The Sacrifice of Isaac: The Aqedah (Genesis 22) and Its Interpretations

By Ed Noort; Eibert Tigchelaar | Go to book overview

SACRIFICING A CHILD IN ANCIENT GREECE:
THE CASE OF IPHIGENEIA

Jan N. Bremmer

The story of Abraham and Isaac is not often mentioned in pagan literature. In fact, it is hardly by chance that one of our two references is from the Emperor Julian, a former Christian as his nickname 'the Apostate' all too clearly shows. However, in his `Contra Galileos (fr. 83 Masaracchia) Julian uses the story only in a discussion of sacrificial fire, but does not focus on its element of human sacrifice. Evidently, he could not have done so, since human sacrifice is such a striking part of Greek mythology that it would have made him an easy target for Christian apologists. From the many Greek examples, which have often been investigated,1 I have chosen one, in which a father also has to sacrifice a child: the myth of Iphigeneia.2 The myth was famous well into Roman times, especially through Euripides' tragedies Iphigeneia in Aulis (IA) and Iphigeneia in Tauris (IT), but we will limit ourselves to the earlier versions.

Our oldest extant version of the myth comes from the Cypria, one of the poems of the so-called Epic Cycle, which was composed by,

1 On human sacrifice in ancient Greece see especially the more recent studies
by A. Henrichs, 'Human Sacrifice in Greek Religion: Three Case Studies', in Le
sacrifice dans l'antiquité = Entretiens Hardt 27 (Vandoeuvres-Geneva, 1981) 195–242 (dis-
cussion included); D. Hughes, Human Sacrifice in Ancient Greece (London, 1991);
P. Bonnechere, Le sacrifice humain en Grèce ancienne (Athens and Liège, 1994); S. Georgoudi,
'À propos du sacrifice humain en Grèce ancienne: remarques critiques', Arch. f.
Religionsgeschichte 1 (1999) 61–82.

2 In addition to the studies mentioned in note 1, see for Iphigeneia most recently
K. Dowden, Death and the Maiden (London and New York, 1989) 9–47; E. Kearns,
The Heroes of Attica (London, 1989) 27–33, 78–8, 174; LIMC V.1 (Zurich and Munich,
1990) s.v. Iphigeneia (L. Kahil); D. Buitron-Oliver, 'Stories from the Trojan cycle
in the work of Douris', in J.B. Carter and S.P. Morris (eds.), The Ages of Homer: a
tribute to Emily Townsend Vermeule (Austin, 1995) 437–47; V. Gaggadi-Robin, 'Iphigénie
à Marseille', Monuments Piot 75 (1996) 1–19; W. Schindler, 'Griechisches und Römisches
der Iphigeniensage auf dem Bronzekrater in Varna', in E.G. Schmidt et al. (eds.),
Griechenland und Rom (Tbilissi, Erlangen and Jena, 1996) 297–305; D. Lyons, Gender
and Immortality (Princeton, 1997) 51–8; S.I. Johnston, 'Iphigeneia', in Der neue Pauly
V (Stuttgart and Weimar, 1998) 1096–8; M. Giuman, La dea, la vergine, il sangue:
archeologia di un culto femminile (Milano, 1999).

-21-

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