The Ancient Library

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On this page: Sacrifices (continued)



be offered to any gods among the Greeks. As regards swine and goats, the regulations varied according to the different regions. Swine were sacrificed especially to Demeter and Dionysus, goats to the last named divinity and to Apollo and Artemis as well as Aphrodite, while they were excluded from the service of Athene, and it was only at Sparta that they were pre­sented to Hera. At Epidaurus they might not be sacrificed to Asclepius, though elsewhere this was done with­out scruple. [Part of the spoils of the chase—such as the antlers or fell of the stag, or the head and feet of the boar or the bear—was offered to Artemis Agrotera (see fig. 3).]

As regards the sex and colour of the victims, the Romans agreed in general with the Greeks in following the rule of sacrificing male creatures to gods, female to goddesses, and those of dark hue to the infernal powers. At Rome, however, there were special regulations respecting the victims appropriate to the different divinities. Thus the appropriate offering for Jupiter was a young steer of a white colour, or at least with a white spot on its fore­head ; for Mars, in the case of expiatory sacrifices, two bucks or a steer ; the latter also for Neptune and Apollo; for Vulcan, a red calf and a boar ; for Liber and Mercury, a he-goat; for Juno, Minerva, and Diana, a heifer; for Juno, as Lucina, an ewe lamb or (as also for Ceres and the Bona Dea) a sow; for Tellus, a pregnant, and for Proserpine a barren, heifer; and so on.

The regulations as regards the condition of the victims were not the same everywhere in Greece. Still in general with them, as invariably with the Romans, the rule held good, that only beasts which were without blemish, and had not yet been used for labour, should be employed. Similarly, there were definite rules, which were, however, not the same everywhere, concerning the age of the victims. Thus, by Athenian law, lambs could not be offered at all before their first shearing, and sheep only when they had borne lambs. The Romans distinguished victims by their ages as lactantgs, sucklings, and m&idres, full grown. The sacrifice of sucklings was' subject to certain limitations : young pigs had to be five days old, lambs seven, and calves thirty. Animals were reckoned maiores if they were lildvntes; i.e. if their upper and lower rows of teeth were complete. There were exact require-

ments for all cases as regards their sex and condition, and to transgress these was an offence that demanded expiation. If the victims could not be obtained as the regulations required, the pontifical law allowed their place to be taken by a repre­sentation in wax or dough, or by a dif­ferent, animal in substitution for the sort


(From a sarcophagus in the Louvre.)

required. In many cults different creatures were combined for sacrifice: e.g. a bull, a sheep, and a pig (c/>. suovetaurilia), or a pig, a buck, and a ram, and the like. In State sacrifices, victims were sometimes sacrificed in great numbers ; f..g. at the Athenian festival in commemoration of the victory at Marathon, 500 goats were slain. (Cp. hecatombe.) Human sacrifices as a means of expiation were not unknown to the earliest Greek and Roman worship, and continued in certain cases (e.g. at the feast of the Lycsean Zeus and of Jupiter Latiaris) until the imperial period; how­ever, where they continued to exist, crimi­nals who were in any case doomed to death were selected, and in many places oppor­tunity was further given them for escape.

In general, it was considered that purity in soul and body was an indispensable requirement for a sacrifice that was to be acceptable to a divinity. Accordingly the offerer washed at least his hands and feet, and appeared in clean (for the most part, white) robes. One who had incurred blood-guiltiness could not offer sacrifice at all: he who had polluted himself by touching anything unclean, particularly a corpse, needed special purification by fumigation. Precautions were also taken to insure the withdrawal of all persons who might be otherwise unpleasing to the divinity ; from

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