Animal Sacrifice

           This painting on the tondo of an Attic red-figure cup depicts two Greek men sacrificing a young boar before an altar. It dates to around 500 BCE and was made by the Epidromos Painter. The sacrifice is taking place outdoors, rather than in a temple, as can be seen from the tree to the left of the men. One man kneels with the boar, while the other holds the sacrificial knife and gestures towards the altar. During a sacrifice, the animal would be slaughtered and either all of the animal would be burned at the altar (holocaust; holokautein) or part of it would be burned and part of it would be eaten (commensal; thyestai).

           Animal sacrifices were common in Archaic Greece, and were performed during festivals to honor gods, and as parts of gatherings such as banquets and funerals. Sacrifices accompanied hymns and prayers towards the gods. According to Promethean myth, the smoke from the burning animals would reach the gods and send prayers up as well.

           It is interesting to note that the sacrifice of animals was not considered food for the gods. People, however, did eat the animals after they were ritually slaughtered. It is possible that ritual sacrifices served as a great part of some people’s meat consumption. Meat was expensive for the less well off, and sacrifices provided justification for slaughtering and eating an animal.

           This painting glorifies the sacrificial process. By placing it on a cup, it denotes something to aesthetically appreciate and to dwell on, even when drinking. The beauty and good-nature of the smiling men shows how welcome the event was. In one sense, sacrifice was commonplace enough to be represented and recognized on tableware, and in another sense, it was celebrated enough to be the subject of an artistic endeavor. We can see from this painting some of the procedures for sacrifice (the animal, the knife, the altar), as well as attitudes concerning the act itself.