Oinops, Sacrifice and Ritual
~ A guest blog by Jacqui Donlon and the Oinops Study Group~
“He looked all sorrowfully out upon the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos], and said, “Sperkheios, in vain did my father Peleus vow to you that when I returned home to my loved native land I should cut off this lock and offer you a holy hecatomb; fifty she-goats was I to sacrifice to you there at your springs, where is your grove and your altar fragrant with burnt-offerings.”
Iliad XXIII. 143-148
One of the last themes our Oinops Study Group looked at was sacrifice, and frankly my thoughts were a bit jumbled about it. I realized that I was not confident about discerning between an actual sacrifice, or a metaphorical one. I was also still trying to learn about the differences between sacrifice and rituals like libation. I gathered up all of the oinops references with the thought that perhaps I should separate out the “sacrifice” (meat) references from the “libations” (wine or water) references to see if there was a pattern. There were patterns — but too many, too limited in scope with the result being it was now harder to figure out what was going on. The patterns were crisscrossing several of our already discussed themes, and once woven together, harder to pull apart. The most apparent themes such as pontos and light were relatively easy to decode, but by now as you can see from reading Sarah’s recent blog Hesiodic Advice on Oinops, we are getting into passages dense with multiple overlapping themes that in turn seem to be pointing to new themes: everything has its season, and proper timing is critical to survival.
So things were looking a bit murky, but only until we close-read each passage again, and then again. Claudia, Sarah and I wound up having a marathon session — well over two hours but it was worth it. The overarching patterns emerged and now going forward I will read all epic with the knowledge gathered at this session. Knowledge by discovery for me has the most impact upon my memory, my comprehension, and my ability to extrapolate — and hence probably the reason for the teaching methods utilized by our HeroesX and H25 mentors. But let’s take it from the beginning, when the mists were still upon the Study Group.
A sacrifice entails meat, but usually it is the blood of an animal that is used for cult hero worship while the bones, fat and apportioned sections of edible animal meats (such as thighs) are used to honor the gods. According to Professor Nagy in The Best of the Achaeans, the choice cut of meat was a regional preference and therefore not prominently presented in Panhellenic Homeric poetry. Only five of the oinops excerpts we looked at referred to sacrificing or a specific sacrifice, and upon study, two passages spoke to us very clearly. In this passage below, Achilles is speaking at the funeral rites for Patroklos.
When they came to the place of which Achilles had told them they laid the body down and built up the wood.  Radiant swift-footed Achilles then turned his thoughts to another matter. He went a space away from the pyre, and cut off the yellow lock which he had let grow for the river Sperkheios. He looked all sorrowfully out upon the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos], and said, “Sperkheios, in vain did my father Peleus vow to you  that when I returned home to my loved native land I should cut off this lock and offer you a holy hecatomb; fifty she-goats was I to sacrifice to you there at your springs, where is your grove and your altar fragrant with burnt-offerings. Thus did my father vow, but you have not fulfilled the thinking [noos] of his prayer;  now, therefore, that I shall see my home no more, I give this lock as a keepsake to the hero Patroklos.
Iliad XXIII 138-151 (modified Sourcebook)
Cutting hair, as we learned in The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, is an initiation rite – but here Achilles gives the hair to the funeral pyre instead of giving it to the river of his birthplace in Thessaly. He knows he will never return home; he will not achieve nostos. Achilles is also showing how to properly honor Patroklos, and then by extension, himself when he dies. It is an interesting cultural note that when Achilles is dead and all the warriors cut their hair at his funeral, from then on, Achaeans warriors wear short hair.
But there is also something else that our study group noted down during our reading of this passage. Achilles, through his speech recalling his father’s promise of a sacrifice, is also honoring Sperkheios, the river god of his homeland. Compare Achilles’ actions in the passage above to his actions and interactions with the River god Xanthos in Scroll XXII, when that river god and Achilles are in major conflict. The result is that the river ends up choked with bodies — a metaphor perhaps of the burial enacted profanely? If so, then the scene in Iliad XXIII is a counter balance and shows how ritual, when performed correctly, brings honor [tīmē] to the gods.
The second passage that was significant for us was from the Odyssey xii, when Odysseus’ crew slaughters Lampetie’s cows – you will remember it – it was about a sacrifice gone oh so wrong.
Now the cattle, so fair and goodly,
 were feeding not far from the ship; the men, therefore drove in the best of them, and they all stood round them saying their prayers, and using young oak-shoots instead of barley-meal, for there was no barley left. When they had done praying they killed the cows and dressed their carcasses;
 they cut out the thigh bones, wrapped them round in two layers of fat, and set some pieces of raw meat on top of them. They had no wine with which to make drink-offerings over the sacrifice while it was cooking, so they kept pouring on a little water from time to time while the innards were being grilled; then, when the thigh bones were burned and they had tasted the innards,
 they cut the rest up small and put the pieces upon the spits. “By this time my deep sleep had left me, and I turned back to the ship and to the sea shore. As I drew near I began to smell hot roast meat,
 so I groaned out a prayer to the immortal gods. ‘Father Zeus,’ I exclaimed, ‘and all you other gods who live in everlasting bliss, you have inflicted on me a cruel aberration [atē] by the sleep into which you have sent me; see what fine work these men of mine have been making in my absence.’ “Meanwhile Lampetie of the light robes went straight off to the sun
 and told him we had been killing his cows, whereon he flew into a great rage, and said to the immortals, ‘Father Zeus, and all you other gods who live in everlasting bliss, I must have vengeance on the crew of Laertes’ son Odysseus’ ship: they have had the insolence to kill my cows, which were the one thing I loved to
 look upon, whether I was going up the sky or down again. If they do not square accounts with me about my cows, I will go down to Hadēs and shine there among the dead.’
 “‘Sun,’ said Zeus, ‘go on shining upon us gods and upon humankind over the fruitful earth. I will shiver their ship into little pieces with a bolt of white lightning as soon as they get out to the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos].’ “I was told all this by fair-haired Kalypsō,
 who said she had heard it from the mouth of Hermes. “As soon as I got down to my ship and to the sea shore I rebuked each one of the men separately, but we could see no way out of it, for the cows were dead already. And indeed the gods began at once to show signs and wonders among us,
 for the hides of the cattle crawled about, and the joints upon the spits began to low like cows, and the meat, whether cooked or raw, kept on making a noise just as cows do. Odyssey xii (modified Sourcebook)
Is this not one of the most disturbing Homeric passages? The praying, the roasting of meats signals sacrifice, however it is a horribly corrupted sacrifice. Like Patroklos in the Iliad, Odysseus’ crew did not heed the warnings of the immortals and as a result – as we all know from the first lines of the Odyssey, Zeus takes his revenge upon the crew for this transgression. Like a glittering bronze spear, Zeus strikes down his lightning bolt and cleaves Odysseus’ ship, shattering it into pieces when it is upon the wine-faced sea, leaving only Odysseus alive clutching to mast and keel. This profane ritual has led to disaster.
One last note on this passage before we move on; it is interesting that while the cows are being butchered, Odysseus was asleep, “ When I had gone far enough to be clear of all my men, and had found a place that was well sheltered from the wind, I washed my hands and prayed to all the gods in Olympus till by and by they sent me off into a sweet sleep.” (Odyssey xii) In discussions over the drafting of this blog, Janet Ozsolak reminded us about the need to sleep. Her thoughts: “Sleeping is one of the treats, signs and perhaps weaknesses of being a mortal. Gods put men to sleep either to calm them or trick them. During sleep, in dreams, gods can communicate with mortals. The notion of sleeping and mortality is in Gilgamesh, and I have seen examples in Homer as well.” This was a great observation and we will return to this thought further along in this post.
As for the rest of the passages, only two had any direct reference to “libations” (Odyssey ii.421, Odyssey xiii.32) and “drink offerings” to the gods. So how does this measure up to my first impression? The hoped-for pattern of significance between sacrifice and libations did not happen. However while reading, and re-reading, and discussing these passages within the group, there was an “a-ha” moment; what did become apparent and what was significant was that in proximity to the word “oinops” there is a consistent pattern of ritual. Whether sacrifice or libations, funeral rites, or gift-giving, it was all about ritual done the correct way, or ritual done incorrectly or profanely. Again, I turn to The Best of the Achaeans, which explains in the discussion about the Prometheus myth, that the “afflictions of the human condition are brought about by the withholding of tīmaí from the gods” and “in the context of a continuous institution, sacrifice, men keep restoring tīmaí to them.”
A new close reading of this passage from the Odyssey ii was perhaps the most revealing for us:
Then the men loosed the hawsers and took their places on the benches.  Owl-vision Athena sent them a fair wind from the West, that whistled over the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos] whereon Telemakhos told them to catch hold of the ropes and hoist sail, and they did as he told them. They set the mast in its socket in the cross plank, raised it,  and made it fast with the forestays; then they hoisted their white sails aloft with ropes of twisted ox-hide. As the sail bellied out with the wind, the ship flew through the deep blue water, and the foam hissed against her bows as she sped onward.  Then they made all fast throughout the ship, filled the mixing-bowls to the brim, and made drink offerings to the immortal gods that are from everlasting, but more particularly to the owl-vision daughter of Zeus. Thus, then, the ship sped on her way through the watches of the night from dark till dawn. Odyssey ii (modified Sourcebook)
This excerpt stumped us in our initial study sessions. We knew the pontos to be a dangerous place – so if oinops was about danger, why the almost joyous mood in this passage? We could not explain it then, but we knew that “anomalies” need to be accounted for in order to find the comprehensive poetic system. What might be viewed as an exception may really be an undiscovered part of the system making these oddities hidden treasures. They promote deeper and closer readings of the texts until all the pieces fit to form the whole. So maybe we can say that it is the exceptions that will prove the overarching rule — in this case, if ritual (and thus the giving of honor to the gods) is performed correctly, then the references to “wine-faced sea”, oinops, are not particularly ominous in tone (Iliad II 609 is another example). Telemachus has properly honored the gods with his drink-offerings and he, with the help of Athena at the helm, safely traverses the wine-faced sea during the winter season.
At this point I must also point out an important caveat voiced by Claudia Filos. She reminded us that it is not a “given” that if one offers proper sacrifice or libations to the gods, a positive outcome will always be the result. It is also dependent upon the will [boulḗ] of Zeus and to some extent the other gods. In Iliad XVI, Achilles takes great care in his libation preparations to Zeus, however, the hoped for outcome was not to be:
 In this chest he [=Achilles] had a cup of rare workmanship, from which no man but himself might drink, nor would he make offering from it to any other god save only to father Zeus. He took the cup from the chest and cleansed it with sulfur; this done he rinsed it clean water,
 and after he had washed his hands he drew wine. Then he stood in the middle of the court and prayed, looking towards the heavens, and making his drink-offering of wine; nor was he unseen of Zeus whose joy is in thunder. “King Zeus,” he [= Achilles] cried out, “lord of Dodona, god of the Pelasgoi, who dwells afar, you who hold stormy Dodona in your sway, where the Selloi,
 your seers, dwell around you with their feet unwashed and their beds made upon the ground – just as you heard what I was saying when I prayed to you before, and did me honor by sending disaster on the Achaean people, so also now grant me the fulfillment of yet a further prayer, and it is this: I shall stay here at my assembly [agōn] of ships,
 but I shall send my comrade [hetairos] into battle at the head of many Myrmidons, sending him to fight. Send forth, O all-seeing Zeus, a radiance [kudos] to go before him; make bold the heart inside his chest so that Hector may find out whether he [Patroklos] knows how to fight alone, [Patroklos,] my attendant [therapōn], or whether his hands can only then be so invincible
 with their fury when I myself enter the war struggle of Arēs. Afterwards when he [= Patroklos] has chased away from the ships the attack and the cry of battle, grant that he may return unharmed to the swift ships, with his armor and his comrades [hetairoi], fighters in close combat.” Thus did he [Achilles] pray, and Zeus the Planner heard his prayer.
 Part of it he did indeed grant him – but the other part he refused. Iliad XVI (Sourcebook)
But even with this risk, it is a dead certainty that with improper ritual (either libation or sacrifice), or outright transgressions against the gods such as killing the “cattle of the sun-god”, being in the wine-dark pontos becomes the equivalent of finding one’s self “in the middle of no-where”, that is, in a very dangerous place.
RITUAL AND SEASONALITY
The other pattern that showed up in this theme study is one of seasonality or timing. Rituals need to be performed correctly and at the proper time. This attention to seasonality, or as Gregory Nagy calls it, the “right time, the perfect time” is also a focus in hero cult. This directive is clearly spelled out in the Hesiod passages, but it is also stated in this passage in Odyssey iv when Menelaus captures Proteus, the shape-shifting Old Man of the Sea:
 ‘You will gain nothing by trying to put me off. It is because I have been kept so long in this island, and see no sign of my being able to get away. I am losing all heart; tell me, then, for you gods know everything, which of the immortals it is that is hindering me,  and tell me also how I may sail the sea so as to have a homecoming [nostos]?’ “‘Then,’ he said, ‘if you would finish your voyage and get home quickly sailing over the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos], you must offer sacrifices to Zeus and to the rest of the gods before embarking;  for it is decreed that you shall not get back to your friends, and to your own house, till you have returned to the sky-fed stream of Egypt, and offered holy hecatombs to the immortal gods that reign in the sky.  When you have done this they will let you finish your voyage.’ “I was broken-hearted when I heard that I must go back all that long and terrifying voyage to Egypt, Odyssey iv 465–484 (modified Sourcebook)
So Menelaus in mid-journey, far from home, held hostage by winds or lack thereof, is stranded on Pharos, and understandably is very dispirited. Even so, he does what the Old Man of the Sea tells him to do which is to go back where he started from in Egypt, and offer proper sacrifice to Zeus before he again embarks on the wine-faced sea. And perhaps because of this attention to the proper ritual, he does eventually get back home.
This attention to ritual is echoed earlier in Odyssey iv when Menelaus is talking to Telemachus:
As regards your questions, however, I will not prevaricate nor deceive you,
 but will tell you without concealment all that the old man of the sea told me. “I was trying to come on here, but the gods detained me in Egypt, for my hecatombs had not given them full satisfaction, and the gods are very strict about having their dues. Now off Egypt, about as far as a ship can sail in a day with a good stiff breeze behind her, there is an island  called Pharos – it has a good harbor from which vessels can get out into open sea when they have taken in water –  and the gods becalmed me twenty days without so much as a breath of fair wind to help me forward. We should have run clean out of provisions and my men would have starved, if a goddess had not taken pity upon me and saved me… Odyssey iv (Sourcebook)
Then in lines 538-539 Menelaus advises Telemachus to do the same because, “Then, only then will the gods grant you the voyage you desire”.
When initially read, these passages were oblique to me. I did not realize how clearly the poetry was speaking – I did not see the overarching pattern. Now after the close readings, it is obvious. Telemachus honors Athena before he sets sail – so all’s well. Menelaos, on the other hand has to double back to Egypt for a “do-over” and perform the ritual he should have done before he embarked. Then and only then he makes it make home safely, although minus one skilled helmsman (Odyssey iii 286).
It was at this point that it occurred to me whether this attention to proper ritual was one of the reasons for all the embedded references to “two” things in epic poetry: “two flowing streams”, Iliad V 774, “two white rocks”, and “two roadways“, Iliad XXIII 329–330, “two shoots of olive” Odyssey v 476, to name a few. Is it possible that ritual (and by extension, tīmaí) done the right way or wrong way is the thought behind these references? They represent the two paths of action? Or could it be a part of what Professor Nagy describes in his article: Was there a future for the Phaeacians of the Homeric Odyssey?. Professor Nagy discusses Homeric poetry as a dynamic system in which there are opportunities not only for two different outcomes, but also for two ways of thinking of an outcome. He states:
“If, however, we view Homeric poetry as a living system – an oral tradition that evolves ultimately into the textual tradition inherited by the Alexandrian editors – then we do not have to choose whenever we see a variation. Rather, as I will now go on to argue, the choices were already being made by Homeric poetry itself, which could opt for different variants in different phases of its own evolution.”
If one sees epic poetry as dynamic, then these occurrences are perhaps variants between which one can toggle at different moments of performance or even in different eras. I do not have any proof of my idea yet, so would love your thoughts and input on this in the discussion forum, Return to the Wine-Dark Sea, Part III!
The proper ritual done the proper way at the proper time is key to cosmic harmony, and nowhere is it done with more precision, more propriety, and more panache than by the Phaeacians:
 Alkinoos, the hallowed prince, went on board and saw everything so securely stowed under the ship’s benches that nothing could break adrift and injure the rowers. Then they went to the house of Alkinoos, the hallowed prince, to get dinner, and he sacrificed a bull for them
 in honor of Zeus, the dark-clouded son of Kronos, who is the lord of all. They set the meats to grill and made an excellent dinner, after which the inspired bard, Demodokos, who was a favorite with every one, sang to them; but Odysseus kept on turning his eyes towards
 the sun, as though to hasten his setting, for he was longing to be on his way. As one who has been all day plowing a fallow field with a couple of wine-faced [oinops] oxen [bous] keeps thinking about his supper and is glad when night comes that he may go and get it, for it is all his legs can do to carry him,
 even so did Odysseus rejoice when the sun went down, and he at once said to the oar-loving Phaeacians, addressing himself more particularly to King Alkinoos, pre-eminent among all others: “Sir, and all of you, farewell. Make your drink-offerings and send me on my way rejoicing,
 for you have fulfilled my heart’s desire by giving me an escort, and making me presents, and may the gods grant that I turn those things into blessed [olbia] possessions; may I find my admirable wife living in peace among friends, and may you whom I leave behind me give satisfaction to your
 wives and children; may the gods grant you every kind of good accomplishment [aretē], and may no evil thing come among your people.” Thus did he speak. His hearers all of them approved his saying and agreed that he should have his escort inasmuch as he had spoken reasonably. Alkinoos therefore said to his servant,
 “Pontonoos, mix some wine and hand it round to everybody, that we may offer a prayer to father Zeus, and speed our guest upon his way.” Odyssey xiii (modified Sourcebook)
This passage is all about ritual — sacrifice and libation, hospitality, gift-giving, oral poetry, and dance done the right way. Alkinoos and the Phaeaceans, those “paragons of feasting,” are the ones who know the proper way to honor the gods. Perhaps that is why they are closest to being gods? In his article: New Light on the Homeric Question: The Phaeacians Unmasked, Section 1, Douglas Frame describes the Phaeacians this way:
“The Phaeacians live in a liminal place between the real and the unreal, and their nature is likewise liminal. They are mortals, as is made explicit more than once, but they are also ankhitheoi, “close to the gods,” and this description, however vague, puts them closer to the divide between men and gods than is the case for ordinary mortals.”
RITUAL, INITIATION, and LINGERING MYSTERIES
While we were understanding more and more about ritual, we were noticing new interactions between the themes associated with oinops. Let us return to Janet’s comment about sleep. In the above passage about the killing of the sacred cattle, Odysseus was overcome by sleep. However, compare Odysseus’ state of deep sleep to this passage, which was discussed in the previous post, Hesiodic Advice on Oinops :
…he [Odysseus] sat and guided the raft skillfully by means of the rudder [pēdalion]. He never closed his eyes, but kept them fixed on the Pleiades, on late-setting Boötes, and on the Bear – which men also call the wagon, and which turns round and round where it is, facing Orion, and alone never dipping into the stream of Okeanos… Odyssey v 270–275, (modified Sourcebook)
Now Odysseus is making an heroic effort to stay awake to see the stars in order to navigate the pontos correctly – his survival depends upon it.
In a previous blog about oinops and light, we discussed the theme of vision, light, and seeing, and its role in mentorship. “Seeing” is also understanding, and initiation – seeing things in a new way. Ino in Odyssey v.333-364 “sees” Odysseus and gives him a life saving enchanted veil. This is a reference to initiation and immortality, a changing state of being. What puzzled me for a long time was why Odysseus did not follow her instructions precisely. He hesitates, does not jump into the sea then, but rather waits until the sea breaks the raft up. Now I think I understand this, Odysseus at this point in the story is still unseasonal.
As Gregory Nagy has shown, the key word in cult initiation is μύω [muō, ‘to shut the mouth’], which is related to our word ‘mystery’. This word operates on two levels. In everyday language the meaning is “keep one’s eyes and ears closed” but in a sacred context, it translates as “to say or see in a special way.” We also know that the verb form μνέω means ‘to initiate’. We encountered this concept in H24H course work, when reading On Heroes by Philostratus.
15§15. The opaqueness of a cult hero like Protesilaos is a tradition in its own right, grounded in the mystery his hero cult.  I have been using this term mystery in the sense of the ancient Greek noun mustērion (attested normally in the plural: mustēria. This noun derives ultimately from the verb muein (first person muō), which means ‘have the mouth closed’ or ‘have the eyes closed’ in non-sacred situations – but which implies ‘say in a sacred kind of way’ or ‘see in a sacred kind of way’ in sacred situations.  The idea of saying or seeing in a sacred kind of way is made explicit in the related verb mueîn (first person mueō), which means ‘initiate into the mysteries’. The idea of mystery is embedded in the word muein in the sense of ‘have the mouth closed’ or ‘have the eyes closed’, as we can see from an observation made by the worshipper of the cult hero Protesilaos: (The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours)
This concept is now becoming more apparent in our word studies — it is about seeing the light. As Ino “sees”’ Odysseus and then gives him life saving garments, Athena conveys her knowledge to Telemachus through her flashing owl-eyed light beacon. This is all about ritual AND initiation.
Our study group has come a long way, but no nostos for us yet. Like the steering oar, or the well-built yoke, a valid poetic system must keep independent units moving in purposeful unison. We saw how most of the themes interacted to form a cohesive “picture” of oinops, however there were just a few puzzle pieces outstanding – those undiscovered treasures again! We now know a lot about oxen, but how the oxen references connect to oinops was still messy; we didn’t have a clear signal like ritual or pontos. Then there is Crete; Crete pops up a lot, especially in the Odyssey. In scroll xix, Odysseus is in disguise and tells Penelope that he is from Crete, even claiming ancestry to King Minos (line 180). Crete and references to Dionysus (whose myths are also entwined with Crete) are included in Hesiod, along with those “goodly” Cretans in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo:
Then Phoebus Apollo pondered in his heart what men he should bring in  to be his ministers in sacrifice and to serve him in rocky Pytho. And while he considered this, he became aware of a swift ship upon the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos] in which were many men and goodly, Cretans from Cnossos, the city of Minos, they who do sacrifice to the prince and announce his decrees,
It was at this point that we knew we needed help and decided to reach out to the Hour 25 community. We asked Lenny Muellner if he would join us in one of our sessions to discuss these final puzzlements. That session was an hour that brought beauty and joy to us all.
Coming up Next: Oinops and Myth
 Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans, John Hopkins University Press, © 1979,1999, Ch11§7, pp 216-217, 7n2 footnote)
 Nagy, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Harvard University Press,©2013, 14§26A, p 403
 Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans, John Hopkins University Press, © 1979,1999, Ch11§7, p 217
 Nagy, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Harvard University Press,©2013, 1§26, p 32
 Fagels, R. The Odyssey, Penguin Classics, 1996, iv, 538-539
 Nagy, Was there a future for the Phaeacians of the Homeric Odyssey? p 10
 Ibid, p 1
Animal sacrifice, Pitsa, in Corinth ca 6B.C. (painted wood). By Dbachmann from Wikimedia Commons
Young warrior cutting his hair with sword, ca 470 B.C. www.metmuseum.org [public domain]
Goddess performing a libation, ca 470 B.C. www.metmuseum.org at Wikimedia Commons
Libation at the departure of a young warrior, ca 470 B.C. www.metmuseum.org [public domain]