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Incense Offerings in Homer: An Unrecognized Religious Activity?

William Bibee

In this presentation, I will examine the Iliad and the Odyssey for heretofore unrecognized instances of incense offerings. Telemachus' sea voyage, accompanied by religious activities described with the verbal roots thýō and spendeîn in Od. 15.256-264, offers us a rare glimpse into early Greek seafaring ritual. By misinterpreting the Homeric evidence concerning the root thy- and its associated words, scholars have often wrongly assumed that Telemachus was offering animals upon the shore. I argue that Telemachus was actually performing a paired ritual of libation and incense offering of a kind important in Near Eastern and Aegean cultures from the Bronze Age down into the historical period (cf. Anthiphon 1.18 where a similar offering ritual to Zeus Ktesios is described as taking place before a voyage). My argument comes from Mycenaean evidence regarding tu-we-a (i.e. aromatic offerings), Eustathius' commentaries, and Near Eastern parallels. The offerings of Od. 15.260-1 and Il.6.270 and their use of words with the Greek thy- root show us the usually ignored importance of small offerings in the daily lives of the Greeks. From Hesiod's Works and Days 338, we learn that a Greek was supposed to "assuage the gods with spondēisi thýessí te." By investigating the grouping of these two rituals, libations and incense offering, we can trace the continuity of ritual practice from the Mycenaean palatial period into the later Classical period and understand correctly a misunderstood ritual practice in the Homeric epics.

Session/Panel Title

Homer, Odyssey: Speech and Ritual

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