Aesop Victimized

The Sale of Sacrificial and Non-Sacrificial Meat

in Mnemosyne
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A passage from the Life of Aesop has been used by several scholars to answer some important questions regarding the Greek ritual of sacrifice. Although the interpretation of ancient religious behaviours as reconstructed by these scholars is to some degree confirmed by external data, I argue that the aforementioned text contains little or no information relevant to the study of the subject matter. What is more, the manner in which its anonymous author mentions the ritual’s particulars in passing indicates that he did not intend to dwell upon any theological issues.


A Journal of Classical Studies



BerthiaumeG. Les rôles du mágeiros. Étude sur la boucherie, la cuisine et le sacrifice dans la Grèce ancienne 1982 Leiden

BerthiaumeG. GeorgoudiPiettre KochSchmidt L’aile ou les mēria Sur la nourriture carnée des dieux grecs 2005 241 251

BlochM. Prey into Hunter. The Politics of Religious Experience Cambridge

BurkertW. Homo Necans. Interpretationen altgriechischer Opferriten und Mythen 1972 Berlin

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CookJ.G. Roman Attitudes Toward the Christians 2010 Tübingen

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DetienneM. DetienneVernant Pratiche culinarie e spirito di sacrificio 1982 7 26

DetienneM. Apollon le couteau à la main. Une approche expérimentale du polythéisme grec 1998 Paris

DetienneM.VernantJ.-P. CasagrandeC.SissaG. La cucina del sacrificio in terra greca 1982 Torino

DurandJ.-L. DetienneVernant Proposte per una topologia dei corpi commestibili 1982 90 108

EideneierH. Äsop—Der frühneugriechische Roman. Einführung, Übersetzung, Kommentar 2011 Wiesbaden

EkrothG. Meat in Ancient Greece. Sacrificial, Sacred or Secular? Food and History 2007 5 1 249 272

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FaraoneC.A.NaidenF.S. Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice. Ancient Victims, Modern Observers 2012 Cambridge

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GeorgoudiS.Koch PiettreR.SchmidtF. La cuisine et l’autel. Les sacrifices en questions dans les sociétés de la Méditerranée ancienne 2005 Turnhout

GillD. Trapezomata A Neglected Aspect of Greek Sacrifice 1974 HthR 67 2 117 137

GirardR. La violence et le sacré 1972 Paris

GrafF. FaraoneNaiden One Generation after Burkert and Girard. Where Are the Great Theories? 2012 32 51

GroningenB.A. van Aristote. Le second livre de l’Economie 1933 Leiden (ed., comm.)

HallE. BakolaE.PrauscelloL.TelóM. The Aesopic in Aristophanes Greek Comedy and the Discourse of Genres 2013 Cambridge 277 297

IsenbergM. The Sale of the Sacrificial Meat CPh 1975 70 271 273

KadletzE. The Sacrifice of Eumaios the Pig Herder GRBS 1984 25 99 105

KiddS. The Meaning of bōmolokhos in Classical Attic TAPhA 2012 142 239 255

KurkeL. Aesopic Conversations Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose 2011 Princeton/Oxford Martin Classical Lectures

LincolnB. FaraoneNaiden From Bergaigne to Meuli How Animal Sacrifice Became a Hot Topic 2012 13 31

LorauxN. La cité comme cuisine et comme partage Annales 36 614 622 Économies. Sociétés. Civilisations

MaussM. Essai sur le don, forme archaïque de l’échange 1925 Paris

McInerneyJ. The Cattle of the Sun Cows and Culture in the World of the Ancient Greeks 2010 Princeton/Oxford

MeuliK. GigonO.MeuliK.TheilerW.WehrliF.WyssB. Griechische Opferbräuche Phyllobolia: für Peter von der Mühll zum 60. Geburtstag am 1. August 1945 1946 Basel 185 288

NagyG. NagyG. Poetry and the Ideology of the Polis. The Symbolism of Apportioning Meat Greek Mythology and Poetics 1990 Ithaca/London 269 275

NaidenF.S. The Fallacy of the Willing Victim JHS 2007 127 61 73

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PetropoulouM.Z. Animal Sacrifice in Ancient Greek Religion, Judaism, and Christianity, 100 BC to AD 200 2008 Oxford

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SchoemannG.F. Griechische Alterthümer Die internationalen Verhältnisse und das Religionswesen 1863 Vol. 2. Berlin

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StratenF. van Hiera kala Images of Animal Sacrifice in Archaic and Classical Greece 1995 Leiden

StratenF. van GeorgoudiKoch PiettreSchmidt Ancient Greek Animal Sacrifice: Gift, Ritual Slaughter, Communion, Food Supply, or What? Some Thoughts on Simple Explanations of a Complex Ritual 2005 15 30

TsoukalaV. Honorary Shares of Sacrificial Meat in Attic Vase Painting Visual Signs of Distinction and Civic Identity 2009 Hesperia 78 1 1 40

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VernantJ.P. DetienneVernant Alla tavola degli uomini Mito di fondazione del sacrificio in Esiodo 1982 27 89

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See Naiden 2013, 240; 257-258; Scullion 2013, 251; Parker 2010, 141; Isenberg 1975.


E.g., Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, 4.7.7; Tert. Ieiun. 15.5; Macar. Apocrit. 3.35. For more examples and bibliographical information, see Cook 2010, 225 n. 463.


Parker 2010, 142-143 quotes four texts (Semon. fr. 7.56; IMT Kaikos 932; LSAM 84; Petzl 123) that might be understood as describing some cases of violating the taboo of non-sacrificial meat (and therefore of the existence of the taboo itself). As Parker points out, although we do not actually understand the meaning of these passages, the lexical choices of their authors leave little doubt that they had in mind something different than simply ‘non-sacrificial meat’ (e.g., LSAM 84, 11 µηδ’ ἀθύτοις θυσίαις ἱερῶν ἐπὶ χῖρας ἰάλλειν). The ἄθυτα/ἄθυστα might have been some parts of the god’s share which had not been properly or completely burnt and were stolen from an altar in an act of βωµολοχία (in the sense of the latter word which the traditional scholarship attaches to it. For very convincing polemics, see Kidd 2012). See also Berthiaume 1982, 90-91; Verdenius 1968, 145.


See especially Ekroth 2007, 2008, 2009, and essays contained in the volume edited by Ekroth and Wallensten 2013.


See e.g. van Straten 1995, 154-155; Gill 1974.


This has been suggested by Stengel 1920, 106. Having said that the meat at the butcher shop might have or have not been sacrificial, he adds: “Wo ein Tier im eigenen Hause geschlachtet wurde, versäumte man die einfachsten Opferzeremonien wohl nie”. Unfortunately, in order to support this theory Stengel quotes only one passage (Ath. 5.179d = Semon. fr. 7.56), the interpretation of which is quite unclear as its meaning depends on the understanding of the hapax legomenon: ἄθυστα (probably synonymous to ἄθυτα in one of its several meanings, see note 8). It is important to bear in mind that the ‘ritual slaughter’ does not always have to mean a thysia type of sacrifice, nor did it have to take place in a sanctuary (see especially Ekroth 2013, 22). The scholarly tradition tends to concentrate on this sort of ritual simply because it is very prominent in literature, art and law (known from inscriptional sources). On the other hand, even Homeric epics, in spite of their idealistic bias, apart from the descriptions of heroic sacrifices, contain some information about other types of ritual slaughter. The most striking and well-known example is to be found in Odyssey 14.414-456, where the poet describes the swineherd Eumaeus slaying a pig by the hearth of his hut. Although the quantity of religious gestures performed by the character leaves no doubt that he conformed to ritual rules of some sort, the description remains odd—if not for any other reason—because Eumaeus burnt pieces of meat from each of the animal’s limbs (14.427-428 ὁ δ’ ὠµοθετεῖτο συβώτης, πάντων ἀρχόµενος µελέων, ἐς πίονα δηµόν) instead of cutting off its thigh bones (µηρία), which is otherwise the regular practice of Homeric heroes. See Scullion 2013, 249; Parker 2010, 139-140; Ekroth 2009, 143-144; Petropoulou 1987; Kadletz 1984; Gill 1974, 134; Meuli 1946, 214 n. 1.


Berthiaume 1982, 69-70 makes a similar point, although he does not express it in such an extreme way.


Parker 2010, 142 suggests that it may have meant ‘to kill in a sanctuary’. See also Scullion 2013, 249.


In his brief study of this term Winand 1990, 21-27 quotes this passage, translating its crucial part (τὰ ὅρκια καὶ τὰ ἱερόθυτα κήρυκες κοµίζουσιν) as ‘les hérauts s’occupent des serments et des sacrifices’, which is clearly incorrect. The Homeric verses quoted by Athenaeus make it clear that he meant ‘bringing the animals for specific ceremonies’, not ‘performing these ceremonies’. Therefore, Winand’s elegant suggestion that the adjective ἱερόθυτος may be understood as a substitute for a non-attested verbal adjective from θύω is perfectly in order, although it needs to be emphasised that its meaning is not limited to that of a perfect participle.


On such herds, see McInerney 2010, especially 146-172. On ἱεροθύτης, see Stengel 1913; Winand 1990 (the aforementioned inscription ibidem, 182-6).


See Perry 1936, 24-26; 1952, 5; Kurke 2011, 17-22 (with a full and up-to-date bibliography). It must be noted that some oral or written versions of the anecdotes about Aesop, and possibly his full biography, had circulated much earlier before the redaction of our archetype (see also Hall 2013).


Translation after Kurke 2011. G 54 ἀπελθὼν εἰς τὴν ἀγοράν, εἴ τι σαπρόν, εἴ τι χεῖρον, αὐτὸ ἀγόρασον. W 54 is slightly different: ἀπελθὼν ἀγόρασον, εἴ τι σαπρόν, εἴ τι χεῖρον. It shall be noted that Naiden 2013, 239 paraphrases the sentence from the W variant as: “Xanthus told Aesop to buy something cheaper”. This may be the cause or the effect of some of the confusion around the passage.


It must be noted that Isenberg 1975, 272 did not exclude such an interpretation.


See especially Robertson Smith 1927, 267-311 (first edition 1889); Puttkammer 1912; for an extreme view of this subject matter in modern scholarship, see Detienne, Vernant 1982, sparsim; Seaford 1994, 39-67, 281-293 and sparsim.


Very helpfully, van Straten 2005, 20-21 makes a similar point in his polemics against Durand 1982, 93-94, who observed that in Greek vase painting there are almost no images of the actual moment in which an animal is killed. Van Straten indicates some of the few exceptions to this rule and states: “A total absence of killing representations allows a hypothesis that the act is intentionally passed over in silence, as a sort of taboo. If, on the other hand, there are some such representations, although few, then this could probably just be attributed to a lack of interest in this particular part of the ritual” (see also Parker 2011, 161). Since there are some cases in which literary sources attest the existence of the practice of selling sacrificial flesh, there is no reason to believe it was a taboo. See Plin. Ep. 10.96.10; NT Cor. 1.10.25, 28; Thphr. Char. 22.4; Artem. 5.3. Kurke 2011, 221 n. 43 was certainly right to notice that the former two describe shameful acts. She ignores, however, the fact that it is not the sale of the meat that the authors find embarrassing; what is to be understood as outrageous in Artemidorus’ passage is the idea of treating someone’s wife as if she were a sacrificial animal, and in Theophrastus it is the unwillingness to share a meal with friends on a very special occasion.


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