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Mary Beard, the unfailingly charming professor of classics at Cambridge, recently wrote in the Times to upbraid some modern pagans for their heretical lack of animal sacrifice (NB, 'heretical' not her words--for those too lazy to follow the link).

 

In the many comments that followed (which predictably devolved into "my faith is better than yours--or so my faith tells me"), one poster brought up an interesting gem from Ovid: "The same God who is propitiated by the blood of a hundred bulls is also propiated by the smallest offering of incense."

 

I'm wondering: (1) Where did Ovid say this?, and (2) How widespread was the belief among Romans that animal sacrifice wasn't really necessary to propitiate the gods?

 

I used to joke that we would be better to call animal sacrifices "holy barbecues" because at least the ancient polytheists ate their victims, rather than prohibiting the pious from actually benefitting from the sacrifice, as we Kant-addled moderns proscribe. But if it's true that the ancients believed that the "smallest offering of incense" could propitiate the gods, then I'm even more inclined to think that the animal sacrifices were really just a good excuse for a Luau.

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

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Honestly, I think that perhaps in the Proto-IE days it was more of a serious, pious business. But it was obviously a complex affair in the Greco-Roman world.

 

Understanding what the gods got in the first offering (bones, flesh & fat) seems to support the 'Holy BBQ' scenario which is the way I've always looked at it. Otherwise, wouldn't the gods get the best cuts of meat?

 

Another great clue is in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes when he sacrifices 2 of Apollo's kine and what happens afterwards. Clearly any honor he gave to the other gods during it was a means to an end so he could get some grub!

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(2) How widespread was the belief among Romans that animal sacrifice wasn't really necessary to propitiate the gods

 

 

There were certain fringe cults such as the Pythagoreans that always objected to it.

 

However, blood sacrifice was the culminating event of the mainstream civic cults overseen by a city-state or imperial government.

 

Outside the fringe cults, I think most people would have avoided animal sacrifice only because they couldn't afford it. The small farmer possibly could not survive by offering his only oxen to Jupiter, so he made do with some wine and incense. But governments have larger resources and wouldn't have had to worry about it.

 

The animal sacrifices organized by the city-state would also have been, to my knowledge, one of the few chances the urban poor would have had to eat fresh meat, and on that basis might have had a value to them in addition to any purely religious sentiment.

 

Modern reinterpretations of paganism and their adherence (or lack thereof) to historically attested practices are rather outside the scope of this forum.

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The animal sacrifices organized by the city-state would also have been, to my knowledge, one of the few chances the urban poor would have had to eat fresh meat, and on that basis might have had a value to them in addition to any purely religious sentiment.

 

Is this in any way connected to the patrician dominance and politicization of the religious colleges? If the city sacrifices served as a sort of "meat dole," it's easy to see why officiating the events might have had political significance.

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It is certainly possible, MPC. As you know, religion was not separated from politics in Ancient Rome, or from daily life for that matter. I have no problem believing there were people, then as now, who have little use for religion aside from the purely secular benefits it might dispose to them.

 

However, I must point out the larger paradigm of Roman religion. Religion was a contractual obligation with the supernatural powers that be, where human beings rendered honor and offerings to those powers in exchange for favors. "I give so that you may give" is the standard motto for that contract. "Sacrifice" literally means "to make holy" or to consecrate an offering to the holy powers of a supernatural being.

 

Above what peasants did in the privacy of their own homes and fields and street corners, the State saw itself as the intermediary between the gods and the community as a whole. In the State religion, certain deities demanded certain animals (it was thought). To give anything less violated the contract between men and gods. If men did not give full honors to the gods, the gods would not give their full favors to men.

 

Thus, animal sacrifice was part of that spiritual contract between human and supernatural beings which was mediated by the government on behalf of the citizenry. I believe most of the Roman citizenry would have believed in this contract to some degree, even if the benefits of fresh meat were more immediately appreciable.

 

As I said, fringe cults took exception to it, as well as perhaps certain people educated in certain sectors of Greek Philosophy. I can't find the exact quote from Ovid to see if indeed the quote originated from him, but what the Greek educated literati believed about religion is not necessarily what the great mass of Roman citizens believed about religion.

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding what the gods got in the first offering (bones, flesh & fat) seems to support the 'Holy BBQ' scenario which is the way I've always looked at it. Otherwise, wouldn't the gods get the best cuts of meat?

 

Apropos: the myth where Prometheus tricks Zeus into taking the bones, while humans get the best cuts of meat.

 

As myth recounts gods dining on "ambrosia" they would have no need of animal flesh to sustain themselves. What was offered perhaps was simply life itself - a reminder of what separated mortals from deathless gods. A sacrifice of 100 bulls would better illustrate this than a simple offering of wine or barley. :D

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But you got to think about...that killing an animal is much more of a deeper symbolic act then lighting a few sticks of incents. You are taking life...in the name of the gods. Sacrificing something for their glory...what exacly does Incense do? THe Ancients thought of incense as a transmitter of offerings from the mortal world to the godly realm. They burnt incense so the holy smell of blood could be smelt by the nostrils of the gods.

 

OK got to admit that the barbeque thing was a huge factor for sacrifice of animals...it fed people. But eating sacrificial meat showed a bond between the believer and the diety and this is metaphorical in itself.

 

-Zeke

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If the giving of life was the essence of sacrifice, then why did the Romans give up burying two virgins alive each year?

 

As for individuals, didn't the formula go something like this: "Iupiter, if you do this for me, I'll build a temple to you."? (No 'this'; no temple.)

Edited by Gaius Octavius

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If the giving of life was the essence of sacrifice, then why did the Romans give up burying two virgins alive each year?

 

I didn't know that the Romans buried two virgins alive every year. I'm aware of the penalty for an erring Vestal, though, which involved being buried alive. G.O., can you direct me to more info on the sort of Roman virgin sacrifice you're talking about here? Thanks.

 

-- Nephele

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There's an interesting entry on Roman sacrifice in the Oxford Classical Dictionary. According to the article,

Sometimes the banquet was celebrated (doubtless on behalf of all) by just the immediate participants and their helpers, along with those possessing privileges in a particular sanctuary (e.g., the flute-players at the temple of Jupiter); sometimes the banquets united the chief sections of society (e.g., the roman elite for the epulum Jovis); sometimes the meat was sold in butchers' shops (i.e., it was accessible to all); sometimes, finally, it was eaten at great communal banquets, ultimately financed by benefactors.

Needless to say, there's nothing about the Romans sacrificing two virgins per annum. (Perhaps none were to be found?)

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[/indent]Needless to say, there's nothing about the Romans sacrificing two virgins per annum. (Perhaps none were to be found?)

 

They were sacrificed to the god-consul! :)

 

Romans had mixed feelings about human sacrifice, but gladiator games had, in the begining, the aspect of religious sacrifice. So, romans did used human sacrifice a lot even when it looks to us more like a sport.

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Romans had mixed feelings about human sacrifice, but gladiator games had, in the begining, the aspect of religious sacrifice. So, romans did used human sacrifice a lot even when it looks to us more like a sport.

 

I don't think so. The effect of a sacrifice was to make something holy. If gladiators were sacrifices rather than sportsmen, then the Coliseum would have been a templa. But it wasn't.

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I am sorry that I can't cite it, but it was the practice in the early days of Rome.

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In the beginnings gladiatorial games had a religious function (funerary) and theatrical and sports competitions had for greeks.

I have no ideea if they kept any religious meaning, or they became purely entrateinment, but were often performed during religious festivals.

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I am sorry that I can't cite it, but it was the practice in the early days of Rome.

The Latins used gladiator contests at funeral gatherings as a means of showing how wealthy the deadman had been in life. This practice going back to an era of Romes very early period, I believe. When it was a struggling villiage evolving into a city state. The practice of chariot racing was the first major sport of the emerging sphere of Roman influence. As the Latin tribes gradually were absorbed into Roman Culture the practice of violente gladitore(sp?) it was still used as a funerary activity but was rapidly exanding way beyond that role. Once Rome became a major player in the control of the Italian peninsula, Sicily, Corsica, then the games really started to become an enitity unto themselves. I believe this is correct as its comming from memory that seems to be getting fuzzyier all the time lol!

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Revisiting this thread because something said to me in passing in regards to the current severe drought we're experiencing in Georgia (State). My Mother and Stepfather maintain a herd of about 30-40 head of cattle and one of the last times I was down at the farm we were discussing the impact of lack of rain on managing the heard

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