. However, the common appearance of doves and ravens in Greek and Norse myths, used by ancient seamen for navigation, alongside constellations at night, may be a crucial piece of this puzzle.

In short, the idea of the Holy Grail is probably as old as the production of the liquid that had the power to alter human consciousness. These paleolithic traditions became especially alive during the Neolithic period, after the invention of pottery and the discovery of agriculture. The main purpose of the constellation Crater was to signal a period when this drink was to be produced and consumed. This idea was then developed into a rich tapestry of symbols, from the horn of plenty and magic cauldrons, to the holy grail.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Excellent paper. Like the way you made connections. A note on the Dagda. “D” in Irish can be pronounced like a “J”. My mother was born an Irish speaker in the Gaeltacht and she always pronounced ‘d’ as a ‘j’ or a ‘g’. Also I’ve found that if you print a hard copy you will find any typos you missed reviewing the digital version. Our eyes process print on paper differently than the digital pixels: par 19: famous; par 21 possible; par 29: aligns; par 33(last) parallels.

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