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Iphigenia and Human Sacrifice

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Guest FriendofGreece

I saw the movie Iphigenia and was surprised about the human sacrifice to the ancient Greek Gods. Of course, this is in the Greek Homeric legend.

 

Contrary to other civilizations where they had plenty of human sacrifices, I have not read any other cases of human sacrifices in ancient Greece. Why then the human sacrifice in Iphigenia, is it just to make it a drama?

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From what I remember (and I may be wrong as it's been almost 3 decades since I last read Homer) there's no mention in the Iliad or the Odyssey of the fate of Iphigenia. I'm not even sure if Iphigenia is mentioned at all in these books. From what I remember she's not mentioned at all.

 

If I remember correctly (and you may have to Google this to find out more accurate info) Iphigenia plays a leading role in the tragedies of Aeschylus (Oresteia) and Euripides (Iphigenia in Aulis and Iphigenia in Tauris). This is where the story of Iphigenia is explored in much more detail. Again, from what I remember (and I may be wrong...) in all these plays Iphigenia is eventually saved by Zeus (or Artemis?) and is never really sacrificed. Again, you'll probably have to Google about those plays to find out if my memory serves me well  :)

 

There's also one more story of human sacrifices in the Greek mythology (and may be more which I can't remember of the top of my head). That's the story of Theseus and the Minotaur.

 

In all cases though archaeology has not managed to verify (or conclusively dismiss) any claims of human sacrifice in ancient Greece. If it happened it may have happened in very early times in Greek history, most likely during the paleolithic era, possibly pro-Mycenaean.

 

Again, from what I know there's no real evidence that ancient Greeks were ever into human sacrifice.

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Guest FriendofGreece

It is true, I remember reading about Iphigenia being saved by a god at the end, and the movie itself does not show the sacrifice. It is left to the viewer's own imagination. I will take a look at Theseus and the Minotaur. I don't remember that human sacrifice was otherwise mentioned in ancient Greek literature, although I did not read a lot. Very interesting difference from other ancient civilizations.

 

 

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I was reading something irrelevant today and I happened to find this: 

 

 

Thargelia (Greek Θαργήλια) was one of the chief Athenian festivals in honour of the Delian Apollo and Artemis, held on their birthdays, the 6th and 7th of the month Thargelion(about May 6 and May 7).

 

Essentially an agricultural festival, the Thargelia included a purifying and expiatory ceremony. While the people offered the first-fruits of the earth to the god in token of thankfulness, it was at the same time necessary to propitiate him, lest he might ruin the harvest by excessive heat, possibly accompanied by pestilence. The purificatory preceded the thanksgiving service. On the 6th a sheep was sacrificed to Demeter Chloe on the Acropolis, and perhaps a swine to the Fates, but the most important ritual was the following. Two men, the ugliest that could be found (the Pharmakoi) were chosen to die, one for the men, the other (according to some, a woman) for the women. Hipponax of Kolophon claims that on the day of the sacrifice they were led round with strings of figs on their necks, and whipped on the genitals with rods of figwood and squills. When they reached the place of sacrifice on the shore, they were stoned to death, their bodies burnt, and the ashes thrown into the sea (or over the land, to act as a fertilizing influence). However, it is unclear how accurate Hipponax's sixth-century, poetical account of the ceremony is, and there is much scholarly debate as to its reliability.[1]

 

It is supposed that an actual human sacrifice took place on this occasion, replaced in later times by a milder form of expiation. Thus at Leucas a criminal was annually thrown from a rock into the sea as a scapegoat: but his fall was checked by live birds and feathers attached to his person, and men watched below in small boats, who caught him and escorted him beyond the boundary of the city. Nevertheless, many modern scholars reject this, arguing that the earliest source for the pharmakos (the iambic satirist Hipponax) shows the pharmakos being beaten and stoned, but not executed. A more plausible explanation would be that sometimes they were executed and sometimes they weren't depending on the attitude of the victim. For instance a deliberate unrepentant murderer would most likely be put to death. Similarly, at Massilia, on the occasion of some heavy calamity (plague or famine), one of the poorest inhabitants volunteered as a scapegoat. For a year he was fed up at the public expense, then clothed in sacred garments, led through the city amidst execrations, and cast out beyond the boundaries.

 

The ceremony on the 7th was of a cheerful character. All kinds of first-fruits were carried in procession and offered to the god, and, as at the Pyanepsia (or Pyanopsia), branches of olive bound with wool, borne by children, were affixed by them to the doors of the houses. These branches, originally intended as a charm to avert failure of the crops, were afterwards regarded as forming part of a supplicatory service. On the second day choruses of men and boys took part in musical contests, the prize for which was a tripod. Further, on this day adopted persons were solemnly received into the genos and phratria of their adoptive parents.

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thargelia

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