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The Cattle of the Sun

The Cattle of the Sun: Cows and Culture in the World of the Ancient Greeks

Jeremy McInerney
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    The Cattle of the Sun
    Book Description:

    Though Greece is traditionally seen as an agrarian society, cattle were essential to Greek communal life, through religious sacrifice and dietary consumption. Cattle were also pivotal in mythology: gods and heroes stole cattle, expected sacrifices of cattle, and punished those who failed to provide them.The Cattle of the Sunranges over a wealth of sources, both textual and archaeological, to explore why these animals mattered to the Greeks, how they came to be a key element in Greek thought and behavior, and how the Greeks exploited the symbolic value of cattle as a way of structuring social and economic relations.

    Jeremy McInerney explains that cattle's importance began with domestication and pastoralism: cattle were nurtured, bred, killed, and eaten. Practically useful and symbolically potent, cattle became social capital to be exchanged, offered to the gods, or consumed collectively. This circulation of cattle wealth structured Greek society, since dedication to the gods, sacrifice, and feasting constituted the most basic institutions of Greek life. McInerney shows that cattle contributed to the growth of sanctuaries in the Greek city-states, as well as to changes in the economic practices of the Greeks, from the Iron Age through the classical period, as a monetized, market economy developed from an earlier economy of barter and exchange.

    Combining a broad theoretical approach with a careful reading of sources,The Cattle of the Sunillustrates the significant position that cattle held in the culture and experiences of the Greeks.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3487-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. A Note about Spellings and Translations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xx)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Cattle Habits
    (pp. 1-20)

    The epigraph above is an example of what Michael Pollan has recently called “hunter porn,” an overblown style of writing that assumes “that the hunt represents some sort of primordial encounter between two kinds of animals, one of which is [the writer].”¹ Men face danger, men kill, men provide meat, men rule. Actual hunter-gatherer societies are more likely to survive on the staple supply of grains provided by women, but the symbolic capital vested in the hunt is not based on the scientific measurement of where calories come from in the diet. Understandably, then, with the rise of both feminist...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Paradoxes of Pastoralism
    (pp. 21-47)

    The various pastoral regimes practiced by the Greeks were made possible by the much earlier domestication of cattle. This resulted not only in a steady supply of protein for the pastoralist but also helped give pastoral societies a distinctive shape: the custodial care of the herd, the ritualized treatment of butchery, the elaborate use of cattle as measures of wealth, and the central importance of cattle in the rich imagination of pastoral people are all evidence of the profound impact of domestication on human societies. In order to understand the significance of these practices to the Greeks it is worth...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Cattle Systems in Bronze Age Greece
    (pp. 48-73)

    Domesticated cattle (bos taurus) are attested at Neolithic sites in Greece such as Argissa Magoula. Descendants of these early cattle can be seen today in one of the two indigenous breeds surviving in northern Greece: the Greek steppe (or Sphakia type) cattle. Steppe cattle stand between 1.10 and 1.25 meters at the shoulder, and weigh up to 250 or 300 kilograms (cow and bull, respectively).¹ The animal has a long face and distinctive long horns in the shape of a lyre, which were prized as drinking vessels.² The steppe breed came to Greece from Anatolia, and depictions of long-horned cattle...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Epic Consumption
    (pp. 74-96)

    The chieftain buried at Lefkandi was called a hero by the excavators, and rightfully so, since it was between 1000 and 800 BC that the notion of a hero became firmly rooted in the consciousness of the Greeks.¹ The bovine idiom—that cluster of values, institutions, and ideas that centered on cattle—helped shape the emerging notion of the hero. Indeed, a comparison of the Greek phrase at the heart of the heroic ideal,kleos aphthiton(“undying glory”), with its Vedic original reveals the degree to which the Greek hero is the heir to a pastoral tradition. “Indra,” prayed the...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Heroes and Gods
    (pp. 97-122)

    It is clear that epic drew on patterns of behavior and social practice deeply embedded in both the actual past of the Bronze Age and the imagined past of the heroic age. Reformulated by Homer, together these supplied the Greeks of the Archaic period with a complex model of social order and personal ethics that found expression in a range of coherent activities constituting the nexus of early Greek social practice: sacrifice, feasting, gift giving, and hospitality, in particular.We have also seen that the pastoral milieu favored these practices and values, inclining the Greeks toward a particular and characteristic way...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Gods, Cattle, and Space
    (pp. 123-145)

    In a much-quoted passage, Herodotos remarks, “It was Homer and Hesiod who composed a divine genealogy for the Greeks, and who gave the gods their titles, allocated to them their powers and fields of expertise, and made clear their forms.”² Yet the cults of Zeus, Hera, and Poseidon revealed by archaeology and literary sources outside of epic reflect gods quite unlike their Homeric and Hesiodic incarnations. All three remain strongly associated with cattle, demonstrating the hold that cattle continued to have on the imagination of the Greeks, both as avatars of divine power and as objects of symbolic and economic...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Sacred Economics
    (pp. 146-172)

    In thePolitics, Aristotle specifies the different ways humans may get their food supply without resorting to exchange or commerce. He lists nomadism, hunting (which for Aristotle includes brigandage and fishing, as well as more traditional styles), and agriculture.¹ The last category, claims Aristotle, comprises by far the greatest number of people, namely, those who live off the land and its produce—in other words, farmers. In his scheme he does not reserve a particular place for raising cattle, and his description of nomads seems to refer to shepherding; he describes nomads as extremely lazy and being compelled to follow...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Cities and Cattle Business
    (pp. 173-195)

    The commercial needs of cities and urban sanctuaries were different from those of Panhellenic or rural sanctuaries. Whereas the priests of Delos and Delphi may have benefited from the sanctuaries’ constant stream of visitors, the interests of the local population were subordinate to the Panhellenic sanctuaries’ role as international centers. City sanctuaries, on the other hand, both large and small, were closely attached to their communities. They provided the setting for religious activities at every level of Greek life from the household to the state. Whatever their city-state, most men in the Greek world were members of households (oikoi), brotherhoods...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Sacred Law
    (pp. 196-216)

    In a culture whose political development saw the polis emerge as the dominant form of state organization, sanctuaries played a central role in state formation.Within the city and its territory they provided locations where social relations were manifested through sacrifice and feasting. The feast, in particular, emphasized group solidarity and inclusion. Other institutions, such as the sacrifice, drew attention to hierarchies of wealth and prestige, in which benefaction and reciprocity were channeled through pious actions to the credit of the donor and the benefit of the community. Panhellenic sanctuaries were the settings for similar performances, often on a vastly greater...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Authority and Value
    (pp. 217-240)

    If sacred law was the necessary precursor to the emergence of secular law codes in the early Greek state, it is also true that cattle wealth spurred the growth of a monetized economy by combining wealth, value, and exchange into a single institution. As we shall see, it was the central position of the sanctuary in Greek life that would make this possible by giving form and expression to notions of authority and value. Before investigating the role of religious action in the origins of coinage, however, we should look further at the importance of the sanctuary as a locus...

  17. CHAPTER 11 Conclusions
    (pp. 241-252)

    The mathematical problem known as Archimedes’ Cattle Problem, odd as it may seem, is a good example of how the Greeks had moved from a pastoral society operating in the bovine idiom to what we might call a post-pastoral society. By this I mean a society no longer directly dependent on cattle production for all aspects of the community’s well-being, as might be said (though with increasing inaccuracy) of the Maasai, Dafla, or Bahima people who have provided comparanda for this study of early Greece. Instead, the Greeks had become a society characterized by large settlements, international sanctuaries, nuanced social...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 253-292)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 293-334)
  20. Index
    (pp. 335-340)