• Devin O'Donnell

The Cattle of Helios & Mount Sinai

In Book XII of The Odyssey, we encounter the sacred cattle of Helios. They are warned many times not to harm the cattle of the Sun. Odysseus even makes them swear an oath. But to no avail.

So he urged, and shipmates cheered again. At once they drove off the Sungod’s finest cattle— close at hand, not far from the blue-prowed ship they grazed, those splendid beasts with their broad brows and curving horns. Surrounding them in a ring, they lifted prayers to the gods, plucking fresh green leaves from a tall oak for the rite, since white strewing-barley was long gone in the ship. Once they’d prayed, slaughtered and skinned the cattle, they cut the thighbones out, they wrapped them round in fat, a double fold sliced clean and topped with strips of flesh. And since they had no wine to anoint the glowing victims, they made libations with water, broiling all the innards, and once they’d burned the bones and tasted the organs— hacked the rest into pieces, piercing them with spits.

This chapter shows the moral imagination of Homer, how it is consistent with Biblical accounts of similar passages. Moses, for instance, ascends the mountain, leaving the people without anyone to keep them from transgressing in his absence.

Consider Tibaldi's depiction of Homer below. Note how the eyes of the man and of the beast are the same. In his transgression, the man has become bestial. In becoming bestial, they become the victims of sacrifice, like the bovine scapegoats about to be slaughtered.

Agenda for this Wednesday-Friday:

  1. Prayer

  2. Begin the Great Ideas Reading Guide for this week

  3. Historia:

  4. Continue reading Herodotus (studying Cyrus)

  5. Hermeneutica:

  6. Work a bit more on studying Christ's post-resurrection actions

  7. Literae:

  8. Finish Book XII-XIII of The Odyssey.


  1. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Pray, that you may not stumble.

  2. Complete your Great Ideas Reading Guide for this week

  3. 5 Commonplaces and 1 memorized for Friday.

  4. Study for the Odyssey Books 1-12 Quiz

  5. Dig Deeps due on Monday (5/9) — see Reading Lists here


TIBALDI, Pellegrino Theft of the Cattle of Helios (scene 6) 1551, Fresco Stanza di Ulisse, Palazzo Poggi, Bologna

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