A Homeric Simile and Puppy Sacrifice

Odyssey 9.287-293

“So I was speaking, but [the Kyklops] did not answer me because of his pitiless heart.
But then he leapt up, shot out his hands at my companions,
Grabbed two together, and struck them against the ground
Like puppies. Brains were flowing out from them and they dyed the ground.
After tearing them limb from limb, he prepared himself a meal.
He ate them like a mountain-born lion and left nothing behind,
The innards, the meat, and the marrow-filled bones.”

Image result for Ancient Greek dog

ὣς ἐφάμην, ὁ δέ μ’ οὐδὲν ἀμείβετο νηλέϊ θυμῷ,
ἀλλ’ ὅ γ’ ἀναΐξας ἑτάροισ’ ἐπὶ χεῖρας ἴαλλε,
σὺν δὲ δύω μάρψας ὥς τε σκύλακας ποτὶ γαίῃ
κόπτ’· ἐκ δ’ ἐγκέφαλος χαμάδις ῥέε, δεῦε δὲ γαῖαν.
τοὺς δὲ διὰ μελεϊστὶ ταμὼν ὁπλίσσατο δόρπον·
ἤσθιε δ’ ὥς τε λέων ὀρεσίτροφος, οὐδ’ ἀπέλειπεν,
ἔγκατά τε σάρκας τε καὶ ὀστέα μυελόεντα.

I asked a question about this passage a few days ago on twitter and got some great responses. One found a later passage that deals with puppies and has some interesting thematic resonance with Odysseus’ development:

Several mentioned that this is a typical way to deal with unwanted puppies:

And several respondents also made nice points about the helplessness of the puppies in the image.

I think that all of these ideas are essential to a full interpretation of this passage. But, I do wonder if, in addition, we should consider ancient Greek practices of puppy sacrifice. I know that the following accounts are later, but what if we imagine the simile used here as evoking ideas of purification through sacrifice?

Plutarch, Roman Questions 280 c

“Nearly all the Greeks made use of the dog in sacrifice and some still do today, for cleansing rituals. They also bring puppies for Hekate along with other purification materials; and they rub down people who need cleansing with the puppies.”

τῷ δὲ κυνὶ πάντες ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν Ἕλληνες ἐχρῶντο καὶ χρῶνταί γε μέχρι νῦν ἔνιοι σφαγίῳ πρὸς τοὺς καθαρμούς· καὶ τῇ Ἑκάτῃ σκυλάκια μετὰ τῶν ἄλλων καθαρσίων ἐκφέρουσι καὶ περιμάττουσι σκυλακίοις τοὺς ἁγνισμοῦ δεομένους 

Plutarch, Romulus 21.10

“The Greeks in their purification bring out the puppies and in many places use them in the practice called periskulakismos [‘carrying puppies around’]”

καὶ γὰρ ῞Ελληνες ἔν τε τοῖς καθαρσίοις σκύλακας ἐκφέρουσι καὶ πολλαχοῦ χρῶνται τοῖς λεγομένοις περισκυλακισμοῖς·

Pausanias, Laconica 15

“Here, each of these groups of youths sacrifice a puppy to Enyalius, god of war, because they believe that it is best to make this most valiant of the domesticated animals to the bravest of the gods. I don’t know any other Greeks who believe it is right to sacrifice puppies to the gods except for the Kolophonians. For the Kolophonians sacrifice a black female puppy to the goddess of the Crossroad. The sacrifices of both the Kolophonians and the Spartan youths take place at night.”

ἐνταῦθα ἑκατέρα μοῖρα τῶν ἐφήβων σκύλακα κυνὸς τῷ Ἐνυαλίῳ θύουσι, θεῶν τῷ ἀλκιμωτάτῳ κρίνοντες ἱερεῖον κατὰ γνώμην εἶναι τὸ ἀλκιμώτατον ζῷον τῶν ἡμέρων. κυνὸς δὲ σκύλακας οὐδένας ἄλλους οἶδα Ἑλλήνων νομίζοντας θύειν ὅτι μὴ Κολοφωνίους· θύουσι γὰρ καὶ Κολοφώνιοι μέλαιναν τῇ Ἐνοδίῳ σκύλακα. νυκτεριναὶ δὲ ἥ τε Κολοφωνίων θυσία καὶ τῶν ἐν Λακεδαίμονι ἐφήβων καθεστήκασιν.

Plutarch, Roman Questions 290 d

“Indeed, the ancients did not consider this animal to be clean either: it was never sacrificed to one of the Olympian goes, but when it is given to Hekate at the cross-roads, it functions as part of the sacrifices that turn away and cleanse evil. In Sparta, they sacrifice dogs to the bloodiest of the gods, Enyalios. In Boiotia, it is the public cleansing ritual to walk between the parts of a dog that has been cut in half. The Romans themselves during the Wolf-Festival which they call the Lupercallia, they sacrifice a dog in the month of purification.”

Οὐ μὴν οὐδὲ καθαρεύειν ᾤοντο παντάπασιν οἱ παλαιοὶ τὸ ζῷον· καὶ γὰρ Ὀλυμπίων μὲν οὐδενὶ θεῶν καθιέρωται, χθονίᾳ δὲ δεῖπνον Ἑκάτῃ πεμπόμενος εἰς τριόδους ἀποτροπαίων καὶ καθαρσίων ἐπέχει μοῖραν. ἐν δὲ Λακεδαίμονι τῷ φονικωτάτῳ θεῶν Ἐνυαλίῳ σκύλακας ἐντέμνουσι· Βοιωτοῖς δὲ δημοσίᾳ καθαρμός ἐστι κυνὸς διχοτομηθέντος τῶν μερῶν διεξελθεῖν· αὐτοὶ δὲ Ῥωμαῖοι τοῖς Λυκαίοις, ἃ Λουπερκάλια καλοῦσιν, ἐν τῷ καθαρσίῳ μηνὶ κύνα θύουσιν. ὅθεν οὐκ ἀπὸ τρόπου τοῖς τὸν ὑπέρτατον καὶ καθαρώτατον εἰληφόσι θεραπεύειν

One thought on “A Homeric Simile and Puppy Sacrifice

  1. Although dogs, not puppies, Homer’s Achilles offers an indication that the sacrifice of dogs was not uncommon in his time:
    [From Book XXIII of Homer’s Iliad:]
    [160]| When Agamemnon, king of men, heard these words,
    he quickly sent the troops off to their balanced ships.
    The chief mourners stayed behind. They piled up wood,
    making a square pyre, each side one hundred feet in length.
    On that pyre’s highest point they laid out the corpse,
    hearts full of sorrow. Then, in front of the pyre,
    they flayed and made ready many sturdy sheep 200
    and shambling cattle with twisting horns. From all these,
    great-hearted Achilles took the fat, using it
    to cover up the corpse from head to foot, piling
    skinned carcasses around it. Next, he placed on top
    two-handled jars of oil and honey, leaning them [170]
    against the bier. Then, crying with grief, Achilles
    threw four strong-necked horses quickly on the pyre.
    Patroclus had owned nine dogs who ate beside his table.
    Slitting the throats of two of them, Achilles
    tossed them on the pyre. Then, with his bronze, he butchered 210
    those twelve noble sons of the courageous Trojans,
    his feelings grimly set on this atrocity.
    After that, he lit the fire to work its iron force
    and burn up everything.
    [https://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/homer/iliad23.htm]

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