Mentalities of sacrifice in Indic and Greek traditions
Gregory Nagy, Harvard University
Ever since I was a graduate student, I have been comparing the traditions of India and Greece. As a Classicist, however, that is, as a researcher who studies Greco-Roman civilization by way of analyzing texts written in the ancient Greek and Latin languages, I would *not* have experienced all that much contact with the civilization of India. Most specialists in Classics know very little about the cultural legacy of India. But I, together with Douglas Frame, am not only a Classicist. Both Doug and I are also linguists, and, ever since we were graduate students at Harvard, we have been combining the study of Classics with what linguists call historical linguistics. In my case and Doug’s, our specialization in historical linguistics centered on what linguists call Indo-European linguistics. Doug and I study Indo-European languages, which include European languages like Greek, Latin, German, and so on, as well as non-European languages like Sanskrit, Avestan, Tocharian, and so on. The linguistic term Indo-European was coined by linguists to convey the vastness of the geographical diffusion of Indo-European languages over the last five millennia or so, from India all the way to Europe. These languages are all related to each other and can be traced back to a proto-language that can be reconstructed on the basis of the attested languages. Here is a very handy term for me to introduce at this point, with reference to the relatedness of Indo-European languages to each other: we can say that such languages are cognate with each other. This handy term cognate will come up again in my presentation.
Anyway, already as graduate students, Doug and I were comparing the Greek and the Sanskrit languages. And, from here on, I will reverse the order in which I mention these languages, saying instead Sanskrit and Greek. This way, I match these languages with the linguistic term Indo-European. And, from now on, let me say not only Sanskrit but also Indic, so that I can make it clear that the primary topic of interest in today’s presentation is not just the classical form of Sanskrit but also the preclassical forms and the postclassical forms, as represented for example by the Vedic and the Hindi languages respectively.
And why were Doug and I spending so much time and effort in comparing the Indic and the Greek languages? It was because both of us were particularly interested in the archaeology of linguistic comparison. Here is what I mean. Doug and I were interested not only in finding out what the Indic and the Greek languages have in common as languages but also what they say about the cultures that they express. Just as the Indic and the Greek languages are cognate with each other, derivable as they are from a proto-language known as Indo-European, so also with the cultures that these languages express: these cultures, just like the languages that express them, are also cognate with each other.
Frame and I were interested, then, in comparing the cultures represented by the Indic and the Greek languages, not only in comparing the languages themselves.
Let me stop for a moment and make sure that we don’t misunderstand each other about something that is very important. When I am using the term Indic here, I am referring to what happens before and after the flowering of the classical language that we know as the Sanskrit language. The term Indic can apply to the Vedic language, which comes before Sanskrit, as also to the Hindi language, which comes after Sanskrit. But, when I say Indic, I am *not* referring to the many other languages of India that do not happen to have common origins with Sanskrit. Such other languages include all the so-called Dravidian languages of India, such as Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and so on. Such languages are non-Indo-European. Even though Doug and I are both interested in the cultural distinctions between Indo-European languages like Sanskrit and non-Indo-European languages like, say Tamil, and although we are passionately interested in the cultures of non-Indo-European languages for their own sake, I at this moment here need to concentrate on those languages of India that are cognate with Greek.
One way to say ‘sacrifice’ in Sanskrit
That said, I now want to “dive in,” diving into my topic, which I have entitled “Mentalities of sacrifice in Indic and Greek traditions.” I start with two different forms of one particular Sanskrit verb, cited by Indo-Europeanists as an example for illustrating how to distinguish between two kinds of diathesis in Indo-European verbs. In a moment, Ι will explain what I mean by diathesis, but first let me give the actual example involving the two forms of the one Sanskrit verb:
- The Sanskrit verb yájati, in the active diathesis, which means ‘he sacrifices’. I don’t have to say ‘he or she sacrifices’ in this case because we know for sure that the sacrificer in Indic traditions must be a he.
- The Sanskrit verb yájate, in the middle diathesis, which means ‘he arranges for a sacrifice’.
One way to say ‘sacrifice’ in ancient Greek
Now that I have given the examples I highlight in the Sanskrit language, I will go ahead and highlight the corresponding examples I want to highlight in the ancient Greek language:
- The Greek verb thuei, in the active diathesis, which means ‘he sacrifices’.
- The Greek verb thuetai, in the middle diathesis, which means ‘he arranges for a sacrifice’
What is diathesis?
Before proceeding, I will now define the Greek grammatical term diathesis as applied to the examples I just gave:
When I say diathesis, I am using here an ancient Greek grammatical term that refers to the differentiation of three different “voices,” which are (1) active and (2) passive and (3) middle. And when I say voice, I am simply translating the ancient Greek grammatical term diathesis, which literally means a ‘disposition’ toward persons. In Greek grammar, there are three voices or diatheses: they are (1) active, (2) passive, and (3) middle:
(1) An active diathesis is where the verb expresses an action that is being done *by* the subject.
(2) A passive diathesis, by contrast, is where the verb expresses an action that is being done *to* the subject.
(3) As for a middle diathesis, it is where the verb expresses an action done both *by* the subject and *for* the subject, that is to say, where the subject engages in an action that directly involves the subject as well as the object.
Now that we have these definitions in place, I return to the Sanskrit and the Greek examples involving words that are translated as ‘sacrifice’. My next task is to give an overview of the kinds of contexts in which we can find these examples.
Contexts for using words meaning ‘sacrifice’ in ancient Greek
This time, I will start with a Greek passage, showing contexts for the use of the active and the middle forms thuei and thuetai respectively.
I have extracted this passage from a treatise, dated to the first half of the fourth century BCE, about the customary laws of the Lacedaemonians, that is to say, of the elite leadership in the ancient city of Sparta and its environs. In the passage we are about to consider, the author is describing the ritual procedures of sacrificing at a very special occasion, which is when one of the two kings of Sparta leads the military forces of the Spartans outside their own territory in order to engage in war abroad while the other king stays home in Sparta. Here is the relevant text, showing the customary protocols for performing sacrifices:
|13.2 ἐπαναλήψομαι δὲ ὡς ἐξορμᾶται σὺν στρατιᾷ ὁ βασιλεύς. θύει μὲν γὰρ πρῶτον οἴκοι ὢν Διὶ Ἀγήτορι καὶ τοῖς σιοῖν [αὐτῷ]· ἢν δὲ ἐνταῦθα καλλιερήσῃ, λαβὼν ὁ πυρφόρος πῦρ ἀπὸ τοῦ βωμοῦ προηγεῖται ἐπὶ τὰ ὅρια τῆς χώρας· ὁ δὲ βασιλεὺς ἐκεῖ αὖ |13.3 θύεται Διὶ καὶ Ἀθηνᾷ. ὅταν δὲ ἀμφοῖν τούτοιν τοῖν θεοῖν καλλιερηθῇ, τότε διαβαίνει τὰ ὅρια τῆς χώρας· καὶ τὸ πῦρ μὲν ἀπὸ τούτων τῶν ἱερῶν προηγεῖται οὔποτε ἀποσβεννύμενον, σφάγια δὲ παντοῖα ἕπεται. ἀεὶ δὲ ὅταν θύηται, ἄρχεται μὲν τούτου τοῦ ἔργου ἔτι κνεφαῖος, προλαμβάνειν |13.4 βουλόμενος τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ εὔνοιαν. πάρεισι δὲ περὶ τὴν θυσίαν πολέμαρχοι, λοχαγοί, πεντηκοντῆρες, ξένων στρατίαρχοι, στρατοῦ σκευοφορικοῦ ἄρχοντες, καὶ τῶν ἀπὸ τῶν |13.5 πόλεων δὲ στρατηγῶν ὁ βουλόμενος· πάρεισι δὲ καὶ τῶν ἐφόρων δύο, οἳ πολυπραγμονοῦσι μὲν οὐδέν, ἢν μὴ ὁ βασιλεὺς προσκαλῇ· ὁρῶντες δὲ ὅ τι ποιεῖ ἕκαστος πάντας σωφρονίζουσιν, ὡς τὸ εἰκός. ὅταν δὲ τελεσθῇ τὰ ἱερά, ὁ βασιλεὺς προσκαλέσας πάντας παραγγέλλει τὰ ποιητέα.
|13.2 I will go over the facts concerning how the king sets out [from the city], together with the army. First of all, he sacrifices [ thuei ] while he is still at home, (sacrificing) to Zeus Agētōr and to the two gods called Sioi. And, if at that point the sacred procedure turns out to be good, then the fire-bearer [pūr-phoros] takes the fire [pūr] from the sacrificial altar and leads a procession that proceeds to the border [of Spartan territory]. At that point the next procedure happens: the king arranges to sacrifice [ thuetai ] to Zeus and to Athena. And, when at that point the sacred procedure in the case of both of these gods turns out to be good, then he [= the king] makes a crossing over the border. And the fire [pūr] that was used in these sacred rites leads the way, never extinguished, while all sorts of sacrificial animals [sphagia] follow along. And it is always the case that, when he [= the king] arranges to sacrifice [ thuētai ], he begins this ritual act [ergon] even before dawn, |13.4 wishing to obtain in advance the good disposition of the god, and it is likewise the case that those who attend the sacrifice [thusiā] include the polemarkhoi, the lokhāgoi, the pentekontēres, the stratiarkhoi of foreign allies, the leaders of the baggage-carriers, and whoever among the generals from other cities wishes to come along. Also present are two of the ephoroi, who do not busy themselves with any particular task (unless the king calls on them to do so) but rather supervise what each person does and make sure that everyone behaves in a ritually balanced state of mind, as is proper. But when the sacred rites [hiera] have been completed [teleîsthai], then the king calls out to everyone and announces the things that have to be done.
Xenophon On the constitution of the Lacedaemonians 13.2–13.5
The wording and even the syntax here are ostentatiously precise in some details, but there are many further details of the relevant ritual procedures that are not spelled out. For example, it is left unstated that the act of sacrifice here is the ritual slaughter of sacrificial animals. Also, the wording does not spell out what kinds of sacrificial animals are to be ritually slaughtered—and in what contexts. Nor do we get to see here the complete range of syntax involved in expressing the act of sacrifice. In other contexts where we read descriptions of sacrifice—contexts that the constraints of time now prevent me from analyzing here—we can see that both the active verb thuei and the middle verb thuetai “take” the accusative case as a direct object, and that this object refers to the object of sacrifice. And the object of sacrifice is the sacrificial animal.
Here we come to a most significant difference between sacrificing an animal in the active diathesis and in the middle diathesis. Whereas the person who primarily performs the action of killing the animal is the king himself when the noun for ‘king’ is the syntactical subject of the active thuei, which I translate as ‘he sacrifices’, the situation is different when this same noun for ‘king’ is the subject of the middle thuetai, which I translate as ‘he arranges to sacrifice’: in this case, the person who does the actual killing is not the king but a priest who performs the act on behalf of the king, who is in turn the incarnation of the entire body politic. Applying here my working definition of the middle diathesis, the form thuetai meaning ‘he arranges to sacrifice’ expresses an action done both *by* the subject and *for* the subject, who is the king. That is to say, the king engages here in an action that involves not only the sacrificial animal as the grammatical object of sacrificing but also himself as the grammatical subject of this same act of sacrificing.
Contexts for using words meaning ‘sacrifice’ in Sanskrit
Let’s get back to the Sanskrit forms yájati and yájate and let’s see how they are used in Sanskrit syntax. The active yájati in the sense of ‘he sacrifices’ takes as its primary object, expressed in the accusative case, the god to whom the sacrifice is made, and it takes as its secondary object, expressed in the instrumental case, the thing that is being sacrificed. Let’s suppose that the primary object is the god Agni, who is the personification of sacrificial fire and whose very name means ‘fire’ in Vedic Sanskrit, and let’s also suppose that the secondary object is in this case a cow. Then the best way to translate active yájati is to say that ‘X honors sacrificially [yájati] the god Agni by way of a cow’. This active construction involving yájati meaning ‘he sacrifices’ can now be contrasted with the corresponding middle construction involving yájate meaning ‘he arranges to sacrifice’. Again let’s suppose that the primary object is the god Agni and that the secondary object is a cow. Then the best way to translate middle yájate is to say that ‘X arranges to honor sacrificially [yájate] the god Agni by way of a cow’.
What happened to the Indo-European traditions of sacrificing?
In the case of India, such a ritual arrangement of sacrificing, which originally meant that the cow was slaughtered in the process of the sacrifice, became obsolescent with the advent of Buddhism, maybe as early as the sixth century BCE. By the time of Aśoka, a king who had extended and then enforced Buddhist teachings throughout India in the third century BCE, the world view of Buddhism had undermined the very concept of animal sacrifice, and the sacrifice of cows in particular became an abomination. My favorite examples showing the opprobrium connected with bovine sacrifice come from Buddhist fables centering on greedy priests who perform sacrifices of cattle in order to enrich themselves on the sacrificial fees that they earn from kingly figures of wealth, power, and prestige.
Even after the pre-Buddhist world view of Hinduism eventually reasserted itself and ultimately prevailed throughout most of India, however, the ritual practice of animal sacrifice, especially the slaughtering of cows, was never reinstated. When I consider India today, with a population of one billion humans—if I am allowed to round out a number—I never cease to marvel at the fact that the very idea of killing cows remains an abomination for practically everyone in the entire subcontinent.
And what about ancient Greece? Well, in the era of the text that I quoted a minute ago concerning the sacrificial slaughter of animals—an era that happens to correspond quite closely in chronology to the era of pan-Indian Buddhism as enforced by King Aśoka, the practice of slaughtering animals as sacrifices to gods was still going strong. But, in this case, the practicalities of ritual practice must have weighed heavily on the local populations.
Especially when it comes to the ritual of slaughtering cattle as a grand offering to the gods, which had been the sacrifice of choice in ancient Greek civilization for those who had the wealth, power, and prestige to afford it, the economic realities of the Mediterranean environment made the practice ever more difficult to maintain as time went by. But the practice was in fact maintained well into the period of late antiquity, and it became obsolescent only with the eventual christianization of the eastern half of the Roman Empire in that late period, starting with the fourth century CE.
An example of ostentatious sacrifice in ancient Greek traditions: the hecatomb
Back when, however, in the ancient Greek era that was roughly contemporaneous with the advent of the Buddha in India, the practice of animal sacrifice was still going strong—as I already noted. The most spectacular kind of animal sacrifice in that era and in earlier eras as well was a seasonally recurring ritual known as the hekatombē or ‘hecatomb’, which means literally a sacrifice of one hundred cattle. A celebrated example was the hecatomb celebrated at the yearly festival of the goddess Hera at Argos:
Ἑκατόμβαια δὲ ὁ ἀγὼν λέγεται ὅτι πομπῆϲ μεγάληϲ προηγοῦνται ἑκατὸν βόεϲ, οὓϲ νόμοϲ κρεανομεῖϲθαι πᾶϲι τοῖϲ πολίταιϲ.
This festival of competitions [agōn] is called Hekatombaia because one hundred cattle are led forth in a grand procession [pompē], and their meat is divided by customary law among all the citizens of the city.
Scholia for Pindar Olympian 7.152d 1
What was it like, for the community in a city like Argos, to eat so much beef once a year? In the Mediterranean world, where people lived day in and day out on a diet consisting mostly of grains and olives and cheese and, here and there, an occasional fish, such a yearly extravaganza involving the consumption of vast quantities of beef proved to be quite a shock to the ordinary digestive system. And, in Athenian Old Comedy, we can find the expected jokes about the resulting gastrointestinal crises.
How to party at a sacrifice
But the fact is, such a spectacular occasion of sacrifice was a festive event that made people happy. It was one big party. There was singing and dancing, to the accompaniment of wind- or string-instruments, and the partying was already getting started even earlier, in the form of a pompē or ‘procession’ that would wind its way toward the sacred precinct where the sacrifice took place. In the text I just quoted, we see an example of such a procession. In this case, the pompē led up to the sacrifice in honor of the goddess Hera at her festival in Argos, culminating in a choral performance of Argive girls who participated in that procession.
This culminating ritual event can be reconstructed on the basis of what we read in the Electra of Euripides. In that drama, the role of the chorus is twofold: they represent not only the girls of Argos in the mythical past but also the girls of Argos who participated in the rituals of the seasonally recurring festival of Hera in the historical present of the drama composed by Euripides. In the Electra of Euripides, the male Athenian chorus of his drama is representing a female Argive chorus participating in a contemporary version of Hera’s festival, and this female Argive chorus is in turn representing their prototypical counterparts in the mythical past. Already back then, in that mythical past, a chorus of Argive girls is participating in the festival of Hera. In the Electra of Euripides, there are explicit references to the upcoming choral performance of these mythical girls at Hera’s festival. And the festival itself, as we will now see, is explicitly called a thusiā, meaning literally ‘sacrifice’ (172). Here is the way the word is used in the song that is sung and danced by the chorus of Argive girls:
|167 Ἀγαμέμνονοϲ ὦ κόρα, ἤλυθον, Ἠλέκτρα, |168 ποτὶ ϲὰν ἀγρότειραν αὐλάν. |169 ἔμολέ τιϲ ἔμολεν γαλακτοπόταϲ ἀνὴρ |170 Μυκηναῖοϲ οὐριβάταϲ· |171 ἀγγέλλει δ’ ὅτι νῦν τριταί|172αν καρύϲϲουϲιν θυϲίαν |173 Ἀργεῖοι, πᾶϲαι δὲ παρ’ Ἥ|174ραν μέλλουϲιν παρθενικαὶ ϲτείχειν.
|167 O Electra, daughter of Agamemnon, I [= the chorus, speaking as a singular ‘I’] have arrived |168 at your rustic courtyard. |169 He has come, a milk-drinking man, he has come, |170 a Mycenaean, one whose steps lead over the mountains. |171 He announces that, on the third day from now, |172 a sacrifice [thusiā] is proclaimed |173 by the Argives, and that all |174 the girls [parthenikai] to Hera must proceed [steikhein].
Euripides Electra 167–174
This word thusiā here (172) is referring to the ritual centerpiece of the festival, which is the hecatomb, that is, the sacrifice of one hundred cattle. But the same word thusiā is also referring, by way of metonymy, to the entire festival. Each and every girl from each and every part of the Argive world must steikhein ‘proceed’ to Hera—that is, to the festival of Hera. Each girl personally must make the mental act of proceeding to the goddess. Each girl collectively must join in, that is, join the grand procession that will lead to the precinct of the goddess, where the hundred cattle will be slaughtered in ritual sacrifice. We see here a religious mentality that shapes the idea of the pompē ‘procession’ as we saw it described in the text I quoted earlier from the scholia for Pindar Olympian 7.
It is this procession of girls from Argos that leads to the festival proclaimed by the Argives at line 172 of the Electra. The relevant words, to repeat, are pompē for ‘procession’ and thusiā for ‘sacrifice’. And the word thusiā, as we have just seen, is a metonymic way of saying ‘festival’. After the procession reaches the precinct of Argive Hera, what happens next is the sacrifice of one hundred cattle, followed by festive celebrations. And these festivities will include the choral singing and dancing performed by the girls of Argos. So, the pompē ‘procession’ extends into the choral performance, by way of the sacrifice that will take place after the entry of the procession into the precinct.
In a project that I hope to publish in 2015, I argue that the newly-discovered “brothers poem” of Sappho, who is traditionally dated back to around 600 BCE, is in fact a song that contextualizes a procession, taking place on the island of Lesbos, of a chorus of singing and dancing girls who are about to head out to the sacred precinct of the goddess Hera, which was located in the middle of that Greek island. This new discovery of a song of Sappho that has been heretofore unknown to modernity helps us better understand another piece of poetry, known as Song 17 of Sappho, which has recently been supplemented by way of newly-discovered papyrus fragments. In this song as well, the words of Sappho refer to the festival of Hera at Lesbos: in this case, the reference highlights a choral performance of girls and women at the same sacred precinct of the goddess, and, in this case, there is also a reference made to a ritual cry made by the women—the sound is ololu—signaling the sacrificial slaughter of one hundred sacrificial cattle. After the sacrifice, the singing and the dancing of the female chorus can begin.
At a sacrifice, one thing can lead to another
As we read further in the Greek evidence, the climax of a sacrifice can lead to many different good things, beautiful things. In an erotic novel dated to the second century CE, we see one such beautiful and good thing. People can fall in love with each other. The setting is a festival that is being celebrated in honor of another goddess, Artemis, in the Greek city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. A girl named Anthia, age 14, is about to fall in love with a boy named Habrokomes, age 16, and, simultaneously, he is about to fall in love with her. It all happens when the two of them make eye contact with each other at the precise moment when the procession in which they were processing reaches the sacred precinct of the goddess. I quote the wording that we read in this erotic novel. The action starts right at the moment when the procession reaches the sacred precinct. What does not get mentioned is that, at this same moment, the sacrificial animals that will provide the meat for the feasting are being sacrificed, and that this sacrifice is then followed by choral singing and dancing by the young people who have arrived in the procession that has now reached the sacred precinct. Anyway, by this time, both the boy and the girl have already heard about each other’s good looks from their peers while they were processing toward the sacred precinct, and, now that they are finally there -and now that the feasting can finally begin in a festive atmosphere of choral singing and dancing—the boy and the girl get to feast their eyes on each other:
καὶ ἥ τε Ἀνθία τὸν Ἁβροκόμην ἐπεθύμει ἰδεῖν, καὶ ὁ τέως ἀνέραστος Ἁβροκόμης ἤθελεν Ἀνθίαν ἰδεῖν. 1.3.1 Ὡς οὖν ἐτετέλεστο ἡ πομπή ἦλθον δὲ εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν θύσοντες ἅπαν τὸ πλῆθος καὶ ὁ τῆς πομπῆς κόσμος ἐλέλυτο ᾔεσαν δὲ ἐς ταὐτὸν ἄνδρες καὶ γυναῖκες, ἔφηβοι καὶ παρθένοι, ἐνταῦθα ὁρῶσιν ἀλλήλους, καὶ ἁλίσκεται Ἀνθία ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἁβροκόμου, ἡττᾶται δὲ ὑπὸ Ἔρωτος Ἁβροκόμης καὶ ἐνεώρα τε συνεχέστερον τῇ κόρῃ καὶ ἀπαλλαγῆναι τῆς ὄψεως ἐθέλων οὐκ ἐδύνατο· κατεῖχε δὲ αὐτὸν ἐγκείμενος ὁ θεός. 1.3.2 Διέκειτο δὲ καὶ Ἀνθία πονήρως, ὅλοις μὲν καὶ ἀναπεπταμένοις τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς τὸ Ἁβροκόμου κάλλος εἰσρέον δεχομένη, ἤδη δὲ καὶ τῶν παρθένοις πρεπόντων καταφρονοῦσα· καὶ γὰρ ἐλάλησεν ἄν τι, ἵνα Ἁβροκόμης ἀκούσῃ, καὶ μέρη τοῦ σώματος ἐγύμνωσεν ἂν τὰ δυνατά, ἵνα Ἁβροκόμης ἴδῃ· ὁ δὲ αὑτὸν ἐδεδώκει πρὸς τὴν θέαν καὶ ἦν αἰχμάλωτος τοῦ θεοῦ. 1.3.3 Καὶ τότε μὲν θύσαντες ἀπηλλάττοντο λυπούμενοι καὶ τῷ τάχει τῆς ἀπαλλαγῆς μεμφόμενοι· <καὶ> ἀλλήλους βλέπειν ἐθέλοντες ἐπιστρεφόμενοι καὶ ὑφιστάμενοι πολλὰς προφάσεις διατριβῆς ηὕρισκον. 1.3.4 Ὡς δὲ ἦλθον ἑκάτερος παρ’ ἑαυτόν, ἔγνωσαν τότε οἷ κακῶν ἐγεγόνεισαν
1.2.9 … [While the procession was heading toward the sacred precinct,] Anthia conceived in her heart [thūmos] a desire to see Habrokomes, while Habrokomes, up to now free of eros, began wanting to see Anthia. 1.3.1 When the procession [pompē] finally reached its culmination [telos] and the whole crowd entered the sacred [hieron] space in order to make sacrifice [thuein] and when the arrangement [kosmos] of the procession [pompē] was finally dissolved and all the men and women entered the same space, as well as all the boys and girls, then it was that the two of them get to see one other, and Anthia is captured [= “captivated”] by Habrokomes, while Habrokomes is defeated by Eros and was looking right into the maiden [korē], one moment right after another, and, though he wanted to break away from the view [opsis], he simply couldn’t. He was held fast by the god, who was pressing on him. 1.3.2 Anthia too was feeling wickedly sick, receiving with eyes wide open the beauty of Habrokomes as it was flowing into her. She was already despising all those things that are proper things to do for girls. She was ready to chatter about anything, just so that Habrokomes would hear it, and she was ready to bare parts of her body [sōma] as far as she could, just so that Habrokomes could see it. And he gave himself up completely to the view [theā] and was captured as the god’s prisoner of war. 1.3.3 Then, having finished the sacrifice [thuein], they departed from the [sacred] space in sadness and feeling resentful about the speed of the departure. Wanting to look at each other, they kept turning backwards and standing back, finding countless excuses for delay. 1.3.4 Each going in separate ways, they finally made their ways back to their homes, and only the moment they got back did each of the two realize just how far they had got themselves into trouble.
Xenophon of Ephesus 1.2.9–1.3.4
So, that is how these two lovers fall in love, at the beginning of the erotic novel. After an intense courtship and a happy wedding, however, the lovers unhappily get separated from each other, and they experience a vast array of tribulations before finally, at the very end of the novel, they are reunited with each other. Let me fast-forward to the very last sentence of the whole novel:
καὶ αὐτοὶ τοῦ λοιποῦ διῆγον ἑορτὴν ἄγοντες τὸν μετ’ ἀλλήλων βίον.
And they [= the lovers] for the rest of time lived their lives celebrating the festival [heortē].
Xenophon of Ephesus 5.15.3
So, how does the novel end? Did the two lovers live happily ever after? No, better than that: for these two lovers to live happily ever after is to celebrate a festival forever. Here is how the wording goes, as we have just read: for the rest of time, they lived their lives celebrating the festival [heortē]. So the party, as conveyed by the word heortē ‘festival’, will go on forever. And the conclusion of the story is not really a conclusion.
The metonymic signature for this eternal celebration at a heortē ‘festival’ is the interweaving of a garland made of anthē ‘blossoms’, signaled by the name of Anthiā, with a habrā or ‘luxuriant’ komē or ‘head of hair’, signaled the name of Habrokomēs. Once the luxuriant hair is reunited with the blossoms of the garland, the celebration can go on forever, and everyone who takes part will be sure to feel utter delight.
A search for parallels in India
Just as the novel that we considered here has no end, my presentation to you has no end, either. I am working on a new research project where I will be collecting parallels to such high points experienced by people participating in ancient Greek festivals. The parallels I am looking for are situations at Indic sacrifices celebrated in both ancient and modern India—sacrifices where people attending will experience something deeply personal at the climax of sacrifice—and where the object of sacrifice is not a sacrificial animal but something else that is sacralized by way of sacrifice. After all, the experience of India makes us aware that you can perform a meatless sacrifice and you can have meatless happiness to go with it. That is what India is all about.