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King of Sacrifice: Ritual and Royal Authority in the Iliad, by Sarah Hitch

Reviewed by Gunnel Ekroth

Considering the innumerable books and articles that have explored various themes in Homer, it is surprising that there is to date no independent, comprehensive study of the poems’ representations of animal sacrifice. Sarah Hitch has to a large extent rectified this situation by her interesting and well-written volume on the role and function of sacrifice in the Iliad.

A short preface presents the scope of the study, followed by four chapters exploring different themes, a bibliography, a brief general index and an index locorum. The overall aim is to explore the function of sacrifice within the context of the Iliad, and how the objectives of the poem shaped the representation and meaning of sacrifice. Sacrifice serves to bring out Agamemnon’s prominence among the Achaians by his role as the principal sacrificer, while Achilles almost semi-divine status is underlined by the fact that he does not sacrifice. Furthermore, the descriptions of sacrifice bring to the fore what seems to have been a constant preoccupation of the Greeks, the doubt that the gods would pay attention to the offerings given.

Chapter 1 outlines the possible approaches to sacrifice in the Iliad. Hitch argues that the construction of the Homeric text making use of formulas, formulaic phrases and type scenes has led scholars to overestimate the degree of repetition in the description of sacrifice scenes. Even if the sacrificial scenes are type scenes, there are distinctions in ritual procedure and contents that served to adapt the descriptions to each context in order to underline a particular purpose.

Read the original article at: Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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