The Word: Hecatomb

Richard H. Ryder, 2018

In ancient Greece a sacrifice to the gods of 100 cattle was known as a hecatomb (hekatómbē). According to Wikipedia, however, from a practical standpoint as few as 12 cattle often passed for a hecatomb.  These offerings were made to the Greek gods Hera, Athena, and Apollo during special religious ceremonies.  Legend has it that after inventing the 47th proposition (i.e. problem) of Euclid, the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, in celebration, sacrificed a hecatomb.

One explanation of the sacrifice, taken from the Iliad, reads as follows: They arranged the holy hecatomb all orderly round the altar of the god. They washed their hands and took up the barley-meal to sprinkle over the victims [cattle], while [the priest] lifted up his hands and prayed aloud on their behalf.

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