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date: 23 April 2024

sacrifice, Greeklocked

sacrifice, Greeklocked

  • Robert Parker


Sacrifice was the most important form of action in Greek religion (see religion, greek), but we should note at once that there is no single Greek equivalent to the English word ‘sacrifice’. The practices we bring together under this heading were described by a series of overlapping terms conveying ideas such as ‘killing’, ‘destroying’, ‘burning’, ‘cutting’, ‘consecrating’, ‘performing sacred acts’, ‘giving’, ‘presenting’, but not at all the idea present in ‘it was a great sacrifice for him’. As occasions for sacrifice *Theophrastus distinguished ‘honour, gratitude, and need’ (in *Porphyry, Abst. 2. 24), but his categories do not correspond to fixed types, and in fact the rite could be performed on almost any occasion.Vegetable products, savoury *cakes above all, were occasionally ‘sacrificed’ (the same vocabulary is used as for animal sacrifice) in lieu of animals or, much more commonly, in addition to them. But animal sacrifice was the standard type. The main species used were sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle. In a few cults fish and fowl were offered, wild animals still more rarely; dogs and horses appear in a few sacrifices of special type that were not followed by a feast. Human sacrifice occurred only in myth and scandalous story. The choice between the main species was largely a matter of cost and scale, a piglet costing about 3 drachmae, a sheep or goat 12, a pig 20 or more, a cow up to 80. Within the species symbolic factors were sometimes also relevant: the virgins *Athena and *Artemis might require unbroken cattle, fertile Earth a pregnant sow.


  • Greek Myth and Religion

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