Garner's Greek Mythology

EP 36: Ancient Sacrifice - Gifts for the Gods

November 28, 2021 Patrick Garner Season 2 Episode 36
Garner's Greek Mythology
EP 36: Ancient Sacrifice - Gifts for the Gods
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Episode 36. Today we examine the difficult topic of sacrifice. The discussion of killing animals upsets many people. If you’re one of them, this may be an episode to avoid.

Sacrifice was so common in the ancient world that no one thought twice about the practice. On the contrary, sacrifice was an essential means of communication between mortals and divinities.

Every ceremony, every celebration, every festival and every battle included the practice. In fact, not sacrificing was unthinkable ...

Narrated by mythologist and best-selling author, Patrick Garner, Garner's Greek Mythology is unlike any other Greek history series.  Here these divine beings are viewed as if they were anything but mythical...

If you love this podcast, you'll also enjoy new stories about the gods in Garner's novel Homo Divinitas, now available as an audio book on Amazon.com and Audible.com.

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EPISODE 36: Ancient Sacrifice - Gifts for the Gods

OUR FOCUS THIS EPISODE IS ON SACRIFICE ...THE GREEK WORD WAS THUSIA, WHICH MEANS A HOLY PRACTICE.

HOLY IT MAY HAVE BEEN, BUT THE ANCIENT PRACTICE IS ONE THAT TODAY WE LARGELY FIND ... UNIMAGINABLE ... & EVEN HORRIFYING.

THE DISCUSSION OF KILLING ANIMALS UPSETS MANY PEOPLE. IF YOU'RE ONE OF THEM, HERE'S YOUR WARNING. THIS EPISODE MAY BE ONE TO AVOID.

THAT SAID, BEFORE WE GO TOO FAR WE NEED TO CLARIFY WHAT THE ANCIENTS MEANT BY SACRIFICE VERSUS WHAT WE MEAN TODAY.

MODERNS DEFINE THE WORD AS SURRENDERING A VALUED POSSESSION OR GIVING UP OUR TIME, AS IN SOMEONE SAYING, 'I SACRIFICED MY AFTERNOON TO HELP.'

THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO SACRIFICE MEANT SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. 

SACRIFICE IN ANCIENT TIMES WAS THE ACT OF SLAUGHTERING AN ANIMAL TO MAKE AN OFFERING TO A DIVINE BEING.

OBJECTS OF SACRIFICE WERE USUALLY ANIMALS, BUT OFFERINGS COULD ALSO BE CAKES, GARLANDS, COINS, OR TINY STATUES MADE FOR THE PURPOSE.

AND LET'S BE CLEAR: THE PRACTICE OF SACRIFICE WAS NOT UNIQUE TO GREECE. HARDLY. 

THE PRACTICE OCCURRED WORLDWIDE ... IN FACT IT WAS  SO COMMONPLACE THAT IT WAS A NORMAL PART OF LIFE. 

EVERY CEREMONY, EVERY CELEBRATION, EVERY FESTIVAL, EVERY BATTLE &, REALLY, EVERY EVENT — INCLUDING MARRIAGES & FUNERALS — INCLUDED A SACRIFICE.

SACRIFICES WERE MADE DAILY BY INDIVIDUALS AT HOME ... NOT SACRIFICING WAS UNTHINKABLE ... AS WE'VE DISCUSSED EXTENSIVELY, THE GREEKS WERE BOTH SUPERSTITIOUS & DEEPLY RELIGIOUS.

SAC-RED & SAC-RIFICE ARE DERIVED FROM THE SAME PART OF SPEECH. AND SACRIFICE — THE ACT OF OFFERING PRIZED THINGS TO THE GODS — WAS AT THE VERY CORE OF GREEK BELIEFS.

THIS IS EPISODE 36 OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. WE HAVE LISTENERS FROM 148 COUNTRIES ... SO WELCOME TO EVERYONE, WHEREVER YOU ARE.

I'M YOUR HOST, MYTHOLOGIST & BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, PATRICK GARNER. 

THESE STORIES ABOUT THE GODS HAVE BEEN TOLD FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. BUT NOW THERE ARE NEW STORIES THAT ARE AS COMPELLING.

IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY DONE SO, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS ABOUT THE GODS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD. THEY'RE PART OF THE WINNOWING TRILOGY.

YOU CAN READ ABOUT THEM & ABOUT THIS PODCAST AT PATRICKGARNERBOOKS.COM. 

AND AS ALWAYS, THIS PODCAST FOCUSES ON ONE THING ... GREEK GODS, OF COURSE. THEY, LIKE YOU, ARE HERE, NOW ...

WHEN I EXPLORED THE GREEK ISLAND OF DELOS, WHICH LIES IN THE CENTER OF THE CYCLADIC ISLANDS, I CLIMBED A NARROW TRAIL UP TO MT. KYNTHOS.

ABOUT MIDWAY UP THE SLOPE, JUST OFF THE TRAIL, THERE'S A CAVE ... SET AT ITS ENTRANCE IS A MASSIVE, WAIST-HIGH ALTAR.

IT DATES BACK MORE THAN 3,000 YEARS. AUTHORITIES SAY THAT HERACLES WAS WORSHIPPED THERE.

I'LL NEVER FORGET THE ALTAR ITSELF ... MADE OF STONE ITS TOP IS FLAT & ITS EDGES ARE CARVED WITH NARROW CHANNELS ON EACH SIDE. 

EXAMINING IT, I REALIZED THAT THE GROOVES WERE THERE TO CARRY AWAY SACRIFICIAL BLOOD.

I KNEW TOO THAT THE ALTAR ON DELOS IS NO DIFFERENT THAN THOUSANDS OF SIMILAR ALTARS THROUGHOUT THE REGION. 

ANIMALS WERE KILLED AS OFFERINGS TO HEROES, GODS & GODDESSES. THE SHOW OF BLOOD THAT ACCOMPANIED THE KILL WAS A VISUAL CONFIRMATION TO THOSE PARTICIPATING THAT THE GIFT WAS SUCCESSFUL. 

AND TO WHOM WERE SACRIFICES MADE? TO ALL SUPERNATURAL BEINGS. NO DIVINITY OR HERO WAS NEGLECTED ...

I'VE MENTIONED ANIMALS, CAKES, GARLANDS, COINS ...BUT, WERE HUMANS EVER SACRIFICED? 

YES, ALTHOUGH ITS OCCURRENCE WAS EXTREMELY RARE, & IT HAPPENED ONLY UNDER THE MOST EXTREME CIRCUMSTANCES ...

FOR INSTANCE, IN THE LAST EPISODE ABOUT PRIESTESSES, WE LEARNED THAT WHEN ATHENS WAS THREATENED WITH DESTRUCTION, QUEEN PRAXITHEA'S DAUGHTER WAS SACRIFICED TO SAVE THE CITY. 

AND YOU'LL REMEMBER THAT SHE GAVE HER LIFE WILLINGLY ... IN ANOTHER INSTANCE, KING AGAMEMNON LED 1,000 GREEK SHIPS TO WAR AGAINST TROY.

ON THEIR WAY, THE SHIPS BECAME BECALMED ON THE COASTAL CITY OF AULIS. WEEKS WENT BY, THERE WAS NO WIND & THE KING'S TROOPS BECAME INCREASINGLY RESTLESS.

AN ORACLE ANNOUNCED THAT HE HAD A SOLUTION. AGAMEMNON LEAPT AT THE CHANCE: THE KING MUST SACRIFICE HIS DAUGHTER IPHIGENIA TO THE GODDESS ARTEMIS, THE LOCAL DEITY.

IF HE FAILED TO DO SO, THE WINDS WOULD NEVER BLOW & TROY WOULD GO UNPUNISHED.

IMAGINE AGREEING TO SACRIFICE YOUR DAUGHTER FOR ANY REASON ... SO WHAT DID AGAMEMNON DO? 

AT FIRST HE REJECTED THE ORACLE'S DEMAND. BUT THEN WITHIN HOURS HE CONCEDED. IPHIGENIA WAS TRICKED INTO COMING TO AULIS. 

AFTER ARRIVING & REALIZING THE TRICKERY, SHE, LIKE QUEEN PRAXITHEA'S DAUGHTER, AGREED TO OFFER HERSELF SO THAT THE WAR COULD GO ON.

SHE WAS BOUND ARMS & FEET, WRAPPED IN A SACRIFICIAL CLOTH & CARRIED OUT INTO THE SUN BEFORE THE TROOPS.

A PRIEST RAISED HIS KNIFE, & AFTER PAUSING DRAMATICALLY, BROUGHT HIS WEAPON DOWN UPON THE GIRL WITH A TRIUMPHANT CRY.

AT THE SAME MOMENT, BEFORE THE KNIFE COULD STRIKE, THE GODDESS ARTEMIS SWEPT THE GIRL AWAY.   

IPHIGENIA'S BODY DISAPPEARED FROM THE ALTAR & A GROAN WENT UP FROM THE TROOPS. THEIR ONLY WAY OUT HAD BEEN SNATCHED AWAY EVEN WHILE THEY WATCHED.

but IN A BLINK, THE BODY OF A DEER, A FAWN, REPLACED THE GIRL. ARTEMIS WOULD NOT ALLOW ROYAL BLOOD TO STAIN HER ALTAR.

AS AGAMEMNON & HIS TROOPS WATCHED, A STIFF WIND AROSE. THE KING LIFTED HIS ARMS HIGH & SHOUTED, "OUR PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED. LET EVERYONE TAKE HEART ... GO, & PREPARE THE SHIPS TO SAIL!"

WE HAVE YET ANOTHER INSTANCE OF A YOUNG WOMAN SACRIFICING HERSELF. IN THIS CASE SHE GAVE HER LIFE FOR THAT OF HER HUSBAND.

HER NAME WAS ALCESTIS. SHE WAS MARRIED TO THE KING OF THESSALY. THEY WERE HAPPY UNTIL THE KING FELL ILL. 

WHILE HE WAS DYING PAINFULLY, THE GOD APOLLO APPEARED, INFORMING THE KING THAT HE, APOLLO, MIGHT TRICK THE FATES SO THAT HE COULD DODGE HIS DEATH.

BUT THERE WAS A CATCH: APOLLO SAID THAT SOMEONE MUST DIE IN HIS PLACE.

ALCESTIS OVERHEARD THEIR CONVERSATION & NOT BEING ABLE TO STAND THE THOUGHT OF HER HUSBAND DYING FIRST, OFFERED HERSELF. 

WHILE THE KING STRUGGLED TO RESPOND, ALCESTIS LOST PATIENCE WITH HIS WAFFLING & TOOK HER LIFE ...

... THERE'S A PATTERN HERE: TO SAVE ATHENS, A DAUGHTER SACRIFICES HERSELF. TO ALLOW THE TROJAN WAR TO PROCEED, A DAUGHTER AGREES TO DIE.

AND IN THIS LAST EXAMPLE, A YOUNG WIFE SACRIFICES HERSELF TO SAVE HER BELOVED HUSBAND.

NOTICE THAT THESE OFFERINGS ARE ALL FEMALE. oracles NEVER REQUIRE SONS TO BE SACRIFICED. AND DIVINITIES NEVER DEMAND THE LIVES OF BOYS. 

OVER & OVER, WE SEE GIRLS OFFERING THEMSELVES TO SAVE THEIR CITY, TO WIN A WAR OR TO SAVE THOSE THEY LOVED.

ALTHOUGH THESE WERE THE RAREST OF SACRIFICES, THEY WERE NOT JUST AN ULTIMATE OFFERING, THEY WERE EXAMPLES OF EXTREME BRAVERY BY GIRLS.

CONTINUING NOW WITH ANIMAL SACRIFICE ... WHAT ANIMALS WERE SACRIFICED? FIRST, THEY WERE WITHOUT EXCEPTION EITHER BIRDS OR MAMMALS.

DOVES & SONGBIRDS WERE COMMON OFFERINGS. MAMMALS INCLUDED SHEEP & GOATS, COWS & OXEN, PIGLETS & HORSES. 

EVEN THE MOST VALUED ANIMALS SUCH AS BULLS & WAR STALLIONS WERE, IF THE OCCASION WARRANTED, READILY SACRIFICED. 

APHRODITE, THE GODDESS OF LOVE, FAVORED DOVES. AND THOSE SACRIFICED TO HER WERE FEMALE BIRDS, MATCHING HER GENDER.

ARTEMIS, THE HUNTRESS, PREFERRED DEER ... HEKATE, THE DARK GODDESS OF CROSSROADS, EXPECTED OFFERINGS OF POLECATS.

MASSIVE BULLS & OXEN WERE FREQUENTLY SACRIFICED TO ZEUS ... HORSES WERE, ON RARE OCCASIONS, OFFERED TO POSEIDON, THEN THROWN WHOLE-BODIED INTO THE OCEAN.

... AND ONLY ON RARE OCCASIONS WAS THE GENDER OF THE DIVINITY NOT MATCHED TO THE GENDER OF THE SACRIFICIAL ANIMAL.

IMPORTANTLY, THE ANIMALS CHOSEN WERE PRIZED EXAMPLES, OFTEN SELECTED MONTHS BEFORE FOR SACRIFICE.

IF CATTLE OR OXEN, THE ANIMALS WERE FED SELECTED GRAINS. IF SHEEP & GOATS, THEY WERE GRAZED IN THE GREENEST FIELDS. 

WHEN THE TIME CAME, THOSE WHO CONDUCTED THE CEREMONY ASSUMED THE DIVINITY WAS PLEASED ... IT WAS CRITICAL THAT SACRIFICE BE, IN EVERY WAY, A TWO-WAY STREET.

THERE WERE KEY GREEK TERMS THAT ALERTED PARTICIPANTS TO THE TYPE OF SACRIFICE THEY WERE ABOUT TO WITNESS.

THE FIRST WAS HEKATOMBE, OR HECATOMB, WHICH LITERALLY MEANT A HUNDRED OXEN. WHEN A HECATOMB OCCURRED, THE ORGANIZER WAS MAKING A MONUMENTAL GESTURE, & SEEKING IMMENSE BLESSINGS FROM A DIVINITY.

I'LL NOTE THOUGH THAT EVEN EARLY IN GREEK HISTORY, THE WORD HECATOMB TOOK ON A LESS EXACT SENSE, & MEANT MERELY NUMEROUS. 

BUT 'NUMEROUS' COULD STILL MEAN DOZENS OF ANIMALS, & SUCH SACRIFICES WERE ALWAYS MEANT TO WOW HUMANS & GODS ALIKE.

THE SECOND KEY TERM WAS HOLOKAUSTON, OR HOLOCAUST. IN THE ANCIENT WORLD THE WORD SIMPLY MEANT AN OFFERING WHERE THE ENTIRE ANIMAL WAS  BURNT.

HOLOCAUST RITUALS WERE USUALLY CONDUCTED FOR HADES, THE GOD OF THE UNDERWORLD, OR FOR MAJOR HEROES SUCH AS HERACLES, ACHILLES & AJAX.

WHAT SHOULD BE NOTED IS THAT AFTER ANIMALS WERE KILLED, THEY WERE ROASTED & EATEN BY THE PRIESTS & WORSHIPPERS.

AN ANIMAL WAS LED TO THE ALTAR ... IN THE MOST AUSPICIOUS CASES IT CAME WILLINGLY.

THERE ARE NUMEROUS REPORTS OF ANIMALS KNEELING BEFORE THE ALTAR ON THEIR FRONT LEGS. PARTICIPANTS TOOK THAT TO MEAN THEY CONCURRED.

HOLY WATER WAS THEN SPRINKLED ON THE ANIMAL. BARLEY GRAIN WAS SCATTERED OVER ITS BACK.

I'LL ALSO NOTE THAT THE PRIESTS & PRIESTESSES WENT TO GREAT LENGTHS TO AVOID FRIGHTENING THE ANIMAL. 

A COMMON PRACTICE WAS TO HIDE THE SACRIFICIAL KNIFE IN A BOWL OF GRAIN UNTIL THE LAST MOMENT.

THE BEST CUTS OF MEAT WENT TO PRIESTS OR PRIESTESSES. OTHER PIECES WERE DISTRIBUTED TO ATTENDEES.

THE INEDIBLE, FATTY THIGH BONES WERE SET ASIDE FOR THE DEITY ... AND YES, THE GREEKS WERE WELL AWARE OF THE DISHONESTY INVOLVED.

THEY GOT THE EDIBLE MEAT, WHILE THE GOD OR GODDESS THEY IMPLORED FOR FAVORS RECEIVED LEFTOVERS.

LIKE SO MANY ANCIENT GREEK TRADITIONS, THERE'S A STORY INVOLVED THAT EXPLAINS IT ALL. THIS ONE STARTED WITH THE CRAFTY TITAN, PROMETHEUS.

ZEUS & PROMETHEUS WERE CLOSE FRIENDS. ZEUS HAD ALWAYS RELIED ON HIM FOR GOOD ADVICE. AND PROMETHEUS HAD ALWAYS COME THROUGH.

THE RIFT BETWEEN THEM BEGAN WHEN ZEUS NOTICED THAT MANKIND HAD BECOME SKILLED IN RAISING MEATY ANIMALS.

HE DECIDED THAT THE GODS SHOULD HAVE THEIR SHARE, BUT THE GODS & MEN COULD NOT AGREE ON HOW THE BOUNTY SHOULD BE DIVIDED.

OF COURSE EACH WANTED THE BEST CUTS FOR THEMSELVES. ZEUS CALLED ON PROMETHEUS TO SETTLE THE DISPUTE & PROMISED TO ABIDE BY WHATEVER HE DECIDED.

ACCORDINGLY, PROMETHEUS BUTCHERED AN OXEN, DIVIDING IT INTO TWO PILES. ONE PILE WAS STACKED WITH BONES, FAT & GRISTLE.

THE OTHER WAS PILED WITH APPETIZING CUTS OF MEAT. THE ANCIENT WRITER HESIOD WROTE THAT WHEN PROMETHEUS WAS FINISHED, HE BOWED TO THE SKY-GOD, SAYING, 

"Zeus, most glorious and greatest of the eternal gods, take whichever of these portions your heart DESIREs."

PREDICTABLY, ZEUS CHOSE THE PILE THAT APPEARED TO BE ENTIRELY MEAT.

BUT PROMETHEUS HAD TRICKED HIM. WHAT ZEUS THOUGHT WAS A STACK OF MEAT WAS LARGELY BONES & FAT HIDDEN UNDER A THIN COVERING OF STEAK.

THE BEST MEAT WAS IN THE SECOND PILE UNDER A LAYER OF FAT. ZEUS HAD BEEN FOOLED BY HIS OLD FRIEND.

PROMETHEUS, WHO WOULD IN TIME GIFT MANKIND WITH FIRE, WAS INCREASINGLY SIDING WITH HUMANS. ZEUS WOULD NOT FORGET THE TITAN'S CUNNING DECEPTION.

WHEN PROMETHEUS WAS LATER CAUGHT STEALING FIRE FROM ZEUS' STASH TO GIVE TO HUMANS, ZEUS HAD HAD ENOUGH.

HE ORDERED PROMETHEUS CHAINED TO THE SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN. THEREAFTER, EVERY DAY A FEARSOME EAGLE CAME & PECKED AT HIS LIVER.

HIS LIVER GREW BACK AT NIGHT BUT THE EAGLE RETURNED DAY AFTER DAY, YEAR AFTER YEAR TO TORMENT HIM ... 

BUT PROMETHEUS HAD ACCOMPLISHED HIS MISSION: MANKIND HAD FIRE FOR WARMTH & COOKING.  

AND AT SACRIFICES, MORTALS SET ASIDE ONLY BONES & FAT & GRISTLE FOR THE HONORED DIVINITY.

ON ITS FACE, THE DIVISION OF MEAT & FAT WAS DEEPLY HYPOCRITICAL. BUT ZEUS HAD, AFTER ALL, CUT A DEAL WITH PROMETHEUS ...

I SHOULD CLARIFY SOMETHING: ALTHOUGH PILES OF BONE & GRISTLE & FAT WERE SET ASIDE FOR THE GOD, NO PHYSICAL EXCHANGE ACTUALLY TOOK PLACE.

THE OFFERING WAS CONVEYED BY SMOKE. MORTALS WHO MADE THE SACRIFICE PRESUMED THAT THE DIVINITY — THE SUBJECT OF THEIR PRAYERS — HAD INTERCEPTED THE FUMES, & WAS PLEASED.

THE MAJORITY OF GREEKS EVEN BELIEVED THAT WITHOUT THIS SACRED SMOKE, THE GODS WOULD STARVE.

IN 414 B.C., THE COMEDIC PLAYWRIGHT ARISTOPHANES PRESENTED A NEW PLAY IN ATHENS TITLED, "THE BIRDS." 

THE PLAY INTRODUCED POWER-HUNGRY BIRDS THAT PROPOSED TO PUT UP A SKY-BARRIER BETWEEN MORTALS & GODS.

BY STOPPING THE SMOKE FROM GETTING TO OLYMPUS, THE BIRDS COULD THWART GODS & MORTALS ALIKE. EVEN BETTER THEY COULD DICTATE TERMS & MAKE DEMANDS.

GODS AS WELL AS ALL MORTALS WOULD HAVE TO NEGOTIATE WITH BIRDS. THEY WOULD BECOME THE NEW GATEKEEPERS. 

THE PLAY RIDICULED HUMAN POLITICS, AS WELL AS THE SACRIFICIAL PRACTICES. BUT OF COURSE IT WAS ALL IN FUN. 

DECEIT & POLITICS ASIDE, SACRIFICE WAS ULTIMATELY ABOUT ONE THING: MORTALS OFFERED PRECIOUS BELONGINGS TO DIVINITIES & ...

IN RETURN, THEY HOPED TO BE REWARDED WITH HEALTH ... SUCCESS IN LOVE & WAR ... & WEALTH & A LONG LIFE.

SACRIFICE WAS, IDEALLY, COMMUNICATION. THE ANIMAL SACRIFICED WAS A CRITICAL INTERMEDIARY, A GO-BETWEEN CONNECTING GOD & MORTAL.

WE GRIMACE AT THE THOUGHT OF KILLING ANIMALS FOR SUCH A PURPOSE. BUT PEOPLE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD DID NOT.

THE ANIMAL WAS AN HONORED AS A LIVING THING WITH MAGICAL POWERS THAT JOINED DIVINITY TO MAN.

FOR THE GREEKS THERE WAS NO STIGMA IN SACRIFICE. IT HONORED THE ANIMAL. IT WAS A NECESSITY. AND ABOVE ALL, WITHOUT IT, THE GODS MIGHT ABANDON MANKIND ...

SO, WHAT WE VIEW TODAY AS ABHORRENT WAS, IN THE ANCIENT WORLD, BOTH LOGICAL & VIRTUOUS ...

JOIN ME ... FOR THE NEXT EPISODE OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY

IF YOU LOVE WHAT YOU HEAR, BE SURE TO VISIT Patrick-Garner-Books-dot-com. THERE'S GOOD STUFF THERE ABOUT ALL OF YOUR FAVORITE GREEK GODS ... A DISCUSSION OF THIS PODCAST ... & MORE ABOUT MY THREE NOVELS.

BY THE WAY, MY BOOKS ABOUT THE GREEK GODS ARE AS ENTERTAINING AS MY PODCASTS! ALL ARE AVAILABLE ON AMAZON ... 

AND HERE'S A GREAT ALTERNATIVE: GET MY AUDIBLE BOOK, HOMO DIVINITAS. YOU CAN FIND IT AT AMAZON OR AUDIBLE.

AND THANKS FOR LISTENING ... THIS IS YOUR HOST, PATRICK GARNER ...