Blood and Ichor

By Charles Bardes

For the ancient Greeks, blood was the essence of being mortal.  For what flowed in the veins of the immortal gods was not blood but ichor (ἰχορ), an ethereal fluid, comparable to blood in its motion and function but altogether different in composition.

In the Iliad, when the mortal warrior Diomedes hurls his spear at the goddess Aphrodite on the killing fields before Troy, what flows from her wounded wrist is “the immortal blood of the goddess, the ichor, such as floweth in the blessed gods; for they eat not bread neither drink flaming wine, wherefore they are bloodless, and are called immortal.”1

Goddess though she be, she feels great pain; however remote the gods may be, humans cause them to suffer. 

Hear the words, defined through their opposites: bloodless is anaimones (ἀναίμονές).  Immortal is ambroton (ἀμβροτον), deathless, whence ambrosia, the drink of the gods.

And reach back even further, to Sanskrit amrita, which indicates both immortality and in the same breath nectar, ambrosia, and soma, the inspiring elixir of the ancient Vedic deities.

About the Author

Charles Bardes practices and teaches internal medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. His books, poems and essays have been widely published. He leads the Humanities section at TBP. Click here to learn more.