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Before Animal Sacrifice, A Myth of Innocence

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Animal sacrifice was one of the most pervasive and socially significant practices of Graeco-Roman religion. Yet, numerous Greek and Latin writers tell of a golden before the advent of sacrifice and meat eating. In this idealized world, humans lived at one with the gods and animal sacrifice did not exist. Such texts are often seen as part of a wider ancient critique of Greco-Roman religion in general and animal sacrifice in particular. This interpretive model, largely sprung from Christian theologizing, sees animal sacrifice as a meaningless and base act, destined to be superseded. As a result of this 'critique model', scholars have not asked what the myth of a world without sacrifice means in a world in which sacrifice predominated. This paper seeks to correct the above view by analyzing these texts as instances of created myth. It approaches each occurrence of the myth as an instance of position-taking by a player in the field of cultural production. The paper seeks to further a redescription of Greco-Roman antiquity by revealing the variety of ancient positions on sacrifice and their strategic use by competing cultural producers.

Affiliations: 1: Brown University, Box 1927, Providence RI 02912, United States of America


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