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[230] Ὀγχηστόν: the precinct of Poseidon at Onchestus was famous from early times; cf. Il. 2.506 Ὀγχηστόν θ᾽ ἱερόν, Ποσιδήϊον ἀγλαὸν ἄλσος”, Hes. fr. 41 (Rzach), Pind. Isthm.i. 33Pind. Isthm., iii. 19.Pausanias (ix. 26. 3) saw the ruins of the town, temple (with statue of Poseidon still standing) and precinct; Strabo (412) speaks of the grove as bare and treeless in his day. On the site see Frazer on l.c.

231-238. The custom at Onchestus is puzzling, as the account in the hymn is obscurely worded, and is our sole authority. Most scholars have followed Böttiger in explaining the custom as a mode of divination: if the horses entered the “ἄλσος” the omen was favourable; see Bouché-Leclercq Divination i. p. 150. This and similar views, however, depend on Barnes' emendation “ἄγωσιν”, which cannot be accepted (see on 235). Ilgen first gave a clue, by a suggestion that there is a reference to Poseidon “ταράξιππος”. A bolting or shying horse was often thought to be panic-stricken by that god (see Paus.vi. 20. 15 with Frazer's note). The present editors have discussed the passage in J. H. S. xvii. p. 274 f. (T. W. A.) and J. H. S. xix. p. xxxix f. ( S. ). It is possible that the custom was the ordinary rule of the road: Poseidon was offended at wheeled traffic which passed his home; but the horses were allowed a chance; if they bolted and broke the carriage, the driver had to leave the wreckage in the precinct. In any case the owners kept the horses (see note on “κομέουσι” 236).

It is hard to believe, however, that this inconvenient practice was a regular “rule of the road”; moreover “νεοδμὴς πῶλος” is forcible and scarcely looks like a poetic expression for any horse. The custom may rather have been practised with newly broken colts. All horses belonged to the horse-god Poseidon, who might refuse to allow his sacred animals to bear the yoke. The colts were passed before the god; if they drew the carriage safely through, or past, his precinct, they might be driven by men; if they broke away from the chariot, Poseidon claimed them for his own. The owners could indeed retain them, but not for the indignity of a yoke; the chariot was left in the grove, as being marked by Poseidon's displeasure.


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