Lotus-eaters (lotophagi or lotophaguses, lotophages) were fruitarians, whose primary foods were fruits and flowers of a lotus tree.
Herodotus, in the 5th century BCE, was sure that the lotus-eaters still existed in his day, in coastal Libya:
A promontory jutting out into the sea from the country of the Gindanes is inhabited by the lotus-eaters, who live entirely on the fruit of the lotus-tree. The lotus fruit is about the size of the lentisk berry and in sweetness resembles the date. The lotus-eaters even succeed in obtaining from it a sort of wine.
Polybius identifies the land of the lotus-eaters as the island of Djerba (ancient Meninx), off the coast of Tunisia. Later this identification is supported by Strabo.
According to Greek mythology, lotophagi lived on an island dominated by lotus plants, and its flowers of fruits were narcotic, causing the people to sleep in peaceful apathy.
In the Odyssey IX by Homer:
"They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return."
Greek word lôtos can refer to several different plants. Some of the proposed species, based in part on Herodotus' assertion, include:
- a fodder plant such as a species of Trifolium, Melilot or Trigonella, the Lotus corniculatus, the fellbloom, or Medicago arborea,
- the sweet and succulent persimmon fruit of the date-plum Diospyros lotus,
- a water-lily, either Nymphaea lotus, Nymphaea caerulea, or Nymphaea stellata,
- blue water-lily of the Nile, Nymphaea caerulea, also known as the blue lotus (already known under this name to the Greeks), can be processed to be used as a soporific and, in some formulations, has psychotropic properties; common in Egyptian iconography which suggests its use in a religious context,
- the nettle-tree, Celtis australis,
- Ziziphus lotus, a relative of the jujube, or another member of the genus Ziziphus, that is traditionally taken to be the plant meant in the Odyssey.