“They Have No Blood and Are Called Immortal”: Homer’s Gods and the Son of God

In Book 5 of Homer’s Iliad, Diomedes wounds Aphrodite with an arrow. Homer describes it thus:

Now as, following her through the thick crowd, he caught her ,

lunging in his charge far forward the son of high-hearted

Tydeus made a thrust against the soft hand with the bronze spear,

and the spear tore the skin driven clean on through the immortal

robe that the very Graces had woven for her carefully,

over the palm’s base; and blood immortal flowed from the goddess,

ichor, that which runs in the veins of the blessed divinities;

since these eat no food, nor do they drink of the shining

wine, and therefore they have no blood and are called immortal.

Iliad 5.334-42, trans. Richmond Lattimore

The lines in bold are curious. Homer refers to the goddess’s “immortal blood” (ἄμβροτον αἷμα), only to clarify immediately that it isn’t actually blood, but something called “ichor” (ἰχώρ)–and this because the gods “eat no food, nor do they drink of the shining wine.”

Homer then draws what he appears to mean as a logical inference (τοὔνεκ᾽): “therefore they have no blood and are called immortal” (ἀναίμονές εἰσι καὶ ἀθάνατοι καλέονται). The immortality of Homer’s gods is a function of the fact that they do not need what human beings need to perpetuate life, viz., nourishment. Because they receive no nourishment, they have no blood.

We are used to thinking of the blood as being the substance where the life is. But that seems to be inverted here: the blood is where the death is. And if you have no blood, you are impervious to death by definition. A moment’s pause shows that that makes perfect sense, for in ordinary experience life and death are a complementary and indissoluble pair; the one implies and necessitates the other.

So far can a Christian express his agreement. God has no need of human food and drink because God, who has life in himself–life of a wholly different order from our life–, has no need of sustenance, that is, of sustaining his life, which simply is.

How strange, then, that the Son of God takes into himself human blood, the vital sap of human life, so that he can he can pour out that same blood as the mortal sap of human death.

It is even stranger, perhaps, that his deathblood, shed for the life of the world, once more becomes the very power of life, and indeed of divine life, given to all who take and drink.

In the Homeric world, the gods eat “ambrosia,” which means “immortality.” In the Christian world, God himself becomes ambrosia, the food of immortality for all the faithful.

The Latin hymn Ad regias Agni dapes, translated into English as “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing,” puts it this way:

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing

Praise to our victorious King,

Who has washed us in the tide

Flowing from His pierced side.


Praise we Him, whose love divine

Gives His sacred blood for wine,

Gives His body for the feast–

Christ the victim, Christ the priest.


Where the paschal blood is poured,

Death’s dread angel sheathes the sword;

Israel’s hosts triumphant go

Through the wave that drowns the foe.


Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,

Paschal victim, paschal bread;

With sincerity and love

Eat we manna from above.


Mighty Victim from the sky,

Hell’s fierce pow’rs beneath You lie;

You have conquered in the fight,

You have brought us life and light.


Now no more can death appall,

Now no more the grave enthrall;

You have opened paradise,

And Your saints in You shall rise.


Easter triumph, Easter joy!

This alone can sin destroy;

From sin’s pow’r, Lord, set us free,

Newborn sould in You to be.


Father, who the crown shall give,

Savior, by whose death we live,

Spirit, guide through all our days:

Three in One, Your name we praise.


Trans. Robert Campbell, alt., as printed in Lutheran Service Book 633.


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