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4/19/2018 Buphonia - Wikipedia

In ancient Greece, the Buphonia (Greek: Βουφόνια "ox-slayings") denoted a sacrificial ceremony performed at
Athens as part of the Dipolieia, a religious festival held on the 14th of the midsummer month Skirophorion— in June
or July— at the Acropolis. In the Buphonia a working ox was sacrificed to Zeus Polieus, Zeus protector of the city, in
accordance with a very ancient custom. A group of oxen was driven forward to the altar at the highest point of the
Acropolis. On the altar a sacrifice of grain had been spread by members of the family of the Kentriadae, on whom this
duty devolved hereditarily. When one of the oxen began to eat, thus selecting itself for sacrifice,[1] one of the family of
the Thaulonidae advanced with an axe, slew the ox, then immediately threw aside the axe and fled the scene of his
guilt-laden crime.[2][3]

Origins and duration
Details and explication

Origins and duration

The Athenians of the age of Aristophanes[4] regarded the sombre ritual as archaic; its founding myth attributed its
inception to Cecrops, the chthonic king of remotest legend (Aristophanes), to Diomus (Theophrastus, cited by
Porphyry in De Abstinentia 2.10.2) or to archaic Erechtheus (Pausanias 1.28.10). The Dipolieia survived at least to the
time of the Roman Empire.

The offering of grain was a reminder of the time "when people shrank from eating oxen," as Plato related in The Laws
(782c), "and offered no animals in sacrifice, but rather, cakes and the fruits of the earth soaked in honey, and other
such pure sacrifices."[5]

Details and explication

Details of the rite can be reconstructed in detail, thanks to a passage in Porphyry that has been traced to a source in
Theophrastus.[6] Although the slaughter of a laboring ox was forbidden, it was excused in these exceptional
circumstances; nonetheless it was regarded as a murder.[7] The axe, therefore, as being polluted by murder, was
immediately afterward carried before the court of the Prytaneum, which tried the inanimate object for murder, and,
after the water-bearers who lustrated the axe, the sharpeners who sharpened it, the axe-bearer who carried it, each
denied in turn responsibility for the deed, the guilty axe or knife was there charged with having caused the death of the
ox, for which the axe was acquitted (Pausanias) or the sacrificial knife was thrown into the sea (Porphyry).

Apparently this is an early instance analogous to deodand.[3] In the enactment of this comedy of innocence, and the
joint feasting of all who participated save the slayer himself, individual consciences were assuaged and the polis was
reaffirmed. The burden of guilt was doubly displaced, not only through the buck-passing of the trial, but also through
the apparently "guilty" act of the oxen in selecting itself through the initial eating.[8]

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4/19/2018 Buphonia - Wikipedia

1. "The ox itself thus broke the tabu and sinned against the god and his altar," Burkert explains (Burkert 1983:138).
2. "Banishment had been the price for spilling blood since ancient times; the Greeks called it 'flight,' φυγή" (Burkert
3. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public
domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Buphonia". Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University
Press. p. 808.
4. Aristophanes, The Clouds, 984f.
5. Quoted by Burkert 1983:138.
6. Burkert 1983:137 note 6 bibliography.
7. H. Nettleship ed., A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (London 1891) p. 186
8. Darian Leader, The New Black (London 2009) p. 121

Burkert, Walter, Homo Necans (1972) 1983, III.1 "From Ox-Slaying to the Panathenaic Festival" pp 136–43.

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