King of Sacrifice: Ritual and Royal Authority in the Iliad

  Hitch, Sarah. 2009. King of Sacrifice: Ritual and Royal Authority in the Iliad. Hellenic Studies Series 25. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

3. The Gift of Sacrifice

The post-kill phase of sacrificial ritual can be divided into two categories: gifts for the gods and food for men. [1] Gifts for the gods are proportionately meager in comparison to the feasts enjoyed by the mortal participants. The inequality of these offerings underlies much of ancient Greek discourse about sacrifice, as discussed in Chapter One. Hesiod’s etiology of sacrifice, instrumental to many of the theoretical interpretations summarized in Chapter One, identifies this inequality as the origin of the ritual; in his Theogony, Prometheus attempts to deceive Zeus by camouflaging the undesirable portion of bones with a layer of fat:

καὶ γὰρ ὅτ’ ἐκρίνοντο θεοὶ θνητοί τ’ ἄνθρωποι
Μηκώνῃ, τότ’ ἔπειτα μέγαν βοῦν πρόφρονι θυμῷ
δασσάμενος προύθηκε, Διὸς νόον ἐξαπαφίσκων.
τοῖς μὲν γὰρ σάρκας τε καὶ ἔγκατα πίονα δημῷ
ἐν ῥινῷ κατέθηκε καλύψας γαστρὶ βοείῃ,
τοῖς δ’ αὖτ’ ὀστέα λευκὰ βοὸς δολίῃ ἐπὶ τέχνῃ
εὐθετίσας κατέθηκε καλύψας ἀργέτι δημῷ.
δὴ τότε μιν προσέειπε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε·
“ Ἰαπετιονίδη, πάντων ἀριδείκετ’ ἀνάκτων,
ὦ πέπον, ὡς ἑτεροζήλως διεδάσσαο μοίρας.”

(Hesiod Theogony 535–545)

Prometheus invites Zeus to choose one of the portions, and the king of the gods deliberately takes the bones, which is cited as the reason mortals offer the thigh bones of sacrificial victims to the gods (Hesiod Theogony 545–560).

Prometheus’ attempted deception of Zeus institutes the cultic procedure that defines man’s place as subordinate to that of the gods. Mortals and gods having previously dined together, the institution of sacrifice replaces such commensality with a retributive distance between the two groups and the subordination of mortals. As Jean-Pierre Vernant writes, “In the sacrificial ceremony the festive side of joyous communication with the gods can never be separated from the other aspect of the ritual—recognized and proclaimed subordination to the gods, the resigned acceptance of the mortal condition, and the permanent abdication of all claims to what lies beyond the human.” [3] According to structuralist interpretations of this passage, eating defines man’s mortality in contrast to the immortality of the gods; agriculture and cooked food identify man’s place above animals. Commensal sacrifices, those followed by a shared meal, perfectly encapsulate this hierarchy: the civility of the cooked feast elevates mortals from animals, while the feast embodies the mortal need for food. [4] Because sacrifice recognizes man’s subordination, man is able to ask for the favor of the gods. Thus sacrifice is, for men, a means of communication; for gods, a means of rewarding behavior that pleases them. Underlying the hierarchy expressed in the sacrificial process, this concept of reciprocity, an exchange between gods and men as expressed in the earliest extant etiology for the performance of sacrifice, stands at the heart of ancient Greek cult mentality. As Harvey Yunis notes, “The relationship of reciprocity may be uneven, unequal, or uncertain, but for the worshipper it must fundamentally exist.” [5] Reciprocity with gods depends equally on the gift to the {94|95} gods and the divine response. Central to the performance of sacrifice is the belief that gods not only exist but also pay attention to mortals, who will be rewarded or punished according to their actions. [6] The divine machinery of the Iliad and the complex view offered throughout the poem of both immortal and mortal perspectives constantly raises the question of divine attention to and involvement in human affairs. Throughout the Iliad , the belief that sacrifice can create a reciprocal bond between men and gods is both encouraged and questioned by the opposing perspectives presented in the primary and secondary narrative-texts.

3.1 The Reciprocity of Sacrifice

Sacrifice is significant only within the context created by the primary narrator and defined by the characters themselves, whose interactions and comments dictate the Homeric world. Their perspectives on deeds and events form a “cultural grammar” which must be our decoding system for symbolic ritual actions such as sacrifice. [7] Dialogue in the poem identifies the characters’ value centers and clarifies their perceptions, which are not necessarily apparent in the limited depiction of events in the primary narrative-text. For this reason, the difference between primary and secondary narrative voices is crucial to a discussion on Homeric sacrifice; the primary narrator is omniscient and can therefore accurately describe the actions of the gods, whereas characters often speak about the gods in general terms and wrongly attribute motives and feelings both to the gods and to each other. The emphasis that the primary narrative places on Agamemnon’s role as sacrificer and the feast following the sacrifice expresses the social function of enacted sacrifice. Embedded scenes turn the spotlight rather on the relationship between men and gods, often focusing on gift-offerings and their reception. This distinction between narrative voices can best be appreciated through a survey of secondary narrative descriptions {95|96} of these gift-offerings for the gods, as compared to the less emphatic presentation of the post-kill stage in enacted sacrifices. The broad topic of speech acts in Homer falls outside the range of this study on sacrifice, and it is unnecessary to discuss all 39 embedded sacrifices individually. Rather, a comparison of the post-kill phase’s different emphasis in enacted and embedded sacrifices will call attention to the frustration expressed in embedded sacrifices.

In the Iliad, sacrifice is described with verbs pinpointing the moment of the kill (‘slit the throat’) or noun and verb combinations, which indicate {96|97} either the process more generally (‘to make a sacrifice’) or a specific stage of the process (‘to offer thigh bones to the gods’). While the verbs ἱερεύειν ‘to kill’, σφάζειν ‘to slit the throat’, and τάμνειν ‘to cut’ are favored in the primary narrative-text, references to the offerings, ἑκατόμβη ‘hecatomb’, ἱερά ‘sacrificial offerings’, κνίση ‘sacrificial smoke’, and μηρία ‘thigh bones’ are used almost exclusively in embedded sacrifices. For instance, Agamemnon is described in the primary narrative-text performing an enacted sacrifice to Zeus:

αὐτὰρ ὁ βοῦν ἱέρευσεν ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων
πίονα πενταέτηρον ὑπερμενέϊ Κρονίωνι.

(Iliad II 402–403)

But the lord of men Agamemnon sacrificed an ox,
five years old and fat, to the son of mighty Kronos, Zeus.

In this introduction to a lengthy description of sacrifice (Iliad II 403–432), the primary narrator highlights the physical act of killing the ox with a finite verb (ἱέρευσε), prioritizes the sacrificer (ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων), and specifies the divinity to whom the sacrifice is directed (ὑπερμενέϊ Κρονίωνι). The honorific gift of the ox to Zeus is enhanced by the description of its age and plumpness (πίονα πενταέτηρον), and Agamemnon’s slaughter of the beast (ὁ βοῦν ἱέρευσε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων) signals to the audience his power and authority. However, the embedded sacrifice in Agamemnon’s memory of previous sacrifices in his lengthy prayer to Zeus demonstrates a shift in emphasis:

οὐ μὲν δή ποτέ φημι τεὸν περικαλλέα βωμὸν
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι παρελθέμεν ἐνθάδε ἔρρων,
ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ πᾶσι βοῶν δημὸν καὶ μηρί’ ἔκηα,
ἱέμενος Τροίην εὐτείχεον ἐξαλαπάξαι.

(Iliad VIII 238–241)

Not once, I swear, did I pass a handsome altar of yours,
sailing my oar-swept ship on our fatal voyage here,
but on each I burned the fat and thigh bones of oxen,
longing to raze Troy’s sturdy walls to the roots.

Agamemnon’s memory defines the reciprocal relationship between mortals and immortals through sacrifice; he sacrifices often to Zeus in the hope of sacking Troy, yet the outcome of these efforts remains in doubt. The sacrifice is described not in terms of the ‘kill’ central to all primary narrative descriptions, {97|98} but by the burnt offering of fat and thigh bones to the god (δημὸν καὶ μηρί’ ἔκηα). One of the distinctive features of animal sacrifice is the “play” between sacrificer, victim, and divinity, or, more precisely, the relationship between the sacrificer and deity created by the slaughter of the victim. [
12] However, in embedded sacrifices, the slaughter of the victim is almost completely elided, and a more idealistic depiction of gift-offerings summarizes the entire ceremony. Agamemnon elaborates his memory of the gift-offering with a reference to altars, which are almost never described in enacted scenes. Altars and special portions emphasize the gift-exchange aspect of sacrifice, the reason most speakers refer to sacrifice, while the shared feast that often follows sacrifices is hardly described at all. Typical of embedded sacrifices, Agamemnon’s description of sacrifice on his journey to Troy underscores the element most important to him: his anxiety that help owed him in return for his piety will not be given.

Agamemnon’s instructions for sacrifice embed a common designation for the sacrificial act in the poem: ἱερὰ ῥέξας ‘having made sacrificial offerings’. ἱερός is a wide-ranging word indicative of divine presence, a marker of the awesome power of the gods. [14] The many applications of ἱερός, modifying a range of objects including temples, chariots, cities, and corn, indicate that it probably had an earlier unmarked meaning, such as ‘strong’, which then developed to include strength deriving from the infusion of divine power, as well as “that which belongs to a god.” [15] When used in character speech describing {98|99} relations with gods, this noun always refers specifically to the gift-act, such as in Odysseus’ preparation of a thanks-offering for Athena:

νηῒ δ’ ἐνὶ πρύμνῃ ἔναρα βροτόεντα Δόλωνος
θῆκ’ Ὀδυσεύς, ὄφρ’ ἱρὸν ἑτοιμασσαίατ’ Ἀθήνῃ.

(Iliad X 570–571)

Then away in his ship’s stern Odysseus stowed the bloody gear of Dolon,
so that they could prepare an offering for Athena.

Although the offering is not an animal but the arms of Dolon, which are never given to Athena within the poem, this complex narrative summary of Odysseus’ intention shows the focus on the act of offering implied in the term ἱρόν. [
16] In embedded references to sacrifice, ἱερός means ‘sacrificial offering’, either standing alone as the object of the verbs ῥέζειν or ἔρδειν ‘to make’ or as an adjective further qualifying victims or altars as belonging to the divinity. [17] The phrase “to make sacrificial offerings” (ἱερὰ ῥέζειν/ἔρδειν) is used exclusively in character speech, as opposed to the finite verbs favored in the primary narrative-text for enacted sacrifices. For example, a character may refer to the consecration of “sacred hecatombs” (ῥέξειν θ’ ἱερὴν ἑκατόμβην, Iliad XXIII 147), or ἱερά itself may indicate the sacrificial offering. Nestor remembers two different sacrifices, first in Pylos (“we offered victims to the gods,” ἔρδομεν ἱρὰ θεοῖς, Iliad XI 707), then at the banks of the river Alpheios (“offering splendid victims to mighty Zeus,” Διὶ ῥέξαντες ὑπερμενεῖ ἱερὰ καλά, Iliad XI 727). These verbs underscore the activity of making an offering (ἱερὰ καλά) to the divinity. Akhilleus speaks of future sacrifices (“tomorrow at daybreak, once I have sacrificed to Zeus,” αὔριον ἱρὰ Διὶ ῥέξας, Iliad IX 357), and vows ἱερὰ καλά to the Winds (Iliad XXIII 195), repeated to the Winds by Iris (Iliad XXIII 209). Here ἱερά represents the god’s portion and perhaps reflects the semantic meaning of divine power.

The two enacted sacrifices to Apollo in Iliad I are the only hecatombs sacrificed in the primary narrator’s descriptions, but this grandest of Homeric offerings is described in several embedded sacrifices. A single hecatomb of goats and lambs is proposed by Akhilleus as the cause of Apollo’s anger. Athena encourages Pandaros to vow a hecatomb of lambs to Apollo, which he does, as does Meriones. Hektor tells the army he is heading to Troy to tell the councilors and women to vow hecatombs, which are elsewhere described as twelve unworked heifers by Helenos, Hektor himself, and Theano. Poseidon and Artemis are angry over missed opportunities to enjoy hecatombs, also a cause of anxiety for Iris. The river Sperkheios is vowed a hecatomb by Peleus. The gods as a group are described as receiving hecatombs at Aulis. [21] The verbs designating the consecration of the hecatombs illustrates the emphasis on {100|101} gift-giving in embedded sacrifices: hecatombs can be given (“nor did they give a hecatomb of splendid bulls to the gods,” οὐδὲ θεοῖσι δόσαν κλειτὰς ἑκατόμβας, Iliad VII 450 = XII 6) or eaten (“the rest of the gods had feasted full on oxen,” ἄλλοι δὲ θεοὶ δαίνυνθ’ ἑκατόμβας, Iliad IX 535). Hecatombs are also described as “accomplished” for gods with the same verbs that qualify ἱερά: in Odysseus’ address to Khruseis (“perform a sacrifice of a holy hecatomb to Phoibos,” Φοίβῳ θ’ ἱερὴν ἑκατόμβην / ῥέξαι, Iliad I 443–444) and Odysseus’ memory of Aulis (“we were busy offering perfect hecatombs to the immortals,” ἔρδομεν ἀθανάτοισι τεληέσσας ἑκατόμβας, Iliad II 306).

Embedded sacrifices also describe a much greater variety of victims than enacted scenes. The species of victim is specified in eleven embedded sacrifices, varied according to the divinity. Zeus is the most frequent recipient of sacrifice in character speech: he receives an ox (Iliad XI 773, XV 373), oxen (Iliad VIII 240; XXII 170), and a ram (Iliad XV 373). Apollo is presented with a hecatomb of lambs and goats (Iliad I 65), hecatombs of lambs (Iliad IV 101, 120, XXIII 864, 873), and bulls and goats (Iliad I 41). Poseidon desires hecatombs (Iliad VII {101|102} 445) and receives a bull (Iliad XI 728, XX 403). Erekhtheus receives bulls and rams (Iliad II 550). Rivers receive several offerings: a bull for Alpheios (Iliad XI 728), a lock of hair, hecatomb, and 50 rams promised to Sperkheios (Iliad XXIII 146–147), and bulls and living horses for Skamandros (Iliad XXI 130–131). [23] The gods as a group receive hecatombs and a combination of oxen and goats (Iliad II 306; XXIV 34). The practice of matching the gender of the victim to that of the divinity, well attested in the Classical period, is already present in the Iliad. [24] Nestor remembers hiera kala for Zeus and bulls for Poseidon and Alpheios, but a heifer for Athena (Iliad XI 728–730). Alpheios, Apollo, Erekhtheus, and Poseidon receive bulls (ταῦρος), although Zeus receives oxen (βοῦς), the gender of which are not made explicit in the embedded sacrifices. In addition to Nestor’s memory of a heifer, Athena receives 12 heifers (Iliad VI 93, 274, 308), and one heifer (Iliad X 292), which in Diomedes’ vow is promised to have very elaborate decorations.

In embedded sacrifices, the ritual is often specifically depicted in terms of the gifts enjoyed by the gods. The smoke from the burnt offerings (knisê) rising to the gods above is described only in the purification sacrifice enacted for Apollo (Iliad I 317), but it occurs four times in character speech. Characters describe knisê as part of the honors paid to the gods that reinforce the reciprocal relationship between mortals and immortals. At the start of the poem, Akhilleus wants to re-establish reciprocity with Apollo through restoration of the correct amount of hecatombs and knisê (Iliad I 65–67). Akhilleus expresses his desire to repair reciprocity by means of sacrifices described, not with the reference to the ritual slaughter prominent in enacted sacrifices, but with a reference to gifts for the gods. This conversation about divine reciprocity initiates the crisis, on the human level, between Akhilleus and Agamemnon, since it is in response to Akhilleus’ query that Kalkhas reveals that Khruseis must be returned (Iliad I 92–100). In his lengthy speech attempting to persuade Akhilleus to give up his wrath, Phoinix describes the role of knisê in soothing angry gods (Iliad IX 500). Zeus twice describes his love for the Trojans in terms of their satisfying his hunger for the appropriate share of sacrificial smoke:

οὐ γάρ μοί ποτε βωμὸς ἐδεύετο δαιτὸς ἐΐσης,
λοιβῆς τε κνίσης τε· τὸ γὰρ λάχομεν γέρας ἡμεῖς.

(Iliad IV 48–49 = XXIV 69–70)

Never once did my altar lack its share of victims,
libations and the sacrificial smoke. These are our gifts of honor. {102|103}

From Zeus’ perspective, sacrifice is contextualized entirely in terms of the relations between mortals and immortals. Zeus’ description of libations and knisê as his geras echoes the issue of reciprocity among mortals. Knisê is the gift that Zeus remembers never lacking, thanks to Trojan piety. The other well-received gift to the gods is the burning thigh bones mentioned by Zeus and Apollo in illustration of Hektor’s piety (Iliad XXII 169–172; XXIV 33–34). [
25] Both refer to the entire sacrificial process as a gift of thigh bones, a method of describing sacrifice characteristic of the focus on divine reception in embedded sacrifices. Not only do gods focus on this gift, but Khruses (Iliad I 40), Agamemnon (Iliad VIII 240), and Nestor (Iliad XI 773, XV 373) also encapsulate sacrifices in the act of giving thigh bones.

Thigh bones are burned for the gods and Zeus describes knisê (the smoke from burnt offerings) and libations as the geras of the gods (Iliad IV 48–49 = XXIV 69–70), but these gifts are not depicted consistently throughout enacted and embedded scenes. In the Iliad there are no holocaust sacrifices, in which an animal is burnt entirely as an offering to the gods. [26] The only entirely burnt offerings made in the poem are the bits cast into the fire by Patroklos; the word θυηλαί ‘burnt offerings’ (Iliad IX 220) is found only here in Homer. [27] After the second oath sacrifice, the victim, a boar, is thrown into the sea to be food for the fish, which may be some sort of offering (βόσιν ἰχθύσιν, Iliad XIX 267–268). [28] In enacted sacrifices, the thigh bones, wrapped with knisê, which in this context means ‘animal fat’, are only offered in two of the seven scenes, both times accompanied by roasted splankhna, which are eaten immediately. The enacted sacrifices describe the thigh bones as part of a relatively lengthy process of sacrifice, in contrast to the summary of the ritual in embedded descriptions of the thigh bones. The roasting of the splankhna is emphasized in Agamemnon’s sacrifice in Iliad II as replacing the libations made by Khruses in {103|104} Iliad I, neither of which is mentioned in the other commensal enacted sacrifice in Iliad VII:

μηρούς τ’ ἐξέταμον κατά τε κνίσῃ ἐκάλυψαν
δίπτυχα ποιήσαντες, ἐπ’ αὐτῶν δ’ ὠμοθέτησαν·
καῖε δ᾿ ἐπὶ σχίζῃς ὁ γέρων, ἐπὶ δ᾿ αἴθοπα οἶνον
λεῖβε· νέοι δὲ παρ᾿ αὐτὸν ἔχον πεμπώβολα χερσίν.

(Iliad Ι 460–463)

They carved out the thigh bones and wrapped them
in a double layer of fat, and topped them with strips of raw flesh.
And the old man burned these on cleft sticks and poured out glistening wine
while young men at his side held five-pronged forks.

μηρούς τ’ ἐξέταμον κατά τε κνίσῃ ἐκάλυψαν
δίπτυχα ποιήσαντες, ἐπ’ αὐτῶν δ’ ὠμοθέτησαν·
καὶ τὰ μὲν ἂρ σχίζῃσιν ἀφύλλοισιν κατέκαιον,
σπλάγχνα δ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἀμπείραντες ὑπείρεχον Ἡφαίστοιο.

(Iliad ΙΙ 423–426)

They carved out the thigh bones and wrapped them
in a double layer of fat, and topped them with strips of raw flesh.
And they burned these on cleft sticks, peeled and dry,
spitted the vitals, held them over Hephaistos’ flames.

Both of these enacted sacrifices in Iliad I and II also offer to the gods the action ὠμοθετεῖν. This verb seems to describe the placement of bits of meat on top of the thigh bones, which have been wrapped in a double layer of knisê ‘fat’. [
29] As discussed in section 1.2, the description of Khruses pouring libations over the burning thigh bones and the account of the splankhna in Iliad II are the only dissimilar verses in a block of repeated text (Iliad I 458–461 = II 421–424; I 464–469 = II 427–432). The sacrifice in Iliad II creates an image of the group roasting the thigh bones and splankhna together in order to highlight their group solidarity in the face of Akhilleus’ withdrawal. Khruses’ libation over the thigh bones is unique in an enacted sacrifice, despite the emphasis that {104|105} Zeus places on this rite as part of the honor given to the gods by men; here is another example of the narrow focus of the primary narrator. Elsewhere, Nestor remembers Peleus pouring libations over the burning thigh bones (Iliad XI 774–775), and a different sort of libation is poured out to accompany the prayer after the victims are killed in the oath sacrifice in Iliad III (295–296).

Gift-offerings are downplayed in the primary narrator’s focus on pre-kill rites and the infrequent descriptions of gods receiving the offerings, but they are foremost in the minds of the characters, both mortal and immortal. Enacted sacrifices are followed by shared meals on three occasions, and the elaborate preparation of the meat for consumption further diminishes the emphasis on divine pleasure, leading some scholars to conclude that the presentation of sacrifice in Homer focuses on the human feast. This would tend to marginalize the gods, which complicates the overall depiction of the relations between mortals and immortals. [30] However, drawing a distinction between embedded and enacted sacrifices helps to elucidate the seeming distance between men and gods during sacrifice. Although the shared feast is not mentioned in the vast majority of embedded sacrifices, relatively lengthy descriptions of cooking meat for feasts follow the three commensal sacrifices. In each of these enacted sacrifices, the primary narrator marks the transition from the gifts for the gods to the feast for the heroes with the spitting of meat (Iliad I 465 = II 428; VII 317). In Iliad I and II, the remainder of the animal (aside from the splankhna and thigh bones) is cut up, put on spits, roasted, drawn off the spits, and eaten—a process slightly altered in Iliad VII:

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ κατὰ μῆρε κάη καὶ σπλάγχνα πάσαντο,
μίστυλλόν τ᾿ ἄρα τἆλλα καὶ ἀμφ᾿ ὀβελοῖσιν ἔπειραν,
ὤπτησάν τε περιφραδέως, ἐρύσαντό τε πάντα.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ παύσαντο πόνου τετύκοντό τε δαῖτα,
δαίνυντ᾿, οὐδέ τι θυμὸς ἐδεύετο δαιτὸς ἐΐσης.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ πόσιος καὶ ἐδητύος ἐξ ἔρον ἕντο

(Iliad I 464–469 = II 427–432)

Once they had burned the thigh bones and tasted the organs
they cut the rest into pieces, pierced them with spits,
roasted them to a turn and pulled them off the spits.
The work done, the feast laid out, they ate well
and no man’s hunger lacked an appropriate share of the feast
When they had put aside desire for food and drink … {105|106}
τὸν δέρον ἀμφί θ᾿ ἕπον, καί μιν διέχευαν ἅπαντα,
μίστυλλόν τ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἐπισταμένως πεῖράν τ᾿ ὀβελοῖσιν,
ὄπτησάν τε περιφραδέως, ἐρύσαντό τε πάντα.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ παύσαντο πόνου τετύκοντό τε δαῖτα,
δαίνυντ᾿, οὐδέ τι θυμὸς ἐδεύετο δαιτὸς ἐΐσης·
νώτοισιν δ᾿ Αἴαντα διηνεκέεσσι γέραιρεν
ἥρως Ἀτρεΐδης, εὐρὺ κρείων Ἀγαμέμνων.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ πόσιος καὶ ἐδητύος ἐξ ἔρον ἕντο

(Iliad VΙΙ 316–323)

They skinned the animal quickly, and cut everything up,
expertly sliced the meat into pieces, pierced them with spits,
roasted them to a turn and pulled them off the spits.
The work done, the feast laid out, they ate well
and no man’s hunger lacked an appropriate share of the feast
But the lord of far-flung kingdoms, hero Agamemnon,
honored Ajax with the long savory cuts that line the backbone.
And when they had put aside desire for food and drink …

The Iliad VII sacrifice differs from the earlier scenes in its focus on the preparations for cooking. [
31] The thigh bones are not roasted, nor are the splankhna described. Descriptions of cutting up the meat in the earlier commensal sacrifices have been altered by the replacement of τ᾿ ἄρα τἆλλα ‘the remaining bits of the animal’ (Iliad I 465 = II 428) with the adverb τ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἐπισταμένως ‘expertly’ (Iliad VII 317). Τἆλλα extends the description of the roasted splankhna: the participants divide up “the rest” of the meat, apart from the innards and thigh bones, which have been dedicated to the gods via having been consumed and burned, respectively. Since the splankhna and thigh bones are not consumed at Iliad VII, ‘the remaining bits’ is inappropriate in this context. Instead, the adverb ‘expertly’ emphasizes the proper division of meat in anticipation of the honorary portion for Ajax. [32]

Only in Iliad VII, when Agamemnon awards Ajax the chine (νῶτος), the backbone of the animal, is any specific mention made of special portions for individuals at sacrifices. Aside from this anomaly, more emphasis is given to cooking the meat than to its actual consumption, and virtually no mention is made of the distribution of the meat, although this is a central theme of sacrifice in both literature and historical practice as we can reconstruct it. In the {106|107} Classical period, the ritualized distribution of certain cuts of meat plays an essential role in the bonding of participants and the maintenance of social structure. The choicest parts of the animal would have been distributed according to rank; for example, Herodotos records that the Spartan kings, even on campaign, were given the chine and skin of the sacrificial animals. [33] Numerous sacred laws attest to the careful division of parts of the animal for the cult official, and in some cases these honorary parts served as a form of payment for holding the office. [34] The social prestige and economic benefits of sacrificial meat are extremely important elements of public sacrifices in the context of the polis: in Athens, for example, membership in a phratry is signified by the sharing of sacrificial meat, a symbol of belonging on all social and political levels. The prytaneis sacrifice, give libations, and feast together, which Demosthenes cites as the foundation for the ties that bind all public authorities together. [35] However, in the Iliad, the important task of dividing and apportioning sacrificial meat has a relatively restricted use in comparison to the consistent focus on the role of the sacrificer in initiating the ceremony. Agamemnon provides ‘private’ sacrificial feasts for his close friends and councilors in Iliad II and VII that seem to be by invitation only. With the exception of Odysseus and Khruses, who are identified by name, the primary narrator only describes an anonymous group of youths who share the splankhna and feast following the sacrifice to Apollo in Iliad I, the other commensal sacrifice in thepoem. Sacrifices embedded in character speech and the complex narrative voice only twice mention the meal following the sacrifice, although memories of shared meals without reference to sacrifice are frequently described. The importance of the shared meal can be gleaned from Lukaon’s appeal to Akhilleus before being killed: “Yours was the first bread I broke, Demeter’s gift, the day you seized me from Priam’s well-fenced orchard” (πὰρ γὰρ σοὶ πρώτῳ πασάμην Δημήτερος ἀκτὴν / ἤματι τῷ ὅτε μ’ εἷλες ἐϋκτιμένῃ ἐν ἀλωῇ, Iliad XXI 76–77). Without reference to sacrifice, the youth evokes commensality as evidence of a social bond that would preclude Akhilleus’ killing him. Typical of Akhilleus’ subversion of these social bonds, the appeal is unsuccessful, making {107|108} it an important scene to which we will return. Other than Ajax’s prize portion, there are no clear indications of ritualized meat distribution according to social rank or merit in the sacrifices of the Iliad, although such a process is described as part of feasts, for example those at which the Lycians honor Sarpedon and Glaukos (Iliad XII 310–321). [36]

The principle of distribution in sacrificial feasts in the Iliad is not at the forefront of either the primary or secondary narrator’s descriptions of sacrifice. The former emphasizes Agamemnon’s initiative, corresponding to his provision of victims, but does not mention the distribution of meat in the sacrifices in Iliad I and II. In character speech, distribution is entirely absent, with the exception of Zeus’ description of his altar as never lacking his appropriate share (ἐδεύετο δαιτὸς ἐΐσης, Iliad IV 44–49; XXIV 68–70). [38] Instead, most characters speak about sacrifice purely in terms of the relationship between themselves and their god. Nestor’s speech to Patroklos in Iliad XI contains the only two embedded sacrifices that also describe feasting: he {108|109} remembers a feast after Peleus’ sacrifice (Iliad XI 772–780), as well as sacrifices at the river Alpheios, a description followed by the army eating dinner in its companies (Iliad XI 725–731). After sacrificing at the riverbank, Nestor and his comrades have supper, as does the army (δόρπον ἔπειθ’ ἑλόμεσθα κατὰ στρατὸν ἐν τελέεσσι, Iliad XI 730), but this feast is distanced from the sacrifice, as signified by the temporal marker ἔπειτα. Furthermore, the description of the army eating in its individual companies does not evoke the commensality of the shared feast following enacted sacrifices in the primary narrative. In the memory of Peleus’ sacrifice, the meal is described as an act of hospitality. The commensality of a shared meal creates essential social bonds between the participants, which Nestor wishes to evoke when remembering Peleus’ hopsitality to Patroklos during the crisis faced by the Akhaian army. [39] Wanting Patroklos to remember his relationship with the other Akhaians, he recalls sacrifices as well as a shared meal in the hopes that Patroklos will feel obligated to help them.

Animal sacrifice, when the sacrificer directs the action specifically toward the gods, is relatively infrequent, while eating is part of the daily {109|110} routine of heroes, featured in nearly every day presented in both Homeric poems. [42] Eating provides an important social context, particularly in the Iliad, for interactions and discussion, which in turn form an essential backdrop of the poem for the audience. The feasts following enacted commensal sacrifices serve a social function similar to feasts without offerings to the gods, but cast the discourse in a context firmly associated with Agamemnon’s authority in Akhilleus’ absence, often providing an occasion for speechmaking and planning. For example, after the participants have enjoyed the feast, signaled by the repeated verses described above, the harmonious atmosphere leads to Nestor’s announcement of a plan in Iliad II and VII:

τοῖς ἄρα μύθων ἦρχε Γερήνιος ἱππότα Νέστωρ·
“Ἀτρεΐδη κύδιστε, ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγάμεμνον”

(Iliad ΙΙ 433–434)

Among them Nestor the noble old horseman spoke out first:
“Most glorious son of Atreus, lord of men Agamemnon … ”


τοῖς ὁ γέρων πάμπρωτος ὑφαίνειν ἤρχετο μῆτιν
Νέστωρ, οὗ καὶ πρόσθεν ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή·
ὅ σφιν ἐὺ φρονέων ἀγορήσατο καὶ μετέειπεν·

(Iliad VΙΙ 324–326)

Among them first of all the old man began to weave his counsel:
Nestor, whose earlier plan had appeared best.
With good will to the lords he addressed them and spoke.

In enacted sacrifices, the sacrificial feast completes the lengthy description of the pre-kill and kill phases, creating the social harmony necessary for planning and decision-making. In Iliad II, the first day of combat in the poem, Nestor’s speech urges the councilors to marshal the army and start battle. In Iliad VII, he recommends gathering the dead, burning the corpses, and building the wall. Although there is no shared feast, the oath sacrifice in Iliad XIX leads to Akhilleus’ important speech and the end of the quarrel:

ἦ καὶ ἀπὸ στόμαχον κάπρου τάμε νηλέϊ χαλκῷ.
τὸν μὲν Ταλθύβιος πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἐς μέγα λαῖτμα
ῥῖψ᾿ ἐπιδινήσας, βόσιν ἰχθύσιν· αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς {110|111}
ἀνστὰς Ἀργείοισι φιλοπτολέμοισι μετηύδα.

(Iliad ΧΙΧ 266–269)

[Agamemnon] spoke and cut the boar’s throat with his ruthless dagger.
Talthubios whirled it round and slung it into the yawning gulf of the gray sea
for swarming fish to eat. Then Akhilleus
stood and addressed the Argives keen for battle.

The description of Akhilleus’ authoritative act of standing (αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς ἀνστάς) to exhort the troops to battle concludes the enacted sacrifice begun by Agamemnon standing up (ἂν δ’ Ἀγαμέμνων ἵστατο, XIX 249–250). The heroes’ physical stances reflect their individual spheres of authority: war and sacrifice, respectively. The positive emphasis that sacrifice places on Agamemnon’s leadership is one of its important thematic functions. Sacrifice is perhaps the only activity in which Agamemnon has an obvious authority: he is certainly deficient in persuasive speechmaking, and, although he enacts all of the above sacrifices, others take advantage of the opportunity for speechmaking offered by the communal meal. [
43] These speeches propose important paths of action for the plot. Nestor tells Agamemnon to start the day of battle; Nestor proposes the burial of the dead and construction of the wall; and, finally, Akhilleus suggests that they eat so that they can then rejoin battle on the last day of combat in the poem.

3.2 The Pattern of Embedded Sacrifices

Throughout the Iliad, mortal and immortal characters speak of sacrifices with an almost exclusive focus on its role in the creation of reciprocity. When considering these character descriptions, the pattern that emerges is one of doubt, frustration, and even anger over a perceived failure of sacrifice to create lasting bonds between men and gods. Embedded sacrifices can be grouped into roughly three general categories. Some embedded sacrifices express an idealized reciprocal relationship with gods, but are grounded in unhappy, crisis situations and establish either frustrated expectations or highlight the inconsistent success rates of sacrifice. Some either explicitly acknowledge that the ritual is unsuccessful, or express anxiety that sacrifice has gone unnoticed by the gods or has provoked them to anger. Finally, a few speeches depict {111|112} the anger of the gods toward mortals because of sacrifices. An overview of embedded sacrifices will demonstrate this overall negative impression, which forms part of the poetic depiction of the breakdown of mortal/immortal reciprocity.

In many respects the Iliad is concerned with retribution: misdeeds are appropriately punished. Many of the most important actions on the human level revolve around a theme of ‘need–offer–rejection’, such as Khruses’ ransom, rejected by Agamemnon, or Agamemnon’s compensation, rejected by Akhilleus. [44] Agamemnon’s enacted sacrifices draw the audience’s attention to the challenge presented to the Akhaian social hierarchy by Akhilleus’ rejection of compensation; the embedded sacrifices draw the audience’s attention to the questionable reciprocity between gods and humans that results from Akhilleus’ distortion of mortal/immortal relations. To return to Yunis’ definition of reciprocity in Greek worship, in the Iliad the gods certainly care about mortals and pay attention to them, but sacrifice does not facilitate this relationship; even when sacrifices are described as pleasing, they are nonetheless inadequate in comparison to the superior bond with the gods enjoyed by Akhilleus. As we continue to explore the presentation of sacrifice in the poem, we will see that Akhilleus’ ability to influence divinities through his mother Thetis’ intercession is contrasted directly with the attempts of mortals to influence them with sacrifice. While Agamemnon is associated with the controlled, ordered enacted sacrifices, embedded sacrifices problematize the ritual as a method of communicating with gods. As Oliver Taplin observes, “There is a consistent [cultic] framework, but its application, its interaction with the human world is again beset with questions. … How does piety influence the gods?” [45]

Patterns of mortal/immortal relations are established early in the poem, partly through the false expectations created by ideal examples of reciprocity among men and gods. The prayers of Khruses and Odysseus and of Diomedes express reciprocal relationships, but the former instance is a foil for the breakdown of this type of relationship, and the latter highlights the possibility of reciprocity without recourse to sacrifice. Pandaros is encouraged by Athena to make a meaningless vow, and, though Nestor recalls sacrifices that he believes to have positively influenced the gods in his favor, they only serve to contrast the disjunction between sacrifice and divine favor at this point in the poem. At the start of the poem, Khruses makes a prayer to Apollo that establishes {112|113} the ideal standard: a personal, reciprocal relationship is illustrated through references to past honors given the god, including sacrifice, and on this basis Khruses makes a request with a wish formula found in many prayers, “now bring my prayer to pass” (τόδέ μοι κρήηνον ἐέλδωρ): [46]

κλῦθί μεν, ἀργυρότοξ᾽, ὅς Χρύσην ἀμφιβέβηκας
Κίλλαν τε ζαθέην Τενέδοιό τε ἶφι ἀνάσσεις,
Σμινθεῦ, εἴ ποτέ τοι χαρίεντ’ ἐπὶ νηὸν ἔρεψα,
ἢ εἰ δή ποτέ τοι κατὰ πίονα μηρί’ ἔκηα 
ταύρων ἠδ’ αἰγῶν, τόδέ μοι κρήηνον ἐέλδωρ·

(Iliad I 37–41)

Hear me, god of the silver bow who strides the walls of Khruse
and Killa sacrosanct—lord in power of Tenedos—
Smintheus, if ever I roofed a shrine to please your heart,
ever burned for you the fat thigh bones
of bulls and goats, now, now bring my prayer to pass.

Khruses desires revenge on the Akhaians, so, asking Apollo for his attention, he honors him with epithets, a catalog of places special to the god, and reminders of his past sacrifices and honorific deeds. As a spoken description of sacrifices, this prayer is one of the ‘embedded sacrifices’ that occasionally refer to past sacrifices to enhance a request, in contrast to prayers accompanying the performance of sacrifice in the Iliad, which neither mention past sacrifices nor refer to the current offering. Khruses’ prayer is successful—Apollo hears him and unleashes the plague upon the Akhaians (Iliad I 43–52). But this demonstration of a reciprocal relationship with the god only comes at a moment of crisis, and it creates an even greater crisis among the Akhaian army. After the Akhaians return his daughter, Khruses officiates at a sacrifice to Apollo and revokes this original request with an address almost identical to his first, which includes even the same wish formula (μοι τόδ᾿ ἐπικρήηνον ἐέλδωρ). The only difference is the much-debated epithet Smintheus, which may evoke Apollo’s capacity to cause a plague or have a special function in the psychology of Khruses’ ‘personal’ relationship with the god, appropriate when he is alone on the beach but not in front of the Akhaians. [
47] During the public {113|114} performance of sacrifice, Khruses gestures more generally to Apollo’s role in the maintenance of their reciprocal relationship:

κλῦθί μευ, ἀργυρότοξ᾿, ὃς Χρύσην ἀμφιβέβηκας
Κίλλαν τε ζαθέην Τενέδοιό τε ἶφι ἀνάσσεις·
ἠμὲν δή ποτ᾿ ἐμεῦ πάρος ἔκλυες εὐξαμένοιο,
τίμησας μὲν ἐμέ, μέγα δ᾿ ἴψαο λαὸν Ἀχαιῶν·
ἠδ᾿ ἔτι καὶ νῦν μοι τόδ᾿ ἐπικρήηνον ἐέλδωρ

(Iliad I 451–455)

Hear me, God of the silver bow who strides the walls of Khruse
and Killa sacrosanct—lord in power of Tenedos!
If you honored me last time and heard my prayer
and rained destruction down on all Akhaia’s ranks,
now bring my prayer to pass once more …

Although Khruses still draws on a relationship with Apollo, in this prayer accompanying sacrifice, he repeats neither his past gifts to the god nor the current offering, and he makes no mention of sacrifice. [
48] Perhaps the present offering may require no spoken elaboration, but we might expect him to bolster his request, or at least emphasize the honor for the god, by referring to the hecatomb he is about to consecrate. Just as before, the god hears Khruses’ prayer in a typical verse describing the reception of a prayer (ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχόμενος, τοῦ δ’ ἔκλυε Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων, Iliad I 43 = 457), which is apparently unaffected by the lack of reference to sacrifice. [49] The gods hear most prayers, and many are ‘granted’, but only two other prayers even mention past sacrifices. [50] This inconsistent representation of the importance of sacrifice in the creation of reciprocity between gods and men, and the subsequently unpredictable capability of mortals to influence the gods in the Iliad, creates a tension between narratives. While enacted sacrifices are painstakingly performed in the primary narrative, characters themselves neither explicitly {114|115} associate sacrifice with prayer, often omitting it from requests, nor do they feel confident that sacrifice is working in their favor. Khruses does not associate Apollo’s favor with sacrifice in the second prayer; he is confident that Apollo has heard him, but this ability to influence Apollo with his prayers only creates false expectations for future reciprocity. In the next sacrifice scene, performed by Agamemnon for his ‘councilors’, the prayer is denied by Zeus, who is bound to honor Thetis’ request on behalf of Akhilleus. The expectations raised by Khruses’ successful relationship with Apollo intensifies the disruption of reciprocity by Akhilleus’ influence on divine activity. Khruses’ initial prayer to Apollo on the beach may form an ideal model of reciprocity, but it is an ideal that is repeatedly revealed to be out of reach.

An interesting contrast between an existing reciprocal relationship with a god not based on sacrifice and the attempt to establish one with sacrifice can be found in the requests of Odysseus and Diomedes to Athena. When the men set out on the night raid, Athena sends a heron as an omen, which is immediately recognized as such by Odysseus. He responds with a prayer for Athena to give them glory and success:

χαῖρε δὲ τῷ ὄρνιθ’ Ὀδυσεύς, ἠρᾶτο δ’ Ἀθήνῃ·
“κλῦθί μευ, αἰγιόχοιο Διὸς τέκος, ἥ τέ μοι αἰεὶ
ἐν πάντεσσι πόνοισι παρίστασαι, οὐδέ σε λήθω
κινύμενος· νῦν αὖτε μάλιστά με φῖλαι, Ἀθήνη,
δὸς δὲ πάλιν ἐπὶ νῆας ἐϋκλεῖας ἀφικέσθαι,
ῥέξαντας μέγα ἔργον, ὅ κε Τρώεσσι μελήσῃ.”

(Iliad X 277–282)

Glad at the bird omen, Odysseus prayed to Athena,
“Hear me, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, standing by me always,
in every combat mission—no maneuver of mine slips by you—
now, again, give me your best support, Athena, comrade!
Grant our return in glory back to the warships
once we’ve done some feat that brings the Trojans pain!”

Odysseus describes an established and long-standing relationship with the goddess, who is “always” attentive to his actions. Unlike Khruses’ first prayer to Apollo, Odysseus does not cite any reasons why the goddess favors him. Without relying on an unpredictable sacrifice as a method of gaining her favor, he is serenely confident in his patroness’s support. Others also seem confident in her protection of Odysseus; in fact, Diomedes cites her love for Odysseus as the reason he chooses Odysseus to accompany him on the raid (Iliad X 245). At no point in the entire poem does Odysseus or Athena refer to sacrifice as part {115|116} of the maintenance of their relationship, although his pious performance of sacrifices at Troy is cited in the Odyssey, along with his superior wisdom, as a reason for the divine favor shown to him there. [

The silence of the Iliad on his sacrifices, which seem to have an important place in the epic tradition, reflects the poem’s restriction of the presentation of sacrifice to contexts associated with Agamemnon and Akhilleus’ quarrel and its negative implications for reciprocity between men and gods: Odysseus’ happy relationship with Athena still stands, but remains relatively disconnected from the thematic pattern of sacrifice in the poem. In contrast, Diomedes, in making his vow of sacrifice, seems to “piggyback” onto the guaranteed success of Odysseus’ prayer with the invocation for Athena to “hear me too” at the start of his prayer:

κέκλυθι νῦν καὶ ἐμεῖο, Διὸς τέκος, Ἀτρυτώνη·
σπεῖό μοι ὡς ὅτε πατρὶ ἅμ᾿ ἕσπεο Τυδέϊ δίῳ
ἐς Θήβας, ὅτε τε πρὸ Ἀχαιῶν ἄγγελος ᾔει.
τοὺς δ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἐπ᾿ Ἀσωπῷ λίπε χαλκοχίτωνας Ἀχαιούς,
αὐτὰρ ὁ μειλίχιον μῦθον φέρε Καδμείοισι
κεῖσ᾿· ἀτὰρ ἂψ ἀπιὼν μάλα μέρμερα μήσατο ἔργα
σὺν σοί, δῖα θεά, ὅτε οἱ πρόφρασσα παρέστης.
ὣς νῦν μοι ἐθέλουσα παρίσταο καί με φύλασσε.
σοὶ δ᾿ αὖ ἐγὼ ῥέξω βοῦν ἦνιν εὐρυμέτωπον
ἀδμήτην, ἣν οὔ πω ὑπὸ ζυγὸν ἤγαγεν ἀνήρ·
τήν τοι ἐγὼ ῥέξω χρυσὸν κέρασιν περιχεύας.

(Iliad Χ 284–294)

Hear me too, daughter of Zeus, Atrutône!
Be with me now, just as you went with father, noble Tydeus,
into Thebes that day he ran ahead of the Akhaians as a messenger.
He left his armored Akhaians along the Aisopos’ banks
and carried a peaceful word to Theban cohorts.
But turning back he devised some grand and grisly works
with you, noble Goddess, and you stood by him, a steadfast ally.
So come, stand by me now, protect me now!
I will make you a sacrifice, a yearling heifer broad in the brow,
unbroken, which has never been led under the yoke by men.
I’ll sacrifice it to you—I’ll sheathe its horns in gold! {116|117}

Although Athena has directly and openly intervened in the aristeia of Diomedes in Iliad V, he mentions neither this nor any other past occasions, focusing rather on her relationship with his father. He at least assumes that he does not have a reciprocal relationship with Athena, so he seems to rely upon a vow in an attempt to get Athena’s attention. The elaborate details of the victim to be sacrificed add emphasis to his desire to cultivate the same type of relationship with Athena that his father had, while the lengthy prayer, following immediately upon Odysseus’ request, reflects his anxiety in anticipation of the night raid into the Trojan camp. Athena hears both prayers (“So they spoke in prayer, and Pallas Athena heard them,” ὧς ἔφαν εὐχόμενοι, τῶν δ’ ἔκλυε Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη, Iliad X 295), and her reception does not suggest any distinction, despite the differences in content.

As with prayers, vows of sacrifice do not seem to imply a more successful divine response. To illustrate this, it is worth comparing Athena’s response in Iliad X to her face-to-face encounter with Diomedes following his prayer during his aristeia (Iliad V 115–120). In both prayers he refers to the help she gave his father, but in the prayer before the Doloneia he also vows a heifer, with the lavish promise to gild its horns. [52] Yet, whereas only the primary narrator and the audience are aware of her help in Iliad X, the goddess appears directly to Diomedes in response to his prayer in Iliad V. Not every embedded sacrifice is negative, and there is no indication that the vow of sacrifice is not helpful for Diomedes or desirable for the goddess. However, promises of sacrifice do not necessarily lead to divine favor, and positive examples of mortal/immortal relations remain relatively distanced from sacrifice. Another vow promises sacrifice in exchange for immediate help: upon Pandaros’ homecoming, Athena encourages him to vow a hecatomb of firstborn lambs to Apollo in exchange for a successful shot at Menelaos, a vow that is repeated in indirect speech by the complex narrator (Iliad IV 100–103; 119–121). Here, for a vow instigated by a disguised god, no response by Apollo is given, and the primary narrator explains that the gods choose to protect Menelaos rather than Pandaros (IliadIV 127–129). Athena’s implication that the vow of sacrifice would elicit Apollo’s {117|118} help serves as an important example of the way in which the potential for idealized reciprocity created by sacrifice is continually undermined.

Among the most colorful and much-admired aspects of the Iliad are the 24 digressions, which speakers use to interrupt the focus on current events at Troy in order to provide paradigms in defense of a current course of action or to persuade or dissuade someone from a proposed course of action. [53] Descriptions of sacrifice are embedded in three hortatory, external analepses made by Odysseus, Phoinix, and Nestor. However, embedded sacrifices never take the form of internal analepses; although memories of sacrifices made before the embarkation for Troy are relatively frequent, characters never recall sacrifices performed in the poem or refer to earlier sacrifices at Troy. The memories of past sacrifices provide a contrast with the current desperate situation of the Akhaian army caused by Akhilleus’ wrath. But sacrifice is still presented as an ineffective gift-offering to the gods, in the sense that either the sacrifices before Troy are currently nullified by Thetis’ request, or they are remembered to Akhilleus and Patroklos to highlight the present predicament of the army in contrast to its previous success. Odysseus’ memory of sacrifice at Aulis has been discussed in Chapter Two. The rather vague description of sacrifice, in contrast to the vivid memory of the location and portent anticipating Akhaian success, is intended to inspire confidence in the troops; this attempt at confidence is undermined by the audience’s knowledge that Zeus has just made a superior arrangement with Thetis. Phoinix’s embedded sacrifices demonstrate the anger of the gods, part of the most distressing examples of embedded sacrifices, which will be discussed below. Nestor’s embedded sacrifices fit into the pattern of idealized reciprocity, as in Khruses’ first prayer, which is at odds with the overall presentation of the efficacy of sacrifice in the poem.

Nestor gives four digressive, hortatory speeches in the Iliad, but only in his address to Patroklos in Iliad XI does he refer to sacrifice. His digressions have been well studied, particularly the possible connections between these stories and the epic cycle. [54] Nestor’s digressions offer paradigms of heroic {118|119} virtue and bravery, intended to inspire such qualities in his addressee. As the quarrel between Agamemnon and Akhilleus begins, he intervenes with a digression on the help he gave the Lapiths against the Kentaurs, but he does not refer to sacrifice (Iliad I 259–274), despite the importance of this theme in the context of the quarrel. He rebukes the timidity of the Akhaians in the face of Hektor’s challenge by recalling how he met the Arkadian Ereuthalion’s challenge and killed him (Iliad VII 132–160), again without reference to sacrifice. During Patroklos’ funeral games, he remembers his prowess as a youth in the funeral games of Amarunkeus, his last digression in the epic (Iliad XXIII 629–650). In Nestor’s longest and most important hortatory digression, he convinces Patroklos to borrow Akhilleus’ armor and join the battle. [55] On this occasion, he embeds three sacrifices (Iliad XI 706–707, 725–729, 772–775), while recalling both his strength in battles against the Epeians and the advice Menoitios gave Patroklos before he left Phthia for Troy (Iliad XI 656–803). The length of Nestor’s digression, itself a persuasive technique, reflects its importance, and the fact that this most crucial digression is his only memory to be enhanced with embedded sacrifices is significant. [56]

Nestor’s second battle, and second memory of sacrifice, occurs in the infantry expedition against the Epeians. After the Pylians arrive at the river Alpheios, Nestor describes sacrifices made to Zeus, Alpheios, Poseidon, and Athena and the different victims offered to each divinity. On the following day, immediately preceding the battle, they offer prayers to Zeus and Athena (Iliad XI 736), which are not accompanied by animal sacrifice. Nestor then remembers the actions of gods amid the human fighting: Poseidon saves his sons, Zeus gives glory to the Pylians, and Athena drives back the enemy (Iliad XI 751–758). Finally, the battle ends with a prayer to Zeus and praise of Nestor (Iliad XI 761). The act of honoring the gods punctuates his description of the battle: sacrifices and the careful designation of victims for each deity emphasize the Pylians’ reciprocity with their gods, and Nestor vividly remembers their help to the young hero whom he hopes will go into battle as a substitute for Akhilleus. Nestor’s implication that divine help will follow those who are brave in battle and who make offerings to the gods proves sadly false in Apollo’s opposition of Patroklos on the battlefield and Zeus’ partial denial of Akhilleus’ prayer for his friend’s safety in Iliad XVI. So these descriptions of sacrifice embedded in the Epeian episode act as foils to the actual situation created by Akhilleus’ withdrawal (social crisis and disruption, problematic distribution of booty and sacrifices, inability of gods to respond to requests accompanying sacrifice) and the situation created by Nestor’s speech (success in battle and divine protection). Nestor’s memory of sacrifice only draws attention to the failure of this method in the timeframe of the primary narrative-text: strikingly, the sacrifices of both Agamemnon and Hektor are denied by Zeus the power the mortals hope they will possess.

In the latter part of his digression, Nestor recalls his arrival with Odysseus at the house of Peleus in order to raise troops for the Akhaian army, whereupon he discovers his host burning mêria to Zeus and pouring libations while Akhilleus and Patroklos carve the carcass:

γέρων δ’ ἱππηλάτα Πηλεὺς
πίονα μηρία καῖε βοὸς Διὶ τερπικεραύνῳ
αὐλῆς ἐν χόρτῳ· ἔχε δὲ χρύσειον ἄλεισον,
σπένδων αἴθοπα οἶνον ἐπ’ αἰθομένοις ἱεροῖσι. {120|121}
σφῶϊ μὲν ἀμφὶ βοὸς ἕπετον κρέα, νῶϊ δ’ ἔπειτα
στῆμεν ἐνὶ προθύροισι· ταφὼν δ’ ἀνόρουσεν Ἀχιλλεύς,
ἐς δ’ ἄγε χειρὸς ἑλών, κατὰ δ’ ἑδριάασθαι ἄνωγε,
ξείνιά τ’ εὖ παρέθηκεν, ἅ τε ξείνοις θέμις ἐστίν.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ τάρπημεν ἐδητύος ἠδὲ ποτῆτος

(Iliad XI 772–780)

And the old horseman Peleus
burned the fat thigh bones of an ox to thundering Zeus,
deep in the walled enclosure of his court. He was lifting a golden cup
and pouring glistening wine to go with the glowing victims.
You two were busy over the flesh of the ox when we both
stood at the broad doors. Akhilleus sprang to his feet, he seemed startled,
clasped the two of us by the hand and led us in—He pressed us to take a seat
and set before us sumptuous stranger’s fare, the stranger’s right.
And once we had our fill of food and drink …

The arrival of guests during the performance of sacrifice, while typical in the Odyssey, is not found elsewhere in the Iliad. [
59] The image of Peleus as Opferherr, the only sacrificer specified in the three embedded scenes in this speech, while Akhilleus and Patroklos dismember the carcass, draws a poignant contrast between the harmonious social context of Peleus’ household and the current isolation of the two young heroes, which comprises the ‘argument function’ of Nestor’s digression. Shifting the focus away from the sacrifice to Zeus, the meal is then described as the customary honor given to guests (ἅ τε ξείνοις θέμις ἐστίν), so that the sacrificial meal serves as an example of both offerings to the gods and collective reciprocity among mortals. Using descriptions of the sacrifice and meal, Nestor again demonstrates the correct reciprocal relations between mortals and immortals and among men, this time in an effort to convince Patroklos to aid the Akhaian army. Of course, neither Patroklos nor Akhilleus will return to the home of Peleus. Their deaths in battle will prevent them from experiencing this kind of happy commensal sacrifice; again, Nestor’s positive depiction of sacrifice only heightens an awareness of the contrast between these happy occasions and the crises of reciprocity in the poem. {121|122}

Several embedded sacrifices either explicitly acknowledge the ritual as ineffectual or express anxiety in this regard—the second category of embedded sacrifices. The idealized reciprocity described in the embedded sacrifices of Khruses and Nestor is either worthless or absent entirely. Zeus twice laments his inability to save Troy and Hektor despite their offerings (Iliad IV 48–49 = XXIV 69–70), and Apollo berates the gods as a group for ignoring Akhilleus’ mutilation of Hektor’s corpse despite his sacrifices (Iliad XXIV 33–34). Hektor’s sacrificial offerings are directly contrasted with Akhilleus’ status as the son of a goddess in this context, which we will discuss fully in Chapter Four. Zeus expresses a more subtle contrast between the relationship between men and gods, which sacrifice ought to but cannot create, during the duel between Akhilleus and Hektor. Zeus fondly remembers Hektor’s sacrifices before asking the gods if he should be saved:

ἐμὸν δ’ ὀλοφύρεται ἦτορ
Ἕκτορος, ὅς μοι πολλὰ βοῶν ἐπὶ μηρί’ ἔκηεν 
Ἴδης ἐν κορυφῇσι πολυπτύχου, ἄλλοτε δ’ αὖτε
ἐν πόλει ἀκροτάτῃ.

(Iliad XXII 169b–172a)

My heart grieves for Hektor
who burned so many thigh bones of oxen for me,
on the rugged peaks of Ida, and at other times
at the highest point of the city.

This memory and the subsequent suggestion that Hektor be spared is immediately rebuffed by Athena (Iliad XXII 174–181). Several scholars have argued that the Iliad stresses Zeus’ love for mortals to generate pathos in the sad depiction of his powerlessness to protect them. [
60] Sacrifice is an important part of this pattern: sacrifice, and the reciprocity it is supposed to entail, is not sufficient to protect Hektor, and the sadness this notion conveys is intensified by the impression of a long-standing relationship between Zeus and Hektor, who has burnt many offerings (πολλά) in different places sacred to the god. Altars feature prominently in Zeus’ fond descriptions of Trojan worship (Iliad IV 48, XXIV 69) and are also described in the primary narrator’s description of his sanctuary on Mount Ida (Iliad VIII 48). This suggestion of a permanent, {122|123} ongoing reciprocal relationship between Zeus and the Trojans, as expressed by altars that are full of sacrifices, is undermined by the imminent destruction of Troy. Even when the gods are thankful for sacrifices, the ritual is still described negatively as unable to obligate the divine recipient to help the sacrificer.

Two prayers are denied in the Iliad, particularly forceful examples of the negative pattern underlying embedded sacrifices. Like Khruses’ prayer over the hecatomb, Agamemnon’s prayer accompanying the sacrifice in Iliad II, which closely recalls the sacrifice to Apollo in Iliad I, does not acknowledge or attempt to create any special relationship with Zeus by reference to the present offering or past gifts, but proceeds straight to the request:

“Ζεῦ κύδιστε μέγιστε, κελαινεφές, αἰθέρι ναίων,
μὴ πρὶν ἐπ᾿ ἠέλιον δῦναι καὶ ἐπὶ κνέφας ἐλθεῖν,
πρίν με κατὰ πρηνὲς βαλέειν Πριάμοιο μέλαθρον
αἰθαλόεν, πρῆσαι δὲ πυρὸς δηΐοιο θύρετρα,
Ἑκτόρεον δὲ χιτῶνα περὶ στήθεσσι δαΐξαι
χαλκῷ ῥωγαλέον· πολέες δ᾿ ἀμφ᾿ αὐτὸν ἑταῖροι
πρηνέες ἐν κονίῃσιν ὀδὰξ λαζοίατο γαῖαν.”
Ὣς ἔφατ᾿, οὐδ᾿ ἄρα πώ οἱ ἐπεκραίαινε Κρονίων,
ἀλλ᾿ ὅ γε δέκτο μὲν ἱρά, πόνον δ᾿ ἀμέγαρτον ὄφελλεν.

(Iliad ΙΙ 412–420)

“Zeus, most glorious, most great, lord of the dark clouds who lives in the bright sky,
don’t let the sun go down or the night descend on us!
Not till I hurl the smoke black halls of Priam headlong—
torch his gates to blazing rubble—
rip the tunic of Hektor and slash his heroic chest to ribbons
with my bronze—and a ruck of comrades around him,
groveling facedown in the dust, gnaw on their own earth!”
And so he spoke, but the son of Kronos would not yet grant him fulfillment,
but he accepted the sacrifices, and increased the unenviable toil.

Agamemnon’s request is stated at some length, yet any honorific titles for Zeus or argumentation based on past reciprocity is absent. He does not include any reasons why Zeus should honor his request, nor conditions for the likelihood of its fulfillment, such as found in Khruses’ ‘if-ever’ appeal to end the plague. Zeus denies Agamemnon’s prayer, presumably because of his promise to Thetis, but he does receive the sacrifice. The request is not bolstered by refer- {123|124} ence to the sacrifice, nor does the god feel obliged to honor it even if he receives the offering; the two aspects of the ceremony are seemingly disengaged. The recollection of the sacrifice in Iliad I overseen by Khruses, and the positive reaction of Apollo to that sacrifice, increase the negative impression created by the failure of this prayer. Although, because the request is denied, the enacted sacrifice is a failure, Agamemnon does not know this, and the primary narrative description of the social interaction following the feast is positive. The way in which sacrifice refrains from bringing mortals closer to gods or allowing them privileged access to or influence over divine intentions is reflected in the mismatched conviviality of the mortal feast versus the ominous knowledge given to the audience about Zeus’ plans. Agamemnon makes two other prayers in conjunction with the enacted oath sacrifices, intending to invoke the gods in their capacity as witnesses and avengers. [
61] These two oaths are described purely from an eyewitness perspective, without reference to their divine reception (Iliad III 275–291; XIX 254–265). However, Zeus denies the subsequent prayer made by Akhaians and Trojans (Iliad III 301), again because of his promise to Thetis to honor Akhilleus.

Only twice are prayers elsewhere rejected, denials that Robert Parker describes as the “grimmest moments in the Iliad”: [62] Theano’s prayer with a vow of sacrifice (Iliad VI 311) and Akhilleus’ prayer, accompanying a libation, for Patroklos’s safety (Iliad XVI 249), which we will return to in Chapter Four. The lengthy anticipation of the vow of the Trojan women in Iliad VI, remarkably forecast in three speeches by Helenos and Hektor, is a powerful example of the generally negative tone of mortal discourse with respect to sacrifice in the poem. Helenos begins the process by instructing Hektor to marshal the women to go to the temple and give Athena gifts, “then promise to sacrifice twelve heifers in her shrine, yearlings never broken, if only she’ll pity Troy, the Trojan wives and all our helpless children” (καί οἱ ὑποσχέσθαι δυοκαίδεκα βοῦς ἐνὶ νηῷ / ἤνις ἠκέστας ἱερευσέμεν, αἴ κ’ ἐλεήσῃ / ἄστύ τε καὶ Τρώων ἀλόχους καὶ νήπια τέκνα, Iliad VI 93–95). Hektor repeats to his mother these instructions (Iliad VI 274–276), which are finally expressed to Athena by Theano (Iliad VI 308–310). Helenos’ and Hektor’s discussion of the vow and gift-offering builds up audience anticipation, heightening Theano’s scene in the temple to a significant climax. The repetition makes Athena’s denial of their prayer and vow all the more power- {124|125} ful. [63] When Theano finally speaks the vow, Athena immediately rejects it, indicating the futility of vows of sacrifice to placate angry gods. [64] Athena’s denial is described with the same formulaic verse that twice describes Apollo’s reception of Khruses’ successful prayer, but with the substitution of a verb of denial for ἔκλυε ‘he heard’, the sign of acceptance: “So she spoke, making prayer. But Pallas Athena refused” (ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχομένη, ἀνένευε δὲ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη, Iliad VI 311). Similar to the rejection of Agamemnon’s request, recollections of Khruses’ ideal reciprocity with Apollo increase the pathos of these rejections.

Athena’s rejection of the Trojan vow has been analyzed by Mabel Lang, who proposes that vows in Homer allow the divinity the choice of accepting or rejecting the request, since, in contrast to prayers with reference to past sacrifices, the reciprocal relationship underlying vows has not yet been established. She concludes that vows express a notion of bribery and are therefore insulting to divinities. Accordingly, the context dictates the ritual form used; Theano makes a vow rather than a da-quia-dedi ‘give-because-I gave’ prayer to help ease the impact of impending rejection, since Athena would be hard-pressed to reject a prayer made on the basis of past sacrifices. [65] However, throughout the poem there are numerous indications that sacrifice does not enhance requests or reflect the likelihood of their success: most prayers are successful, but very few refer to sacrifice, and those that do meet with mixed results. For example, during the duel consecrated by his brother’s lengthy oath sacrifice, Menelaos, without reference to sacrifice, prays to Zeus for vengeance before throwing his spear at Paris: “Menelaos, son of Atreus, gave prayer to father Zeus, ‘Zeus, King, give me revenge, he wronged me first!’ ” (Ἀτρεΐδης Μενέλαος ἐπευξάμενος Διὶ πατρί / Ζεῦ ἄνα δὸς τίσασθαι ὅ με πρότερος κάκ᾿ ἔοργε, Iliad ΙΙΙ 350­–351). He continues to describe Paris’ wrongdoing, but does not refer to past or future sacrifices as a way of influencing the god. Menelaos throws his spear, and Paris evades it, after which Menelaos breaks his sword on the shield of his foe: his reaction to this is to blame Zeus, whom he describes at this point as the “most baneful god” (θεῶν ὀλοώτερος, Iliad III 365), indicating his belief that his prayer was not successful. Later, when defending the body of Patroklos, he prays to Athena for strength: “if only Pallas would {125|126} give me power” (εἰ γὰρ Ἀθήνη / δοίη κάρτος ἐμοί, Iliad XVII 561–562). This request, embedded in a speech addressed to Phoinix, continues to describe the challenges posed by Hektor and does not otherwise contain any references to Athena or attempt to get her attention with honorific titles or references to sacrifice. Nonetheless, Athena is thrilled that Menelaos prayed to her first: “the grey-eyed goddess Athena rejoiced that the man had prayed to her before all other gods” (ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δὲ θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη / ὅττι ῥά οἱ πάμπρωτα θεῶν ἠρήσατο πάντων, Iliad XVII 567–568). This speech to Phoinix, which contains only the briefest of addresses to the goddess, thrills Athena, while other prayers promising sacrifice, such as those of the Trojan women, are coldly denied. Although both prayers come at times of crisis, Menelaos does not refer to past or future sacrifices, in marked contrast to his brother’s diligent performance of such ritual actions; reference to sacrifice is not needed to reinforce requests in prayers in the Iliad. The vast majority of prayers, including this one, are successful even though they do not usually seem to rely on reciprocity based on gift-exchange.

Yet characters often worry that their sacrifices are unsuccessful in creating reciprocity or that gods are angry about sacrifices. Similar to Khruses’ first prayer, Nestor and Agamemnon both make ‘free prayers’, utterances without accompanying ritual action, which refer to past sacrifices in attempts to persuade the gods for help in moments of crisis (Iliad VIII 236–244; XV 372–376). Both prayers refer to past sacrifices to strengthen their requests, which seem more like anxious reminders to the particular god lest he forget those sacrifices at crisis moments. Agamemnon despairs that his sacrifices on the journey to Troy did him no good, an anxious complaint only then followed by his request for help:

Ζεῦ πάτερ, ἦ ῥά τιν᾿ ἤδη ὑπερμενέων βασιλήων
τῇδ᾿ ἄτῃ ἄασας καί μιν μέγα κῦδος ἀπηύρας;
οὐ μὲν δή ποτέ φημι τεὸν περικαλλέα βωμὸν
νηῒ πολυκλήϊδι παρελθέμεν ἐνθάδε ἔρρων,
ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ πᾶσι βοῶν δημὸν καὶ μηρί᾿ ἔκηα,
ἱέμενος Τροίην εὐτείχεον ἐξαλαπάξαι.
ἀλλά, Ζεῦ, τόδε πέρ μοι ἐπικρήηνον ἐέλδωρ·
αὐτοὺς δή περ ἔασον ὑπεκφυγέειν καὶ ἀλύξαι,
μηδ᾿ οὕτω Τρώεσσιν ἔα δάμνασθαι Ἀχαιούς.

(Iliad VΙΙΙ 236–244)

Father Zeus, when did you ever strike a mighty king
with such mad blindness—then tear away his glory? {126|127}
Not once, I swear, did I pass a handsome altar of yours,
sailing my oar-swept ship on our fatal voyage here,
but on each I burned the fat and thigh bones of oxen,
longing to raze Troy’s sturdy walls to the roots.
So, Zeus, at least fulfill this prayer for me:
Let the men escape with their lives if nothing else—
Don’t let the Trojans mow us down in droves.

Agamemnon addresses Zeus directly (Ζεῦ πάτερ), but replaces the standard positive remembrance of sacrifice exhibited in Khruses’ argument (the ‘if-ever’ formula) with his worry that Zeus did not care about these sacrifices. He uses the same wish formula as Khruses (μοι ἐπικρήηνον ἐέλδωρ), linking his prayer with that ideal model of reciprocity, but the anxiety that he does not have this kind of reciprocal relationship with Zeus replaces the more optimistic tone of Khruses’ requests. Agamemnon asks the god to “at least” let the Trojans flee, an expansion to the wish formula twice used by Khruses (ἀλλὰ Ζεῦ τόδε πέρ μοι ἐπικρήηνον ἐέλδωρ). His rather pathetic request signals the Akhaian army’s imminent crisis in the face of Hektor’s onslaught, and he thinks that his earlier sacrifices and prayers had no effect, since conquering Troy was the request expressed while sacrificing on every altar en route (ἐπὶ πᾶσι βοῶν δημὸν καὶ μηρί᾿ ἔκηα / ἱέμενος Τροίην εὐτείχεον ἐξαλαπάξαι). As discussed in Chapter Two, Agamemnon gets a seemingly positive response to this prayer, the army is cheered by Zeus’ omen, but he does not seem to have the individualized reciprocal relationship shared between Khruses and Apollo, and he does not get a personal response, such as feeling stronger or faster. We can compare Athena’s more obvious response to Diomedes’ prayer, in which he relies on her relationship with his father and does not make reference to sacrifice: she hears him and makes his limbs light, and then she directly appears to him (Iliad V 115–123). The breakdown of reciprocity between Agamemnon and Zeus is a reflection of the disruption of society Agamemnon himself has caused. The audience knows that Zeus is favoring Hektor to honor the request of Thetis. Just as Agamemnon upset the balance of reciprocity within the army, Akhilleus has upset the balance of reciprocity between men and gods.

Although the emphasis on the sacrificer is not as prominent in embedded sacrifices as in enacted ones, Agamemnon’s ritual authority is still reflected in his own memory of his role as sacrificer on the journey to Troy. Nestor makes a similar prayer using exactly the same request as that in Agamemnon’s prayer in Iliad VIII (μηδ᾿ οὕτω Τρώεσσιν ἔα δάμνασθαι Ἀχαιούς), the only other free {127|128} prayer to refer to sacrifice. However, rather than drawing on a reciprocal relationship with Zeus established by his past sacrifices, he vaguely alludes to any past sacrifice performed by an Akhaian:

Ζεῦ πάτερ, εἴ ποτέ τίς τοι ἐν Ἄργεΐ περ πολυπύρῳ
ἢ βοὸς ἢ οἰὸς κατὰ πίονα μηρία καίων
εὔχετο νοστῆσαι, σὺ δ᾿ ὑπέσχεο καὶ κατένευσας,
τῶν μνῆσαι καὶ ἄμυνον, Ὀλύμπιε, νηλεὲς ἦμαρ,
μηδ᾿ οὕτω Τρώεσσιν ἔα δάμνασθαι Ἀχαιούς.

(Iliad ΧV 372–376)

Father Zeus! If ever someone in Argos’ golden wheatlands
burned the fat thigh bones of a sheep or ox
and prayed for a homecoming and you promised with a nod—
remember it now, Olympian, save us from this ruthless day!
Don’t let these Trojans mow us down in droves!

Nestor’s prayer includes an ‘if-ever’ argument, but replaces the personal reciprocal relationship between the person making the prayer and the deity, as expressed in Khruses’ prayer to Apollo, with the general hope that any past sacrifices were pleasing enough. Nestor’s prayer is heard by Zeus (ὣς ἔφατ’ εὐχόμενος, μέγα δ’ ἔκτυπε μητίετα Ζεύς, Iliad XV 377), a variation on the formulaic verse describing divine reception of Khruses’ and Agamemnon’s prayers. Zeus thunders in response, but it inspires the Trojan army, whose refreshed onslaught, likened to a stormy sea, is described at length (Iliad XV 379–386). Nestor’s prayer seems to have the opposite of its intended effect; the embedded sacrifice and request provoke a response from Zeus, but this response is actually harmful to the current Akhaian cause.

The references to past sacrifices by Agamemnon and Nestor contextualize the contrast between former wishes and the current situation: on the basis of the current state of affairs, they worry that the past sacrifices were meaningless. In the Iliad, characters make prayers for help at times of crisis, and their anxiety about past sacrifices is in part a reflection of the emergent circumstances on the battlefield. [66] However, if emergency appeals motivate reference to sacrifice in prayers, we would expect them to be much more frequent than the three prayers made by Khruses, Agamemnon, and Nestor. Simon Pulleyn suggests that the “most normal context for a prayer is accompanying a sacrifice. Where this is not so, there is usually a reference to past {128|129} sacrifices or promise of future ones.” [67] If the use of sacrifice to enhance requests to the gods in the Iliad is restricted to only a few examples, and prayers accompanying sacrifice do not refer to the current offering, then the overall pattern of embedded sacrifices portrays confusion, uncertainty, and disappointment, whereas the overall pattern of prayer, without reference to sacrifice, is positive. Character references to sacrifice demonstrate the weaknesses in this system of reciprocity, which does not seem to extend into other types of prayer. The frustration expressed in embedded sacrifices stands in contrast to the consistent presentation of the care and concern of gods for mortals, which must be filtered throughout the poem by the special treatment given to Akhilleus.

Finally, embedded sacrifices describe the potential for the gods’ anger over neglected sacrifices or mortal transgressions to threaten reciprocity. This anger constitutes the negative potential of sacrifice, while the power of sacrifice to please the gods is described problematically as ineffectual, as demonstrated at the beginning of the poem by Akhilleus’ suggestion that the plague has been caused by the Apollo’s anger over sacrifice:

εἴτ’ ἄρ’ ὅ γ’ εὐχωλῆς ἐπιμέμφεται εἴθ’ ἑκατόμβης,
αἴ κέν πως ἀρνῶν κνίσης αἰγῶν τε τελείων
βούλεται ἀντιάσας ἡμῖν ἀπὸ λοιγὸν ἀμῦναι.

(Iliad I 65–67)

He blames us either for a vow we failed, or a hecatomb.
If only he would share the sacrificial smoke of lambs and full-grown goats,
he might be willing to save us from this plague.

Kalkhas explains the true cause of the plague, the abduction of Khruseis, which can be appeased by her return and the sacrifice of a hecatomb (Iliad I 93–100). Akhilleus’ worry that a sacrifice could provoke Apollo’s anger initiates a pattern of references to the anger of the gods throughout the poem. His worry about a vow, however, is not consistently maintained in the poem, since no vows made in the Iliad are fulfilled within the poem. The anger of the gods over vows is recalled only near the end of the poem, when the complex narrator describes a vow to Apollo by Meriones in contrast to Teukros’ neglect: [
68] {129|130}

Τεῦκρος δὲ πρῶτος κλήρῳ λάχεν. αὐτίκα δ᾿ ἰὸν
ἧκεν ἐπικρατέως, οὐδ᾿ ἠπείλησεν ἄνακτι
ἀρνῶν πρωτογόνων ῥέξειν κλειτὴν ἑκατόμβην.
ὄρνιθος μὲν ἅμαρτε· μέγηρε γάρ οἱ τό γ᾿ Ἀπόλλων·

(Iliad ΧΧΙΙΙ 862–865)

And the lot fell to Teukros to shoot first. He quickly
loosed an arrow, full-draw force but never swore to the Lord
he’d slaughter a splendid hecatomb of victims, newborn lambs,
so he missed the bird—Apollo grudged him that.”

σπερχόμενος δ᾿ ἄρα Μηριόνης ἐξείρυσε χειρὸς
τόξον· ἀτὰρ δὴ ὀϊστὸν ἔχεν πάλαι, ὡς ἴθυνεν.
αὐτίκα δ᾿ ἠπείλησεν ἑκηβόλῳ Ἀπόλλωνι
ἀρνῶν πρωτογόνων ῥέξειν κλειτὴν ἑκατόμβην.

(Iliad ΧΧΙΙΙ 870–873)

Meriones leapt to snatch the bow from his hand,
already clutching a shaft while Teukros aimed,
and quickly swore to the Far-Shooter Apollo
he’d slaughter a splendid hecatomb of victims, newborn lambs—

Meriones shoots the dove, but Apollo’s reaction to his vow is not described, as opposed to the explicitly negative response to Teukros’ lack of piety. Although the gods do not seem particularly inclined to heed da-quia-dabo ‘give-because-I will give’ requests, they can be galled at the lack of such offerings. The idea that sacrifice might anger gods is also expressed by Aineias, who warns Pandaros that he ought to pray to Zeus for success against Diomedes, whom he suspects may be a god angered at the Trojans over sacrifices (“unless he is some god angry at the Trojans, raging because of sacrifices,” εἰ μή τις θεός ἐστι κοτεσσάμενος Τρώεσσιν / ἱρῶν μηνίσας, Iliad V 177–178). When the Trojans suffer on the battlefield, Aineias casts this crisis in terms of a failure of reciprocity between mortals and immortals. In a similar moment of crisis, Agamemnon also imagines that sacrifices have failed, and he tells Menelaos that Hektor’s sacrifices are more persuasive than their own. When concerned about Akhaian defeats, he urges upon Menelaos the need for a new strategy:

χρεὼ βουλῆς ἐμὲ καὶ σέ, διοτρεφὲς ὦ Μενέλαε,
κερδαλέης, ἥ τίς κεν ἐρύσσεται ἠδὲ σαώσει {130|131}
Ἀργείους καὶ νῆας, ἐπεὶ Διὸς ἐτράπετο φρήν.
Ἑκτορέοις ἄρα μᾶλλον ἐπὶ φρένα θῆχ’ ἱεροῖσιν·

(Iliad X 43–46)

Tactics, my noble Menelaos. That’s what we need now, you and I both,
and cunning tactics too. Something to shield and save
our men and ships since Zeus’ heart has turned—
his mighty heart is set on Hektor’s offerings more than ours.

In a contrast typical of the tragic pathos that colors the poem, the audience knows that Zeus is not swayed by Hektor’s sacrifices, but by Thetis’ request that the Akhaians suffer for dishonoring Akhilleus. Hektor’s sacrifices do not help him, and this irony, created by character misconceptions about the power of sacrifice and the will of the gods, is one of the most prominent aspects of embedded sacrifices. Embedded sacrifices express frustration over the failure of sacrifice to create reciprocity between gods and mortals, but when such reciprocity is imagined to exist, misunderstandings or the inapplicability of the speaker’s view on sacrifice to the situation convey the same frustration to the audience: Agamemnon imagines Hektor’s sacrifices are persuasive, while Zeus has already conceded to Hera that Troy will be destroyed despite their sacrifices (Iliad IV 48–49). In Zeus’ opinion, Hektor’s sacrifices are not successful in precisely the way that Agamemnon imagines them to be.

Even Akhilleus cannot gain divine assistance through vows of sacrifice. When the pyre of Patroklos fails to light, Akhilleus is described as making libations and a vow to the Winds. At this climactic moment, the vow is not given in direct speech, but is summarized by the complex narrator. Had Iris not sped Akhilleus’ request to the Winds, who were themselves having dinner (Iliad XXIII 198–216), his vow would have gone unnoticed. When Iris tells the Winds about Akhilleus’ vow, she describes her haste to attend the Aithiopian sacrifices so that she can take part in the feast:

οὐχ ἕδος· εἶμι γὰρ αὖτις ἐπ’ Ὠκεανοῖο ῥέεθρα 
Αἰθιόπων ἐς γαῖαν, ὅθι ῥέζουσ’ ἑκατόμβας
ἀθανάτοις, ἵνα δὴ καὶ ἐγὼ μεταδαίσομαι ἱρῶν.
ἀλλ’ Ἀχιλεὺς Βορέην ἠδὲ Ζέφυρον κελαδεινὸν
ἐλθεῖν ἀρᾶται, καὶ ὑπίσχεται ἱερὰ καλά.

(Iliad XXIII 205–209)

“No time for sitting now. I must return immediately to the Ocean’s running stream, {131|132}
the Aithiopes’ land, where they are sacrificing hecatombs
to the gods so that I will have my share of the offerings.
But, Boreas, blustering Zephyr, Akhilleus
begs you to come, and he promises splendid victims.”

Iris’ message illustrates two aspects of the negative pattern of embedded sacrifices. The negative presentation of reciprocity often found in embedded sacrifices is here alluded to in Iris’ haste, in case she should miss her share, to rejoin the banquet. There is also a worry, frequently attested in votive offerings and inscriptions in the Classical period, that the gods will be too preoccupied to heed prayers. Without the intervention of Iris, the messenger of the gods, the Winds would also be too preoccupied with their dinner to notice Akhilleus’ request for help, even though he promises ‘fair offerings’ (ὑπίσχετο ἱερὰ καλά, Iliad XXIII 159) and pours libations. [
69] Akhilleus’ special status attracts the messenger of the gods, but not even he is assured the success of his requests through the mortal method of prayer.

Iris’ conception of sacrificial offerings as feasts for the gods (ἐγὼ μετα-δαίσομαι ἱρῶν), a rare indication in the poem that the gods consume sacrificial offerings, echoes Zeus’ description of his altar never lacking his share of victims. The only other instance in the poem referring to divine consumption is Phoinix’s description of Oineus’ inadequate sacrifices: “Oineus offered [Artemis] no first fruits, his orchard’s crowning glory. The rest of the gods had feasted full on oxen” (οὔ τι θαλύσια γουνῷ / ἀλωῆς Οἰνεὺς ῥέξ’· ἄλλοι δὲ θεοὶ δαίνυνθ’ ἑκατόμβας, Iliad IX 534–535). [70] Iris is afraid that she will miss her share of the sacrifices; Artemis is angry that she has been overlooked. Vernant interprets the notion that gods “consume” the sacrificial offering of smoke as part of the invitation for gods to join the human feast usually subsequent to sacrifice:

Although this notion of divine commensality is largely elided in representations of sacrifice in the Iliad, this memory of shared meals between men and gods, when evoked, shapes in part the negative connotations given to sacrifice in character speech: gods worry or are angry that they have missed their share of the feast.

Embedded sacrifices express several explicit descriptions of the gods’ anger. In his long digression in Iliad IX, Phoinix twice describes sacrifice in reference to this anger, suited to his goal of convincing Akhilleus to give up his own wrath: first, the power of sacrifices to atone for man’s transgressions, and then Artemis’ above-mentioned wrath over neglected sacrifices (Iliad IX 499–501, 535–537). Phoinix’s embedded sacrifices are not a part of his “autobiography,” but derive instead from two different mythological paradigms. [72] After his autobiography (Iliad IX 434–495), Phoinix signals a change in the digression, describing the power of sacrifices and prayer to influence the gods, which sets the stage for his cautionary tale for Akhilleus—the Meleagros story, beginning with Oineus’ neglect of sacrifices to Artemis. Phoinix describes sacrifice as a means by which man can compensate for wrong-doing, the opposite of sacrifice enhancing requests as exhibited in Khruses’ prayer:

στρεπτοὶ δέ τε καὶ θεοὶ αὐτοί,
τῶν περ καὶ μείζων ἀρετὴ τιμή τε βίη τε.
καὶ μὲν τοὺς θυέεσσι καὶ εὐχωλῇς ἀγανῇσι
λοιβῇ τε κνίσῃ τε παρατρωπῶσ’ ἄνθρωποι
λισσόμενοι, ὅτε κέν τις ὑπερβήῃ καὶ ἁμάρτῃ.

(Iliad IX 497–501)

Even the gods themselves can bend,
and theirs is the greater power, honor, strength.
Even they, with incense and soothing vows,
with libations and sacrificial smoke, men can bring them round,
begging for pardon when one oversteps the mark, does something wrong.

In this context, sacrifice is a method of soothing angry gods rather than establishing reciprocity with them. Phoinix describes divinities as able to change {133|134} their minds in favor of forgiveness when men offer incense, vows, libations, and sacrificial smoke, a description he expands with the personification of Prayers (Litai) and Blindness (Atê), who work either for or against mortals by heeding or denying supplication (Iliad IX 496–512). However, this depiction of the gods is incompatible with that presented elsewhere in the poem: sacrifices do not succeed in changing the will of the gods, as we have seen already with the scant use of sacrifices embedded in prayers. Nor have sacrifices been used elsewhere in the poem to soothe the wrath of the gods. For example, Kalkhas makes clear that Apollo is not angry about sacrifices in Iliad I, and Athena rejects the vow of the Trojan women. Kalkhas does recommend that the return of Khruseis and a sacrifice will assuage Apollo, who is pleased by the sacrifice, but the emphasis seems to rest more on Khruses’ ability to call off the god. Finally, Phoinix’s analogy of the soothing sacrifices fails to convince its listener; Akhilleus is neither mollified nor persuaded to accept gifts. This failure calls into question not only Phoinix’s methodology, but also his representation of the gods, who elsewhere in the poem are not swayed by sacrifices.

Phoinix’s portrayal of the appeasement of the gods with sacrifice reverberates in his lengthy description of the appeasement of Meleagros’ wrath with gifts. He begins with Oineus’ neglect of Artemis in sacrifice: “incensed that Oineus offered her no first fruits, his orchard’s crowning glory. The rest of the gods feasted full on hecatombs, but alone almighty Zeus’ daughter, he gave her nothing” (χωσαμένη ὅ οἱ οὔ τι θαλύσια γουνῷ ἀλωῆς / Οἰνεὺς ῥέξ’· ἄλλοι δὲ θεοὶ δαίνυνθ’ ἑκατόμβας / οἴῃ δ’ οὐκ ἔρρεξε Διὸς κούρῃ μεγάλοιο, Iliad IX 534–536). The ire of Artemis begins a cycle of wrath and retribution: Artemis sends the Calydonian boar; once the beast is killed by Meleagros, its carcass causes strife between the Aitolians and Kouretes. Angry at his mother’s curse upon him, Meleagros refuses to help defend the city. He rejects the entreaties and gifts of priests, townspeople, friends, and relatives, until he finally yields to his wife’s pleading. His return to battle without gifts is meant to serve as a warning to Akhilleus to capitulate to the embassy and Agamemnon’s offer (Iliad IX 527–605).

Like all speakers in the Iliad, Phoinix tailors his story to fit the situation and addressee. On this particular occasion, by omitting certain aspects well known to the audience, he attempts to make the story more persuasive. Included in these omissions, the quarrel over spoils between Atalanta and Meleagros’ relatives might have led his addressee to recall the quarrel over spoils and a woman in Iliad I, a connection strengthened further by the insti- {134|135} gation of angry gods in both situations. [73] Given the possibility of omission, it is all the more striking that Phoinix characterizes Artemis’ wrath specifically as the result of neglected sacrifices, an error intimated even on the micro-level of its diction. According to Casabona, ἱερεύειν ‘to sacrifice’ places emphasis on the sacrificial animal, which is always specified in conjunction with this verb, whereas ἔρδειν and ῥέζειν ‘to do’ focus on the ceremony since they can be used without objects, as already evidenced in the description of the Akhaians’ sacrifice (Iliad II 400). [74] The use of multiple references to offerings—the “first fruits” that are neglected and the hecatombs on which the other gods feast—followed by a verb that can denote sacrifice, but is here without an object, underscores Oineus’ error (οἴῃ δ’ οὐκ ἔρρεξε Διὸς κούρῃ μεγάλοιο). But the stress on the sacrificial act itself (ἔρρεξε) casts this error in terms of upsetting the principle of the “equal feast.”

Both references to sacrifice in Phoinix’s digression contend that the gods’ reception can have benefits or drawbacks for mankind. However, by attempting to either provoke or appease divine wrath, embedded sacrifices inevitably address the anger of the gods, the negative reception. In both cases, sacrifice evokes notions of a breakdown in the relations between mortals and immortals, which corresponds with crises of reciprocity and kinship among mortal communities. These descriptions of sacrifice become part of an unsuccessful strategy to convince Akhilleus to give up his wrath: Akhilleus replies to Phoinix that he has no need of honor from the Akhaians since he enjoys honor directly from Zeus (“I think my honor lies in the great decree of Zeus,” φρονέω δὲ τετιμῆσθαι Διὸς αἴσῃ, Iliad IX 608). Akhilleus’ dismissal of Phoinix’s request here, which has been strengthened by descriptions of sacrifice as able to appease the wrath of the gods, anticipates Akhilleus’ rejection of sacrifice as he approaches his own death. The association of sacrifice with divine displeasure featured in Phoinix’s digression is typical of embedded sacrifices throughout the poem.

Artemis is not the only god angry over missing sacrifices. Poseidon emphatically expresses such sentiments, warning Zeus that the Akhaians have built a wall without sacrifice, which will cause him and Apollo to lose the kleos of their wall (Iliad VII 455–463). He complains to Zeus that this wall, built without sacrifice to the gods, anticipates the demise of mortal/immortal reciprocity: {135|136}

Ζεῦ πάτερ, ἦ ῥά τίς ἐστι βροτῶν ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν
ὅς τις ἔτ’ ἀθανάτοισι νόον καὶ μῆτιν ἐνίψει;
οὐχ ὁράᾳς ὅτι δὴ αὖτε κάρη κομόωντες Ἀχαιοὶ
τεῖχος ἐτειχίσσαντο νεῶν ὕπερ, ἀμφὶ δὲ τάφρον
ἤλασαν, οὐδὲ θεοῖσι δόσαν κλειτὰς ἑκατόμβας;
τοῦ δ’ ἤτοι κλέος ἔσται ὅσον τ’ ἐπικίδναται ἠώς·
τοῦ δ’ ἐπιλήσονται τὸ ἐγὼ καὶ Φοῖβος Ἀπόλλων
ἥρῳ Λαομέδοντι πολίσσαμεν ἀθλήσαντε.

(Iliad VII 446–453)

Father Zeus, is there a man on the whole wide earth
who still informs the gods of all his plans, his schemes?
Don’t you see that the long-haired Akhaians
have flung that rampart up against their ships, around it
they have dug a trench and never offered the gods splendid hecatombs,
but its fame will spread as far as the light of dawn!
And men will forget those ramparts I and Phoibos Apollo
reared for the hero Laomedon with great struggle.

Again, sacrifice is described in terms of problems or failure. Poseidon implies that the neglected hecatombs call into question the hierarchical relationship between mankind and gods. Zeus replies that Poseidon need not fear for his kleos ‘glory’, and he tells Poseidon to destroy the wall after the Akhaians have left (Iliad VII 454–463). However, though Poseidon will have his vengeance, the Akhaians will never know that they have erred. The wall is brought up again in the events predicted outside of the action at Troy, in one of the two external prolepses in the complex narrative-text. In Iliad XII, the complex narrator describes the destruction of the Akhaian wall, which, again, is said to be motivated by the lack of sacrifice and the will of the gods (Iliad XII 6–33). [
75] The destruction of the wall by Apollo and Poseidon is supernaturally violent and definitive: after the Akhaians leave Troy, Apollo turns the courses of rivers, Zeus supplies constant rains, and Poseidon sweeps the wall down with the waves of the ocean. Ruth Scodel, in her discussion of the allusions in this passage to Near Eastern destruction myths otherwise suppressed in the Iliad, {136|137} finds the lack of sacrifice a flimsy excuse for such cosmic upheaval. [76] Although the cosmological destruction of the wall is certainly unanticipated in Zeus’ original reply to Poseidon, the emphasis on sacrifice in this context can be better appreciated as part of a pattern, throughout the poem, of embedded sacrifice as an expression for disjunction between men and gods. The mention of the lack of sacrifice as the cause for divine wrath in both Iliad VII and XII ties the destruction of the wall to the association of sacrifice with the inability to create reciprocity between men and gods, either through mistakes, such as Oineus’ in Phoinix’s digression, or because of superior bonds between gods, such as Zeus’ acquiescence to Thetis’ request or Hera’s desire to destroy Troy. Like that of Artemis, Poseidon’s anger implies that the gods want sacrifices, but that the relationship between gods and men has broken down or is dysfunctional. Further, the Akhaians remain blissfully unaware of their error; the conversation between Poseidon and Zeus and the reference in the complex narrative ‘pause’ call attention to the ignorance of men regarding the motivations and intentions of gods.

Akhilleus, whose ability to influence the gods will be the subject of Chapter Four, remains singularly abreast of the gods’ design. Before turning to this topic, the analysis of one final pair of similes in the complex narrative voice will complete this discussion of embedded sacrifices. Although sacrifice is never used as a metaphor for human death in the Iliad, two similes compare the deaths of heroes to that of sacrificial animals. James Redfield has distinguished three types of Homeric similes, in order of frequency: natural phenomena, hunting and herding, and human technology. [77] At the beginning and end of Akhilleus’ rampage against the Trojans, two of his victims, Hippodamas and Hektor, are linked to sacrificial victims. Of the estimated 341 similes in the poem, these are the only two that contain embedded sacrifices. [78] Hippodamas’ death cry is compared to that of a bull dragged around an altar of Poseidon, an allusion to sacrifice further qualified by the observation of Poseidon’s delight (Iliad XX 403–405). [79] The fact that the embedded sacrifice {137|138} compared to Hippodamas’ death is described as “pleasing” for Poseidon makes the grim analogy all the more tragic:

αὐτὰρ ὁ θυμὸν ἄϊσθε καὶ ἤρυγεν, ὡς ὅτε ταῦρος
ἤρυγεν ἑλκόμενος Ἑλικώνιον ἀμφὶ ἄνακτα
κούρων ἑλκόντων· γάνυται δέ τε τοῖς ἐνοσίχθων·

(Iliad ΧΧ 403–405)

And he gasped his life away and bellowed, like when some bull
bellows being dragged round for the Helikonian lord
by young boys and the earthquake god delights in these things.

Poseidon’s attention to his sacrifices contrasts with Akhilleus’ lack of attention to the death of Hippodamas (“And the proud man’s spirit left his bones behind but [Akhilleus] rushed with his spear against noble Poludoros,” ὣς ἄρα τόν γ’ ἐρυγόντα λίπ’ ὀστέα θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ / αὐτὰρ ὁ βῆ σὺν δουρὶ μετ’ ἀντίθεον Πολύδωρον, Iliad XX 406–407). The comparison of a man’s death to the delight Poseidon takes in watching a sacrifice, similar to the importance that Artemis in Phoinix’s digression and Poseidon in Iliad VII attach to sacrifices, implies that the god appreciates his sacrifices. In this example, despite the delight in sacrifice exhibited by the gods, the gruesome context reiterates the gap between men and gods expressed througth embedded sacrifices. At the end of his rampage, Akhilleus’ pursuit of Hektor is negatively compared to a foot race for which the prize is a sacrificial victim or oxhide (οὐχ ἱερήϊον οὐδὲ βοείην, Iliad XXII 159). Immediately following this, another lengthy simile compares Akhilleus’ chase to a horse race at funeral games (Iliad XXII 162–166). In these cases, the similes present the actions on the battlefield from the perspective of the gods: they watch Akhilleus and Hektor race as if they were a spectacle, a horse race for prizes. [
80] With the deaths of Hippodamas and Hektor, sacrificial ritual becomes an expression of the helplessness of man in his very attempt to influence the course of events. As de Jong has observed, “The net result is that the mortality of man is placed against the background of the immortality of the gods, for whom human misery is like a tragic play, which they watch, but in which they themselves are not directly involved.” [81] Although the gods insist on sacrifices and become angry if they are ignored, the benefit to mankind for offering sacrifices is made ambiguous at best and is, at times, called directly into question. {138|139}

Sacrifice surfaces as a topic of conversation because of the concern that it does not work as a mode of communication with gods. This theme is juxtaposed with the gods’ relative distance in the enacted scenes, in which their response is usually either negative or omitted. The uncertainty and frustration underlying embedded sacrifices opposes the pattern of control, dominance, and established social hierarchy reinforced in Agamemnon’s performance of enacted sacrifice. While Agamemnon’s enacted sacrifices are performed to encourage communication and integration within the Panakhaian society, when characters, including Agamemnon, speak about sacrificial ritual, they express uncertainty about its potential for success. As we will see, Zeus and Apollo, although gods, themselves express frustration over the inability of sacrifice to create an effective reciprocal relationship: embedded sacrifices are problematized even in divine discourse. Zeus and Apollo seem troubled that the burning of mêria, the specific gift to the gods, is an insufficient incentive for divine favor.

The inadequacy of sacrifice, which is refuted throughout the poem as a potential support system, is one part of the wide-sweeping portrayal of mortal vulnerability pervasive in the poem, as shown by Jasper Griffin and Seth Schein, whose like-minded approaches to the Homeric “human condition” can be briefly summarized. [82] The dual presentation of mortal and immortal actions and thoughts gives greater weight to human actions: only mortals can take the risks that give their actions significance. At the same time, this creates a model of futility. The gods have such great power and control over human affairs that the audience cannot help but recognize this futility. Human actions must seem “ephemeral and pathetically limited” to the gods, who are perfect, ageless, immortal, and constantly described as “living easily”. [83] The anthropomorphic nature of the gods strengthens the contrast between their power and immortality and the helplessness of the heroes, who can only hope to achieve honor and glory before their inevitable death. [84] In summary, Schein writes:

In this context of divine omnipotence and human weakness, descriptions of sacrifice embedded in character speech create a pattern of frustration and helplessness representative of this unbridgeable gap between the blessed immortals and the struggling heroes, made more tragic by the dual representation of events. Dieter Lohmann has recognized that a character’s given perception of reality, as expressed in a speech, is often at odds with the reality depicted in the primary narrative-text, a tendency marked in embedded sacrifices by precisely this dual representation of divine and mortal perspectives. [
86] For example, on the divine plane, we see the gods reflecting sadly on their inability to save Hektor despite his sacrifices (Iliad XXIV 33–76), while on the human level, Agamemnon imagines that the gods favor the sacrifices of Hektor (Iliad X 46), and worries that his own sacrifices are unsuccessful, as he states in his prayer to Zeus (Iliad VIII 238–241).


[ back ] 1. On this division of the post-kill phase, see Stengel 1910:73–78; Meuli 1946:246–248, 268–272; and Burkert 1985:6.

[ back ] 2. Trans. Frazer 1983.

[ back ] 3. Vernant 1989:53.

[ back ] 4. Vernant 1991: “Greek sacrifice differs from Vedic sacrifice in that the latter is a prototype for the act of creation, which brings forth and binds the universe together in its totality. Much more modest, Greek sacrifice recalls Prometheus’ act, which alienated man from the gods” (280). However, Burkert describes the same etiology as an “admission that sacrifices could not be understood as a gift to the divinity, at any rate not as the gift of a meal” (1966:105), in refutation of the adoption of Robertson Smith’s concept of commensality between men and gods created through sacrifice by Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1931:287 and Nilsson 1967:144. On the different interpretations of the Paris School and Burkert, see pages 24f. above.

[ back ] 5. Yunis 1988:53; cf. Versnel 1981:56–57; Gould 1985:1–5; Parker 1998b:105 observes that Greek cultic practice depends totally on a notion of reciprocity with gods, which is explicitly recognized in some ancient sources (e.g. Khruses’ prayer, Iliad I 39–41, on which pages 112f. below). There are different definitions of reciprocity, depending on the context (gift-giving, war, etc.) Van Wees prefaces his summary of the different definitions of this concept thus, “ What makes it possible to consider one’s self-interest while appearing to act in the interests of others is the principle of reciprocity, which demands that benefits bestowed must be repaid” (van Wees 1998:15).

[ back ] 6. The criteria offered by Yunis 1988:56, who discusses this topic with reference to the plot of Sisyphus (TRGF 1 43 f 19) and the Athenian hymn to the deified Demetrios Poliorkêtês (Athenaios 253e). He observes that the belief in reciprocity does not imply that the gods are predictable or rational, but prevents them from seeming entirely unpredictable and irrational (53).

[ back ] 7. “Cultural grammar” is Hammer’s term (2002:11). Similar is Bakhtin’s “value centers”; see Bakhtin 1981 and Felson-Rubin 1993:161. Davidson 1994 observes a similar ‘grammar’ in Persian epic.

[ back ] 8. Shewan 1935:325 observes: “It is a familiar fact that there are considerable differences, metrical and linguistic, between the general narrative and the speeches of the Iliad and Odyssey.” Griffin 1986:40, 50 describes Homer as having two languages, one for the narrator and the other for the characters. In her discussion of emotive vocabulary, de Jong 1987b:143 concludes that the exceptional occurrences outside of character speech of “evaluative and affective words/expressions should be interpreted through the focalizing character” rather than the primary narrator.

[ back ] 9. A. Parry 1956; Friedrich and Redfield 1978: for example, Akhilleus uses abusive language and emotive particles much more frequently than other characters (251–252). Martin 1989:146–230 furthers this discussion.

[ back ] 10. Nagy 1979:73; see also 1979:4, which describes Homeric words as “functioning elements of an integral formulaic system inherited precisely for the purpose of expressing complexities.” Muellner 1996 is a comprehensive study of mênis in the poem.

[ back ] 11. Griffin 1986:51, with a chart on 57.

[ back ] 12. Vernant 1991:291.

[ back ] 13. Casabona 1966:77, 86 observes that the usage of θύειν, φονέιν, and κτείνειν depend on the viewpoint of the speaker. The preponderance of finite verbs in the primary narrative has been discussed by Muellner 1976:31–34 as “ritual narrative.”

[ back ] 14. On ἱερός in Homer, Rudhardt 1958:255; Casabona 1966:2, 19; Benveniste 1973:456–461; Vermeule 1974:95.

[ back ] 15. See Casabona 1966:2; Burkert 1985:269; Benveniste 1973:45–47. West 1988:155 explores the significance of ἱερός as ‘full of impetus’ as opposed to ‘holy’, citing analogs in the Rig-Veda.

[ back ] 16. It is interesting that dedicatory objects, similar to vows, are also discussed or imagined in impossible or negative contexts: no vow of sacrifice or other gifts is fulfilled in the poem. Dedicatory objects in Homer are discussed by Seaford 2004:55.

[ back ] 17. Burkert 1976:171 and 1985:3 explain the verbs as a reflection of the basic meaning of sacrifice in Greek religion. Cf. German Opfer, Latin operari.

[ back ] 18. For victims in the Classical period, see Hermary et al. 2004; Rosivach 1994:68f., esp. 74n18, gives the testimonia for the variety of factors affecting the choice in the fourth century.

[ back ] 19. Seaford 2004:45, following Laum 1924:18, comes up with the different statistic of a hundred, twelve, nine, or one; he considers Bellerophon’s feast, in which nine animals are slaughtered, to be a sacrifice (Iliad VI 174). For my distinction between sacrifice and feast with reference to the Bellerophon story, see page 63 above.

[ back ] 20. IG I3 375.7–8 records that 5,114 drakhmai were available for a hecatomb at the Panathenaia, which would purchase at least 100 cows (van Straten 1995:178); cf. Rosivach 1994:70. Pulleyn 2000:143 argues against the probability of such a large sacrifice: “A sacrifice of 100 oxen in an archaic farming community probably would have spelled economic ruin.”

[ back ] 21. Apollo: Iliad I 65, 315, 459; IV 101, 120; XXIII 873. Athena: Iliad VI 115; 12 heifers: Iliad VI 93, 274, 308. Poseidon: Iliad VII 450, XII 6. Artemis: Iliad IX 535. Iris: Iliad XXIII 206. Sperkheios: Iliad XXIII 146. Gods: Iliad II 306. The adjective ἑκατόμβοιος is applied to the tassels on Athena’s aegis and to Diomedes’ armor (Iliad II 449 and VI 236). Seaford 2004:34–35 discusses the worth of objects in the Iliad described in terms of cattle.

[ back ] 22. We will return to the enacted sacrifices in Iliad I, in pages 165f. below. Hecatombs are similarly confined to character speech in the Odyssey, occurring once in the narrative-text to describe the heralds’ leading a hecatomb through the city (Odyssey xx 276); otherwise this designation for animal sacrifice is only found in embedded sacrifices (Odyssey i 25; iii 59, 144; iv 352, 478, 582; v 102; vii 202; xi 132; xiii 350; xvii 50, 59; xix 366; and xxiii 279).

[ back ] 23. Some historical evidence for river gods is given by Jameson 1991:202.

[ back ] 24. Cf. Burkert 1985:65; Jameson 1991:203.

[ back ] 25. On the thigh bones in Homer, see Meuli 1946:215; Burkert 1966:105n38; 1983:2; 1979:55; and Petropoulou 1986:140. We will return to Zeus and Apollo’s conversation in Chapter Four, pages 191f. below.

[ back ] 26. Burkert 1985:62–63 gives some examples of these offerings throughout the Greek world, which create, in his view, a seeming dichotomy with the meager offerings of “Promethean sacrificial practice”. Holocaust sacrifices were performed for Zeus, Hera, and Artemis among the Olympians, and more frequently for heroes and the dead.

[ back ] 27. Burkert 1976:181; Stengel 1910:4–12, and page 49 above.

[ back ] 28. The disposal of the victims after the first oath sacrifice is left unclear. Priam takes away the sheep that he provides in Iliad III, and nothing is said of Agamemnon’s sheep (Iliad III 310; cf. III 103–104). Burkert 1985:252 believes that the removal of the victims after the oath sacrifice in Iliad III suggests that they would have been consumed. Kitts 2005:127–128 discusses the differences between the choice and treatment of these oath victims and the practices attested in the Classical period.

[ back ] 29. The verb is only elsewhere attested at Odyssey iii 458 and xiv 427 and in Apollonius Rhodius Argonautika III 1033. A Classical parallel may be found in the reference to maskhalismata in an inscription from the Attic deme of Phrearrhioi, which is defined in the Suda as “pieces of meat from the shoulders that are laid on the altar beside the thigh bones in sacrifices to the gods”; van Straten 1995:127 relates this to the confusion in ancient commentators on Homer regarding the derivation of the verb from ὦμος ‘shoulder’ or ὠμός ‘raw’; cf. Lupu 2005:166–168.

[ back ] 30. For instance, Seaford 2004: “the Homeric sacrifice is centered on the feeding (and general participation) of the group … without barely a mention of any continuity of object or place as a context for animal sacrifice … and with the deity marginalized” (52); cf. Sherratt 2004:183.

[ back ] 31. Similar descriptions of flaying the carcass occur three times in the Odyssey (iii 456; xiv 427; xix 421 = Iliad VII 316).

[ back ] 32. Cf. Odyssey xiv 437, where the same verse describes Eumaios’ gift of the chine to Odysseus.

[ back ] 33. Herodotos 6.56; cf. Jameson 1991:199.

[ back ] 34. Hermary et al. 2004:118–120 sets out the evidence for special divisions of the animal.

[ back ] 35. [Demosthenes] 43.82; Rosivach 1994:11, 66–67; cf. Stengel 1920:105–106; Sourvinou-Inwood 2000:27–29. Demosthenes 19.190: “I know that all the prytaneis sacrifice together on each occasion, dine together and pour libations together. … The boule does the same; at the inauguration, there is a sacrifice and communal feast, and libations and sacrifices are made by all the generals together, and almost all, so to speak, of the public officials” (ἐγὼ δ’ οἶδ’ ὅτι πάντες οἱ πρυτάνεις θύουσιν ἑκάστοτε κοινῇ καὶ συνδειπνοῦσιν ἀλλήλοις καὶ συσπένδουσιν … ἡ βουλὴ ταὐτὰ ταῦτα, εἰσιτήρι’ ἔθυσε, συνειστιάθη· σπονδῶν, ἱερῶν ἐκοινώνησαν οἱ στρατηγοί, σχεδὸν ὡς εἰπεῖν αἱ ἀρχαὶ πᾶσαι); cf. Rosivach 1994:47.

[ back ] 36. Berthiaume 1982:62–69 proposes that all meat distribution was “ritualized”, but distribution deriving from a sacrifice would have been marked by the god’s portions. However, in the Iliad the enacted scenes do not focus on this process, and it is entirely absent from embedded sacrifices.

[ back ] 37. This verse also follows the feast of the Olympians at Iliad I 602 and Patroklos’ funeral feast at Iliad XXIII 56, on which see below pages 201f. This definition is suggested by Nagy 1979:132; see also Puttkammer’s important study (1912). Seaford 2004:52 and Baudy 1983 discuss the importance of the division of sacrificial meat in relation to concepts of divisions of booty and land in Homer.

[ back ] 38. Mackie 1996:130 discusses the “equal feast” as a defining characteristic of Akhaian society, in contrast to Trojan society. However, she does not note the importance of this theme in reference to Trojan sacrifices described twice by Zeus.

[ back ] 39. See pages 120f. below.

[ back ] 40. Kirk 1990:9–11; cf. Griffin 1980:187–188. Both scholars observe that ambrosia is not actually consumed by the gods in the Iliad. They drink nektar at Iliad I 599–604; IV 1–4; and unspecified drinks at Iliad XV 88; XXIV 100–102. The gods attend feasts with the Aithiopes at Iliad I 424; XXIII 201–207, see below pages 190f.

[ back ] 41. Sheratt 2004:184. Μost sacrificial meat consumed in the Classical period was probably boiled: van Straten 1995:147 discusses the evidence. Berthiaume 1982:5–9, 64–67 describes Homeric contexts for eating and food preparation.

[ back ] 42. Bassett 1938: “Eating, like going to sleep and waking, is at least mentioned if not described in the account of every day presented … ” (46); Arend 1933:70 describes the Homeric “delight in hospitality” that inspires the frequent eating in the poems.

[ back ] 43. On Agamemnon’s inadequate speeches, see Martin 1989:62–63, 113–119; Taplin 1990; and pages 157f. below.

[ back ] 44. Rosner 1976:321n18 describes this theme in relation to the uses of λίσσομαι. On the themes of ransom and revenge throughout the poem, see Wilson 2002.

[ back ] 45. Taplin 1992:7.

[ back ] 46. Khruses’ prayer is discussed at length by Pulleyn 1997:16f. as a representative of the ‘if ever’ type. The vocabulary of prayer is discussed by Muellner 1976; Pulleyn 1997:132–155; Lateiner 1997:246–247. Tsagarakis 1977:34 observes that, in his original prayer, Khruses prays not to get his daughter back, but for revenge.

[ back ] 47. Pulleyn 2000 note ad loc. gives a brief summary of the ancient and modern scholarship on ‘Smintheus’, which may either refer to either a place, ‘Sminthe’, or be derived from σμίνθος, ‘mouse’, which could possibly connect it with the spread of plagues by mice.

[ back ] 48. The reluctance in Homeric prayers to refer to the sacrifice at hand can be contrasted with the consistency of this practice in other literary sources; cf. Trugaios’ prayer to Peace during his sacrifice, in which he asks the goddess to receive his sacrifice: “Oh most holy queen, goddess, mistress Peace, queen of dances, queen of marriages, receive our sacrifice” (ὦ σεμνοτάτη βασίλεια θεά, πότνι’ Εἰρήνη, δέσποινα χορῶν, δέσποινα γάμων, δέξαι θυσίαν τὴν ἡμετέραν, Aristophanes Peace 974–977).

[ back ] 49. The formulaic expression occurs at Iliad I 43, 457; V 121; X 295; XVI 249 (partly denied), 527; XXIII 771; XXIV 314.

[ back ] 50. Agamemnon’s and Nestor’s prayers (Iliad VIII 240; XV 373), see below pages 118f. Morrison 1991:149 estimates that 63 percent of prayers, 19 out of 30, are given positive responses in both the Iliad and Odyssey. There are different estimations of prayers in the poem, depending on how ‘prayer’ is defined; I count 29 (see page 86 above).

[ back ] 51. Odyssey i 60–67. He does have an important ritual role as Agamemnon’s stand-in at the sacrifice at Khruse; see below pages 172f.

[ back ] 52. See Lang 1975:311–312 on the function of the memory of Tydeus’ exploits within the context. We can also compare Odysseus’ presentation of the spoils of Dolon to Athena (Iliad X 461–464), to which no response is described, as a further example of the dissociation of immortal attention and gift-offerings within the poem. The Doloneia was questioned as a late addition to the poem in antiquity by the T-scholium ad Iliad X 1; e.g. Kirk 1962:310–312, Taplin 1992:11; Hainsworth 1993:151f. The use of gilded horns in elevating a sacrifice to an appropriate level for divine presence is paralleled in only one instance in the Odyssey: in response to Athena’s epiphany, Nestor gilds the horns of a heifer, a sacrifice which Athena attends unbeknownst to the mortal participants (Odyssey iii 381–383).

[ back ] 53. Gaisser 1969:2 defines digression as “tales and episodes that interrupt the flow of the action to tell of events unconnected with the main story or to give background information.” She counts 24 digressions, including those set within the time of the poem, such as the shield of Akhilleus: Iliad II 100–109, 299–332, 494–759, 816–877; III 204–224; IV 370–400; V 381–404; VI 119–236, 407–432; VII 123–160; IX 434–605; X 254–272; XI 655–803; XIV 110–127, 313–328; XV 14–33; XVIII 37–50, 393–409, 478–608; XIX 86–136; XX 213–241; XXIII 624–650, 740–749; XXIV 599–620. See also Austin 1966:301, who counts 18 digressions dealing with material outside the poem.

[ back ] 54. Kirk 1990 ad Iliad VII 123–160 concludes that Nestor’s stories function like a “minor genre” within the poem. On the digressions of Nestor, see Austin 1966; Pedrick 1983; Dickson 1995.

[ back ] 55. This paradigmatic exhortation is unique in the lack of direct comparison between the speaker and person addressed, direct command, and direct connection with the present circumstances, as well as the extraordinary length; Pedrick 1983:5–60 concludes that Akhilleus is the intended addressee, a substitution that explains these anomalies.

[ back ] 56. Austin’s principle of amplificatio: “the length of the anecdote is in direct proportion to the necessity for persuasion at the moment” (1966:306).

[ back ] 57. Pedrick’s division (1983:57), drawing on Schadewaldt 1938:83f.; Lohmann 1970:70–75 proposes a tripartite division.

[ back ] 58. Pedrick 1983: this memory of battle is Nestor’s aristeia (63–66). Ring composition is discussed by Gaisser 1969:4–5.

[ back ] 59. Although Gaisser 1969:13 describes this as a standard hospitality scene. On typical hospitality scenes, see Reece 1993.

[ back ] 60. Cf. Griffin 1980:128; Schadewaldt 1944:107; and Parker 1998b:116. Schein 1984:45 observes, “The Olympian gods were not the only gods with which Homer’s audience would have been familiar. Their centrality in the Iliad and the way they are made to clarify by contrast the condition of mortals in the poem reflect the way Homer exploits and transforms the religion of the poetic tradition in accordance with the genre and the distinctive themes of his epic.”

[ back ] 61. For a detailed discussion of the oath rituals, Burkert 1985:250–252; Kitts 2005:115–187. Pulleyn 1997:80 describes Iliad III 245–313 as a ‘curse-oath-sacrifice’ on the grounds that oaths are more similar to curses, lacking the reciprocity inherent in prayers.

[ back ] 62. Parker 1998b:117; see also Lang 1975. On Akhilleus’ prayer, see pages 190–191.

[ back ] 63. Hektor’s involvement in the relaying of Helenos’ plan to Hecabe is curious. He would serve the Trojans better on the battlefield. Morrison 1991:156 interprets the whole scene as an excuse to get the hero into Troy to meet with his wife and family.

[ back ] 64. On the question of Athena’s rejection, attributed by ancient critics to Theano’s slight adjustment to Helenos’ original plan, see Kirk 1990 note ad loc.; Morrison 1991:152–156; Lateiner 1997:259. If we turn to the reception of Homer, we can see the tragedy of the Trojans’ failed piety emphasized repeatedly throughout Book II of the Aeneid.

[ back ] 65. Lang 1975:310. See also Morrison 1991:152.

[ back ] 66. Lateiner 1997: “Homeric prayers are utilitarian speech, demands to spell immediate relief” (255).

[ back ] 67. Pulleyn 1997:40. He observes the tendency of Homeric man to complain to gods (197). Lateiner 1997:251 describes these complaints in prayers as the “most alien to Euro-Americans.”

[ back ] 68. Verse 864 is missing in a first-century papyrus and a few manuscripts, on which Richardson 1993 note ad loc.

[ back ] 69. Cf. Glaukos’ prayer to Apollo (Iliad XVI 514–527), which honors the ability of the god to listen no matter where he is. Iris is also sent to Akhilleus by Hera at Iliad XVIII 165–202. Arend 1933:58 observes that this is the only exception to the otherwise consistent role of Iris as a messenger for the gods to each other or to mortals, but never otherwise for mortals to gods. A further discussion of this unique scene is given below, pages 190f.

[ back ] 70. The only other occurrence of μεταδαίνυμαι is in Andromakhe’s vision of the exclusion of orphaned Astuanax from Trojan feasts (Iliad XXII 498).

[ back ] 71. Vernant 1989:24–25.

[ back ] 72. His digression on the wrath of Meleagros exemplifies the paradigmatic digressive technique in the Iliad, particularly its careful adaptation and selection of traditional elements in the story, which are nonetheless ill-fitted to their purpose. I will not discuss this very complicated speech in depth, but refer the reader to Whitman 1958:190–191; Willcock 1964:149f.; Lohmann 1970:245f.; Rosner 1976; Scodel 1982b; Swain 1988. There are numerous parallels between this speech and other parts of the poem, particularly the similarities between Akhilleus and Meleagros (Lohmann 1970:261–271).

[ back ] 73. Swain 1988:274; Willcock 1964:149–153.

[ back ] 74. Casabona 1966:20.

[ back ] 75. De Jong 1987:88b suggests that this remarkable prediction emphasizes the futility of man’s efforts, in contrast with the infinite power of the gods, to set the stage for the events of Iliad XII, which in antiquity was called the teikhomakhia. The other external prolepsis concerns Philoktetes (Iliad II 724–725). Scodel 1982b:33n1, with bibliography, refutes Page’s argument that the wall is a late intrusion into the epic (1959:315–324).

[ back ] 76. Scodel 1982b: “The failure to offer hecatombs (mentioned at 7.450 and 12.6) as a reason for the gods’ displeasure and the wall’s eventual ruin seems like motive-hunting, a commonplace inserted to justify an action with no real cause” (34). Her argument draws on Hesiod’s ‘five ages’ (Works and Days 109–201) and ‘golden age’ mythology, in which sacrifice plays a prominent role. We will return to this topic below, page 191.

[ back ] 77. Redfield 1975:188–189.

[ back ] 78. Scott’s estimation (1974:191-205); there are other estimations on the basis of length, see Edwards 1991:24.

[ back ] 79. Snodgrass 1971:419 gives the evidence for the cult of Poseidon Helikonios; cf. Herodotos 1.148.1. Hera rebukes Poseidon for his lack of pity for the Akhaians, despite the many offerings he receives at Helike and Aigai (Iliad VIII 203–204), another example of negative descriptions of offerings in the maintenance of reciprocity. What Poseidon takes pleasure in is not entirely clear: the antecedent could be either the victims or the young men, Edwards 1991 note ad loc.

[ back ] 80. De Jong 1987b:130f.; Griffin 1980:139.

[ back ] 81. De Jong 1987b:131.

[ back ] 82. Schein 1984; Griffin 1980.

[ back ] 83. Schein 1984:53. Cf. Griffin 1980:179–204.

[ back ] 84. Griffin 1980:183–184; Schein 1984:54-55.

[ back ] 85. Schein 1984:62.

[ back ] 86. Lohmann 1970:196–212; a similar argument is made about the discrepancies between primary and secondary narrator-texts by Andersen 1990.

[ back ] 87. Seaford 2004: “The crisis of the Iliad is a breakdown of the form of reciprocity (Achilles’ prize is in return for fighting) controlled by the leader (redistribution)” (44). He contrasts the com-munal distribution of the sacrificial feast with the irregular and unpredictable distribution of booty.