DYK: True meaning of Lily Livered

LILY LIVERED – Means cowardly. People once believed that your passions came from you liver. If you were lily livered your liver was white (because it did not contain any blood). So you were a coward. The ancient Greeks used to sacrifice an animal before battle. The liver was regarded as a prime omen – if it was red then all was fine, but if it was pale then bad tidings were in store for them.cowardly lionThere is a reference to lily-livered in Shakespeare’s Macbeth 5:3:15: “Go prick thy face and over-red thy fear, thou lily livered boy.” Shakespeare wrote of cowards with “livers white as milk”. 

Going further back, the ancient Greeks used to sacrifice an animal before battle. The liver was regarded as a prime omen – if it was red then all was fine, but if it was pale then bad tidings were in store for them. By extension, the liver of a coward was thought to be pale and “lily livered”.

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