Dipolieia/Bouphonia

by Chris, edited by Melissa

(14 Skirophorion) This festival was held in honor of Zeus Polieus (Di = Zeus, polieus = of the city).  Its other name Bouphonia (ox murdering), involved the slaying of an ox for the desecration of the altar of Zeus on the Acropolis, according to Pausanius (Description of Greece, I.24.4 and I.28.10).  The festival was apparently antiquated even in classical times.  The rite seems to express the idea that murder brings guilt even when done for the best of reasons.  In the ritual, sacred grain is put out on an altar for a group of oxen, and the first ox to eat the grain is struck down with an ax.  The ox-slayer then flees, leaving the ax behind.  The ox is butchered and consumed in a sacrificial feast.  Afterwards, a trial is held for its murder with the blame passed from one party into another until finally, it rests on the ax, which is then thrown into the sea.

This ritual may have had its origin in a cultural shift: the altars of Mycenaeans were generally tables of offerings, not structures for burning animal victims (Burkert, p. 51).  Perhaps at some ancient time, an ox chanced to eat the offerings on the sacred Mycenaean altar and an incensed bystander slew it for sacrilege (Burkert, p. 231).  That the “murder” victim is then eaten in ritual is probably reflective of later cult practice commemorating a virtually forgotten Mycenaean event.

Modern practice:
A small offering with the Homeric Hymn XXIII to Zeus as the chief God of your city or county would be all that is needed to acknowledge this day.

Sources:
Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, 1977, English version 1985
Parke, H.W., Festivals of the Athenians, 1997 (pp162-167)
Adkins, Lesley & Roy A. Adkins, Handbook to Life in Ancient Greece, 1997 (p. 356)