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Chapter 4
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Lupercalia

by Alberta Mildred Franklin

New York, 1921

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 6

p49 Chapter V
The Sacred Goat in Greece

The veneration of a wild animal tends to be crowded into the background as a people advances in civilization. When life becomes more settled, and savage beasts are no longer a constant menace, men are liable to embody their god in the form of one of the animals upon whom their existence largely depends: the ram, the bull, or the goat. In many cases this more kindly god absorbs, entirely or in part, the savage deity. In other instances the two gods exist side by side, but the cult of the savage god is modified by that of the more civilized one. The god of the pastoral stage who made his way most frequently into the cults of other deities was the goat‑god. As the goat can thrive on the most barren hillside, his cult was widespread and important in Greece in very early times. In the Lupercalia the blows which were dealt by goat-skin thongs formed the most prominent feature of the ritual. To interpret this importance of the goat in a wolf-festival, we turn to the cults of the goat in Greece.

In Crete the sacred goat was frequently portrayed by Minoan artists as a fertility fetish.1 In later times it took the form of the goat Amaltheia, who expressed the general conception of the earth-power, being a giver of fertility and a protector from evil.2 Her fertilizing potency came to be expressed in the cornucopia, which was probably developed from the original goat's horn, and which constantly appears in the possession of earth-deities, such as Hades, Gaia, or the river-gods.3

Pan was frankly a goat‑god, not only in his half-human form,4 but also in his instincts. As the goat was to the ancients the symbol of lust, so Pan was the incarnation of lustful passion.5 He was, therefore, an embodiment of the creative and life-giving power of nature. Pan's cult originated in Arcadia, where Mount Lycaeus was sacred to him as well as to the wolf‑god.6 Thence his worship spread throughout the Greek world,7 developing with particular strength among the Athenians.8 Thus his character and the people who venerated him mark Pan as a Pelasgian deity.

Another primitive nature‑god, Dionysus, was at times associated p50with the goat. Such titles as Ἐρίφιος, Μελάναιγις, or Αἰγίβολος,9 also the myths in which Dionysus was disguised as a goat,10 indicate that at times he was worshipped in goat-form. A legend of Potniae, in Boeotia, tells that the people, having offended Dionysus, were suffering from a frightful pestilence. In obedience to the Delphic oracle, a boy was sacrificed to the angry god; but not many years afterward Dionysus himself substituted a goat for the boy.11 A goat was sometimes rent asunder in the wild orgy to Dionysus known as the Omophagia,12 in which the worshippers devoured the raw flesh of a sacred animal and drank its blood, thus partaking of its divinity.13

Though Artemis was preëminently the goddess of the wild things, she bore the title Αἰγιναίας,14 and among the Spartans and the Athenians received a goat as her usual victim.15 At her famous and ancient shrine at Brauron a curious rite was performed: maidens, known as bears, and wearing saffron robes which perhaps imitated a bear-skin,16 danced a bear-dance in honor of the bear-goddess Artemis, the ceremony ending with the sacrifice of a bear.17 Yet in historical times a goat was usually sacrificed,18 in substitution, evidently, for the wild-animal victim.19 Another legend indicates that a human being was at one time sacrificed: the Athenians were said to have suffered from a pestilence because they had injured a bear, and a maiden was demanded in expiatory sacrifice; whereupon a man concealed his daughter, dressed a goat in her garments, and sacrificed it in her stead.20

The goat was important in the worship of Apollo, who was venerated in many places as a pastoral god.21 In Crete legend told that a goat had suckled the twin sons of Apollo. A Cretan town, accordingly, sent to Delphi a bronze group of the goat and the babes as votive offering.22 At Delphi the Python, who was the first possessor of the oracular shrine, and who was slain by Apollo, was buried, we are told, by his son Αἴξ.23 That seems to indicate that at Delphi the autochthonous serpent-cult was displaced by the goat-cult, and that, in turn, by the anthropomorphic deity. Goats were believed to have discovered the oracular cave at Delphi,24 and were the usual sacrificial victims there. The oracle frequently enjoined upon its devotees the sacrifice of a goat.25

The magic power of the goat-skin, of such importance in the Lupercalia, was appropriated by some of the greater deities of p51Greece. Athena appears almost invariably wearing the goat-skin, the aegis, across her breast.26 Apollo, Juno, and Zeus were also wearers of the aegis.27 By putting on the skin of the goat, the anthropomorphic gods sought to transfer to themselves the power of the animal‑god. The magic potency which the goat was supposed to possess is shown very clearly in a ceremony of Athens, in which a priestess bore a goat-skin to the homes of newly-married women.28 This is naturally interpreted as being designed to secure offspring.29 It offers, accordingly, an illuminating parallel to the use of the goat-skin in the Lupercalia.

As a sacrificial victim, the goat was used in various solemn rites, particularly in those of the expiatory type.30 Thus a goat was sacrificed to Apollo Apotropaios at Marathon.31 When the people of Kleonae were threatened with pestilence, they sacrificed a goat at sunrise, and sent a bronze goat as a votive offering to Delphi.32 In the Laconian ceremony of the Κοπίδες, the goat was the only animal that might be sacrificed, and the people ate its flesh in sacramental fashion, together with a certain kind of bread.33 These instances of goat-sacrifice may well be parallel to that of the Lupercalia. There is no evidence in these rites that the goat was sacrificed as an animal‑god; yet it was a victim that was especially potent to ward off evil.

In Greece the cult of the goat, which appeared in Minoan Crete, was centralized in Arcadia, and warmly welcomed in Athens and in Boeotia; that is, it was especially venerated among the Pelasgians. The goat was not an object of dread, as the wolf so often was, but was loved as the bringer of blessings — the life-giver. The goat was on friendly terms with other deities, sharing with Lycaeus his shrine, and being received at Delphi as the son of Python. As a sacrificial victim the goat was especially important. Often it seems to have been substituted for a wild animal or for a human being; at other times it had a magic potency to ward off evil. Even Olympian deities were influenced by the goat, for they were often glad to wear his skin, and thus to appropriate his creative power.


The Author's Notes:

p52 1 Evans, J. H. S., XXII, 182; Mackenzie, Crete, 188, 307; Fick, 147; Hogarth, The Zakro Sealings, in J. H. S., vol. XXII, 1902, p34‑7, Fig. 115‑6 et al.

2 Callim., Hym. in Iov., 48; Apollod., Bibl., 1.1.7; Hygin., Astr. Poet., 2.13; Wernecke, in Pauly-Wissowa, I.1721. The nursing of Zeus by Amaltheia is told only by Alexandrian writers, hence seems to have been a late development (Farnell, I.109).

3 Saglio, in Daremberg-Saglio, I.220; Stoll, in Roscher, I.263‑5.

4 Wernicke, in Roscher, III.1407.

5 Aug., de Civ. Dei, 15.23; The Satyrs, of the same form and character as Pan, are to be recognized as merely the duplicates of Pan (E. Kühnert, in Roscher, IV.516‑31; G. Nicole, in Daremberg-Saglio, IV.1090.

6 See p24.

7 Wernicke, in Roscher, III.1349‑79.

8 Lucian, Bis Accus., 10; id., Deor. Dial., 22.2.

9 Paus., 2.35.1; Hesych., Ἐρίφιος; Schol. ad Aristoph., Acharn., 146.

10 Suid., Μελάναιγις Διόνυσος; Ov., Met., 5.329; Apollod., Bibl., 3.4.3.

11 Paus., 9.8.2.

12 Hesych., τραγηφόροι; Eur., Bac., 139; Arnob., 5.19.

13 Harrison, 482.

14 Paus. 3.14.2.

15 Ael., Var. Hist., 2.25; Xen., Anab., 3.2.12, 13; id., Hellen., 4.2.20; Plut., Lycurg., 22.

16 Farnell, II.437.

17 Aristoph., Lysistr., 645, and Schol. ad loc.

18 Hesych., Βραυρωνίοις.

19 Farnell, II.437.

20 Suited., Ἔμβαρος.

21 Farnell, IV.123, 254.

22 Paus. 10.16.5.

23 Plut., Q. G., 12.

24 Diodor., 16.26.1, 2.

25 Diels, Sibyllinische Blätter, 51; Farnell, IV.254‑5.

26 Diodor., 3.70.5; Farnell, I.100.

27 Saglio, in Daremberg-Saglio, I.101; Farnell, I.100, IV.255.

28 Suid., αἰγίς.

29 Farnell, I.100.

30 For a survey of the various cults in which the goat was a ceremonial victim, see Farnell, IV.255.

31 Farnell, IV.255.

32 Paus., 10.11.5.

33 Athen., 138F.


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