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Lévy-Bruhl helps us to understand why statues and figurines were treated in this way, without resorting to a notion of irrationality defined (in our Western manner) by a failure to draw the proper dividing line between animate and inanimate objects. In Greece in particular, matter itself could have an ambiguous status. To give a specific example, or some highly educated thinkers such as the late seventh/early sixth-century BCE philosopher Thales of Miletus, stones that had magnetic properties were thought to contain souls…It is not hard to see how magnetic stones that attracted to iron fillings, in the absence of an available electromagnetic theory, could be thought to be animate – in other words to contain a soul. Reality as we know it in the mechanical, casual Western view, with its sharp dividing line between organic and inorganic matter, is collapsed in Thales’ view of the magnet…”
“Greeks harbored many different beliefs about dead souls, and scaled them in different ways, from heroes who rested at their leisure in the Elysium fields and the Isles of the Blessed, to an altogether different sort of underworld community whose anger was beyond human appeasement.”
“The shocking and bizarre nature of an epileptic seizure, as every Greek who knew Herakles’ own sufferings could attest, was so extraordinary that it almost begged for divine explanation. But to the Greeks, the fact that a divinity could invade a human body was a familiar experience, most famously illustrated in the case of the Pythia at Delphi being invaded by Apollo who thereby provided her with an oracular voice. In this case Apollo’s divine visitation was invited and controlled and unlike a sudden epileptic seizure, where it was not even clear which divinity might in fact be present…. The Greeks construed an epileptic seizure in terms of divine invasion, and in anthropological terms this kind of cultural phenomenon is called possession. The issue now for the patient, however, according to the author of On the Sacred Disease, was to determine which divinity was responsible for the possession.”
“I will not, however, want to claim that maenadic omophagy is even a mythic of imaginative example of Dionsysiac sacramentalism, for the very reason that it is not sacrifice at all. Instead, it constitutes the inversion of normal sacrificial procedure, in which a domesticated (and not wild) animal is ritually selected (and not merely chanced upon), killed, systematically cut up (and not dismembered by force), and eaten cooked (and not raw). Maenadic sparagamos followed by omophagy thus stands in complete contradistinction to ordinary sacrifice and can thus be viewed as a kind of inverted character myth, setting for the way in which sacrifice should not take place, much as the account of the dismemberment of the young Dionysus by the Titans invert the original, paradigmatic division of the sacrificial victim by (another Titan) Prometheus.
Raw meat in these instances is to be associated with highly marginal, unusual, and infrequent situations of ritual exception and solution. One may compare the Hephaestia on Lemnos, a time of dissolution and exception, in which all fire is extinguished for nine days until new fire is brought from Delos.* During the exceptional period sacrifices continue to be performed without fire; there is thus no normal food (consumption of raw meat is actually not attested). So also in the case of maenadic sacrifice there is an infrequent (“trietetric,” i.e., every other year), periodic (though short-lived) ritual and commemorative regression to an aboriginal period in cultural history, with the mythical worshipers of Dionysus “regressively transformed into bestial predators.”
I suspect that if you asked a Theban of Delphic maenad if they performed sparagmos during their oreibasiai, the answer would have been, ‘No, but we used to do so. It’s just we don’t do that anymore. Other people, those people,” they might have said, “up there [Thracians, perhaps], still do it.” (The same is often said by one culture of another culture about cannibalism[…].)
*Philostratus Heroicus 67.7 (de Lannoy 1977): during the exceptional nine-day period ‘fid the ship brining new fire from Delos arrives before the funerary sacrifice are over, it may not be brought to anchor on Lemnos.’ Cf. Burkert 1983, 190-96, especially on the Dionysiac elements with further bibliography: ‘Sacrifice was clearly a part of the exceptional period at Lemnos, sacrifice without fire; so that one could eat at most only raw pieces of meat, burying the rest or throwing it intot he sea’ (193).