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Beyond Grand Theories and Family Resemblances

Toward a Discursive Approach to Greek Sacrifice

Au-delà des grandes théories et ressemblances familiales : pour une approche discursive du sacrifice grec

Kenneth W. Yu

Résumé

Cet article compare l’épisode du sacrifice dans l’Hymne homérique à Hermès (105-141), la lex sacra de Sélinonte et un relief votif de Patras, afin d’explorer comment poètes et artistes exploitaient la pratique du sacrifice pour façonner une compréhension collective de la vie sociale et religieuse. En même temps, j’interroge les postulats non fondés des méthodologies modernes, lesquelles attribuent des valeurs historiques inégales aux mythes, aux inscriptions et à la documentation archéologique. Je conclus que décrire le sacrifice de l’Hymne comme simplement imaginaire, et la lex sacra ou le relief de Patras comme révélateur des réalités religieuses, ne découle pas des sources antiques mais davantage des interprétations modernes. En revanche, j’insiste sur le fait que chaque comparandum devrait être évalué selon ses interventions spécifiques dans le répertoire des représentations du sacrifice. L’objectif n’est pas de reconstruire une logique totalisante du sacrifice, mais de dévoiler les différents types de raisonnements moraux, souvent conflictuels, que les acteurs de la religion grecque pouvaient appliquer à leurs rituels.

Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 The classic studies are Detienne, Vernant 1979; Vernant 1981; Burkert 1986. The author would like (...)
  • 2 On Vernant and Burkert see Bremmer 2007, p. 141-143; Parker 2011, p. 124-170. Grottanelli 1988 rem (...)
  • 3 In addition to n.2 see Rives 2011; Ullucci 2011, 2015, esp. p. 389-390.

1It has become perfunctory to commence studies on Greek sacrifice by acknowledging the long lasting and profound influence of Jean-Pierre Vernant and Walter Burkert, followed immediately by remarking on the limitations of their respective theories.1 Vernant largely excluded evidence that countered his insistence on the socializing function of animal sacrifice and the subsequent feast, while Burkert unduly privileged the Bouphonia, a specifically Athenian ritual described by Porphyry in his treatise on the advantages of vegetarianism, in order to position human aggressiveness and the killing of the animal at the core of the practice.2 Since then, scholars have cautioned against grand theories and even questioned the utility of the category of sacrifice for the study of Greek religion.3

2My aim in this article is neither to contribute to the chorus of criticism of previous theories, nor to proffer yet another all-embracing approach, but to interrogate certain methodological assumptions that classicists routinely bring to the study of Greek sacrifice. Although scholars have become more judicious in supplementing literary accounts of sacrifice with visual and archaeological evidence, how to correlate materials across genres and media in methodologically robust ways remains a challenge. We ought to attend more closely, I contend, to the rhetorical and pragmatic dimensions of the variegated evidence, and to the strategies of representation and generic conventions that ancient cultural producers exploited across discourse types to shape collective understandings about social and religious life. Greater focus on the intervention of the ancient texts and materials at hand may reveal how distinct discourses about sacrifice interacted and gained traction among ancient spectators, worshippers, and patrons. Part of my goal, moreover, is to query the tendency in classical scholarship to ascribe unequal explanatory weight to epigraphic, visual, and literary representations of Greek sacrifice.

  • 4 Previously held at the Getty Museum and now at the Museo Civico Selinuntino. On the term lex sacra(...)

3To pursue these issues, I consider three forms of evidence that I take as heuristic and ideal-typical: the sacrifice scene in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (c. late sixth-century BCE), the Selinuntine lex sacra (a mid-fifth century BCE inscription containing rituals of purification and sacrifice),4 and a fifth-century votive from Patras depicting a pre-kill sacrifice scene. I argue that the scholarly proclivity to perceive the sacrifice in the Hymn to Hermes as mythological and therefore imaginative, and the lex sacra or the Patras relief as more revealing of historical religious actualities rests on minimal support from the ancient sources but rather reflects modern academic practices. By contrast, I hope to draw out the distinct logic of sacrifice operative in the three pieces of evidence according to their specific discursive situations, thereby subordinating modern scholarly perspectives to ancient conceptions.

  • 5 Parker 2011, p. 238.

4Robert Parker has claimed that “there is no theological exegesis to guide us, there was no theological exegesis to guide them, as to what to make of these rites.”5 That there existed no ancient theology of sacrifice sensu stricto is surely correct, but it is due time to move beyond the mere observation that there was a welter of variants of sacrifice and that no single one was more authoritative than any other. Ancient cultural producers, I argue, consciously advanced distinct representations of sacrifice in specific communicative contexts as pointed interventions into the religious imaginary, and encouraged their audiences to reflect on and adhere to their underlying social, political, and moral assumptions. In other words, ancient poets and artisans alike understood sacrifice not only as a fundamental religious act but also as a privileged discursive trope that afforded extraordinary opportunities to elaborate far-reaching and often tendentious claims about religious action in relation to larger cultural discourses and social practices.

Homeric Hymn to Hermes

  • 6 For the cult of the Twelve Gods: Long 1987; Georgoudi 1996.
  • 7 Ancient commentators found the sequence of events in the narrative counterintuitive: Soph. Ichneut (...)
  • 8 Càssola 1975, p. 525, citing Simon 1953, gathers further evidence of Hermes sacrificing to gods.

5The Homeric Hymn to Hermes is typical of its genre. It narrates the birth of the eponymous deity and the marvelous process by which he acquires his divine honors and gains recognition from the other Olympians. The newborn Hermes accomplishes tremendous feats: he learns to speak, invents a lyre (20-53), recites theogonic hymns (54-61), essays primordial sacrificial fire, and, most significantly for my inquiry, steals fifty of Apolloʼs cows, two of which he sacrifices to a set of twelve gods.6 The sacrifice scene, comprising almost forty lines (105-141), figures prominently in the Hymn, yet scholars routinely hesitate to identify it as a sacrifice.7 Why Hermes performs a sacrifice at all, and apart from a collective with whom to share the experience has long puzzled scholars. The gods, after all, were normally understood to partake in sacrifice as beneficiaries and cofeasters, the sacrifice itself being the prerogative of mortals.8

  • 9 Furley 1981, p. 43: “abuse of the local custom”; Burkert 1984: cult of the twelve gods in Olympia; (...)
  • 10 Clay 1989, p. 120: “Hermes may not be engaged in performing either an Olympian or chthonic sacrifi (...)
  • 11 Vergados 2013, p. 69, 325 ff. For the τραπέζωμα: Gill 1991; Jameson 1994; and Ekroth 2002, p. 136- (...)

6While Burkert, Furley, and Brown have tried, albeit inconclusively, to connect the episode to attested sacrifices from the archaic and classical periods such as the establishment of the altar of the Twelve Gods either in Olympia or in Athens,9 other scholars have variously interpreted the scene as a dais (the sacred feast following the sacrifice), an inversion of an actual sacrifice, a syncretistic account of sundry historical sacrifices, or—to discount the historical value of the episode for the study of sacrifice altogether—nothing more than a clever literary conceit.10 The most recent intervention by A. Vergados attempts to foreclose once and for all the interpretation of these lines as a sacrifice. Eliciting Homeric sacrifice as the standard, he opines that Hermes “performs a travesty of the sacrificial rituals” and intends not to sacrifice but to set up a τραπέζωμα or θεοξένια.11

  • 12 Herzfeld 1988; Haft 1996; Johnston 2003.
  • 13 I follow Richardson 2010, p. 24-25 in dating the Hymn to no later than c. 500 BCE, although the pr (...)

7S.I. Johnston and A. Haft have embedded the text in its social and historical context without pinning it to a specific cult ritual, following the lead of the anthropologist M. Herzfeld, whose ethnographic research focused on the androcentric social ethos in rural parts of modern Crete aimed at establishing relationships of sindeknia.12 Johnston and Haft suggest that Hermes, who gains recognition from his divine family after stealing Apolloʼs sacred cows, is a prototype of modern Glendiot youth who raid livestock from neighbors as a form of male initiation. The foregrounding of the rites de passage motif, however, diverts attention away from the question of why the initiation is articulated through the practice of sacrifice. I build on these arguments but concentrate on the poet’s powerful strategy of linking the intra- and extratextual worlds in the sacrifice scene in the Hymn (viz., the world of myth and the world inhabited by the poet and his audience) in order to break forth from the poemʼs “fictive” enclosure, to bridge the mythological past and the cultic present, and thus to shape the audience’s perception of animal sacrifice.13

  • 14 On Hermes as the most humanlike of gods see Versnel 2011, p. 309-27; for the scene as marking dist (...)

8The poet, I suggest, is not only cognizant of the dissonance generated by Hermes’ sacrifice, but he indeed capitalizes on it to signal the ambiguous status of Hermes at this juncture in the hymn as a god not yet recognized as such. Thus, the poet takes pains to depict Hermes in strikingly human fashion that almost contradicts the effortless dignity of the gods (105-110):14

ἔνθ' ἐπεὶ εὖ βοτάνης ἐπεφόρβει βοῦς ἐριμύκους
καὶ τὰς μὲν συνέλασσεν ἐς αὔλιον ἀθρόας οὔσας
λωτὸν ἐρεπτομένας ἠδ᾽ ἑρσήεντα κύπειρον,
σὺν δ᾽ ἐφόρει ξύλα πολλά, πυρὸς δ᾽ ἐπεμαίετο τέχνην.
δάφνης ἀγλαὸν ὄζον ἑλὼν ἐπέλεψε σιδήρωι
ἄρμενον ἐν παλάμηι, ἄμπνυτο δὲ θερμὸς ἀϋτμή·

  • 15 I print the text of Richardson 2010; trans. West 2003.

There, after he had given the lowing cows a good feed of the vegetation, and driven them together into the steading in a mass, still cropping the clover and dewy galingale, he gathered a lot of wood and essayed the art of fire. He took a fine bay branch and whittled it with a knife, <and twirled it in a hollowed-out piece of ivy wood,> held firmly in his hand, and the heat came blowing up.15

  • 16 Does the translocation of the immortal cows (ἄμβροτοι, 71) to the human sphere explain why they re (...)

9From the feeding of the cows (marking Hermes as the prototypical herdsman) and the creation of the sacrificial fire, to the dragging of the cows to the bothros and the carving of meat (which reveals Hermes to be a proto-mageiros), the poet minimizes the gap between Hermesʼ primordial sacrifice and the social institution of sacrifice.16 In representing Hermes as humanlike, the poet construes the sacrificing god as an exemplum for mortal practitioners of sacrifice.

  • 17 Mueller 1833; Radermacher 1931, p. 190-191; and Burkert 1986, p. 14-15, with Hdt. 7.26 and Xen. An (...)
  • 18 Cf. IG VII. 235 with Burkert 1985, p. 95-98.
  • 19 Curiously Johnston 2003, p. 167, 170 argues that the Hymn does not include deictic words, “referen (...)

10The Hymn then enumerates several aetiologies that intimate its cultic dimension: “The hides he spread out on a rugged rock, as even now in after time they remain long-lasting through the ages in a fused mass (ῥινοὺς δ᾽ ἐξετάνυσσε καταστυφέλωι ἐνὶ πέτρηι, ὡς ἔτι νῦν τὰ μέτασσα πολυχρόνιοι πεφύασι δηρὸν δὴ μετὰ ταῦτα καὶ ἄκριτον, 124-126). Some scholars link this enigmatic aition to stalagmites or large boulders with unusual shadings or textures;17 others posit the stretching of the hides of sacrificial victims that would typically be sold in the marketplace or gifted to the overseeing priest.18 In any event, by dissolving the barriers separating distinct temporalities–the past (πολυχρόνιοι, 125), present (ἔτι νῦν, 125), and future (ἄκριτον, 126), the poet meticulously conjoins the mythic past and the hic et nunc. Deictic markers (αὐτοῦ … ἐπὶ χώρης, “on that very spot,” 123) and explicit references to the Alpheus (139), Mount Cyllene (142), and Pylos (216) specify precise cultic spaces, intensifying the pertinence of the narrative for its intended recipients.19 Finally, the poet includes a notable aetiology about the technologies of sacrifice: “Hermes it was who first delivered up the firesticks and fire (‘Ερμῆς τοι πρώτιστα πυρήϊα πῦρ τ᾽ ἀνέδωκε, 111).” This reference inspires the audience to conceptualize sacrificial fire in actual cult as originating from and thus contiguous with Hermes’ primordial actions in illo tempore.

  • 20 Exceptionally Stocking 2017, p. 112. In Homer, sêma signifies a portent or omen but also the marke (...)
  • 21 Richardson 2010, p. 177, thus sees it as akin to a “trophy.” Note that the lyre that Hermes gifts (...)

11After the slaughter of the bovines, and the roasting and divvying of the meat into twelve portions (ἔσχισε δώδεκα μοίρας, 128), Hermes deposits atop a cave the mass of flesh, fat, and bones as a sêma, a detail that has gone almost entirely unnoticed in the scholarship (μετήορα δ᾽ αἶψ᾽ ἀνάειρε, σῆμα νέης φωρῆς, 135-136).20 In displaying the sacrificial carcasses, Hermes converts the flesh of the cow, a wholly material (albeit immortal) object into an inedible and symbolic entity whose function is not to nourish the gods but to commemorate his theft of Apolloʼs property and the invention of sacrificial fire.21 Indeed, the transformation of the sacrificial material mirrors Hermes’ own altered state; just as he turns mere foodstuff into something with predominantly signifying value, so too by the end of the hymn he instantiates a new social order in which he is recognized by the other Olympians as a fellow god.

  • 22 Long 1987, p. 157: Hermes’s offering is a “bribe beforehand for the jurors.”

12The poet of the Hymn constructs a narrative in which sacrifice acts as a sign or communicative channel that mobilizes two parties in a do ut des relationship. Hermes’ sacrifice initiates a social contract between an upstart and a group of venerable gods.22 The cattle theft and sacrifice is a plea for recognition and a pretense for Hermes to introduce the conditions for negotiating with the supreme gods–in fact, later in the Hymn, Hermes boasts that he was eager to steal and sacrifice Apollo’s cows to attain the status of his elder half-brother (162-81). Although the Hymn highlights Hermes’ superhuman power—“his strength was great” (δύναμις δέ οἱ ἔπλετο πολλή, 117)—it intimates a homology between Hermes’ primordial sacrifice and the sacrifices of his cultic devotees, which could be imagined to draw on the efficacy of the deity’s sacrifice from the remote past. By highlighting the foundational role of Hermes in the institution of sacrifice, the poet conditions his audience’s conception of the logic and incentives of the practice: he stresses how sacrifice captures the attention of superiors, initiates an agreement between status unequals, and successfully restructures the social order to the benefit of those who partake in the forms of exchange and transformation regulated by the practice of sacrifice.

  • 23 Johnston 2003, p. 161-163. Pace Clay 1989, p. 7: “The hymns should not be linked to cults or speci (...)
  • 24 Bremer, Furley 2001, p. 18 and n. 54.

13The Hymn to Hermes and kindred songs were performed alongside actual sacrifices at elaborate festivals underwritten by different poleis and confederations to promote local aetiologies, to strengthen civic values, and to cultivate a particular disposition in their audiences.23 The hymn exploits the prestigious and authoritative epic meter that commands the attention and respect of its audience. Poets and hymnic songs were, in other words, of cardinal importance in a complex cultural and religious system in which innumerable symbolic and material commodities circulated.24 The sacrifice scene in the Hymn deploys rhetorical and narrative strategies to highlight sacrifice’s promise to improve the social condition of those who engage such rituals, principles that would have been amplified in their performative ritual contexts. To regard the Hermes sacrifice as fictitious and therefore historically unrevealing because it contravenes ideal-typical representations such as the Bouphonia, the Homeric sacrifice, or Hesiod’s aetiology of the ritual, is to enter a circular logic whereby variations to these accounts are branded as anomalous or imaginative. This approach, which operates on general models, fails to account for the hymnic representation of sacrifice as a pointed intervention in a rich discursive context, an utterance with illocutionary force that gives shape to and legitimates its own logic of sacrifice.

The Selinuntine lex sacra

  • 25 See now Osborne, Rhodes 2018, p. 78-85. Sokolowski 1955 and 1969 and Lupu 2005 are important corpo (...)
  • 26 On context of the inscription: Curti, van Bremen 1999, p. 27-30.

14The lex sacra from Selinous, one of the largest (0.6 x 0.23m.) and most renowned Greek texts of its kind on lead in the surviving corpus (fig. 1),25 is commonly dated to the mid-fifth century and likely derived from the Western Gaggera hill, a site of intense cult activity to Zeus Meilichios.26

Fig. 1. Selinuntine lex sacra

Fig. 1. Selinuntine lex sacra

Reprinted with permission from Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

  • 27 Clay 1989, p. 118: “A mythological hymn does not resemble the text of a sacred law.” Kippenberg 19 (...)

15It is striking that the scholarship on this lex sacra and on sacred inscriptions generally assumes that this form of evidence corrects subjective and fantastical representations of sacrifice in literary-mythological sources.27 The provocative remarks of Noel Robertson, which continue to be endorsed in certain quarters of Greek religion scholarship, are worth reciting:

  • 28 Robertson 2010, p. 3.

Greek inscriptions regulating sacred matters … help us to a more realistic understanding of Greek religion than we obtain from literary works or monuments; [they] plunge us straightway into details … especially of animal sacrifice, a way of life as much as a religious ceremony.28

  • 29 Already in Robertson Smith’s Religion of the Semites (1889) and culminating in the Cambridge ritua (...)

16Why epigraphic specimens inherently provide a “more realistic understanding of Greek religion” than literary attestations is a thorny and unresolved question. Fueling these claims are remnants of contentious debates about whether the authentic locus of Greek religion is embedded in ritual action or in mythological texts.29 The scholarly reflex to perceive nonliterary, epigraphic sources as more neutral or revealing of historical realities than literary or mythological sources is, in my view, not based on considerations of the epistemic nature of the sources but rather on conventions of historical practice.

  • 30 On the inscription as fixed on a kurbis: Nenci 1994, esp. p. 462.
  • 31 SEG 43.630. Tr. Jameson et al. 1993 with numbering from Kotansky 2015.

17The tablet is written in the epichoric alphabet of Selinous on two columns, each running upside down from the other. A bronze bar nailed in the middle separated the columns and allowed the tablet to be rotated.30 The text is short enough to be printed in full:31

  • 32 COLUMN A:
    [- -ca. 8 - -].AN [-ca. 4-]Ạ[- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - (...)

COLUMN A
1-2 Traces
3 … leaving behind (masc.pl.) … but let the homosepuoi (members of an oikos) perform the consecration.
4-6 (Traces in a rasura, including in line 4 hiara)
7 … (?) the hiara (images?), the sacrifices (are to be performed) before (the festival of) the Kotytia and (before) the truce, in the fifth (8) year, in which the Olympiad also occurs. To Zeus Eumenes [and] (9) the Eumenides sacrifice a full-grown (sheep), and to Zeus Meilichios in the (plot) of Myskos a full-grown (sheep). (Sacrifice) to (10) the Tritopatores, the impure, as (one sacrifices) to the heroes, (11) having poured a libation of wine down through the roof, and of the ninth parts burn one. (12) Let those to whom it is permitted perform sacrifice and consecrate, and having (13) performed aspersion let them perform the anointing, and then let them sacrifice a full-grown (sheep) to the pure (Tritopatores). Pouring down a libation of honey mixture, (14) (let him set out) both a table and a couch, and let him put on (them) a pure cloth and crowns (15) of olive and honey mixture in new cups and cakes and meat; and having (16) made offerings let them burn (them), and let them perform the anointing having put the cups in. (17) Let them perform the ancestral sacrifices as to the gods. To (Zeus) Meilichios in the plot of Euthydamos let them sacrifice a ram. (18) And let it also be possible to sacrifice after a year. Let him take out the public hiara and (19) put out a table before (them), and burn a thigh and the offerings from the table and the bones. Let no meat be carried out (of the precinct). (20) Let him invite whomever he wishes. And let it also be possible to sacrifice after a year (21), at home. Let them slaughter… statues… [Let them (22) sacrifice] whatever sacrifice the ancestral customs permit… (23)… in the third year…32

  • 33 B: [-ca.2-3-]. .ἄν̣θ̣ρ̣ο̣π̣ο̣ς [- -ca.6-7- -]. .τ.[.( ?) ἐλ]αστ̣έ̣ρ̣ον ἀπ̣οκα[θαίρεσθ]-
    [αι], προει (...)

COLUMN B
1 [If a . . . ] man [wishes] to be purified from elasteroi, (2) having made a proclamation from wherever he wishes and whenever in the year he wishes and in whatever [month] (3) he wishes and on whatever day he wishes, having made the proclamation whithersoever (i.e., to whatever direction) he wishes, let him purify himself. (4) [And on] receiving (him, i.e., the elasteros), let him give (water) to wash with and a meal and salt to this same one, (5) and having sacrificed a piglet to Zeus, let him go out from it, and let him turn around; (6) and let him be addressed, and take food for himself and sleep wherever he (7) wishes. If anyone wishes to purify himself, with respect to a foreign or ancestral one (sc. elasteros), either one that has been heard or one that has been seen, (8) or anyone at all, let him purify himself in the same way (9) as the autorrektas (homicide?) does when he is purified of an elasteros. (10) Having sacrificed a full-grown (sheep) on the public altar, let him be pure. (11) Having marked a boundary with salt and having performed aspersion with a golden (vessel), let him go away. (12) Whenever one needs to sacrifice to the elasteros, sacrifice as to the (13) immortals. But let him slaughter (the victim so that the blood flows) into the earth.33

  • 34 See Ma 2012, p. 137, on the “social magic” of inscriptions; also Elsner 2015, p. 51-53.

18My objective is to reveal the inscription’s discursive strategies and implicit reasoning in constructing rituals of sacrifice to restore order in the aftermath of a wrongful death.34 The Selinuntine lex sacra does not mirror religious realities but aspires to intervene in existing epichoric discourses about human and divine relations and the indispensible role of sacrifice in maintaining them. According to this line of argument, the inscription illustrates how a community enlisted the legalistic genre of leges sacrae to develop local ritual norms that it hoped would be perceived as authoritative and efficacious.

  • 35 Dimartino 2003, p. 345-346 suggests that column B was read before column A. Clinton 1996, p. 162-1 (...)

19The lex sacra delineates the intricate relations that obtain among different divine and supernatural agents and mortals, as well as between individuals and more complex social groupings, which reveals who can participate in rituals of sacrifice. The text is careful to mark out temporal and spatial boundaries, both human and divine, that govern the rituals and which are presumably vital to their efficacy. The rituals in both columns appear closely related, as they share common vocabulary and invoke analogous divine recipients, the key distinction being that column A pertains to a community (the homosepuoi, A3), whereas column B concerns an individual (hοὐτορέκτας = αὐτορ(ρ)έκτας, B9).35 Together, they present formal and prescriptive statements about ritual action that are confined to a circumscribed spatial and temporal plane.

  • 36 Perhaps due to violent death or homicide: Jameson et al. 1993, p. 56. On West Greek cults of Zeus: (...)
  • 37 On the correspondence of the festival of Kotytia with the quadrennial Olympic year: Salvo 2012, p. (...)
  • 38 On the mode of distribution: Georgoudi 2015, p. 217-224.

20Column A focuses on sacrifices and other rituals to appease the impure Tritopatores (A10) and the presumably hostile gods Zeus Eumenes (A8), Zeus Meilichios (A9), and Eumenides (A9), a divine collective related to family groups, fertility, and bloodshed.36 On the side of mortals, the plural masculine pronouns referring to a clan or gentilitial group (homosepuoi) define the ritual agents, but the phrase “let those to whom it is permitted” (A12) leaves it momentarily unclear whom the sacrificers comprise, the answer likely depending on the specific occasion. Rituals of sacrifice are correlated to calendrical time (“before the Kotytia and the truce in the fifth year, in which the Olympiad occurs” [A7-A8]) and occur in precise locations, such as the plots of Myskos and of Euthydamos (A9, A17); additionally, such phrases as “let no meat be carried out” (A19) implies a demarcated space in which the cultic activity occurs.37 The inscription specifies what animals are to be consecrated, which inanimate ritual implements used (e.g., “pure cloth,” [A14] tables, cups [A14], and “crowns of olives” [A14-15]), as well as the distribution of meat following the sacrifice, in which “one of the ninth portions” (A11) is allocated to the Tritopatores, the rest presumably to be shared among those attending the sacrifice.38

  • 39 For discussion of these possibly gentilitial names, see Brugnone 1999, p. 20-21. Clinton 1996, p.  (...)
  • 40 Parker 2012, p. 27-28 discusses different forms of ritual knowledge.

21What deserves special attention, however, is the way in which, beyond these overt ritual specificities, the inscription assumes of its readers tacit sacrificial knowledge, for example, when the ritual summons without extended explication conceptual dichotomies that order the divine world, such as impure and pure (miaroi, A10; katharoi, A13), or when it divides the human sphere into civic space (e.g., the “public hiara,” A18) and private space (e.g., “at home,” A20-21; the plot of Myskos [A9] and of Euthydamos [A17]).39 The producers or dedicators of the lex sacra expected these technical terms and conceptual binaries to be recognizable to certain constituencies of their audience.40

  • 41 See Scullion 2000, p. 166-170; Parker 2005; and Ekroth 2002, p. 235-242 on these ὡς clauses.
  • 42 So Burkert 2000, p. 214 and Salvo 2012, p. 142.

22Two further elements belie the complex discursive nature of this text. First, the inscription subtly deploys comparisons to elucidate what the purificatory ritual in question entails, most notably by comparing it with more generic modes of sacrifices: “(Sacrifice) to the Tritopatores, the impure, as (one sacrifices) to the heroes,” (A9-10) and “Let them perform the ancestral sacrifices as to the gods” (A17, emphasis mine). These abbreviated comparisons taken together effectively invoke a broader classification of sacrificial actions, a more comprehensive system of sacrificial norms to which the particular ritual in the lex sacra belongs.41 The last line of column A, “[let them sacrifice] whatever sacrifice the ancestral customs (τὰ πατρȏ[ια]) permit” (A21-22), moreover, allows the practitioners to adapt certain aspects of the prescribed ritual to contingent exigencies or to specific gentilitial traditions.42 The sacred law’s self-constitution by means of eliciting an ensemble of meta- or extra-inscriptional references reveals the conceptual complexity of epigraphic documentation that goes beyond mere reflection of ancient religious realities.

  • 43 Georgoudi 2001, p. 159, argues that the pure and impure Tritopatreis represent a single entourage. (...)
  • 44 So, Osborne, Rhodes 2018, p. 85.

23The lex sacra does not disclose the validating techniques by which to confirm whether the ritual act was felicitous–whether the Tritopatores had in fact become purified and the relevant gods appeased43: in the absence of any negative indication, one might simply have inferred this to be the case. Conceivably, the audience attending the ritual could legitimate its efficacy by consensus.44 We may also note that, although ritual time in the lex is patterned according to Olympiads, the final lines of column A permit the sacrifice to be renewed if necessary (A22), thus leaving it tentatively open how this nexus of rituals terminates in concreto.

24Column B, half the length of column A, specifies the animals to be offered up to the gods (“piglet,” B5; “full-grown sheep”, B10) and the demarcation of sacred space with salt (B11), but scholars have rightly detected the relative vagueness and indeterminacy of the regulations in this column. For instance, Zeus without epithet is the only major god mentioned. Further, the recurrence of the indefinite adverbs hόπο and hόκα (B2, B12) grants the practitioner some autonomy to tailor the ritual to his particular needs. Significantly, unlike the Hymn to Hermes on sacrifice, in which man has no bearing on the ideology of sacrifice, the lex reflects a most practical dimension of sacrifice, that is, as the principal means by which citizens of Selinous could, as active ritual agents, mitigate religious catastrophes and maintain social order.

  • 45 On elasteroi/alastores: Patera 2010; on “mixed” Olympian and chthonian sacrifices: Scullion 2000, (...)

25Note that column B, like column A, musters an assemblage of analogous sacrificial practices to nuance the specific procedure at hand: “Whenever one needs to sacrifice to the elasteros, sacrifice as to the immortals (hόσπερ τοῖς ἀθανάτοισι, B12-13).” Although the inscription seems at first glance to prescribe a standard animal sacrifice to appease the elasteros, it straightaway complicates this statement with the following addendum: “But let him slaughter the victim so that the blood flows into the earth (B13).” These instructions call for a customary sacrifice to the gods but curiously incorporate a chthonic or heroic aspect.45 The inscription’s repeated mention of conventional sacrificial modes takes for granted that the Selinuntines were acquainted with a system of rules and ritual conventions that transcended local forms of sacrifice. More to the point, these frequent invocations of extra-inscriptional references to sacrificial norms systematize a larger repertory of ritual action, and reveal the conceptual strategies by which the inscription’s producers deploy tacit religious knowledge. The rhetorical and discursive sophistication of the inscription (not to mention the way in which it effaces the identity of the text’s speaker) encourages us to discard the reductive view that it is a transparent testimonium of ancient practices.

  • 46 Osborne, Rhodes 2018, p. 82.
  • 47 Chaniotis 2012a, p. 300; Chaniotis 2012b, p. 101-103; Carbon, Pirenne-Delforge 2017, p. 153-154; M(...)

26The lex sacra articulates sacrifice not in the language of myth (a narrative projected in illo tempore) but in a technical, prescriptive, and quasi-legalistic register replete with imperatives (e.g., the recurrent third person imperative mode at A12, A13, A14, A16), specialized ritual concepts, and general distinctions like pure and impure, and public and private. The generic formality and organizational features of the ritual norm heighten its political and social authority. Its specific materiality in lead–possibly highlighting its chthonic associations–lends it a kind of permanence and magnifies its prescriptive nature.46 Additionally, the flexibility that pervades the text allowing practitioners to modify the ritual according to their needs constitutes a rhetorical strategy on the part of the inscriber to accommodate a multitude of contexts and situations that required rituals of purification.47 In other words, the specific linguistic and generic conventions of the lex sacra enlarge its potential applicability beyond the original moment and circumstances of its creation.

A Late Fifth-Century Votive Relief from Patras

  • 48 On images as historical evidence: Elsner 2015, p. 45 and Klöckner 2017, esp. p. 216-219.
  • 49 See Naiden 2015, p. 472. On biases against the visual see Blanshard 2007, p. 20-21 and Carpenter 2 (...)
  • 50 On the polemics of the textual and visual in classics, see Blanshard 2007, p. 29-31, 33-37; Squire(...)
  • 51 See Martin 2008, p. 317-319; Harloe 2013, p. 173, and the remarks by F.A. Wolf reproduced therein (...)
  • 52 See Smith 2002, p. 60, 64; Elsner 2010, esp. p. 22-26; Heslin 2015, p. 4-12. Robertson 1985, p. 17 (...)

27How to navigate the intersection of the iconographies of sacrifice with its representations in literary and epigraphic sources continues to vex scholars of Greek religion.48 On one common understanding, visual images adhere to aesthetic or decorative standards and thus offer little probative value for reconstructing Greek religiosity as such.49 Compounding these issues is modern scholarship’s inheritance of Protestant polemics against images and its stance regarding the supposed hermeneutic inferiority of the visual vis-à-vis the textual.50 These now naturalized ways of conceptualizing the evidence is partly due to the formation of the sub-disciplines of Classics based on eighteenth-and nineteenth-century Altertumswissenschaft that tended to place philology, and not art history, at the heart of the study of ancient religions.51 The consequence of this legacy is that objects unaccompanied by text are often relegated to adjacent disciplines (art history and archaeology), perceived as epiphenomenal of the political or social, or enlisted as “visual proof” to buttress fundamentally text-based perspectives.52

28A competing perspective held by defenders of the archaeological-visual, however, regards the non-textual to be singularly capable of capturing sacrifice “as it was actually performed”:

  • 53 van Straten 1995, p. 53-54. Emphasis mine.

Sacrificial representations on votive offerings are an important source of information on ancient Greek sacrifice. These votive offerings would be set up in the sanctuaries where the sacrifices depicted on them had been offered, and since they would have to be acceptable to the priests or other authorities in charge of the sanctuaries, and, in a broader sense, to the other worshippers, they would have to present a fairly truthful image of what really happened. To that extent, they may be regarded as more direct evidence of sacrifices that were actually made, and sacrificial ritual as it was actually performed, than vase paintings.53

29In this section, I examine a late-fifth century BCE marble relief from Patras in Achaia, now in the Patras Archaeological Museum, to draw out the logic of sacrifice in ancient iconographic representations and to problematize the scholarly tendency to treat this evidence as uniquely revealing of the historically “truthful,” “direct” or “actual” (fig. 2 and 3). Much more instructive, in my view, is uncovering how the makers of such reliefs advanced their own understandings of sacrifice that contravene those operative in literary and epigraphic sources.

Fig. 2. Patras relief

Fig. 2. Patras relief

Reprinted with permission from the DAI

Fig. 3. Patras relief

Fig. 3. Patras relief

Reprinted with permission from the DAI

  • 54 Ibid., p. 93: the female is “as much an attribute of the hero as his horse.”
  • 55 Ekroth 2009, p. 122-124: “A cult place for a hero is often indistinguishable from that of a minor (...)
  • 56 See Osborne 2011, p. 193.
  • 57 E.g., votive relief in Archaeological Museum of Thasos: inv. 31; the Dioscuri on relief from Laris (...)

30The marble votive (48 x 96cm) depicts nine figures approaching an enthroned hero or god and his consort, perhaps a heroized wife or goddess, both with drinking cups in hand.54 Although it is difficult for the modern scholar to identify these divine figures, ancient viewers in the Peloponnese would have been able to ascertain such information in original ritual contexts.55 It is not self-evident, moreover, if the seated figure represents an epiphany of a god, a sculpture of the god, or both.56 The coterie of four men, three women, and two children greet the god or hero with right hands raised to the chest, grasping drinking vessels. The shield above the god could be a temple dedication, while the horse, perhaps identifying the seated figure as Poseidon, recalls the heroic relief scene type in which the primary figure is not enthroned but sitting atop or standing beside an actual horse.57 The framed horsehead–possibly a decorated pinax–and the hanging shield situate the sacrifice in an interior space such as a naos, underscoring the worshippers’ interaction with the god or his cult statue rather than the sacrifice that took place outdoors before the bômos at the west end of the temple.

  • 58 For the literature Milchhoefer 1879, p. 125-126; Malten 1914, p. 219, fig. 12; Svoronos 1908, p. 5 (...)
  • 59 Note that the animal is (not uncommonly) wedged between god and worshippers and only partly visibl (...)

31The pre-kill phase of sacrifice depicted here is the most common moment of the ritual act represented on votives, and the mise-en-scène of a seated recipient awaiting an animal of offering by worshippers prevails in funerary and votive reliefs of the Classical and Hellenistic periods.58 A ram leads the group toward the divine pair, intimating the impending sacrifice.59 The bent angle of the worshippers’ legs and the deeply creased drapery dramatize movement toward the seated figure. It is worth noting the distinctive rendering of the arrangement of figures and their comportment as a collective. The figure at the front of the group proceeds with his right arm raised, a posture mimicked by the third and fifth worshippers but notably not by those in between. In contrast, the second, fourth, and sixth members keep their hands by their sides, the entire sequence of alternating gestures illustrating a highly ritualized procession. In opposition to the leading male figure, the female at the far left stands with arms down, thereby breaking down the alternating pattern and bracketing, as it were, the entourage of devotees. In fact, the younger practitioners on the relief mimic the orchestration of the adults, the front child raising his right arm while the one in back keeps both to his side. What is more, both gods lift their right arms, antithetical to the alternating postures of the mortals, the asymmetry effectively amplifying the disjuncture between mortal and divine spheres.

  • 60 Klöckner 2017, p. 206-207 discusses gender and status as organizing principles on votives.
  • 61 On correlation of size to merit on reliefs see Blanshard 2004, p. 11.

32What views does the relief propound about ancient Greek visual strategies of representing sacrifice? For one, the age, gender, and graduated scale of physical sizes of the participants and their placement in the relief in relation to the gods reveal the privileges of certain members of the family in acts of sacrifice–observe the distinctions in height, age, and gender of the mortal figures vis-à-vis the divine couple.60 The bearded male figure leading the ram and who confronts the gods “face to face” enjoys a particularly intense sensorial and religious experience, although the god’s towering stature, and the fact that he is the only seated figure on the relief, defines his superiority in relation to his human counterpart.61

  • 62 Contrast votive reliefs with the late sixth-century Polyxena sarcophagus, which depicts the grueso (...)
  • 63 See Klöckner 2010, p. 112-115, 118-125; Platt 2011, esp. p. 31-60.

33We can observe how the iconographic elements of the relief throw light on the distinctive visual rhetoric that governs the sacrifice scene as a whole. Just as the hymn and inscription emphasize particular valences of sacrifice, so too, the relief incarnates its own set of assumptions and interests, thus enriching our insight into diverse and competing late-fifth-century understandings of sacrifice. It is striking, for instance, that this relief (and most reliefs depicting sacrifice) is silent on matters of violence, which complicates Burkert’s thesis equating sacrifice with sentiments of guilt and aggression.62 At the same time, there is no indication of a feast, which for Vernant constituted the raison d’être of sacrifice. Further, it is evident that the patrons of the relief did not attempt to make emphatic the quid pro quo that the sacrifice is envisaged to effectuate, thus subverting the apparent centrality of the do ut des logic over which much of the scholarship on sacrifice obsesses. Rather than articulate the specific conditions and purpose of sacrifice, the relief accentuates the human and god encounter itself and memorializes epiphanic contact with the divine.63 Indeed, the fixed gaze of the mortals on the deities highlights theophanic intensity; the ram physically conjoining the principal male dedicant to the god lays further stress on the proximity, however transitory, of mortal and divine in the act of sacrifice.

34I remarked above that the horsehead adorning the upper edge of the frame next to the semi-circular shield might mark the recipient god as Poseidon. Ancient beholders equipped with a stock of patterns and habits of inference could construct meanings out of these specific iconographies. Yet we should not discount the possibility that the framed head draws attention to the specific function of the relief as a dedication offered after or in place of an actual sacrifice; in other words, the head may well be the decoration on a pinax installed in a temple, dedicated as the memento of a previous offering or as a substitute for an offering, thus mirroring the Patras relief as a whole. The mise en abîme function of the animal head elicits a self-reflexive commentary on the relief by conceptualizing the links between the performed sacrifice and its subsequent (re)presentation on a votive. In doing so, the relief thus iconographically performs its own religious function – that is, either commemorating or standing in for the actual ritual act.

  • 64 See important discussions of the visual in Osborne 2011, p. 12, 23; Smith 2002, p. 98; Platt 2015, (...)
  • 65 Klöckner 2010, p. 108, 124-125.

35The relief’s capacity to bear meaning in various interrelated settings–a public cultic occasion, or private or domestic religious worship–subverts the all-too-neat conceptual categories scholars have customarily applied to the ancient evidence, drawing attention to the complex means of looking at and reflecting on images and artworks.64 The makers of the relief deploy a specific visual language to advance an account of the human-divine relation that diverges from that operative in the hymnic and epigraphic modes previously examined–it does not privilege the transaction or expected benefits that result from sacrifice (as in the Hymn), nor the aim for purification (as in the lex sacra). In contradistinction to the Selinuntine lex sacra, whose rituals are expected to appease hostile gods, the Patras relief thematizes successful contact with the divine through sacrifice, and it thus visually depicts the god already manifest.65 There is no intimation of killing or feasting. The group’s carefully orchestrated approach to the divine and the highly formalized and coordinated body language of the worshippers accentuate a particular religious sensibility and charged phenomenology of the divine generated by contact with the god in the act of consecrating an animal.

Reappraising Ancient Greek Sacrifice

36The hymn, the inscription, and the relief were generated and circulated in overlapping historical and cultural contexts, a reminder that any satisfactory evaluation of Greek sacrifice must account for a kaleidoscopic range of representations. How can the modern observer evaluate the diverse religious sensibilities captured in a sacrifice scene from myth, an inscription detailing rituals of sacrifice, and a visual datum representing divine contact in the moment leading up to sacrifice? How do we compare representations across media while attending to the mode of expression and epistemic and affective registers distinct to each medium?

  • 66 Parker 2011, p. 154-155; Kindt 2012, p. 22-24.

37Recent work has introduced the notion of family resemblance or thin coherence to Greek sacrifice, departing from the typological mode that dominated earlier scholarship that classified representations of sacrifice on a terminological basis.66 We are now well aware that such terms as thuein, sphazein, prosphagion, enagizein and so on, though emic, are slippery and neither unambiguously nor consistently used in the ancient sources. Consequently, any analysis that employs them as stable semantic units cannot adequately grasp the full force of the complexity of ancient sacrifice. My article, therefore, took as its point of departure the premise that the comparanda indeed share family resemblances, but I insisted also that each comparandum must be evaluated in terms of its specific interventions in and elaborations on the repertory of representations in which it is embedded and against which its specific logic is most dramatically manifest.

  • 67 Calame 2009, p. 12 puts the matter concisely.

38Our comparanda share important features: None possesses an author in any recognizable sense, as they are products of tradition, revision, and interactions between a plurality of patrons, performers, and artisans in contexts about which we can only speculate. More important, all take recourse to sacrifice as a trope to articulate human-divine mediations, as sacrifice is imagined to crystallize and to be entangled in more profound social, political and moral matters. But the distinctions are more instructive. The Hymn to Hermes frames and commemorates the aetiology of sacrifice in an account of mythic proportions distinguished by its singular protagonist and extraordinary plot. Its authority lies not in religious expertise, nor legal prescription, but in the mimetic and affective dimension of poetic discourse, cultural consensus accrued over the longue-durée transmission of the myth, and the poet’s unfalsifiable claims to tradition and extreme antiquity. The poet, I argued, exploits the prestige of the epic mode and of aetiological narrative to provide a compelling, if partial, account of the values of sacrifice.67

  • 68 Ma 2012, p. 149.
  • 69 See Osborne 1999, p. 345, 348-349 on the limits of epigraphic evidence.

39In contrast to the aetiological authority of poetic performance, the Selinuntine lex sacra inscribes formal propositions for concrete ritual action–not to commemorate divine exploits, but to expel pollution, to mitigate contingency, and to preserve social order in the face of a catastrophe. The lex sacra, in form and content, enlists legalistic discourse to guide local practices of sacrifice in ways that cohered to the religious norms and aspirations of the political or legislative apparatus that authorized its making and public display.68 Further, the interpretative flexibility in the vocabulary and structure of the ritual prescription, I argued, strategically anticipates diverse potential users, and ensures the inscription’s continued circulation beyond the immediate conditions for which it was originally produced. But it is difficult to know how Selinuntines enforced the ritual prescription (if at all), or what various subpopulations in Selinous thought about the inscription.69

40Finally, I highlighted the ingenious ways in which the Patras relief challenges the standard analytical vocabularies and interpretations of sacrifice derived predominantly from textual sources. The relief appeals to a distinct register and source of authority, concerned as it is with the role of sacrifice to structure family life and to incur the blessings of divine presence and epiphany. Indeed, the iconographic mode leads us to consider what empirical feature of sacrifice renders an image distinctively about sacrifice. Does the Patras relief depict a sacrifice or in fact the pompê (procession) preceding the kill? Does the iconography of the pompê evoke the sacrificial act that is not explicitly shown? All this is to say, the relief raises the question of what constitutive part of sacrifice can stand in metonymically for the entire ritual procedure; it confounds the idea of art as a truthful representation of a single thing, and permits us to probe the profits and pitfalls of one-size-fits-all heuristics.

  • 70 LaCapra 1983, p. 29-35.

41My triangulation of the data presumes that differences are not deviations or deficiencies in respect to some standard, but that each shapes the Greek religious imaginary in distinct and forceful ways. None, I suggested, is revelatory wie es eigentlich gewesen. It is all the more striking, then, that scholars have tended to perceive myth as constructing a fictive Weltanschauung, and the epigraphic as intervening into real ritual activity. My argument is that all three representations of sacrifice are at once constructivist and interventionist; each possesses a pragmatic dimension and combines what Dominic LaCapra has denoted the “documentary” and the “worklike” to refer to aspects of a text that, respectively, form the “factual or literal dimensions [of] empirical reality” and those that “deconstruct and reconstruct the given.”70 If this is correct, then one ought attend carefully to the plurality of expressions and the symbols, narratives, and rhetorical strategies with which our sources, in different discursive and ritual contexts, employ the concept of sacrifice to guide or corroborate people’s understandings of their socio-religious practices and institutions. The specific configuration of sacrifice in any given case emerges clearly only against the backdrop of alternative representations. My objective has not been to seek an ideal type from the amalgam of often opposed but always coexisting conceptions of sacrifice, but to show that each representation expounds a different moral logic, such that in any given situation, ancient individuals had at their disposal several kinds of moral sentiments that they could negotiate and apply to their rituals of sacrifice.

  • 71 Cited from Faraone, Naiden 2012, p. 10. Veyne 2000, p. 21-22 is more optimistic.

42The different representations of sacrifice from Panhellenic aetiological myths to material offerings of a more modest sort betray the fact that each datum cannot be paradigmatic of the practice, each being a partial contribution to the shaping and reshaping of the ancient Greek religious imaginary and habitus. Close inspection of the discursive interventions of poets and artisans can therefore illuminate sacrifice as a lived phenomenon and as an organizing discursive trope. The conceptual and affective richness of ancient representations of sacrifice in the sacred songs and objects of the ancient Greek world are inextricably tied to the ways in which ancient practitioners experienced one medium –possibly the medium par excellence–of ancient religiosity. And only by interrogating the range of argumentative, pragmatic, and didactic strategies embedded in ancient evidence of sacrifice (with their underlying normative ideologies) can we begin to track with greater sensitivity how ancient religious realities were conditioned by conventions of representation and habits of discourse. If this position is sound, it seems plausible to part company with the nostalgic outlook in which sacrifice, as Marcel Detienne once put it, is but “a category of the thought of yesterday.”71

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Nenci 1994: Giuseppe Nenci, ‘La κύρβις selinuntina’, ASNP 24, p. 459-466.

Osborne 1999: Robin Osborne, ‘Inscribing performance’, in Simon Goldhill, Robin Osborne (ed.), Performance Culture and Athenian Democracy, Cambridge, p. 341-358.

— 2011: Robin Osborne, The History Written on the Classical Body, Cambridge.

Osborne, Rhodes 2018: Robin Osborne, P.J. Rhodes (ed.), Greek Historical Inscriptions, 478-404 BC, Oxford.

Parker 2004: Robert Parker, “What are sacred laws”, in Edward Harris, Lene Rubinstein (ed.), The Law and the Courts in Ancient Greece, London, p. 57-70.

— 2005: Robert Parker, “ὡς ἥρωι ἐναγίζειν”, in Robin Hägg, Brita Alroth (ed.), Greek Sacrificial Ritual, Olympian and Chthonian, Stockholm, p. 37-45.

— 2011: Robert Parker, On Greek Religion, Ithaca.

— 2012: Robert Parker, “Epigraphy and Greek religion”, in David, Wilkes 2012, p. 17-30.

Patera 2010: Maria Patera, « Alastores et elasteroi: à propos de la loi sacrée de Sélinonte », Mètis N.S.8, p. 277-308.

Patton 2009: Kimberly Patton, The Religion of the Gods: Ritual, Paradox and Reflexivity, Oxford.

Petropoulou 2007: Maria-Zoe Petropoulou, Animal Sacrifice in Ancient Greek Religion, Judaism, and Christianity, 100BC to AD200, Oxford.

Petzl 2012: Georg Petzl, “Greek epigraphy and Greek language”, in David, Wilkes 2012, p. 47-60.

Platt 2011: Verity Platt, Facing the Gods: Epiphany and Representation in Graeco-Roman Art, Cambridge.

— 2015: Verity Platt, “Epiphany”, in Eidinow, Kindt 2015, p. 491-504.

Radermacher 1931: Ludwig Radermacher, “Der homerische Hermeshymnus”, SAWW 213-1, p. 1-263.

Richardson 2010: Nicholas Richardson, Three Homeric Hymns, Cambridge.

Rives 2011: James Rives, ‘The theology of animal sacrifice in the ancient Greek world: origins and development’, in Knust, Varhelyi 2011, p. 187-202.

Robertson 1985: Martin Robertson, “Greek art and religion”, in Pat Easterling, John V. Muir (ed.), Greek Religion and Society, Cambridge, p. 155-190.

— 2010: Noel Robertson, Religion and Reconciliation, Oxford.

Robu 2009: Adrian Robu, “Le culte de Zeus Meilichios à Sélinonte et la place des groupements familiaux et pseudo-familiaux dans la colonisation mégarienne”, in Pierre Brulé (éd.), La norme en matière religieuse en Grèce ancienne. Actes du XIe colloque international du CIERGA (Rennes, septembre 2007), Kernos Suppl. 21, Liège, p. 277-291.

Salvo 2012: Irene Salvo, “A note on the ritual norms of purification after homicide at Selinous and Cyrene”, Dike 15, p. 125-157.

Schlesier 1991-1992: Renate Schlesier, “Olympian versus Chthonian Religion”, SCI 21, p. 38-51.

Scullion 2000: Scott Scullion, “Heroic and chthonian sacrifice: new evidence from Selinous”, ZPE 132, p. 163-171.

Simon 1953: Erika Simon, Opfernde Goetter, Berlin.

Smith 2002: R.R.R. Smith, “Visual history and ancient history”, in T. P. Wiseman (ed.), Classics in Progress: Essays on ancient Greece and Rome, Oxford, p. 59-102.

Sokolowski 1955: Franciszek Sokolowski, Lois sacrées d’Asie mineure, Paris.

— 1969: Franciszek Sokolowski Lois sacrées des cités grecques, Paris.

Squire 2009: Michael Squire, Image and Text in Graeco-Roman Antiquity, Cambridge.

Stocking 2017: Charles Stocking, The Politics of Sacrifice in Early Greek Myth and Poetry, Cambridge.

Svoronos 1908 Joannes N. Svoronos, Das Athener Nationalmuseum, Vol. I, Athens.

Thomas 2013: Oliver Thomas, “Commentary as a medium: some thoughts on Homeric Hymn to Hermes, 103-141”, in Richard Bouchon, Pascale Brillet-Dubois, Nadine Le Meur-Weissman (éd.), Hymnes de la Grèce antique. Actes du colloque international de Lyon, Lyon.

Ullucci 2011: Daniel Ullucci, “Contesting the meaning of animal sacrifice”, in Knust, Varhelyi 2011, p. 57-74.

— 2015: Daniel Ullucci, “Sacrifice in the ancient Mediterranean: recent and current research”, Currents in Biblical Research 13, p. 388-439.

van Straten 1995: Folkert van Straten, Hierà kalá, Leiden.

Vergados 2013: Athanassios Vergados, The Homeric Hymn to Hermes: Introduction, Text and Commentary, Berlin.

Vernant 1981: Jean-Pierre Vernant, “Théorie générale du sacrifice et mise à mort dans la θυσία grecque”, in Jean Rudhardt, Olivier Reverdin (éd.), Le sacrifice dans l’antiquité, Vandoeuvres-Genève (Entretients Hardt, 27) p. 1-21.

Versnel 2011: Henk Versnel, “A god: why is Hermes hungry”, in Id., Coping with the Gods: Wayward Readings in Greek Theology, Leiden, p. 309-377.

Veyne 2000: Paul Veyne, “Inviter les dieux, sacrifier, banqueter. Quelques nuances de la religiosité gréco-romaine”, Annales (HSS) 55, p. 3-42.

Vonderstein 2006: Mirko Vonderstein, Der Zeuskult bei den Westgriechen, Wiesbaden.

West 2003: Martin West, Homeric Hymns, Cambridge (MA).

Notes

1 The classic studies are Detienne, Vernant 1979; Vernant 1981; Burkert 1986. The author would like to thank Cliff Ando, Claude Calame, Jaś Elsner, Chris Faraone, Stella Georgoudi, Bruce Lincoln, Angele Rosenberg, Paolo Visigalli and audiences at the Universities of Chicago, Erfurt, and Toronto for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. I am also grateful to Ken Lapatin and Jeffrey Spier at the Getty Museum, Elena Partida at the Ephorate of Antiquities of Achaea, and the German Archaeological Institute, for their permission to examine various objects and to reprint photographs. Jonathan Burgess kindly assisted in the examination of the Patras relief.

2 On Vernant and Burkert see Bremmer 2007, p. 141-143; Parker 2011, p. 124-170. Grottanelli 1988 remains an exemplary synthesis of earlier scholarship on sacrifice. More recently: Hermary, Leguilloux 2004; Petropoulou 2007, p. 1-31; Georgoudi 2010a, p. 94-97; Lincoln 2012; Graf 2012; Naiden 2012, p. 9-38; and Naiden 2015.

3 In addition to n.2 see Rives 2011; Ullucci 2011, 2015, esp. p. 389-390.

4 Previously held at the Getty Museum and now at the Museo Civico Selinuntino. On the term lex sacra see Carbon, Pirenne-Delforge 2012; Georgoudi 2015, p. 205.

5 Parker 2011, p. 238.

6 For the cult of the Twelve Gods: Long 1987; Georgoudi 1996.

7 Ancient commentators found the sequence of events in the narrative counterintuitive: Soph. Ichneutai 376-77 (Diggle 1998, fr. 314) and Apollod. Bibl. 3.10.2 thus place the slaughter of the cows before the invention of lyre, so that the entrails and hide provide the materials for the instrument. In my view, the poet emphasizes the significance of the sacrificial scene by having it follow the creation of the lyre.

8 Càssola 1975, p. 525, citing Simon 1953, gathers further evidence of Hermes sacrificing to gods.

9 Furley 1981, p. 43: “abuse of the local custom”; Burkert 1984: cult of the twelve gods in Olympia; Eitrem 1906, p. 257 and Brown 1947, p. 102-122 link the episode to early classical Athenian cult to Hermes Agoraios; Richardson 2010, p. 23 concurs with the latter.

10 Clay 1989, p. 120: “Hermes may not be engaged in performing either an Olympian or chthonic sacrifice, but may simply be cooking dinner.” Brown 1947, p. 102: it “contributes nothing to the development of the plot.” Leduc 2005 calls it a pseudo-sacrifice. Kahn 1978, esp. 44-45: an inversion of the Promethean sacrifice, a position critiqued by Thomas 2013, p. 185-188. Naiden 2012 surprisingly does not cite the passage. I prefer the more charitable view of Jaillard 2007, p. 104: “L’action d’Hermès n’est pas de l’ordre d’un ‘contre-modèle’ qui subvertirait les pratiques usuelles… l’Hymne célèbre une puissance œuvrant dans un mode propre.”

11 Vergados 2013, p. 69, 325 ff. For the τραπέζωμα: Gill 1991; Jameson 1994; and Ekroth 2002, p. 136-140, 177-179, 276-286. Vergados 2013, p. 328, echoing Clay 1989, p. 117, 122-123, argues that Hermes undergoes an “identity crisis” wherein the god’s “failure” to consume the meat constitutes the crucial point at which he recognizes his own divine ontology. The text does not support this reading. Hermes never attempts to eat the sacrificial meat, for his θυμός was not persuaded to taste it: ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὥς οἱ ἐπείθετο θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ (132). Patton 2009, p. 112-113 and Georgoudi 1996, p. 67-70 rightly submit that Hermes already knows his divinity and thus refrains from eating.

12 Herzfeld 1988; Haft 1996; Johnston 2003.

13 I follow Richardson 2010, p. 24-25 in dating the Hymn to no later than c. 500 BCE, although the precise date matters little for my argument, as the adaptability of mythical narratives in my view enables it to speak meaningfully to diverse audiences over time.

14 On Hermes as the most humanlike of gods see Versnel 2011, p. 309-27; for the scene as marking distinctions between gods and men: Patton 2009, p. 111-113.

15 I print the text of Richardson 2010; trans. West 2003.

16 Does the translocation of the immortal cows (ἄμβροτοι, 71) to the human sphere explain why they reproduce and become subject to death?

17 Mueller 1833; Radermacher 1931, p. 190-191; and Burkert 1986, p. 14-15, with Hdt. 7.26 and Xen. Anab. 1.2.8.

18 Cf. IG VII. 235 with Burkert 1985, p. 95-98.

19 Curiously Johnston 2003, p. 167, 170 argues that the Hymn does not include deictic words, “references to visible features,” or aetiological stories.

20 Exceptionally Stocking 2017, p. 112. In Homer, sêma signifies a portent or omen but also the marker designating a space as a tomb or grave (e.g., Il. 2.814; also Hdt. 1.93, 4.72; Th. 2.34); more generally a token by which one’s identity might be certified (cf. Il. 6.176-178): Nagy 1983. Versnel 2011, p. 372, focuses, perhaps too speculatively, on the word ekphora, arguing that the placement of meat on the cave corresponds to the “carry out” of sacrificial meat for later consumption.

21 Richardson 2010, p. 177, thus sees it as akin to a “trophy.” Note that the lyre that Hermes gifts to Apollo is also termed sêma (509). For Clay 1989, p. 123 and Càssola 1975, p. 525, it is a failed dais or an uncompleted sacrifice, respectively. For a more nuanced reading see Stocking 2017, p. 90-118.

22 Long 1987, p. 157: Hermes’s offering is a “bribe beforehand for the jurors.”

23 Johnston 2003, p. 161-163. Pace Clay 1989, p. 7: “The hymns should not be linked to cults or specific religious festivals so much as to the ambit of epos.”

24 Bremer, Furley 2001, p. 18 and n. 54.

25 See now Osborne, Rhodes 2018, p. 78-85. Sokolowski 1955 and 1969 and Lupu 2005 are important corpora of leges sacrae. For critical discussions of the genre and conventional label, see Parker 2004; Georgoudi 2010b; Carbon, Pirenne-Delforge 2012.

26 On context of the inscription: Curti, van Bremen 1999, p. 27-30.

27 Clay 1989, p. 118: “A mythological hymn does not resemble the text of a sacred law.” Kippenberg 1977, p. 137 (emphasis mine): “Since the discovery and publication of magical papyri, curse tablets, amulets and inscriptions, literary sources have lost their function as main sources for the history of magic…Their biased descriptions have meanwhile been replaced by genuine voices.” Petzl 2012, p. 47: “The language of inscriptions is thus immediate and authentic. Unlike ancient Greek texts…inscriptions leave little room for modern scholarly emendations.” Henrichs 2012, p. 184: “No straightforward, unbiased, or impartial account of animal sacrifice can be found anywhere in tragedy… The abnormal sacrifice is the ritual and dramatic norm in tragedy, and any attempt to come to grips with the idiosyncrasies of tragic sacrifice must start with a consideration of the perverted sacrifice.” The implicit point is that non-tragic representations might be straightforward or impartial. Graf 2002, p. 113: “the archaeological evidence is, in some respect, less biassed [sic] [than texts],” though he admits that even archaeological sources are “fragmentary, and it tends to be not the ordinary, but the aberrant item.”

28 Robertson 2010, p. 3.

29 Already in Robertson Smith’s Religion of the Semites (1889) and culminating in the Cambridge ritualists, for which see Ackerman 1991, esp. p. 39-44.

30 On the inscription as fixed on a kurbis: Nenci 1994, esp. p. 462.

31 SEG 43.630. Tr. Jameson et al. 1993 with numbering from Kotansky 2015.

32 COLUMN A:
[- -ca. 8 - -].AN [-ca. 4-]Ạ[- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -]

[- -ca. 6 - ].ΔΕΜΑ[.]Α̣[.]ΤΕ ΗΑ̣Λ̣ΑΤΕ̣ΡΑ[.]ΚΑΙ̣Ο̣ [- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ]

[- ca. 4- ].Β̣[.]καταλ[ε]ί̣ποντας, κατ̣hαιγίζε̣ν δὲ τὸς hομοσεπύος vacat

4-6: rasura

το͂ν hιαρο͂ν hα θυσία πρὸ ϙοτυτίον καὶ τᾶς ἐχεχερίας πένπ̣[τοι]

8 Ϝέτει hο͂ιπερ hόκα hα Ὀλυνπιὰς ποτείε· το͂ι Διὶ: το͂ι Εὐμενεῖ θύ[ε]ν̣ [καὶ]

ταῖς : Εὐμενίδεσι: τέλεον, καὶ το͂ι Διὶ: το͂ι Μιλιχίοι το͂ι: ἐν Μύσϙο: τέλεον : τοῖς Tρ-

ιτοπατρεῦσι · τοῖς · μιαροῖς hόσπερ τοῖς hερόεσι, Ϝοῖνον hυπολhεί-

ψας · δι᾽ ὀρόφο · καὶ τᾶν μοιρᾶν · τᾶν ἐνάταν · κατακα-

12: ίεν · μίαν· θυόντο θῦμα : καὶ καταγιζόντο hοῖς hοσία · καὶ περιρά-

ναντες καταλινάντο : κἔπειτα : τοῖς κ⟨α⟩θαροῖς : τέλεον θυόντο : μελίκρατα hυπο-

λείβον · καὶ τράπεζαν καὶ κλίναν κἐνβαλέτο καθαρὸν hε͂μα καὶ στεφά-

νος ἐλαίας καὶ μελίκρατα ἐν καιναῖς ποτε̄ρίδε̣[σ]ι καὶ : πλάσματα καὶ κρᾶ κἀπ-

16: αρξάμενοι κατακαάντο καὶ καταλινάντο τ̣ὰς ποτε̄ρίδας ἐνθέντες·

θυόντο hόσπερ τοῖς θεοῖς τὰ πατρο͂ια : το͂ι ἐν Εὐθυδάμο : Μιλιχίοι : κριὸν θ̣[υ]-

όντο· ἔστο δὲ καὶ θῦμα πεδὰ Ϝέτος θύεν· τὰ δὲ hιαρὰ τὰ δαμόσια ἐξh⟨α⟩ιρέτο

καὶ τρά[πεζα]-

ν : προθέμεν καὶ ϙολέαν καὶ τἀπὸ τᾶς τραπέζας : ἀπάργματα καὶ τὀστέα κα[τα]-

20: κᾶαι · τὰ κρᾶ μἐχφερέτο· καλέτο [h]όντινα λε͂ι· ἔστο δὲ καὶ πεδὰ Ϝέτ[ος Ϝ]-

οίϙοι θύεν : σφαζόντο δὲ : KAOṂṬEO[. . .]O ἀγαλμάτον [. . .]Δ̣ΕϹ[. .]. .[- ca. 6-7- - ]

Ο θῦμα hότι κα προχορε͂ι τὰ πατρο͂[ια.].ΕΞΑI.[- - - - -ca. 24- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -]

Τ̣[. .].IΤΟΙΑΠΤΟΧΟΙ τρίτοι Ϝέτ̣[ει] Ε̣[- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -]

24: [- - ca. 7-8- - ]Ε̣ΥΣΥΝΒ̣[- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -]

vacat

33 B: [-ca.2-3-]. .ἄν̣θ̣ρ̣ο̣π̣ο̣ς [- -ca.6-7- -]. .τ.[.( ?) ἐλ]αστ̣έ̣ρ̣ον ἀπ̣οκα[θαίρεσθ]-
[αι], προειπὸν hόπο κα λε͂ι̣ κ̣αὶ το͂ Ϝέ̣[τ]ε̣ος hόπο κα λε͂ι καὶ [το͂ μενὸς]

hοπείο κα λε͂ι καὶ ⟨τᾶι⟩ ἀμέραι hοπείαι κα λ⟨ε͂⟩ι, π{ο}ροειπὸν hόπυι κα λε͂ι, καθαιρέσθο̣, [-ca. 3-

4 ? hυ] -

4: ποδεκόμενος ἀπονίψασθαι δότο κἀκρατίξασθαι καὶ hάλα το͂ι αὐ[το͂ι]

[κ]αὶ θύσας το͂ι Δὶ χοῖρον ἐξ αὐτο͂ ἴτο καὶ περιστ{ι}ραφέσθο vacat

καὶ ποταγορέσθο καὶ σῖτον hαιρέσθο καὶ καθευδέτο hόπε κ̣-

α λε͂ι· αἴ τίς κα λε͂ι ξενικὸν ἒ πατρο͂ιον, ἒ ᾽πακουστὸν ἒ ᾽φορατὸν

8 ἒ καὶ χὄντινα καθαίρεσθαι, τὸν αὐτὸν τρόπον̣ κ̣αθαιρέσθο

hόνπερ hοὐτορέκτας ἐπεί κ᾽ ἐλαστέρο ἀποκαθάρεται· vacat

hιαρεῖον τέλεον ἐπὶ το͂ι βομο͂ι το͂ι δαμοσίοι θύσας καθαρὸ-

ς ἔστο· διορίξας hαλὶ καὶ χρυσο͂ι ἀπορανάμενος ἀπίτο·

12: hόκα το͂ι ἐλαστέροι χρέζει θύεν, θύεν hόσπερ τοῖς vacat

ἀθανάτοισι· σφαζ̣έτο δ᾽ ἐς γᾶν· vacat

34 See Ma 2012, p. 137, on the “social magic” of inscriptions; also Elsner 2015, p. 51-53.

35 Dimartino 2003, p. 345-346 suggests that column B was read before column A. Clinton 1996, p. 162-163 disputes thematic connections between the columns. On autorrektas: Dubois 2003, p. 117; Georgoudi 2015, p. 223-237.

36 Perhaps due to violent death or homicide: Jameson et al. 1993, p. 56. On West Greek cults of Zeus: Vonderstein 2006. On Zeus Meilichios: Grotta 2010, esp. p. 137-219; Robu 2009; Gallavotti 1975-1976, p. 99-103; and Antonetti, De Vido 2006. On Tritopatores: Georgoudi 2015, p. 209-214.

37 On the correspondence of the festival of Kotytia with the quadrennial Olympic year: Salvo 2012, p. 135-136. See Ekroth 2002, p. 313-325 for the “ou phora” prohibition.

38 On the mode of distribution: Georgoudi 2015, p. 217-224.

39 For discussion of these possibly gentilitial names, see Brugnone 1999, p. 20-21. Clinton 1996, p. 163-165, argues that they refer to local heroes, while Jameson et al. 1993, p. 28, 121, suggest founders of Selinous.

40 Parker 2012, p. 27-28 discusses different forms of ritual knowledge.

41 See Scullion 2000, p. 166-170; Parker 2005; and Ekroth 2002, p. 235-242 on these ὡς clauses.

42 So Burkert 2000, p. 214 and Salvo 2012, p. 142.

43 Georgoudi 2001, p. 159, argues that the pure and impure Tritopatreis represent a single entourage. For the “impure” and “pure” Tritopatores as distinct groups of spirits, see Ekroth 2002, p. 222 and Clinton 1996, p. 163, 172.

44 So, Osborne, Rhodes 2018, p. 85.

45 On elasteroi/alastores: Patera 2010; on “mixed” Olympian and chthonian sacrifices: Scullion 2000, p. 165; Henrichs 2005 and Schlesier 1991-1992, esp. p. 44-47, problematize these terms.

46 Osborne, Rhodes 2018, p. 82.

47 Chaniotis 2012a, p. 300; Chaniotis 2012b, p. 101-103; Carbon, Pirenne-Delforge 2017, p. 153-154; Ma 2012, p. 155.

48 On images as historical evidence: Elsner 2015, p. 45 and Klöckner 2017, esp. p. 216-219.

49 See Naiden 2015, p. 472. On biases against the visual see Blanshard 2007, p. 20-21 and Carpenter 2007, p. 409-417.

50 On the polemics of the textual and visual in classics, see Blanshard 2007, p. 29-31, 33-37; Squire 2009, p. 15-89; Osborne 2011, p. 6-26; Konaris 2016, p. 28. Note that Petropoulou 2007, p. 42-49 on sources for sacrifice, mentions only the literary and epigraphic; similary Parker 2011. A corrective to this bias is Kindt 2012, p. 123-154 and Bruit Zaidman, Schmitt Pantel 1989, p. 128-130.

51 See Martin 2008, p. 317-319; Harloe 2013, p. 173, and the remarks by F.A. Wolf reproduced therein at p. 197-198. Though there are exceptions, e.g., August Böckh, Encyklopädie und Methodologie der philologischen Wissenschaften (1877).

52 See Smith 2002, p. 60, 64; Elsner 2010, esp. p. 22-26; Heslin 2015, p. 4-12. Robertson 1985, p. 175, on the correlation of Greek religious art to politics and the “increasing secularization” of the post-Classical age.

53 van Straten 1995, p. 53-54. Emphasis mine.

54 Ibid., p. 93: the female is “as much an attribute of the hero as his horse.”

55 Ekroth 2009, p. 122-124: “A cult place for a hero is often indistinguishable from that of a minor god.” Likewise Bruit Zaidman, Schmitt Pantel 1989, p. 157-159.

56 See Osborne 2011, p. 193.

57 E.g., votive relief in Archaeological Museum of Thasos: inv. 31; the Dioscuri on relief from Larissa: Paris, Musée du Louvre, M 746; again of the Dioscuri: 1409 at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens; of the hero Aleximachos: Sk 807 and of the hero Hippothoon (?): Sk 808, both in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung. See the entry “Heros equitans” (1019-81) in LIMC vol. IV.1.

58 For the literature Milchhoefer 1879, p. 125-126; Malten 1914, p. 219, fig. 12; Svoronos 1908, p. 539, fig. 248; Hausmann 1948, p. 176, nr. 126; Moebius 1967, p. 36, pl. 10, 2; van Straten 1995, p. 303. For comparanda: figures 59-108 in van Straten 1995. On the preference of the pre-kill scene on votives see Klöckner 2017, p. 202 and van Straten 1995, p. 103.

59 Note that the animal is (not uncommonly) wedged between god and worshippers and only partly visible, for which see Klöckner 2017, p. 208.

60 Klöckner 2017, p. 206-207 discusses gender and status as organizing principles on votives.

61 On correlation of size to merit on reliefs see Blanshard 2004, p. 11.

62 Contrast votive reliefs with the late sixth-century Polyxena sarcophagus, which depicts the gruesome moment of sacrifice. Burkert’s thesis is not incorrect, but it cannot be applied as a general theory.

63 See Klöckner 2010, p. 112-115, 118-125; Platt 2011, esp. p. 31-60.

64 See important discussions of the visual in Osborne 2011, p. 12, 23; Smith 2002, p. 98; Platt 2015, p. 493; Klöckner 2017, p. 216.

65 Klöckner 2010, p. 108, 124-125.

66 Parker 2011, p. 154-155; Kindt 2012, p. 22-24.

67 Calame 2009, p. 12 puts the matter concisely.

68 Ma 2012, p. 149.

69 See Osborne 1999, p. 345, 348-349 on the limits of epigraphic evidence.

70 LaCapra 1983, p. 29-35.

71 Cited from Faraone, Naiden 2012, p. 10. Veyne 2000, p. 21-22 is more optimistic.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Selinuntine lex sacra
Crédits Reprinted with permission from Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
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Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Titre Fig. 2. Patras relief
Crédits Reprinted with permission from the DAI
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionsehess/docannexe/image/29642/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 106k
Titre Fig. 3. Patras relief
Crédits Reprinted with permission from the DAI
URL http://books.openedition.org/editionsehess/docannexe/image/29642/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 230k

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