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  • The Cattle of the Sun: Cows and Culture in the World of the Ancient Greeks
  • Timothy Howe
The Cattle of the Sun: Cows and Culture in the World of the Ancient Greeks. By Jeremy McInerney (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2010) 340 pp. $45.00

How much meat did the Greeks eat? Where did they run their herds? How did they guarantee a ready supply for sacrifice? These practical stock-raising questions, and the symbiosis between the ancient Greeks and cattle that underpinned them, are some of the themes tackled by McInerney in Cattle of the Sun. This study is about both empirical and symbolic relationships. McInerney offers a theoretical approach that allows for historical contingencies, "for the values, ideas, decisions, and actions that occur within a cultural matrix that informs an individual's conscious and unconscious choices" (5). The study is multidisciplinary by nature; the literary, epigraphical, archaeological, and comparative evidence requires theories and methodologies from anthropology, sociology, literature, economics, and political sciences to bring ancient Greek society into focus.

McInerney argues that Greece did not operate in a bovine idiom, as did some of the historical African herding cultures, but worked as a settled, agricultural, manufacturing, trading society that retained a "bovine register." For the Greeks, keeping cattle engendered certain practices and experiences that ended up dominating entire cultural fields—from marriage rituals to war declarations; everything ended up being refracted through the prism of herding. Consequently, McInerney is able to chart a spectrum of encounters from the empirical observations of Aristotle—what cattle were raised, in what places, by what means—to the symbolic observations of Homer—what social currency cattle had and how cattle facilitated negotiations of status and identity.

The book is organized into two parts, the movement of cattle into the religious sphere (Chapters 1-6) and the emergence and character of the sacred economy (Chapters 7-9). Chapter 1 sets out the goals and conceptual scope of the work. Chapter 2 explores the changing relationships between humans and cattle that were created by domestication. Chapter 3 looks at the Bronze Age through the lens of cattle culture, focusing on the palatial culture of pre- and post-Mycenaean Crete. Chapters 4 and 5 probe the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer and the myths associated with Herakles to trace how cattle entered into conceptions of heroic behavior. Chapter 6 considers the influence of cattle-breeding practices on the emergence of the Greek pantheon. Chapter 7 explores religious sanctuaries as central consumers (and producers) of cattle to demonstrate the emergence of a sacred economy among the Greeks. Chapter 8 shifts to the secular, examining the development of an urban commercial meat industry from sacrificial offerings. Chapter 9, the final chapter, shows how sanctuary authority over animals provided the basis for a true monetized economy. [End Page 275]

McInerney admirably demonstrates "how the deep-seated patterns of thought, feeling, and symbolism that arise from the interaction between humans and cattle continue to crop up across the spectrum of cultural production, in plastic arts, in myth, and in performance, as well as in specific institutions from marriage to imperial pageants" (8). The book is well written, exhaustively researched, and accessible to both the general public and the specialist. Those interested in interdisciplinary approaches to traditional societies, especially their religious and agricultural identities, will find the book particularly useful.

Timothy Howe
St. Olaf College


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pp. 275-276
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