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Large Animal Sacrifice

The sacrifice of a large animal1 both provided an occasion for the community to reassemble to reaffirm its ties to the divine world and, by the sharing of the roasted meat of the sacrificed animal, for the worshippers to benefit personally from a good realtionship with the gods. The feasting that followed a blood sacrifice was especially meaningful in this latter sense because meat was comparatively rare in the Greek diet. The actual sacrificing of the animal proceeded along strict rules meant to ensure the purity of the occasion. The elaborate procedures required for a blood sacrifice show how seriously and solemnly the Greeks regarded the killing of animals for sacrifice. The victim had to be an unblemished domestic animal, specially decorated with garlands, and induced to approach the altar as if of its own volition. The assembled crowd had to maintain a strict silence to avoid possibly impure remarks. The sacrificer sprinkled water on the victim's head so it would, in shaking its head in response to the sprinkle, appear to consent to its death. After washing his hands, the sacrificer scattered barley grains on the altar fire and the victim's head and then cut a lock of the animal's hair to throw on the fire. Following a prayer, he swiftly cut the animal's throat while musicians played flute-like pipes and female worshippers screamed, presumably to express the group's ritual sorrow at the victim's death. The carcass was then butchered, with some portions thrown on the altar fire so their aromatic smoke could waft its way upwards to the god of the cult. The majority of the meat was then distributed among the worshippers.

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