Sacrificial Animals

            This Greek text is lines 425-435 in book 14 of the Odyssey, the ancient epic poem written by Homer, probably around 700 BCE in Ionia. The english translation is linked here. Here, the swineherd Eumaus slaughters one of his boars in order to feed himself and his guest (Odysseus). He kills the animal, his friends butcher it, and his first action is offer flesh and fat to the gods by burning them in the fire. Then he prepares the rest of the boar for their meal. Once the meal is prepared, he also sets aside a portion for the nymphs and the god Hermes. A secular occurence (mealtime) is imbued with sacredness with two different forms of sacrifice to honor gods. 

            Pigs and boars were used in animal sacrifice, as evidenced above as well as in the pottery showing a young boar ready to be sacrificed. They were by no means the most popular animals to be sacrificed though. Walter Burkert explains, “The pig was the cheapest sacrificial animal and the easiest to raise in quantity, but for this very reason it was not the final perfect sacrifice.” (Burkert, 1983, 257) Sheep, goats, bulls and oxen were also sacrificed. Pigs were sacrificed during thesmophoria, the festival that honored Demeter and Persephone. It was also well-known that to be initiated into the mysteries of Eleusis, one had to bring a pig for sacrifice. Burkert also theorizes that wild pigs were used in sacrifice "as vengeance for Adonis, who was killed by a boar.” (Burkert, 1983, 115) Different animals held different meanings, due to their mythic and economic statuses. 

             More than any other, this source links the consumption of food for nourishment with the preparation of meat for religious veneration. The sacrifice is done casually, not in connection with any religiously significant event. Rather than reduce its importance, it shows how significant sacrifice was in ancient Greek culture to be performed as a matter of course as part of a meal. We can also gain from this section of the Odyssey an understanding of the practice of sacrifice--the killing, the portioning, the preparation, the burning. It is a powerful image of the actions involved in animal sacrifice.