Scala/Art Resource, NY

The ancient Greeks linked the opium poppy with several gods: among them, the god of dreams, Morpheus (hence our word “morphine,” the narcotic alkaloid in the plant’s latex); the god of death, Thanatos; and the goddess of love, Aphrodite. The poppy capsule’s abundant seeds—the poppy seeds we use to flavor breads and pastries—may have prompted the Greeks to associate the plant with Demeter (shown here), the goddess of grain and fertility. As in this 420 B.C. Greek statue, now in the Vatican Museum, Demeter is often depicted holding sheaves of wheat, barley and opium capsules (inset).