Saturday, January 21, 2012

Defiling Gore About the Altars

On the other hand, Prof. MacMullen points out that visitors to temple precincts in the Roman empire were apt to encounter less pleasing sights and smells:
[Christians] pointed with elaborate repugnance to "the pollution around the idols, the disgusting smell and smoke of sacrifices, the defiling gore about the altars and the taint of blood from the offerings.  Did they overstate the case?  It was a pagan who described "the priest himself [who] stands there all bloody and like an ogre carves and pulls out entrails and extracts the heart and pours the blood about the altar."  It is clear that the great bulk of meat . . . eaten in the ancient world had been butchered in temple precincts, most of which, ill-supplied with water, could not be swashed down easily, accumulated ugly piles of offal in corners, and supported not only flies but stray mongrels as well.
The Christian criticism quoted by Prof. MacMullen is from the Life of Gregory Thaumaturgos (the Wonderworker) by Gregory of Nyssa.  The "pagan" quoted is the satirist Lucian's De sacrificiis.

"Send a good taste to the good gods!"

In Paganism in the Roman Empire, Ramsay MacMullen reminds us that a visitor to even a modest temple in the Roman empire experienced a profusion of sensory delights, beginning with the brightly – we might say garishly – painted temple itself: statues, offerings, presents, signs and inscriptions left by worshipers to thank the god and proclaim his or her deeds and exploits; dancers, singers, orators and tour guides (official and unofficial).

The visitor entering the sacred precinct would also encounter a list of rules giving “notice of what was expected”:
[Y]ou were to present yourself suitably clothed, uncontaminated by recent childbirth, by sexual intercourse with woman or dog, by sight or touch of a corpse, or by consuming pork or garlic or milk; you were to offer specified animals in sacrifice to specified deities, or not animals but wine only, or incense only; and at particular shrines you were to respect local conditions, not lighting a fire near the walls, nor poaching sacred fish or cutting trees in the sacred grove. Directions might be given on the whole range of daily service . . .. And the text might be very long – 190 lines, at the shrine of Demeter and Kore in Andania – or very short. At Athens, “by oracle from Hygieia and Asclepius: the celestial serpent of the gods [directs the setting up of?] these statues, where should be offered sacrifices unmixed with wine, on the 5th and 10th of the month at noon. Send a good taste to the good gods!”
Dog?  Yikes!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Storm of War

I have read a number of one-volume histories of World War II, and I had sworn them off, but this video interview of the author sorely tempts me to add Andrew Roberts's The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War to the list.  Thirty-eight minutes, but well worth your time.

Sunday, January 08, 2012


Last May I ventured down to Longview, Texas for a wedding.  After some excellent barbecue at Carter's Bar-B-Que, I drove over to the Gregg County Courthouse and took some photos of the monument to the Confederate soldier standing on the front lawn.

Flash forward to later last year, when I received an email requesting permission to use one of the photos on the cover of the December 2011 issue of the United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine.  The issue is now out, and the result is shown above.
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