Evaluating Depictions of Sacrifice in:

Vase paintings:

The objects themselves are biased. Take, for example, a visual representation of an ox being led to sacrifice. It is an idealized form of the act of leading the bull to sacrifice. Note, for example, how the bull is going willingly, naturally – it is not fighting. This is because the ideal sacrifice was thought to be one that wanted to be sacrificed.

Vase painting also did not wish/was not permitted to show all stages of sacrifice. Furthermore, there were parts of sacrifice considered to mundane for vase painting (as well as literary sources). 

Epic and myth:

An epic is a long poem, like those of Homer and Hesiod. Epics are very pious works - in the case of Hesiod, that agenda involves taking a story that could show Zeus in error (the King of the gods gets duped by Prometheus, for example) and twisting it so that the King of the Gods appears in a good light.  That particular story also incorporates myth. Myth is characterized by sustainably telling and retelling and they successfully combine forms of culture and tradition. While Piety was a matter of ritual not myths, ritual and myths were often transmitted together: because they explain and strengthen each other. Myth clarifies and orders life. We see Hesiod using myth in this way in his Theogony.  


Around the 6th century BCE, Greek comedy began to be performed. It was popular across ancient Greece and became quite influential. These plays give insight into education, religion, and politics. However, like all other genera, they had their biases.

Sacrifice in comedy does not focus on the death aspect of the sacrifice, but rather more on the eating itself, the feasting. Menander, is presenting social practice in a way that is humorous. It is not his goal to accurately portray what people thought and how they ate. Rather, he exaggerates characters and practice for comedy. What effect does this have? If an author, Menander for example, were to talk about sacrifice in comedy, he would be directly referencing the social aspects and authors often criticize the fact that junk is given as a sacrifice. In comedy, sacrifice is life affirming (which can be compared with sacrifice’s treatment in tragedy where the killing is the focus).

Interesting fact: because of Prometheus and the sacrificial share, the burning of bones is a standard joke in Greek comedy. 

Sources and Further reading (too meta to handle?):

Walter Burkert GRBS Vol 7, No 2 (1966) "Greek Tragedy and Sacrificial Ritual"

Christopher A. Faraone, F.S. Naiden (ed.), Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient Victims, Modern Observers.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2012 a short summary of which can be found at

Mark Cartwright. “Greek Comedy,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified March 25, 2013.

Burkert, Walter. Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth.    Berkeley: U of California, 1983. Print. (especially pages 29-34)