In Greek mythology, the Meliae[pronunciation?] or Meliai (Ancient Greek: Μελίαι or Μελιάδες) were nymphs of the ash tree, whose name they shared. They appeared from the drops of blood spilled when Cronus castrated Uranus, according to Hesiod, Theogony 187. From the same blood sprang the Erinyes, suggesting perhaps that the ash-tree nymphs represented the Fates in milder guise (Graves 6.4), and the Giants. From the Meliae sprang the race of mankind of the Age of Bronze.
The Meliae belong to a class of sisterhoods whose nature is to appear collectively and who are invoked in the plural, though genealogical myths, especially in Hesiod, give them individual names, such as Melia, "but these are quite clearly secondary and carry no great weight" (Burkert 1985 III.3.2). The Melia thus singled out is one of these daughters of Oceanus. By her brother the river-god Inachus, she became the mother of Io, Phoroneus, Aegialeus or Phegeus, and Philodice. In other stories, she was the mother of Amycus by Poseidon, as the Olympian representative of Oceanus.
Many species of Fraxinus, the ash trees, exude a sugary substance, which the ancient Greeks called méli, "honey". The species of ash in the mountains of Greece is the Manna-ash (Fraxinus ornus). The Meliae were nurses of the infant Zeus in the Cretan cave of Dikte, according to Callimachus, Hymn to Zeus. They fed him honey.
Of "manna", the ash-tree sugar, the standard 19th-century US pharmacopeia, The Dispensatory of the United States of America (14th edition, Philadelphia, 1878) said:
It is owing to the presence of true sugar and dextrin that manna is capable of fermenting...Manna, when long kept, acquires a deeper color, softens, and ultimately deliquesces into a liquid which on the addition of yeast, undergoes the vinous fermentation.
The Meliai were perhaps the same as the honey-nymph (meliai) nurses of the god Zeus, Ida and Adrasteia. The manna meli of the ash and the honey of bees were thought to be related and being regarded as an ambrosial food fallen from heaven. In Hesiod's Theogony they were born aside the Erinyes, avengers of the castration of Uranus, and the Gigantes. In Hesiod appear to be the Kourete-protectors of the baby Zeus. As children born of the castration, it would be proper that they are brothers should play a role in the downfall of Cronus, performer of the crime. They were an overly aggressive race who incurred the wrath of Zeus and were ruined in the flood of the Great Deluge.
Argive genealogy in Greek mythology
- Hesiod. Works and Days, 143-45: 'Zeus the Father made a third generation of mortal men, a brazen race, sprung from meliai, "ash-trees" (Eustathius's reading) or "ash-tree nymphs" (Proclus' reading: see Works and Days, note 4; Apollonius of Rhodes. Argonautica, 4.1642.
- "MELIAE : Nymphs of Ash Trees & Honey | Greek mythology, Meliai". Retrieved 13 March 2014.
- Ruck, Carl A.P. and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth 1994, p. 140.
- Burkert, Walter, 1985. Greek Religion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).
- Graves, Robert (1955) 1960. The Greek Myths.
- Theoi Project - Nymphai Meliai
- Darl J. Dumont, "The Ash Tree In Indo-European Culture" from Mankind Quarterly 32.4 (Summer 1992), pp. 323-336.