In Sparta they sacrificed puppies for Ares. In Colophon the goddess Hecate got a little black dog, while it was inferred that Helios, the sun god, would rather the animals killed in his honour were white. Once a year on Mykonos, a sheep and ten lambs were offered to the river Achelous: the sheep and two of the lambs were sacrificed at the altar, the other eight lambs in the river. In Paestum, Hera, goddess of marriage, was offered uxorious geese. Visitors to the shrine of Persuasion (Peitho) on the island of Thasos in the northern Aegean were advised that it was forbidden to offer the goddess a goat or a pig. But pigs were the preferred offerings to Demeter and her daughter Persephone; all around the classical Mediterranean, archaeologists have come to realise that a layer of pork chops means they have stumbled on a sanctuary of the goddesses of agriculture. Unusually careful sifting of the earth in Demeter's sanctuary in Corinth, however, revealed that her worshippers were also fond of fish, although it is not probable that they sacrificed them to the goddess before eating them - hard to tell with fishbones. A tuna was certainly sacrificed to Poseidon in the Attic parish of Halai. And someone or other was so proud of the big fish he offered to Zeus Pankrates - discovered in 1952 and now buried under the statue of Harry Truman in Athens - that he commissioned a stone frieze to mark the occasion. Well, it could be a fish or it could be a large Cornish pasty - the sculptor was not a master of his art.
LRB 19 July 2007 | PDF Download