Current Epigraphy
ISSN: 1754-0909

11 May, 2009

R. Parker & S. Scullion, ‘Priests and Sacrifices at Aixone: the New World of SEG LIV 214′ (Oxford, 2nd May 2009)

Filed under: BES,events,report — Etienne Dunant @ 13:39

Paper delivered at the BES Spring Colloquium.

The final contribution at the 2009 BES Spring Meeting was remarkable by its conciseness, clarity and interest. It was a striking example of how some of our preconceived ideas on ancient Greek practices can be swiftly turned on their head by inscriptions.

The inscription (SEG LIV 214), dated to the 4th c. BC, is incomplete and fragmented. The stele fragments were actually discovered by different individuals over a long period of time. This led to some confusion about the original location of the inscription, with the Greek scholars’ hypothesis of its coastal origins being confirmed by the discovery of the most recent fragment in the deme of Aixone (modern Glyfada). The question of the exact location of the inscription is presumably answered by the last fragment. It was found near other inscriptions mentioning their being set up in the sanctuary of Herakleidai, Hebe and Alcmene. The text is stoichedon and beautifully inscribed. The bottom section still shows grid lines for the sculptor to follow.

The text presents several issues discussed by Parker and Scullion. To start with, the question of who had commissioned the inscription is raised by the location of the stone. The sanctuary of the Herakleidai is where the deme of Aixone displayed its decisions. This would hint at the deme as the commissioner, although the possibility of a sub-deme body, such as a genos, cannot be excluded. Indeed, line 26 mentions a hero Paralos and the only known sanctuary to Paralos is in Piraeus, outside of Aixone’s control. This leaves open the possibility of a genos dedicating the stele, or of an as yet unknown sanctuary of Paralos in the deme of Aixone.

The number of priesthoods present here amounts to ten (although some are lost with the top of the inscription) which, with two others known for Aixone, would total to twelve for the whole deme. The text notably features two priesthoods (one priestess and one priest) for the same ‘mystery deity’, the Reverend (ἁγνή) Goddess. This title is usually given to the Syrian goddess and is otherwise not attested before the 2nd c. BC. This occurrence probably belongs here to a different deity, possibly Persephone. The multiple priesthoods for the same deity are in any case unusual.

Scullion then described the last part of the inscription as changing in nature, since the content of the lists no longer includes double portions (of meat), sausages or cuts to be put on the sacrificial table. There is therefore no spare meat from the sacrifice, which in turn would indicate holocausts. The possible objection to this is the fact that hides are still given to the priest/-ess. There are examples in the Greek world of ‘whole-sacrifices’ of an animal that has been cut open (see for example at Cos, 4th c. BC, Sokolowski LSCG 151 A 32-5) but the case of Aixone is different. Here the skin is preserved. The only ancient parallels are found outside the Greek world with examples from Leviticus (1:3-9; 7:8), Philo Judaeus (De specialibus legibus 1.30 [151]) and Punic and Semitic inscriptions (CIS I 165.3-4; I 167). This could lead to the conclusion that cutting up the animal before burning it whole was a usual practice, thus explaining the otherwise silent sources on the matter. For one, it would require less wood than the whole un-skinned animal. This undoubtedly challenges the mental image of the holocaust as the act of putting an intact animal, albeit a dead one, into the fire. It is also noted that the deities at Aixone concerned by these sacrifices have a chthonic character.

Parker finally noted that the only deity for whom no sum to purchase kindling is mentioned is Dionysos (lines 9-11). This suggests the possibility of omophagia.

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