chapter  5
6 Pages

ANIMALS AS OFFERINGS: HUNTING AND SACRIFICE

Greco-Roman attitudes toward hunting were complex and ambivalent, and suggest that the practice involved a cluster of both practical and symbolic meanings in classical society. Viewed not merely as a means of procuring food, hunting was seen by some ancient writers as evidence of the triumph of human reason and ingenuity over creatures considered either inferior to humans or clever enough to be worthy adversaries that put humans to the test and brought out the best in them as they sought to outwit and outmaneuver their beastly foe. Hence expressions of guilt at the necessity of depriving innocent creatures of their lives so that humans can sustain their own are found alongside assertions that hunting provides humans with innocent amusement and expressions of triumph at the removal of beasts intent upon obliterating the human race. This latter notion contributed to the view, advanced, for example, in Aristotle (Politics 1256b23-26), that human beings wage a “just war” against wild nature. Hunting becomes, in this interpretation, almost a matter of self-defense on the part of human beings. On the other hand, the Greeks maintained a certain wariness in their approach to hunting because it was from earliest times considered the pastime of the gods who functioned at the same time as protectors of wild species. Overhunting and wanton cruelty in the practice might draw down the fury of the gods, in particular of Artemis, goddess of the hunt and patroness of wild nature.