Magazine article The Spectator

Sacrificial Offerings

Magazine article The Spectator

Sacrificial Offerings

Article excerpt

Singular life

In case you hadn't noticed, I ain't the rustic sort. But even the likes of me, who think that cattle grids are things you get your Gucci slingbacks stuck in, have been startled by recent events. But then I began to wonder where we had seen it all before. The sheep and bulls led to the slaughter; the smoking pyres; the solemn, whitened faces of our country's leaders.

So much for `Bloody Mary'; the Prime Minister will go down in history as `Toasting Tony'. Not to put too fine a point on it, everyone knows that Mr Blair is sacrificing the country's animal population to his political ambition. Our cows are being killed so we can go to the polls on 3 May. By George, I've got it, as Prof Higgins might have said.

In Ancient Greece and Rome they went in for the same thing. Only burning animals wasn't called `creating fire breaks' then, but `propitiating the Gods'. At the Greek Dionysia, apparently, the theatrical performances were preceded by a day in which as many as 240 bulls were killed. Restrained compared to last week, of course. But there seems to be no reason why Alastair Campbell shouldn't kill a few heffers before one of his press conferences.

What a vista opens before us. At Aizani, any activity could be preceded by sacrificing livestock. According to historians, in the 4th century BC divisions of the town's citizens body presented a well-groomed ox on parade in the market place while the magistrates sat and picked the prize animal for the pyre.

Each government department, perhaps, should do the same and present a Cumbrian bull or a Dumfries sheep for parade. Then Nick Brown would be called upon to decide which healthy animal should be sacrificed. In the Greek world the animals were killed to what is described as the piercing cry of female spectators. This is easy to replicate. Margaret Beckett and the Blair Babes will stay to watch. …

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