The nostos of hearts

Nausica Manzi

Petrichor is the scent of an inner reality that escapes when the whole of existence seems to surrender itself to the dance of nostalgia amidst lashing but gentle tears of joy or sorrow.


Raindrops lightly pattered on the tarnished glass of existence. An autumn evening brought back distant memories and cradled future hopes. It felt like travelling through that rain that contained nostalgia and courage in the form of water that first moved gently then lashed and, in the process, scented and intoxicated souls. Its perfume gave bones peace, caressed the frenzied muscles and soothed tired eyes in need of enlightenment and new light. That smell of rain brought back that essence that comforts and restores oneself, reconnecting everyone to true life.

During a thunderstorm, the scent of rain that touches the ground after a dry period is scientifically called ‘petrichor‘, a term combining two Greek words ‘petra’ meaning stone and ‘ichor’, lymph or ichor. Coined by researchers Isabel Bear and Richard Thomas in 1964 in an article for the periodical Nature, on a chemical level, this word describes a scent derived from a particular oil that is released by plants during dry periods and that, absorbed by the soil during rainfall, diffuses into the air. Petrichor is the scent of an inner reality that escapes when the whole of existence seems to surrender itself to the dance of nostalgia amidst lashing but gentle tears of joy or sorrow.

Starting from its etymology, we can therefore say that it is more than just a smell or a scientific fact: the petrichor is the medium that testifies to the presence of an inner world, of a combination of firm bones and vital blood, which coming to the surface and leaving its scent, becomes the helm that steers and leads hearts home. The petrichor is the nostos of hearts..

Nostos means ‘journey home’ in Greek, a word from which we also obtain ‘nostalgia’, a sentiment often understood negatively, but which, instead, is the code of a further horizon with which to reread the existence of an entire world. A world that, every day and increasingly so, moves without a compass, without a destination, lost in the sea of uncertainty, in search of an anchor to avoid sinking, of a stability to build solid foundations for a new humanity. In ancient times, nostos, a hero’s journey home, was connected both to the glory – due to the success of his quest or victory in a battle – and to identity, i. e. to the construction and reconstruction of the inner world of a man who, in experiencing shipwreck in the waves of nostalgia, found the origins of his existence.

In fact, the dramatic and painful moment of the shipwreck is closely connected to the Petrichor, this perfume that can restore order to the planks of the ‘heart-ship’ of every hero of everyday life and, between strength and fragility, hence can lead him back home even during the impetuous whirlwinds of a storm that swallow up the breaths of salvation. Whether in the form of a rain drop of lashing tears on a delicate face, or a cloudburst of pain over a serene soul, it is only through the experience of shipwreck – that negative moment that endangers, disorients and destroys the ‘heart-ship’ – that the lymph emanated from the petrichor, the nostos perfume of hearts, is generated.

As the etymology of the term suggests, generating from the impact between the ‘heart-ship’ and the rocks of existence during one’s ‘nostos’ in the storm of a humanity in crisis, this perfumed lymph, ichor, is a sign of an inner power that leaks out like blood from a wound. Mythologically, ichor was in fact the name given to the blood of the gods, a substance so pure as to be lethal to any mortal: a vital liquid that generated a perfume that shook the souls of men to the point of killing them.

 The petrichor, therefore, nostos of the hearts, is the lethal blood that, generated from a wound caused by the thousand shipwrecks of existence and spreading through the air, reminds every human being of their identity, of the baggage they have in their soul that is the most important thing to be brought safely back home, to dry land in order to rebuild it and give it new form. Such an intoxicating nostos of hearts that wounds and wrecks, confusing to the point of killing, reminds humanity to restart from nostalgia, from that ‘pain of return’, from that scent of life of a blood that testifies to the hope and salvation of immortality in the devastating shipwreck during the storm of a contemporary humanity in the midst of drought. What does this mean? Guided and generated by the petrichor, nostalgia becomes a helm of consciousness and rebirth: the immortal ichor that is generated in the destructive impact against the rocks of an existence devoured by human drought makes every man certain of his inner reality and hence of the possibility of making himself a ‘hero’, an immortal fighter, a creator of the new perfume of an entire humanity. Paraphrasing Karl Jaspers, only in a continuous castaway of certainties, gazes and voices can one find the route back home and discover that every human being is composed of ‘ulteriority’, which is the true home, a fragile inner ship, which in the battle of living, generates the intoxicating perfume of a wounded but resplendent humanity. The petrichor becomes the nostalgia that shows a fragile mortal soul the true way home, namely to rebuild him or herself and to make himself or herself immortal every day by living in accordance with the law of love enclosed in his or her soul. Therefore, the soul is that ship that only in the experience of impact and shipwreck, regains possession of the law of love of living and discovers itself as a petrichor, a perfumed lymph that, as the nostos of hearts, can be reborn, rebuild itself and reshape the whole world every day.

   Men can close their eyes to greatness, to horror, and close their ears to melodies or seductive words. But they can’t escape the scent. Because the perfume is the brother of the breath. With it it penetrated men, they could not resist it if they wanted to live. And the perfume descended into them, straight to their hearts and there categorically distinguished sympathy from contempt, disgust from pleasure, love from hate. He who dominated smells dominated the hearts of men[1] .

The petrichor, nostos of the hearts, is the lethal scent of a vital blood that destroys only to remind us all of the potential fragility of being mortal, wherein lies the power of making oneself every day and in every moment immortal like a hero who, only after being castaway, finds his way back to the homeland of his heart.

[1] From ,  translation of Patrick Suskind, Il profumo,trad. it di Agabio G.., Tea 2014, p. 15k.

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